“Stranger”

“Stranger”

Dawn H. | November 29, 2017

 

          I’ve seen this guy a couple of times.

          I could’ve encountered a lot more people for more than once, or have been encountered by someone many times I wouldn’t even know. In a relatively small city like this, passing by the same person is never really impossible. People wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t even care. No one was going to notice the same face. It shouldn’t really be that surprising.

          Yet it’s never to underestimate the simple act of noticing.

          In this small coffee shop, right across the room was the very same guy with the narrow glasses. His clean and tidy dark hair had grown about an inch longer from the last time I saw him. Strangely there weren’t glints of gel in them, even though they were standing sturdy away from his forehead. He had his eyes half closed at the screen of his laptop, typing down without diverting his eyes. A cup of coffee rested a safe distance away, its steam disappeared from the long exposure of the shop’s air conditioner.

          I’ve seen lots of guys wearing glasses, whatever the size, whatever the shape. With gadgets almost everywhere, it shouldn’t be something uncommon. This guy right across me should’ve passed my eyes like I didn’t even know he existed.

          Yet he didn’t.

          I wasn’t even sure if it was the glasses. He had this overall distinguishable feature that was difficult to label. Words had been on the tip of my tongue for a single word description. Only one thing lingered on top of my head.

          He’s…geeky.

          Very geeky. He looked like he came out from an anime movie. And the fact that he was tall made him more noticeable. Slightly skinny as well. He could very well fit the typical features of nerd guys in silly YA novels. The only gap that made him a “geek” was the dose of confidence in his posture. I was seeing a man, not a loser. His face was painted with responsibilities, not video games.

          And he seemed to have come directly from work.

          Black checkered button-down polo shirt. For more than five times of seeing him in just about three months, that was mostly what I’ve seen of him. Otherwise, he’d be wearing the same thing with a plain color, or a simple polo t-shirt. All of them were probably worn for work.

          He’d be walking on a sidewalk towards the city bank. Sometimes the narrow area behind the church, sometimes in other random places. Yet despite all that, every encounter I had with him were all mere coincidence, no matter how odd the numbers were. Similar routes, that’s all there was to it. No more, no less.

          But I just couldn’t ignore how odd it was for him to be here.

          Especially on a weekday.

          Maybe Last-Day Friday is applicable to everyone—the only least hectic day on working days. I grabbed the opportunity to work somewhere peaceful, and it could very well be the same reason for him to be here too.

          Speaking of work, I decided to ignore his presence. Seeing him engrossed in his work had me remember my own tasks. My eyes landed on the files on my table, then my gaze slipped through the glass wall beside me. The moment I lifted my eyes, my heart sank.

          Before I was dismayed even further, the rain poured, drenching the concrete as quickly as it came. The glass wall ceased from being transparent as the wind sent huge droplets trickling down to the sill. I sank further on my chair. How am I supposed to leave? With the wind so strong, waiting for a cab under an umbrella would still get me wet.

          And I didn’t have an umbrella.

          The sigh came out through my crunched nose and my shoulders sagged. Well then, if I had to stay here long, at least I should buy something to ease the building chill. I turned towards the menu boards behind the counter, and immediately my stomach churned. I didn’t think I could take another coffee. Smoothies didn’t look too warming either.

          My fingers tapped the side of my nose as I considered my choice. I read through the menu written in colorful chalk marks. Although this was a coffee shop, they had a couple of other things to choose from—pastas, sandwiches, frappes, and the like. Yet none had reached my preference, even until I reached the farthest menu board.

          Then I forgot about food. Something caught my peripheral vision, and my attention was drawn right back across the room.

          The guy changed stance. His head was on his hand propped against the surface of his table, staring out through the glass wall to the rainy weather outside. I noticed that his things were now packed, probably ready to leave. And the rain didn’t allow him yet.

          He didn’t seem to mind, though. He actually looked so…melancholic. The way he stared at the rain betrayed how he was so deep in thought. A problem, perhaps? Stress? Or just felt relaxed at the sound of the rain? Whatever it was, he wasn’t letting anything disturb the moment. He didn’t acknowledge the man who bumped against his table. Nothing wavered his gaze even when people passed by.

          Even when his phone vibrated under his hand.

          His gaze eventually faltered, now diverted to his device. I expected him to answer a call, but squinted at it instead. The longer his eyes moved from left to right, the more his squinting eyes turned into a displeased furrow. It was a surprise he didn’t actually drop the phone on the table in annoyance—or wrath. But he set it facing down. Then he leaned against his chair, then sighed.

          Then he looked at me.

          I didn’t know how I missed it before, but his eyes were grey. With the help of the dim afternoon light, they were glowing silver. I never knew there was such an eye color until now. It was fascinating. The color complemented his feature that perhaps held so many things. Just as how his eyes, despite his previous annoyance, didn’t hold it anymore. He was now a bit more…searching. Curious, in fact.

          Curious of what, I wonder?

          Oh. My goodness.

          I heard myself internally gasp. The moment I realized it, everything in my system suddenly shut down and I immediately froze.

          I was never one to acknowledge a complete stranger, much less start a conversation. Yet the moment he caught my gaze, I knew looking away wouldn’t make things better.

          Should I acknowledge him? Look away?

          I wasn’t able to do anything.

          He smiled.

          With that simple gesture, I felt myself starting to relax. Part of me was surprised, yet I was too thankful and was able to smile back. He didn’t seem to bother about it, as to why I was staring. He was just full of…understanding, all of it evident in his glowing silver eyes.

          I eventually looked away, both embarrassment and guilt were slowly eating me the more I stared. It took me a few more time to forget about his presence before I was back at the thought of leaving. No more coffees. I filed my papers in a folder before placing it inside my bag, set it at my lap and stared through the glass wall.

          The rain fortunately calmed down into a moderate pour, yet it still wasn’t light enough for me to walk through without getting soaked. The wind eased down as well, conveniently, just right in time as my jacket gave up its purpose of warming me up.

          I saw a cab parked on the other side of the road, and it quickly got me on my feet. If I could let it turn on my lane, I’d have my ticket home.

          My reaction was too slow. I was on the entrance and got myself out. The cab was zooming away. The screech of its tire and the rain muddled my voice when I called out. It disappeared around the corner, and my hope crashed to the ground.

          My heart sank once again. I hugged myself for warmth, at least thankful for the extended roof of the coffee shop. I wasn’t able to appreciate the small things any further, however, as the heavy clouds didn’t look too promising. There was only a small chance for a cab to go around this route. A cab stop nearby was at least quite relieving, yet the rain wasn’t too friendly to me.

          And it was too cold for me to go back inside.

          Raindrops were the only things echoing in my ears, failing me to notice the glass door opening behind me. My peripheral vision didn’t see the figure standing next to me as well.

          Not until he spoke.

          “Are you waiting for a cab?”

          The softness of his low voice had me look up, and I saw pair of silver eyes staring down at me through his narrow glasses. His proximity allowed me to notice more details about him—slight dark shade under his eyes and his wide lips. The fact without the gel was right, but some of his hair strands weren’t parallel with the rest. Don’t judge a book by its cover, they said, yet his appearance alone already told a lot about him.

          He looked much more likeable up close.

          “Yeah,” I said, smiling. Then my face fell a bit, my gaze landing at the umbrella he shuffled between his hands. Despite how busy they were, his eyes were unpeeled from me. “There aren’t a lot of them around this part, though.”

          I heard something click. Then a shade enveloped me as he hovered the umbrella above us. “There’s a cab stop around the next block. I can take you there.”

          I almost stumbled on nothing from his sudden offer. “N-no, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”

          “I’m heading the same way, don’t worry. It might get dark before the rain stops.”

          He could very well be right about that, but I was still hesitant. I got squeezed between the chance to get home and the embarrassment of accepting his offer. At the same time, I didn’t want him to wait too long for an answer.

