It was the stranger. He looked different with his long hair shortened but he still carried the same aura he exuded when they first met, and his eyes sparkled with humor.
“You’re welcome.” He bowed slightly – an odd courtesy for the 21st century – and turned on his heel.
“Hey. Who was that?” Mindy said behind her and stared curiously at his retreating back.
“He helped me get this.” Kristina waved the object in her hand. “I couldn’t reach it.”
“Right.” Doubt colored Mindy’s voice although she kept her facial expression neutral. “Well, are you buying that? The others are waiting for us outside.”
Kristina looked at the book in her hand, sighed and fell into the long queue at the cashier with Mindy.
“Did you know Peter’s here?” Mindy asked.
“I saw him a while ago. He’s with Fred.”
“Liza invited Peter to watch the movie with us.”
“She’s been sending text messages on the train the whole time. Liza was texting him ’til we got here.”
Ah. So that’s what it was. Peter had been staying with them on and off during break for the past few months.
“I don’t like it,” Mindy said shortly. “You know what he is – what he’s done. I thought we were friends. All along he was targeting –” Her voice rose to an audible volume, making heads turn towards them.
“Are you sure about this?” Kristina kept her tone down, hoping Mindy would follow her example.
“I’m positive. She wouldn’t hear any of the reasons why she should put a stop to it. She’s already defending him,” Mindy whispered.
“You know I’m on your side but I can’t intervene.” The lady at the cashier received payment for the book and handed Kristina the change.
“I know. You had a history together – it’s bad enough what he did to you and to Ina, especially.”
“I broke up with him, remember?” Kristina added. She was amused with her friend for forgetting that small information.
“Fine.” Mindy rolled her eyes.
“If we can’t change Liza’s mind, we’ll just have to be there for her whatever she decides on.”
“How can you be so calm?” Mindy grumbled. Resignation crossed her features as they joined the others.
The movie didn’t disappoint. It was packed with action and suspense. It was almost with relief that it came to an end after one and half hours of excitement. The company, on the other hand, was a bit quiet after they left the theater. Unanimously, they decided to go to Starbucks. Fred offered to order for them as they searched for an available table.
Kristina noticed a group about to leave. She moved towards it and placed her bag on the vacated table and turned, only to realize that she was alone. No one had moved. All eyes were on Liza who made her excuses to them. There was a family emergency and she had to go home. She assured them it was nothing serious and accepted Nica’s offer to give her a ride.
The atmosphere surrounding the remaining members became more awkward. Peter was brooding over his cup and Mindy was obviously pretending he didn’t exist. Fred seemed to be completely unaware of the undercurrents. He was happy enough to talk about the movie and their upcoming graduation even if his audience lacked his enthusiasm. “By the way, my mom’s friend is meeting us here. He’s kind of a nerd – helped us with statistics in our research. Remember him, Pete?”
“Yep. I offered him coupons for that fancy resto near our neighborhood when we passed the thesis defense. He refused. Says there’s no one he can take with him. So, I promised to treat him here instead. There he is.” Fred waved to the man in a loose white polo shirt.
“Huh. That’s your friend?” Mindy said.
Catching the girl’s tone, Fred added: “We could take another table if you’re not comfortable with him around.”
“No,” she blurted out. “It’s okay. He looks like a really nice guy, unlike some people.” The last was spoken under her breath.
“How did you—” he was interrupted when Art arrived at their table. The topic soon forgotten as a flurry of introductions ensued.
Fred had gone back to the counter to order his friend a cappuccino. Peter went with him. Mindy had gone to the bathroom after giving her friend a conspiratorial grin.
Kristina saw it and a bubble of laughter escaped from her lips. Her friend had jumped to an entirely ridiculous conclusion. She saw Art looking at her with amusement and the laughter subsided. She cleared her throat, opened her mouth then closed it again. A small frown formed on her face. Before she could try to utter a word, Art gestured for her to stop.
“You’re confused and I apologize for that.” He waited for her response. When none came, he continued: “You might think that I have planned this, I haven’t. I would like for you to believe as I have that this is part of the Great Plan or what you commonly refer to as fate.”
