When he strolled past her counter during his lunch hour today, she was just looking up from tidying the display case. Their eyes met, and she smiled at him.

She smiled at him!

Joseph leans back against his custom-made Italian leather chair and swivels in elation. She had smiled at him! That makes three times this week!

Joseph has taken to window-shopping at the mammoth ground level of the departmental store located within the same building as his office during his lunch hour. The ground level of the departmental store is a maze of designer cosmetic and perfume counters.

And she works at one of those counters.

He knows her work schedule by heart: on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, she works the first shift and knocks off at seven-fifteen (but she usually dallies around until around seven-forty); on Wednesdays, Fridays and the weekends, she works the second shift, starting at one and ending at whatever time the departmental store closes (ten on weekdays and eleven on weekends). The day he does not see her around, he knows it is her day off. She gets one day off every week, but typical of the retail profession, her off-days are erratic.

Joseph had noticed her on her very first day of work, when she did not yet have her present uniform of a red and black skirt suit and had worn an all-black ensemble instead. Most of the temporary or trainee staff usually wore tight black pants and a low-cut top, but she – she was effortlessly more elegant and sophisticated in her black turtlenecks and calf-length skirts. While the other girls wore ridiculously tall and awkward-looking platforms that were all the rage in the local fashion scene, she wore innocently sexy Mary Janes with sensible heels.

Two weeks after Joseph first saw her at her counter, she started wearing a uniform of a paint-the-town-red red jacket and a black pleated knee-length skirt. Joseph thought she looked even more stunning in red; while black had lent her an ethereal and somber elegance, the red brings her magnificence to life.

It was not her comeliness that Joseph first noticed but her height. Although she was almost a head taller than most of the salesgirls in her low heels - and, sometimes, even the vertically challenged local men - her posture has never once hunched in unconscious apology or slouched in self-consciousness. She carries herself a stiff primness befitting an aristocratic, which Joseph thinks comes from habit rather than confidence.

Joseph had once watched her, furtively from another counter a pathway away, and observed that her eyes were often wandering or darting, as if in search of something … or someone. He sometimes wonders if she harbors too many secrets than she can handle, or is merely shy.

Joseph knows firsthand what being shy is like. A gawky and klutzy ugly duckling of a kid, he was often self-conscious and lonely. When he matured into his current alpha-swan status, he made sure to make up for his lonely childhood and adolescence by being an all-round popular personality, friend and party guest. He has membership to all the trendiest clubs and knows all the who’s-whos from the media, fashion and entertainment industries. Joseph likes to think of himself as popular and a well-connected man.

Jodie, his secretary, knocks discreetly on the door, temporarily interrupting Joseph’s euphoric mood. He stops in mid-swivel and put on his poker office-face just as Jodie eases open the door.

“Mr. Lim, the US buyers have okayed the Ocean Sky samples and here are proposals from some new vendors from Dhaka and Chittagong.” She advances to his desk, holding out the proposals.

It is obvious – to the entire 25th level office at least – that Jodie has something of an infatuation on him; which, of course, is quite inevitable, taking into account Joseph’s chiseled good looks and sculpted physique, and his disarming dimpled grin.

Joseph was born with the proverbial silver - or platinum, in his case - spoon in his mouth to a wealthy shipping merchant family, but his family background merely provided him his first step to where and what he is today. He had worked very hard to metamorphose from a clumsy boy to the energetic athlete he is; and he had slogged and crammed his way to graduate magna cum laude from an Ivy League university. It was his way of saying kiss my ass to the guys who once taunted him in his missionary boys’ school, and to the girls who had ignored or rejected him in junior college.

Kiss my ass indeed.

Joseph flashes Jodie his charming smile as he accepts the papers she is holding out, and gallantly ignores the blush that colors her cheeks when their fingers brush. “Thanks Jo,” he tells her sincerely.

“You’re very welcome.” Jodie gives him a tremulous smile and makes a graceful exit.

Joseph briefly watches her back profile as she exits - she sure looks good walking away. He knows his magnetism and he knows he can have her or any other girls, if he wants. There is no arrogance in this acknowledgement; he is a gentleman, one of the good guys, even though he tends a little towards chauvinism. Oh he respects females and their rights, but is often genuinely puzzled by their insistence of continuing their “so-called careers” after marriage.

When Joseph finally switches off his workstation at seven-ten, he knows it is time to make his move. She has smiled at him three times in a row, she notices him – and, dare he hope, even recognizes him. It is not for want of confidence that keeps Joseph from chatting her up; on the contrary, he is confident that he will be able to charm her as easily as he has always charmed the female gender. No, it is his childish ego and masculine pride that made him waited. Used to having females throw themselves at him in university, in clubs and in the office, Joseph just has to make her smile at him first, notice him first – never mind that it was he who had first laid eyes on her.

At seven-fifteen precisely, Joseph is three counters away from the one she works and is striding purposefully towards her. Today is the day he will finally chat her up; he has it all planned out: first, small talk while she helps him pick out the perfect shade of lipstick for his sister (women always appreciate a sensitive and thoughtful man); next, as she is on the first shift today, he will ‘accidentally’ bump into her at whichever bus stop or train station she is boarding, followed by more small talk. Then he’ll finally ask her out for a drink – or even dinner – when she has warmed to him.

When Joseph approaches the counter, he worries, for a moment, he will be served by the other salesgirl at the counter. “Let me do it,” the shorter sales assistant offers her partner. “You’re off duty now anyway.”

Fortunately for Joseph, his tall and elegant goddess smiles and waves her companion away. “It’s okay; I’ll leave after serving him.” She turns to Joseph and gives him a familiar warm smile. “Are you looking for anything in particular, sir?”

Joseph feels a fuzzy fizz of exhilaration bubble in his gut. He knows by the quick look that passes between them that she recognizes him.

For the next fifteen or so minutes, she seems to devote her entire attention to helping Joseph pick out the right shade of lipstick. Ten minutes later he walks away with not only a lipstick, but complementing lip-liner, blusher, eye-shadow and nail polish as well.

He has been surprised by the huskiness of her voice initially, when they first conversed, but quickly decides it is rather sexy. She speaks with an accent – not dissimilar to his own, which he had acquired from his years in the States – and up close, he has taken a quick glance at her nametag to discover her name is called Yvette Chong and that she is actually a trainee brand manager.

Yvette. Joseph already loves that name: his first girlfriend, a French exchange student who’d seduced him as a freshman, was called Yvette too. He still has good memories of their short time together – which was spent mostly holed up in his bedroom, in his bed.

Joseph pretends to browse at other counters until he sees her sling her bag on her shoulders and wave goodbye to her partner at the counter; then he follows her out to a nearby crowded bus stop. He manages to weave and elbow his way to stand behind her but finds that he will have to wait to make his move as she is carrying on an agitated conversation on her cellphone.

