Three days later, I find an unusual email in my inbox.
It’s the first time I’ve opened my inbox since I got fired. I’ve been so pissed that I just don’t want to do anything that relates to Pendleton’s, and that includes checking my emails because that’s usually the first thing I do every morning, the very first task I complete as soon as I arrive at the office.
As soon as I do login to my account, there’s already twenty messages that I have yet to open and read. At least half of those are, unfortunately, nothing more than promotional offers for restaurants and Happy Hours and stuff like that. One is from Pendleton’s again, telling me that my last paycheck has been transferred into my bank account—good to know that I at least still have some money left to keep me alive for a few more weeks, if I’m sparing with my remaining finances. Two of them come from Ryan, who was just bored at work at the time while the other was so that he could pretend he was busy when he wasn’t.
Others are social media stuff, but it is the topmost recent email that catches my eye and I have to blink twice to believe what I’m seeing. It’s from Cam.
‘For being my first fan ever, here’s a sneak preview of my latest project, and a couple remixes. Enjoy ;)’
I roll my eyes at the winking emoticon, but notice there are three files attached along with the email right below the message. Two of which are, indeed, remixes, and of two of my favorite songs, too—Halsey’s ‘Colors’ and Cher Lloyd’s ‘Sirens’, both of which have a significant meaning to me as much as they do to their respective singers. Another is a track entitled ‘Letting Go,’ which doesn’t ring a bell in my mind, but I’ve decided to download all three of them and rush into my bedroom to grab my headphones and plug them into the computer before opening the first two files.
They are both almost as good as the original songs—nothing can beat the original songs, really—but I’m almost heartbroken after listening to ‘Colors’ again while almost reduced to tears after listening to a more mellow version of ‘Sirens.’ ‘Letting Go,’ which I assume is Cam’s latest project as he has described, is a little more upbeat than the remixes but even without lyrics, the song embodies the very essence of sorrow and loss very well that it’s scary how it makes me feel the same way—how real it seems to be. A mix of classical instruments and a little synthesizing with a catchy part that I guess is the chorus if it’s any other song with lyrics, I don’t think I’m getting this melody out of my head any time soon.
My Skype just so happens to be online, after I had a short video chat with Drew while he’s still overseas, and a small orange notification appears in the corner of the screen, saying that Cameron Hood is online. Either it’s a coincidence or not—or maybe it’s the weird, voodoo-like influence by that magic taxi that brought me back to him in the first place taking part in this as well—I throw my doubts and inhibitions to the side and open the interface, calling him.
He answers, and within seconds, the window changes into a real-time video of him sitting in front of his own computer, in his bedroom which hasn’t changed at all since I’ve last been there. His eyes light up and he smiles as soon as he sees me; wearing a plain grey t-shirt with his hair still messy as hell, it’s safe to say that he has just gotten out of bed.
“I take it you’ve listened to the songs I’ve sent you?” he asks, arching one eyebrow.
“How did you know I like those two songs?”
“Spotify playlist,” he says, shrugging. “Em, we’ve added each other as friends everywhere. It’s pretty easy to find everything and anything about you—I can bet if I search it up, I can find the perfect Christmas gift for you from your Amazon wish-list.”
I roll my eyes. “All right. I must admit, they’re pretty good. They can’t beat the original ones, though, but what can?”
“What about the other one?”
“Are you sure you didn’t rip it off from some other DJ’s Google Drive?”
His eyes widen. “What the—of course not! Why would you think that?”
“Because it seems a little unbelievable that you can actually make something like that. Wait—actually, I’d like to take it back as long as it doesn’t feed your ego even more because after what I heard yesterday, it’s not surprising that you can make shit as good as the one I’ve heard just now.”
“Good, because even though you’re biased and that’s why you’re one of the worst people to send it to, I need to make sure it’s good enough before I upload it to be seen under public’s eye. I’d send it to my mom and Cathy, but they’re even more biased than you are. And Cathy hates EDM—you know, the Taylor Swift and 5 Seconds of Summer type of person, a.k.a. the generic pop-loving person.” He shakes his head. “God, where did it all go wrong?”
I laugh. “But why do you need approval in the first place? Just put the damn thing on the website and see how it goes. You’ll know that you’re good when people start liking it and sharing it to other people, which will happen, regardless of whether it passes through my quality filter or not.”
“Honestly, I have no idea myself—I guess I just have this feeling to share it to my first and only fan before sharing it to future potential fans.”
