The pitter-pattering of the water sounded almost like a random music that played beautifully to those ears who were willing to figure out the tunes. Ahh, and the cumulonimbus, the unmistakable rain clouds, towered above the horizon far away. Grey, massive, and still.

The traffic was quite a mess out there looking from where Penelope sat. She squirmed a bit in her seat, in a dimly-lit Indonesian restaurant close to her office. The smell of spices emanated from the kitchen. Hmmm…warm and soothing. Fresh galangal, turmeric, cardamom, and coriander…and God knows what else they had in there. They just smell so good. Fragrant and brought a lot of memories back of her Grandma Tika. She is a quarter Indonesian, afterall. Her grandma came from Palembang, a town in South Sumatra. Her mom is half Indonesian, which made her, a quarter Indonesian. The country with such rich heritage in food!

“Would you like to order now, Miss?” a voice brought Penelope back to that dimly-lit restaurant.

Penelope let her eyes skim the entrance door of the Dewi Sri Restaurant where she sat. He was not here yet.

“No, I am waiting for someone actually,” smiled Penelope at the waitress, who looked like the high school student/grandkid/voluntary helper of the restaurant owner.

“Oh sure! More tea, maybe?”

“Yes, please. Chamomile…” Penelope pushed her almost empty cup and the waitress disappeared to bring her a new cup of tea.

Penelope rubbed her hands. Where is he now? After 15 years, can’t he be a bit more on time?

Ahh, 15 years. Is it that long ago?

Is she nervous now?

Maybe. Penelope bit her lips. She tugged her glasses to position it right above her nose. Perfectly.

And she saw him stumbling in the entrance of the restaurant.

His eyes scanned the restaurant and quickly landed on her. He rushed in, and now Penelope could see the droplets of water on him. He still looked like he was 15 years ago. Tall, lanky, with that dorky black-rimmed glasses. He has a thin moustache now though.

“Hey…” Penelope stood and extended her hand for a shake.

The man looked at her, a bit hurt, almost.

“Really, Pennywenny? A handshake to an old friend?” and he moved forward and embraced Penelope in a hug, with his wet coat and all.

Penelope couldn’t help but laugh. She pushed him a bit and looked at the man in front of her.

“How are you, Dammy?”

“Stop it, you know I hate Dammy…”

“I hate Pennywenny,” Penelope pursed her lips as she stated her preference.

“Ok, let’s start over. How are you, Penelope?”

“I am here, aren’t I, Damien?”

Penelope smiled. Damien slung his coat across the seat next to him and the two sat down facing each other. The smell of cheap cologne filled her nostrils.

Damien laughed. Ahh, the laugh that made her fall hard head over heels many years ago…

“I am fine too, just in case you are wondering!” announced Damien.

The waitress came with the chamomile tea for Penelope. She took a drink order from Damien. Black coffee, no sugar.

“Well, you will have to recommend some nice Indonesian food for me!” Damien said as he took the menu and started turning pages after pages of options.

Penelope sipped her tea and took another menu and started looking. Gosh how she missed him!

“You should try the rendang! You will fall in love with it so hard you have no idea…” announced Penelope as her eyes skimmed the main menu page.

Damien looked up and nodded. His blond hair and blue eyes looked darker in this dimly-lit restaurant.

“Or the gado-gado…” added Penelope.

Damien wasn’t paying attention anymore to the recommendation. His gaze pierced Penelope, like a long lost ship that finally found a port in a deep hazy night…

“Glad I bumped into your sister last week on the plane to New York from Los Angeles…” Damien’s voice quivered a bit. “Yeah. I spoke to Jessica on the phone, she told me she met you on the plane and she gave you my email.” Penelope toyed with the handle of her teacup. She did feel nervous! 15 years!

“You live in New York now?”

“Yes, been there for the past 10 years, Penelope.”

“What are you doing there?”

“Well…I used to be a lawyer. Now, well, I am a pianist…”

Penelope chuckled. Damien had always been good with piano. His rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was the best that she had ever heard. Bar none.

“That’s a big difference!”

“Yeah, being a lawyer gets really tiring and boring. I need something else.”

Penelope nodded. And your wife…how is she? Penelope ran the question in her mind, couldn’t bear to ask it out loud.

“Lizzie and I are divorced since 8 years ago. No kids…” ahh, he volunteered the information.

Penelope batted her eyelashes. 8 years. Long years.

“Well, why you never looked for me then?” asked Penelope. Not sure she wanted to know the answer. What was the answer she wanted anyway?

Damien smiled one sad smile. “Will you forgive me?”

