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Here's what happens when you play pretend.
When Zack asks Jasmine to pretend to be his ex-girlfriend, she gamely agrees, thinking it would be fun. A few years later, she still has to keep convincing people that they were never together! Then one day, she finds out he’s getting married—to someone she'd just met once! All of a sudden, things aren’t so clear-cut anymore. Can Jasmine sort out her feelings (sometimes, she can't even tell real from pretend when it comes to her and Zack) before it's too late?
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"THEN WHY DOES he want to marry her?"
"I don't know, Jasmine. You studied psychology. Why does he keep having relationships with girls he isn't actually compatible with?"
"What do you think, Lena?"
She smiled slyly. She looked like she had been waiting to say this the entire evening. "Because he's never gotten over you, and he deliberately gets into doomed relationships until you finally realize you love him too and will save him from himself."
I groaned. "I can't believe you're starting this again."
I wanted to say that she was wrong, that she couldn't be more wrong. Zack and I, I had to remind myself sometimes, were never together. There was nothing to "get over." There was no dramatic senior prom, no tearful "let's be friends" reconciliation during high school graduation.
She was mistaken then, and mistaken now.
LENA WAS ONE of those friends who never called.
That in itself wasn't unusual. Five years since college graduation—people move on. I was only in touch with a handful of people, most of them from my AB Psychology block. Lena was not from that block. We weren't even in the same orgs or the same barkada.
I tried to recall how we were friends. For some reason her name triggered stress and anxiety in me, but I couldn't figure out why. And then: Oh, right. Zack. She was the ex of my friend Zack.
Then I remembered why my stomach was doing little nervous flips. Lena Mallari was the recipient of one of the longest-running lies I had ever told, and after almost ten years, I could no longer keep my stories straight. So I decided to avoid her as much as possible.
Out of the blue, I got a text from her: Jas, Coffee Bean, 6 tonight. BE THERE. Even if you have other plans, just stop by. Need to talk to you, urgent.
In my first year of college, I told Lena that Zachary Tomas—the cute guy who asked her to the Freshman Night party—was my high school boyfriend. It was not true, but I never came clean about it.
While walking to the coffee shop, I tried to piece together every single detail woven into that story. I couldn't remember it all. Maybe this was the day to just admit it? After all, she and Zack had been broken up for years.
"JASMINE! I THOUGHT you weren't going to show up," Lena smiled widely. "Chai tea latte?"
I watched Lena lean a cylindrical object (yoga mat?) against our table as she stood up and headed to the counter. She was slender and perky, with a head full of lush curly hair. I remember she had a health kick in college, and wasn't surprised she did yoga.
She returned with a tea latte a size larger than what I was used to. Like she was expecting this "meeting" of ours to last longer than I thought. I got nervous.
"You look great!" she gushed, as if we were close friends. "Did you do something different to your hair? It looks so nice."
Oh, you mean actually brushing it? I had a tomboyish ponytail going on in college. Now I actually made an effort to style my hair, which I had grown past my shoulders. The whole production took half an hour each morning, but at least the waves in my hair looked like I wanted them there.
It was nice that she noticed. "Thanks, Lena. It's like you haven't changed at all."
She seemed to take it as a compliment. (It was.) "So... how are you? Where are you working again?"
"I'm good. I'm in HR for a Business Process Outsourcing firm."
"Do you work the night shift?"
"Sometimes. But not usually."
"Were you always there? I thought you worked at a pharma company after college."
"I moved. Been at this office for three years now." I sipped my tea, trying to ignore the awkwardness. "And you?"
"I've actually quit my job! Trying to get my own business running."
Lena started to tell me about the business she started, something to do with designing accessories, and that she had opened a small store. I asked her a few follow-up questions, just to keep her talking about herself, consequently putting less pressure on me to share.
I’d always been introverted, but I got better at talking to people. I discovered that the key was to ask questions. Keep them talking for a while, and you'll hardly need to do anything.
Lena was in mid-sentence when she checked her watch, a frustrated look on her face. "I can't believe this. I said six o'clock."
"Why, Lena? What's up?"
"Jas, I guess I should just start. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"What? Well, no."
"Good. That's good."
I started to panic. "Wait! Are you setting me up with somebody?"
"No, no. Or maybe. Have you talked to Zack lately?"
Uh-oh! "No," I said, and that was the truth. "I think the last time I heard from him was... it's got to be months."
"You got an invitation to his wedding, right?"
"Yes." This conversation was becoming even weirder. "Did you?"
"No. We didn't stay friends after college. Do you know anything about his fiancée, Kimmy?"
"I've met her, but I don't really know her."
Lena sighed. "This is going to be harder than I thought then. Jasmine, I was going to ask you to stage some sort of intervention for our Zack."
"I want you to get him to break his engagement. Call off the wedding. Do anything, just keep him from marrying that girl."
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Mina V. Esguerra wrote her first short story in grade five. She would like to say that she's been writing fiction regularly since then, but really, she stopped in college and only started up again in 2008. She has degrees in Communication Arts and Development Communication. Today, she works as an editor, web content manager, and all-around communications consultant. She blogs at http://minavesguerra.blogspot.com.