Just Another Extraordinary Day
I didn't know what made me think that day would be just another Sunday.
I headed to the supermarket, a quick five-minute drive away from the apartment I shared with my boyfriend, Brian Gutierrez. Nothing better than a little shopping therapy, after all that work, I thought grumpily as the obtrusive façade of the supermarket came into my view.
Like any other Sunday, my afternoon started innocently enough. It was yet another humid August day in Manila. Brian had left for Poker Sunday and I spent more than an hour tidying up our small, one-bedroom place. The thought of Brian and his friends playing poker, smoking cigars, watching basketball and filling the large veranda with testosterone-pumped laughter yet again, while I swept under the bed and scrubbed the kitchen walls, had left me tired and more than a little grouchy.
In the more than two years that I had been with Brian, he never missed a single Sunday afternoon at his friend Kiko's. And I had learned to welcome these Sunday afternoons, actually. It was my me time too. This time, though, I was feeling rather testy, a little neglected and well, lonely.
So shopping therapy it was, if you could call it that. I had always loved doing the groceries. Made me feel like a rightful grown-up. The endless aisles of merchandise, the strong, white lights and the big, noisy carts of this mega-supermarket. Deciding what I would let Brian cook, what I would shampoo my hair with, what kind of junk I would binge on when Brian wasn't looking…
The skies started to turn gray as I slid my trusty, five-year-old blue Toyota into the slot in the busy parking lot farthest from the entrance. Parking was always a little difficult on Sunday afternoons. I pulled my hair back absently into a low ponytail and grabbed my purse.
I hastily made my way to the entrance, reminding myself to keep this trip short so I wouldn't get caught in the rain. I realized with a pang of regret that I had my dad's huge golf umbrella in the trunk of my car. So much for that.
I grabbed a cart and headed straight to the dry goods, busy with my mental list of things to buy. My body wash, Brian's bar of soap, rolls of tissue, all-purpose cleaner, scrubbing pads, Brian's foot powder, my nail polish remover –
I lost track of time as I surveyed every aisle, enjoying my grocery trip. An hour had already passed when I finished off with placing a few packs of frozen chicken wings into my almost-full cart. I then pushed it towards the counters.
I groaned. All the cashiers were lined with shopping carts, the shortest one having two units full of groceries. I reluctantly took my place behind them.
I was reading an article in a tattered copy of a fashion magazine when I realized I had forgotten the carton of low-fat, high-calcium milk for Brian's morning cereal. I was sure he would throw another tantrum, as I had forgotten to pick some up for two weeks now. I rolled my eyes.
The lady in front of me had already finished placing her groceries onto the counter's conveyor belt. I glanced at the guy behind me and offered him a tentative but friendly smile.
"Excuse me," I hedged. "I just forgot to grab something. Would you hold my place for just a second?"
"Sure thing. But what's in it for me?"
I had already started to go back to the aisles but I had to whirl around and face the arrogant son of a –
Oh my God. Cute boy alert!
Just because I had a boyfriend did not mean I was blind or immune to eye candy. White collared shirt, khaki shorts, blinding smile.
"Well," I sputtered, "fine, then don't."
"No, seriously, what's in it for me?" he persisted, his tone teasing. I was temporarily distracted when I realized how deep his brown eyes were. And beyond those eyes, a light glowed – or was I just flattering myself?
I studied his face carefully. Smug, overly confident air. Great. He knows he's a looker, I thought, instantly annoyed.
"I dunno. Why don't we ask my husband?" I challenged.
He raised his eyebrows as he looked around. "I don't see a husband anywhere." His eyes were laughing as they slid down my left hand. "I don't see a ring either."
I narrowed my eyes as I put my arms on my waist. He then crossed his arms across his chest and looked back at me, amused. "So what will it take for you to hold my place? I can't believe I'm going through all this trouble just for a stupid carton of milk. It's almost my turn," I said crossly, pointing at the line. The woman in front of me was about to pay for her groceries.
His lips twisted into another slow smile. His eyes then looked past me to the counter. "A pack of cigarettes maybe? I'm cheap."
"Done," I muttered as I walked past him. I stalked over to the coffee and milk section.
Arrogant bastard. How infuriating! He must really think he's all that. Well, he is so not! In fact, he is the zenith in fugly –
Okay, fine, so he was cute. He stood almost 6 feet tall, assured and confident. His beautiful brown eyes had looked at me through half-open lids, assessing me explicitly, without an ounce of shyness. His smile had been slow and teasing.
Shit. Did I really have to wear my tatty shirt and faded shorts? And my hair! I quickly pulled back my hair into a neater knot.
