Hey, have you read part 1? Please read that, and the rest of this updated story, using the tab for The Lord of the Geeks above. Thanks! – E.
Back in Auckland, Stella regretted not taking the whole tour package that the travel website offered. Had she done so, she would have been immersed in a hot spring with Greek god-lookalike Eddie that night, instead of dining in the hotel’s only restaurant alone. The thought depressed her so she ordered room service, but added a glass of Riesling to continue her exploration of the New Zealand white wines.
It was raining and her room overlooked a park, so she sat by the window, listened to Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude, and watched the autumn leaves and park benches being drenched, all from the comfort of her warm chair. Her mobile phone suddenly rang, and she wondered whether Eddie had telephatically gotten her number. But she saw that it was Richard calling. Her heart jumped and she grabbed the phone.
“I’m still not talking to you,” she said, in a voice that did not sound convincing.
“Stella, my lovely, how was your tour? Did you get to brush Legolas’ hair?”
“I was in Bag End, you silly, ignorant brute. Legolas is an elf not a hobbit. Call me when you have your Middle Earth facts straightened out.”
“Oh goddess of perfection, what will the world do without all the knowledge that you store in your pretty little head? My world is falling apart. I need you back. I need you to help me figure out the cable and TV remote controls.”
“I’m thinking of extending my trip here, Rich.”
“What do you mean, extend? Impossible. Stella, we both know you can’t live without me a day more than necessary.”
But you can. Live without me. Stella did not say that out loud, but felt increasingly convinced that she needed this time apart from him.
“I want to explore the city more. And I heard the University of Auckland has a campus with heritage buildings and they are within walking distance from my hotel.”
“Do I hear Chopin in the background? Are you writing again? Please tell me you’re writing; only then will I allow you to extend.”
Stella wanted to slap him for his petulance. “Why, I do believe I don’t need your permission.” After a slight hesitation, she added, “And I don’t need to be around while you throw yourself at that new Boy Wonder you just met.”
Richard heard the genuine hurt in Stella’s voice and stopped being playful, for her sake. They were still both getting used to the truth being out there between them, that the reason why they could not be together, even after years of flirtatious friendship and deep conversations, was that Richard wanted to date other men. He had just admitted this to her, one night, to end all the questions. Moving to Australia had allowed him the freedom to be himself. Stella had followed him using a student visa, and left everything behind in Manila. He knew he should have told her earlier, but he still had not figured out himself at the time.
“Ok, Stell. Tell me about your big day at the movie set. I bet your tiny frame fit right into that hobbit-hole.”
“The interiors were shot in Wellington.” Stella could sense the sudden change of topic and took a sip of her white wine to calm herself. “I entered the biggest hole, and there was nothing inside but sawdust. I met someone, though.”
“You mean the movie sets were elaborate on the outside but empty inside? Wait…. What? Met someone? Did Stella meet a hobbit?”
Stella smiled at the thought of a hobbit-sized Eddie. “No, this time I made sure it is a Man,” she couldn’t resist the emphasis. “Not an elf. Not a hobbit. A real man.”
Her friends back home had warned her not to throw her life away to follow Richard, but she was a hopeless case. He had the voice and he played the guitar so well and for a time after he left the Philippines, there was no music in her life. They dated for seven months but he never seemed to be able to commit to her. She thought he was just being the typical musician – impossible to have. So she reincarnated herself to the next best thing, and became his best friend. That way, she became indispensable to him.
She ignored all the signs. How his toiletries were color-coded. How he knew all the Carpenters songs – she even found this cute. How he was the neatest, cleanest, male on the planet. How his kisses were restrained, by the book. How he did not mind going shopping with her, and holding her bag for her.
This went on for nearly two decades. Stella had had other boyfriends, but always ran back to Richard for companionship, endless hand-holding, and romantic comedy movie marathons.
And then he told her he was moving to Australia. She thought she could manage, and it was time to move on. She grew miserable and depressed and wanted to hurt herself after he was gone, so she decided to follow her heart and go to him. She did not even tell him beforehand. She just showed up at his doorstep in Coogee one day, making sure he was home and not in rehearsal by constant email and Viber messages.
Their first few days were bliss. They took long walks on the beach. Stella moved in with Richard, and the world was right again. She cooked for him, did his laundry, and cleaned his apartment, while he paid the bills. They were practically married, she thought. But they still slept in separate rooms. This should have been the biggest warning bell inside Stella’s head, but she still thought he was just being a gentleman.
“So this man, is he sitting with you in your hotel room right now and did I interrupt something?” Richard’s voice brought Stella back to the present.
Stella was tempted to lie, but Richard would hear it in her voice so she simply said, “No, as my luck would have it, he probably is flirting with another gorgeous Asian in Rotorua.”
“I love the confidence, darling. You seem to enjoy being the gorgeous Asian girl in these Western countries a lot! Now go get yourself to Roto- wherever that is. I have to go, band’s first set is almost starting. I will sing Buble’s ‘Everything’ and dedicate it for you in my heart.”
Stella said goodbye to Richard and did not bother to explain that Rotorua was several hours, and hundreds of dollars, away. Everything was the song Richard had dedicated to her the night he told her of his real preferences. He said she deserved a man who would make her his everything, but he was not that man. Stella wanted to catch a plane back to Manila the very next morning, but she had to finish her Masters of Creative Writing course at the University of Sydney.
Needless to say, the heartbreak Richard caused her made for pretty interesting and distinguished writing, and her professors were impressed. She was going home in a few months, and the Auckland trip was supposed to be their final one together, but he cancelled on her. She knew the band was just an excuse. It was a particular band member, the well-toned drummer, that was the focus of Richard’s undivided attention, she was sure.
She knew she needed to concretize the act of moving on. She checked her watch – it was close to 9 p.m. If Eddie was being a good boy and thinking of her instead of making out with another tourist at that moment, she could risk ringing him. She found the brochure he had given her and dialled his number. She did this and then remembered that: a) he didn’t know her number, and might screen the call; and b) he didn’t know her name. She immediately cancelled the call, but not before it got connected and Eddie’s phone started ringing. Stella disconnected.
Eddie rang back. Stella made a quick comparison of the number flashing on her iPhone and the handwritten figures. He likes me and was waiting for this, she quickly thought.
“Stella here,” she said. “Umm, hi. Stella. What a wonderful name. I got a call from this number and am just returning it. Are you who I hope you are? Stella the caffeine addict? This is Eddie, the guy from the Hobbiton tour. You know, the one who could not get over how gorgeous you looked as you were frowning at him before sunrise this morning?” Eddie spoke quickly with an accent she could not quite place, and she had to concentrate to understand what he was saying. She usually compensated her ignorance of the Aussie accent by lip-reading, but there was no such help available for phone conversations.
Stella could tell this conversation was going in the right direction. Any man who found her gorgeous at 5 a.m., aside from needing an eye checkup, is a keeper in her books.
–To be Continued —