Monday, July 1, 2013

A little longer than forever

The Trevi Fountain, Photo by Jeanine Dejong
This fictional story is based on a series of mostly true stories.

"Miss Hillary Manning?" he said from behind her with such confidence
that her answer had to be "Yes! Joshua Rees?", she replied as she
saw the gentleman hovering over her. 

"That will be Josh Rees" He corrected.

"Pardon me Mr. Josh, welcome to the Sapphire team. I am your protocol
Officer. I will assist you in settling with your accommodation while
we wait for the rest of the team. You are the first to arrive." She smiled as she led the way knowing exactly where his eyes would go next.

Something inside of him screamed a "Yes" and he could have sworn she
heard it because at that very instant she turned to look at him.

 "Nice hotel", he muttered to distract her attention from the voice. 

Damn that voice, he thought.

"Thank you", she said  and immediately she realized that the
compliment was not paid to her. She recovered almost immediately and proceeded to rant about a few details for
the summit and tried to sound as professional as she could.

The rest of the summit had fortune smiling on him, but without his
instigating anything at all. He didn't throw himself at her. He was
assigned team leader and naturally, that meant he had to be
communicating with her on a regular basis. He was thrilled by every
little conversation they had. It was the most exciting professional experience,
accompanied by an unusual dose of not-so-professional smiles. Of
course he got her number, on the basis of  communication as it was
required of him. And after the summit, the natural parting words "I'll
keep in touch" were said. It was both natural and unscripted. Neither
of them saw it happen.

After a torturous year in the friend zone, he finally asked her out in
the most natural way. And she answered him with the most unscripted
"Yes" ever, "That's not a bad idea". She said, before their first
kiss.The love grew. It was fun. It was sweet. It was right and it was laced with the right sea of dark clouds and a fair intensity of sunshine. They were shaped by pain and moulded by happiness. They
shared the most beautiful moments together with an unending supply of
amazing stories. Natural and unscripted.

But a little less natural occurrence happened. He traveled to Europe
to take an advanced course in emerging markets and she focused on
traveling around for a cause she was a part of. The fights started,
the frustration grew. The chemistry began to fade as well. The dark
clouds seemed to loose their silver lining, some hobbit
stole it away as they grew farther apart. At this point, they were
simply maintaining a status.

He decided to come back home for summer with the
hope of working out things with Hillary. Natalie, Hillary's childhood
friend advised her to join a holiday trip to Italy to ease up the
tension. 

Italy was fun for Hillary. She had time to focus on herself
and she thought of Josh less. Natalie was on the trip with her
fiancĂ© and another couple. But every time the other couples paired up
and retreated, thoughts of Josh kept coming back at her.

One day they visited the museum in Rome and the other couples retreated as usual. She busied herself by reading articles on the monuments she found. 

"If Antonio had the chance, would he have killed his brother for the love of his life?" Came a voice from behind 
her.

"Excuse me?'. She said as she turned.

"You do know he meant to kill his brother but he never got the chance to". He persisted.

"I am sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Ah, a tourist. I would have sworn you were a history professor."

"I could only wish for such grace, but then again I cannot deny the gains of being perfectly normal."

"Harold Piers, he extended his arm".

"Hillary Manning", she replied with a smile.

 They had dinner together that night. Harold showed her Italy
like he made it himself. Most times when she was with Harold, Josh would call. She would always switch to a professional mode when that happens. She eluded both men about the reality that she enjoyed Harold's company but she was somehow still stuck on Josh. and that she didn't want to do anything to ruin both. It was a rational thing to do. She was nice to both men. She opened up to Harold about her problems and he listened to her, and she continued to talk to Harold, most times she only listened to him and gave one word answers when he asked questions.

Josh noticed the growing distance. He knew that if she sees him, the
dynamics might change in his favour. The phone calls didn't help much. You can't cuddle on skype. But he did what every successful man has done. He bought himself a ticket to Italy. He called Hillary
that night and told her. She sounded the least excited about it and said she would call him back.  He knew that exact feeling like the back of his hand. She was obviously picking interest in someone else, that is
the only possible explanation for her lack of excitement.

