Rain De Castro has been in love with her best friend, Mark Velasco, for almost the entire time she has known him, but she’s clearly in the friend zone because he’s happily in a relationship. Or so she thought, until the news of his break-up reaches her. Now that Mark’s single again, she decides that it’s time to get out of the zone. But when her cousin Lissa comes into the picture and sets her eyes on Mark, Rain feels troubled when he gets a little too friendly with her. Rain is determined to fight for what she feels this time, but is it worth the effort if it’s a losing battle from the start? Will she back off to give way for her best friend’s happiness, even if it means losing him to someone else again?
This piece is set four years before Fall Like Rain
The thesis rooms in Rain’s college building were composed of smaller cubicles inside. With white painted walls, and glass doors that do not lock and glass windows that allows you to see right through the next cubes, it felt almost like an aquarium. That was uncomfortable for Rain, who was totally not a people person, especially when a simple glance could result in an accidental eye contact with an almost complete stranger.
But today, Rain was staring brazenly from her spot at the first cube nearest the door, seeking and waiting for eye contact. Her best friend Mark sat at the last cube, where she could clearly see him through the whiteboard marker scribbles on the glass. His forehead was furrowed as his eyes focused on the screen, his shoulders barely moving as the faint tap-tap-tap of his fingers on the keyboard made its way to her. He had a look of concentration on his face that told him he was coding.
Other than the concentration, Rain could see that he was also very sad, from the way his shoulders slumped, and with the line between his brows, and his general demeanor that she had gotten attuned to in the past years. Others wouldn’t see it immediately, but Rain wasn’t just any other person. She was his best friend.
And she was in love with him, so yeah, she had kind of mastered that art of understanding her best friend’s emotions. Not that it mattered, because the feeling wasn’t mutual, anyway. Mark was in a relationship.
Or, he used to be. Rain didn’t know the whole story, but from what Mark had told her in parts through text and quick conversations, he was having problems with his girlfriend, Abby in the past few weeks. Yesterday, she had asked for a break, on the day before Valentine’s, too. While the thought of that filled Rain with some kind of joy, she also knew that she couldn’t really act on it. Mark didn’t need a rebound; he needed a friend and that’s what she was very good at.
The main door opened, and Rain tore her eyes away from Mark. She saw the guitar first, before the person carrying it entered the room. She stood up to meet them, casting a quick glance at Mark to check if he had noticed. He didn’t. His eyes were still focused on the screen.
“Rain de Castro?” the guy with the guitar said. His ID said “Carlos.”
“Yeah, hi,” she replied. “You got the song?”
“Yeah, we can do it,” the girl beside him said. Her name was Erica, Rain remembered. She was there at the booth when Rain signed up for a serenade service for Mark. Her friend Faith was part of the org that hosted the activity, so it helped get her a slot despite the last minute. The time she got turned out to be perfect, too, because it was one of those rare times when the thesis room was empty, where everyone else seemed to be in class except them. Rain was never one to ask for an audience.
“Oh, and no flowers,” she said, when she saw the single rose that Erica was holding, one that was part of the package. “Can you give him this, instead?” Rain handed Erica an envelope that contained a printed out “coupon” for a free movie night with her, and a fully loaded arcade card.
Erica nodded, accepting the envelope. She looked at the rose she was still holding and exchanged looks with Carlos, until she shrugged and just handed it to Rain. She took it, unsure of what to do with the flower, until she heard a ping from her computer.
She looked up, and aw Mark had already noticed them. The message on her computer was from him.
“Yours?” He meant the serenade.
Rain glanced at Erica and Carlos and nodded, before going back to her screen. “Nope, not mine,” she typed back.
When she looked up again, the duo was already at his cubicle, and there was utter confusion on his face. Rain had left the door to her cube open so she could hear their conversation.
“This is for you,” Erica handed him the envelope. “And we also have a song.”
The first strums from the guitar started and Rain knew that Mark would recognize that song in an instant. It reminded her of that night before her eighteenth birthday, when Mark whisked her off to an impromptu trip to one of the overlooking restaurants in Antipolo. They ate dinner and had a little too much coffee waiting for midnight to come in, and that song was playing when he brought out the cake. It was a song that was theirs – never mind that the song didn’t really apply to them.
Rain watched Mark from her room, her heart beating so loud with her nervousness that it almost drowned the song. She watched his every move, the way his confused look turned into surprise. Seconds passed, and Rain wondered if this was a bad idea. She didn’t think about her decision to serenade him today – she just acted on instinct, not even asking her friend Meah if this was the right thing. This was a terrible idea, she shouldn’t have done this.
Rain was thinking of standing up to stop them from singing, or maybe even leave so he won’t ask her about it, when the corners of his lips twitched upwards. Rain’s heart finally started to relax.
