The Time Given to Us (Geek Series, Part V)

If it’s your first time to read this work, please visit “The Lord of the Geeks“, link provided above, for the first four chapters, before proceeding to chapter 5 below. Thanks! – E.

V.  The Time Given to Us

Kia ora!” Eddie warmly greeted Stella when they were both inside the car, while handing her various maps, brochures, and other travel guides to Auckland. “Take your pick, we have a week,” he added.

Stella suddenly felt warm but she didn’t want to remove Eddie’s jacket. He was honestly the best-looking guy she had ever spent time with. She stopped herself from gushing out loud and opted to simply thank him and look at the wealth of tourist information he had given her.

Eddie started to drive while Stella pretended to read about the hottest places in Auckland. She could not concentrate, as she was prone to motion sickness.

She was also becoming dizzy for other reasons. It suddenly struck her that what she was doing was something she had only read or written about in the past. She was running away with a stranger. Her instincts told her she should be running away from this strange foreign man, but she decided to do something crazy for the second time in her life (the first was running after Richard, and what a gamble that was). Well, technically, they were just staying put in one city, but still, the image of what she was trying to pull off stunned her.

She remembered her brother’s advice when she learned of Richard’s Reason (for not being with her), “The only way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” She laughed at Vince, for at that time she didn’t think she could ever want to be with anyone other than Richard.

Then just a few months later, she found herself in another country, with a man she barely even knew save for the information she had dug from his online profiles, and she had to stifle a giggle. Of course she was going to report this to Vince, who would be proud of his older sister.

She should be scared, really, but she wasn’t.

Eddie found a parking space outside Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. He and Stella spent hours exploring the Gallery’s collection of New Zealand historic, modern and contemporary art, as well as international painting, sculpture and print collections.

When they entered the Gallery’s Library upon Stella’s insistence, however, they received quite a surprise.

Stella saw her first: the Aquamarine Lady. She was standing behind the librarian’s desk, in a room that housed the Gallery’s extensive collections about the visual arts. From a distance, her hair took on a silvery shine, and then she looked up and saw them. Stella had a weird feeling that she had been expecting them.

“Well, look who’s here! Hello, young lovers! And welcome to the Auckland Art Gallery’s Research Library!”

Eddie guided her by the small of her back to the librarian’s desk, and they introduced themselves. He was so delighted to see Felise, but Stella was quiet, only smiling politely and extending her hand at the proper moments.

Stella was silently overcome with guilt and discomfort. Her first impression was wrong again. If Felise was a librarian, then she must have read The Lord of the Rings. Stella had no business imputing Tolkien ignorance on this great lady. Oh, she hoped Felise was not a mind-reader, because she was so embarrassed by how her caffeine- and sleep-deprived brain had treated Felise the day before.

The librarian said they could read any of the books on display, and showed them the coffee table book from the recent exhibition, Angels & Aristocrats, which they had missed by a few days. Eddie promised to buy the book at the museum shop, and told them both how fascinated he was by angels.

A geek who likes angels, Stella thought. Eddie on 3D was even more interesting than his travel photos on Instagram and his list of skills on LinkedIn. She wondered if he found her equally appealing.

“So, what are you up to after this? I’m surprised the art gallery is your first stop after Hobbiton!” Felise remarked. “Although, very pleased to see you. I’m proud of our collections, of course.”

“It’s because of me,” said Stella. “Aside from it being too cold for me for any outdoor activities, I really love libraries and museums and art galleries. Eddie here is being nice.”

“No, no, I am glad we’re doing this. If not for you, I would never have seen those outstanding works by Māori and Pacific Island artists,” Eddie was not replying to Felise, but looking at Stella. What a pair of geeks we are, she thought.

Felise, with eyes of wisdom and tenderness, said to the couple, “Yes, a familiar place can be seen under new eyes when you revisit it with someone special. You see gems that were always there, waiting to be discovered.”

Stella liked that. She wanted to hug Felise.

