“She couldn’t bear the weight of his dream when hers was nowhere to be found.”
This story is part of the Claire Romantic Series.
All my life, I never really dreamt of meeting someone who would understand me by the heartbeat, warm my heart with just a smile; talk into it without words. But I met Phil. Phil was, everything that I was never ready for. Phil was, everything that my heart tried so hard to disprove. Phil was, perhaps, a different kind of flavor of my life. Bitter, sweet, and brief.
I remember the first time we met. It was the cold and damp month of November. It was that street in the city, that quiet and still street that will always turn busy and loud when the night came. I was strolling down that street, alone, looking for nothing, and I found Phil. Him, with his half finished painted canvas, his brush and palette, looking calm while he danced his brush on the canvas.
Phil was a street artist. When I stopped by to see his paintings that evening, he had his head down, eyes glued to his canvas. I didn’t think he saw me, but when I was about to leave, he introduced himself.
“I’m Philip,” he said, almost out of a sudden, startling me. I turned to him and nodded, trying to be polite. He looked at me as if anticipating me to say something. “I’m Claire”, I said, almost doubtful. He laughed softly, I probably looked funny to him that very moment. Seeing him laugh, I laughed with him. The momentary awkwardness between us suddenly disappeared. Like Phil had always said, the world had probably become ours even then.
“Do you like coffee?” he asked.
I chuckled. “My favorite,” I said.
He invited me for a coffee and we strolled that very street together the next day. I didn’t usually do that; accepting an invitation from a guy I met on the street. But there was something about him that made me say yes. Something in his eyes.
Coffee then became one of the things we both enjoyed together. I began to appreciate paintings and began to see every detail in them the way I never had before. To Phil, painting was his passion, his life. I could sometimes just sit quietly, watching Phil run around his brush on his canvas, eyes focused on only his canvas, till it became only him and his instruments; his brushes and his palette, and the colors of his creation in his canvas.
I had woken up one morning, in his apartment, in his bed, opening my eyes to the sight of him sketching on his canvas, while alternately looking at me. I had thought he was sketching me. I didn’t get up from the bed, just lying still, looking back at him, admiring his concentration. When he stopped and put down his charcoal, I asked him, “Can I move now?”. He smiled and nodded.
I got up and walked toward him to see what was on his canvas. But it was not me in his sketch. It was something that looked more like an open sea, the sun high above the sea, a harbor.
“OK, so which one is me?” I asked, joking.
He smiled and pointed to the sun in his sketch right away.
“You need to look at me to sketch that?” I giggled, half-teasing, half-curious. He laughed softly. But then he said he didn’t try to sketch me. He said he tried to sketch something in his head that became clearer when he looked at me. I turned to him and caressed his face, looking into his eyes. Phil always said things I never expected. Things I never heard from anybody before him. Truth was, there was not really anybody before him. He was something different. He was something I stumbled upon, not something I voluntarily looked for.
I remember the time when he told me how he felt about me. “I think I really, really like you,” he said. It was the same eyes that were glued to his canvas when he looked at me. That same passion. I did not say anything when he said that. It was different. It felt different. Different as if I had never heard those exact same words all my life. For the first time, I didn’t know what to say. We knew we had starting to develop feelings for each other. We knew we had beginning to love spending more time with each other. We knew the feelings. We just never said it out loud until that day.
It was not just once or twice Daryl said the exact same thing to me before. He even said ‘I love you’ a few times; something I hated hearing him say, something I always told him not to say. “Stop it, Daryl. You don’t even know what you’re saying”, I usually told him.
Daryl was a fling that I voluntarily looked for at the office where I worked. He was tall, handsome, and romantic. He made a nice fling. I didn’t need to know if he had a girlfriend, engaged, or if he was married. I only needed to know he was there when I needed someone to sip coffee with in the weekends. I only needed to know he was there listening to my stories anytime I wanted him to. I only needed to know he was there when I needed cuddles and kisses. Hugs and embraces.
My life was uncomplicated. Or maybe it was what I had always tried to believe. I went to work in the morning, went back home after the sun had descended below the horizon, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning to do it all over again. Sometimes in the evening I put on my jacket and walked two blocks away to James’ restaurant, around the time he was about to close his restaurant. Sometimes we would watch TV inside after he closed his restaurant. He would prepare us some foods, or had one of the kids did it. He would tell me one or two of his funny stories, he always had stories to tell.
Then there came this new world named Phil. A guy whose best medium of expression was his canvas. A guy who smiled more than he talked. A guy who spoke straight to your heart with his eyes.
A guy who thought of life as a battlefield.
I remember the day we drove to a deserted lake miles away from the city. It was formerly an abandoned mine. I sat on top of the car while watching Phil setting up his canvas on its stand. And then he asked me, “Tell me, what were you like when you were a kid?”. I quickly laughed. “I was a boring one”, I said. But he had the look on his face as if he had just heard the most interesting thing in the world. “Go on,” he said.
“Well,” I started. “I was observant. Selfish at times”.
