The day was bright and shining. It was all Jiro needed for his work. Who said art was easy? He turned on the machine as he stepped into the room. Spotting his latest pottery across the room, he made his way toward it. Making cautious inspections to ensure there were no scratches or other damages while it was in line for the firing process, he moved slowly with each turn of angle. Pleased of its outcome at last, he placed it back onto its spot.
“It came out all right?” A voice asked from the other side of the room.
He turned around to see one of his co-workers stepping into the room. He nodded. It was not in his nature to nod. He could do much more, like talk or gesture. But he did not feel like doing anything in that nature during that time. It was not because of the time being so early nor the fatigue he felt. He just needed some time to work with his new creation. And his mind was circulating at that moment. He did not want to lose that thought. His co-worker, Mark, knew that. Or was Mark the same type of person? Someone who needed some quiet time to come up with a new idea? He was not sure. But he decided not to dwell on that. He needed to get to work before his latest inspiration fled.
One afternoon after work, Calvin returned home in a not so good mood. More like he practically stormed in, slamming the door behind him. Advancing toward the living room, he grabbed hold of Joanne’s hand.
“Where did you put my drawing?” Calvin demanded, his expression reflecting that of his mood.
“What are you talking about?” Joanne asked, confused.
“What are you doing, man?” Jiro asked, jumping up from the sofa.
“Calm down,” Chun urged, gesturing toward Joanne’s hand. “Let go of her first.”
Calvin let go, but in a forceful movement. “She has been cleaning this place left and right. I told her not to and now she probably lost my latest drawing too.”
“I never go into your room,” Joanne said, rubbing her hand where Calvin had applied too much force.
Calvin ignored her and walked down the hallway to his room.
“What’s going on here?” Jiro asked, following Calvin.
“Nothing is going on yet,” Calvin answered with the same hostility since he entered. “But if I can’t find it, she’s packing her bags.”
Chun observed Calvin for a few seconds, trying to detect what was going on. Then he turned to Joanne. “You all right?”
Joanne was still rubbing her hand. She nodded automatically—as if fearing that Chun would wrong Calvin if she said otherwise.
“I’ll be back,” Chun said before making his way down the hall also.
“What are you doing?” Joanne asked in alarm.
Chun did not reply but Joanne could sense something wrong. She followed him down the hall and stopped outside Calvin’s door, which was now opened. Calvin and Jiro were searching around for something. Possibly the so-called “drawing” that had upset Calvin a minute ago.
“It’s not here,” Calvin yelled out, frustrated. He had tossed a pillow aside in his rage. “My boss gave me the ultimatum over it. It was this or my job.” He spotted Joanne at the door, causing his anger to raise several more notches. He advanced toward the door at that time. “Are you sure you didn’t toss it out by accident? Or ruined it and then you were so scared that I would get mad, so you hid it?”
Chun stepped in front of Joanne at that time, shielding her from Calvin’s hands reaching out—ready to take a grab of her. “Stop it, man! I’m sure she wouldn’t touch your things. We all know how important your drawings are to you. Not to mention it’s an important project like this.”
Calvin pushed Chun lightly out of the way, allowing him to face Joanne once again. “If you tell me now, at least I have something to go on with. Even a little mark would allow me to remember and draw it again tonight.”
Chun extended his hand out to stop Calvin. “Drop it! If you make a mistake, don’t blame it on her.”
Calvin finally turned on Chun. “I just want to get to the bottom of this. It’s not like I will kill anyone.”
“I didn’t see it,” Joanne said in a soft voice—possibly still a bit shaken from Calvin’s sudden outburst.
Jiro joined them by the door at that time. “You guys go search in the other parts of the house while I continue here. Ah Ru, it’s your room after all. You might be so used to some things being placed that you overlook it.” He signaled to Chun at that time, attempting to ease the situation also.
“All right,” Chun said. “I’ll take the kitchen.” He placed a hand around Joanne’s shoulders and guided her back to the living room. “Come on. I’m going to need some help.” He wanted to get her away from Calvin as far as possible—at least at that moment.