“I don’t mean to sound like your grandmother, but it’s going to be a rainy evening, and you’d better go if you want to see more of the city,” Felise said. “All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”

Stella was pretty sure that the last sentence was a paraphrase from Tolkien.

“I wanted to see the university’s old buildings, and Eddie wanted to have dinner somewhere near the Viaduct Harbour.” Felise nodded her approval at their simple plans.

“Parking could be a problem. We should probably leave the car here and come back for it before dinner.”

“How are you at map-reading, at dusk, in the rain?” Stella had to ask, before she realized she needed to put more trust in Eddie, as he was more familiar with the CBD than she was.

Before Eddie could reply, Felise blurted out, “Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s a pretty small city. Besides, you might like what you find along the way!”

Not all those who wander are lost,” Eddie, Stella, and Felise said at the same time. And they laughed.  They obviously had a shared love for “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, from which that line was taken.

Felise looked so encouraging and confident that Stella wanted to stay behind to pick her brain about her travels and books and holiday romances. Almost wanted to stay behind, she corrected herself, for she also wanted to spend every waking moment of the next week with Eddie.

“Drink a lot of wine, try our famous Whittaker’s chocolates, and watch the Wynyard Crossing bridge as it lifts to allow watercraft to pass through tonight,” suggested Felise.

Stella agreed and said, “I have been gloriously acquainted with your excellent white wines recently, and I am definitely going to try the Pinot Grigio for dinner.”

“That, my dear is a good plan,” Felise replied.

They walked from the Gallery to the University of Auckland. Being Asian, Stella could not resist buying an umbrella from the museum shop and using it against the rain. Eddie ended up having to carry it as he was the much taller one, although he appeared to Stella not to be an umbrella person.

Stella wanted to document everything, but restrained herself. Her camera could get wet, and some moments were best preserved in her heart’s memory, she realized. Especially since it was turning out to be a very special afternoon. So they just walked by the School of Music, the beautiful building for Political Studies, and the law school library.

“Tell me, Eddie, if you were to choose another career, what would it be?” Stella had no real answer herself to that question, as she knew she was going to be a writer by the time she received her first Annie journal when she was nine years old. She liked thinking about alternative careers whenever she was roaming a university campus, however. And she liked to discover more of Eddie.

“I wanted to be a pilot when I was a child,” came the reply. “But my eyesight turned out to be not good enough for it. I’m wearing contacts, by the way. I think it’s the closest I could ever be to actual flying,” and Eddie gave Stella his boyish grin that she found so endearing. “And you?”

“I’m boring, for I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” she replied. “But I sometimes daydream about being a figure skater, probably because of all the Disney on Ice shows I watched as a girl.”

“Do you know how to ice skate?”

“Oh no, of course not,” Stella laughed. “We don’t have ice in Manila, although there are good skating rinks inside a couple of malls.”

“We could do that tomorrow! I could teach you, or we could hire an instructor for an hour …” Eddie said as they sat on a wet bench in Albert Park.

Eddie used his jacket as a dry spot for him and Stella to sit on, so instead of using the entire length of the bench, they were squeezed on a tiny portion of it, connected on one side, from shoulder to feet. Stella was, once again, freezing, but inside, she was warm, as if a shot of brandy had travelled all throughout her body.

Stella wasn’t sure she wanted to stumble and fall on the ice in front of Eddie. At the same time, it sounded sweet.

All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.

As she leaned on Eddie’s shoulder, Stella replied, “Let’s think about tomorrow, tomorrow.”

“As you wish,” Eddie said.

They watched as the rain softly fell on the brown leaves on the ground, not bothering anymore to bring out an umbrella.

Stella’s hair was sticking to her face, her makeup had long been washed away, and yet she did not feel the need to fix anything at all.

“We are going to get soaked, and I don’t want you to catch a cold,” Eddie said. He was holding Stella’s hand and could feel her shivering. “We’d better head back to the hotel, change, and have a nice dinner.”

But Stella did not want to move. There was nowhere else she’d rather be than with this man who was making her feel cared for.

