The café had been placid since everyone went back to their work and studies—which was around lunchtime. With only a few occasional customers, it was drifting into invisibility again. It was not until a pair of friends entered that the place became active again. The few quiet chats scattered among the various booths could only account for silent buzzes.
“Are you sure it’s this café?” One guy said to the other as he stepped toward the counter.
“How many?” The waiter asked, walking toward them with the menus.
“Two,” The other guy replied as they followed the waiter to a booth in the far corner. He then turned to his friend. “I told Melanie to meet us here.”
“Why did you say two then?” The first guy asked. The look on his face was not confusion. It was an accusing one.
“Don’t you know anything about dating?”
“What would you have for drinks?” The waiter asked as he placed the menus in front of them.
Both guys slid into the booth and fumbled at their menus.
“I’ll just have iced tea,” The first guy said.
“Same,” The other guy rattled out. “And the vanilla ice cream cake for me.”
The waiter turned to the first guy after collecting the menu. “Sir?”
“That’ll be all for now.”
“Da Dong,” The other guy called out as soon as the waiter left.
“What?” The first guy asked, looking up from the menu he was still studying.
“I’m going to the restroom for a bit,” The other guy said. “Just stay calm and don’t do anything stupid.”
Jiro rolled his eyes. As if he would. “Yes, Vin, I’ll try.”
Vincent ignored Jiro’s sarcastic comment. He got up from his place and headed toward the restrooms. As he was about a foot from it, he saw two guys walking in. One wearing blue and the other white. It was only a casual curious observation. Until he heard what the other parties were saying.
“Are you sure this is the place, Ricky?” The guy in blue asked the guy in white.
“Of course it is,” Ricky—the guy in white—returned. He sounded offended. As if his friend did not trust him at all. “What do you take me for, Nic?”
“I just want to make sure,” Nic clarified.
They were approached by the same waiter. The waiter took them to a booth next to the one Jiro and Vincent occupied.
“What are you doing back so soon?” Jiro questioned, staring at Vincent. “I thought you said you have to go to the restroom.”
Vincent did not answer Jiro right away. He slid into his side of the booth before leaning into Jiro, whispering, “I think we’ve been tricked.”
Jiro wrinkled his face. “What?”
Vincent put a finger up to his lips. “Sh…”
“Why are you…”
“See those guys in the next booth over?” Vincent asked, cutting Jiro off. He was still whispering.
Jiro nodded. “And?”
“They’re here for someone too. Sounds like Melanie set up two dates for that girl. Backup plan, get it?”
Jiro glanced at the booth next to them once. Then he decided that Vincent was not a reliable source when it came to “facts”, so he turned back to Vincent. “How do you know?”
Vincent quickly recounted the words he overheard. Jiro ended up in a laughing fit.
“Laugh all you want,” Vincent said, annoyed. He was no longer whispering. His pride was being attacked. “Don’t cry to me when you realize you’re someone’s backup plan.”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence,” Jiro said, having calmed down already.
“Crank your ear up and listen then.”
And Vincent did just that. For the next several minutes, he stayed quiet and pretended to be sipping on his drink that the waiter just brought over. As he predicted, the guys from the next booth over continued their conversation as soon as the waiter was out of sight again.
“When are they coming again?” Nic asked Ricky, looking at his watch.
Ricky glared at Nic with some hostility. “What’s your hurry?”
“We have bowling night with the other guys, remember?”
“We could always cancel.”
“Girls over friends?”
“It’s your life on the line here.”
“More like yours. You dragged me here, remember?”
“What’s the harm? You get some free food.”
Nic decided to drop it. “What’s the girl’s name again?”
Ricky scratched his head. “Now that you mentioned it, I forgot.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Ricky was still scratching his head, trying to search for the name. “Larissa calls her Cyn, I think.”
Then they heard a “cling cling” sound from the next booth over. Both guys turned to check it out. They saw the guy eating cake had dropped his spoon. His friend waved at them, offering a nervous, apologetic smile. Nic and Ricky returned to their conversation after their brief exchange of friendly smiles.
