Julian clutched the yellow rose tightly in his hand. He didn’t waste any more time and went straight down here after talking to Cora, and man, he was not dressed for the cold. A polo shirt and a pair of trusty Converse were definitely not designed for winter. And it’s practically November.
He stared at the café across the street. Even from this distance he could smell the strong aroma of black coffee wafting through the air, lending him a second’s warmth.
It seems like nothing changed since the past six years: Same eclectic architectural design, white – washed wooden moulding, and even the same neon OPEN sign. Still, the Cup and a Half was one of a kind. It was library themed, and you could just pick a book from the wall – to – wall shelves and start sipping your brew.
He squinted to take a good look inside. He was standing out here in the snow for quite some time now, and he wanted to make sure that it was worth it. Scanning through the crowd, and indeed, there she was. Seated near the wall was the reason he flew all the way from New York, back to Minnesota.
Then time moved in reverse. The snow fall obliged and ascended back, the ebony sky slowly changed to the shade of pink, then the inevitable bright blue; and the strong howl of the wind was replaced by the happy sound of robins chirping.
It was the summer of 2014, the day he first met her.
* * * *
“One black to go, please.” Julian ordered as he paid a dollar. He glanced around the shelves for a book he might possibly borrow, and saw her. Her brown hair was tossed on one side, auburn highlights perfectly framing her sweet face.
“Thanks.” He took the brown bag from the counter. He almost hesitated, but he can’t help but be drawn to her.
“The Shining.” He read the novel that hid her face. She glanced up. “You should totally borrow that. Great read.”
“I just did.” She smiled. “I think I can finish this up even before I get home.”
For a moment, he was caught in a trance. "I’m Julian --- English major. Um, sorry, force of habit.”
“It’s fine.” She reached out her hand, he shook it. “Miranda, Biology.” She added, playing along.
He sat beside her.
“Oh, I thought you were going somewhere ---“, she glanced at the brown bag and the flower Jamie was holding.
“Yeah, actually it’s my mom’s birthday. Yellow roses are her favorite. But I could be late just this once.”
“Yellow roses, huh? Those are my favorite too.” Her face lit up.
“Really?" She nodded, he continued. “So you said you were a biology student? What campus?”
“Carleton College, second year.”
"I go there too! Third year.” Julian can’t help but grin. “How come we never met?”
She shrugged. “Well, Carleton is a huge campus.”
Then, a familiar tune played over the speakers.
“Oh, I love this song.”
It took a moment, but he finally got it. “Rivers and Roads?”
“By the Head and the Heart.”
He adored that song too. Their similarities surprised him. It was uncanny.
“It’s the never – ending battle, isn’t it?” He commented.
“And the head’s been trumping the heart ever since.”
He looked her straight in the eye and everything else disappeared. All that mattered was the girl in front of him, right here, right now. “I think the heart deserves a chance.”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
* * * *
“I’m really sorry, Julian. But Cora and I are really swamped here.” Miranda’s voice rung over the speaker phone.
“Don’t worry. I understand that third year in Biology can be rough.” He replied, balancing the phone on his shoulder while he fumbled for his apartment keys.
“I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
“Focus on your finals. We can celebrate this weekend, okay? Just text me if you’re done and I’ll pick you up from Cora’s.”
“Oh no, no --- you don’t have to.” He can sense panic in her voice. “We think that --- this might be an all – nighter.”
“Hmmm? Okay. Take care, babe.”
“I will!” She hung up.
He unlocked his door. In spite of the darkness, he could sense that someone was in the room. But he didn’t care. When he learned that he failed his Philo class, and his parents were getting a divorce on the same day, the last thing he wanted to do was celebrate. Some shut – eye could be good.
Suddenly, the lights went on.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” It was Miranda. The room was decorated with gold, red and green. A snow man was near the TV, and Christmas wreaths were hung on potential sides of the room. There was even a mistletoe at the center of the ceiling.
“You didn’t think that I’d actually miss your birthday, did you?” She added.
“Wow.” Julian walked to her.
“That’s what I was going for.”
“You really shouldn’t have.” He said, finally seeing the spread on the coffee table. There was a tray of steamy lasagna, a pot of hot cocoa, a tub of ice cream and some chips and dip. Not to mention the ridiculously large gingerbread house. He picked off some of the frosting and licked it. “And this?”
“Well, I figured, ‘Hey, it’s Christmas season, so voila! Christmas themed movie snack.’” She sat down the sofa, obviously proud of her work. “It’s no biggie. Just four hours down the drain.”
“Did you skip class for this?”
“It’s a Wednesday, dummy! No classes for me.”
