Novel No. 1 – Chapter 1: Two sides of a coin

Hugh stared at the drawings. Time stopped. The world stopped. He died.

Or so he wished.

It’s nothing, really. People die all the time. When you want the world to spin around you, you choose death. Then, nothing else matters.

When he saw her name on the screen, he should’ve chosen death. He shouldn’t have answered. He shouldn’t have waited – he didn’t have to. He knew what she was going to tell him; he knew this day would arrive the moment Priscilla met him.

The drawings started to blur. He let them, inviting death. This is the best form of procrastination.

A soft crisp voice break through the cold air, “so I said yes.”

Hugh breathed again. Death isn’t coming after all. He squeezed his eyes and pushed back the heat behind the lids. Time isn’t helping too; the world decides to spin on its own as well. It’s over, Hugh. He breathes in deeply, careful not to make it heard and opened his eyes again.

His voice refused to activate; Hugh continues to drag the silence. He remembered little Priscilla sticking to him like glue. Growing up, she tells him everything that has happened to her. In every game and conversation, she quietly hinted for his allyship; and Hugh would usually nod or nod with a grin. No special reason – he just wanted to watch Priscilla’s face brighten up. Each time is always like the first bloom of a flower.

Hugh’s mind wandered deeper down memory lane as if he had all the time in the world. He realised that Priscilla had actually been a great part of his life. Her life choices and the aftermath are his daily news. Her texts and calls get his instant response. Her questions are never ignored. Her plans are his agenda. When she asked to meet for lunch, he would make the reservation. She lets him pick the restaurant, he lets her plan the celebration for all his birthdays. So, when she got married, he was her ‘maid of honour’; and naturally, when she decided to file for a divorce, he recommended a good lawyer.

“Hugh?” The tiny voice tinkled through his thoughts.

He finally found his voice. “Yes, I’m here.” He tried to lift the corners of his mouth. “I heard you the first time.” His back snuggled into the chair. He lifted his gaze and closed his eyes.

“Okay.” She paused again. “Well,” She breathed. “Erm, so I said yes.”

Hugh kneaded the area between his eyes. “Congratulations. I’m happy for you.” He sounded as cliche as a soured fool, but it didn’t bother him.

She breathed again. “Thank you.” Another short pause and she finally blurted, “What do you think?”

It has been his favourite tease with Priscilla – predicting her reactions and watching it happen. Things will never be the same again. He needs to manage his emotions, but he doesn’t know where to start. He held his forehead and breathe out. “I think it’s good.”

“Really?” She returned.

His hand grazed his forehead as if reliving an irritating itch and he replied coolly, “Really.” He paused, inhaled carefully again and added calmly. “It’s been – like – a year? Time to let go and move on. You deserve to be happy.” Though he sounded like a marriage counsellor, he actually meant it.

“You’re right.” She gave in too easily. After another brief pause, she whispered, “I mean Tom’s a good guy, right?”

Hugh’s eyes flared open and he almost jumped up from his seat. “Tom is not Rayson.” He saw that man’s face in his mind and wished that he had punched him harder then.

After a deep sigh, her voice fell slightly. “I know.”

Hugh softened at the cue. He sat up and urged himself to snap out of it. Propping his free arm by its elbow on the office desk, cradling his forehead with the hand, he said, “You have other concerns?” He was ready to listen though he sounded like an insurance agent.

After a second, she changed her tone. “No. I’m good.”

His fingers stopped harassing his forehead as he asked, “You sure?” He straightened his posture as if it could make his genuine concern come through his voice. “You can tell me. I will listen.” Now, he couldn’t tell if he sounded like a marriage counsellor or a best friend.

“No.” She assured directly. “I’m good – really. You’re right, Hugh. I’m overthinking.” Hugh could tell that she is smiling. “It’s time to let go of the past and move on.”

Hugh finally smiled too. But, his eyelids were still heavy. “Yes.”

“Yes.” She followed lightly.

And they both chuckled.

“This is seriously the word of the day.” She remarked gently in between their chuckles. “Well, see you tomorrow.”

“Sure.” He smiled and slumped back into his seat again.

“Night, Hugh.” She sang sweetly.

“Goodnight,” Hugh showed his teeth, then removed the phone from his ear and tapped on the red button. He continued to pause aimlessly at the screen.

His fingers then danced around on the glass until a familiar photo showed up. The only one with three faces grinning casually back at him and the unmistakable neon lights of Witty Bar as the backdrop. It was the very first time they had dinner as a trio – the day the divorce was finalised and Priscilla visited Hugh at his office. It was the first time she met Tom who then invited her to dinner.

Hugh kept on looking at the smiles. Monday dinners are meant to be a weekly bachelor affair; Tom likes to call it their Monday ‘dinner date’ – just bros, no women. That very Monday was the first one to be called ‘just a weekly dinner with my bro because we need to kick the blues out’. Hugh had said nothing when he heard it. Then, as usual, Priscilla turned to him when Tom asked and he nodded for her to come along.

His fingers glide across the glass and two of the three faces filled the entire screen. Memories of the Witty Bar and those ‘dinner dates’ with Tom took over his mind. Tom’s smile has always been contagious – the thought lifted the corners of his mouth. The heavy lids finally relaxed and Tom’s beautiful face became a blur.

How nice if they had all been dates.

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