          I didn’t want the chance to slip either.

          I thought I might also be rude—or even stupid—to decline. I nodded.

          I’m not one to start a conversation, and my pride just kicked in at the wrong time and decided I didn’t want this to be awkward. Especially because I was under someone else’s umbrella. The whole trip was taking about one to two minutes on foot. A silence that long would have my pride eat me for the rest of my life.

          Thankfully, the silence only lasted a few seconds.

          “Busy day?” he asked. His voice was full of kindness, yet odd how it came out in a whisper.

          “Yeah.” A bitter smile crept up my face. “Gotta do the work.”

          “No choice, right?” He stole a glance I couldn’t read before turning back to the road. Part of it sounded bitter, yet I couldn’t help but think that, with that inscrutable glance he just did, it was perhaps sympathetic.

          I let out a dry laugh. “Workplaces had always been this way.”

          We made a turn. The cab stop came on sight a few meters away.

          “Wouldn’t hurt to relax a bit.”

          Although he was right, my mind flashed back to the coffee shop several minutes ago. Carefully considering my words, I said, “You seemed pretty busy as well. Back at the coffee shop.”

          He shot me another mysterious smile, smaller than what his wide lips were capable of. I couldn’t figure out what that meant, but it got my chest squeezing at the thought that he might well be referring to me staring at him.

          Yet it was quite unlikely.

          “A lot of things happened,” he whispered. I wasn’t able to speak after that. Maybe it was the feeling of respecting whatever privacy was in that statement, or noticing that slight melancholic expression coming back on his face.

          We got into the shed on the cab stop. The rain lighted down a bit by then, the absence of the wind had me let out a contented sigh.

          He set aside his open umbrella. “I’ll leave you here then.”

          I nodded gratefully. “Thank you. I really appreciate it for taking me here.”

          He surprised me again by reaching out his hand, but I quickly followed and shook it. His grip was firm and gentle, his mysterious well-being radiating and warming me up. I gave him another thank you, and answered me another of his inscrutable smile. His silver eyes blinked, and his face turned soft.

          Then he whispered. “Thank you.”

          I don’t know how his simple words held such deep context. That had been lingering on my nerves by the time he first spoke to me. I wanted to ask, find out more about him, yet the shallowness of our connection created a boundary I know I shouldn’t cross.

          The umbrella was back above him as he let go of my hand. He turned to leave and out the rain. Then he stopped. Turned back to me. And smiled again.

          “I’ll see you soon.”

          I watched him disappear in another corner, my mind lingering at his farewell greeting. Deep contexts and simple words. I was now convinced that our conversation wasn’t out of formality. Simple words, yet weighed more than it sounded.

          He didn’t fail to leave me with so much curiosity.

          I’ll see you soon.

          I didn’t know the meaning underneath those words. But it wasn’t hard to believe that I was going to see him again.

          Soon.

 

Posted on Wattpad | “Quick Streaks”

Copyright © All Rights Reserved

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“Quality”

“Quality”

by Dawn | June 2017

 

          When I was nine, I met a young man.

          He was sitting by a stream, his knees were wide and bent. A clipboard was laid on his lap as he stroked the tip of his pencil across the paper. One streak at a time, they formed a beautiful scenery.

          My young self was easily swayed by the beauty of his work, peering behind a tree and watching closely. I had captured how his head rise and bow from time to time. I noticed his movements, and my eyes darted back and forth from his work to the scenery in front of him: a breezy and peaceful meadow over a silent stream.

          That discovery overwhelmed me, at the same time it was confusing. I didn’t know how he was able to draw things so beautifully without color, and he didn’t seem to have any other mediums other than the pencil he used. Yet, it was something different compared to mine. I brought the paper I’ve been carrying in front of my eyes, and there was the green grass and the blue sky. Three figures were in the middle that represented my small family: me, my mother, and my late father. Everything in my drawing had color, but the young man’s art was far more beautiful.

          I couldn’t understand why I remembered that. The scene suddenly flashed in my mind the moment I stepped into the museum. It felt strangely nostalgic, and I gripped my own clipboard in my arm, along with a worn notebook I kept through the years. The memory made me realize how far I’ve come. Aside from expecting the visit of Lawrence Dillon, a master artist I’ve discovered and looked up to during college, inspiration was my only purpose for coming here. But guilt crept through my chest as I remembered how I focused too much on my achievements…without giving credits to the one that gave me this passion in the first place.

          I walked around the museum, preferring the recent displays of modern artists than that of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. Lawrence Dillon was the artist my visual art teachers usually cited, as the art styles and use of mediums were adopted from him. As the renaissance arts were more on paintings, the recent ones were more on pencil streaks and gray shades. Colored pencils were more popular now, the kind of art I grasped after seeing my root of inspiration.

          That time, I was only able to draw circles for faces, curves and spirals for trees and clouds, and a U-shape for a smile. The young man’s artwork slightly discouraged the small amount of confidence in my nine-year-old self, ignorant of the difference of our age gap and experience. Yet curiosity was a big thing for children. Instead of walking away with my head low, I was on my tippy toes with my steps closing the distance between me and the young man.

          My great ignorance allowed me to be easily overwhelmed, and his work was even more fascinating up close. My young mind’s vocabulary was limited to the words “It’s very beautiful” when I actually meant it was “perfectly detailed.” I was able to identify the stream even without color, and that bit of information both confused and fascinated me.

          The beauty of his work blurred my awareness of anything else. It was only then he turned to me that I realized I said that out loud.

          My beating heart froze me exactly like a little girl I was. The words of my mother suddenly echoed through my head. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Despite the evidence of the young man’s lack of dangerous weapons, the thought of stranger with a hatchet was still scary—even in broad daylight. But instead of standing up and raising his hatchet, he stayed on the ground and flashed a smile. Its gentleness was enough to calm me down at most. It reminded me of my own father’s smile.

          “Hello, little girl,” the young man said. My eyes lingered on his right hand that stopped scribbling to shift his attention to me. I wanted him to continue, but his hand was only twirling the pencil around his fingers. It was another thing to be amazed for.

          “H-hello, mister,” I managed to say. My little conscience believed that I should look at people in the eye when talking, but I averted my eyes to his artwork when I was too shy to look at him. The same words from my teacher rang in my head and I looked back at the stranger, but it went to another direction. My eyes gazed down, but it failed to reach the ground. My own artwork appeared before my eyes, and I quickly hid it behind my back.

          “Are you lost?’ His voice was as gentle as he first spoke, but I didn’t take my eyes away from the ground.

          I shook my head. No words of explanation came out. My attention was easily distracted to the colorless strokes on his paper. Even without the blue of the water and the green of the grass, I was able to see clearly that there was a breezy meadow over a flowy yet motionless stream.

          There was one thing I had never seen from the reality he referred his artwork to, and it was enough to blur everything else outside of my attention. By the stream was a vague sketch of a figure. My inexperienced deduction could only figure out that it was sitting with its feet in the running water.

          A few moments had passed until I realized that Mister was staring at me. I caught him smiling at my ignorance when I looked back at him, and I almost squirmed. It was then I thought I had to say something. “Y-your drawing is beautiful, Mister.”

          His smile widened—a movement that almost eased me from all of my discomfort. “Thank you.” He took a glance at the paper I hid behind my back. “Is that your own drawing?”

          My nod was hesitant. “But I’m not so good like you.”

          “Oh?” One of his bent legs straightened, tilting his clipboard in a way which the artwork was directly facing me. It almost took my attention from him again. “I’m sure it’s not bad. Can I see?”

          He raised his palm at me, inviting to give away my artwork. It was now all crumpled from the constant gripping, but my hand slowly gave in. I gave him the paper, and he smoothed the creases around the edges.

