“So, are you really going for it, this time?” Stephen said, nursing his second bottle of a light beer brand he favors. He had been listening to Jeremy the past hour, telling him that Natasha has plans of going to London if she makes it to the audition of a musical she would like to be part of, very much, and that they had accidentally kissed when he was leaving her place that evening. Reading between the lines, he sensed that his best friend was feeling out of sorts, confused at the moment, and that the kiss was of the earthshaking variety to unsettle his, normally cool, friend this much!
Jeremy called him two hours ago, asking if he could meet him at a low-key bar they frequent. Stephen had been best friend with Jeremy since they met in an exclusive boys school in high school, long before he got to be the most popular singer in the country, so he knew that he was not just asking for a random, laid-back meeting. They haven’t seen each other in several weeks. Their schedules do not seem to mesh. He is busy running his family’s radio stations, and Jeremy is also hard to pin down, with all his commitments, especially the past weeks. He had declined his invitation to go clubbing with him twice.
“Go for what?” Jeremy asked, looking at his oldest friend with brows knitted, taking a sip from his, now, warm bottle of beer.
“Court Natasha!” Stephen said, not mincing words. “Man, you love her for the longest time!”
“Ha! Am I that obvious to you? How about to our closest friends? Do you think Natasha knows?” Jeremy asked, though, he shouldn’t be surprised. Stephen is like a brother to him, actually. He knows him inside out. “I really thought I have buried it so deep, that I hid it so well! You know, hearing that she might be leaving the country, the feeling, it came back full force, especially after we kissed! I guess it was just there all long. See, you even know how I feel about her!”
“Man, of course, but it was just obvious to me, I guess! I know from the get go that you were very much attracted to her, from the first time you have met her, I think. Tell me if I’m wrong! I also saw how you were with her, so many times! If not for that, I would have made a move myself, and ask her out.” Stephen admitted to his best friend sheepishly. “She is a very pretty girl, inside out. I like her a lot, you know!”
It was news to Jeremy, so he looked at Stephen in surprise. They haven’t talked about Natasha like this! He had bottled up what he feels for Natasha for years, put it in the recesses of his heart and brain, since he had decided to curb his intense attraction he felt for her even on their first meeting. He opted for the friendship. It felt more important at that time. He didn’t want to ruin the rare bond that he developed with her.
“Yeah, yeah, I just said I would have. No need to be like a caveman man, me-and my-woman-kind-of-thing with your best friend! I didn’t act on it, did I?” Stephen raised both his hands in a gesture of self-defense, forestalling his friend. “Besides, with you around I don’t think I would have stood a chance! She only sees me as your dearest friend, you know!”
“What do you mean? Do you think Nat likes me too, that way?” Jeremy asked his friend, sounding hopeful!
“I think so. I believe so. Don’t you feel it, don’t you see it? She likes you, not as a famous singer that has fans screaming, mostly female ones, as soon as you enter the stage, but as you, as Jeremy Ledesma, the person. She treats you like a normal person, isn’t it? Looking in from the outside, the two of you actually look like you are in a relationship, instead of just being friends.You have this special way of treating each other that excludes other people sometimes, including me!” Stephen to stress his point, and to prod his friend to finally make his move, leaned forward and said, “Look man, why do you think people never got tired of asking you and her if you are in a relationship and what is the real score between the two of you? They must be seeing something that you two are not seeing. It has been years since you did ‘Rent’ and became friends.”
Jeremy took a gulp of his drink, tilted the whole bottle and decided to finish it off. Stephen’s words got him thinking.
“Don’t you think it will destroy our beautiful friendship if I show my interest in her, that way? If I seriously let her know that I want a romantic relationship with her?” Jeremy asked, seemingly still unsure of himself. He who had faced millions of audience in the course of his career and faced countless sharp entertainment reporters who want to be the one to unlock what makes Jeremy Ledesma tick.
“Man, if your fans can hear you now! If they can see you now! Priceless! They would have remarked ‘how the mighty had fallen!’ Haven’t seen you like this, you my cocky friend, who had face life and all it gave you with so much bravado!” Stephen said, grinning. “But seriously, Jeremy, what’s worse? You staying on the safe side with her, when you love her, then she ended up with another guy, or you going for broke and gambling on what you feel for her, and what she might be feeling for you too. Better to find out, than stay on the safe zone, the friend zone. Don’t friend-zoned yourself! If she does it, after you took the gamble, then at least you have tried.”
“I know you are right, of course. In my head, I have rationalized it countless of times.” Jeremy sighed. “But she is the best thing that had happened to me. You know that and you know my background. I don’t want to lose her if I make a move to change our current relationship. You know, upset the status quo. I’m nervous about rocking the boat, so to speak!”