“No!” he hears her hiss fiercely into the tiny phone. “I’ll do it if I want to. You have no right to stop me.”

A pause as incoherent babbles protest just as furiously.

“Well, I don’t care what they will think. Why can’t you think for once about how I feel? I’m sick of not being who I -” She stops short and snaps her cell shut, distraught.

There is a sudden surge in the crowd when an over-crowded bus rumbles to a halt in front of the bus stop and Joseph is shoved forward, into Yvette. Before he has a chance to react, her head whips sharply around.

For a moment, Joseph worries that she may snap at him, but she smiles, albeit warily. Joseph quickly rallies, feigning surprise then flashes her his trademark grin.

“Hi – Yvette, right?” he has to shout over the groans and pants of bus engines. She nods, seemingly waiting for him to go on while she crocks her head quizzically at him.

“Which bus are you waiting for?” Joseph casually asks.

“174,” she replies in her husky timbre. A beat, as she scrutinizes him, then: “Why?”

Seizing the opening she has unwittingly given him, Joseph immediately launches into a little act he has put up often before. He must be charming, of course, and a little shy. Most women, in all his experience with them, find a little shyness in men irresistible.

Joseph gives her a somewhat sheepish smile and shrugs faintly. “Well, I thought if your bus came late, I could ask you out for dinner or a drink…?” He lets his stammered question taper off, hanging in an air of expectation. He must appear a little uncomfortable, yet very earnest, Joseph reminds himself.

Yvette gazes wordlessly at him for almost a full minute before bursting into laughter. “Oh Joseph,” she finally sighs, mockingly.

Joseph is surprised that she knows his name and for a fleeting second wonders how she has come to know it, but at the same time is thoroughly flattered. Seeing his astonished reaction, Yvette laughs even louder. “You really don’t recognize me, do you, Josh?”

Joseph’s jaws all but drop. ‘Josh’ had been his nickname in varsity.

“Who are you? Do - do we know each other?” he asks, digging furiously at his mental photographic archives of the girls he has known in varsity.

“Do we know each other?” Yvette mimics his flabbergasted tone, then her entire composure takes a drastic change and her tone hardens. “The question, Josh, is whether or not you remember me.”

Joseph’s brows furrow as he tries to recall. “I’m sure I’d have remembered such a lovely lady like yourself …”

“Save your charm, Josh, and what’s with that bashful act? Weren’t you just the big-man-on-campus? Whatever happened to the I’m-the-king-of-the-hill smugness of yours?”

Joseph remembers to close his gaping mouth and tries to salvage some of his poise. “W-what…?”

Yvette fishes a cigarette out from her cigarette case then fumbles about her sling bag for her lighter. Joseph immediately reaches into his pocket for his and tries to light her cigarette. Yvette dismisses his lighter with an elegant flick of her hand and lights her own cigarette. She takes a slightly shaky drag of her cigarette before she speaks.

“Save the bashful gentleman act for your bimbos, Josh, we both know what you are not. Always hanging out with those bigoted jock-friends of yours, betting you could bed more exchange students than they could bed the Asian girls on campus.” She flashes him a quick, derisive smile and takes another drag on her cigarette. “I thought you were different from them, Josh, I really did. I thought you had a heart and your own mind. Hell, I couldn’t have been more wrong there, could I?”

Joseph tries to speak but she shakes her head at him.

“Don’t bother with the excuses or explanations, it’s a little too late for them, don’t you think? I loved you, Josh, and the dumbest mistake I made was telling you how I felt about you. And what had you done when I told you? Do you remember? If you don’t, I’ll give you a hint: you told your jock buddies about me and my – what was the phrase you’d use then? – ‘depraved and sick affliction’.” Yvette pauses and sighs, sounding a little regretful, a little wistful, and gazes into Joseph’s eyes so he can see that she is neither.

“Do you know what your friends did to me, short of crucifying me at the door of your frat house?” Yvette gives a short, bitter laugh. “Well, I will spare you the harrowing details - for old times’ sake. But what had you done then, Josh? Had you untied me and apologized, I would have forgiven you Josh, I really would have. I was so in love with you.

“Even if you couldn’t accept me, you needn’t have done what you did; you needn’t have planned my humiliation and have me bruised and battered. You needn’t have laughed and spat with your buddies as you watched me writhe. You needn’t have left me there to hang, half-dead and stripped, Josh, but you did.” Yvette exhales a long and shaky breath, the corner of her mouth twists in an ironic and bitter parody of a smile as she sees the very moment that Joseph is hit by a sudden revelation – a revelation that brings with it horror and shock.

“Well, what do you know?” Yvette murmurs, “Revenge is a dish that’s best served cold.” She narrows her eyes at Joseph. “It was all just a joke to you, I understand that now. But you know what, Josh? I guess the joke’s on you now.”

“You’re …” Joseph finally utters, his eyes stunned into blankness.

The corner of Yvette’s lips twists a little more. “Was. I was your biggest admirer, Christopher Chong, my dear.”

A cab screeches sharply and crashes mightily into the back of a bus not three feet away from him, but Joseph is not even peripherally aware of it.


Her eyes flutter open at the sound of her name, and she finds herself being cradled gently, protectively, in somebody’s arms.

“Where am I?” she asks, almost reflexively, and immediately finds a pair of concerned eyes inches away from her own.

“Please tell me the spill wasn’t as bad as it seemed.” Her companion’s eyes dart anxiously around, apparently checking her for any signs of obvious head traumas.

“Spill?” She feels disorientated, and seems unable to remember what happened before she was unconscious.

Her erstwhile human pillow brushes errant strands of hair away from her eyes and gently slides a hand to the back of her head. “Yes, the spill you took that caused this bump here.”

“Ow!” She winces. The bump she does not remember having hurts like hell. “Now I know I am not dreaming.”

“No shit, Dorothy, and you ain’t in Kansas either.” She feels the gentle reverberations of her companion low chuckles. “That’ll teach you to try roller-blading with an over-grown Husky puppy on a leash.”

She groans. “No, that’ll teach me not to try roller-blading with an over-grown Husky puppy on a leash.”

Her companion snorts. “Uh-huh … just imagine, under one-millionth of a percent of Mr. and Mrs. Ant’s ten billion relatives and progeny were fatally or otherwise injured as a result of your spill, assorted dust bunnies not included in count. Authorities have not ruled out foul play.”

She snickers, “Foul? Nah-ah, it’s canine,” then lets out an involuntary chuckle. “Sometimes, darling, I wonder if your sense of humor stems from your mother having dropped you on the head as a child.”