He called her again at the airport, an hour before his flight.

"I am coming to you hon" he said feeling less confident than a 3yr old
on his first day in a new school.

"Hey I am gonna call you back", she said not making any attempt to
respond to what he said.

Her distraction confirmed his doubts. This is what heartbreaks feel
like, he reckoned. This was why he had been reluctant about dating,
until Hillary changed his mind. It is almost as if he was caught in
this surreal moment where nothing but the pain he felt was real. A
moment that had flooding in, all the pain he had ever felt and he was
drowning in it. His mind wondered randomly to everything painful he
had experienced and he felt stupid for falling in love again.

"Are you not on the flight to Rome?" came an unmistable teenage voice,
judging by the excitement in it.

"This is the final boarding call".

He recognized the face from the cue where she was standing behind him.

"I am always the last to board any plane I plan to enjoy". She continued. "My name is
Ashley. I am going to see my boyfriend in Italy. You?" She barked
non-stop as he got up to head to the boarding gate.

"Oh no, wait, lemme guess. You look like a tourist who is planning on
doing a little bit of business on a trip he plans to enjoy and he
hopes to land himself a hot chick to enjoy the trip with, hoping that
she will fall in love with him and come back home with him and
marry him until forever ends. Tell me, am I amazing or what?"

"A little more than amazing", he said, realizing that he had no choice
but to please the teenager and hopefully she would let him be.

She beamed with a smile, "my seat is right next to yours", she said,
not giving up on her self-imposed flight buddy.

"How do you know that?" he said, now paying more attention to her. In
that moment, her phone rang and she lifted her index finger, asking to
be excused. She sounded too excited on the phone and she was obviously
talking to the love of her life. 

If only she knew how it all ends. He thought pitying the poor girl.

He never did anything unforgivably wrong to Hillary. he cherished her
and respected her. She won all the arguments they've ever had as far as his memory permitted. She had told 
him countless times how happy he made her and how impossible it was for
anyone to make her half that happy. He was the man he had always
wanted to be for her.

But now he is aboard a flight to Italy knowing fully well that he
would take the next flight back home. He wondered at that moment why
he didn't cancel his flight and just go back home. It was too late,
he thought as he watched Ashley take his window seat. He was obviously
stuck with this teenager who will clearly not leave him alone, on a
flight that will only magnify his foolishness and double his
pain.

The flight attendant came to issue her the final warning to get off
her phone and this time she obeyed, but not before she french kissed
the mouthpiece of her phone.

"I got it wrong, didn't I? Alright, tell me about her" she said.

"That's my seat, get up!" He said, hoping he sounded as stern as
he needed to.

"Chilax! Why are you so tense? I am not the one that broke your
heart." She realized the shifting in his eyes as she said that and she
knew she hit the spot.

"You are going to see her, aren't you?"

Just give me back my seat or I will complain to the attendant", he threatened.

"No you won't. You are way cooler than that, that is why I begged to
get the seat next to yours. I'll tell you what, you give me the
shortest version of your story and I will give you your seat back.
It's a win win. I am a total stranger who will probably forget the
story in a week and there is no way a sweet little angel like me could
use it against you".

"You are crazy, you know that right?"

"Thank you for noticing."

"Fine!" he said with a wry smile.

"Fine, what?" She said, hiding a smile.

I'll tell you".

She screamed a yes with her hands in the air and he shook his head and
smiled for the first time that day.

He paused and imagined how Hillary would tell the story to a total
stranger and he began to narrate it to her. It made him realize how
wrong he had been in judging her actions and how much he needed to be
forgiven for.

"Wow! You are like the coolest guy I never met"

"Really?"

" No, not really. Lorenzo is. You however are next in line."

"So you've never met this guy before?"

"Nope."

"So how did you...."