“Gamble man, it’s about time you do. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Natasha is a beautiful girl, intelligent, level-headed and nice and some lucky man might snatch her away, right under your nose, if you don’t do something about it! Sometimes, we need to go for broke for some thing that is very important to us.” Stephen clapped Jeremy on the shoulder. “Think about what I said. Regret is a cold bedfellow! Take a chance. I’m off to the toilet, back in a bit!”
Jeremy signalled to the waiter for another beer for him and, seeing Stephen’s empty bottle, for him as well. While waiting for the drinks, he glanced around the room, uninterested. His eyes met that of a group of girls from the other table. They have obviously been talking about him. One of them looks familiar, then in a snap he placed her as the lead singer of a new provocative all-girl band. They also performed in the last music awards he attended, the one where Nat was unable to go with him as she was doing a show at that time. Isabel, that’s her name, came on to him a bit. He just ignored her, and pretended to be dense.
Before the girl can make her move, Jeremy decided to do some evasive actions. He grabbed the beer bottles that the waiter was putting on the table, went outside, in a small place at the back of the bar, then texted Stephen to go there. He and Stephen have an open tab at this bar and the owners just bill them every month. Francis, the owner became a friend, and he was the one who told him that he can use this space if he needs too, understanding that with his fame, he needs a space to escape to from time to time.
“What happened?” Stephen asked as soon as he saw Jeremy standing near the edge of the small garden there.
“Well, I was just trying to avoid complications that I don’t really seek or want, anyway, especially now. I saw a girl inside that came to me before. She was there with a group of friends and she was eyeing me again.” Jeremy replied. “Remember what happened with the girl you introduced me to, your date the last time we went out. I ended up plastered on social media with her!”
“Man, sorry about that again. I didn’t realize that she only wanted to do that when she asked me if we can go out.” Stephen said. “Had I known it would happen, I would have said no. She is a friend of my sister, actually! I forgot to tell you.”
“No worries, Stephen. Water under the bridge. Though, Nat thought we were dating! She asked me about it after she had agreed to accompany me to the awards next week. It took me a while to persuade her this time. It was strange really as usually, she just say yes, except when she is not free.”
“Hmmm, see, take that as a sign. Maybe she was actually jealous, doesn’t like you with other girls. At least, she is not indifferent to that aspect of your life.”
“I don’t know Stephen. I just don’t want a repeat of that incident with Katrina Robles, especially now that I’m leaning towards taking that gamble you were talking about. I want to have a better chance with Nat. I have been trying to clean my act, lately! I want to be the person she wants to be romantically, and not just the ‘platonic’ thing we have. I want to be the love of her life, and not as a surrogate brother!”
“Jer, you are a good guy and Nat know the real you. Just hold on to that. Be yourself. I don’t think she believes all the drivel that has been written about you. Most of it were not true and she knows that of all people. There’s nothing to clean. Don’t change who you are. I think Nat wouldn’t want that. I am not her, and I can’t really speak for her, but I got to know her pretty well through you.” Stephen said earnestly, then added. “Now I understand why you had declined my invitation to go out twice. Was it part of this ‘new you’ campaign?”
“No, it was not just because of that! I was just feeling tired of the sameness of going to our usual haunts. Don’t you feel like that at times?”
“Yes, I do! Especially, I get tired of those people who thought that I can get them a job in our radio stations and that they just want to be in my good graces because of the influence they thought I have in the industry. But with you and our friends, it is different. I just want to hang out with you and be me.”
“The same goes for me, Stephen, the same goes for me!” Jeremy said, taking one more drink from his still half full bottle. “Shall we get going? I have a rehearsal early tomorrow for my upcoming concert. You know it has been a while since I have done one and I’m kind of, nervous.”
“Really, you nervous? You have done it a lot of times. Why don’t you ask Natasha to be a guest in your concert? I’m sure the fans you got through ‘Rent’ would love that as well. That way, you also get to spend more time with her. You two, look very good on stage and I’m sure a lot of people would like to see that chemistry on stage again.”
“Hmmm, that’s a wonderful idea, Stephen! I will suggest it to the producers.” Jeremy grinned, liking the idea. “I will have to persuade Nat first. She may not like to be a guest in my concert. She seemed reluctant, really, to be seen with me in big events these days! I wonder why.”
“Why don’t you find out? You have always been opened with each other, isn’t it? No harm in asking her. You might even be surprised with her answer!” Stephen remarked enigmatically. “So, you are really going for it?”
“Yes, I am.” Jeremy said with conviction, then he grinned boyishly, happy with his decision. “Thanks, Stephen for helping me sort things out.”
“For you, my friend, anytime. Good luck. Looking forward to be your best man.”
“Hahahahaha, that’s way to ahead! Thanks for wishing me good luck. I feel like I need it, tons of it, actually. I’m nervous.”
“You can do it man. Trust your feelings and trust what you and Nat have for the past several years.”
“I do, and that’s giving me courage.”
The two friends parted for the night. On the way home, Jeremy’s head was full of plans on how to let Nat knows that he loves her. That he wants to be her man, forever!