“Let’s stay for a few more minutes,” she pleaded into Eddie’s eyes. “I have a pretty strong immune system,” she assured him.

Her mobile phone, her camera, in fact her entire bag was in the rented car. Stella did not care. She was, however, remembering every second of that moment, as if to write about it someday.

How long had it been since she had sat this close to a man (other than Richard, who did not count)? She felt fragile yet strong. Anything was possible. Anything she said seemed to fascinate him. He seemed to want to be with her, and not anyone else.

True, she did not know him yet, but surely her heart would not betray her. Surely she could trust Eddie.

“Tell me, how did you get started liking angels? It seems, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, a little bit out of character. For a brainy guy like you.”

“Angels remind me of my late mother,” Eddie replied, while staring at something in the distance.

“I’m sorry to hear that, when did she pass away?”

“Just, just four years ago. I was an only son. She and dad had separated when I was in five, and dad has another family. Mum was all I had,” he said in a quiet voice.

Stella covered Eddie’s hands with both of hers, although they were small compared to his.

“We used to travel a lot together. Her family left her with a house in France, and we visited Europe every year.”

Stella was not familiar with such loss. Her parents and younger brother Vince were all still living in their family home in Manila.

“I have never been to Europe.” Out of all the things to say, she had to make it about her? Stella wanted to take it back, but it was too late.

Eddie looked at her and said, “I could take you there someday. Mum left me the house.”

“Oh, Eddie, let’s not make promises like that. It’s dangerous for my heart. I am bad at this!” The rain had stopped. Stella knew that Eddie merely replied to her suggestion, but she did not want to build an imaginary future just yet, as she was prone to do with men, evidenced by the fact of her recent failed relationship. Was she thinking about Richard in the past tense now? That was progress!

“I mean, I would love to say yes, but let’s not do that to my poor heart.” As a writer, Stella had learned that she tended to feel things more deeply: love, lust, loss, pain, disappointment, heartbreak. Her therapist back at Sydney, whom she had consulted after Richard’s Revelation, tried to train her to be aware of how passionate she could be, and to avoid situations that would lead to certain agony.

As it was, she knew she was already treading on dangerous ground.  But she thought that taking it one day at a time could lessen her tendency to feel too much.

She did not know that she was miscalculating again.

“Fair enough, I shouldn’t have made such a promise. I’m worse at this, believe me,” Eddie said. It was true. He had never figured out the right way of dealing with women. He always meant what he said at the time he said it, but that had gotten him in trouble more than once.

“To go back to mum’s angels, after the divorce, she took to buying art – paintings and sculptures – of angels and filled our house with it. She wanted to protect herself from further pain, I was told by my aunts later on. I always had angel pins and stickers in my school bag. She was not very religious, but just believed in angels, particularly the archangels.”

Coming from a Catholic country, Stella knew all the archangels, and in fact had received her Sacrament of Confirmation from the National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels in Manila.  She had, since she began working, been an absentee Catholic. She wondered if Eddie went to church.

“After mum’s death, I talked to a priest. I just walked into the chapel in the hospital, as I refused to talk to anyone else. The priest was a good listener. He and I had become good friends. He keeps asking that I attend mass sometime. I have never taken up his offer.”

“Maybe we could visit this priest-friend of yours. Maybe we could go to mass,” Stella was making “future” plans, she knew. She had not felt this urge to attend mass before, not even during the time of heartbreak from Richard. All she wanted then was to change the situation, and she took matters into her own hands. See where that led: she refused to let go of her co-dependency on Richard, and vice versa. For, although he left her for Australia, Richard still wanted Stella in his life, to be an observer, absorber, and validator.

“Maybe,” Eddie replied. “I’ll call him tonight, but that means you’ll have to go with me to Sydney, where he is assigned.”

Knowing her time in Sydney was limited, Stella wondered if she should tell Eddie. But it felt too soon to talk about such things.

“I’m hungry,” was what came out of Stella’s mouth.

Eddie chuckled. “Let’s feed you then,” he said.

