Another month went by. They were prepared for the chills of November, except for Joanne. The toll of her work schedule must have caught up with her because she came home one day, coughing. Jiro and Chun had picked her up at the shop, but only Chun went in to drop her off, making sure she was inside and safe. Jiro chose to stay in his car. He saw Vanessa’s car parked nearby. He did not want to cause a scene and sabotage Calvin’s work. Like he was scared of Vanessa, but he knew better than to risk Calvin’s job.
“You got meds around here?” Chun asked, leading Joanne down the hall.
“Yeah,” Joanne replied, her voice hoarse from coughing.
Chun looked fierce—a rare expression on his face. “I don’t know why you even came to work today. I’m surprised you didn’t get half of the shop sick yet.”
“I’ll stay home tomorrow,” Joanne reassured him.
Joanne smiled—a rare smile on her face these days. “You sound like Da Dong.”
“We live in the same house after all. Of course, I got influenced.”
As Chun was opening Joanne’s door, the door to Calvin’s room opened at the same time.
“What’s happening here?” Calvin asked, surprised to see Chun guiding Joanne into her room.
“This stubborn girl refuses to rest today and got herself sicker than sick,” Chun replied, ushering Joanne into a chair. He turned to her real quick. “Where are the meds?”
“In front,” Joanne managed, her voice getting worse.
“I’ll get it,” Calvin volunteered, walking down the hall. He returned a few minutes later with Vanessa in toll.
“You okay?” Vanessa asked, showing traces of concern.
“She’ll be fine after she gulps down some meds,” Chun answered, his voice a little edgy. “Could everyone give us some room? We’re not on display now, are we?”
“Let me do it,” Calvin said, placing the water glass down at the desk in front of Joanne.
“You sure?” Chun asked.
Chun took a step back to sit on Joanne’s bed, monitoring Calvin—as if Calvin needed to be monitored of that task. “All right then.”
Calvin took out some pills from a bottle and handed them to Joanne. He reached for the water glass—not realizing she had already done it. However, he did not withdraw his hand from her. He even increased his pressure on her hand, making sure the water glass made it toward her mouth, not wanting it to drop if her energy were to fail.
“Shouldn’t she eat first before taking meds?” Vanessa jumped in.
“Doesn’t matter,” Calvin said, finally taking the empty glass from Joanne. He still had his attention on her. “I’ll go cook something for you.”
Joanne looked surprised but regained herself quickly. “It’s okay. If you’re busy with your meeting, Chun could do it.”
“Chun has to get home and write his next book,” Calvin said quickly.
“I do?” Chun asked, standing up from his seat.
Calvin turned on Chun, giving him a look.
Chun shrugged. “I guess I forgot.” He placed a hand on Joanne’s shoulder. “Take care, kiddo. I don’t want to see you at work tomorrow.”
Joanne nodded, giving him a weak smile. “Thanks, Chun.”
Chun walked out and down the hall with a satisfied smile on his face. He did not have to say or make any other moves to taunt Vanessa. But he knew Jiro would want to hear this one. And that moment he witnessed in the room did not top it since while he was opening the front door, he heard something else that made his grin even wider.
“Vanessa, could you leave first?” Calvin asked, still standing inside Joanne’s room.
“I can cook something for her,” Vanessa suggested.
Calvin shook his head, placing a hand on Joanne’s shoulder. “You don’t know how picky this girl is. The plan should be done already. You can look it over and we’ll talk more tomorrow at the company.”
“Uh…okay.” Vanessa turned to leave after that.
Calvin turned to Joanne again. “Better go to sleep. I’ll wake you up when food’s ready.”
Joanne nodded, still stunned.
Calvin left after that, closing the door behind him.
Sometime within the hour, Calvin came back to Joanne’s room. She had already changed out of her work clothes into regular pajamas and tugged herself in. Somehow, it was like it was timed because Joanne’s eyes fluttered open once again when Calvin was present. He pulled a chair up to sit by her bed.
“Can you sit up by yourself?” He asked, concerned.
Joanne nodded, attempting to push herself up—though her motor nerves decided to go on vacation. It must have been the meds. Calvin got up from his seat and stationed himself on her bed instead, facing the same direction as her this time. He helped her sit up and leaned on his shoulder. She was watching him the whole time—both too numbed from the meds and too shocked to respond.
“Here,” He said, feeding her.
Joanne—still both groggy and speechless in her state—obediently let him feed her. She managed to bring her hands together, using one to pinch the other. She winced, realizing she was not dreaming.