I almost choke when I hear him say this, and stare back at him with disbelief. “You’re fucking with me, right?”
“Have I ever, since the day we’ve met?” I sit still when he says this, and the mischievous glint in his eye confirm my suspicions of the context he meant by the words he said. “But no. I’m being serious right now. You’re literally the first person who has ever listened to me playing—well, excluding my family if they overheard me from outside my room or from downstairs after all the times I’ve cursed out loud for the inability to find the right chord, or for all the times I’ve lost my guitar pick. I feel like I have to let you listen to all my stuff first before other people do.”
I stay silent for a moment as my brain attempts to process this. I can’t help but feel flattered to know that I was, indeed, his music’s first admirer, but a part of me is still confused as to why I’m the one who gets to have such an honor when I’ve done nothing to deserve this.
“Tell me one other reason why you chose to send this to me and not your family, other than bias,” I say with a challenging tone—and I’ve forgotten that he absolutely loves to be challenged.
“Even after everything that has happened, you’re still my best friend, Emma,” he says, softening his gaze. “I know I can trust you, and your judgement and your opinion. A thing about you is that you’re awfully, bluntly honest, too—Miss Goody Two Shoes Emma gets in trouble for countless of times after being a party-pooper and a tattletale for one too many times, and the words you speak already serves as evidence that the pen is mightier than the sword or however that saying goes.”
I roll my eyes. That moment of bliss bubbling in my heart disappears in an instant, replaced by utter annoyance. “Gee, thanks, Cam. Such a great friend, aren’t you?”
I could’ve sworn I see him twitching a little when I emphasized the word ‘friend,’ but I choose to ignore it when he immediately continues the conversation to another topic.
“Speaking of friends,” he says, “I’ve heard that some of the people from back at high school are planning to have a reunion—just for the people in our batch, you know? Or as I’d like to call it, the ‘cool’ people.” I shake my head again but he doesn’t give a damn about my disapproval. “But anyway, I was invited the other day and I may be hired to perform as the resident DJ—yay for the second official gig—but I wanted to inform you that both you and Izzy are invited, too. We were all in the same class, after all.”
A high school reunion. Of course, something like that just happens to pop up at the right—or should I say, the wrong moment, which is right as Cam and I have started to keep in contact with each other again. I think it may be the influence of the goddamn taxi again, or maybe Fate just loves to fuck with my life and throw things at me like a desperate director trying to make some drama happen in the set while they sit back and stuff popcorn into its mouth. Still, it all seems like one, elaborately-planned scheme with a puppet master behind the stage with intentions too obvious for me not to catch on.
Maybe, I’m just being fucking paranoid and still in denial after the break-up, because my brain knows that I’m lying through my teeth every time I say ‘I’m fine’ to people who have asked me about the termination of our relationship the first few months that followed. When, in fact, I was not fine because Cam was indeed the first love of my life and it hurt me to have to break-up with him for bullshit reasons because I was still waist-deep in love with him when I did.
It was the arguments that made me leave. All of it was just too much; it was right after we tried moving in together but everything went spiraling down because we yelled at each other a lot soon after we did, and that was when I established the fact that we were just incompatible with each other—too different to be in the same room, heading down the same road. As much as I wanted to work things out with him, the other, more logical half of my brain told me to leave—told me that I didn’t belong there, with him, and that everything between us was wrong. It was all just in the bliss of the moment, but after we saw what either of us were truly like beneath the surface, it all just fell apart.
And the worst part was that I still loved him. Even after all the yelling and cursing at each other, I still loved him to bits, even when I was skeptical that he felt the same way for me. I wanted to say something but was too afraid to, until the silence sank and we both decided that it would be better for both of us if we just ended it there. So we did, but here we are now.
Staring back into his hazel eyes make me remember of all the times we’ve argued with each other, sometimes for the simplest and most ridiculous reasons, others for the differences between us we could never settle. But staring into those same eyes make me remember all the good times we’ve had, which actually outweigh most of the anger and heartbreak because we’ve known each other for longer than we’ve dated. Not to mention the countless times we had to lean each other for support, and moments like those are impossible to replace or to forget, even when we’ve moved on from each other.
There’s still that part of our lives when we were most vulnerable, and we were there for each other when it happened. I don’t think that even my mother, or Izzy or Drew can ever replace that. He was always there and he’ll always be there—a part of my life, a fixture I can’t remove no matter how hard I try.