She feels herself gathered up in a strong yet gentle embrace and her companion’s warmth as a kiss is dropped on her nose. “Oh-ho, five minutes into consciousness she’s already mouthing off at me. Come on Ms. Smart-mouth, I think you’re well enough for a lesson or two today, provided you are swaddled to the teeth in protective gear, of course.”

Sara sits up and gently feels out the bump on her head. “Lessons?” she asks in puzzlement.

“Yeah, roller-blading lessons. I’m not going to have you take such a nasty spill again. You scared the crap outta me when I found you unconscious in the kitchen last night.” Dar gets out of the bed and pulls Sara to her feet.

“I did?” murmurs Sara, frowning in her murky recollection.

Dar envelops her in another hug and rubs noses with her. “You darn well did, Miss ‘I don’t ice skate with a helmet, so why should I roller-blade with one’,” Dar kisses her again. “Although we recited the ‘in sickness and in health, till death to us part’ bit, I really prefer that we put off death for a long time.”

Sara feels a firework of warm and gooey feelings bubble and erupt within her. Impulsively, she pulls her tall companion to her and half-kisses, half-whispers into the crevice where Dar’s long neck and strong shoulders meet, “I love you too.”

“But I love you more.”

Sara feels the vibrations as the words are whispered in her ears, and savors the intensity and genuine sentiment of the words.


“How is she doing, Doctor?” the anxious mother asks.

The elderly doctor pats her shoulder reassuringly and gives her a compassionate smile. “Don’t worry, she will wake. It’s only a matter of time. You have to have faith, and patience.”

The worried woman gently strokes the cheek of the comatose young woman on the bed.


“Okay, Princess, try to skate on the outside of your ankles. Don’t let ’em collapse,” Dar instructs Sara who looks adorably like a sausage, all padded in protective gear, topped off with a bright pink safety helmet.

Sara starts to move wobbly towards Dar, one foot at a time, looking frustrated. “Damn it to hell Dar, I feel like a toddler learning to walk!”

“And you look twice as adorable,” Dar teases her affectionately.

At that moment, Sara loses her balance and stumbles in to Dar’s waiting arms. But the force of the sudden movement causes both of them to topple over, with Dar as a cushion for Sara.

“Oomph!” Sara tries to scramble up and worriedly feels about Dar’s head. “Did I hurt you?”

Dar’s lips curve into a lazy grin. “Well,” Dar drawls slowly, “nothing that a kiss won’t make better.”

Sara laughs and plants a loud smacker on Dar’s lips. “Better?” she winks down at companion.

Dar lifts an eyebrow questioningly and thinks for a moment. “No.”

Sara pretends to consider the reply seriously. “Okay, here’s all I can do,” she murmurs as she moves down again to Dar’s waiting lips for a kiss that seems to fuse their physical beings and souls into one eternally …


“Look at that! Look! She moved her fingers. I saw her move her fingers!”

The doctor gently eases the excited woman aside and peers with a penlight into each of the eyes of his patient, then shakes his head. “You must be patient. She will wake,” he tells the mother.


“Dar?” Sara eventually decides to confess one morning when they are snuggling in bed in their big white bedroom. “I think I’m overly dependent on you. I don’t know what’s going on with me. Every time I wake up and find myself alone in bed, I’m thrown into such a panic. I – I think I’m …”

But Dar only smiles and silences her with a kiss. “I feel the same way too.”

“No, you don’t understand,” protests Sara, twisting her head up and gazing into her companion’s eyes. “I’m always worried that I’ll wake up one day and find you gone. Every morning that I wake up without you beside me, I wake with the feeling that my worst fears have come true. I love you, but I don’t think I want to be so dependent on you. This isn’t healthy, is it?”

Dar strokes Sara’s hair gently. “Then I’ll make sure I won’t leave the bed till you wake.”

Sara shakes her head. “Somehow, I get this feeling I’ll wake up one day, and you’ll be gone.” Sara bites down on her lower lip and looks away. Then she mumbles, “I don’t know why the hell I’m so insecure …”

Dar tugs at Sara’s chin so they are nose-to-nose again. “Sara, if you ever find me gone, then it means I’m already searching for you; and I know you’ll be looking for me too. Until you find me in person, you’ll always find me in your heart.”

Sara’s eyes begin to tear. “You’re not in my heart,” she whispers. “You’re in every part of me, so much so that I don’t know where you end and where I begin. I see only you in my conscious and unconscious hours.”

Dar’s smile is so bright that it almost hurts for Sara to look. “And you’re as intrinsic to me as my soul is - Sara, you are my soul.”

It is then Sara starts to cry in earnest. “And you are my end and my beginning, my love and my life.”


“It has been two weeks, doctor. When will she wake?” the worried mother wrings her hands and frets openly.

The doctor shakes his head at her. “Now, now; I told you, you must have patience. Some patients regain consciousness as quickly as a day’s time, but more often than not, they take as long as a year to wake. It has only been two weeks-” the doctor stops abruptly. The mother who is sitting beside the bed with her head in her hands looks up in time to see her daughter’s eyes flicker open.

Sara opens her eyes and immediately realizes she is alone in bed in a white room. She tries to fight the panic she feels rising in her but she cannot control her rapidly escalating panic.

The mother bursts into relieved tears and reaches out for her daughter’s hand. “I’m here, I’m here; mummy’s here.”

The doctor immediately orders a couple of nurses into the room and begins to give his patient a thorough checkup, but is bewildered when his patient starts to weep in earnest.

After another week in the hospital for further examinations, the doctor finally declares his patient fit enough to go home. He is pleased with how quickly she has healed despite having been through a horrendous car crash. The mother, only too happy to have her daughter back, refuses to talk about the accident or even sue the cab driver whose cab her daughter had been traveling in when it crashed into a bus moving out of the bus lane at a busy bus stop. The police confirmed that the cab driver had been speeding and did not have ample time to stop for the bus. The people in the bus and at the bus stop escaped with only minor injuries.

Sara now spends her waking hours in a depression, wondering. Is she dreaming now or was she dreaming before? Did she dream of Dar, or was she dreaming when she lay in the hospital? Had she dreamt about Dar teaching her to roller blade, or was the series of medical tests done on her just a dream? Her family put her dazed state to trauma; her doctor had been concerned initially but found nothing wrong with her neurologically and physically. He recommends consultations with a psychiatrist.

Sara finds herself wandering in a maze of bright lights and strong scents one evening when someone steps on her toes.

“Sorry, I wasn’t watching my step.”

As Sara turns to the person who has just apologized to her, a sudden realization hits her hard. She pushes past the bewildered man and hurries out of the store. She feels a tear slides down her cheek as she urgently makes her way to the exit.

