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Notion Press Singapore Short Story Contest 2017

A Place in My Heart

By Lim Ming Ying in Romance

They say love could move mountains and hurdles, that it is the greatest, that a person is lucky to be in love.

Nora?A voice interrupted her thoughts as she glanced up to meet the worried gaze of her mother. Are you all right?

She knew why her mother had asked that question, knew very well why she was looking at her worriedly. I knew it, maybe this was a mistake.Her mother began to retract the wedding invitation on the table. I shouldnt have—“

No!Nora hastily replied, one hand on the card firmly in a swift motion. Mom, Im fine.She continued slowly before peering to see the card properly. The words on the invitation card were staring at her, taunting her, reminding her of the mistakes she had done.

Will you be going?Claire asked softly.

There was a pause, and then a small, unsure smile graced Noras face as she answered with a shrug, Maybe.

If love is the greatest, Nora had wondered a long time ago, why then, does it hurt?

Brian was once her world, a reality she had lost.

Nora didnt remember how or when she met him, but she reckoned it was before she could even start walking.

Her memory of him was hazy in her mind now, but she would always remember his toothy little grin, the way his hearty laughter would light up the entire room. She remembered playing with his toy cars, him teasing her dolls and saying they were freaky, remembered splashing pool water into his face, him pulling her pigtails and calling her a pig.

Brian was her first friend not by choice, but by fate. It was attributed to the fact that their parents were neighbours and best friends, and there wasnt a single day in her childhood that went by without Brian and his mother dropping by. He was her partner in crime, her confidant, her best friend.

Nora didnt remember how she met him, but she remembered how she had panicked when he told her he loved her.

She had panicked not because of that, but because she was in love with him too.

It was a little after her 17th birthday that she began to see him differently. She felt the butterflies flitting into her stomach one by one, slowly, but surely. She didnt want to believe it was love, so she kept it hidden and locked deep down in her heart. She forced herself to smile when Brian brought his girlfriend to meet her, forced herself to believe that the best way to forgo her feelings for him was to forget she even had a heart. It worked well for a few months; the walls she had built around her heart and the feelings she had suppressed, she was sure no one saw them.

But Brian did. Years and years of growing up with Nora taught him how to read her like a worn out book. He could sense something was amiss, but when he asked her about it, she had shrugged it off nonchalantly. This cycle repeated for some time before Brian could no longer take it. Nora had turned down his invitation to the movies for the umpteenth time without giving him an explanation, and Brian was tired of being patient.

Whats wrong with you?He demanded a little too harshly as Nora winced at the tone of his voice. Brian felt guilty immediately. Youve been off lately and Im worried.He continued, his tone softer than before.

When she didnt answer, Brian reached out to feel her forehead, but Nora slapped his hand away in reflex, cheeks colouring in shock. What are you doing?

Brian was terribly confused. Im just checking to see if you have a fever.

Nora shook her head. I dont.

Then tell me whats wrong with you!He half pleaded, desperate to know why his best friend was acting that way.

I cant!Nora shook her head. You cant make it any better.

If Nora had seen the flash of hurt on Brians face when she said that, there was no indication.

Why dont you try me?He challenged, refusing to back down. By then, Nora was shooting daggers from her eyes. He could see the conflict she was fighting inside her; to tell or not to tell, and it confused him even more knowing Nora never kept secrets from him. What happened?

Nora was quiet, unable to say anything. The silence prompted Brian to continue; Were best friends, were supposed to tell each other everything.

We being best friends,She sucked in her breath, is exactly why I cant say anything.

It was Brians turn to be mute, eyebrows furrowed together in frustration and confusion. He was studying her, wondering what was wrong with her, when it suddenly struck him. It came too fast, unannounced and unexpected, that it nearly threw him off his feet. But he remembered it now, the way Noras eyes no longer met his, the way her cheeks would suddenly glow when he was nearby, even now.

Brian was overwhelmed with surprise that when Nora walked away, he didnt turn around to stop her.

It took him days to come to his senses, but when he finally did, Brian knew there was no backing down from what he was about to do. He was afraid she wouldnt see him but when Brian arrived at Noras house, she was already waiting for him at the porch. Her expression gave nothing away when their eyes meet, and it surprised Brian how little he knew his best friend now.

I think we should give it a chance.He saw how her eyes widened when he said that, mouth slightly ajar in shock. I love you, after all.

The words came out so quickly that he had no time to warn her, or tell her not to panic.

Nora was fighting for words to say, but her mind was completely blank. She was sure her ears were deceiving her, but seeing how serious Brian looked at the moment, how his eyes sparkled with hope, Nora suddenly forgot how to breathe.

Everything happened in a blur of moment that it felt surreal. So surreal, that Nora was bracing herself for the worst.

It felt ironic that the happiest time of her life could also be the saddest. While she had believed that all would be well, there were also doubts she could not shake away no matter how much she tried. Their hands fit perfectly together, yet it somehow just didnt feel right.

And Nora figured that Brian he probably felt the same, too. There were no longer sparks in his eyes whenever he saw her, and even though he was by her side, she could tell his mind was elsewhere.

Nora never believed in fairytales. Because life, unlike bedtime stories, doesnt often guarantee a happy ending. Like it was doing now. They stopped seeing each other, a pile of missed calls in Brians phone, text messages that went by without him replying. Nora couldnt believe that after all those time of guarding her heart, she had allowed him to break it.

I didnt know how to tell you. I know if I told you, youd be upset.He admitted when confronted, guilt in his eyes. The last thing I would want is to hurt you, Nora.

Brian,She began calmly, although her heart was pounding so hard against her chest she was almost sure he could hear it. If you think not saying anything was somehow going to protect me from getting hurt—”

Brian had held her arm, not wanting to let her go. But Nora was tired. She was tired of playing this game of push and pull. It was an endless cycle of bitterness, a maze of problems that they could never seem to get out from. It was like a dream for a period of time, but a nightmare for the rest.

So she willed herself to look at him, despite how much her heart was aching.

“—then maybe you dont know me that well after all.

Their break up was quiet and mutual, but nonetheless, feeble and painful. He blamed it on time. She believed it was inevitable.

The only person who knew about their break up was Noras mother. Claire had sensed it the moment she saw how broken her daughter was.

I really thought we were going to be okay.There were tears threatening to fall, but Nora kept her eyes wide opened. Claire embraced Nora, patting her back gently. She kept mum, knowing that there was little to nothing she could say to fix the wound in her daughters heart.

I hate him.Nora said under her breath, but knew she didnt mean it. Even Claire had given her a pointed look which suggested you dont.

After all, it was difficult to hate someone you cannot stop loving.

The next time she saw him again was during her grandmothers 84th birthday. It was only natural that her grandmother had pushed him towards her after he greeted her, all chirpy about her two favourite grandchildren. Everyone glanced into their direction automatically, huge smiles on their faces as they started teasing them.

Usually when they were together, Brian and Nora would effortlessly blend into the crowd. They always came in as a pair, always a team. But now, Nora was sure they stuck out like sore thumbs in front of watchful eyes. They stood side by side, but their shoulders werent touching. They were fidgeting in their positions, neither looking at each other.

Nora, could you help me in the kitchen?Claire cleared her throat suddenly. As if it was a cue, everyone looked away immediately and changed their topic of conversation to something else.

Nora made her escape then, grateful that her mother had read the situation and realised they werent ever going to go back to how they used to be.

That was awkward.

After the party ended, Brian and Nora decided to go for a walk. Nora knew from the moment she accepted his invitation that it wasnt just going to be any ordinary walk. They havent spoken to each other since the day they parted, and if she was to be honest with herself, there never was a proper closure to their relationship. She needed that, at the very least.

It sure was.Nora attempted to laugh, but it came out too forced, too awkward. She fell into a silence again.

There was a long pause, and then; Im sorry.

She whipped her head towards him, an eyebrow raised. For all the years of knowing him, Brian had barely ever apologised to her. It used to be something she wanted to hear from him, but Nora wasnt sure if she felt the same way today, hearing those words from his mouth. Now that he apologised, Nora was forced to acknowledge that this was all real. Her heart began to hurt, again.

Nora stopped walking. Why?She asked, her voice barely audible.

I love you, you know that right?At first, it may seem as though Brian wasnt answering her question. But Nora knew what he had meant behind those words. She merely nodded.

Nora had no doubts that Brian loved her. The problem was that he wasnt in love with her. Part of her knew that a long time ago, but another part of her had refused to acknowledge that. She wanted to hold on to her chances. Maybe if she refused to acknowledge that, he could one day fall for her.

But Nora looked at him that evening, and got her answer crystal clear when he apologised again.

Brian shifted so he was closer to her. She used to be taller than him, but now he was towering over her petite frame effortlessly. When did you become so tall? She wondered.

I really thought I could, yknow, if I gave us a chance. I really wanted to.Brian admitted somberly, voice a whisper.

I know.was all Nora said in return. She gave him a tiny smile.

This doesnt change anything between us.Brian said hesitantly, so soft that she almost missed it.

Of course.She replied after a long pause. There was a smile on his face at that, but she could not bring herself to do the same. I guess we should keep in touch then?The question rolled off her tongue before she could stop herself.

Yeah, sure.Brian nodded.

By then, Noras gaze had faltered.

It took only one glance for them to know they were both lying. There were signs of sadness across their expressions, the smiles that did not reach their eyes. Nora forced herself to swallow the lump in her throat, to suppress the sobs that were coming out from her chest.

Brian hugged her after dropping her back, his scent lingering in the air as she took it all in one last time. She tried to remember how it felt to have his arms around her, how he would tuck her head under his chin gently. She forced herself to hold on to every memory of him she had left, knowing all too well that it would be the closest thing she would ever have of him again.

Nora decided to attend his wedding in the end. She figured it was the least she could do as his best friend, even if they hadnt spoken in years.

When Nora saw him at his wedding, she was reminded of the memories that lurked in the deepest corner of her heart. But unlike years before, her heart was no longer hurting.

Brians face had lighted up the moment he saw her. You made it.

Wouldnt miss it for the world.Nora replied with a smile. Im happy for you.

Brian was like the bitter aftertaste of swallowing jagged pills, a medley of broken memories and blurry pictures in the deepest recesses of her mind. He was the yesterday she wished she could forget, the ache in her heart every time she called out his name, but he wasnt there to answer.

But even after everything she had gone through, Nora knew that no matter how much she resented him, or tried to, there will always be a special place for him in her heart. He added colour into her life, taught her not just to survive, but to live. Way past everything else, Brian had been her best friend first.

When she came in terms with that, Nora had finally let go.

Copyright Lim Ming Ying
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