Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lorraine's Coffee Blues

Lorraine heard the doorbell and she jumped to her feet. She was disappointed to see that it was only the messenger from her credit card company. She was waiting for the mailman, to see if she had mail from her man.

So maybe he was not exactly her man yet, but surely he was on his way to becoming one. After all, her friends and even her officemates said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Greg was very, very fond of her before he left for the States. She was hoping the distance could help push him to grow fonder.

Her younger cousin Rita, who shared her apartment with her, noticed her looking out the window. She rolled her eyes and said, “Lorraine, don’t tell me you’re still waiting for a postcard from the other end of the world. No one sends postcards anymore! It’s just so.. so… I don’t know.. so analog!”

Lorraine pouted and retorted, “You don’t know Greg. He values traditional things. He writes down his notes on yellow pad. He carries a Filofax instead of a Blackberry. He said he would send postcards, and I believe him. Just wait and see.”

Greg was on vacation with his family, with scheduled trips to around seven different states, and he promised Lorraine she could travel vicariously through his postcards.

He had been gone three weeks and all she got was a postcard from the first hotel he stayed in, the Manele Bay Hotel in Hawaii. She was not worried, for it took 10 days before that postcard arrived.

Lorraine covered for Greg’s accounts at work while he was away. It was no burden to her really as they were on the same sales area anyway, and she knew most of his clients. She did not need to e-mail him for anything as he had properly endorsed his accounts to her.

She missed him at day’s end, however, for he usually was the one she had late dinner with. On weekends, he’d drive past her house to take her malling. She often had good suggestions on what gifts to give his mom or his sister. She was his fashion consultant, coffee buddy, office ally, and shopping assistant. It was only a matter of time before he would notice her, she convinced herself. She only had to play her cards right.

Her officemates kept telling her that she was being naïve. Greg had broken up with his girlfriend of seven years because he was not sure if he wanted to get married. He was not in the market for a girlfriend, let alone wife, material – all the things Lorraine hoped to be in his life.

Rita asked her once, “Has he ever complimented you on the way you looked? About your hair, your complexion, your outfit, or even your perfume?”

“Hmm, no… not yet, but-“

“Oh, Lorraine, you are living in a fantasy world! If a guy likes you, he would tell you immediately.”

“I sometimes catch him staring at me…”

“… Is it followed by a request for a cup of coffee from the pantry? Who died and made you his secretary?”

“You’re wrong about this, Rita,” Lorraine insisted. “We have a connection. He’s just not ready for a serious relationship yet. I can wait.”

Rita shook her head and said, “If I were a betting woman, you’d be destitute at the end of this short-lived drama. Wake up and smell the roses. Better yet, read that book ‘He’s Not That Into You’. That should remind you of your place in his life –“

“I’m his best friend”, Lorraine proudly quipped.

“If a man needs a best friend, he’d get a dog”, Rita sagely concluded. “You should quit fooling yourself.”

Lorraine was so upset after this conversation that she decided to e-mail Greg. She knew he had limited Internet access, being on travel and all, but he said she could always reach him through e-mail if she had urgent questions about work.

She asked him about a dormant client who called, but whose account history he did not endorse to her, and very innocently inserted that she had not heard from him in quite a while and was wondering if postcards were already phased out in the States.

She pressed the SEND button before thinking, “Uh-oh. That sounded too needy.”

He did not reply. She kept herself busy while he was away. She arranged his files. She got a haircut. She read a book, not what Rita suggested, but the one entitled “Office Romance: The Guide to Success in Career and Lovelife”. It bored her so much that it became a regular read before bedtime. At least it made her stop thinking of him at night.

On the day before his arrival, Lorraine dropped by his apartment – he gave her the only extra key so she could help him watch over his stuff – to water the plants and hang a “Welcome Home” banner. She also stocked the fridge with his favorite ice cream, and bought him a brand-new French-press coffee maker, the one he kept inspecting at Starbucks whenever they hung out there. She left a tiny note below the bright gold ribbon, “Realized that the best brew is the one I have with you.”

She left the apartment wondering if her note was too affectionate and revealing, and decided that it was but she didn’t care, because surely, after weeks and weeks without her to fix his life, he would be practically running into her arms and begging her not to leave his side for the rest of his life anymore. Her note was a little nudge in the right direction.

She woke up the next day in bright spirits. She dressed carefully for work, hoping that she would get invited for dinner by the man who must have brought home souvenirs and trinkets from all over America, for her.

She checked her watch and imagined his plane landing. She thought of him pulling his heavy suitcase, going through immigration and customs, and finally getting a cab. Before he left, she asked if he wanted her to pick him up from the airport, but he said he did not want her to be absent from work just for him. She knew she was daydreaming again at work so she tried to snap back to reality.