“It better be here somewhere,” Calvin said as they made it back into the living room, his voice still reeking of hostility.
Fifteen minutes later, none of them encountered luck yet. Calvin’s mood had deteriorated tenfold—if that was possible. Each time he took a glance toward Joanne’s direction, Chun moved into their line of view to shield Joanne away from Calvin’s attack—or possible attack. When Chun and Joanne finally finished their thorough search in the kitchen, Chun urged Joanne to sit down at a chair at the dining table, still trying to protect her from Calvin—who was fuming in the living room.
“I told you it’s not here!” Calvin bellowed at last.
“And your yelling helps?” Chun shot back.
Calvin could not take it anymore. He abandoned the sofa altogether and advanced toward the kitchen where Chun and Joanne were. Before Chun could reach Joanne, Calvin already had his hands around her shoulders, shaking her like interrogating a suspect. “Just tell me the truth where you toss it, okay? I have no time to play games!”
“I told you the truth,” Joanne managed, keeping her voice leveled.
Chun tried to pry Calvin’s hands away from Joanne at that time. “Stop it! You’re out of control!”
Calvin finally let go of Joanne, pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the living room.
“You all right?” Chun asked gently, gesturing toward Joanne’s shoulders.
Joanne nodded. Chun knew she was holding back tears. He could see it in her eyes. He rather she cried than trying so hard to hold it back like that. It hurt more to watch her play the brave person, enduring all of Calvin’s accusations.
“I worked ten years for this!” Calvin continued in his outraged state. “Ten years! And I’m going to be defeated with just this one drawing! One!”
Chun stepped in front of Joanne once again to shield her but was once again pushed out of the way.
“Come on,” Calvin commanded, yanking at Joanne’s hand again—the one that still hurt. “Did you take out the trash yet? We’re searching for it regardless!”
Chun attempted to separate them again, yet Calvin was more than persistent this time around.
“Let go!” Chun shouted, gripping on Calvin’s hand this time. “If it’s lost, Jiro and I will help you draw it again tonight, okay? It’s better than getting worked up and wasting time like this.”
“You guys!” Jiro called from down the hallway.
“Chun, let go!” Calvin warned.
“You let go of Qiao Qiao first!” Chun returned.
They had not heard Jiro because of the noise level. By now, Jiro was in the living room. He could not believe the sight in front of him.
“What in the world are you guys doing?” Jiro asked, advancing toward them. “What happened to brothers more important than money?”
Jiro finally separated all parties. Chun immediately walked to Joanne’s side to check on her hand. She shook her head, indicating she did not need any attending to. Jiro was now standing between Calvin and Chun, not wanting them to advance again.
“Tell me what in the world is going on here,” Jiro demanded. He turned on Calvin. “Have you lost your mind? You’re the most trustworthy among us all because you’re the calmest. And what is this? Just because of some drawing?”
“It’s not just a drawing!” Calvin yelled out.
“Sure, it’s your ticket to promotion or off the street you go, right?” Jiro shot back with much sarcasm dripping in his voice. “Well, you can have it and we’re out of here.” Jiro walked toward the direction of the coffee table and fetched the roll of paper he abandoned when he tried to separate Calvin and Chun earlier. He tossed it toward Calvin in a snap—not caring if Calvin caught it or not—before turning to Chun. “Let’s get out of his way. We wouldn’t want to be the stone blocking his path.”
“But Qiao Qiao…” Chun managed.
“Take her with us,” Jiro declared. “I don’t believe that we can’t take care of her better than Mr. Hot Shot over there.”
Chun was actually the balance between Calvin and Jiro since they were little. It remained that way over the years. Though it seemed like Calvin was the peacekeeper among them but those were the times they were joking around. Where serious issues were concerned, Chun was their peacekeeper. He never picked sides. He had always managed to help both sides resolve past conflicts. But now that Jiro threw the ultimatum, he felt unsure for the first time in his life. They were still his friends but what had happened? Why was Calvin so fierce? He understood why. But like Jiro said, Calvin was the calmest among them, the most considerate. Why this? Was this an attempt to get rid of Joanne as well? If yes, then Calvin had gone too far.