“I’m not dreaming; I’m awake now,” she whispers painfully to herself and closes her eyes. She sees Dar behind her closed lids and remembers Dar’s promise, but still feels so lost and so alone. Where am I to start searching for you when I’m not even sure if you’re only in my head?

Sara makes her way blindly through the throngs of people milling about on the busy streets. With every step that she takes, she finds herself growing more desperate and more hysterical.

Suddenly, she stops in the middle of the pavement and people have to veer in their courses to avoid walking into her. They are all staring openly and curiously at Sara now, but she does not see them. She looks up at the darkening evening sky and stares hard. She imagines that she is flying towards and about the wide expanse of deep blue with the wisps of pink weaving through it.

close my eyes so I can see

She closes her eyes and sends a heartfelt wish to the sky above: “Find me, and let me find you, Dar.”

When the police later interrogate the driver in question and several eyewitnesses in the vicinity, every single one of them is as clueless as the next as to why the young lady had walked resolutely onto the main road near the blind corner just as the traffic light changed.

make my make-believe believe
in me


“I was just wondering where you were, Sara.”

Sara turns instantly towards Dar’s voice and answers with a smile so wide that it almost hurts. “Finding you, my love; finding you.”


i am Your secret Admirer
You don’t know me
but i try my best to find out all i can
about You
Your birthday, Your preferences, Your pet peeves

The bus jerks violently as it screeches to an abrupt halt and the bus driver curses loudly enough for everyone on it to hear. Jonathan snaps his notebook shut and peers out the window like everybody else is doing, driven by the same morbid curiosity.

“…oh no, I don’t think she survived …”
“Did she run out onto the road or was she pushed?”
“Can you see …?”

He eavesdrops on the waves of shocked murmurs around him as he cranes his neck for a better view of the accident, but all he can see from where he is sitting is the peak hour traffic in a complete standstill. After a few seconds he loses interest and reopens his notebook.

Jasmine was born on November 19, 1979; a Scorpio. She hangs out with Yen and Cheryl and likes to have her meals at the tiny, stuffy coffee shop opposite the school. On cold and rainy days, she would ask the drink-store uncle in the school cafeteria for coffee, extra hot, and more condensed milk please; on hot and sunny days, she loves a cold chin-chow drink. Jasmine likes to blast Beethoven in the studio when she is working on her projects and Morcheeba when she is hanging out with her posse; she detests stand Hideki’s drafting and draping classes, and is irritated by the people who crowd the stairwell for a clandestine smoke when she wants to have a smoke.

i'm Your secret Admirer
i steal glances at You
my heart beats furiously
whenever You are near

In the common studio, Jasmine’s desk is three tables plus four and a half meters away from Jonathan’s left, perpendicular to his. Last week when Jon had returned to the common studio after his Fundamentals of Design class, Claire, his care-person had called a quick class meeting, the gist of which he missed because Jasmine standing was not three feet away from him. He had glanced furtively at her, intently taking in her effervescent laughter and easy banter with Claire, and noticing only her light laughter and his heartbeats resounding in his ears.

i'm Your secret Admirer
You never notice when we pass each other
along the corridors
but i, i count the times and carefully store each
in my memory

Jasmine wears Obsession. It has taken Jonathan quite awhile to figure that out but when he finally does, he buys a miniature bottle of Obsession on his birthday every year, because once on his birthday, Jasmine had brush pass him along the corridors and he had caught a whiff of her perfume.

i'm Your secret admirer
i am both our secret
but how i long to tell You of my affection …

but –

Every night, Jonathan fantasizes about running into Jasmine by chance and engaging her in small talk. Will he be able to make her laugh? Will he be witty enough? Will he make a good impression on her? As he tosses and turns restlessly on his bed, he wonders if he will ever gather up enough courage to tell Jasmine how he feels about her.

“Hey Jasmine, how’re you doing?” Too corny.
“That Hideki’s such as asshole, huh?” No swearing in front of a lady – Jasmine might think him uncouth.
“So … how’s your project coming along?” Boring – does he really want to talk shop with Jasmine?

Every night, he whittles away potential opening lines until he is left with what he really wants to say: “Jasmine, this is going to sound really corny, but you’re the most unique individual I’ve ever seen. From the second I saw you, you’ve had me trapped. You’re so different; your attitude grabbed me from the get-go. I can’t even put into words how I feel about you because there’s no more me: all there is left of me, in me, is you. And I finally understand what those silly lyrics meant because I am crazy about you, for you.”

Then what? Keep his fingers crossed that she would take it in a good way, or – better still – tells him she is attracted to him too? Jonathan stares up at the ceiling and exhales a frustrated breath. It is a long while before he falls asleep.

The next morning proves to be a rainy one, all thunder rumbling, dark clouds and merciless pelts of cold rain. Under the leaky shelter of the bus stop opposite the school, Jonathan mutters a silent curse at the dark skies as he opens his umbrella. Just then, someone catches his attention: at the other end of the bus stop stands Jasmine looking damp and miserable and frustrated. She glances at her watch every other second then glumly up at the torrential rain, chewing on her lower lip.

Jonathan freezes, torn, gazing sideway at Jasmine for a long while until a crowded bus wheezes to a stop at the bus stop and disgorges its passengers, most of whom are students who sulkily throw their portfolio carriers or schoolbags over their heads and make a mad dash across the road to school.

Finally straightening his shoulders, Jonathan starts purposefully towards Jasmine … but at the very last possible moment, turns away, opens his umbrella and sprints across the road, neither caring nor realizing he is almost run over by a vehicle if not for the driver’s quick reflexes that send tires squealing on the wet tarmac.

but if i told You,
i won’t be your secret admirer any longer
will i?

As he shakes out his umbrella under the shelter of the school, his gaze still remains on Jasmine who is sniffling unhappily across the road.

“Excuse me,” a female voice interjects beside him. Jonathan turns and glances at the girl standing next to him. She smiles hopefully at him. “My girlfriend is stranded at the bus stop across the road; can I borrow your umbrella please? It won’t take more than a couple of minutes.”

Jonathan shrugs and gives the girl a slight smile, holding his umbrella out to her. “You can have it; I’ve no use for it anyway.”

He casts one last look at Jasmine and turns away, making his way to class.

i am Your secret Admirer
You don’t know me


Kids these days … Jesslyn shakes her head and notices that her fingers still tremble when she rests her cigarette on an ashtray and picks up her cup of coffee. That stupid kid who dashed across the road without giving a single thought for his safety – or hers, for that matter! He was bloody lucky that the cab driver had braked in time; who knows what might have happened otherwise …

Jesslyn fumes silently for a couple more moments as she finishes her third cup of coffee that morning. She glances at her reflection in the café’s mirrored walls. God, what a mess, she mentally berates herself. This is the last time I’ll ever spend the night at Kenneth’s … isn’t that exactly what I’d sworn not two mornings ago …? Jesslyn scowls at her reflection and crushes the paper cup and tosses it into a trash bin; she has never been a morning person.