His plane was supposed to arrive at 1 p.m., yet by coffee break time, he still had not texted her to announce his arrival. She checked whether the plane was delayed, and upon learning through the Internet that it had arrived on schedule, she dialed his mobile number. It was turned off. She realized he might not have had the time to charge his phone, or he might have forgotten to turn it on, in the busyness of his flight home.

She could not wait to leave the office and at 6 p.m., she decided to surprise him by bringing his favorite pizza over. She could have just called the pizza company, but she thought her showing up on his doorstep with a box of thin-crust would look so cute.

Her plan turned out to be difficult to execute because the minute she stepped out of her office, fat, heavy raindrops poured from the sky. By the time she arrived at his apartment building, she was soaking wet. The pizza, however, remained protected under her umbrella.

She rang the doorbell. No one answered. She waited. She was about to ring it again when the door opened, and there was Greg, looking like he was showered and ready to go out.

Her heart skipped a bit. She did not know it could actually do that. She thought writers just made it up, but it turned out that words were not even enough to describe the experience.

Lorraine was staring at the man of her dreams, and he was staring back. He did not look as pleased as she had hoped he would. In fact, he frowned a little and asked, “Hi Lor! What are you doing here?”

“Uh, hi. I’ve come to bring you pizza. Thought you would be hungry. And uhh, welcome back!” Needy, stalker, fatal attraction-woman! she chided herself.

A female voice from inside the apartment said, “Honey, it’s raining outside and I only brought my Prada shoes, do you think—“

The voice turned out to be a tiny, Beyonce-big-haired lady in a dress Lorraine was sure revealed more than it covered, who said “Oh. I didn’t know someone was at the door.”

Greg, who had been staring at Lorraine, her dripping umbrella, and her huge yellow box of pizza, seemed to pause for a split-second before saying, “Honey, I want you to meet Lorraine Castro, my officemate. Lorraine, this is Anna. My fiancée. We met in Hawaii. It’s a very long and interesting story. Would you like to come in? You look a little pale, it must be all that rain on your dress. It’s a lovely dress, by the way. You look lovely in it.”

Officemate. Fiancee. Officemate vs. fiancée.

Lorraine was of the mind to drop the pizza, hit Greg with her umbrella, and pour all the rainwater on Anna’s precious little Pradas. Instead she said, “Yes, I’d like to come in for a while, just until the rain stops. Thank you.”

Once inside, she could smell the coffee. Anna said, “I didn’t know you had Starbucks in the Philippines. This made me feel at home immediately. Thank you for your gift!”

Who the ---- was this Anna and why did she touch my French press? Lorraine thought. She wanted to search the apartment for her little note, but realized it was too late. Anna had probably read it already and sized her up as “The Enemy”. Or, she could be gloating inside and thinking of Lorraine as “The Loser”.

She wanted to leave the minute she stepped in that apartment. But she also wanted to hear the story of how Greg met this girl whose suitcases were spread all over his living room.

“Was she planning on staying here?” Lorraine thought, scandalized. Some considered her conservative in her views about man-woman relationships, but she had always seen it as simply doing the right thing in the most important relationship she was going to make in her entire life.

So Lorraine, as polite, proper, and perfect as she had always been, sat down for a cup of coffee with the man of her dreams, and the girl who sat on his lap.

It was a cold, rainy, summer night.  She also thought that writers made up scenes like that, with claps of thunder and bolts of lightning, but such was the picture while Greg regaled Lorraine with stories of his whirlwind romance with Anna, who was silently purring at him, in front of Lorraine's shocked eyes.

By the time she got home, she expected Rita to be asleep, but hoped she would not be.

Rita heard the key turning and waited by the door to ask her immediately, “So, how did the great big reunion go? Did he miss you? Did he kiss you? Why are your eyes red? My gosh, Lorraine, what happened?”

And Lorraine proceeded to tell Rita how right she was. Greg was so not into her.  Lorraine cried the whole night. And the whole week. And the whole month.

At the end of the year, Greg married Anna in Honolulu.

Lorraine was at Starbucks that day, writing in her blog from her cellphone, celebrating the gift of technology, and telling the world of the two things she had learned from that year:

1. If a guy you fancy treats you like his best friend, go buy him a dog, and don’t offer to take it for walks, pick up the tab for the vet, or clean up the poo. It’s his dog, and his best friend. You are a woman. Be one.

2. A woman should stick to her values, but it would not hurt if she wore more dresses instead of suits. They’re cheaper, and actually look lovelier.

(Wrote this on a cold summer night.  I'm looking for  a better title to this story.  Post a comment if you have a suggestion, please.)

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