And it’s not like I can pretend high school never happened at all. Which leaves me back to this whole reunion thing, which seems a lot like a bitch slap in the face that forces me to remember all the dumb moments and decisions I had and made in high school. Some of them I want to relive—just to provide an escape from real-life problems such as worrying about rent and getting a job—but others I just want to forget, like celebrating New Year’s Eve at Cam’s place with all of our friends and end up spending the entire night getting drunk and playing beer pong, then waking up the next morning hungover and having to walk to the nearest drug store to get headache pills for all of us.
We’re a lot older now than we were eight years ago, I think to myself, still somewhat skeptical but excited at the same time. I think I can survive another, one last party with those idiots.
I don’t think I need to ask Izzy about this one, though; she’ll be more than happy to accept an invitation to another one of their parties.
“All right, we’re in,” I say to him, putting up a brave front when inside, I’m a little terrified of what I’ve just signed myself up for. “Just tell us the time and place and we’ll be there.”
“I’ll ask the guys about that one, but we can worry about that later,” he says, waving a dismissive hand. “In other news… how’s the novel going, by the way?”
I sigh. Of course, this’ll be brought up sooner or later. He was the first one to suggest going back to writing in the first place, after all.
“Swimmingly,” I say, pursing my lips, making sure to make the sarcasm obvious. “I’ve hit my third writer’s block since I’ve gotten myself back in the game, and that is not a good sign.”
He shrugs. “Ah, it’s okay—it happens, you know? I can get creative blocks sometimes, too. It’ll come to you eventually, so don’t worry your little head too much.”
“Well, it’s not gonna come at me like a wrecking ball, I’ll tell you that,” I grumble. “I think it’s a bad idea for me to choose this goddamn plot in the first place. And no, I’m not gonna tell you what it is because you’ll laugh if I do.”
And so I tell him. To my surprise, he keeps a straight face all the way through, and when I finish describing the general plot, he has yet to show any mockery on his face.
“That’s… intriguing, to say the least.” Amusement creeps up his face. Oh no—it has begun. “But I like it. It’s like Mission Impossible shit right there. I suggest listening to some scores for action movies if you’d like some inspiration—I’ve heard a lot of writers do things like that to break writer’s blocks. And, I suggest that you put an awesome action scene with guns blazing and chase scenes like the ones out of a Michael Bay movie. You can keep the sappy romance there—girls dig those kinds of shit, don’t they—but put in enough material for guys to be interested in it, too.”
“That’s… holy hell, that’s a lot of requests,” I say with a restrained voice, finding myself hesitant on whether or not I can live up to the high standards he’s set for me.
“Nah, I bet you can do it,” he says without much uncertainty at all. “I have confidence in you that you can pull it off. You’ve read and edited fantasy novels before, right? With sword fights and everything? Just replace the sword fights with guns and martial arts, and the medieval, countryside setting with that of a modern metropolis city.”
“Easy for you to say. I’ve spent at least three hours staring at this goddamn screen without a single word popping up in mind that’s decent enough to continue where I’ve left off.”
“Same goes with songwriting—I guess all forms of writing is just a long, torturous process full of pain and suffering,” he jokes. “How about we make ourselves a deal; music can help you people in writing stories, right?” When I nod, he continues, “How about if I finish making this track right now, and while I do that, you finish at least one chapter of that story of yours? It’s a win-win for everybody—you get some inspiration flowing through your head, and I have a ready audience who’s willing to critique the finished product while it’s still in production. Deal?”
I want to shake my head—not because I want to decline his offer, but because I can’t imagine how and where is he getting all these crazy and downright ridiculous ideas all the time. Creativity is a value of his he would very rarely utilize even when he could, so I’m kinda glad that his new career as a musician can make more use of that.
“Yeah, sure, why not?”
I hate that it’s the same response I use for many decisions these days. It’s like I don’t care about what happens anymore, or what the consequences of my actions are anymore. I do, but at this point, I really don’t have much left to lose.
Then again, this isn’t much of a risk to take. Drew’s still overseas, Izzy’s out on her date with her new potential boyfriend and I don’t think they’ll be coming home any time soon, seeing how she’s last seen in WhatsApp three hours ago when their dinner date was supposed to only last one. And it’s only sharing some inspiring, motivating vibe between two artistic creators, so I don’t see how someone can incriminate me for doing just that.
