Muffled laughter and hushed gossip hover around the well-lit room. Even though it was only May, Christmas decorations and faerie lights peppered the wooden posts. Plastered across the wall is a slightly faded wallpaper of a white sand beach, with a pair of intertwined palm trees gradually curving towards the sunset.
I look at the woman across my table. She’s wearing a kimono-like olive dress, with long, roomy sleeves stretching up to her wrists. The Asian design complemented her European features in a strange but pleasing kind of way. I notice her turquoise eyes giving a slightly concerned look. I reply with a grin.
“I’ll take care of it.”
I get my knife and slice through the flesh of the fish, making sure that I cut away the fat. The way her eyes grew when she saw the waitress bring over the sizeable ‘daing na bangus’ was a clear enough message.
I watch her work her way through the fillets I cut for her, eagerly waiting for the satisfying crunch of teeth breaking through skin. Her eyes beam towards me.
“Oh wow, this is good!”
“Try dipping your next bite in the vinegar. Go easy on it though.”
Thinking that this moment was going to be the best I will be able to get for this night, I mentally take a deep breath.
“You remember what you told me on Tinder a few weeks back? About me being too intense?”
She glances towards me.
“Oh yeah, that.”
I pause, anticipating her to interrupt me and explain herself.
“Go ahead. Finish what you were going to say.”
“Well, we don’t have common friends. So, dinner is all I could think of. I mean, if you want to do other stuff, like something we could do in a group maybe.”
She gives me another concerned look.
“No, no. It’s not your fault. You’re a nice guy. And I do like you. You seem like the type who’s in it for the long haul — not like most guys I’ve met.”
“Mhmm. And, what we’re doing right now is more than platonic. I’m very comfortable when I’m around you. It’s just that I don’t want to waste your time.”
“I’m not the person that you’re looking for.”
I pause and wait for her words to sink in.
“Well, thanks for letting me know.”
“Of course. You’re basically the holy grail of dudes. I don’t want to keep you from someone else. She’s out there, somewhere. You just need to find her.”
I respond with a smile, thinking about the irony of it all.
“Besides, I’m currently seeing another girl.”
“My friends say I need to try and be more of a dick. I’m too nice. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen. That sort of thing. What do you think?”
“No! Don’t do that. Just keep on being who you are. Please.”
“I’m getting better at it though — meeting new people. I don’t dwell in it as much as before. Thicker skin, learning how to fail quickly — those kinds of things, you know?”
She raises her eyebrow.
“You think this is a failure?”
I pause. She does raise an interesting point. Was this a failure?
“That… didn’t come out right. Precision of language — still not my strong suit.”
“Yeah, I remember. From that time we drank hot chocolate at the cafe right? I tried it with a couple of friends. They told me saying it just made me look like an asshole.”
I laugh. Although, what she said remained in my head. Should I consider our friendship a failure? After all, the swipes I’ve made were done with the intention gaining something more than that.
I’ve tried being friends with a person that I liked. It was the worst fucking experience ever. I don’t want that to happen to me ever again.
However, I can’t shake the fact that I do enjoy the time I spend with her. She’s more interesting than most of the people I’ve met. Charming, even. She carries this ‘motherly librarian’ vibe that I just adore so much. Plus, her Dutch-Kiwi accent just makes listening to anything she says a pleasure.
But, at this moment, I’m not looking for friendship. I would rather hear someone say “Hey, I don’t think this is going to work out” instead of “I think we still can be friends.”
I can’t afford to make time for acquaintances anymore. I’ve realised that I’m running out of emotional capital. I’ll still see them if it’s convenient for me. But, I’m done investing my time in lukewarm relationships that will eventually just evaporate into halfhearted smiles and awkward silences.
I walk towards the cashier while she follows closely behind. The woman at the counter greets us with a smile.
“I saw what the waitress was bringing to your table. That’s quite a brave dish you ordered.”
I pass my card to the woman.
“I figured we should get something authentic. Going all the way here just to get spaghetti is a waste. Oh, she’ll pay for the halo-halo.”
The lady hands my card back and looks at her.
“So, how was the food?”
“It was lovely.”