Krystal combed her long black hair with her fingers. She was sitting on one of the concrete bleachers situated along the lake’s paved shore. Her feet were swinging freely just a few feet above the grayish-green water with several water hyacinths floating on it. She inhaled the smell of the air. She could just go home and smell the air freshener in her apartment rather than the tainted smell of the dirty lake. The fact that some male children take bath or dive in the dull water, many plastic wrappers, wood scrap, socks, diapers, boots, rotten cabbages, banana peels, plastic bottles, and even ‘brown submarines’ were seen floating in the water along the coast. People were careless throwing their wastes on it and then come swimming with it. How gross, Krystal thought as her eyes roamed around the place. She clasped her cellphone tighter, afraid of letting it fall in the water.
The orange sky became more beautiful with its reflection glittering on the crimped water. She really loves the view that she made that particular spot as her favorite place. She was directly facing the lake and the city from the other distant land across the water. Krystal would always go to that lakeside park every afternoon ever since she dropped out of school. Whenever school comes to her thoughts, she always wondered how her classmates have been, what the assignments were and what happened to Kai. He was a schoolmate, just a year older and a senior student. She knew him since she entered seventh grade but never had the chance to meet him. He was quite popular but only few things were known about him because he was a mysterious type of guy, even his relatives were unknown. And when you browse his name on Facebook or any other social media accounts, you won’t find him. Because of that reason, many students thought that he came from an orphanage and there were rumors that he just sleeps on the church at night. Krystal always had chances of seeing him on the street near her apartment and her bestfriend’s house for more than three weeks. Every time she sees him, there were butterflies in her stomach and she would always run away from him. Thoughts about him filled her nights before sleeping and her dreams were faces of Kai. But she never confessed her feelings to anyone, even to herself.
That day, she decided to walk home several minutes earlier than her usual habit. The sun has not fully hidden itself behind the dark buildings when she stood up. The cold wind blew her hair and sent shivers to her pale skin. The thin cotton scarf wrapped around her shoulder didn’t help relieve the chilly feeling. Her steps were slow like an astronaut walking on the moon’s rough surface. Then a shadowy figure blocked her way.
“Krystal,” the voice was deep and manly. The moment she heard her name, she stopped walking. It was the first time her heart beat rapidly without the scary feeling that she’ll wake up in a hospital bed or worse, never waking up. She felt butterflies in her stomach. When she looked at the man in front of her, she almost literally dropped her jaws. It was Kai.
“Jean is looking for you,” he said while looking at his own shoes.
He was a foot taller than her so Krystal was looking up to his face. His hair was dyed to black again and some of it covered his forehead. His lips were pouty even when not talking and his eyes glistened even in the dark. His nose was perfect, just like his jaw.
“How come – Jane – you?” Confused and overwhelmed, Krystal’s wordings don’t make any sense. But Kai got it.
“She told me to look for you. She’s waiting at her apartment. I’m a neighbor.” It relieved her confusion but it also made her even more confused. His statement raised questions in Krystal’s mind. Was he just joking? Was this a prank? Was that a secret? For how long? How come Jean didn’t mention that she knows Kai and they were neighbors? She even asked Kai to fetch her. Was that the reason why she always sees Kai near their street these past few weeks? Are they in an intimate relationship? She wanted answers for those questions, especially the last one.
Krystal was still looking intently at Kai’s face. “Okay. I’ll go then.” Not even one of the questions came out of her mouth.
“She told me to escort you, just walk ahead of me,” still feeling her heart drumming, she walked quietly and slowly with trembling knees. The smokes from the roasting street foods and passing vehicles made Krystal’s chest heavier. Her health has worsened after the Christmas break exactly one month ago. She was rushed to the hospital by her landlady after Krystal fell unconscious outside her apartment. She never told anyone about her real condition, even her best friend Jean. She doesn’t want to be pitied by anyone.
“Do you want an ice cream?” Krystal’s ears tingled the moment she heard the word ‘ice cream’. She turned to face Kai in an instant.
“Really?” A half-moon formed in her lips, her white teeth complemented her pastel lips.
“Yeah, my treat,” she almost jumped into him.
“Hey be careful. Watch your step, you might fall.” It strucked Krystal in the heart, it was as if there was double meaning with his statement.
“Nah, you’ll be there to catch me,” she said it in a funny way to cover up her burning cheeks. Her racing heart slowly came to relax, being used to the presence of the stranger he known for four years. Kai flicked his fingers against the cold invisible wind.
“You’re quite funny.”
“I just say what I feel. I’m not a comedian.”
“But you do make someone laugh.”
“But you didn’t laugh.”
“Oh, you didn’t saw it.”
