Friday came faster than I thought it would, possibly because all week I had been doing the same thing, reading a crappy romance novel called Wild Prince and proofreading its cheesy lines. I ended up wearing a black suit to work because of an important meeting with someone high up in the firm.
It was the fifth of October and the sudden realization that I had received my paycheck had deviously pushed me to the Waterstones four blocks away from The Ink Room. Good old classics were all laid in the middle of the store for the theme of the month, Nostalgia. I was not nervous then, but I could not focus on the pages. I almost felt a bit sorry for mindlessly flipping through Oscar Wilde.
It was almost only half past six when I arrived at The Ink Room. It was a small café on the edge of the business center of London, which was why it did not have as many customers as Nero or Starbucks. But I liked it that way because then, most customers you can meet in The Ink Room are regular customers who have put this little artistic café into a part of their routine. Most are writers (or writers wannabe) who fancy the café because of its name.
There was a giant quote written in black paint on the left wall right next to the counter, “Spill Ink, Not Coffee”. Anna was helping Clint, the organizer of the writer’s group/one of the owners of The Ink Room, to close off part of the café for the gathering and set the chairs into a circle. I was just going to help Anna and Clint when something gently touched my left arm.
Caught by surprise, I suddenly gained the incredible ability of a startled cat and jumped. Before my senses came back, Theo had his hands on my shoulders steadying me. His grip was like my anchor in a raging storm, without it I would have slowly drifted away (and fallen onto the floor like an idiot).
“Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to startle you.” He tried to sound apologetically but he couldn’t hide the amusement in his voice, mouth, and eyes. One second, I thought he looked a bit concerned, but the next second his eyes were spilling happiness again.
“Nah it’s okay. It’s these stupid heels.” I intentionally moved my shoulders and pretended to adjust my satchel and his hands were back to his sides.
After a few hellos and how-are-you-doing, the four of us have set all the chairs. Apparently, we were the first ones here. I sat on my usual seat, the one right next to the window (so people on the street couldn’t see my face when I talk). Theo sat next to me without hesitation.
The gathering began before our little chat ended. Here how the circle goes: Clint starts by greeting everyone, then everyone has to share three pieces of information about themselves. A theme is set for every gathering for discussion, for example, we had divorce, pastries, exiles… The first gathering Theo and I attended together was about shadows.
I cannot recall the details of the meeting that night. It is like trying to see beyond the car window but the windows are fogged up. You try your best to look at things but they seem to be wrapped in clouds that forbid you from reaching out again. I remember everyone talked and laughed. There were only some details here and there that I could remember, and no surprise there, they all belong to Theo and me. Once in a while during other people’s turn of sharing, Theo whispered something in my ears and I gave him a smile or a nod, or sometimes widened eyes.
He told me things so random it was hard to catch up like “have you ever watched shadow plays?”, “imagine if we were in one now, the guy holding out little silhouette paper dolls up must be having a nice break from not moving at all”, “Alan looks like that dude from Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice?”
I said “Beetlejuice” once more and Theo couldn’t help smiling so big that we became a distraction.
It was a nice meeting considering sometimes it could get real boring and you wish it would end in a blink of an eye. The meeting ended before it realized what Theo was saying. “Wanna grab something to eat? I’m starving.”
It was our first date.
Two of us sitting in a kebab place and talking about everything we wanted to know about one another. A very typical first date, I presumed. After all the food and talking, he walked me to the tube and insisted on delivering me on the doorstep. It all ended very well with a goodbye kiss on the cheek. There was nothing special about that night for other people, maybe for you who are reading this right now, it may even be boring.
But then, everyone’s reality is different. For me (and I hoped for Theo as well), it was a very special night where our story officially started.
No one likes to see how a relationship builds up, everyone is interested in how it falls apart. People are interested in the diagnosis of a dead relationship because they want to know if they can avoid the causes themselves. The diagnosis of Theo and I, it seemed to me now, was settled the very first day we meet, or even before that. As typical as it may sounds, we burned as bright as fireworks, and faded as fast. It weren’t his fault or mine. You do not decide who you love.
The crumbling started when we both had to go on business trips and put the ocean between us. We were having the prime period of our relationship when we could not separate from each other. Our phones kept buzzing because of incoming messages and our minds locked away in our own very heaven where there were just the two of us in a void. No one to disturbed us, not even time. Until he met someone else.
I always liked paper lanterns, the ones you can find in Chinatown around September. They glow in glorious colours whenever they are lit. But you can never reuse them or lit them up again after the wax finishes burning, not if you want to avoid burning the lantern itself. Theo and I were trapped in a paper lantern of false hope and dreams. Wherever we looked, everything was bright and warm because we were so close to the flame, too close. Once it was ignited, the lantern was destined to burn because the candle wasn’t placed properly.