          I watched him, waiting for a reaction. The only thing I received was a smile as his eyes still inspected the drawing. “It’s a nice drawing. Are these your parents?”

          “Mm-hm. But my daddy is not with us anymore.”

          His head jerked to me. The smile on his face disappeared and it gave me a bit of discomfort. “Why? Where did your daddy go?”

          “My mommy said he is in heaven now, but she misses him. I want to draw my family so she can be happy again. But…” My eyes landed on his artwork again, at the faceless figure that looked to be sitting by the stream. It was the part I was amazed the most. He can draw a person without copying anything.

          “What is it, little girl?”

          I pointed meekly at his paper. “I can’t draw like that. Mommy won’t like mine.”

          The discouragement hit me like a brick wall. It was my first time the feeling was very clear to me. My drawing was nothing compared to his, and I easily believed that my mother wouldn’t like it. My eyes fell back to the ground again, and I caught my fingers twirling around each other.

          A hand on my wrist surprised me. His gentle grip was enough to pull me and sit beside him. I cowered at the unfamiliar touch when he wrapped one arm around me. But the discomfort quickly vanished the moment I looked up at him. The same gentle smile flashed back at me.

          “You know what, little girl?” he whispered. His tone was similar to the start of a storytelling. “When I was a little boy, I was also not so good at drawing.” He reached for his clipboard in his lap, placing it at the ground beside him. His attention was fully on me now. “When I saw my father’s drawings, it was too beautiful compared to mine. But do you know what he said?”

          I shook my head.

          “When I showed him all of my drawings, he always said they were wonderful. At first I didn’t believe him, and…” He shrugged for effect. “I told him that I will stop.”

          Panic bubbled up inside me. It was a normal effect of storytelling, a sensation when the listener entered the world of the character and didn’t want him to give something up. But even as a child, the artwork he held now showed me that he didn’t. Still, I asked, “Did you stop?”

          “I almost did.” He ruffled my hair. “But he told me: ‘Your drawing is wonderful, son. It’s not of what it looks like, but of the meaning it held.’”

          I didn’t understand the last part of it, but I glanced at the crumpled drawing in his lap. Maybe it was the gentle tone or the smile, but his words lit a light of hope in me somehow. My little meek self was too shy to ask him what it really meant, but it was enough to convince me that I wasn’t going to stop drawing.

          “In other words,” his fingers playfully shook my nose before placing my drawing in my lap. “It means that your drawing is beautiful for what you want to show, not for what it looks like.”

          He pointed at my drawing. “Why did you draw this, little girl?”

          “I want to show my mommy that we are still family,” I said slowly. “Even if daddy is in heaven, he is still with us.”

          “And that’s more important.” He ruffled my hair again, and I heard myself giggle.

          That was eleven years ago, and I couldn’t remember his face. There was only a blur of a dark shade for his hair and a brown color for the coat he was wearing. He left the day after without giving me a name, but flashes of his smile were very clear. And I remember how I went home skipping on my feet.

          It was after a few years when I understood why he was sitting there. And I followed his example, looking for inspirations everywhere. I would’ve preferred the beauty of nature, but my mother and I just moved in an urban environment for my job invitation. My job interview was still tomorrow, and I decided that the museum was the first place I could probably find inspiration.

          I wanted to thank him. I believe my whole achievement wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t encouraged me. It was impossible to reach him without a memory of his face and left only with Mister as a name. So when I was eleven years old, I took a notebook where I wrote letters to him. I thanked him for the inspiration, I thanked him for the encouragement, and I also believed that he had helped my mom back to her self again. As I grew up it felt quite stupid, but I kept writing on it anyway. It still encouraged me, and I brought it along every time I want to draw.

          I roamed around the portraits, inspecting the details and art styles of every artists. My hand instinctively gripped the notebook, a habit I did while searching for inspiration. I’ve constructed a style on my own, where combination of colors formed different figures and sceneries. But I still admire the man’s style—that colorless artwork of heart and soul poured on to it.

          I stopped on my tracks, my attention immediately caught by a certain portrait on the wall. The sudden feeling of familiarity was like a needle against my skin. I heard my heartbeat, getting louder and louder as I stepped closer. I’ve been admiring it only from memory, but seeing it again after eleven years was like back being nine years old again—it was overwhelming.

          It was exactly the same as before, a simple meadow, a stream…they’re all there. The only difference was the figure. Not only that it was a little girl, but a man was sitting beside her, an arm around her, and they were smiling at each other.

          I moved closer, and my heartbeat swelled up moist in my eyes. The little girl…looked just like me.

          Four words in neat handwriting was at the top-left of the artwork, the same words that I kept with me all these years. Before I left the man in the stream, placing a hand gently on my head, he told me something that my little self didn’t understand. And the moment I read it his voice rang like a gong in my head.

          Quality is inside you.

          I gasp to keep the tears in and looked away. My head jerked around to avoid some pair of eyes at me and pretended I was looking for something. I decided to look for the information. The small signature on the portrait was too small for me to see, but even seeing wouldn’t get me anywhere if I didn’t know even his first name. I proceeded to a stone closest to it, a plastic plate was on top encrypted with printed letters. It said:

          “Quality” is an artwork of Lawrence Dillon drawn by hand at the age of 18. The artwork represents his experience of meeting a little girl who wanted to draw for her mother who lost a husband. This was said to be his prized possession in the memory of the nameless girl who encouraged him to stay strong after the death of his little sister.

          My hand found its way to my mouth, and I felt a tear trickling down my cheek. I had known Lawrence Dillon as a master artist of traditional sketches with no other mediums used but pencils. Lawrence Dillon, a famous modern artist who was said to visit the museum today, was the same young man eleven years ago.

          I stood there, frozen.

          “Hello, little girl.”

          I remembered the gentle voice. The voice that encouraged me to pursue my future. The voice that comforted me of my fragile nine-year-old self and helped my family of our loss.

          I almost believed it was all in my head, but part of me wanted to pretend it wasn’t and it made me jerk my head to the side. I found a man standing directly in front of me, the dark hair now clear to me, straight and neat as it parted on one side. The familiar smile, now very relieving, was what convinced me that it was him.

          I couldn’t speak. He was right there. In front of me. Smiling at me. Lawrence Dillon, the famous master artist of traditional sketches who draw his artworks with quality from inside. I gripped the notebook tighter, wanting to give him all the letters I wrote even when I knew he couldn’t read it. With him right in front of me, he gave all possibilities that he can. It was as if we were back eleven years ago, along with my shy self. Crying in front of him was as embarrassing as being caught staring at his work.

          His hand reached up to my head and playfully ruffled my hair. “You’ve grown.”

          His voice kept overwhelming me. My little self would’ve just jumped at him and gave him a bear hug. I kept my ground, more tears falling and staining my face.

          “H-hello, Mister.”

 

**Lawrence Dillon is a fictional character and does not exist.

 

Posted on Wattpad | “Quick Streaks”

Copyright © All Rights Reserved

“Undercover Party”

“Undercover Party”

by Dawn | May 14, 2017

 

          “Wait.” He pointed a finger on his chest. “I am obliged to go?”

          Bennet stood a few feet from his father’s table. Inside the office had always been so suffocating, if not from air, then from pressure. His father smiled on the other side of the large desk, his fingers intertwined either from excitement or amusement. Either way, it was making Bennet lose his cool.

          “Why?” he inquired further.

          The word “party” itself didn’t have any fun ring to it. A party in the palace, consisting mostly of unsatisfied political adults, didn’t sound good at all. And a palace full of expensive tuxedos and ties wouldn’t fit to have an eighteen year old stranded in the midst of their shady presence.

          “Is there something wrong of being proud for my son?” his father said, the wrinkles on the corners of his eyes were clearer with his wider grin. “I just want them to meet my successor.”