“I told you they were after her too!” Vincent gritted his teeth—after making sure the other guys were not focusing on them.
“Didn’t the other guy say ‘Larissa’?” Jiro pointed out. “We’re meeting up with Melanie.”
“Come on man,” Vincent exclaimed with much frustration. “Put two and two together! Melanie and Larissa could be friends for all we know. Girls always travel in packs; of course, they operate in packs in order to find possible candidates for their friends.”
This time, everyone in the café turned to stare at them since Vincent had raised his voice without realizing it. Jiro rattled out another set of apologies before turning to Vincent again.
“Will you knock it off?” Jiro asked. “You’re attracting unnecessary attention. I’m just here because I’m curious. That’s it. You don’t have to make such a big deal out of it.”
“We have to win,” Vincent said. He was eating his ice cream cake again since the waiter had returned with a replacement of the spoon. “You know that, right?”
Jiro shook his head, too amused at Vincent’s dramatic nature. He directed his attention to the entrances. Another few more minutes and the mystery would unveil.
“Ah!” Ricky yelled out from the next booth over.
All three guys—Nic, Jiro, and Vincent—turned to stare at Ricky. Jiro and Vincent soon returned their attention to their table, thinking it was a coincidence since they did not see anyone entering the café.
“What?” Nic urged, getting impatient. He took another brief glance at his watch.
“She’s Wang Xin…” Ricky snapped his fingers, attempting to remember.
But before he could recall the last word, they saw Jiro and Vincent appearing in front of them. It was almost like magic. They were conjured up. Or so it seemed. Actually, it was Vincent who sprang from his seat, so Jiro had to follow to stop him from acting out.
“What are you doing, man?” Jiro demanded, pulling on Vincent’s shoulder.
Vincent shrugged Jiro’s hand off. Then he turned to Nic and Ricky. “Listen, you two, you might as well go home because she’s already taken!”
“What?!” Nic and Ricky exclaimed at the same time. They exchanged a confused look between the two of them before turning to Vincent. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb,” Vincent said in the same hostile tone. “We overheard you meeting up with her and she’s already taken because my friend is here for the meeting. You guys can go home!”
Nic and Vincent turned to Jiro. Jiro had on the apologetic look—still.
“There must be some sort of misunderstanding here,” Jiro offered, attempting to decrease the hectic moment.
Then they heard a girl’s voice speaking up at that time. The café was already quiet—aside from the four guys’ exchange. This girl’s voice was overly excited. It was hard to not hear her. They stopped to listen carefully because…
“Hey, Cyn! They’re here already!”
“This is ridiculous,” The second girl said. She sounded nervous.
“I don’t know why we’re even here today,” Another girl’s voice could be heard from the side entrance. “I’m not interested in this matchmaking nonsense at all. You better be thankful.”
The four guys had stopped arguing the minute they heard the third voice. Vincent had taken a step toward the first group before but now he had to stop as well.
“Larissa!” Ricky called out, breaking the confusing silence. He waved to a girl in lavender who was walking with the third girl that spoke up earlier.
“They’re over there,” Larissa said excitedly, tugging on her friend’s arm.
“Obviously,” The girl with an attitude returned, rolling her eyes at her friend’s slowness.
“This is just great,” Vincent said to Jiro, smiling. “They get the mean girl.”
“Hey Vin, Jiro!” The first girl who spoke up called out, waving to the guys. “Over here.”
Vincent shoved Jiro slightly in the arm to resurrect him. Jiro became alert again, following Vincent toward the girls at the front entrance.
Ricky did not care if Larissa’s friend had a raging attitude. He looked more than happy to see Larissa. He moved over to create some space for Larissa as Nic offered her friend a smile, nodding his head with much politeness. To their surprise, she returned the smile and nodded politely toward him as well.
“I’m Cynthia,” The girl introduced herself, extending her hand to Nic.
