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Bitter/Sweet

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Brian sighed as he entered the neighborhood cafe, taking in the familiar scents of brewing coffee and baked pastries. Bitter/Sweet is a favorite haunt of his, being only two blocks away from his building, and fortunately, serving locally sourced ingredients for their menu of coffees and treats. He looked around almost lazily, contemplating what to do with his free Saturday.

Then something took him aback. Three people ahead of him in the queue, was a guy with the side profile very much like that of his old school crush. Thoughts of Cairo Lazaro quickly ran through his mind like a highlight reel: Cairo walking on the hallways laughing and talking to his small group of friends, Cairo and his best friend whispering to each other in their homeroom during break, Cairo on his screen, live-streaming a game, a smug grin when he’s winning or a barely concealed pout when he loses. Brian felt a bit of a pang, half-wondering how Cairo is these days.

The line moved and he stared a bit more, thinking, “Such a cute guy. Perhaps my Saturday might turn a lot more interesting…” He smiled to himself, and a little chuckle came out as well. As he formulated a plan, the line progressing closer to the counter, Cute Guy moved to the side and glanced a bit more towards Brian, giving him a clearer view of Cute Guy’s face.

“Oh, shit. It IS my school crush! Fuck! Calm down, self,” he thought as he quickly devolved in a minor gay panic. “What to do, ok, chill… he hasn’t seen you yet. Stop staring!” Brian looked away immediately, afraid to get caught gawking. He ordered on autopilot once he moved up the line. By the time, he was at the waiting area, said crush had already found a table and was poring over a book. Brian debated with himself whether to approach, weighing the pro’s and con’s. He stole a few glances at Cairo, surreptitiously studying the changes over time. Age had clearly been kind to Cairo, his face was a bit more angular and lost a bit of the soft cheeks he used to have when they were younger. He was also leaner and taller but with wiry muscles, a subtle sign that he was keeping himself fit.

“One Large Mochaccino for Brian!”

Brian winced and breaks out of his inner turmoil. Getting his drink, he decided to take this rare shot and approach.

“Uhm.. Hi…” he shuffled awkwardly, remaining unnoticed at first. He cleared his throat, and, louder this time, said, “Cairo Lazaro, right?”

The guy in question looked up from his book, with a quizzical expression, “Yes?” Then his eyes widened a bit, as if something has dawned on him, he pointed at Brian and smiled sheepishly, “You look familiar but I’m sorry I can’t seem to remember your name..?”

“It’s Brian, from university? We were in the same Soc Sci class, freshman year? You probably don’t remember me all that well because I used to always sit at the back of the room,” Brian scratched lightly at his nape in a nervous gesture. But also with a bit of intention to beguile. He knew acting bashful had gotten him favors before.

“Oh, yeah, now I remember!” Cairo sidled to the side and gestured to the chair across him. “Sit! Gosh, it’s been so long, how have you been?”

Brian was pleasantly surprised at the candid and welcoming invitation, which was not at all typical of the young Cairo he knew before. They launched into a lively catchup of common acquaintances and retelling of their shenanigans in class. They talked over each other good-naturedly and finished each other’s sentences, voices & gestures energetic. Brian was exhilarated, he was glad he made the decision to approach Cairo. It’s one of life’s nice surprises, to unexpectedly reconnect with an old friend, and to hopefully be given a chance to rebuild the connection.

“You know…” Brian started when there was a lull in their conversation.”I had a pretty big crush on you back then. I used to watch your livestreams, and told all my friends about your channel. But I wasn’t out back then, and you were always hanging out with Risa. I wasn’t sure if you were dating her or she’s just a really good friend. Then later, you know…” his voice trailed as he realized the direction their talk was going.

“I’m sorry to have brought it up!” He panicked internally then Cairo interjected, “It’s okay! That was so long ago. Besides Risa already apologised and I have long forgiven her for it.” Cairo smiled gently at him as if to assuage his worries. So Brian felt safe enough to continue.

“It wasn’t cool what she did, I saw her post on ScreenTime and even made a comment how wrong it was. I was gonna message you then, but the pandemic hit. And it affected all of us. Plus, you seemed to have so much more going on in your life back then.”