          “Dad,” Bennet sighed. “We talked about this.”

          Scratching his head allowed him to look down and see the lower part of himself. A pair of sneakers, some partly worn gray cargo pants, an open tan colored button-down over a brandless white t-shirt…a successor, he said? Compared to his father with his coat and tie, he was nothing but a normal guy. Normal looking, at least.

          “Now son, I am aware of it.” His dad stood, both hands flew behind his back. Those movements alone didn’t look so promising. Walking around the table and sitting directly opposite of him almost caught Bennet off guard. “And I still kept my word about respecting your decision. But honestly, for me, I still hope that you’d consider my proposal.”

          Bennet’s hands found its way inside his pockets.

          “This isn’t just about being high up in ranks and being rich, Benedict.” His dad stood again, walking to the back of the room and turning his back on him as he dramatically stared out the window. “It’s about serving the people. Stop corruption. Give citizens good service for a good life.” An expectant smile curved on his face, facing Bennet over his shoulders.

          “I know, dad. And that’s really very noble of you. But I’m still not changing my mind. I just wish your hopes won’t turn into expectations all of a sudden. And with that being said, I don’t think I need to come to that party.” He was honestly thankful that his dad, at least, wasn’t lured in with money like everybody else. And Bennet was still strongly holding on to that belief, despite what everyone else said.

          “Well.” His dad faced himself back to him again. It was unusual his smile didn’t disappear this long. “I still want you to come. Even if it’s not as my successor, but as my son.”

          Trusting his dad being clean was one thing, but believing he wouldn’t twist his words was another. But through the years he proved himself to keep those jokes low for his growing son. Though a feeling on Bennet’s gut told him that he was going to pull something like that. He wasn’t able to reply.

          “You don’t have to wear tuxedo, if that’s what you want.”

          “What? Really?”

          That feeling of doubt suddenly disappeared. Surprised at his dad’s statement, he felt bad for considering to turn it down. It was the first time he saw his dad so eager about something, and for the fact that he was going to show off his son somehow softened Bennet’s chest. He didn’t even try to hide his defeated sigh, and he knew he was going to regret whatever he was going to say.

          “Alright.”

          His father’s eyes gleamed—something very unnatural for him, and not to mention very silly. Even so, his voice never faltered from its calmness. “Thank you, son. Now come here.”

          Bennet couldn’t hold his eyes widening at the sight of his father spreading his arms at him. He was already weird enough to be so unprofessional-like. But treating his son like a ten year old was just too much.

         What?” Bennet’s hands went immediately defensive in front of him. “What the heck is that?”

          “Give daddy a hug. It’s been a long time.”

          “Yeah.” He took a step back. “Like years of a long time.”

          “Exactly. I may have been very busy with my work, but I still love my little boy.”

          “Dad, please…” His ideas suggested to run for it, but his dad’s expectant eyes failed him to do so. His dad’s arms were still open, and the more Bennet stared at him the more he lost his chance of getting away with it.

          There was no way out. He sighed again.

 

~ o ~

 

          Bennet pressed his face on the table, giving no care about the stares he get. There weren’t a lot of people in the café, giving him a nice peaceful place to get back to his senses. He was still weirded out by his father’s sudden actions, but his response was what got into his mind over and over again, the regret getting heavier and heavier as the time passed. He knew this was going to happen, but regret still washed over him like heavy rain on a storm.

          What was he thinking?

          With his head still on the table, he glanced at his watch, realizing that he had been there for quite a long time already. Though the time said otherwise—it was only about twenty minutes since he got there. But that would’ve been enough for his friend to get there. Were they late, or was he just too early?

          His face was back on the table when the bell on the entrance chimed. He thought he should compose himself, lamenting over somewhere public might bring him more attention than carrying the Lacson name. More and more people are filing, but despite those thoughts he made no move, until a finger poked thrice at the top of his head.

          With groggy eyes, he looked up without taking his head from the surface of the table. Two guys stood across him, ones who seemed confused at his current state. “Took you awhile.”

          “What’s wrong with you?” one of them asked, holding his glasses as he moved to fill the empty chair. The other one stayed standing, crossing his arms with an amused grin on his face.

          “Nothing.”

          “I doubt it’s nothing,” inserted the other, finally pulling the chair and made himself comfortable. His smile was still there, sparkling with the knowledge he just claimed he knew.

          “Then what do you know, Mike?”

          “I do know a party will be held in the palace tomorrow night. I bet Lucas here knew that too.”

          Bennet huffed.

          “So it’s got something to do with that?” Another grin crept up on Lucas’ face, similar to Mike’s. Bennet wanted to shrink on his chair.

          He rose from his position and leaned back on his chair. “I don’t even have to tell you, do I?”

          “But if anything,” Lucas said, adjusting his glasses and propping his arm over the chair’s top rail. “I think you aren’t going to be there. Unless there’s something more than what that face of yours implies.”

          “I think so too.” Mike leaned forward. His grin was getting annoying by the minute. “But because you’re being like that, I guess I’ll get a glimpse of you on TV.”

          Lucas snorted. “If the press is going to be there. But I never heard the president ever saying about keeping the party private, so more likely they’re going to be there.”

          Public attention was already being shunned as it was. The thought of the press being there would completely change Bennet’s mind, regardless of what his dad would feel. With a mumble, he prayed wistfully, “I sure hope not.”

          “But this is a chance for you, Bent.”

          It could’ve been just his eyes, but he clearly saw Lucas’ glasses gleaming at his statement. And the way he said that did nothing but take all chances of ditching that party. When Lucas had an idea, it’s always too good to be ignored. He didn’t need that right now.

          “I agree,” said Mike. “If the press is going to be there, you’ll know what everyone is doing and what the media should expose. That way we’ll find out who’s biased and who they’re working for.”

          That was it. He lost all way out.

          “You want to know if that article about your father was real, right? This could be your chance.”

          I know it wasn’t real, or at least he wanted to believe it wasn’t. Bennet was tempted to shout that at Lucas’ face, but no matter how many lies he’d say Lucas would know. Getting to the bottom of that rumor was a goal for him, but pushing away all chances to satisfy himself wouldn’t get him there.

          He already promised his dad anyway. What else could he do?

          Bennet glanced at Mike. “Would there be any team sent from E.E.R. to attend the party?”

          “Not sure, but I’m sure they’re considering to go. They wouldn’t want to miss anything from a big occasion like that.”

          “Are you coming?”

          Mike shook his head. “Nah. But I bet Ciel would. Must’ve also been the reason why he couldn’t come today.”

          At least Ciel’s going to be there, he’s going to have some company. And considering it was Ciel, he most probably have something more to deal with. A guy like him wouldn’t like parties either, but he wasn’t even turning down anything.

          Shouldn’t he do the same?

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“Advice”

“Advice”

by Dawn | February 01, 2017

 

          I rubbed my face. Maybe for the fourth or fifth time, maybe more. It was after school hours, and my friend and I were in the classroom. In my table, she was crying across me, and I couldn’t help but pinch the bridge of my nose at her cause. Frustration was all over my face, and I urged to express my annoyance. I didn’t.

          “Kimmy…” I sighed. It came right out of my mouth without my consent. And I was surprised that I didn’t care if she have seen through my frustration or not.

          In her continuous sobbing, I was guessing she didn’t. Her face was almost covered by stains of her tears, and her cheeks were getting red than pink. She came to me just before I was about to leave, crying out her problem. Her annoying, dramatic problem.

          “What should I do, Lynn?” She said between sobs. “I don’t know if he still cares for me anymore.” She finally wiped her face with the back of her hands. She needed a handkerchief, something I didn’t have at the moment. “Is it because I don’t go along with his friends? Am I lacking something, Lynn?”

          Another sigh escaped my mouth, rubbing the space between my eyebrows with both hands before I put them down, determined to give her the answers she’s been asking. Straight to the point.