Back at the Hilton, Eddie took a shower while Stella unpacked. He was not exaggerating when he said he had a big room. She happily hung her few clothes and mentally noted that she needed to schedule shopping the next day. If Eddie wanted to, he could just sit and drink coffee somewhere while she picked what she needed.

She also appropriated the other bed for herself, and left her watch, jewellery, and her books for night reading on the table beside it. They were going to sleep on separate beds, she was sure of it, despite what Vince her brother advised her before on how to forget Richard. He must not have meant it literally.

Eddie stepped out of the bathroom – he finished more quickly than Richard, no surprise there – wearing his clothes already, to Stella’s relief. She did not want to seem prudish but she also did not know how to react had he appeared wearing only a towel.

“Your turn,” he said, not looking at her. He pretended to open the closet to look for something. Stella felt it was just for show, as he was already, as previously observed, fully clothed.

“Thanks,” she said, and carried her toolbox-sized toiletry bag and her change of clothes with her to the bathroom. The tub looked inviting but she was hungry for dinner, so she opted for a shower as well.

“I’m going to browse for a restaurant, what do you feel like eating?” Eddie asked through the door.

“Seafood maybe?” Richard is allergic to seafood, so Stella always ate them whenever she was out of his house. Or in this case, out of his life. Her therapist must be counting the number of times she had mentioned Richard in this trip. She decided to let the water wash all thoughts of Richard away, and down the drain with the soap and shampoo.

“I found a place that has a seafood platter, better for outdoor dining, but it may be cold tonight. I’ll call to reserve a seat inside,” Eddie again, at the door.

Stella could barely hear him through the shower and so she just shouted her assent, “Okay!”

This should be awkward, only it wasn’t. So she was taking a shower in a hotel room that really wasn’t hers and talking to a man through the bathroom door to whom it belonged and now that she started thinking about it, she became self-conscious as she carefully dressed for dinner.

She should have worn the Wicked dress tonight, she thought with regret. Instead she settled for skinny jeans and a girly top. She was hungry and was ready in 20 minutes, which was a record, considering the outcome. She was pleased at the face of the girl staring back at her in the mirror. She looked grown-up, sophisticated, and free.

When she opened the door, she caught Eddie munching on the cookies that were provided by the hotel. The poor guy must have been hungrily waiting for me, she realized with a tinge of guilt.

Eddie looked at her appreciatively. He said, “My lady, if you would permit me, I’d like to take you out to dinner.”

“Why, kind sir, I believe you have started with dinner already,” Stella replied with a mischievous grin. She took the cookie from Eddie’s hand and bit into it. “I thought I was the one who was hungry,” she said, crumbs ruining her lipstick and all.

Eddie said, “That was very unladylike, and would not do.” He took a tissue from the bathroom sink and wiped away the crumbs, the lipstick and all traces from Stella’s mouth.

And then he kissed Stella. Right there, slowly, as if asking permission, which she gave, and then deeply, as if hungry and waiting for her all his life.

Stella was not sure how long they stood like that, because she was now with her back against the wall, and Eddie was leaning so he could reach her, and he did not seem to show any signs of slowing down, and something stronger than brandy was now surging through her blood, and Stella thought she should do something before dinner, and her seafood, and her Pinot Grigio, was totally forgotten.

She pulled back, and Eddie let her, although the look of longing in his eyes gave him away.

“There’s plenty of time after dinner, but right now, I think we have a reservation at a restaurant? Or was that just a ruse to get me out of the shower quickly?” Stella was still thinking clearly, and was grateful for that. Eddie did not seem to be able to reply immediately. He was still holding her very close. Their faces were only inches apart, the only inches Stella could muster to create between them.

Eddie gave her lips a brief kiss and then said, “This is going to be a quick dinner, okay?”

Instinctual fear of the unknown and the (seemingly) perfect made Stella promise herself to prolong dinner as long as she could.

They walked to the restaurant hand in hand, not talking. When they got there, Stella wanted a beer. It was not what she had planned, but she wanted to start with a beer. It seemed to go well with the seafood platter that Eddie had ordered.