“Nic,” Nic said casually, shaking her hand.
“I have to clarify that I don’t want to get involved but Sha Sha wants to double date, so I agreed.”
Nic nodded in acknowledgment. “I was just curious myself since Ricky dragged me here.” He pointed at Ricky for emphasis. “In fact, I have to go to bowling night with the guys later so I’m afraid that….”
Cynthia’s face lit up with fascination. “You bowl? What’s your best score?”
Nic scratched his head in nervousness, wondering if he had borrowed that habit from Ricky all of a sudden.
Cynthia’s smile faded as fast as it had appeared in the first place. She turned around to face the front entrance at that time, her hostility restored. Standing up, she made her way toward Jiro and the others. She stopped at a safe distance from them, her hands on her hips. “Is this a coincidence or what?”
As if frightened by her words, the other group turned to face her.
“What’s wrong?” Ricky asked, having walked up to join her and Larissa.
Larissa left her seat as soon as she saw Cynthia’s expression. Nic was tagging behind them.
“Ricky!” One of the girls from Jiro’s group called out. She was the first girl to speak up when the two girls arrived earlier.
Ricky had on a puzzled look and then recognition formed on his face. He advanced toward the girl happily. “Mel! How have you been?”
“Save the mushy talk,” Cynthia interrupted their little reunion. “What are you doing here?” Her eyes were on Mel’s friend.
“Last time I checked,” The other girl spoke up, dragging out her sentence on purpose. “You don’t own this place.”
Jiro and Vincent exchanged a look at that time. Had they mistaken her vulnerable exterior for gentleness?
“Like you do,” Cynthia shot back.
“You’re always arguing,” Melanie said, stepping in between Cynthia and her friend.
Jiro and Vincent had miraculously cleared out of the line of fire.
“You guys know each other?” Vincent whispered to Ricky—since they happened to be standing next to each other at that time.
“We went to the same university,” Ricky answered, whispering as well.
Vincent did not have a chance to finish his interrogation. Cynthia was delivering her next words of attack.
“When you go and meet new people,” Cynthia drawled out. “You should consider wearing better clothes.” She had been eyeing the other girl up and down.
“White’s not your color,” The other girl returned, her smile challenging.
“I should be telling you that.”
“My apologies,” A timid voice interrupted. “But…”
“We should be sorry,” Larissa jumped in, sending the owner one of her friendly smiles. “We will leave.”
“After I pay,” Vincent inputted.
“Me too,” Ricky followed.
“We’ll wait for you guys outside,” Melanie informed them as the guys approached the counter.
Jiro and Nic did not know whether to stay with their friends or follow the girls.
“Could you guys stay behind for a bit?” Larissa asked, turning to Jiro and Nic.
Jiro and Nic nodded automatically.
The guys watched as the girls made their way outside. They disappeared down the path leading to the parking lot.
“Tell me what day it is,” Vincent said, joining Jiro and Nic by the door.
The guys stopped under a tree, delaying their journey on purpose. It was more like Vincent suggested they had a talk also.
“And I thought we were getting the cute girl,” Vincent mumbled, his voice full of helplessness. His head was down, staring at a thin sheet of sunshine swaying back and forth along with the shadow of the branches.
“Wait a minute,” Ricky said.
Vincent’s head snapped up. “What?”
“When you guys came over and confronted us.”
“Oh, that.” Vincent cleared his throat briefly. Whether to draw all eyes on him or for dramatic effect, they did not know. “The girl that Mel and I are setting up for Jiro is Mel’s long-time friend. Her name is Cyndi.”
“Of course she is.”
“We didn’t know that, remember? I meant at least I didn’t.”
The others stared at Ricky this time. They thought he was still confused.
“You guys misunderstood that we were talking about her earlier because of the similar names,” Ricky said, remembering what had caused Vincent to jump at them earlier.
“I thought you said you don’t know them,” Nic jumped in, eyeing Ricky cautiously.