“You laughed? When?”
“By the way, what flavor do you want to eat tonight?”
“I want strawberry.”
“My favorite,” he murmured.
Their walk was like a movie – slow and romantic – same sway of legs and arms, awkward looks at each other and shy smiles.
The ice cream was smoking cold. They both chose strawberry flavored ones with chocolate syrup and candy sprinkles. The Christmas lights hanging on the walls of the store looked like small fireflies dancing around them.
The first scoop Krystal tasted was the best.
“Uuhhhmmmm!” she raised her spoon was raised high above her head.
“First time to eat strawberry ice cream?” his tone was indeed teasing.
Krystal threw her ‘killer’ look on Kai, “No, my second actually.”
“Really? No kidding?” He was amazed to know that.
“Yeah. It’s true.” She continued eating her ice cream.
“Why is that you only ate ice cream for just once before?”
“Do you really want to know?” She was hesitating to tell him the real reason. She doesn’t want anyone to know about it.
They ate their ice creams between their conversations.
“Oh, don’t answer me with a question.” He dug his spoon into his almost half ice cream.
All I knew this morning when I woke is I know something now, know something now I didn’t before.
Taylor Swift’s ‘Everything Has Changed’ started to echo as the speakers of the ice cream shop came to life. The chatters of the other customers became mute as the both of them almost automatically looked at each other’s eyes when they heard the song.
“How can I trust you without knowing your reason?”
“Because I don’t spill secrets. I know how to keep them.”
“It’s not even a secret.”
“Then why don’t you just tell me?”
“Okay, I’ll tell you.”
I just want to know you better know you better know you better now
I just want to know you better know you better know you better now
I just want to know you better know you better know you better now
I just want to know you know you know you
“Ice cream was a forbidden food for me. My mother won’t allow me to eat anything cold, sweet, sour, and almost everything. She said that it’s bad for my health.”
The song was unintentional but Kai thought that it hits him directly. He wants to know the whereabouts and background of the girl beside him.
“Maybe you have colds and coughs before?”
Cause all I know is we said hello And your eyes look like coming home All I know is a simple name, everything has changed All I know is you held the door You’ll be mine and I’ll be yours All I know since yesterday is everything has changed.
“Yeah, I always had those when I was little. Sore throat was also one of the reasons why Mom didn’t allow me to even taste such foods.”
“Then why are you eating one now?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“You asked me that same question twice, and my answer is still yes.”
Krystal ate the last scoop of her ice cream before she answered Kai.
“Because I don’t know when I can eat ice cream again. Because I don’t know if I’ll still be able to eat ice cream again. Because I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance like this again.”
And all my walls stood tall painted blue But I’ll take them down, take them down and open up the door for you
“Don’t speak like you’re dying. Don’t worry, from now on, I’ll treat you an ice cream everyday. Okay?” His words were straightforward and Krystal was sure that he said the perfect words describing her real situation. That made a tear fell from her eyes. She sniffed.
Kai noticed her silent sobs. “Why? Did I say something wrong?” He patted her back softly.
And all I feel in my stomach is butterflies the beautiful kind Making up for lost time, taking flight, making me feel like
“No, what you said was right and I’m thankful that you said those things.”Krystal realized that she only has few moments left and all will be over. “I’m just emotional. I never thought that I could have a moment like this. Four years was enough to make me suffer in silence.”
“I don’t get you.”
I just want to know you better know you better know you better now
“Kai, I want to eat ice cream again. Can I?”
“Of course. I already told you that I’ll treat you ice cream everyday.”
For the first time in her life, she heard something very reassuring. It made her want to confess everything to Kai but her own mind refused her heart’s thought. His feelings for the guy comforting her had grown deeper, along with the disease she was suffering from. She didn’t want to end that minute, it was like a dream having Kai beside her when she was crying. That thought made her smile even just for a second.
“Are you okay now?”
“Yeah, I guess. I was just thinking about my future, if I could have one.”
“Maybe you’re thinking way too deep. Just enjoy the present and be prepared for the future.”
“I don’t know how to.”
“You know what, just don’t stress yourself out.”
“Kai, I’m sick.”
“I know, you told me about it and the ice cream thingy.” Krystal thought that Kai didn’t get what she really meant to say. It would be better if the person she loves will have no worries about her. She doesn’t want to spoil the first time she talked to Kai and be friends with him, even just friends.