Leaving the call on, we both immediately go back to work as I open the Word window side by side with the Skype interface so I can see his face on one side of the screen and my work on the other. His eyes have diverted attention from the monitor of his computer to something else, too, and soon I can hear the track I heard just minutes ago being played through the call, albeit with poorer quality because of the goddamn Internet connection. When it stops right where it did for the file he sent me, he starts putting in some new chords and melodies into the song, then mixing it with the synthesizer or whatever it is that music producers use to produce their music.
He only stops when he looks up and asks if he’s distracting me from the task at hand, to which I deny and urge him to continue doing whatever he’s doing. Music doesn’t generally distract me, thank God, but other people’s talking do. I don’t know how many times I’ve been disturbed by people chatting and talking about the weather and sorts while studying, and many of those instances involve me yelling at them to shut the hell up. People since then have known better than to piss me off.
But in the end, we get too caught up with our work, we don’t care about anything else. His phone starts to ring and that does start distracting me, so I tell him to pick it up when it gets to its third ring. He does, talks for a minute or two on the phone but hangs up quickly, then goes back to his work. I’ve never seen him this serious in anything before in my life, so much that it scares me; I can’t help but constantly glance at the video call and even stare at him for a good minute until I have to look away before he catches me being a creepy stalker.
I’ve never even seen him this serious studying for end-of-term examinations, for fuck sake, or even his exams in college before he decides to call it quits, ‘to save money for the medical bills’ he would say, but I know he dropped out because of personal preference anyway. He’s said himself multiple times how the burden of college was not one he wished to carry for too long.
So when my ears finally catch on to the sound of keys clattering outside our door and the doorknob being twisted open, I sit still like the fucking idiot I am for a second too long and watch as the door beside me swings open to reveal both Izzy and Louis Castro, who already has his arm around her neck, and the close proximity between them tells me that my best friend may have actually scored herself a more-than-decent boyfriend, for once in a lifetime.
I notice Louis’ eyebrows arching and his eyes lighting up like the Fourth of July, and to my surprise, he starts nodding his head to the sound of the music blaring from the speakers, despite the quality, and then he closes his eyes like a painter trying to imagine the most breathtaking scenery he has ever seen.
I stare at him, then turn to Cam, who still has his head down and remains oblivious to who has entered the room and has seen his face on half of the screen.
Louis opens his eyes again then looks at the screen.
“Cameron? Is that your music playing there, buddy?”
Cam lifts his head in a moment of shock and his eyes widen to see Louis, and then immediately goes to panic mode like a fangirl about to meet and greet with their favorite celebrity.
“Louis! And… Izzy?” He glances between the couple. “Wait, when did you two get in here all of a sudden?” He turns to me. “Em?”
“Well, I forgot to mention that they were on a date this afternoon,” I say, hiding a cheeky smile. “And that he might come to visit once they get home. I guess I’ve been too caught up with my work to even notice the time, or worry about them in the first place at all.”
Izzy then leans down and nudges me with her elbow, and says under her breath, “Getting yourself a bit busy with a blast from the past, aren’t you, Em?”
I roll my eyes, hoping the microphone or webcam aren’t picking this up. “I should say the same for you. Didn’t think you’d bring the meat home, Iz. And don’t forget to wear condoms.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
She stands up straight again, glaring at me with a teasing hint in her eyes as she turns back to computer screen and hooks her arm around Louis’. “Cameron, I knew you were decent but I didn’t know you’re actually good at something for once in your goddamn life, other than getting the most number of detentions in a year.”
“Indeed, this is very impressive,” Louis adds. “Why didn’t you put this out there during your set last weekend? This is amazing! I bet my record label can use another talented artist such as yourself!”
Cam shrugs. “I don’t know, dude. It was far from finished and I figured people wouldn’t like it. But thanks, man. I really appreciate that. And Izzy… the record is actually in a semester, but then again it contributes to the whole year, too. And thank you, Isabelle, that’s very kind of you, ‘for once in your goddamn life’ as you’ve put it in words yourself. By the way, Louis? Be careful with this one. I’m more worried for you than I am for one of my own closest friends since junior high.”
Louis arches an eyebrow. “Oh, all three of you have been acquainted for quite some time, eh?” He turns to me, blinks twice and realization dawns on his face. “Oh! You’re that Emma? You’re Cameron’s ex-girlfriend, aren’t you?”
I want to hit myself on the table again.
Of course, out of everything, that topic just has to be brought up. Inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it should happen now.
“Yeah, I guess you’ve heard about me from him, huh?” I press my lips to a thin line, mentally preparing myself for the worst. “Good things, I hope?”