“Forgive you for what, Damien? 15 years ago…you fell in love so hard with Lizzie and you decided you wanted to marry her. You were 20, yeah, a bit young. We were young then, Damien. But I am not sure it was a mistake you need apologizing for…” Penelope voice trailed off.

Damien chuckled. His black-rimmed glasses shook a bit. “Fifteen years ago, when I told you I was going to marry Lizzie, you cried and you said you’d never forgive me. I was confused, you were not even my girlfriend…”

Penelope pursed her lips and smiled dryly.

“I was a little girl then, Damien. I’ve known you since we were 12. From that school camp week, remember. I always thought we would be together forever. Bestfriends. I guess over the years, I felt a bit differently. I felt something…well, deeper…” Penelope bit her lips. She is 35 now. She can handle telling the truth…

“Are you saying you loved me then, Penelope?”

The waitress came with the coffee for Damien and took their order. Rendang, gado-gado, and two plates of white rice. Extra sambal on the side.


Penelope took a deep breath. Those days when she and Damien were inseparable.

They were young. They were kids who were bestfriends. And possibly in love!

“Yes, Damien. I think I was in love with you.”

Damien laughed and leaned forward. “Well, I was in love with you too, Pennywenny!”

Penelope tilted her head. “Then why did you marry Lizzie?” Short, to the point.

“I was 17 when I truly realize how much I was in love with you, Penelope. But you were so…so ambitious. You won that major scholarship to Harvard. You always did all kinds of things that made me feel, really…out of my game. You were smart, beautiful, ambitious. I just felt like we were not…well, compatible. Then I met Lizzie, and she, well, she made me happy, too.”

“Being smart and ambitious is not a sin, Damien.”

“Well, it just scared me off, Penelope.”

Penelope felt sad. Ahh, so that was why. She became too much for him!

“Are you single, Penelope?”

“Since 2 years ago. Never married, though.”

Damien took a sip of his coffee. Took a long deep breath.

“Now, on to your next project. Project Tauri is it, Pennywenny?”

Ahh. Yes. That project.

“Project Alpha Centauri,” corrected Penelope.

“Wow! I am so proud of you, Penelope! An astrophysicist at NASA! You will be one of those astronauts on the first space shuttle that will bring human to Mars! The red planet! Human will start the colonization of Mars. You, will help start it, Pennywenny. Finally!” Damien raised his hands to the air as if giving Penelope a homage.

Their rendang and gado-gado and white rice arrived. The smell was so good. None of them really cared to start tucking in the food, though.

“When are you leaving? I mean, in a space shuttle, I guess I must say, when are you blasting off to space?”

Penelope smiled. “In a couple days, Dammy.”

Damien smiled. “Ok, next question. How long will you be up there?”

“Well, three years, Damien. It will take 6 months to get to Mars, 2 years of the project set up, and if I am lucky, I get to take the shuttle back after the first lab is set up there. That’ll be another 6 months trip.”

Damien was quiet.

3 years. Maybe longer.

“Well…” Damien finally opened his mouth. He coughed a little. “Do you think…after 3 years…we can…umm…meet up and see where we are going?”

Penelope bit her lips and lowered her voice. “Start over, you mean? Our friendship?”

“Yes, Pennywenny. Friendship, loveship, relationship, sinking ship…whatever you call it!”

“Stop calling me that!” shot Penelope.

“Sorry. Ok, no more Pennywenny. Penelope Cassiopeia Vay.”

Penelope laughed.


Penelope stopped laughing and stared to those blue eyes in front of her deeply. “Yes, Damien. I’d like that.” She whispered.

“Well, listen. Let’s put it this way. Love, our love, must be like this rendang. Ok? See, I read in the menu, the beef chunks must be slow-cooked for several hours before it can taste really good. Dark, spicy, masterpiece of deliciousness like this. Maybe that is how love is. It has to be let grow and simmer for a long time before it can taste really good. So, 3 years, or so, no big deal…” Damien poked around the rendang as he explained. Penelope laughed hard. “Love is like rendang?” Grandma Tika would agree.

“You can be quite poetic, Damien.”

Damien paused. He drew a deep sigh. “I am not, Penelope. But if that’s what it takes to win your heart, then so be it.”

“I love you, Penelope. It took me years to pick up courage to tell you, but hey, better than never told you at all!”

“And I love you too, Damien…”

Damien clasped her hands in his. “Remember rendang when you are up there colonizing a new planet for us human, will you?”

Penelope nodded. Damien looked so serious.

“Now, let’s eat. I am hungry!”

And that was a really, really, good rendang they had that night.