They left the ice cream parlor after she stopped crying. Kai followed Krystal. Few minutes had passed prior to their last conversation but no one dared to talk. Just one block to go and they’ll arrive at her apartment and another block to reach Jean’s. Kai used that time to carefully look at Krystal, even just at the back. Both of his hands were in his pant’s pockets. Her waist-long curly hair was bouncing freely as she walked. Wearing strawberry designed pajamas at the park is weird and silly but the girl in front of him didn’t mind. He thought that it suits her well even if she will go to the mall wearing only that and a tee. Suddenly, Krystal coughed so hard that she almost slumped to the ground.
“Krystal!” Kai immediately ran close to Krystal. She was covering her mouth with the yellow scarf, her other hand was clutching her chest. Pain registered in her face. She coughed again. He helped her stand up by holding her waist and right arm.
“Are you alright?” Kai seemed to be really worried.
“Just cold and cou—” she coughed again. There were small beads of water forming at the corners of her eyes. Kai saw it as it reflected the lights of the post beside them. Between the noise of the passing motorcycles and barking dogs, only the deep inhales and exhales of the girl in his arms and the loud thumping in his chest were the only things he can hear.
“I’ll carry you,” Kai said hesitantly. Though abrupt, that was the only thing he thought to take her home faster. He carried her at his back without waiting her to answer. He felt awkward the very instant his back felt Krystal’s body made contact with him. He never carried a girl on his back before.
“Please, put me – down, I, can – walk,” her way of speaking was slow and almost a whisper as she coughed amid the words. But he didn’t mind her request.
“You cannot, you’ll just cough there all night. Besides, we’re near. I’m certain you have medicine at home.” He wanted to reach her apartment immediately so she can rest. He would just tell Jean that Krystal was sick. He started walking as fast as he can. He knew about her frequent coughs but he didn’t think it was that serious and dire to watch. It broke his heart seeing her kneel to the ground and cough like a dog.
“Yeah, I have cough medicines at home.”
“Sorry for the ice cream.”
Krystal didn’t protest further after that. She just laid her head on Kai’s shoulder, his smell was intoxicating. A curve was formed on her lips. She never thought this scenario would come true, but it would be much better if she was not sick. The severe throbbing in her chest increased. She coughed more and harder that it seemed to never end. She started to feel her world go round, dizziness engulfed her. Her tensed grasp to her cellphone and Kai’s wool jacket started to lose little by little, until she can’t hold on any longer. Her eyes became heavier than her chest. The last thing she knew was seeing Kai’s worried face.
The moment she opened her eyes and saw the white environment, she already knew where she was – at the hospital again. Krystal blinked both of her eyes and carefully shifted her sleeping position into a more comfortable one. Her head and back was leaning on the headboard of the bed. She was a bit disappointed that no one was there at her side when she woke up. The thin hose connected to the dextrose and IV made her feel sorry for herself. She doesn’t want to be stucked on the four corners of a white, medicine scented room. If only her illness would go away she’ll never enter a hospital. After she collapsed last December, she spent two weeks at the hospital and was advised by the doctor to drop out of school. After her mother told her about her condition, she bursted into tears and cried all day. It was hard for her to accept the truth, so as for her mother. She has just turned 19 and soon her life would come to an end. Thoughts of herself lying in a coffin occupied her.
Her thoughts were agitated when the door swung wide open. It was her mother carrying a basket full of fruits and a bouquet of red roses.
“How do you feel Krystal?” Her mother said while putting her things on the table at the corner of the room. She sat beside Krystal.
“I’m still a little dizzy,” she touched her forehead.
“Your fever’s gone. But you must still rest. The doctor –”
“Mom, please don’t say it in my face.”
Her mother just sighed. “Okay, but take care of your self. Look at what happened to you. If that boy was not there, I think I’ll be crazy now.” Kai, she thought.
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know, after I arrived, he went away without saying anything.”
Krystal was disappointed.
“Mom, I want to go home.”
“You cannot Krystal. Your condition has worsen and the environment outside will bring more harm to your health. You should just stay here. I couldn’t let you go just like that.”
Kai dialled Jean’s number on his cellphone. It took four rings before she picked it up.
“How is Krystal?” her voice was obviously worried.
“She’s fine now. Her mother arrived at the hospital.”
“I’m relieved she’s okay,” Jean said while rubbing her temple.
“What’s her illness by the way?”
“I don’t know, she just told me about her cough and cold. That’s all. Why?”
“Something’s strange about her. She was pale and weak.”
“Ah, that’s natural for her. She has always been like that ever since I met her.”
“You should have asked the doctor since you went to the hospital with her.”
“I forgot to do that.”
“Kai, go home, it’s getting late.”
“I’m at the gate right now, just open the door for me,” then he hung up.
He cannot forget how Krystal loss her consciousness and how he though on losing the girl he talked to for the first time in four years.