“I was just messing with you,” Ricky said. “Where would the fun be if I told you your date’s name right away? I didn’t know it would cause a misunderstanding.”
“Now we have to deal with them,” Vincent said miserably. “Look at how they were going at each other earlier.” He turned to Ricky. “Maybe you should fill us in about them. So we could be prepared for later…” He had been gesturing his hand wildly for emphasis while he was talking.
“Cyndi and Cynthia are sisters.”
“What?!” Jiro, Nic, and Vincent shouted at the same time.
“I thought he should know them, considering how he’s your friend,” Vincent said. He was looking at Nic though he was talking to Ricky.
“He doesn’t know them because we went to the same university, but our majors were different, so we were in different buildings,” Ricky explained.
“I only know Larissa,” Nic said.
Vincent scratched his head. “Oh.” He turned to Ricky. “Sorry. Continue.”’
“I think their parents are divorced,” Ricky continued. “Or was it that they share the same father but different mothers?”
“Which version is it then?”
Ricky shrugged. “I’m not sure. I didn’t dare to ask again. You saw them.”
Vincent nodded. Fear was still present in his eyes.
“The bottom line is…don’t try to convince them to get along. At least not us guys. It’s like impossible. Cyndi threw my final project out the window once when I mentioned patching things up with her sister.”
Vincent turned to look at Jiro with concern. “I’m so sorry, man. I didn’t realize Mel got you a psycho.”
“How did you guys know Mel then?” Ricky asked.
“She’s my neighbor in our hometown,” Vincent answered. “My old man’s good friends with her old man.” Then he remembered something. He turned to Ricky again. “Why did you guys set up the meeting here?”
“We didn’t know about Mel’s plan,” Ricky said. “In fact, I haven’t seen her for a year or so now. She sure changed.”
While the guys continued to exchange more useful material for future references, the girls were also exchanging some information. Yet it was not as peaceful on their side.
“Come on, Cynthia,” Larissa began as they stopped at the edge of the parking lot. “Give it a break.”
“Why should I give in to her?” Cynthia asked, eyeing Cyndi.
Cyndi still had on her challenging look, not wanting to back down to her enemy. Her pose almost mirrored that of Cynthia’s. “Unlike someone, I’m willing to negotiate.”
Larissa turned to Cyndi. “What?”
“If she leaves,” Cyndi said, dropping her hands to her sides. “I’ll forget it.”
“What?” Cynthia jumped in—literally—since she was advancing toward Cyndi upon hearing the previous words.
Melanie and Larissa separated them once again.
“It was a coincidence that we bumped into each other today,” Larissa said. “So let’s think of a civilized way to solve this.”
“She should be the one leaving,” Cynthia said, not giving up.
“We came first,” Cyndi pointed out.
“This shopping center should be huge enough for both of you, right?” Larissa offered.
“Well, this town sure isn’t.”
“Then maybe you should leave it,” Cyndi delivered, one hand on her hips.
Cynthia turned to her. “Maybe that person should be you.”
“Come on!” Melanie urged. “We’re not getting anywhere with this, and the guys are coming soon.”
Larissa pulled out a small notebook and a pen at that time. She jotted down something and ripped the piece of paper out. After folding the paper up, she turned to address the sisters again. “Pick a number.”
“Why?” Cyndi and Cynthia asked at the same time.
“Just pick any number. The one who picks a closer number gets to stay.”
“Fine,” Cynthia said, brushing her hair out of her face. “Nine.”
“Four,” Cyndi said.
“You guys get to stay,” Larissa said, unfolding the paper for the others to see.
“Look who Heaven’s siding with now,” Cyndi said, smiling proudly.
“Hmp.” Cynthia turned to Larissa after that. “Let’s go.”
Coincidentally, the guys appeared at that time. As if detecting the situation, Nic and Ricky walked toward Cynthia and Larissa while Jiro and Vincent walked to Cyndi and Melanie. They acted like they did not know each other at all.
© Thursday, December 9th, 2010
Posted: Wednesday, December 15th, 2010