“Morning, Jess.” Ros smiles sweetly as Jesslyn passes by her table. Jesslyn feels herself responding with a genuine smile.

“Lousy weather, huh,” Ros continues, sorting out various documents and nodding towards a window which frames gloomy clouds and lightning flashes.

“Good bed weather though,” sighs Jesslyn, resting her hips against Ros’ table. Ros rolls her eyes in agreement, taking a sip of the coffee Jesslyn is proffering her. “Hm … I needed that. I haven’t had a chance to visit the pantry for coffee yet.”

“Take this then, I’ve already had some cappuccino from Starbucks,” Jesslyn tells her. “Triple shots, every one of them. I think I’ve enough caffeine in veins to revive the very dead.”

Ros smiles gratefully, “You’re a god-send, Jess. Oh, by the way, Joseph would like to see you in his office.”

“Great, what a way to start a morning like this,” Jesslyn mutters as Ros’ smile turns sympathetic.

The meeting with Joseph went pretty well; apparently, despite the dreary weather, he is in good humors – a much-welcomed Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde he had been in the past month or so. Even his sweet-tempered secretary Jodie (whom everybody knows is hopelessly enamored with him) had quit in tears.

Jesslyn hurries back to her desk. Mondays have always been highly stressful days and her in-box contents always manage to miraculously quadruple over the weekends. She sighs resignedly. Just another manic Monday.

She almost misses the slip of paper. Fortuitously it drifts onto her lap as she mechanically shifts through the contents of her inbox. At first she assumes it is just an errant fax or lab-dip result and slaps it on the top of the pile, but somehow, is coaxed by the familiar scrawl to take a second look.

how did it happen was it

when had it started why was i not

i'll tell you what happened
every morning your beautiful smile
every night your loving touch

day-by-day week after week

i fell
with you

    in.itial smile
        in.finite grace

i think i am


Jesslyn draws a sharp breath – almost a hiss … Kenneth. She releases her breath and takes a deeper and longer one to keep her emotions in check. Oh be still, you foolish heart.

Kenneth just does not give up; he loves the thrill of the chase, and most of all, the fleeting exhilaration and self-satisfaction of conquest – one of the rare things even his devastating combination of beauty, brains and wealth cannot buy.

“You’ll want me,” he had promised her with a charmingly candid smile after she’d emptied her Black Russian onto his lap.

“You’ll never have me,” she assured him in turn, returning his smile with one of her own, half sardonically, half in challenge.

“Well I guess we’ll both have to wait and see now, won’t we?” Kenneth winked. They both knew how irresistible he was but Jesslyn figured she had a heart of stone, one that had been broken, crushed and had eventually not so much healed as hardened.

“You can always wait.” she had shrugged and turned her back on him.

Still, Jesslyn carefully folds the piece of paper up and tucks it in her organizer. Many times bitten forever shy, she reminds herself half-heartedly then gives up all pretense of nonchalance and sighs. That’s … that is romantic … - Jess, snap out of it already! He’s a jerk and you know it – yes, but he’s a jerk who can act the part of a devoted lover perfectly …

The shrill jangle of the telephone interrupts Jesslyn’s internal strife. She lets it ring for a minute more to compose herself: Jesslyn Yew – the industry’s alpha-bitch who plays the toughest game of hardball.

“Yeah?” she barks into the speakerphone.

“Like it?” She can hear Kenneth’s smile in his voice and immediately pictures his lopsided boyish grin. “I would’ve read it to you this morning, but you always leave before I wake.”

Jesslyn immediately picks up the receiver and turns off the speaker-phone. “Save it, Kenneth, I’ve got a shitload of work to do. And stop sending junk to my office. Not balloons, not roses, not cookies, not chocolates, not poems – not anything.” Jesslyn hardens her tone.

“Mondays are always a bitch, aren’t they, Jessie?” Kenneth murmurs sympathetically.

Jesslyn snorts, “Yeah well, so am I, so we get along just fine.”

Kenneth chuckles. “I love witty women. Dinner tonight, Jessie? To take the edge off the Monday blues? My place, as usual.”

“Look, Kenny boy, I don’t have time to come out and play today, ok?” Jesslyn tells him in annoyance then mutters darkly, “God, one daft male after another, wrecking havoc on women’s lives. The cab driver should’ve run him over, one less idiot in the gene pool.”

“Were you in an accident, Jesslyn?” Concern – worry, even? “Are you okay? You should never have left my place so early – not in this weather – I’d have driven you to work. You weren’t hurt, were you?” He does sound seriously concerned …

“I’m still wasting my breath and time on the phone with you, aren’t I, Kenny boy?” Jesslyn affects an exasperated and impatient tone.

There is long pause from Kenneth and she wonders if she has finally pushed him to the outer limits of his patience and endurance; after all, there are only so many rebuffs a person can stomach, even for the sake of quick thrills. She hears the faint sound of him drawing a breath, maybe even grinding his teeth.

“Why do you always keep me at an arm’s length even after – especially after … I really care about you, Jessie.”

“So you say.” Jesslyn fends off his alleged concern sardonically but can’t help second-guessing herself. He does sound like he is serious now, but … “If there’s nothing else –”

“You don’t believe me, do you?” Kenneth asks quietly, and Jesslyn laughs derisively.

“Believe you or your obviously superior thespian skills? Kenny boy, you don’t seriously believe my IQ is slighter than my bra size, do you?”

A long pause; then: “I’m glad you weren’t hurt, Jesslyn.”

“Whatever.” Jesslyn starts to work on the massive pile in her inbox.

“I’ll pick you up at seven.”

Jesslyn pauses, unsure. “Bye,” she tells Kenneth, brusquely ending the call, and resolutely turns back to her inbox.


“More wine?” Kenneth offers solicitously, reaching for the bottle of red.

Jesslyn shakes her head wearily. It has been a long Monday (aren’t they all?) and sated with food and wine, she feels herself getting drowsy on the couch in Kenneth’s living room. Kenneth smiles sympathetically, pats her leg affectionately and goes into the kitchen to make her coffee.

“I like it when you’re so mellow,” Kenneth calls from the kitchen. “We get along so well when you’re not preoccupied with chewing my head off.”

Jesslyn settles herself more deeply into the couch and closes her eyes. The CD Kenneth has put on is one of her favorite pieces of nighttime music. She swings her legs onto the couch and hugs a cushion to her middle. Then she feels the couch move as Kenneth sits himself down, setting a hot mug of fragrant coffee in front of her. He gently shakes her shoulder.