“Oh.” He laughed. “You are just the best.” He held her hand.
“Wait, that’s not the best part.” A mischievous grin on her face.
“It isn’t?!” He couldn’t feign his surprise. He sat and bounced on the sofa like an expectant little kid.
Miranda grabbed DVDs stacked on the side table, and on the sofa lay the greatest display Julian has ever laid eyes on. They were season DVDs of How I Met Your Mother, CSI, and Sherlock Holmes. There were even movie collections of The X-Men, Harry Potter, and Die Hard.
“We can watch all of these, all night --- or you know, until you conk out.”
Julian was speechless.
“Come on, let’s get started on this lasagna. It’s best when it’s ---“
“I love you.”
A thousand thoughts then raced on his head. It was out of the spur of the moment but it felt right. His lips betraying him by saying those words even before his mind can retaliate. But is it the right time? Has he said it too soon?
“I love you too.” her voice perfectly echoing the perfect words.
He wrapped his arm around her, and she reached for the remote. “So which of these do you want to watch first?”
* * * *
“Julian! I’m gonna trip if you don’t hold on the bars!” She screamed her heart out.
“Don’t panic!” He laughed at the sight of her steering his Trek wherever which way. “It’s just like your regular bike. Only a tad taller.”
“Don’t let go!” She snapped, as if she didn’t hear a word he just said.
“How will you learn, then?”
Miranda bit her lip, as if it was any help as she gained speed. Julian saw his chance.
“There, there ---“ He slowly let go of the bike. Miranda was doing great, going off almost in a straight line. She was already almost ten meters away when she started to stagger. He ran to her, knowing that if he missed a second ---
He caught the bars just in time. “Got 'ya.” He positioned his arm around her waist to get across the other handle and balance the bike. “See? Told ‘ya you can do it.”
“Oh yeah?” Miranda went down the bike angrily and proceeded to hit him.
He laughed her off.
“I was scared out of my wits!” She took a deep breath. “Don’t you do that again, do you hear me? You can’t just be there for a bit, get me cozy, and just leave whenever you feel like it! Did you think I could ever trust you after that?”
Miranda saw Julian’s expression change. The light-hearted, jesting face became heavy and sullen, as if she said something horrible.
“What?” She wondered out of concern.
His reply got caught in his throat. He wasn’t ready for this, but it could be now or never.
“I---I’m sorry. I never should’ve said that.” She held his hand. “Hey.”
“I got in.” The very word removed the pang in his chest. Finally.
“I received my Yale University Masters Letter last week. I got in.”
“Wow!” She jumped up and gave him a big hug. As she did, Julian got a whiff of her citrus cologne, the cheery scent lifting his spirits. It was intoxicating. The embrace lingered, their bodies fitting together like two puzzle pieces. He could feel her heart, as it was beating steadily against his. Given a choice he'd never let go.
“That’s amazing news. I’m so happy for you.” She added when they finally split.”When are you leaving?”
“In three days.”
Miranda realized the weight of the prospect.
“And you’re only telling me this, now? So, for the past week, there is luggage for New York stacked somewhere in your apartment, and you never thought to mention it to me?” She wasn’t furious, it was a general wonderment.
“I tried, but ---“ he searched for the right word. Nothing comes to mind. “I can’t.”
“I know you did.”
“Please ask me to stay.” He teared up. Part of him always wanted to do that, but he can’t be sure that’s what she wanted unless she said it out loud. “I’d do anything you ask me to.”
“No.” There was no hesitation. “You should go.”
He bowed his head. He didn’t want her to see him break down like this.
“Julian,” she touched his cheek and lifted his face. “Look at me while I say this: After everything you’ve been through --- your parents’ divorce, and nearly losing your scholarship, nobody, NOBODY deserves this opportunity better than you. Don’t let it slip out of your hands.”
“I might lose y---“
“Don’t say it. I ain’t goin’ anywhere!” She forced a smile. “I’m graduating next year anyway, I will follow you there. Get a job in research, forensics --- yeah, that should work.”
Those were plausible points.
“I’ll wait for you.” He placed his hand on her hair and tilted her head.
“I’ll be waiting too.” She replied, staring into his soft, brown eyes. Next thing she knew, his lips touched hers. It was the innocence of a first kiss, passionate yet comforting at the same time. It spoke what speech couldn't: it promised that nothing could ever come between them. Not even distance and time. And if those ever intervene, and they will get all old and wrinkly, they will meet again and their young love will work its magic. He would kiss her just like that.
* * * *
"One choco mousse and a pretzel on the side." Julian told the waitress. "Cora, you want anything?"