Eddie, surprised that she wanted a beer, got one for himself too, although he ordered for her an Amstel Light. He was not sure what Stella’s alcohol tolerance was, but he did not want to risk it. He did not want to get his date drunk that night, for he had other plans.

Before the food was served, Stella was already halfway through the Amstel Light, her new best friend. She clung to it and not to Eddie, who suddenly became a most desirable object she could not have. She did not want to risk him kissing her in public. And then a thought entered her, something she wanted to repeat to herself all throughout dinner: this was just, technically, their first dinner date. It was up to her to take things slow. But the memory of his kiss lingered, and all coherent, prudent thoughts threatened to dissipate through the seafood platter.

“I didn’t know you drank beer,” Eddie broke the electrifying silence. He was sitting across from her, and not beside her. He could sense Stella needed some space, and he gave it while he still could.

“Back home, I enjoyed the occasional light beer. Our famous beer is San Miguel, named after an archangel,” Stella managed to reply. She thought of St. Michael, and in a sudden surge of Catholic school memory, asked for his intercession, to protect her from any harm.

Not that she feared Eddie. She did not think Eddie had any intentions of hurting her. What she feared was her own capacity to hurt herself, which, in the past, she had enormously and repeatedly done.

At the mention of an angel, Eddie’s blood flow slowed down as well. He showed her the St. Michael’s medal protection necklace that his mum had given to him when he started going to big school, at the time when the other boys were bullying him for being a weakling at sports, which everyone else in Australia seemed to be good at. His mother used to say that sports were Australia’s religion.

Remembering his mother, Eddie also got reminded of her advice on how to treat women, and he made a mental promise to her that he would be a perfect gentleman to Stella. For as long as he could.




A Change of Plans [The Lord of the Geeks (Part IV)]

(You must read Parts 1 to 3, if you still haven’t. You’ll find the link to the first three chapters  on one of the tabs above. Thanks! – Ella)

A phone was ringing in Stella’s dream. She pressed Snooze, only to realize that she had reached for her iPhone, which was actually ringing, and that the Snooze button only worked for the alarm, which in her dazed state last night, she forgot to set.

She was dreaming of a tall, handsome, green-eyed elf who was kissing her hair and swearing love in the liquid elven tongue, and she most definitely did not welcome this rude awakening at all. The caller would receive the full wrath in her voice.

“Go away, Richard!” She said, and it was all that she could muster.  Her vocal chords were still at rest. How could some people be so dense and self-absorbed? She thought. And why did she answer the phone when she could have pressed the red button and denied the call? She berated herself. There were ten reasons to hate Richard at that precise moment and Stella added them to her growing list of resentment.

“Good morning, my princess. I have good news for you. I am picking you up from the Kingsford international airport! I wouldn’t want you to worry about carrying your heavy luggage full of toiletries on the train, like you so heroically planned to do. Tell me, are you on your way already?”   Richard was being unusually cheerful, blissfully unaware that Stella was really and truly in the process of leaving him. Wait, Stella’s groggy inner voice told her, he must be realizing that his powers on her are weakening, hence this stubborn refusal to let go.

“Since when did I become your princess? You would do well to remember that I already told you that I’m staying longer in Auckland!” This city was beginning to feel like sanctuary, she thought. She didn’t realize how tired she was, how absolutely tired, of Richard’s neediness.

“You mean, you are doing this to me? Just when I need you to edit the words to a song inspired by your absence?” Stella could hear the pout in Richard’s voice. It made her feel sick.

She sat up despite her body’s refusal to leave the warm bed. She felt her blood rising, which was a strange feeling. She used to have infinite patience for Richard, even when they were constantly bickering like an old married couple. It was too early in the day for that image, and she felt the irony in it. For they would never be married. For the first time, Stella felt she could stop repeating the same mistakes she had been making for two decades. She could stop hoping Richard would choose to be with her. For he couldn’t, and he wouldn’t.