I dropped to silence for a few moments, tried to remember what I was like back then. Thought of my childhood, realized how ordinary it was. “It was an ordinary childhood,” I said, more to myself. I dropped to silence again, now collecting the memories, piece by piece, each becoming clearer as I went through them again in my mind. And remembered something. “I always dreamt about a different life. Much different than this one,” I added, looking at him. After a while, I said, “But I guess everyone that age did”. I shifted my gaze down to my feet. There was a rush of regret when I said this. Sudden and brief.
We stayed at the lake till dusk. I watched Phil paint the calm lake scene on his canvas silently. The wind sometimes disturbed the calmness of the lake and the water rippled, creating starburst of the reflected sunlight. The scene reminded me of one of Phil’s paintings I had seen. It was a beautiful piece. But also, a lonely one. It took me some time after knowing Phil, to notice that he never drew people in his paintings. When I asked, he said it should be a ‘different chapter’ of his life, without explaining more. It was to me, as if there was something he was afraid of, though I never figured out what.
I remember asking Phil if he was good at something else other than painting, or if there was something else he wished he was doing. In his usual calm voice, he said, “It has always been painting. It’s the one thing that I do, maybe not because I’m never good with anything else, but because it’s always what I want to do”. He smiled his usual smile, but it sent chills down my spine. He was real.
I knew it was not just about doing what you love. I knew Phil did not have it easy. He could go on for days, weeks, even months without selling any of his paintings. He had to fight to keep doing what he loved. I thought of myself, the comfortable place I lived in, the fancy car I drove. And then I thought of the dream I had as a child. Seeing Phil was like seeing something I could have been. Seeing him was like seeing the dream I had once forgotten. The world felt real around him. Every little thing felt alive near him.
The next thing I knew I was crazy about him.
I stopped seeing Daryl since Phil came into my world. Stopped going to James’ restaurant in the evening. Daryl called a few times. He tried to talk to me in the office and waited for me at the car park a few times. I told him I was too busy with work. Though he looked disappointed he didn’t ask further. I made no effort to make it up to him. Instead, I made time for Phil. And I knew Phil made time for me. Even when he had it rough, he would always greet me with a smile. Still insisted on paying for our coffee’s. Always telling me not to worry, he had it ‘worse than today’.
I asked Phil once, how could he still smile when the whole world was closing in on him. He said, “You”. Told me I was like a new light to his dream.
One damp evening, weeks after, Phil gave me a surprise. My car was in the workshop and I had been taking a train to work for over a week. That evening, like two evenings before it, I left the office really late. It was about an hour before the last train when I stepped off the building. Soft drops of rain poured down and landed on my skin. It had been raining heavily for the past days and I had started to get tired of it. And tired of everything else.
I was ready to cross the street when I noticed a figure standing beside a street lamp at the other side of the street, holding an umbrella. The fairly empty street made it easier for me to spot the figure. It waved at me. Looking closely, I realized it was Phil. I gave him a smile and crossed the street. His smile widened when I reached him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, amused. “How — Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”.
Phil did not say anything. Instead, he took my hand and led me to walk beside him on the sidewalk. We walked side by side through the rain shower under his umbrella, watching our own reflections in the puddles of rainwater as we walked. I asked him if we were heading to his car. He said no. I asked him how long had he stood there beside that street lamp. He said very long.
We took the last train and stopped at the nearest station to my apartment buildings. And then we walked down the streets together to where my block was. On our way, I saw James in front of his restaurant across the road. He was locking the door and our eyes met for a few seconds. I turned away instantly and kept walking.
As we reached the corner to my block, I told Phil I could walk home by myself and he didn’t need to walk me that far. Phil nodded. And then he told me some of his arts were going to be showcased at a new coffee shop that was going to open the following month near where he lived.
“I’ve had discussions with the owner for some time. Luckily, it turned out well,” he said.
I tried to study his face in the dim street lights, but in the shadow his expression wasn’t very clear. For a moment I felt like I had to know how he felt. I needed to know. “Are you happy?” I asked.
He was probably slightly puzzled by the question but quickly laughed and said, “I’m thrilled!”.
I suddenly remembered what he once said to me. “I feel it every day. This strong passion that just runs through me at every heartbeat. If only people could see that.”
“Let’s build something together, you and me.” Seeing his face that day, I had thought of that as an option.
I tittered and shook my head, realizing how silly my question was. “Of course you are,” I said, and looked into his eyes. “I’m happy for you”.
I reached out to the back of his head, caressing it, and pulled it closer to me. In that close distance, I saw what I was looking for. It was always there. The fire in his eyes.
He let go of his umbrella and held me in his arms. Soft drops of rain fell on us. He tightened his grip around me. I closed my eyes. And he kissed me.
When the kiss ended we said our goodbye’s and he went back the way we came. I didn’t invite him over. I didn’t ask how he would go home. When I got home, I quickly took a shower and changed. Sitting quietly in my bed, I cried.
I didn’t see Phil for almost two weeks after that night. We were both busy with our own course of life. I had works to worry about. Schedules to catch up. But everywhere I looked, there was Phil talking in my mind.