“Uyy, are you telling me you’ve been cyber stalking me?!” Cairo joked to lighten their mood back again. The smile on his face was one of Brian’s favorites, Cairo’s perfect teeth showing in a wide grin, eyes crinkled at the corners, and that elusive dimple on his left making a rare appearance.

“Not too much! Just a little,” Brian protested back weakly. Good God, he feels his crush slowly creeping back in. In an effort to change the subject, he started to ask Cairo what he’s currently up to.
“Last I heard about you, your family moved to Bukidnon.”

“Yeah… But! I just moved back a couple weeks ago!” Cairo paused and his face slowly turned sentimental, with the softest smile, “Been planning for it for such a long time…”

“Hey! I only live a couple streets over from here?” Brian started to segue to an invitation. “This is one of my usual hangouts and I’m actually surprised to see an old familiar face, and-”

“Hey that’s great news! I live nearby as well!” Cairo exclaimed. ”We should hang out!”

“Ok, Bri, this is IT! Buck up and ask him out!” Brian pep-talked himself as he shifted in his chair, leaning forward to ask the important question. But just then he felt and heard the cafe door open behind him, and suddenly a shout, “Baby!”

Across from him, Brian saw Cairo’s face fully transformed, as he waved at someone behind Brian. If earlier Cairo looked light-hearted and cheery, his face was now somehow even more luminous. Brian turned to look. A gorgeous guy with bright eyes, luscious curls, and dimples was making his way to their table. He planted a sticky kiss on Cairo’s cheeks. Cairo wiped his cheek with pretend annoyance, but leaned up to receive a lighter kiss on the lips.

Brian’s heart sank so fast, so he looked down to hide his crest-fallen expression. But he had never been more relieved as well. He had just narrowly escaped a public rejection in his favorite cafe of all places. ”Whew, that was close!" he thought, as the other guy settled in the third chair on their table. Brian fidgeted a bit, as they whispered things to each other, feeling very much like a third wheel.

As if sensing his unease, Cairo gestured to Brian, “Oh, Gav, this is Brian, an old classmate.”

"Oh, hey," Gav started a bit, as if only just noticing there’s a third person at their table.

"Hey man," he raised his hand in greeting to Gav.

"He lives nearby just like us, we're practically neighbors!" Cairo continued to ramble while Gav seemed to be sizing him up. Brian tried not to squirm or look guilty. “… you should come hang out with us! Or- are you with someone? We can go on double dates!”

“No, I, uh—,” Brian was definitely turning as red as a tomato, with how warm his neck and cheeks started to feel. ”I am not seeing anyone right now…” shifting a bit, and taking a deep breath to settle himself.

Gav snorted lightly, with a knowing smile on his face. Brian just knew HE knew that Brian was working up to asking Cairo out. So he tried to maintain eye contact, mustering his limbs to stop fidgeting.

“Oh!” Cairo chimed without missing a beat. “Well then, all the more reason to meet up and hang out a lot. I have a few friends you might want to meet,” he said this with a cute sly expression on his face. He held out his hand to ask for Brian’s phone, so Brian complied. He didn’t peg Cairo to be this outgoing before, but he guessed that Gave had a fair bit of influence on Cairo’s sociable side.

Cairo handed him back his phone as he and Gav stood up. “It was great seeing you, Bri, don’t be a stranger,” Cai gave another cheeky grin at him before turning to Gav and leading his boyfriend to the door. They both waved back at Brian at the door before going outside.

“Wow. That just happened“ Brian chuckled to himself, still in disbelief over the last 30 minutes. Who’d have thought that a pleasantly unassuming Saturday morning could lead to a surprising blast from the past? He looked out the window with a pensive smile. He remembered his huge crush on Cairo, the cute geeky introvert gamer, with the sad boy vibe (which added to the appeal, honestly). He can’t help but feel genuinely happy for both their past selves. Their formative years were wrought with uncertainty and both of them came out of it none the worse for wear. Although a bit wistful about the lost opportunity with his past crush, he can’t help but feel excited as well, at the prospect of being included in the circle of someone he had admired from afar. Who knows, perhaps he’d also find love there.