The stranger from the rain and the bookstore was one person and he now has a name. Art. She wasn’t sure what to make of that statement. The sincerity seemed genuine; yet, it sounded like an abused line from a movie. What was that saying? Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is…
He leaned forward.
“And please believe me, I’m not your personal stalker.”
Now he’s a mind reader? Kristina released a breath she hadn’t realize she was holding back. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “You sound so serious, stranger.”
Art remained quiet.
“What gave you the idea that I’d think you’re a stalker?”
“Your face gave you away.” He paused. “You are right in one thing. I am a stranger to this country. It would mean the world to me that you see me as a friend. If it’s alright, can we start anew without suspicions and first impressions?”
“You’re asking much, aren’t you?”
“I hope you’ll humor me.”
“Just friends, then?”
Kristina was spared to answer when Fred returned with a tray of waffles and an order of Frappuccino and with Mindy right behind him. He was grinning from ear to ear. Mindy hadn’t wasted time sharing her assumptions with him. “Pete took off,” he began. “He said sorry and to have fun.”
“What took you so long?” Kristina asked.
“He was flirting with the barista,” Mindy replied. It was an outright lie and everyone knew it. “Anyway, what were you two talking about?”
“I was saying how beautiful your country is,” Art replied, flashing a smile towards Mindy.
Their new friend’s real name was Arthur Menesarios. He could speak Filipino, Japanese, Spanish, and German fluently and could understand ten languages. They discovered he had been to different parts of the world due to the nature of his work. At 28 years old, he was one of the few in his company who occasionally got assigned to a special case. His job primarily involved finding missing individuals which required discretion and good judgment. The length of time it took to complete a mission could be weeks, months, and even years. His last assignment had brought him to the Philippines three years ago. It was only last month that he completed the assignment. Art decided to stay in the country after he was granted his first vacation leave. He had a year ahead of him before his company called him back.
Her mobile phone vibrated on her desk. She had switched it to silent mode for a while now, ever since her ears became sensitive to sound. The LCD screen displayed Mindy’s name on it. Kristina groaned inwardly at the barrage of questions her friend had prepared for her. Reluctantly, she picked up the phone.
“What happened?” Mindy asked.
“So, what happened?”
Mindy, the quiet girl in class and loyal to a fault with her friends, angry over a playboy; worrying over her best friend’s future heartbreak; and now, asking excitedly about a guy they barely know after assuming there was something about him and Kristina.
“He wanted to be friends with me.”
The line on the other end remained silent.
“Tina. I know you’re hiding something from me. There was this look between you two that I saw back at the bookstore. I admit you looked pretty surprised, but you know each other.”
Kristina didn’t know what to answer to that.
“Besides,” Mindy continued with a warning tone. “I’ll get to the bottom of this sooner or later.”
“Like what? Have your uncle make a background check on him?” she teased.
“That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll have to think about it. Having a detective in the family sure has its benefits.” Mindy giggled.
“You’re not going to let it go, are you?”
“Not a chance.”
“There’s nothing really interesting to say.”
Kristina gave her friend a shortened version of how they met, omitting the mysterious occurrences surrounding him.
“You met after leaving your ex in the bus and he hugged you saying you’re not alone. And then, he left?” Mindy said slowly.
“That’s pretty much it.”
“Are you sure you didn’t dream all this? Or, are you still keeping things from me, trying to throw me off on purpose?”
“Huh. There are two possible reasons. One, you were so rattled with Peter that when Art saw you, he took pity on you,” Mindy said lightly.
“Now you’re joking.”
“Two, you looked so serious you almost looked sad and he felt that you needed a hug. He’s a foreigner so that might explain the behavior – different culture.”
“I don’t look sad.”
“I said almost. And he doesn’t look like the stalker-type if I’m right that you’re thinking that. He doesn’t have the creepy vibes.”
“But we don’t know each other. Also, that was the first time we met. Foreigner or not, why embrace me in the middle of a street during a storm?”
“The question is why did you let him?”
Wattpad code: 58366003
©MC Babasa 2014
A/N: Feel free to post your feedback as this is the first book. Your comments and suggestions may influence the story as it progresses up to the second book.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.