“Come on, Chun,” Jiro urged, making his way toward the front door.
Chun was still undecided, but his eyes turned toward Joanne, and he knew he had to make the decision. He took another step toward her, taking her hands gently and guiding her out of the living room.
“But…” Joanne managed.
“We’ll come back for your stuffs tomorrow,” Jiro said, turning around to face Joanne again—and also remembering to give Calvin a sharp glare.
Calvin—who had been silent since he had examined the contents of the roll of papers Jiro tossed him—still did not know how to react. He knew he had gone too far. He did not know why. Somehow, he had a feeling Chun was right. Was this an attempt to get rid of Joanne? Why did he go so far? What had possessed him to behave so savagely? He could see Chun guiding Joanne past him. He had to react now, or he could never reach them again. He set the roll of papers aside and got up from the sofa slowly, calmly.
“Guys,” Calvin called out.
Only Joanne turned around, which Chun urged her to continue on her way.
“Chun, Da Dong,” Calvin called out in a much more sincere tone than he had used on anyone since the last half hour.
Jiro turned around this time. He had his hand on the doorknob. “So after you found your career again, you decided to grow a heart?”
“Da Dong, I…”
“It was under your bed, not anywhere near Qiao Qiao, okay?”
“I know now that I reacted a bit too strong.”
“A bit? Try a lot!”
“Guys,” Joanne finally spoke up. “He didn’t mean it.”
“He sure meant it the last half hour or so.”
“He was under pressure.”
“And that’s a good excuse? You know why you’re a good target? Because you let him bully you.”
Calvin was surprised that Jiro was defending—and even on the border of protecting—Joanne. How come Chun was not surprised of Jiro’s sudden change in attitude toward Joanne? What had he missed? What were they talking about earlier when he just got home? He did not want to ponder too long. He took a step toward Joanne and reached his hand toward her. “Is your hand…”
“I think it’s near broken,” Jiro jumped in.
“Da Dong,” Chun interfered. He seemed to be taking on his peacekeeper role once again—like many times before when they were in conflicts with one another. At least, more Calvin and Jiro than him. He scolded himself inside silently for giving up so easily a minute before. They had too much foundation. They had been through more than anyone could imagine. How could he give up so easily? Even if he wanted to protect Joanne, he still needed to reconsider their friendship. “Perhaps we should all calm down.”
“I was calm to begin with. Just that someone stormed in and disrupted the peaceful atmosphere.”
“What happens if I smash your masterpiece?” Chun asked.
“You would never do that. I know you—unlike someone who doesn’t care to understand their friends.”
“We shouldn’t argue anymore,” Joanne begged. “It was just a misunderstanding. We shouldn’t blame Ah Ru. I was at fault too. I kept straightening the house up and act like I own this place, but I don’t. Ah Ru told me I did not need to do anything, but I insisted. It was only right that he would be mad if I had trashed his stuffs by accident.”
“You’re just siding with him because you like…”
“Da Dong!” Chun yelled out, cutting Jiro off—though they all knew his next words.
Calvin let go of Joanne’s hand and walked toward the kitchen. “How about we sit and talk it out over dinner?”
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Chun said, following Calvin into the kitchen before Jiro could get another word in.
“You all right?” Jiro asked, stepping toward Joanne—who was still holding onto her hand.
“Better put some ice on it.”
Joanne nodded again.
The two made their way into the kitchen also, joining Calvin and Chun. As soon as Jiro stepped into the kitchen, he headed toward the fridge and managed to retrieve some ice from the freezer. He walked back down the hall to Calvin’s room. He returned with an icepack—with the ice already placed inside the pack—and handed it to Joanne.
“Thanks,” Joanne said, smiling at him.
Jiro made sure Joanne sat down at a chair while he joined the other two to prepare dinner. Joanne could not sit still for some reason. Her eyes searched around the table and then to different corners of the room.
“What are you looking for?” Jiro asked, spotting her strange behavior.
They heard a ‘crunch’ sound around then. Calvin lifted his foot up a second too late. He retrieved it from the floor, realizing it was a bracelet of some sort—or what was left of a bracelet.