“No I am not doing this to you. I am doing this for me. Please, Rich. Maybe this is good for us? For me, I mean.” Stella needed to be stronger and more consistent if she was going to be serious about moving on. Then she remembered Eddie.

Stey-a!” Richard screamed his pet name for her, which he only used whenever he wanted her to do something against her will, which usually involved asking her to stay. Stella interrupted him before he could further hurt her ear drums.

“I have to go now, Rich. And stop calling me. I cannot afford the mobile roaming charges! I am here and I will make the most out of my trip. I can deal with my classes online. I’ll see you in a week.”

She could hear him building his protests, but she pressed the End Call button. She put the phone on silent mode and resolved to ignore Richard for the rest of the day. Make that for the rest of the week, which she planned to spend happily with Eddie.

Speaking of Eddie, she jumped out of bed and started preparing to meet him. Richard was right about the toiletries, for she loved special shampoo-bath gel-conditioner combinations that only came in huge bottles, and she always brought at least two each of lotions, creams, perfumes, colognes, and soaps. She liked to have her options, and for her scents to match her different moods. Thus, she was definitely not a light traveller.

She dressed up deliberately, thankful that she packed the old rose-colored lace dress she bought on sale from Witchery, which went well with her black tights and ankle boots. A black Banana Republic jacket, a purchase from Manila that she had always treasured, and a floral scarf from Richard (whose taste was exquisitely perfect) completed the outfit. She did not bring enough clothes for a week, but maybe this was an excuse to splurge and do some of her own shopping. She wondered if there were outlet stores in Auckland.

Stella had great skin and needed little makeup, but she still made the effort to put on cream blush, sheer lip gloss, and lash-lengthening mascara on top of her powder foundation.

She was attempting to close her suitcase when the hotel phone rang. “Do you need help with your bags, ma’am?” came Eddie’s voice on the other line. Stella laughed, because she felt like it, and said “Why yes, but don’t expect any tip. I’m saying yes as a favour to you! What an excuse to enter my hotel room!”

In less than five minutes – what, did he fly? – Eddie was knocking on her door. She opened it and felt a little rush of excitement upon seeing him. He was dressed in a blue knit sweater that was definitely Ralph Lauren – this was Richard’s voice in her head and she needed to shush it -, jeans, and brown suede boots, with his leather jacket hanging from his pointer finger that was casually resting on his right shoulder. Without the unflattering North Shore cap on, his hair was revealed in all its glory, black curls cascading up to chin level. He did not shave that morning and that left a stubble that made him look even more ruggedly handsome.

“Hi,” he said, and flashed a smile that revealed pearly white teeth. Stella wondered how this could be the same guy she was annoyed at just yesterday morning. She was definitely a fan of having enough time to get ready in the morning, for it made a world of difference in them both.

“Good morning. You’re not the bellhop,” Stella returned the smile. She knew her effect on Aussie men, for she had been exposed to them on the beach near Richard’s apartment. They found her short frame and her olive skin and her dark eyes exotic. She, in turn, did not find the tattooed and muscled bodies that frequented the beach that exciting. That’s what set Eddie apart. He was an Aussie, handsome alright, but geeky in his brilliance, a welcome respite from the beer hounds that seemed to roam Richard’s neighbourhood. The last part started to sound sexy. After staying up to get to know him through his social media posts, Eddie felt like less of a stranger to her.

Eddie could not think of a word to say. His brain froze at the sight of Stella’s beauty, and he inhaled her perfume as if intoxicated. He merely followed her to where she pointed to her bags, like a puppy. He wanted to put his arms around her but something told him it was not appropriate.  It was amazing how his conscience was still speaking despite his lack of sleep and his mad dash that morning from Rotorua to Auckland, stopping briefly at his room at the Hilton, which thankfully he had reserved for two weeks as his home base. He also had the time, using superhuman speed, to book a car so he and Stella could have a leisurely holiday.

“Have you eaten?” he managed to ask her. Stella did not have time, she said. Neither did he.