          “Kimmy, listen…”

          It was the first time Kimmy lifted her eyes at me ever since she started crying. Even her eyes were turning red, and I couldn’t help but pity her at her state—not for crying, but being so blind in all of this. I knew she was seeing the stern look of mine, even though I partly didn’t want her to.

          “Do you really think you’re the only one who’s lacking in your relationship?” I continued.

          She sniffed. A very childish one at that. “I-I think so.”

          “I think so too.” I swore I saw her face squirm at that, though I was only agreeing. “But what about him? Do you think he’s doing something for your relationship?”

          She hesitated. “W-what do you mean?”

          “I mean, you’ve been giving almost all the effort. Why can’t you see he’s not doing the same?”

          Caleb had asked for a date with Kimmy about a month ago. Along the lockers. Near my locker. Kimmy was tagging along with me when Caleb approached her, asked her for a date, and the next day she literally squealed at my face saying it’s already them. Just like that.

          “No. He does,” she defended, her face showing signs of attempts to prove me wrong. “I’ve received numbers of my favorite flowers and three teddy bears. He took me to malls, treated me with my favorite food, he’s done all that.”

          I couldn’t stop my brow from cocking. “Just that?”

          She sniffed the rest of her cry in my question. “What are you trying to imply, Lynn?”

          I slid my hands from my face to my hair. I didn’t want to say this directly, but it’s the only way I could do it. With my emphasizing gestures going along with me, I said, “I’m saying that you two aren’t fit to be in a relationship at all.

          Her face contorted. “What?”

          “Listen, Kimmy. What he’s doing are only efforts trying to flatter you and impress others and himself. Remember the day he found out that you like him?”

          She nodded.

          “Ever since that day, he started trying to get your attention, in the flirtiest ways.”

          She blinked, dropping her eyes on the table mulling over what I said.

          “Remember, Kimmy? The winks? The constant flattering compliments?” which were inappropriate, I wanted to say. “The hand holding? He only started being so sweet at the beginning of your relationship.”

          “But he loves me,” she defended again, quite a bit hesitant at her own claim this time. “He told me he loves me…A-and I love him.”

          “Are you sure he loves you?”

          “Well, yes—”

          “Are you sure you love him?”

          Her shock paused her a bit. “You’re asking me if I love him?”

          I brought my knuckles to my mouth, eyeing her seriously. Without answering her question, I raised another. “Why do you love him, Kimmy?”

          “What? I just do. Do we need a reason to love?”

          “In our nature, yes.” My voice decreased into a quieter tone. I’ve grown tired of this conversation even before it started. It’s already taking its effects. “Everything has a reason Kimmy. Why do you think you said ‘yes’ when he asked you out?”

          She shook her head. “I don’t think I get what you mean…”

          “I remember what your reasons were when you said you had a crush on him. Can you?”

          “That…he’s…”

          “Perfectly handsome,” I finished for her. I didn’t think I couldn’t cringe when it came right from her mouth. “That’s what you said.”

          “But I’ve seen more of him in our relationship. He’s really a nice person.”

          “And a very irresponsible one at that.” I will never forget how that kid didn’t come during that filming for the English project. He chose to be with Kimmy over it, and he was an important character on top of that. Caleb lied to Kimmy that the scene we were taking didn’t involve him. I almost wanted to throw everything I carried at him when I saw him the next day.

          “I know,” she admitted in defeated. “But I wanted to understand him, you know. He really didn’t like me being so clumsy, but he understood me.”

          “By letting him copy all of your assignments, isn’t that it? Kimmy, why can’t you see that you’re just an entertainment to him?” I leaned closer to her. I made this conversation with her before, and she didn’t like it. I didn’t care. “You’ve seen how he treated his little sister, didn’t you?”

          “What does his little sister have to do with this?”

          “He hates it when his little sister approaches him, especially when his friends are around. He may be sweet to you at first, but sooner or later you will be treated the same way he treated his little sister.”

          “What?” She’s starting to dislike this. “How can you say that?”

          “Kimmy, however a guy treats his mother or sister, he will do the same to any other girl. If he can mistreat those who have his same blood, how much more to someone else?”

          She grunted, bending her head to scratch the top. “You’re sounding like my mom.”

          “Which she may be right. Kimmy, I don’t want you to be a victim of this.”

          “You know what? You’re sounding like you know everything about this than I do. You never had any boyfriend since birth.”

          “You don’t trust me because I never had a boyfriend before?”

          “And certainly because you never had a boyfriend before. How would you know anything about love without actually experiencing it?”

          “Well, if you know more about love than I am, how will you explain your boyfriend’s behavior? Huh, Kimmy? Why are you being blind about everything he’s doing? Is that love to you?”

          She looked away. “Have you ever heard of the saying ‘love is blind’?”

          Lynn sighed. “Unfortunately, yes I have. And that saying is one of the reasons why most of people our age is a victim to infatuated relationships, Kimmy. Do you know that love is the best thing in the world?”

          “Of course.”

          “Then it shouldn’t be blind. Because if it is, you’re actually saying that being in love is being a fool. Do you get it, Kimmy?”

          She exhaled a frustrated sigh. I knew she was starting to hate it. “But if he’s the kind of person like you said, what can I do to change him?”

          “Change him?”

          “If he’s not really a good person, I want to change him. I don’t want to end the relationship.”

          “You can’t do it.”

          “What? Why?”

          “Because the basis of your love for him isn’t love, Kimmy. You first liked him because you thought he was handsome. Your basic reason for saying ‘yes’ to him is because he was handsome, not for who he is. Your relationship is nothing but some puppy love.”

          “Are you saying I should break up with him?”

          “No, I’m only saying you’re not ready to be in a relationship. None of you are. Just look at his behavior, Kimmy. He couldn’t even get his homework done, he couldn’t get his projects right, how much more in your relationship?”

          “So what do you want me to do?”

          “I’m not telling you to do anything. I just hope you get something from everything I said and decide what to do yourself.”

          She nodded, but her face betrayed her distaste of me. She wiped the remaining stain on her face and struggled to stand up. “I should go. Bye Lynn.”

          “Thanks for the time,” I said, with her already on the door and disappeared. I propped my head on my palm, thankful that it was done but felt bad of the outcome. Her farewell sounded more like ‘go away’ than ‘goodbye’. She never liked my answers, even though she kept asking. Though I’m sure it’ll be the last time she’ll ask advices from me.

          A figure walked in right after Kimmy left. I looked up to see Aiden with his face mixed with the hint of someone who had heard everything. His knowing smile made me respond a pursed lips and a snort.

          Aiden sat against the side of my table and crossed his arms. “That was really good advising.”

          “Well, she walked out on me unsatisfied with the answers.”

          “Still, I believe you were right.” He looked back to where Kimmy had gone. “Caleb really was only good at looks. A big jerk.” He looked back at me with his knowing smile. “I’m glad you didn’t fall for his tricks when he was annoyingly courting you.”

          I laughed. I was also glad he stopped when I kind of blabbered at him on the face when he was being all dramatic when I didn’t respond to his flowers and chocolates. I never liked the chocolates.

          “C’mon.” Aiden stood and motioned me to do the same. “Curtis is still in the parking lot. We were waiting for you.”

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“Overcast”

“Overcast”

Pre-chapter of “The Lost Mind” | March 2017

 

          Tech woke up to the soft taps of the rain.

          It took him a lot of effort to open his right eye. The sudden contact of the 6 AM morning sunlight had quickly gripped it back shut. He buried his left eye further down the pillow in hopes to bury the other along. The curtains weren’t even open, how was the incomplete sunlight ever so blinding?