“It’s mine,” Joanne said, reaching for the bracelet.
“I’m sorry,” Calvin mumbled. “I’ll replace it for you tomorrow. I’ll stop at a store after work.”
“That’s nice,” Jiro jumped in. “Because it’s irreplaceable.”
“You don’t have to,” Joanne said at the same time.
“It’s strangely funny though,” Jiro continued on, ignoring Joanne’s forgiving nature. “With all these rackets going on, at least we have someone’s masterpiece being destroyed.”
“Da Dong,” Chun interfered.
“Like I’m wrong.”
“It’s okay,” Joanne repeated. “I can fix it tonight. It might turn out better than before.”
“Sure. Say goodbye to your newly acquired job.” Jiro snapped his fingers at that time. “Another coincidence, someone’s losing their job over the ruined masterpiece too.”
“Quit it already, Da Dong,” Chun pressed, his voice on the edge. Chun knew he needed to explain for Calvin before Jiro continue with his sarcastic rants. He turned to Calvin at that time. “We came over about fifteen minutes before you came home. Qiao Qiao told us that she just got hired at this one jewelry shop.” Chun gestured toward the broken bracelet in Joanne’s hand before continuing. “That was her first creation to show to her boss. Since she already showed her boss some of the sketches she had on hand. It was just a matter of putting it together.”
Calvin’s face turned ten times guiltier than before. He knew it was his fault. His rash behaviors. He turned to Joanne once again. But Joanne held up her hand as if she knew what he was going to say.
“No need to apologize,” Joanne said. “It was my fault for leaving it around like that.”
“It probably landed on the floor during the…uh…” Calvin managed, gesturing his hands.
“We don’t have to keep this guilt thing up. I promise you I won’t rearrange things around here anymore so you can be reassured. Let’s eat, okay?”
All three guys had no choice but to obey her wish.
During the meal, Calvin tried to make up for it by placing food on Joanne’s bowl while the others chat among themselves. It was until they were almost done that they shared the same conversation.
“How did you get along so well?” Calvin asked, not able to restrain his curiosity any longer.
“Me?” Jiro asked, pointing his chopsticks at himself.
Calvin nodded. “Yeah.”
“Hey, making jewelry is art too,” Jiro said, smiling. “I wouldn’t get all paranoid with someone knowing how to appreciate art.”
Calvin smiled, knowing too well of Jiro’s love for art. It was possibly his first smile of the night—after they had the argument. Somehow, he was glad that Jiro wasn’t paranoid toward Joanne anymore. Then he stopped himself, wondering why he was even reacting in that way. Wasn’t he the one worrying about Joanne’s motive during this stay? And Jiro was just helping him with thinking of possible reasons. He did not have time to ponder more since he had to help Jiro with the dishes.
“Let’s go,” Chun said, helping Joanne out of her seat.
“I’m not crippled,” Joanne argued. “Why are you treating me like I’m severely hurt or something?”
“You are hurt. Come on.”
Chun led Joanne back to the living room. He grabbed hold of the first aid kit from the bookshelf and then turned to Joanne, signaling for her to follow him. They were heading outside to the backyard. He had switched on the light after he walked past the door. He gestured for her to sit down at the wooden chair before leaning on the banister behind him.
“Let me help you with that,” He said, removing the icepack and beginning to tend to her bruised hand. “If you want to yell out, just yell.”
“I’m not that weak,” Joanne said, sounding a bit defensive.
“It’s okay to yell or cry. It’s worse than anything that you can’t do either.”
Joanne gave him a strange look.
“You know how terrible it was that you tried to defend Ah Ru like that?”
Joanne looked down at the wooden floor under her at that time. “I just didn’t want you guys to argue. I mean…I don’t know. I actually understand his frustration.”
“He had no right to accuse you like that. Even if it was a misunderstanding, he would never do that. I…or maybe it’s all our fault.”
Joanne looked up at Chun again, her expression puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Remember the day you came like a week ago?”
“We were pondering what you were up to. It was just a silly conversation to pass time. I don’t know if Da Dong and I had gone too far and made Ah Ru paranoid.”