"Facebook! He sent me a request out of no where else but facebook and
we hit it off immediately. I thought he was a total jerk at first but then we grew on each other
and now I plan to make that literal".

She went on to rant about how she stumbled upon her dream boy and how perfect their internet romance had been.

She stopped short of telling him every detail of her internet romance and said with glow on her face "You should totally go to the Trevi fountain and find your fate".

What do you mean find my fate?

"Are you kidding me? You do not know about the Trevi fountain?" She said with such disappointment in her expression. "I have known that stuff since I was a teenager".

"You are still a  teenager and not everyone falls in love with random people on the internet and end up finding out about the most uncommon things on earth". he said, really meaning it.

She was unshaken by his words as she continued "Lorenzo told me that if you throw 2 coins with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain, you are heading for a marriage. And you have to take her there and throw those coins with her. Remember, 2, no more. If you throw 3, you will head for a divorce and I don't know how somebody will seal their divorce before they get married.

"Not me, Hillary doesn't even believe in fate. She always said that the most important things in life are faith, hope and love. And I am starting to believe that now."

The rest of the trip was smooth. Ashley never stopped ranting about fate and love and her boyfriend until she slept off.

Josh thought through all his fears and resolved to face them. What is the worst that could happen if he gave her the ring he bought 3 months ago? At that thought, he needed something to believe in and all he could think of was the Trevi fountain. Somehow he connected it to what Hillary thought about Faith, Hope and Love and it matched nicely. 

As they landed, his confidence grew. He woke Ashley up and as they eased out of the airport, she hugged and he kissed her forehead. "I owe you", he breathed out.

"And Pay you shall". She promised, smiling.

He found a Taxi and went to the hotel Natalie had told him they lodged at. he got to the reception, paid for his room and had a quick shower. He headed back to the reception and presented the concierge with a photo of him and Hillary. 

"Do you know  where I can find this Lady?"

"I called a cabe for her to the L'Antico Forno" he said with a strong accent.

"Please call me a cab, I need to find her urgently." Begged Josh.

"Is there a problem sir"?

"Everything is fine".

It was 5pm when they drove past the Trevi fountain and he was excited that he could tell where it was. he went over the lines he had thought about in the shower and changed every time he tried to memorise it. He checked the ring and hoped that it was more beautiful than it looked at the moment. He checked his breath and wished he had gotten a mint but it was too late as the cab eased to a stop. He got out and pointed to the direction the cab showed him.

Josh had never seen Hillary laugh like that. He had only walked a few paces and there she was, sitting outside, laughing. she wasn't alone. There was a man sitting next to her. He seemed older than Josh. And he never stopped talking. Josh stood still until Hillary turned towards his direction. He managed a smile and walked towards her.

"Hi Hills."

"Josh, you came". She said with a bland expression.

"Yeah"!

"Please meet Howard".


"It is my pleasure meeting the man I have heard so much about. Please join us." He said waving to an empty chair.

"Thanks".

Josh was irritated by this man. He felt powerless that he knew nothing of the man that was planning to steal the love of his life away from him. 

They did some small talk as Howard poured him a glass of wine. Howard was having a ball. He had something to say about almost anything and Josh's frustration grew. Then came Natalie to the rescue as the pile grew and more seats were added to the table.

"Can I talk to you for a minute". Josh said to Hillary.

They walked away from the others as he explained why it was so important for him to come. But his expression and articulation were at war with each other.

"I wanna show you something", he said pulling her arm as he headed for the Trevor fountain.

"It is said that...." He began when they got there.

"I know the story" she interrupted.... "and I have thrown my coin into the fountain".

"Well I want to ask you to throw two, cos something else happens when you throw two coins". He managed to say.

"You really don't believe that nonsense, do you?"

"Just close your eyes", he said as he put two coins in her palms and closed them.

She obeyed and threw them into the fountain over her left shoulder. When she opened her eyes, Josh was kneeling on one knee and holding a ring out to her.

"I'd like to spend a little longer than forever with you" he said. "Will you marry me?"