Cora rolled her eyes, but forced a smile at the lady. "Blueberry fritter, please." She couldn't believe the man in front of her. He could be quite impossible at times.
"Let me cut to the chase: You have to see her." She started.
"No, I don't."
"Don't you get how important this ---"
"I do, Cora. Your ballistic outrage on the phone left nothing out."
"Then why aren't you doing anything?"
"It was six years ago, and she's happy with Richard. She's in forensics, he's the chief detective. They're perfect for each other." His lips rolled, but his mind cried otherwise.
"How do you know?"
He was caught off-guard.
"Julian, now I want you to listen very carefully," Cora took a deep breath, her head bowed. "I was supposed to be sworn to secrecy, but I think this calls for it."
"She plays your favorite song almost everyday, on repeat. She cuts fresh yellow roses every week and lets it sit on her windowsill. She watches your prized series on birthdays, Christmas eves, New Years ---" Cora let every word sink in.
"Even when you were in New York, your Trek is still parked out her porch, as if waiting for you to come back. She still uses it, you know? She frequents Route 108."
"She must be pretty good now. That route's steep!"
Cora winked. " She is." Then she found her composure. "Julian, she never told me this, but I know that she's still waiting for you. Long – distance relationships are all just talk, so I understand why things didn’t work out between you two. But she kept her promise. She was just scared that you might have felt a little differently.”
"What do you want, Cora?" He didn't mean it, but his voice rose and a couple stared at their side. "Do you want me to just run down the aisle and shout, 'Pastor, sorry to interrupt, but Miranda should be with me!'? "
Cora took a moment and felt a pang of sympathy for him. "Is that what you want?"
Julian clenched his fists. "No, it's not."
"I know why you don't want to tell me the truth." She paused. "Because when you do, it makes you the crappiest person in this room. Well, let me tell you something much, much worse."
"Sometimes, I just wanna pack a bag and never come back." She bit her lip, trying to stop the onslaught of tears. "I mean, I'm a mother to an amazing two-year-old, and Malcolm is the best thing that's ever happened to me. But I really dreamed of travelling, and be an artist. And his dad..." She cut off, not wanting to go into more details.
Julian touched her arm. He felt sorry for her, and almost got angry with himself for losing contact. Time could do so much, and he never thought that one of the strongest friends he knew was thinking of redoing her own life. Still, such openness shows such honesty. He owed her one.
"Miranda shouldn't be with Richard, she should be with me."
* * * *
He clutched the yellow rose tightly in his hand. He didn’t waste any more time and went straight down here after talking to Cora.
He squinted to take a good look inside. He was standing out here in the snow for quite some time now, and he wanted to make sure that it was worth it. Scanning through the crowd, and indeed, there she was.
There's only one thing to do now. Crossing the street, he went in the cafe, the silver wind chimes ringing as he swung the doors.
She turned, and he was brought back to the moment he first met her.
"Julian." Her voice sang sweetly. Years may have passed, but he never forgot the symphony that plays when she said his name.
"Miranda, I know I should have done this a long time ago, but I'm telling you now ---" He paused. The rush was too overwhelming. "I never stopped loving you."
He waited, but the look in her eyes urged him to go on. "I was weak. I should have known that you will keep the promise. If I could turn back time, I would never go to Yale if that meant losing you. I would always regret the six years that we lost. If we didn't, would we be going to this cafe together? Would we be going back to our home where our beautiful children will be waiting for us?"
He choked back tears. "Too bad we'll never know, but of this I'm certain: I want to spend every living moment with you, Miranda. I want to wake you up every morning then kiss you goodnight. I love you, Miranda. Just say the word: Is there any part of you that wants to try again?"
* * * *
Miranda stirred her coffee nervously. She knew she did the right thing but she can't stop it from replaying in her head: The look in his eyes when she finally gave him her answer haunts her.
“Just wait here, I’ll order for you.” Richard laid their wedding plans on the table. “Cappuccino, right?”
“Is there anything you don’t know about me?” She joked. He laughed and kissed her on the cheek.
As he walked to the counter, Miranda stared at the man she will finally spend the rest of her life with. He was a great person, more than she even deserves, but a part of her wondered if that will ever be enough.
“One black, and cappuccino, please.” Richard’s voice rose from the crowd. Only, it was a little more familiar. He turned to give her a smile, and when she looked back, she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was Julian.
His wavy, brown hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he grinned was the same. Nothing changed. His warm – toned skin seemed to contradict the cold of winter. His broad shoulders squared his frame perfectly, and she longed to lean on them. She remembered when they were lying on the grass, and she lay on his chest. They were admiring the ebony canvas of a million lights, and she knew that nothing else could compare.