“Now you’re the one pushing the blame onto yourself.”
Chun smiled. “I couldn’t help but feel responsible. Somehow.”
“I already promised him not to touch anything around here, except what belongs to me. I don’t think it will happen again.”
“I hope not.” Chun had finished helping Joanne placed a wrap around her hand. “I just hope it’s better tomorrow so you can go to work.”
“I still can draw. I’m right-handed, remember?”
Chun smiled, nodding. He got up at that time and walked toward the door. Then he turned around again. “Listen, don’t be so cruel to yourself. If he dared to bully you again, call me and Da Dong. We’ll definitely beat him up for you.”
Joanne smiled. “I will.”
Chun entered the living room to find Calvin and Jiro watching TV. He placed the first aid kit back on the bookshelf.
“You planning to sleep here tonight?” Chun asked, eyeing Jiro.
“Was waiting for you, man,” Jiro said, getting up from his seat.
“All right,” Chun said, turning to Calvin. “We’re going now.”
Calvin got up from his seat also. “Thanks for everything, guys. And…I’m sorry about what happened earlier.”
“Forget it,” Jiro reassured him. “We’re friends, okay? Just promise us one thing.”
Calvin waited for Jiro to continue.
“Don’t ever pull that one on us again in the future. No matter how important it is or how much pressure you face, you need to treat us like friends and not your enemies.”
Calvin waited in silence again.
“Take good care of her, okay? She’s my new buddy now.” Jiro clapped Calvin on the shoulder one last time before heading for the front door.
Chun smiled upon hearing Jiro’s threat. He gave Calvin a clap on the shoulder also. “You know him.”
Calvin smiled and nodded. He walked with the guys to the door and waved the last goodbye before locking the door. He realized that Joanne was still outside. He made his way outside and noticed she was still sitting in the chair where Chun left her.
“It’s not good to be out here at night alone,” Calvin said, breaking the silence.
Joanne turned to face him at that time, finally getting up. “It’s so nice and peaceful out here.”
Calvin saw her holding her injured hand carefully as she made her way toward the door. “You sure you’re all right?”
Joanne nodded, sending him a reassuring smile. “Chun made sure.”
“I’ll bet he did.” Though Calvin meant it to be sincere, his voice failed him, making it sound like sarcasm being delivered.
Joanne seemed to not mind at all. She still maintained her smile. “Let’s go inside, okay?”
“Uh…” Though he was the one who suggested it was a good idea to be inside, but he was still blocking her path. “If I ever step out of line again in the future, don’t be so forgiving. At least yell at me or beat me up like you used to.” He couldn’t help but let out a smile, remembering the things she’d done to him when they were younger.
“I thought you didn’t like how immature I was.”
“I’m not used to the too nice girl.”
Joanne smiled. He finally moved away from the path and turned back inside, leaving space for her to pass before switching off the light. He shut and locked the door behind himself. Making sure everything was in place, he returned to the living room again. He fetched his roll of papers and headed to his room. He realized that Joanne was gone again. Not gone for good, but already left for her room without saying goodnight or informing him of her whereabouts. It reminded of him what happened the day they built the sandcastle for her. She disappeared without a trace, leaving them all stumped—and himself all empty inside.
That night, Chun found himself full of inspiration for unknown reasons. Though they had gotten past another drama, he felt full of energy. He loaded up his computer once again and began his routine.
“Conflicts after conflicts forced itself through his head. He did not understand what he was doing. Nor did he know what he really wanted. Why was he behaving in such ways? So out of character. So out of his gentle, considerate self. Why was he lashing out and attacking her one minute like a beastly creature? Then at the next minute, an unknown sense of jealousy crept up from within when he witnessed his friend applying ointment on her hand in the backyard under the moonlight. Was this a sign that he was losing control? Did he need to be in control all the time? Will he ever let go of his egoistical thoughts? This was their first major fight. It was more like his first time ever of hurting her so bad he knew she would never forgive him. Yet he wished so much that she would understand and support him throughout. Why was everything becoming so complicated? Why?”
© Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Posted: Friday, October 15th, 2010