And when Mark looked away from Erica and Carlos and caught her gaze, full-fledged smile lighting up his eyes, Rain knew that she had fallen hopelessly in love and there was no turning back.
* * *
“Hey Rain. Wake up.”
Rain saw her house through the window of Mark’s car when she opened her eyes. Her right cheek felt sore from pressing against the seatbelt, and there was that momentary confusion on the passage of time until she finally got to look at the clock. It was past midnight.
“It’s late.” Her voice still sounded thick with sleep.
“Traffic was terrible,” Mark replied. He handed her the bottle of water that she had put between their seats before she dozed off. “But it’s Valentine’s day, so no surprise.”
At the mention of that, something fluttered in her stomach, waking her up further. She actually went out with Mark on Valentine’s day. Well, it was a weekday, so they had school, but he wanted to redeem her gifts from the serenade from yesterday, and of course she was going to oblige. Right after school, they headed for the nearest mall in school to catch a movie – the latest action movie because no way they were watching a rom-com movie on Valentine’s Day. Then they used up their arcade cards on a really long game of House of the Dead 4, where they almost beat the final boss if not for them running out of load.
“Not anymore,” she said. She unfastened her seatbelt and yawned again. “Thanks, Mark. I had fun.”
“No, thank you, Rain,” he said. “You always know how to cheer me up. I’m sorry I took your Valentine’s Day away from you. You could have gone out on a date instead of hanging out with another nerd.”
As far as she was concerned, she had just been on one. “Oh, come on. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Sorry I fell asleep on you.”
“Don’t worry. You’re cute when you sleep.” Mark smiled, then leaned towards her. She took in a sharp breath, but it was only a hug. With his arms around her, Mark rested his chin on her shoulder, his cheek pressing against hers. Rain didn’t dare to move. Or breathe.
It felt as if it was a long time before he spoke, but in reality it was just a few seconds. His breath tickled her ear as he said, “Good night, Rain.”
Mark waited for her to get inside before he left, flashing his headlights twice before finally driving away. The entire house was suddenly quiet, save for the creaks in the wood and the buzz of the radio from her parents’ bedroom. Rain took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet scent that lingered in the air as she slowly made her way upstairs, smiling to herself as she recalled the different parts of the day.
When she got to her room, she gasped when she discovered that her room was filled with flowers. Well, not so much filled really, but on her bed was the biggest bouquet that she had ever seen. Pink stargazer lilies and roses, wrapped in a blue paper, the exact shade of Rain’s favorite color.
She picked up the card attached to the bow and opened it: Here’s something beautiful for my favorite nerd. Happy Valentine’s Day, Rain. Love, Mark.
Rain quickly pulled her phone to call him, hands shaking, heart thudding happily. Just as she was about to call, she realized that maybe he was already asleep, and she didn’t want to wake him up, so she sent him a simple thank you message, instead. She was going to see him tomorrow, anyway. And the day after. After all, that’s why he was her best friend and she was his – and maybe, hopefully something more after this.
* * *
Four years later.
Rain didn’t mean to be on leave from work on Valentine’s Day, but as luck would have it, she woke up with an upset stomach. It was probably for the best, too, since she wasn’t in the mood to see roses being delivered to the office, particularly one for a certain colleague from another department.
“You’re seriously cleaning your room on Valentine’s Day?”
Rain looked up from her spot on the floor and saw her friend Meah, who she had invited today to have dinner at her house. Faith, the only one who had a love life among them, had a date that night. “This was the only work thing my mom allowed me to do today, and you know I can’t stand not being productive.”
Meah picked up the one on the top of the stack and started flipping the pages idly while Rain continued to dust the shelf. When the flipping stopped, she glanced at her friend and found her looking at something slipped in between the pages.
“Why do you have a dried flower in this book?” Meah asked. “Is this yours?”
Rain schooled her expression blank to keep Meah from asking further. Seeing it there brought her back to four years ago, when her room was filled with the smell of fresh flowers and how the bouquet greeted her every morning for the next two weeks. She remembered how she looked for ways to preserve the flowers for as long as she could, until the petals started falling, and then she slipped them in her books to keep them. She had forgotten all about it until now.
She walked to Meah and picked up the pressed petals. It had already turned brown with age, but it was still smooth and soft. It felt fragile in her hand.
Something pinched her heart. She also remembered how she waited for Mark to reply to her message, how she wanted to see him the next day but she never got to, only to find out that his then-girlfriend had called him and they had reconciled.
And it was still the same today, four years later. Different girlfriend, but still, the same. She was still here, and Mark was still there with someone else.
Still not hers.
Rain tossed the pressed flower to the trash bin, ignoring the stab of longing that hit her heart. “No,” she lied, even if she knew her friend could see right through her. “That’s not mine.”