As hard as it was to admit, she missed him.
But she knew it can’t be, so she winked incessantly to clear her vision. It was Richard.
In panic, she fumbled for the book she pulled from the shelves earlier and started to read.
“The Shining.” Richard said, but all she heard was Julian’s voice. What chilled her most was that it was the first thing Julian ever said to her. “You should totally borrow that. Great read.”
She couldn’t take it anymore.
“Miss Delacroix is going to be here soon. She has amazing ideas for the…”
“I can’t do it.” Her heart skipped a beat.
“The wedding.” Her tongue was in a loop. “I c---can’t go through with this wedding.”
“You’re just freaking out.” It was supposedly out of humor but his tone echoed pain. “It’s pre-wedding jitters, everybody has one ---“
“No, it’s not.”
He was silent. It was the longest pause Miranda ever experienced. Each passing second felt like a drag on the clock. All movement and tales around them rolled into a blur and no sound reached her ears. Yet, it was deafening.
"It's him, isn't it?" Richard finally broke the trance. He asked despite himself, dreading the reply.
He bowed his head. "Tell me: For a second there, did you really love me?"
Miranda weighed her response, but it was no use. She can't fool herself any longer. "No."
She dug the 18 - karat diamond ring from her pocket and placed it in his palm "I'm sorry."
He knew that this day would come, but he loved her too much to even entertain the thought. Now here it was. The blind game was over. No, he couldn't hate her. He had every right to, but he couldn't. She was the most amazing woman he ever met, and what she did couldn't even change that. She was being honest, he just hoped that he was too.
“Goodbye, Miranda.” Richard held the tears that were threatening to fall. He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the forehead. It lingered. A kiss that he hoped resound his love. A love, he regret, was in vain. He loved her, truly, and he had to do whatever it takes to make her happy, even if he will not be a part of it. Even if that means letting her go.
Then he just stood up and left. Miranda knew that it was the last time she would see him.
And now, as she sat here idly, she wondered what will come out of it. What next? Is she supposed to wait for Julian or ask him to leave his life behind? Or should she just take the next flight to New York, and profess her love? It was ridiculous, but it was worth it. Yes, that’s what she would do.
Just as she was about to run out, the silver wind chimes rang, a sign that someone just went in the cafe door. Cold wind swept in as she watched a young boy walk toward her, a yellow rose in hand.
She could never be mistaken.
"For you." His innocent grin brought a smile to her face.
"Where is he?" She stood up, adrenaline surging over her.
His little finger pointed at a man out in the snow, who has just started to walk away.
* * * *
He couldn't do it. All he wished to say was just a vision in his head. He loved her, but she deserved someone who made her truly happy. She's marrying Richard now, and he just have to accept the fact that she would never be his. He had to let go of the times he dreamed of the what ifs. It's just better this way.
Just as he was about to turn the curb, he heard the voice he so loved call out.
"Julian!" He could never be mistaken. He looked back, and there she was.
Time stopped as he soaked in the very image of her. Her long, wavy hair floating tastefully as the wind. Even roses in bloom would envy her lips as they curved into a crooked smile. He locked his gaze with her eyes which reminded him of how vibrant and deep an ocean can get. They spoke the truth: She never stopped loving him and every part of her wants to try again.
The six years they missed fade away. Thousands of miles and the Atlantic that separated them compressed into a single strand of asphalt. It was fate that brought them back together: She didn’t know he will be there. He didn’t too. All they knew was that something just pushed them to go back to where it all started. It’s as if all the stars in the universe aligned to orchestrate this moment. To orchestrate this reunion.
Then, the world moved in reverse, every motion shedding a color of leisured blur. But he didn't care, all he ever wanted was to hold her in his arms, and let the heat of her skin resonate with his. He would never let go. He longed to feel the touch of her lips again. The taste of honey, life, and all warm things intertwine with her breath that pants for his passion.
Next thing he knew, she was running towards him and everything went back in play. It all happened too fast: Lights flashed and shrill horns blared as a speeding convertible lost control as it slid on ice. It didn't stop even for just a second.
Memories raced in his mind: The day he met her. The first time she said I love you. Their lazy nights, fighting over the remote. Them, biking their way to the port. Their first sunset. Their first kiss. Her laugh. The way she whispered his name.
It could only echo for eternity because he would never hear her voice again.
All those hopes, stolen in just a second. Only if she stepped off the curb a single second late, then he could have been with her: The only woman he ever loved. The only woman who knew his soul. The best thing that ever happened to him.
But, that beautiful yellow rose now lay on the asphalt, stained with red.