“Oh, very good things, indeed! I’ve heard many about both of you. He may be biased on you, to be honest, but you seem like an okay person to me, and all friends of his are friends of mine.” He looks down on Izzy and smiles. “Of course, he was very biased on his opinion about dear Isabelle. I’m assuming you two have more of a rivalry than the friendship established with Emma?”
“She broke my arm in a pool party once,” Cam grumbles like a five-year-old child complaining to his parents, glaring at Izzy.
“Hey, I said sorry, didn’t I?” She returns the accusing glare. “You dumped your entire lunch tray on my outfit! The fucking stain didn’t come off for an entire month, you asshole!”
“I offered buying you a new one, but you declined the offer because you said I have poor fashion tastes!”
I merely shake my head as another argument sparks between them—their bickering resembles more like an old couple than our bickering, but at least they’d make up easily later on because Cam always concedes to Izzy. He has, however, stated in the past he’d rather down ten shots of mustard and mayonnaise than ever considering dating Izzy. I guess that led him to me, instead, but when I suggested this to him, he denied, claiming that falling in love with me was a whole different story, and one he honestly didn’t expect.
Amidst their arguing, however, Louis leans down towards me, glancing back and forth between his friend and potential girlfriend, then scrunches his face. “Are they always like this?” he asks.
“You’ll get used to it,” I say, shrugging. “Izzy’s a great person once you get to know her. But as soon as she’s in the same room as Cam, these two immediately get possessed by some angry inner demons and start going at it like hungry feral tigers in a cage.” I pause, looks at her then back at him again. “As her best friend and current roommate, I give you both my blessings and my half-permission to come by any time you like, for her sake, but only if you’re willing to deal with a little spice and some crazy in your life because that’s the literal definition of the girl whose arm is around yours right now.”
He chuckles in amusement, but seems pleased by what I’ve said. “I do not mind that at all. In fact, that is just what I’m looking for in a woman. Thank you for your blessings, Emma—I really do appreciate it. But just one last thing, since you are the person closest to her right now.” He leans in an inch closer then asks in a whisper, “Before I say what I think about it, do you think she’s a keeper?”
I smile and found comfort in knowing that this time, Izzy has finally chosen someone who’s not going to break her heart again. “She’s a keeper.”
His smile widens and he leans back. “Then I trust in your judgement.” Turning back to Izzy, he nudges her a little, then asks, “Isabelle? I believe you were about to show me your photograph collection?”
Her eyes widen in surprise. “Oh, yeah! I almost forgot! C’mon, they’re in a special box I keep in my room.”
As she practically drags him towards the stairs, she stops in her tracks halfway there and turns around, her eyes shifting over from the computer to me and back and forth again.
“Em, I’m looking out for you as long as you’re looking out for me, all right?”
“Will do, my friend,” I say with a wink, and watch as she disappears into her room with Louis, who seems all too willing to be dragged into one hell of an adventure I know Izzy will put him through.
I’m glad for her—I really am. It’s about goddamn time she’s settled for someone who’s at least a nice guy to balance out against her bad-but-nice girl attitude. Louis himself looks to be about an okay person, and though he makes me wonder about the types of guys she’s into, I can just keep my fingers crossed and hope that he’s as nice as I’ve heard him to be, nice enough to not screw her over like all the other past lovers she’s been with.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Cam says, interrupting my thought and bringing my attention back to him. “Louis is a good friend, and a good person. He’s not like Nathan—if anything, he’s pretty much the polar opposite to that bastard.”
They may have a rivalry-like friendship, but friends look out for each other’s backs and the guys were just as furious as I was seeing Izzy devastated the first few weeks after her break-up. The only reason Cam and the others didn’t go up against Nathan was because he wasn’t worth travelling a thousand miles to pick a fight with, but also because Izzy herself didn’t want them to cause too much of a scene. She insisted we let go of it, so we did and enjoyed the rest of our last year without having to worry about that asshole.
But I can still remember the sad look on her face every time Cam and I went on private dates together. She often said to me how she wished she could have a relationship like Cam and I had—she said it was ‘true love’ even, but of course, I didn’t want to believe in any of that bullshit. We broke up in the end, didn’t we?
“She’ll be fine,” he says. “I guarantee it.”
I sigh. “God, I hope you’re right.”
He looks down, stares at his synthesizer for a minute then looks up again. “Where were we? Oh, right—ready to hear the final product? I think… I’m just about done with this one.”
I put on a smile and, just like with everything else, I try to move on.