Phil called on my phone when the week was about to end, saying he got a surprise for me. He wanted to come to my place and drive us to the deserted lake away from the city. But I insisted that we should meet at the street where he usually sold his paintings; the place where we first met. I said it was near his apartment, so he didn’t need to drive.
I left home early the afternoon I promised to meet Phil. When I arrived at the place where we promised to meet, Phil was already there. There was something in his hand. He saw me and drew a smile.
“Hi,” he said. “How was your week?” he asked me.
“It was — okay,” I replied in hesitation, and looked away.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
I didn’t reply. I looked up to his face, trying to find that one thing in his eyes. It was always there.
“I really like you, Phil,” I said, with some kind of regret.
He touched me in the face. “Me too,” he said.
I let him run his fingers on my face. When he was done, I said, “We should stop doing this, Phil”. I didn’t dare to look him in the eyes. Didn’t dare to meet his gaze.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“We should stop seeing each other,” I said. When I looked at his face briefly, I saw the lights died in his eyes, and I realized this was so much harder than I ever thought. Just looking at his face made it harder for me.
“You’re still the greatest guy I’ve ever met,” I said softly without looking at his face. I meant it.
For a few moments it was just silence. I knew I wanted to pull his face close to me and caress it the way he did with me. But instead, I only looked down to the pavement. There was only one word I heard from him next; “Why?”.
I couldn’t look at his face and tell him why. Truth was, at the time, I couldn’t even bring myself to admit why I did it.
I wanted to tell him he was still the only guy I had ever truly cared about. I wanted to tell him he was probably the best thing that had ever happened to me in a long time. But the words seemed to stuck on my tongue. In the end I just shook my head.
“Is there anything that I can do to change your mind?” he asked softly. I quickly shook my head. I found the courage to look him in the eyes this time and said ‘No’ as if I meant it. He was looking back at me, his eyes lifeless.
Finally he nodded.
“Well, I brought something for you,” he said, forcing a smile on his face. He pointed to me the thing that had been in his hand the whole time. It was like a canvas on its stretcher bars. Only that it was wrapped nicely with a brown parcel paper. I took it from his hand, hesitating.
“Open it,” he said. Slowly I opened it.
It was his painting. The one I had never seen before. It was the surprise he was talking about when he called earlier.
“I painted it for you,” he said.
It was a night scene. A wet and empty street. Lights from the street lamps were reflected in the rain puddles. It was probably after rain. On the sidewalk there were two people walking under the same umbrella. Their reflections were clear on the pavement. It was us. It was us from that night when he waited for me after work and walked with me in the rain shower. It was so beautifully painted. For one moment I saw everything in that little piece of canvas. Serenity. Happiness. Hope.
I couldn’t have it.
I shook my head and handed it back to Phil. “I can’t have it,” I said, shaking my head softly. Then there was this heavy feeling that came over me.
Quickly I turned away. I turned away from Phil and started walking. I left him without a word. He didn’t say anything, didn’t call. So I just walked, and walked until I was far from that street, until I reached my car. I started the engine, tears filling up my eyes. And the world became blurry in front of me. If it all meant to be so easy, why did it hurt so much just being near Phil?
The next day, there was something on my front door when I opened it to leave for work. It was that very same painting from the day before. It was not wrapped. It was lying there against the wall next to the door. Phil must have left it there the night before. Or that morning. He must have left it quietly. Or probably he meant to knock, but didn’t. I pictured him standing there in front of that door, with that painting in his hand, debating with himself whether to knock or not to knock. And he didn’t.
I picked up the painting, put it at the back of the door inside, and left for work. I couldn’t stay to look at it much longer. I told myself that Phil was too good for me. I lied. He was just too real for me.
Phil reminded me of the things I missed in life. Watching him awakened the pains and regrets in me. I couldn’t bear those pains and regrets the more real they were becoming to me.
I did not lie when I told Phil he was the greatest guy I had ever met. He was. He made me feel different. He was the only guy that had ever made me feel different. The feelings were real. The happiness I felt when I was with him was real. But everything else about him was just too real for me. His dream. His words. The look in his eyes.
It was funny when Phil said I was like a new light to his dream. I couldn’t bear the weight of somebody else’s dream when my own was nowhere to be found.
And because of that, I ran for a rescue. To the world I had known for so long.
When I arrived at the office, I quickly took out my phone and dialed a number. As I waited, I reached for my old pack of cigarettes in the drawer, lit one cigarette in my mouth.
When I heard a familiar voice on the phone, I said, “Daryl, it’s me”.
“Hey, babe, what’s up?” Daryl quickly replied. His voice sounded cheerful, just like always.
“Are you free tonight?” I asked.
“Of course. I’ll always be free for you,” he said, and then told me about a new place he’d like to bring me to. And as he went on and on at the other end of the line, I listened, with the burning cigarette in my hand, trying to smile, trying to put him on my mind, trying to wash away everything else from my mind. I told myself it was okay. That everything was going to be okay. As they had always been. Somehow.
– THE END –
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