“Hey sleepyhead,” he whispers. “Have some coffee.”

“I’m tired …” Jesslyn mumbles sleepily, turning away from him.

Kenneth runs a finger down her cheek. “This is probably the best time to ask, if I told you I really like you, would you believe me? Jesslyn?”

There is a long pause. So long that Kenneth assumes Jesslyn has fallen asleep.

“You’re just out for the thrill of the hunt, Kenneth, you’ll never want you can have. I’m just something you don’t and can’t have: you don’t really like me – you just want me because you can’t have me … And don’t mistake sex for love,” Jesslyn finally mutters, half-asleep.

Kenneth cups her face and turns it towards him. “I don’t - I never have. Jesslyn, I really do like you - I may even …” he hesitates for a long moment then forges on. “I may even love you.”

Jesslyn gazes for a moment at him with heavy-lidded eyes then leans up and kisses him.


She wakes up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

“Hey sleepyhead.”

Jesslyn opens her eyes blearily and sees Kenneth hovering over her with a mug of coffee.

“Damn,” she curses and closes her eyes. Oh for god’s sakes, Jess, won’t you ever learn?

Kenneth sets the mug on the bedside table and leans down and kisses her brow. “Good morning, darling.”

Jesslyn turns away and tugs the quilt up to her chin. “I’ve to get to work.”

“Don’t go yet,” Kenneth settles down next to her in bed. “I finally manage to have you next to me when I wake; stay a little longer, Jessie.”

Jesslyn sits up stiffly and turns irritably to Kenneth. “Some of us have to go to work, Kenny boy, or don’t you know that?” She starts to get out of the bed then pauses and contemptuously asks, “Or was last night already a vague memory?”

“Jesslyn,” Kenneth catches hold of her arm before she can move away. “What’s the problem? What’s the matter with you? You always -”

Jesslyn stares at him as hard and cold as her business persona knows how. “What’s the problem? What’s your problem, Kenneth? What else do you want from me? You know how this started. I was your little challenge and, good for you Kenny boy; you conquered this challenge. What else do you want? Sex? We’ve had sex.”

Kenneth drops her hand and matches her stare for stare. “You initiated this, Jesslyn,” he says flatly. “I didn’t touch you until you let me.”

I told you, didn’t I? Jesslyn shakes her head and turns away from Kenneth. Love is but a game, babe; don’t play it if you can’t afford the stakes. How ironic though - the industry’s top hardnosed negotiator not able to negotiate for a better deal in her love life.

Jesslyn turns away shaking her head, calming herself even as she berates herself for what she feels is a humiliating outburst of emotion. “You know what?” she says finally, “let’s just go back to our respective lives, okay?” She gets out of bed and begins to dress.


Jesslyn settles into her office and begins to plow single-mindedly through her inbox. Don’t think about it; just don’t think about it, she chants to herself, almost mantra-like. Perhaps if she can make herself believe that, then everything will be all right …

“Hey Jess?”

Jesslyn looks up from her lab reports, a little bemused. Ros hesitates at her office door holding a spray of irises.

“These just came for you.” Ros gently lays the flowers in Jesslyn’s inbox. “Secret admirer?”

Jesslyn reaches for the small card attached to the flowers. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. She tosses the card into the paper bin. “No.”

Ros walks over to Jesslyn and tentatively sits herself on edge of the messy desk. “Boyfriend?”

Jesslyn leans back into her chair and gazes into Ros’s compassionate countenance and smiles, a little forlornly. “No … a mistake.”

Ros pats Jesslyn’s shoulder gently. “You love, you learn, you live.”

Jesslyn chews broodingly on her low lip before speaking. “I never seem to learn,” she says softly, almost to herself. “It was a game for him, Ros, and I lost. He’s right, I started it all - I threw the challenge at him and I deliberately let him win.”

Ros considers what Jesslyn has said. “Jess, how have you lost? Love is not a game, there aren’t winners or losers.”

Jesslyn slowly shakes her head. “You don’t understand, Ros, you don’t understand this game or him. It’s a vicious cycle - he’ll always covet what he can’t have; the harder I am to get, the sweeter and more tender he will be with me, just to get me to capitulate. But the more affectionate he is with me, the more I’ll feel like I’m falling in love with him; and the deeper I feel for him, the more I will resist his affections because I won’t allow myself to be a fool who’ll stupidly let herself be led on by a Casanova who thrives on the thrill of the chase and gets high on his conquests.”

“You can’t always assume the worst of people, Jess,” Ros tells her, patting her arm. “Sometimes they’ll surprise you.”

Jess shakes her head at Ros again, her lips curling into a cynical half-smile. “You know, Ros … I make it a point that they won’t.”


“Jessie,” Kenneth whispers in her ear, wrapping his arm around her. Jesslyn stirs but doesn’t open her eyes and turns away from him. “I have you, Jesslyn Yew,” Kenneth murmurs, nuzzling her neck. “You’re mine.”

Gradually, Kenneth falls back into slumber, his arm still wrapped firmly – almost possessively – around her; Jesslyn opens her eyes and try as she might, she cannot seem to fall back asleep for the rest of the night.


Wah, isn’t that the girl in the newspapers? The police say it was an accident,” the cab driver remarks conversationally, looking at the picture at the head of a casket in the vehicle in front of him, then he turns around and tells Jesslyn confidentially, “But my neighbor’s son’s girlfriend’s brother was there when it happened. He said it definitely looked like a suicide.”

Jesslyn smiles politely at the cab driver then turns away. She finally gets a break from his nonstop banter when her cell phone rings.

“Jessie,” Kenneth says intimately when she connects the call. “I always miss you when I wake.”

Jesslyn remains silent.

“I got us tickets to 'Tristan und Isolde' tonight - your favorite opera; you’re going to love it. I’ll pick you up at seven, ok?” Enthusiasm warms Kenneth’s tone.

It takes two to play the game …

“Why not,” Jesslyn tells Kenneth.


Matthew drums his fingers on the steering wheel a little restlessly as he lets his gaze wander. His attention is snagged by the picture of a strikingly beautiful girl at the head of a casket in a van near him. She looks vaguely familiar to him, but he immediately dismisses any notions that he might have known her on the grounds that he has never been good with faces.

“‘Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm’,” he murmurs. “‘Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all season, a possession for all eternity’,” he quotes to nobody in particular. Then his vision unconsciously flits to the scrap of paper with the information he’d copied off his monitor last night: Chilipadi – Big Apple – 3pm.