You couldn’t have known beforehand because you did not know one centimeter matter that much. I could not see it coming, not even when we stopped meeting every day, I was fooled by the light placed between us.
One day, out of the blue for me then, Theo asked me to meet him at The Ink Room after work. I was excited like a child knowing curfew has been lifted; I had not seen him in a week. The memories rush back, our very first date started from The Ink Room seven months ago. After that we had Christmas, my birthday, and Valentine’s Day, I felt like we had lived through everything together. The Ink Room fished us out from everyone in this world and put us together. I had no idea it would eventually be the destination of our relationship, where the lantern finally burned into ashes.
If I had to criticize Theo for one thing, it was how poor a bad news delivery guy he could be. He had always been a very straightforward person with everything. I liked that about him, honest and plain. That was a Friday, again (the Friday between two gatherings). He was already sitting at our table when I arrived.
We named the table I sat by the table as “our table” because that’s where we always sat when we visited The Ink Room. He was wearing his deep blue suit (it was my favourite) and his hipster glasses, with the leather satchel I got him for Christmas on his lap. I couldn’t help but giggle every time I see him with his hipster glasses. He told me that particular pair made him feels like a proper editor-to-be. I told him they made him look like an adorable dork (he did not like the adjective “adorkable”). His eyes shot up and looked right at me, I smiled. He didn’t.
I once asked him about the eyes, or more like he caught me staring and decided to explain them. “It is called Heterochromia. My brothers have it, too. Blue from my dad and green from my mother. It’s freaky, I know.” He gave me the shyest smile he could ever give and straightened his hipster glasses. “They are beautiful,” and I leaned in closer. It was the first time we kissed (well, on the lips).
Our last meeting at The Ink Room ended quick. The other barista, Clove, was behind the counter that day. There weren’t many people, only two or three sitting closer to the counter (possibly for the stronger WiFi signal). I did not bother to look, not when I knew something was wrong in the air, with the way Theo was looking at me. There was a cup of latte on the table,still breathing steams. It must be for me since Theo disliked the taste of too much milk in coffee and never understood my love for latte. We talked like strangers.
“How was your day?”
“Tough day at work?”
He could not take it even less than I could. Then everything foul spilled out of the cup.
He met someone else. He did not cheat on me, not physically at least. He loved me but things changed. He did not want to hurt me but he knew this was the best ending for the both of us. There was no point in keeping a relationship when the hearts had changed. He said he enjoyed our time together and he would never forget about how happy we were. He was moving to New York for his work and he saw no way that our relationship could continue, not when he was in love with someone else.
I did not pay attention after that, not after he said the words “in love”. I spaced out, trying desperately to crawl back to the once heavenly place in our minds. I couldn’t see him, I could only feel myself alone in the void.
I left before he could say anything more to explain when there was nothing to be explained further. I tried to run from the oncoming wave before it splashes me down and the water engulfs me to its bottom, but my feet were trapped in the wet sand ceaselessly sliding back to the ocean deep. I was torn into two parts, the one that yearned for the call of the sweet oblivion offered by the dark waters, the other one that still craved the wakening breeze on the sand. I cut myself in half, my soul to the place where things are buried deep, my body to the stingy sand where buried things can be revealed easily with a bit of digging. The latte was still warm on that little stool. I walked out and did not look back. I was thrown into a lake with rocks strapped to my feet, yet I have never felt so relieved. There was no one to save me from drowning, and I did drown. Air was pushed out of my lungs against my will and my limps turned numb as my conscious grew dimmer every second. It was the only way to go, the tough way that made me feel as if nothing will ever be okay again.
And it felt like that for a very long time.
My life turned into a romance movie, one that I found myself staring out the window and grew tremendously sad over everything in life. It was understandable at first, but as I sank lower and lower, it turned miserable. Of course, I was not aware of the quicksand I was in. I kept sinking and sinking. I did not remember exactly when I stopped the bleeding. It happened like a strike across the sky, soundless and sudden.
Sadness has an expiration date but you cannot see it. You will know it, when that day arrives and you wake up, everything seems different. It was the day I accepted the fact that I was meant to be with him but he was not meant to be with me.
I was never in love with a real person. The Theodore I loved was not real. It was a wide imagination I had based on a man who I was interested in. A knock-off. In my head, The Theodore is still in love with me and we share a life that is so happy, we would not have chosen another if given the opportunity. We would be sitting on the sofa right now watching some movies on HBO. We would go to brunch tomorrow and maybe take a trip to Brighton next weekend. He would be here.
But he isn’t.
I know it now. The root of the problem. I was never in love with the real, breathing Theo. I was in love with my own Theo. And he died.