I grabbed a carton of milk but hesitated before I went back. I slowly made my way back to the edge of the aisle, pressing my cheek against cans of evaporated milk, so I could sneak a peek at him. His back was turned to me, but I could see he was bent over, apparently looking at my purchases.
I marched back to him. "See anything you like?" I demanded, scowling. I started putting my groceries onto the counter.
"No, not particularly." He started helping me unload my cart. His eyes then feigned confusion as he picked up Brian's foot powder. "You gotta be kidding me."
I grabbed the bottle from his hands and tossed it to the counter. "Stop that!" I was on the verge of losing my patience, no matter how cute he was. I turned to face him, leaning closer and keeping my voice low so the other people around us wouldn't hear. "Why are you doing this?" I hissed.
His smile faded. "I just wanna know your name," he murmured, looking at me through his ridiculously long lashes. We were standing too close together that I could now smell his faint perfume.
My breath caught in my throat as I stared back at him. He wasn't being cute now or funny. Far from it.
God, I was falling into pieces just because this random guy wanted to know my name! Was I really this rusty in flirting? Pathetic. But was it my fault that Brian and I had the dullest sex life in the history of sex? Or that the last guy who wanted to pick up my 25-year-old ass was a drunk, balding Australian geezer at Boracay with my coworkers last summer?
I turned away from him and noticed the cashier was already waiting for me to pay. Her curious gaze was locked on us.
I quickly grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the counter and handed it to her, giving her a withering, what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at stare. She hastily averted her eyes as she scanned the pack. I fished for a couple of bills and looked sideways at him.
He was staring at me while unloading his own shopping basket, his face serious yet expectant. "Well?"
I impatiently beckoned to the cashier to hand me the cigarettes before she could put it in my other shopping bags. I ripped it open and slid one out.
I tossed the pack at him, which he caught with his right hand. "It's Kara." I grabbed my bags, pressed the stick between my lips and headed out.
And so I remembered that I forgot my umbrella in the car. I inwardly groaned as I watched the big, fat drops of rain splatter against the pavement. So much for my smooth, soap opera-esque exit.
He caught up with me as I fervently prayed for the rain to stop, my shopping bags gathered around my feet. I cringed when I realized he was already next to me, offering to light the cigarette still trapped between my lips with his shiny, ostentatious lighter.
"Thanks," I muttered. I didn't want to look up at him.
"It's Rob," he offered, amusement clear in his voice.
I looked up at him and saw his eyes were trying hard not to laugh. "Haha," I said dryly, puffing out a cloud of smoke. "You totally ruined my award-winning performance."
"So you live around here?" he asked casually, flicking off ash from his cigarette onto the ground.
Fishing. "Yes. With my boyfriend," I said pointedly, looking at him with a smirk on my face.
He grinned. "Ah yes, the dude with the athlete's foot."
I bristled. How easily he got on my nerves, all in a span of 15 minutes. "Foot powder does not automatically equal athlete's foot," I contested.
"Says who?" he challenged.
I glared at him. "You don't even know him!"
He blew out some smoke and laughed. "I don't want to." I saw from the corner of my eye that he was staring right at me. "I want to know you, though." He said this slowly, deliberately.
My heartbeat quickened. I just had to change the subject. "Is this a habit of yours – picking up girls in supermarkets? Can't you be normal and get the next hoochie who grinds against your crotch in wherever the hell high school kids go to or something?" I said instead, trying to make my voice sound even.
His expression grew thoughtful, as if I was asking a legitimate question instead of insulting him. "Nah, I couldn't care less about 12 year old kids – or those that act that age." He leaned a fraction of an inch closer to me. "But I just had to be the jack ass that I was today just to talk to you." The slow fire that burned past his eyes both thrilled and tickled my interest even more.
Snap out of it. "I said I have a boyfriend." My voice sounded nonchalant, even if I was beginning to feel a warmth spread from my neck to my face.
"Yeah, I heard you the first time."
"Then why are you still talking to me?" I insisted.
He smiled his slow smile, taking a long, slow drag from his cigarette. "Wouldn't wanna waste this cig."
It was almost an hour later that Rob walked me to my car. He insisted on buying me hot chocolate and I convincingly acted hesitant but said yes anyway.
I felt a silly, flattered smile tugging at my mouth when he regaled me with a blow by blow account of how he had noticed me while reaching for a can of tuna. He had secretly followed me around the supermarket, looking for an excuse to strike up a conversation.