Matthew has been conversing with a certain ‘Chilipadi’ on the popular Internet Relay Chat for the past couple of months or so and finds her a wonderful chat-mate. Intelligent and witty, she is also totally unlike the other females he is acquainted with, and that intrigues him. Although he worries that they may not get along as well as they had in cyberspace when they finally meet in real life, Matthew is anxious to finally put a face to this ‘Chilipadi’ whose sense of humor is as wickedly spicy as her nickname suggests.

He arrives at the Big Apple café with eight minutes to spare and selects an al fresco table. An effervescent young man in a long black apron appears by his side immediately and presents him the menu with a huge smile.

“A latte for now,” Matthew tells him, declining the menu.

“Sure,” his server chirps, “be right back.” He turns, then pauses, then turns back to Matthew. “I’m Seth, by the way,” he says, introducing himself, pointing with a perky grin to his lurid apple-shaped nametag.

Matthew, a little startled by Seth, smiles politely. Maybe the café requires its entire staff to be friendly and informal with the customers. “I’m Matthew,” Matthew responds when he realizes he is expected to.

Seth’s already very wide grin widens and he gives Matthew a quick nod before hurrying back into the café for Matthew’s latte.

Fifteen minutes and a latte later, Chilipadi still has yet to make her entrance. Matthew begins to wonder if he has been stood up when his vivacious server startles him again by flopping down onto the chair opposite him.

“You’re expecting Chilipadi,” Seth says without any preambles. “She won’t come.”

Matthew stares in bemusement at Seth for a long while until Seth raises an eyebrow in question.

“BoredMatte007?” Seth ventures.

Matthew frowns. “Um, yeah?”

Seth smiles tentatively at him. “You’re expecting a girl, Chilipadi?” Seth says, with a curious emphasis on ‘girl’ that Matthew does not quite catch at first. Seth sighs, “She won’t come, at least not how you’d expected her …”

When the lightning bolt of realization finally strikes … Oh my god, please don’t tell me … “You’re …” Matthew croaks, having suddenly discovered a family of frogs residing in back of his throat.

“Chilipadi – hi, pleased to finally meet you, Matteo,” Seth tells him with a cheerfulness that grows more forced every second. Matthew remembers to close his mouth as he stares dumbfounded at Seth.

“Give me a minute to clear things up before you land a punch on my fragile and un-insured nose,” Seth hurriedly continues, less confident and jolly now. “I’m really sorry I lied, the only defense I have is that we were both just one couple amidst many others in my buddy’s ‘experiment’ – or research, if you prefer – on cyber interaction between genders; it was an assignment from his course in sociolinguistics.”

Seth watches an unconscious cringe wrinkle Matthew’s otherwise blank face at the mention of couple and feels oddly disappointed. “Anyway,” he continues rather doggedly, “I’m sorry I had to lie that I’m a twenty-one year old single female, but - I think I should explain Alex’s – that’s my buddy – assignment first: Alex had to observe how differently males respond to chatters of both genders and how differently the conversation that may or may not ensue is being carried out.

“My part in this is to approach ten chatters as myself – a twenty-one year old single male - and another ten with a female persona. Yours was the first request I received for a private chat as a ‘female’, and after Alex’s requisite one hour, I found that I really like chatting with you; that was why I …” Seth trails off when Matthew stands up abruptly, tucks a ten dollar bill under the mug and walks away.

How should he react? Matthew finds himself in a rather pesky quandary as he drives aimlessly round. He is still dazed from what he has just learned. He should be murderously furious, he decides after awhile. He should have wrung the irritatingly perky grin off that Seth boy when he had the chance … but – Matthew tries to expel a sigh of aggravation but it comes out sounding half-hearted even to his ears – he cannot seem to quite muster enough energy for that kind of anger. How about cheated? Yeah, he has definitely been cheated and should feel cheated. Okay, cheated he can work with – that does not require a lot of effort; next up, a healthy serving of self-disgust …? Nah, he will have to pass – he definitely cannot stomach that. Embarrassment. Yes, embarrassment! Matthew definitely is embarrassed by what has just transpired, by Seth’s frank revelation and lack of embarrassment over the whole issue. But, most of all, Matthew is embarrassed by his own stupidity, his gullibility. When Matthew finally gets home, he has decided never to touch online chatting ever again – not even with a ten-foot pole.

The subsequent two weeks are terribly difficult for Matthew. Not having to log on punctually at eight o’clock every evening and savor the anticipation of a lively and highly engaging chat for the next four hours has left him feeling strangely empty; having to banish all emails with a chilipadi@lildevil.com return address to his cyber trash bin made him extraordinarily depressed. In fact … in fact, if he does not still feel so indignant and his ego still tender from the almighty god-awful mortification, he would have thought he is missing Chilipadi and her – (ouch) his – wicked sense of humor.

In the third week, Matthew finally gets around to being boiling mad, but his raging fury quelled after an hour of body-checking and chasing after a little frozen piece of rubber with the boys in the rink, and a good night’s sleep. In the fourth week, Matthew begins to think about putting the whole incident behind him; by the fifth, he has started reading Chilipadi’s emails, all of which begin with an “I’m sorry …” and end with an “I hope we can still be friends”.

The weekend of the sixth week finds Matthew driving back to a little café called The Big Apple; this time, ‘Chilipadi’ is perched anxiously on the edge of a chair, waiting for Matthew while gazing intensely at huge slice of chocolate fudge cake. Matthew squares his shoulders as he strides purposefully towards Seth, an image of confidence and resolve although his insides are somersaulting deliriously about and seemingly about to turn themselves inside out just for the hell of it. Seth smiles gratefully at Matthew as Matthew stiffly sits himself down, his face devoid of emotions.

“Hi,” Seth greets Matthew tentatively and pushes the cake towards Matthew. “Piece offering … pun intended, ha, ha …” he tries for lightheartedness. “Thanks for coming.”

When Matthew remains stubbornly silent, Seth starts to fidget uncomfortably.

“Listen, I just want to tell you face to face, I mean I just want you to know,” Seth begins, not quite being able to meet Matthew’s dreadfully empty stare, “I’m not just some young punk with too much time on his hands to conceive and carry out online pranks. I know I shouldn’t have continued our correspondence after the research was over, and I should’ve told you the truth when I chose to continue the correspondence but … Anyway, that’s about what I wanted to tell you – sorry, and that I really, sincerely, didn’t mean to deceive you or anything – and that this fudge cake is the best in town.”

Matthew’s gaze flickers to the cake then to Seth’s almost comical despondent countenance. “Got a fork?”

Thus Matthew finds himself playing mentor and big brother to a young man who reminds faintly him of an overgrown puppy. ‘Chilipadi’ is in real life, as Matthew gradually learns, a twenty-one year old freshman at a local university who shares Matthew’s interest in ice and street hockey and an appreciation of Tom Holt’s fanatically funny fantasies.