          He tried opening them again. Pushing himself and sitting up gave its motivation not to fall back to sleep. The blurring colors of unrecognizable objects slowly made themselves noticeable. The originally white walls appeared to him as gray. He blinked. Blinked again. And again. The blur cleared a bit. Only a bit. It had never been clearer than that.

          He turned back to the curtain at his right, and he winced regretfully. His hands slowly reached up to rub a portion of his head. The seemingly blinding dim light and the blur had been a good recipe for an early morning headache. Rubbing circles would sometimes take a few seconds, sometimes more than a minute, until the pain faded. Tech reached out to the bedside table for the glasses, absentmindedly knocking off a book he was reading the night before. The blur disappeared. The headache slowly faded.

          Curtains aside, a scenery of wet streets and grasses and the cloudless white of the sky greeted him. No. More like the white clouds were covering the whole sky like it was the sky itself. The moderate rain wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. Neighboring houses were visually busy, nonetheless. Mrs. Brogan on the neighboring house was already out unlocking her unpleasing red-colored car outside of her garage. Tech suddenly felt a tinge of adrenaline. He couldn’t make it out quite right—he should also be doing something. What day was it?

          Hard rapid knocks emitted from outside his door.

          “I’m up,” he answered groggily. Almost automatically. That seemed to answer his question—it’s school day. Thursday, if he recalled correctly. And he couldn’t find any reason to wake up earlier before his sister did. He was reading a book until midnight. And it was raining early in the morning.

          Tech ruffled his dark messy bed hair. How did I wake up so early?

          He glanced up the sky. There was nothing more annoying than going to school with the rain making him feel so drained.

          Tech finished getting a hot shower and dressing up in less than thirty minutes. He exited his room to see his sister already on duty in front of a computer, fumbling to get the latch of his watch in place while looking at his sister’s attire. She was well dressed for an appointment on her upper body with her dark hair tied in a neat bun. On the lower part were pajamas and a pair of slippers.

          “Nice attire,” he commented, his tone couldn’t hold back the tease. His sister only responded with her lip curling up, continuing to type away and carrying on to her work. The repeated teasing got Tech acquainted with her usual response—the webcam wouldn’t be able to see it.

          He proceeded to the kitchen. It was neat. The dining table in the middle was still swept clean from last night. Cooking pans and ladles were still hanging on their places. The drain was dry from leaving the faucet closed overnight. Tech’s hand found itself on one of his hips, sighing in exasperation. She didn’t eat. Again.

          “Helen,” he called out warningly. “I swear, if I find this table empty again I’ll—”

          An unfamiliar, authoritarian voice echoed from the speakers of the computer, and Tech immediately closed his mouth. A meeting had started, shutting him up. He shot her a face, actually considering to disturb her for not eating first before she started working. He needed to buy an alarm clock. He needed to wake up before her or she’ll die of hunger.

          An omelet was enough for his breakfast, cooking for more than himself in case his sister remembered that she hasn’t eaten yet. He prepared a plate and milk for her to make sure she wouldn’t refuse. With a strap of his bag around one shoulder, he checked to see if he could say at least a goodbye. The meeting was probably almost over, one of her co-workers on the other side of the screen had already put away his laser. In a short closing remarks, he ended the meeting.

          Tech approached and kissed her in the temple. “See you later.”

          She turned to him, her work almost immediately forgotten as she moved her hands from the keyboard to hold one of his, a bit too tightly. Her eyes looked up at him with plea and disappointment, considering her words for a moment before giving a hesitant nod. Her smile didn’t even last a second. “Take care.”

          Tech smiled, hiding behind how sorry he was and hoping it would reassure her instead. He suppressed sigh and said, “I’ll call you later, okay?”

          She nodded, her smile still looked so hesitant. She let go of his hand, nonetheless. “Oh. Our food is running out.”

          “I’ll get it.”

          “Stay safe, John.”

          Tech kissed her again in the forehead. “I’ll be back before dark.”

 

          Tech drove down the road with his dark blue car, the view of the suburbs were shrinking behind him as the city up ahead still wasn’t appearing. There was quite a distance to get there, the road up ahead disappearing into nothingness, making it look more endless with the lack of manmade structures around. Trickles of droplets stained the window of the driver’s seat, blurring the vast space of green meadows on both sides of the road. The fifteen-minute drive sometimes felt like thirty minutes. Sometimes Tech thought he was going to be late.

          A color of dirty gray slowly emerged in a distance, standing out in the vast space of the greenery. Only the top of it was visible, with the rest of it covered by tall shrubs that snaked around all sides of its enclosing fences. The car closed in, and the front view of the structure was still barely visible. A three-storey building with twelve rooms wide stood dead and stranded for two years. A former mental hospital, left and abandoned for good. The idea of isolating people with unstable states of mind had left it a horrific view.

          Tech pushed his glasses up and stepped on the gas. Thinking about it had always brought shivers down his spine.

 

          The car drifted through the small parking lot of the school and parked beside an unfamiliar black motorcycle. The rain was already reducing into trickles of droplets that was probably going to stop soon.

          A group of lads uniformed with maroon varsity jackets passed by the sidewalk just across him. The one with the gelled blond hair stole a glance at him. Tech shot back a cocked eyebrow through the windshield, and the blonde immediately diverted his eyes.

          When will he plan on returning that wrench?

          The blonde went in the entrance of the school, goofing around with his friends as if he didn’t see him. The sight of him drained Tech even more today. He was starting to doubt whether that guy even remembered about the wrench he borrowed, or was only avoiding him entirely.

          Slipping through the crowd in the hallway had got him constantly pushing his glasses up. Everyone just couldn’t stay put. How could there be a lot of people in the last three minutes before class? It took him more time than needed to get to his locker, still having to tell the ones hanging around and blocking it to find another place to gossip. Pushing his glasses up for more than the fifth time, he turned the key and opened it. The locker door shook as it bumped on something, and a clipboard fell on the floor.

          Tech peeked behind the locker door to see a girl with her blond hair tied up in a low ponytail. Her head hanged low still bracing from the impact, partly covering her face with her cheek leveled bangs that kept him from seeing her eyes. “Oh, sorry. Are you okay?”

          She looked back, tucking one side of her bangs behind her right ear and revealing one of her glowing green eyes. “Y-yeah I’m fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t see where I was going.”

          “I think I didn’t look where I was opening my locker too,” he joked. He heard a soft dry laugh from her as he bent to reach for her clipboard. Her attention was drifting from him to something behind him as he handed it to her.

          “Thank you,” she said, flashing a smile before walking off.

          Where is she going? The classrooms were on the other side.

          She was trying to catch up to a guy, wearing the same varsity jacket as that good-for-nothing blonde, but with an unnatural white hair, leaning against a column with a phone against his ear as he faced the grassy field. Even the dim sunlight had actually made his white hair looked more transparent. The girl stopped next to him, looking like she was attempting for an urgent talk. The whitehead rudely ignored her and walked away—still away from the classrooms.

          An involuntary mumble escaped his mouth. “What’s wrong with people today?”

          The bell rang. Tech walked off, taking his phone out from his pocket as the bell reminded him that he hadn’t sent his sister a message yet. He had to tell her that he arrived safely—from his harmless short-distanced travel to school.

 

          I’m at school now.

 

          Not even a minute later, his phone vibrated with a reply.

 

          Good. Be back before dark. I love you.

 

          I love you, too.

 

*        *        *

 

          “Mr. Gilbert.”

          Their chemistry teacher turned silent at the interruption. Tech’s classmates had been giving him constant pleading looks since the last several minutes. It was already thirteen minutes after the standard dismissal time. The overtime of school hours and the darkening sky would divert anyone’s attention to anything but school discussions. He just had to interrupt.

          “Yes, Mr. Breyne?”

          “It’s been eleven minutes after your two-minute extension.”

          “Oh. Really?” Mr. Gilbert looked around the class, his face was obvious of playfulness Tech knew he was going to pull off again. He faced back to the whiteboard and attempted to write. “Another five minutes.”

