Up to this day, I still couldn't quite put my finger on what the moral of my story was. Every tale supposedly taught us a lesson, right? At least that was what my elementary school English teachers had told us years and years ago.
Maybe it was the age-old proverb that all men were assholes? Or you shouldn't live in with your boyfriend so you didn't risk jinxing the chance of marrying him? Shouldn't pick up strangers at the supermarket, even if it did have the potential of a cultured, high-society singles party? Or maybe you should consult the National Statistics Office first every time you met a hot guy?
I rightfully thought he was wrong – no one was as witty as me.
Seriously, though, I still couldn't fathom exactly what it was. But if I knew one thing, it had to be that he was a flaw.
Flaw. Yes, that was what he was.
Rob was a flaw.
It was a mistake when my battered heart and hungry eyes met him that fateful day at the groceries. I let him fan vanity, agreeing to meet him in secret and convincing myself I wasn't doing anything criminal. It was clearly wrong to choose to fall in love with his implausibly beautiful eyes, his quietly intelligent words and his heated, seductive touch. The greatest mistake, though, was allowing him unrestricted access again to my already injured heart, rendering me blind to his even more dangerous deception.
Yes, Rob was a flaw.
But he was my flaw – my life's flaw. A flaw, but mine nonetheless. Mine and mine alone.
Yes, he was a permanent part of me now, one that could never be removed or forgotten. Safely tucked away inside an iron-clad case in the deepest recesses of my heart.
I had vowed to solve the whole Katrina mystery. I just had to. I reasoned it was key to my so-called healing process.
Spying in Facebook was all it took to piece the entire puzzle together. Apparently, from an earlier album posted in her account, Katrina and Rob had tied the knot barely a month after he bid me that abrupt goodbye.
From that realization, all the little questions that the little voice in my head were answered.
I was the last hurrah. His last conquest before settling down. It was one hell of a long bachelor's party.
God, he was such a pig. It made my skin crawl – and my heart bleed.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Of course the most difficult of questions was if he had truly loved me, even for the tiniest, most insignificant little bit. Again, it was so complicated to answer a seemingly simple, yes-or-no question. I spent a considerable amount of time searching for the response to that one. I examined and exhausted every small detail of our time together – and made myself cry an entire Pacific Ocean in the process.
In the end, I came to a conclusion.
Yes, he did. He did love me.
Totally debatable, yes. In fact, discussing this among my friends had successfully sparked more violent arguments that the vilest Maury or Jerry Springer episode.
But all the words he had uttered that Sunday afternoon after Date #1 came back to me. I could still remember the anguish on his face, the raw emotion in his voice. I could not make myself believe that all he said were lies. There had to be a grain of truth in them.
He wouldn't have gone to such great lengths to be part of my life again if he didn't care. He would have just disappeared again in a heartbeat. I could not easily disregard all the time he spent with me, all the little sacrifices he made to follow my orders to a tee, all the secret dreams and heartaches he had shared. It wasn't just the amount of money or time he invested in winning me back. It was letting me in to the entirety of his life – save for that one detail, the most important one, the one that would have made me bolt out the door faster than he could say another word.
And even if he did love me, he loved himself more. He was selfish and immature. He wanted to keep me in his life, even if he already had Katrina. He did not want that bachelor party to end.
It wasn't easier getting past Rob Jose the second time around, but it was surprisingly quicker. Since all his cards had been lain out for me to see, all it took was humility and a large dose of self mockery to finally see the light – with the usual all-out support from tequila, cigarettes and my legion of girlfriends from Strong Women United, of course.
I successfully broke every rule in the damned Break-Up Manual. I cried my heart out to everyone who would listen – Vicky, my mom, my sister, my entire high school friends and even Trisha, Brian's soon-to-be-wife, who committed the crazy mistake of inviting me to her bachelorette party. I downloaded sappy, glam rock love songs, bought countless romantic comedy DVDs and cried even more. I made a list of new things to do, which I swore off after number two, when Manay Maria went trigger happy and cut my hair all the way below my ears.
And I refused to see or talk to him, even for a much-needed closure. I quit Facebook, Twitter and Skype. I changed the number of my mobile phone. I gave strict instructions to our office receptionist about accepting calls and more ridiculous flowers. I even befriended Mrs. Sanchez's disgusting watchdog. This wasn't just a temporary hiatus, as the others were. I just simply knew it was over.
Then Christmas and New Year passed – and suddenly, I was okay.
It caught me absolutely by surprise but I probably should have seen it coming – fate gave me another nudge, completely out of the blue. It always had this funny way of teasing me, testing my limits. This time was no exception.
It was a hot Sunday afternoon in the middle of May, almost two years since that Kara-Katrina revelation. I didn't know what made me think that it would be just another Sunday. Because it wasn't.
I was back again at that supermarket, standing in line to pay for the taco shells and ground beef I was going to prepare that afternoon. I was getting antsy, wanting to go back immediately to the car.
"Kara Florendo? Is that you?"
I recognized the voice. I still knew it, after all this time.
Of course, it was Rob Jose. Who else could it be? Of all the days to see him again, today had to be the day.
I sighed and almost rolled my eyes, but I surmised it wasn't really his fault.
I smiled up into those deep, beautiful brown eyes. "Hello, Rob."
He smiled back, his eyes reflecting mild surprise and genuine happiness. Admittedly, he was still unbelievably good looking. I noticed a few lines around his eyes, though. He had also lost a considerable amount of weight, as if he hadn't hit the gym for some time.
"How are you, Kara?" he breathed out. "Ever the sight for sore eyes."
I placed my purchases on the conveyor belt and looked back to study him more intently. His tone was earnest, his expression sincere. But gone was the flutter of my heart at his fervent gaze and his flattering words.
"I'm good," I replied noncommittally, turning to look at the cashier.
I had to blink my eyes a few times. Is this the same nosy cashier from –
Of course not! I shook my head and chuckled at myself, extracting a few bills from my wallet. I beamed at the confused girl, who accepted my money and smiled back tentatively.
"Kara." I glanced back at Rob. He was looking at me hopefully. "Are you doing anything today? You think we could –"
I cut him off, pretending not to have heard what he just said. "It was nice seeing you again, Rob. Imagine – the supermarket again, of all places," I said lightly.
"Yeah," he said. His eyes had gone dull, losing the light it had held a few moments ago.
For a moment, he almost leaned forward as if to bid me good-bye with a soft kiss on the cheek. But he didn't.
Wise move. I couldn't stop the grin on my face spreading wider.
I picked up my small plastic shopping bag and headed to the exit.
I thought I heard him call my name. Actually, I was certain he did. I didn't look back.
I scurried over to the gray SUV and climbed into the passenger seat.
"Hi," I said breathlessly, smiling.
"Hi," Jon said, planting a nice little kiss on my lips. "Let's go?"
Later that afternoon, amidst salsa breath, strawberry iced tea and The Buzz, Jon got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said yes.
Extraordinary was the only thought I allowed myself to have.