While the frequency and length of the entertaining online conversations and correspondences have increased, Matthew discovers that Seth also makes for a very agreeable buddy offline and a pure sniper of a left winger on the ice. If he is not instant messaging Seth or answering Seth’s emails in the office, then Matthew will be hanging out at the Big Apple café waiting for Seth to finish his shift so they can both go to the local ice hockey league games or to Matthew’s home and yell at delayed telecasts of NHL games. Online, Seth is Matthew’s tutor in the subtle art of witticisms; offline, Matthew drills Seth in the delicate skill of tact. On the ice, Matthew centers whatever line Seth is in, both feeding the puck to Seth and playing enforcer, making sure the shorter and slighter built Seth would not be pushed around too much; off the ice, Seth comes up with sly traps and stratagems to fell the opposing team. Had Matthew believed in best friends that would have been how he would describe his relationship with Seth.

“That was one hell of a game,” Seth comments as he dumps his skates and gear in Matthew’s car boot. Matthew grunts in reply as he closes the boot. Seth slides into the front seat, whistling idly and fidgets with the contents in Matthew’s glove compartment.

“Buckle up,” Matthew tells Seth as he buckles his own seatbelt.

Seth makes a face but complies. “Yes, mummy, can I have an ice cream too? I’ve been a goooood boy!” he sings out in falsetto then resumes his normal tone. “Where’re we going?”

Matthew shrugs. “I don’t know … where do you feel like going?”

Seth considers for a moment then mimics Matthew’s shrug and parrots, “I don’t know; where do you feel like going?

Matthew rolls his eyes at Seth. “Come on, I asked first.”
Seth sticks his tongue out Matthew and complains, “You’re so childish.”

Matthew snorts as he pauses at a red light. “So says the pot.”

A Harley rumbles to a stop beside his car and Seth scrambles to sit up for a better look, gazing in curious amazement.

“Hey Matteo.” Seth tugs on Matthew’s sleeve.

Matthew turns and looks. “Yeah?”

“Cool, huh,” Seth breathes, with a wistful longing, making Matthew raise a brow.

“The Harley or the female bikers?” Matthew asks. “I’m not really a bike person myself.”

“Yeah?” Seth suddenly stills, hunching into the seat.

“Now what?” Matthew sighs, without even looking at Seth. Seth fidgets and squirms in an unexpectedly awkward silence. “What?” Matthew rolls his eyes. Seth does seem inclined towards theatrical demonstrations of emotions.

“Are you a female person then?” Seth blurts out.

Matthew chuckles in amusement. “Is that a serious question? Are you no longer 20/20? Does this mean you’ll miss the empty net on a three on one breakaway? Or have I suddenly morphed into a female anatomy?” Matthew cocks an eyebrow at Seth, expecting Seth to make his usual barbwire retort.

Instead, Seth turns back towards the Harley and mutters, “Green light.”

Matthew glances briefly in surprise at Seth as he drives off. “What, no smart-ass comeback? Matt: one; Seth: five hundred and thirty-nine?”

Seth shrugs vaguely. Matthew reckons this must be the first time the two of them encounters even a scion of a second of taut silence in a conversation.

“You know, Matteo …” Seth suddenly begins, sounding unusually hesitant. “If you discount the rather unusual way we hooked up …” he trails off uncertainly.

“Yeah?” Matthew raises a brow. When Seth remains silent, he reaches over and ruffles Seth’s hair. “What’s with you? Speak up, man.”

Seth gazes out of the car window, craning his neck to see if the Harley is anywhere near. “What I’m trying to say is - we’re good friends, right?”

Matthew snorts. “If my company ever finds out the amount of company time I’m using to chat with you or ICQ you, my butt will be so fired in half a second.”

“Yeah, okay … so we talk a lot.” Seth nervously wets his lips. “Erm, best friends, would you say?”

Matthew takes a moment to consider. “I don’t believe in best friends,” he says finally. He shrugs and glances over at Seth. “Where’re we going with this?” he asks as he slows down to a stop at another red light.

Seth takes a fortifying breath, and then the plunge. “I like you, Matt.”

“Aw, don’t get all mushy on me, man,” Matthew mock-groans. He reaches across and gently punches Seth’s shoulder with a grin. “I like you too, buddy, even if you’re too tactless and talkative sometimes, and a complete pest all the time.”

Matthew watches as Seth’s Adam’s apple jerk in a nervous manner; Seth finds himself unable to look at Matthew as he whispers, “No, I like-you like you - as in Byron poetry and Puccini operas.”

The pause and silence seem to stretch for an eternity.

“Say what?” Matthew finally asks as he passes Seth a strange and incredulous look.

Seth swallows then bravely turns to face Matthew. “Which part? Just kidding … I said, I like you,” he announces with false bravado. “Not in the buddy-buddy, slapping at each other’s ass after a couple of beers or post-victory-group-hug kind of way. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Matthew focuses his vision on the car in front of him and tentatively clears his throat as he tries to digest what Seth said. “You’re gay? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m saying I like you.” Seth exhales noisily. “So I guess I must be … gay.”

I’m not,” Matthew blurts out immediately. “I’m straight.”

“Right.” Seth turns back to the window. “Then just – please – just forget about what I said.”

The Harley rumbles up beside them again; Matthew watches Seth gaze at the two riders dejectedly. The pillion rider wraps her arms more tightly around the rider, leaning her cheek onto her partner’s denim-jacketed back. She notices Seth’s gaze and smiles, giving him sleepy, friendly wink, which Matthew catches.

When the traffic light gives the go-ahead, the Harley speeds off, the pillion rider snuggling deeper onto her partner, giving Seth a little wave goodbye.

Matthew exhales, surprising himself with his decision, feeling inexplicably lighter and happier. He smiles as he reaches out and grasps the hand of a surprised Seth. A look of pure joy gradually replaces Seth’s puzzled gaze. Matthew winks, steps on the accelerator and takes off.

“But then again, what is ‘straight’? ‘A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh no, it’s curved like a road through the mountains.’”


the peak hours – hours of vehicular congestion,
   we’d thought –
but no, we stop only for pedestrians and traffic lights.
the kaleidoscope of light and shadow plays on our skin
   as we rumble through Orchard Boulevard.
my urban-road-warrior – on a steel mount in gunmetal
   shades -
i wrap my arms more tightly around you –
feel the soft undersides of your breasts on my forearms –
the assuring beats of your heart and the gentle
   fall and rise of your chest as you breathe –
i hold you close as you embrace your roaring mount.
there is warm sun rays and cool breezes –
what more can i ask for?