          “No!” The class erupted in disapproval.

          “Fine, I was only kidding.” Mr. Gilbert’s laugh was husky. Tech sometimes find it either real funny or real annoying. Right now it was both. “You may leave.”

          Everyone immediately shuffled and left the room in less than a minute, some sighing a relieving and quite exaggerated ‘yes’. Tech had to laugh. It was only one of Mr. Gilbert’s jokes that he did almost every end of the class that everyone still hadn’t gotten used to.

          Tech had just started putting his stuff away when everyone had already left, with Mr. Gilbert still erasing the writings on the board. “I can’t believe those old jokes still work on them,” he mumbled, deliberately saying it out loud.

          “Oh? Doesn’t work on you anymore?” The teacher shot back with his head turned towards him, challenging his statement. “How about I stay on my word and have those five-minute extensions every day?”

          “Aw no,” Tech quickly chided, pushing his glasses up as it slid down his nose from the sudden jerk of his head. “Not with these new schedules.”

          “It’s only an hour extension from last year’s normal dismissal.”

          “And only an hour left before dark.” Tech shoved his bag around one shoulder. “Besides. I have an errand today.”

          Mr. Gilbert shot a grin before turning back to the board, erasing the writings on the top. “Everything going well for you, John?”

          “Huh?” The sudden change of topic direction almost caught him off guard. He adjusted the strap of his back uneasily. “Well, yeah. Nothing’s been happening at the moment. Except for Will, that is.”

          “Hm?” The eraser made a thump as Mr. Gilbert tossed in on top of his desk. The whiteboard behind him was already clear from any streaks of writing. “What’s with Will?”

          “He borrowed my wrench last Monday,” he said, his feet aimlessly approached his teacher, settling himself on a desk across. “He never returned it until now.”

          Mr. Gilbert snorted. “That kid had never been affected in my talks.”

          Not surprising, Tech thought. A small one-to-one talk wouldn’t probably affect the thickest heads in the school, especially that airhead Will. But he’d seen Mr. Gilbert not giving up, nonetheless, and had been setting schedules to talk with him when he had a chance, until now.

          It’s a personal routine Mr. Gilbert do, to help shape their mentality, he’d say. Tech had been a target on his days, the first time when he had to give up his lunch for a “short” talk with him. Confessing personal troubles had never been very comfortable, but Tech admit it was the reason why he was really close to Mr. Gilbert.

          He never mentioned anything about it since the start of class. Tech tilted his head, sudden curiosity hit him. “That reminds me. You have new targets this year?”

          “I have.” He pointed an urgent finger. Sudden determination washed upon the face of the teacher. “Especially that new boy in my class. I heard from Mrs. Brett about his reason for transferring here.”

          “Really?”

          “He’s from Crosswell High, transferred here because of injuring a bully.”

          “Wait, what?” Tech’s face contorted in confusion. “He injured a bully? Not injuring someone because he’s the bully?”

          “No. If that had been the case, he wouldn’t be in class B1. It was his aunt who came with his registration and explained about his behavior. He’s always been picked on. It just so happens that he has a temper.”

          Tech scoffed. “We mostly have the same people who might trigger that temper.”

          “Oh, but he’s really intelligent.” Mr. Gilbert pointing another finger, his tone boasting proudly at his new student. “That William Reid? He was pushed down to B2 because of him.”

          Tech laughed, shaking his head and unthinkingly adjusting the strap of his bag on his shoulder. “Good for him.” Tech pushed himself up, remembering he shouldn’t be staying too long. “I actually need to go now, Mr. Gilbert.”

          “Sure thing, John.”

          “Let’s do hope you won’t scare that guy off,” he said, pushing a disarranged chair back to its place under the desk before proceeding to walk away. “People always say your intelligence and humor mix is intimidating.”

          He pointed his third finger, this time accusingly, but then laughed it off. “See you tomorrow.”

 

*        *        *

 

          The road was still wet from the morning’s nonstop rain, but there were no more droplets hitting his windshield despite the still gray clouds covering the whole sky. Tech was on a ten-minute drive towards a grocery store, having no choice that it was the only closest one from school. He had spent too much time talking with Mr. Gilbert, though it had helped lightening his mood.

          The clouded sky dimmed into the darkest shade the color of gray can be, threatening to get dark thirty minutes early. He needed to work double-time. He needed to get home early before the dark engulf the sky.

          Tech mostly took and dropped things from aisle to aisle, not bothering to look for the price and hurrying to get to the counter. The grocery’s unpopular name deprived itself from having too many costumers. That was a good thing, though his eyes kept glancing at the ticking hands of his watch. Time had left him only thirty-seven minutes left before his presumed nightfall. He didn’t have time to buy that alarm clock.

          The sky shook and trembled at his arrival outside the small grocery store, striking about two streaks of harmless lightning before it trembled once more. He watched the sky as he placed the groceries inside the trunk. Surely they were heavy enough for the first drop of the rain. It didn’t. It was holding back a little more, waiting until it couldn’t hold in much longer and release it all at once on the surface of the earth.

          “Yo, Breyne!”

          The call stopped Tech from entering the car, turning to see someone he was holding grudges against at the moment. His face almost immediately scowled. “What do you want, Will?”

          Will didn’t seem glad to see him either, his face betraying his actions he didn’t want to do against his will, but didn’t have any choice anyway. His constant adjustments of his bag’s straps gave away his discomfort.

          “Can I ride with you?” he ask. Managed to.

          Tech flashed a sarcastic smile at his thick face, wiggling his eyebrows once, then frowned. “I believe you still owe me something.”

          “Geez, I know,” he said, scratching the back of his head with irk in his voice. “I’ll get to that later. For now I need to go home.”

          The response ignited something in Tech’s chest, a feeling of his patience rapidly draining. It had been three days since Will borrowed his wrench. He had never seen it ever since.

          Tech stared at him, displeased of the pride his guts could muster.

          Will rubbed his face. “Look, I don’t have it right now. Okay? I swear I’ll return it tomorrow. Just…give me a ride home.”

          Tech snorted. Wow. Demanding. For crying out loud. “Tell me one good reason why I should.”

          He opened his mouth, clearly was about to burst out, then stopped and closed it. Tech amusingly praised his awareness that he wasn’t in place to get mad. Tech saw him clenching his fists to hold his pride in. Will took a visible breath. “Fine. I’m sorry about the wrench. But I really need a ride home. I don’t have enough money for a cab.” He stole a glance behind him and turned back. “Please?”

          Tech raised an eyebrow, amused. How much pride did he bury down his conscience just to say that?

          The sky shook once more, and Tech remembered that he was catching time as well. With a sigh, he motioned Will to get on the passenger’s seat. “Just try not to touch anything, will you?”

          Fortunately, Will had been silent, busily tapping on his phone ever since they got on the road. He hadn’t looked away from it even when they got away from city proper and was on their way to the suburbs. That was a good thing, until he cursed and grumbled something about a low battery.

          “D’you got any charger ‘round here?” he asked, his hands itched to reach out for the glove compartment.

          “Get your hands off there, I don’t have any.” Will immediately stopped and retrieved his hand.

          “Can’t you go any faster?”

          “Why are you in a hurry?”

          “Nothing. My grandma can drive faster than you.” Will’s smirk was evident in his mocking tone. Tech had started to regret even letting him ride with him.

          He took a deep breath, holding his patience a little longer. “Well, I’m not your grandma, and this is my car.”

          “Let me drive, then. We’ll get home much faster.”