If his objective was to make me feel like a fifth grader being asked out on her very first date, it worked like a charm.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle and night had already descended on the metro. He hinted not so subtly that he could create a mean plate of pasta but I quickly forced myself into crafting an excuse of needing to finish some paperwork. I had to, before my defenses surrendered to his smooth, ego-lifting words and before he could sense that I liked the smell of him too much.
He had insisted of carrying all our shopping bags for me. I let him. Chivalrous, like it was going to impress me. "So where's Athlete's Foot?"
I glowered at his foolish nickname for Brian as I felt around my purse for my car keys. "Watching Ateneo-La Salle," I said, referring to an intercollegiate basketball tournament on TV, where the rivalry of the two schools made the Celtics-Lakers fans seem like preschoolers in a sandbox.
"Whose side is he on?"
"Guess." I opened the trunk and he started putting my bags in.
"Hmm, athlete's foot. So I'm guessing Ateneo."
I slammed the trunk door shut, narrowly missing his fingers. So he was right yet again. And that meant he was from the other side.
I plastered a phony smile on my face. "So where's your girlfriend? Does she know you're suddenly carrying around shopping bags for a living?" I shot back at him.
He lit another cigarette. "No, she doesn't," he said seriously, watching carefully for my reaction.
I kept my expression controlled, placid. Not even so much of a twitch of facial muscle. So he has a girlfriend. Not-so-single girl, meet not-so-single boy. Nice to meet you.
He sighed deeply. "She must be somewhere out there, plotting my demise or something."
"Plotting your demise," I repeated sarcastically. "How dramatic."
He tossed me a tight smile and didn't react to the bait.
I studied his face closely. "Why?" I asked finally. "What did you do that was so awful?"
He sighed again and took a moment to answer. He was probably deciding whether to tell me or not. "So I cheated," he finally admitted, his tone morose. "But that was ages and ages ago, back in college. How many years ago was that, right? So I was 19, I was hormonal, I was totally stupid – but completely sorry."
Surprised by his sudden honesty, I became genuinely curious about his girlfriend problems. "How'd she find out? You must've been really stupid." I took the cigarette he was offering and had him light it up.
He turned his lips up into a small, humorless smile. "She checked my phone and saw all the girl's text messages. So busted. And she cried and screamed and totally made a scene. Take note – this happened in school."
"Then I ran after her and apologized and begged for her forgiveness."
He continued when I didn't say anything. "Yeah, she took me back in, but can you seriously say living hell?" His voice then assumed a bitter tone. "She's worse than a Russian spy. I can't go out without her, not even for a boys' night out, up until this very day. I've been a good boy, I swear I have, but she doesn't care. My only real free time is at work and during Sundays when she has to watch her dumb Koreanovela DVDs and I get to do my groceries."
"Well, she has every right to be suspicious – you did cheat," I sneered, frowning.
"I'm not cheating now!"
I narrowed my eyes at him.
"What?" His mood suddenly changed yet again. He broke into his slow smile. He leaned towards me and whispered in my ear. "It's not as if I'm trying to kiss you or something."
I turned to look at him the same time he turned to look at me. Our faces were inches away from each other. "And why not?"
"You might say yes." His grin turned wicked.
I smiled innocently at him and inched nearer so our noses touched. My pulse quickened. "Oh, are you scared that you wouldn't want to stop?"
He tilted his head and leaned even closer, so I could almost taste his warm, delicious breath. "Yes."
I turned away quickly and took a deep drag of my cigarette. I kept my eyes away from him, trying to calm the now erratic beating of my heart. Careful, Kara. Brian – remember Brian!
I wasn't doing anything wrong, was I? This didn't constitute cheating, technically. So why was icy guilt creeping into my blood?
"I have to go now," I said abruptly, obviously flustered, acting as if the last few minutes of conversation never happened. "Thanks for the hot choco. And thanks for helping me with my groceries. Thanks – yeah, thanks." I bit my lip hard, afraid I would start babbling, then stepped on my unfinished cigarette.
I felt his eyes following me as I made my way to the driver's seat of my car, almost tripping over his grocery bags in haste. I opened the door and slipped inside. He hadn't moved at all from where he stood.
With a deep intake of breath, I tried to pacify my jumbled thoughts. As I locked in my seatbelt, Rob was suddenly by my window, tapping gently.
The glass slowly rolled down. I was almost nose-to-nose with him again, drinking in his overwhelmingly beautiful eyes.
"I want to see you again," he simply said.
A mixture of guilt and pleasure battled deep inside my heart. But the latter prevailed, much to my dismay. "Surprise me," I dared him, then hit the gas.
When I looked at my rearview mirror, he was already gone. Extraordinary was the only thought I allowed myself to have.