They were only steps away from the gate of Krystal’s apartment when he felt that her head became heavier against his shoulder. He tried to call her name several times but she didn’t respond. Then it happened. Her hands slipped from the grip on his jacket. Her arms swung almost lifeless on Kai’s side. A loud crash of a thin cellphone echoed in the air. Kai became really worried and uneasy. He propped her up on the light post but her eyes opened for just a second then finally shut. There was no any movement in her. She was like an old woman who cannot stand on her own. He picked up the cellphone with new scratches on it and kept it on the pocket of his pants. He carefully carried her again on his back. Kai started running to the hospital just several blocks away. He thought that Krystal may die at that moment. He didn’t believe that it was just cold and cough, she was pale and she collapsed at his very back. There was something wrong about Krystal’s condition.
Beads of sweat drifted on Kai’s forehead down to his bronze cheeks. His heart was racing when he arrived at the General Hospital. He went straight to the emergency room. Krystal was immediately attended by a nurse and a doctor. Krystal was laid on one of the creased beds. The doctor recognized Kai the moment he saw him.
“Kai, it’s been a while.”
He doesn’t seem to hear the doctor’s greeting and beg instead. “Please save her,” his statement and facial expression was almost an exaggeration. Brows frowning, dry lips and almost a teary eye. The doctor was surprised by his manners and smiled secretly while checking on Krystal.
“What happened to her?” The doctor was already injecting some sort on clear fluid with a syringe on Krystal’s thin arm.
“She coughed many times and went unconscious afterwards.”
He saw blood on one of the patients lying beside Krystal’s bed, which made him want to lose consciousness too. He was afraid of blood.
“I mean, did she played volleyball, run, jumped or what? Any strainous activities?”
Kai thought for a second. “No she didn’t, she was just sitting at the lakeside park for almost half an hour this afternoon.”
The nurse was scribbling on her clipboard while listening to the doctor and Kai’s conversation.
“Are you a relative?”
“Call her parents right away. We’ll take care of her.”
After that, the doctor continued checking on Krystal and instructed the nurse to perform her duties. With trembling wet hands, Kai dug his right hand into his back pocket then pulled out a cellphone – Krystal’s phone. He started browsing the contact list then tried to dial a contact named “Mom”. There was a woman who answered at the first ring.
Kai was hesitant to speak. He can’t figure out how to inform Krystal’s mother about what happened. He sighed.
“Oy, Krystal? Why aren’t you saying anything?”
“Uhm, Mrs. Ju—”
“Who are you? Where’s my daughter?”
“She’s here at the hospi—”
“I’ll be there right away.”
The repeating dial tone still echoed at Kai’s ears. He looked at Krystal lying unconsciously on the bed. It seemed to be an hour for Kai when Krystal was finally transferred to a private room. He was sitting on one of the benches outside the room when a woman checked the room number hanging on the door, he stood up and she looked at him with a weak smile. Kai didn’t wait for any words to come out either of their mouths so he walked away immediately.
Jean was lying on the brown couch facing the television while changing the channel every moment as if there was no good show at all.
“I thought you’ll open the door for me?” Kai said with his brows almost frowned as he opened the door and saw Jean.
“I’m tired. Can you give me a massage Kai?”
“Tch. Massage your face. I thought you’re worried about your friend? Then why don’t you visit her?” He sat at the green throw pillow on the tiled floor.
“She doesn’t want to be visited.”
“How are you so sure about that?”
“She told me that after she collapsed. Just before you stayed here,” she put the remote control on the center table then looked seriously at the man sitting beside her. “She’s independent and doesn’t want to rely to anyone.”
“I can’t see your point about that. She looks weak inside out. If only you saw her at the hospital, you’ll have a different thought.”
“I cannot. I don’t want to see my friend lying helpless on that stuffy mattress. I even agree not visiting her when she asked me.” She looked at Kai under her lashes. She put her chin above her folded knees and sighed so deep that it can be heard so loud inside the living room. Her full bangs drew a straight line just below her eyebrow. “If only I can forget someone who’s so helpless because I can’t even help.”
“Your presence will be just enough for someone. There are things that we only have to see to make us feel stronger every time we’re burried deep in agony. Have you ever wondered how I survived more than half of my life without you? It was enough for me to see you from afar.” He let out a deep sigh. “Make up your mind and forget that agreement. Friends should be tied together at times like this, she’s fragile.”
“Oh my, Kai! I’m so touched! Is that really you? I almost cried there huhuhu,” she made a crying face with her tongue sticked out.
“I’m being serious Jean, stop acting like a child. You’re aloder than me.”
“I’m just kidding. But she may become angry if I visit her.”
“Don’t think of negative things.”
“Thanks Kai, I love you.”