          Tech huffed. Now he’s considering to stop the car and drop him off or push him out right now. He was more inclined to do the latter. Holding his patience was getting harder by the minute. “Don’t even think about it—”

          A streak of light flashed the sky, forcing Tech to flinch down his shoulders. He looked back to see the familiar abandoned structure once again, the dark nasty sky complementing its eerie ambience. It was even more unsettling when it was still alive two years ago, knowing it was filled with people who’re mentally unstable. Looking at it empty now was unexplainably disturbing.

          A sudden blow cut through the still sound of the running car and swiveled the vehicle. Tech quickly stepped on the brakes, taming the car before dragging it towards the side of the road, right in the sidewalk of the dead structure. He stepped out immediately and strode towards the back. The back-right tire was deflated, completely out of air.

          Tsk. His hand leaned against the trunk, holding down the boiling sensation in his chest through biting his lip. There wasn’t anything worse than being stranded in a deserted street, stuck with someone he hated at the moment, and right in front of a disturbing abandoned mental hospital. There were only a few minutes left before nightfall, and the darkening sky confirmed his presumptions.

          He needed to get home before dark. He had to get home before dark.

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“Stress”

“Stress”

by Dawn | January 21, 2017 | an excerpt from my coming novel

          Light rain was moistening the road, forming small puddles near the sidewalks. Lynn peeked from under her umbrella, looking at the grey sky and streaks of droplets hitting the ground with light tapping sounds. She was pleased with the climate befitting her heavy mood, with white noises from kids playing under the rain ringing around the still neighborhood.

          On the way to the main road, Lynn didn’t want to be in a hurry. Her face and body felt too heavy to even walk in her normal pace. The world felt heavy, as if gravity had slightly increased its force. The slow steps still reached her to her first destination, nonetheless. She got a cab, and was on the way to the city.

          Slowly, more and more people appeared on every side. Despite the day nearing to an end, a lot of them still seemed to be busy. Cars come and go from both lanes, commuters load and unload from service cabs, and some of them chose to walk a distance—whether with an umbrella or not.

          The rain was lighter in the city, and by the time she got out of the cab, it stopped. Lynn stood in front of the mall, ready to cross out every item in her grocery list.

          This was the time of the day a mall would be crowded inside, not by those who’re busy but by those who’re looking for a place to spend a friend or two with. Lynn usually preferred staying in a small room with no other living organisms other than lizards or tiny insects, but there was also something about being in a crowded place where everyone was a stranger. Where everyone can be unnoticeable by actually being there. It’s one of the powers of psychology, and one Lynn can no doubt live with.

          Every aisle, Lynn’s grocery list got crossed out by twos or threes. She still had to go through all the aisles all over again in looking for a certain item, which she never found. She left the supermarket one item short, and was both desperate and unwilling to leave. Lynn couldn’t choose between the comfort of invisibility and the comfort of home. In the end, she aimlessly found her way inside a bookstore—with no new books in store.

          Lynn dragged her feet towards the exit, with a heavier weight in addition to her grocery bag, but a good distance to mope around. She didn’t mind the slower pace, it was quite comforting from her usual speedy work of homeworks and projects driven by stress. There was nothing wrong spending the day like this before stress comes back in the next two days.

          Her gaze was on the ground, and she saw a pair of feet stopped in front of her. She walked around it without looking whom it belonged to, but she wasn’t able to pass through. A hand caught her arm, and she has no choice but to look. Her invisibility was penetrated by someone’s blue gaze she knew so well. He was the first stranger she had looked in the eye. Only, he wasn’t a stranger.

          “Jayce?”

          “It’s in the middle of a Saturday and you still looked stressed,” he said, with his tone ending into a statement, not a question. His lack of questions made his declarations more truthful, and technically undeniable.

          “I’m just tired,” Lynn told him, slipping her arm from Jayce’s firm but gentle grip.

          “You always say that.”

          Point made. Lynn had always said that, which was true most of the time, but was always used as an excuse. She always used it around everyone, but this guy just couldn’t easily be fooled. He knew she was tired. He also knew it wasn’t as shallow as that.

          Lynn only nodded, avoiding his gaze before he’d see something else. Her eyes landed on a small plastic bag in his hand. From a pharmacy.

          “You wanna eat something?” he asked before she could. And before she could respond, he motioned her to follow him.

          They entered a food court, and Jayce led to her to a stand of Flavored Fries. He didn’t say a word, didn’t even ask what kind of food she wanted, and ordered right away. Lynn didn’t have to. She liked flavored fries, and he seemed to be ordering the right flavor—sour cream.

          Lynn cocked a brow at him. At everything he was doing.

          “Aiden said you like fries,” he said, as if reading her mind. He tilted his head to her. “And sour cream.”

          She let out a breathy chuckle, amazed at Aiden’s mouth giving out a lot of small insignificant details.

          “He said it makes you feel better, too.”

          Lynn held herself back. She wanted to insist she was only tired, but knowing Jayce it wouldn’t make a difference. Though she was grateful of his concern, and for the effort of actually trying to make her feel better, even if those distant eyes of his were holding something else he should be more concerned of. She glanced at the bag in his hand again. His mother was blessed to have a son like him.

          “Thanks.”

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“Just another Rainy Day”

“Just another Rainy Day”

by Dawn | January 19, 2017 | a narrative

          I’ve never seen a day with the rain so active. This was probably the fourth or fifth time it rained today, with short stops in between, and it’s still two hours after noon.

          The city was experiencing a very wet day under a local thunderstorm, a low pressure area that passed directly through the province. Today was its fourth day, and by the looks of it this thunderstorm will probably stop tomorrow.

          It was Thursday. School was suspended not because of the thunderstorm. The constant rain couldn’t be considered harmful in any way—it was lesser than moderate. But it had been raining since Monday, and the river a few distance from the suburbs were getting higher and higher. Three feet, white. Five feet, blue. Now the water almost overflowed at red level. Houses in the riverbanks were underwater, and its surface almost reached the base of the bridge.

          The last flood incident happened about four years ago, when our house was still one storey short and the gates were made with wood that was simply penetrated down the soil to stand. Hours before evening, my family and I stopped by the river near the unfinished bridge to inspect the water flow. The current was strong, and soon it overflowed. It was our cue to get back home, expecting that the water wouldn’t overflow too much to reach the neighborhood.

          But, unfortunately, we were wrong.

          The water hit ankle level by around 6 or 7 PM in the evening. My father and some neighbors thought the canals were clogged, though fifty-fifty they knew the water was from the overflowing water of the river. They tried unclogging the waterways, as others played safe and evacuated. My teachers who lived in the same neighborhood went to us, thinking maybe we were going to evacuate. The moment they confirmed it was flood, our van couldn’t get through the water level. It was a good thing a rescue truck came before the water was high enough to prevent vehicles from entering. We sent our teachers to the rescuers. My whole family stayed.

          We couldn’t leave. Not without saving some of our properties inside the house. My mom had packed the meals she had just cooked, and I saved all my artworks and notebooks by putting them at a higher shelf—forgetting to save my textbooks from school. The moment my father prepared a ladder to the roof, the water was already knee level.

          We went up with a couple of blankets, food and clothes. The rain had died hours ago, and the sky was clear with the moon illuminating the flooded neighborhood. The rising water stopped just under our house’s window—chest level of my father’s height. All of us were in the roof, including our dog and an unknown neighbor. Five PM in the morning, the water completely dried up.

          That flood was caused by a typhoon. I guessed people were afraid it’ll happen again, taking a close watch of the river and letting the neighborhood evacuate. Today’s thunderstorm was only a thunderstorm, a low pressure area passing by. The river water only flooded the houses near it, but it didn’t overflow. The riverbanks were constructed with flood control projects, and it helped a lot. The unfinished bridge four years ago was now being crowded by people who wanted to take photos of the violent river.

          I never stepped on the road today, and it felt like the world had stopped. The commotion near the bridge didn’t reach here, and despite that, it was very peaceful.

          I know by heart that we will be fine.

 

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