“We could have brunch,” Stella suggested, before realizing that brunch sounded like a very Richard thing to do. Straight men like Eddie, they probably only took meals by their proper names.

Eddie looked at Stella’s suitcase and wondered out loud, “Were you planning on staying a week? This definitely is not an overnight bag,” he teased.

“Oh yes, I was planning a tryst with an old lover who is now married with four kids, but he stood me up, and so I settled for you,” Stella quipped. She was a writer and could whip up a storyline at the blink of an eye, except that she was surprised at her own wit that morning, considering the increasingly alarming lack of caffeine in her system.

“Please, can we grab a quick breakfast? I really, really need some good coffee,” she begged Eddie, while closing the hotel room door behind them.

“After having experienced your charm without your drug of choice, yes, I do believe we should find a café at the soonest possible time.”

“We can just have sandwiches, and maybe plan our day?” Stella was surprised how naturally that felt, how she did not feel awkward about making plans with a man she had just met. Of course, she had always been a planner, at least, as to the things she could control.

“As you wish,” Eddie responded. The reference to one of her favourite childhood books, “The Princess Bride,” made Stella smile. She could be Buttercup in her story, finally.

Stella checked out and signed the receipt at the hotel lobby while Eddie got the car. When she stepped out of the hotel double doors, she felt very much like putting on a bandana, wide white-rimmed wayfarers, and a string of pearls, before riding a light blue convertible, except that it was not summer in Auckland, and she immediately knew that she was not going to be warm enough in her well-planned outfit of the day.

Eddie was waiting in his rented Toyota Camry, wearing dark aviator glasses that made Stella doubt if he really was a software engineer. He looked like one of those Nespresso models. How could this guy be single? Oh wait, maybe he’s not. Did she care? She was honestly not in the mood to answer that question.

“I’m thinking of taking you to Parnell, which, according to its website, is ‘New Zealand’s oldest suburb, famed for its galleries, cafes, restaurants and charming boutique-style stores.’ Then we can do something that this cold weather would permit, something indoors, perhaps?” Eddie was on the phone with his travel agent early that morning, planning a changed itinerary that now involved going around Auckland with an amazing Filipina writer.  He had previously booked a Lonely Planet-inspired vacation out of the city, but he was only too happy to drop that for Stella, whose charming presence both intrigued and attracted him.

They found a cozy little Italian restaurant that had the best barrista on the Southern Hemisphere, in Eddie’s opinion. Stella was much more reserved in her praises, but definitely enjoyed her first shot of espresso for the day.

“Where do you want to go? We can walk around Parnell, or go to Queen St., which is Auckland’s most iconic and historic street.” Eddie was sounding very much like the tour guide that he was not. “I’m reserving the Viaduct Wharf for dinner as it’s very near our hotel.”

“I know where I want to go, now that my head has cleared after that magical cup of coffee,” Stella declared.

“Where do you want to go?” Eddie asked.

“I want to see the Auckland Art Gallery,” Stella replied. “And after that, let’s walk to the old buildings that house the University of Auckland. Please,” she added.

“The woman knows what she wants!” Eddie observed, amused. “As you wish!” he affirmed.

When they got out of the restaurant, it was raining. Eddie ran to the car to get his extra jacket, and put it around Stella. It was naturally much too big for her. He unzipped the hood and covered her head with it. Unfortunately, it also covered her eyes. They ended up laughing.

Stella did not remove the hood and walked with her arms in front of her, like a blind woman in need of constant guidance. She caught Eddie’s arm and let him lead the way.

After recovering from the spectacular vision that was Stella’s playful side, Eddie started walking back to the car, but moved Stella’s hand from his arm to his other hand, and firmly guided her to where they parked earlier.

Stella, who could not see a thing, felt Eddie’s warm hand on hers, and smiled underneath her large, black winter cloak.

She knew how the rest of that day would be like. She could already write it in her head. She just hoped that, unlike Richard, Eddie would play his part, and say his lines, well.



%d bloggers like this: