Chances: A Story

More than Pretty

"Eunice stared at her reflection in the mirror and her friend’s words started to sink in. She was more than just pretty."

Chances

CHANCES

It was a Saturday night and everybody was busy with the dress rehearsal for the theater festival in school, themed Greek gods and goddesses. Eunice Marie Ortiz was in the midst of it all. She was one of the costume designers, assistant producers, janitors, and whatever it was she had to be for the event.

“Eunice, make sure you get the microphones tested and checked, okay?” instructed Mr. Babia, the director of the play.

“Yes sir.” She nodded.

In the rush of things, she tripped on one of the cords almost fell off the stage. Luckily, at that very moment, Jacob was there to grab her hand and saved her from the fall.

Jacob has been Eunice’s friend since grade school. They were really close. But, puberty came and made everything a little complicated. They would still hang out, almost every week, to help him with his lessons, since they were both studying to become teachers one day.

On the surface, it was like nothing’s changed. She was Yuni and she was his best friend. And she, was secretly in love with him.

“Eunice, please watch your step. You’d break your neck.” Jacob said. “Among all the other stuff you frequently break.” he joked.

“Sorry, Mr. Perfect.” Eunice blushed.

“So, are we on for study night? Sunday night? Your place?” he asked.

“Uh, sure! As scheduled.” she stammered while trying to break free from all the wires that are now wrapped around her feet.

“Great! I’ll get us some chips and soda.” he smiled.

“Uh, anything you like.” Eunice said. By this time, she could barely feel her legs. He always caused her knees to turn to jelly.

“What do you think you’re doing?” barked Ms. Ceballos, the play’s Executive Producer. “If you’d like to talk about puppies and chips and sodas, this better not be the time nor the place for that!” she commanded.

The two went on their way as everybody else started to pack things and clean.

“Hi Jacob! Are you riding with us? I brought a car.” said Janine, the most popular girl in school. She obviously had the hots for Jacob.

“Thanks, Janine. But I already said yes to the boys.” he smiled, pointing to the group of actors who were waving to him.

“Oh, okay. Next time then?” Janine asked.

Jacob smiled sweetly and left with the other guys.

He was one of the popular kids. Always getting invited to parties and was always around gorgeous people—including Janine and her group of sassy snobs.

Eunice was fuming with jealousy while watching what happened. She dreamily thought of one day riding around with Jacob in a car, just cruising around the reclamation area of the city, feeling the breeze against her cheeks and her hair floating freely above her shoulders when suddenly, she felt a hard pat on the back that caused her glasses to fall off her nose. It was her best friends Anna and Brenda.

“You have to tell him how you feel,” Anna said. “Time travels fast and the next thing you know, we’d be graduating;” she added. “Then you’d be thinking about the what if’s and maybe slap yourself silly in the process.” Brenda remarked.

Annoyed by the abrupt interruption to her day dreaming, she resigned to saying, “I’ll tell him. You’ll see.”

Her friends shake their heads unconvinced.

“Some day, I’d get enough courage to walk up to him and say: Mr. Jacob delos Santos Fuentebello Porto Fino Al Pacino de Guzman, I’m in love with you.” She blurted and they all giggled.

“I don’t know,” Anna said, turning her head. “I’ve heard that line far too many times.” And on came the laughter.

“Come on! We still have time to go to the mall. I still have not found the perfect dress for our black and white acquaintance party.” Anna declared.

“Me too! But what I really need, is a date to the party. Hahahaha… “ Brenda snickered.

Janine and her friends overheard them and commented, “Brenda, with hair like that and teeth like those, the only date you’d be bringing to the party is a pile of mud.” They chortled.

“Janine, if you can’t come up with a better suggestion, than a pile of mud, don’t try to act smart around the real smart people,” Eunice chimed in. “Okay?”

Eunice, Anna and Brenda quickly grabbed their stuff and left. Janine and her friends stared at her in disbelief.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

Soon, they arrive at the mall.

While Anna and Brenda were busy looking around, she thought about the party her friends was so busy preparing for. Frankly, she despised the idea of having to dress up, paint her face and wear ankle-breaking shoes to a ridiculous party, when plain clothes and sensible shoes would do.

Lost in her thoughts, she saw a guy grab and run away with a lady’s purse. Eunice quickly ran after the snatcher and threw her backpack at his feet. The guy stumbled and fell on his face. She was then able to get to him and was just about to start beating him up with her bare hands when the lady, Eunice’s friends, as well as the security guards, finally caught up with them and prevented her from seriously hurting the guy. The mall personnel arrested and took the guy away.

“Thank you so much!” the lady gratefully exclaimed. “How can I ever repay you?”

“Uhm, what about Starbucks or Krispy Kreme or cash or—“ Anna mumbled.

“—Ah, no, don’t worry about it. I’m sure anyone would’ve done the same.” Eunice quickly said, cutting Anna off.

“Why, that’s so nice of you.“ the lady said, signaling to someone who looked like her assistant to help Eunice with her bag. “Can I at least take you ladies to dinner? At least let me buy a nice meal for your bravery and your effort. Please?” the lady insisted.

“It’s really not necessary, Ma’am. We were just in the right place at the right—“ Eunice replied but Brenda cuts her off saying, “We’d love to! Let’s go!”

Eunice couldn’t help but feel embarrassed with how her friends acted but figured, what harm would dinner do anyway?

Soon, they were dining in one of the most expensive restaurants of the mall. It’s one of those that you often pass the front of but never get the chance to try out because clearly, the name of the restaurant should be changed to: I CAUSE AN ARM AND A LEG.

When they got in, the waiter recognized one of their esteemed patrons and led them to their host’s favorite table. The friends’ jaws dropped as plate after plate of food was placed on the table.

During the meal, they formally introduced each other, and found out that the lady, Ms. Guevarra, was actually a famous stylist and designer visiting the country. The girl she was with, Cindy, was indeed her personal assistant.

“So why are you girls at the mall?” Ms. Guevarra asked.

“We’re looking for dresses and she’s just tagging along.” Anna said, pointing to Eunice, who innocently looked up as she tried to finish the last few slices of steak on her plate.

“How come? What do you need those dresses for?” their cheery host inquired.

“We’re having a big school party next week and I want to look extra pretty.” Brenda started to say. “Eunice here thinks it’s a waste of time.”

“—But it really is.” Eunice insisted. “Not to mention expensive, a huge hassle and –“ she attempted to continue.

“But you know what, Ms. Guevarra,” Anna chimed in. “Eunice should really dress up for our acquaintance party;” she declared between mouthfuls. “She has this big crush on a guy for a decade now and I think it’s high time she takes the reins and get that horse going.”

“Anna, you’re embarrassing us—“ Eunice blushed.

“Hahaha! Don’t worry dear. I completely understand. When I was your age, I had like a hundred crushes!” The lady gleefully confessed.

And they burst into giggles.

“But this one’s different… I’m actually in love with him.” Eunice almost whispered.

And the table fell silent.

“So what are you going to do about that?” Ms. Guevarra was getting curious.

“I really don’t know… “ Eunice honestly wondered and went deep into thought. “He’s like my best friend and I really don’t want to scare him away.”

Once again, the table was quiet.

“Well I know what to do!” Ms. Guevarra exclaimed. “You don’t need to tell him. You just need to show him!”

Confused, Eunice asks, “What do you mean?”

“Just leave it to me.”

--- o 0 O 0 o ---


--- o 0 O 0 o ---

The next day, Eunice and Ms. Guevarra met again. Anna and Brenda had to go shoe hunting, they said.

She met her new friend at one of the coffee shops at another mall. She was growing curious with why in the middle of the night she receives a call from Cindy asking her if she was available the next day. She soon found out that the lady was going to take her shopping. She immediately argued against it but to no avail. Ms. Guevarra insisted assured her that she was paying for everything; just a simple thank you, she confirmed. Eunice resigned to the idea.

Store after store, shop after shop, dress after dress, shoe after shoe, Eunice was getting dizzy with all the different things Ms. Guevarra wanted to get for her. Each time, she tried to convince the lady that it was enough and that she got more stuff than she ever did her whole eighteen years of life, but Ms. Guevarra simply ignored it and shopped til they literally dropped.

Their last stop was Ms. Guevarra’s boutique.

It was immediately Eunice’s favorite part of the day. It was a simple place with neutral shades and simple but comfortable and almost homey furnishings but with clothes so pretty Eunice thought she was on reality television and Tyra Banks would come out of the closet or something.

“Your clothes… are beautiful…” Eunice mused.

“Darlng, we’re not here to look at them. We’re here to find your perfect dress.” Ms. Guevarra announced.

Ms. Guevarra took out a beautiful beaded black dress with the most flattering sweetheart cut and cute tulle skirt. It was the most delicate and beautiful dress she’s ever laid her eyes on.

“But this is too much—,“ Eunice stared in awe. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it. I have the money, I have the time, I don’t have kids, and quite frankly, I’ve been having a lot of fun.” She explained. “Think of me as your fairy grandmother.”

“So I’m Cinderella?” the girl inquired.

“Not yet! We still need to do one more thing…” Ms. Guevarra cheerfully replied.

Soon, Eunice was taken to a salon, also owned by Ms. Guevarra.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

The next day, in school, Eunice began to wonder why people were staring. Right after leaving the house, all the way to class, people were giving her stares and it made her really uneasy. Thinking maybe she had dirt on her face, she ran to the wash room and bumped into Anna and Brenda.

“Hey!” she blurted. “Tell me something.” she started to say.

“Woah.” Anna breathed. “Is that really you? I mean, who are you, and what did you do to my friend?” she was puzzled. Eunice was puzzled.

“Of course it’s me, silly!” Eunice hissed. “But you have to tell me. Is there dirt on my face? People were staring and maybe I left some ketchup from my siopao this morning?”

Anna grabbing her arm pulled her to the mirror and pointed out, “Look at you! I mean, look at you. Can’t you tell the difference?”

Eunice raised her brows and explained; “Well, I got my hair styled, and my brows some threading, and Ms. Guevarra taught me this really cool trick you do with your eyes where you—“

“You’re completely missing the point!” Anna interrupted. “I could barely recognize you. You’re so pretty now…”

“Very pretty.” Brenda added.

Eunice stared at her reflection in the mirror and her friend’s words started to sink in. She was more than just pretty.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

As the girls stepped out of the wash room, Jacob was standing near the door.

“Where were you last night? I went to your place and your Mom said you were out.” He said, almost demanding for an urgent answer.

In the flurry of things, Eunice completely forgot about study night with Jacob. She wanted to bury her face on her palm.

“Uh, I was—“ she began.

“Listen, I can’t stay long. I have work at the professor’s office. It’s urgent. But talk to you later then?” Jacob hurriedly said. “I’m just glad you still have all your limbs attached.” He smiled, before turning to leave.

“But I want to say some—“

“Later!” and he was out of sight.

Eunice was left there staring at Jacob’s back.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

Out of nowhere, Janine and her groupies were clad in their skimpy skirts and gut wrenching tube tops under pretentious blazers struggling to add some sass into their outfits.

“What have we here, girls? Is this really Eunice Marie Ortiz?” Janine said with her arms crossed. “What did you do? Swim in the river of beauty and drink from the fountain of fashion?” she sarcastically added.

“Look, Janine, like we said before, if you want to try to sound smart, just try to be smart, okay? Go to the library some time. You might learn something.” Anna suggested.

“Come on girls, let’s go do an obligatory dramatic and sexy walk out scene.” ordered Brenda.

Eunice, still busy thinking about her encounter with Jacob, just followed.

Brenda, noticing the look on Eunice’s face said, “Something’s strange about that guy. He didn’t even say anything about the new you.”

“Maybe he doesn’t like it. Or maybe, it’s still not enough—“ Eunice sobbed softly.

“Nonesense!” her friend confirmed. “Now let’s go show off that pretty face of yours…”

And they continued walking.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

True enough, everywhere they went, Eunice drew in attention like water to a sink drain. Because she’s smart, the catcalls were never to a point of being lewd. People who never used to even glance her way were suddenly so interested with what she had to say. The transformation was not only on who got made over.

Day by day, as Eunice gained more “friends”, Jacob seemed to become more distant as ever. He’d be lurking about, out of the corner of her eye, she’d see him but whenever she looked, she always just catch him walk away.

It was just two nights away from the acquaintance party and it worried her. She wanted to talk to him but he skipped study nights saying he had to stay at the laboratory over the weekend. He seemed to always be unavailable almost to the point of avoiding her.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

After a while, she started having her photos taken for Ms. Guevarra’s new shop ads as image model. For a girl this was a dream, but for Eunice, it only seemed weird that these photos can actually do something about improving sales and increasing profit.

“Excuse me, miss, can you please give me another angle?” requested the photographer.

Eunice tried to move a little but to no use. Cindy had to help her and teach her how to pose for the camera.

“Like another, uh, happier angle perhaps?” he prodded.

Even the expert hands of Cindy wasn’t enough to get good pictures that day.

Ms. Guevarra noticed and asked her. “What’s the matter, dear? Are you feeling ill?”

“No, Ma’am. I’m sorry. I’m just a little bothered about something.” She admitted.

“Tell me about it then.”

Eunice began to narrate how the past weeks have been. Everything has changed about her. She was prettier, more stylish, more confident and more noticed by everyone except Jacob. He doesn’t seem to appreciate or even notice any of it. What’s worse, he’s been evading her—or so she thinks.

“Darling, this is all just a stage.” Ms. Guevarra convinced her. “It’s too soon to draw any conclusions. You said he’s busy about something in the lab… What do you think that’s about?” she asked.

“I don’t really have a clue. All I know is that they’ve been really busy there lately.” Eunice said.

“Well anyway, don’t worry about it. You two just really need to talk. He’s still going to the party, right?”

“Yes. He has too. It’s required by the college.” She responded.

“So just wait, and see what happens.” Ms. Guevarra said. This convinced her that she had nothing to worry.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

A week or so after, Eunice found Jacob in the cafeteria. She knew she had to say something. Hesitantly, she walked up to him.

“Hey, can we talk?”

Jacob looked up and nodded.

“I have to ask—just correct me if I’m wrong, but are you avoiding me?”

He asked her to sit down before looking into her eyes, and said, “I’m sorry, I have not been able to reply to your messages. Things are just kind of complicated right now.” he apologized.

“I’d like to know what it’s about, if you don’t mind.” She almost whispered.

“You’re always surrounded by so many people lately that I never got the chance to tell you what’s been going on.” He explained with a giggle.

“But seriously, Yuni, the professor has been receiving a ton of reports and study subjects lately and we’ve been up in the neck with work at the laboratory. Something strange is going on.”

“I meant, what’s going on with us—“ she murmured.

“What did you say?” Jacob asked.

“Sorry, I was asking, what’s going on with the labs?” Eunice grew uneasy and grateful he didn’t hear what she said.

“I can’t really tell you anything about it right now, Yuni, it’s confidential, but it could be huge. Start preparing for the worst—“ and he became quiet.

Eunice could tell something serious was really up. She was glad she wasn’t a Biological Sciences major like him because all this talk about laboratories and test subjects give her the goose bumps just thinking about it—dead frogs and hog fetuses—that was her clearest memory of science laboratories. But far more than that, it’s the way he was shifting his weight on both elbows and incessantly gripping his hands while talking to her without maintaining eye contact—she’s never seen him this way before. She decided not to press on and just leave instead. She decided she’d tell him everything she had to say, at the party.

She began to gather her things to leave when Jacob swiftly but gently grabbed her arm and said; “I do want to talk about us.”

“—you heard?”

This time, he dragged his grip and held both her hands and replied, “I’ve been wanting to tell you something for almost eight years now, Yuni, but never had the courage to say it—“

Her eyes widened in wonder saying, “What do you mea—?“

The phone rings and Jacob answers it. And just like that, his expression changed as he let go of Eunice’s arm.

“I have to go, Yuni. Can we talk tomorrow night? At the party? I’ll be there at six.” He apologized and turned to leave.

Eunice was left with her heart pounding violently in her chest in an odd cocktail of glee, curiosity, anticipation, and worry.

“What does he have to say?” she asked herself.

--- o 0 O 0 o ---

It was the day of the party and Eunice had to drop by Ms. Guevarra’s place to pick up the last of the things she needed for the party. Along the way, it was worth noticing that there was a number of ambulances driving around the city. There were also police cars here and there, some army vehicles and several black unmarked vans. But regardless, everything else seemed normal. Schools, businesses, people, were going along as they should. It was like a hushed sort of operation you only get to see in spy movies.

As she walked to Ms. Guevarra’s shop, she saw an ambulance parked out front. A stretcher was wheeled out of the place and loaded into the vehicle. She could tell, even from that distance that whoever was on that bed was groaning and churning in serious pain. She hastened her steps to get a better look and went to where Ms. Guevarra was standing, talking to the paramedics.

“—I don’t know. He was okay just a few hours ago until I saw him lying down on the floor. No blood, no nothing. There was, however a strange animal bite of some sort on his leg. I noticed because while lying on the floor, he seemed to be reaching to his calves in a painful bend.” Ms. Guevarra gave her account of what happened to the eager paramedics and some guy in a black suit. Eunice did get a glimpse of the supposed bite mark.

When Eunice approached and was in clear ear shot, the mystery suit guy and the others hurriedly wrapped up whatever it was they were talking about.

“So as not to arise panic or unnecessary suspicions, let’s just try to keep this incident mum.” The suit guy, complete with a nonchalant diplomatic voice said, “Thank you for your cooperation, Ma’am. Call me if you have any other information about who else has been in contact with the patient 48 hours or so prior.” He said while handing out a government issued name card which Ms. Guevarra blankly accepted while nodding.

“What was that about?” Eunice inquired.

“You heard the guy. I can’t talk about it. Anyway, there’s not much to say too. That was one of our workers. We just found him on the floor earlier.” Ms. Guevarra shrugged. “But what I don’t understand is why they had to take our blood samples too. They even asked us to stay in the city and wait for their call. How weird is that?” Ms. Guevarra furrowed her forehead.

“Anyway, let’s not talk about that anymore. It’s a big night for you! Are you excited?” she beamed.

Trying to ignore the scene she just witnessed, Eunice answered, “I didn’t’ tell you about yesterday, right?”

Soon, she was recounting the odd conversation at the cafeteria which the eager listener absorbed each detail with approval. They went on talking about her cheery encounter while getting ready for the party.

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