“What did you do that for?” Calvin asked, having seen the scene clearly.
“Was just checking,” Joanne managed, attempting to move out of Calvin’s grasp, knowing it was too good to be true.
“Stay still,” Calvin ordered. “Don’t want this to be in your nose instead of your mouth.”
Though he told her to stay still—which was what she actually wanted more than anything, her smile fell. She was still groggy but recognized that authoritative tone. It was like an older brother taking care of his sister. It was not…
“Why are you crying?” He asked suddenly, alarmed. “My culinary skills that terrible?”
She knew he was trying to cheer her up, yet she could not stop the tears from streaming down her face. She forced herself to sit up, brushing her tears away. “It’s not the food. I really don’t feel good right now. I want to sleep some more.”
Calvin got up and gave her some space at that time. He helped pull the blanket up to her chin. It was then that he realized something. He reached for her braids. “No wonder you’re not getting any better. Your hair’s all tied up. You know that it increases the pressure in your brain and…”
Joanne grabbed her braids back from him while he was trying to undo them. She ended up doing the task herself, placing the rubber bands on the nightstand afterward. She did not care to acknowledge his existence anymore. Turning her back toward him, she hugged her blanket to herself, indicating she did not want to be bothered anymore.
Calvin—still stumped from her actions—finally gathered up the food and left the room, closing the door behind him. He did not know if she wanted the light on or off, so he just left it on in case she wanted to get up or get a drink of water later. The glass of water was the only item he left behind, having remembered to place the lid on to protect it from any source of germs.
It was until she knew that Calvin was gone that she allowed her tears to flow again, flooding both her face and pillow.
The days passed by with Joanne’s silent treatment of Calvin. He did not seem to be bothered by it as much since he thought she was just short-tempered because of her sick state. Somehow, he was more familiar with her constant lashing out at him during those days after she recovered because it reminded him of her tantrums when she was little. It made her state of mind easier to guess than when she was unbelievably calm since the first day that she had moved in. He guessed that she was feeling comfortable and treating it like her own home hence the letting go of polite gestures, not afraid of offending him, or no longer having the fear of being kicked out. He had no idea how wrong he was.
One day after work, he came home to see Chun and Jiro lurking around the den, talking about something. No Qiao Qiao, he thought.
“Hey you two,” Calvin said casually as he stepped out to join them. “What are you guys doing out here?”
Jiro turned to face him at that time. He looked somewhat annoyed. “Nice view?”
Calvin gave him a puzzled look. “You’ve been here numerous times already. You finally notice the view out here or something?”
“That’s not why we’re here,” Chun said, attempting to play peacekeeper like many times before. “We’re double dating tonight, want to join?”
Both Chun and Jiro could see Calvin glimpsing at his watch.
“It’s Friday,” Chun said in a matter-of-fact tone. “You can’t be busy, right? Unless your boss is pulling that overtime thing over your team again.”
“Exactly,” Jiro continued. “That project with Vanessa’s old man should already be done. You don’t need to accompany her to different events anymore.” He did not forget to roll his eyes upon saying those words. “You can go put your stuffs in your room while I take care of some business with our favorite writer here.”
Calvin eyed both guys suspiciously. “What’s going on here?”
“It’s best that you don’t interfere with this one,” Jiro jumped in before Chun could explain. “And besides, I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you—if you ever decide to read it one day.”
Calvin had on his confused expression now. “What?”
“It’s about the ending of his book.”
“The new one, of course. Since I already read the others.”
“It’s only a book, why make a big deal over it?”
Jiro scoffed. “Sure. Easy for you to say since you don’t care about it anyway.”
It was a true statement. Calvin never liked reading romances—even if Chun was writing about such genre. Calvin always supported Chun by buying the books and having them signed. Yet he never touched it. The furthest he went was making sure the book was put away safe to show his respect for Chun’s work.
“Forget it, man,” Chun interfered once more. “I’ll discuss the matter with you later when we get home. We live under the same roof, right? If you talk any more, we won’t even have time for our date. Then the girls would definitely be mad at us.”
“They can spend all their time shopping together then,” Jiro snapped.
Chun shook his head. “Now you’re jealous that your girlfriend’s spending time with my girlfriend?”
“I don’t know why we introduce them in the first place. They spend more time with each other more than us.”
“Go change,” Chun urged, gesturing toward Calvin. “I meant into something more comfortable. We got half an hour before we have to go pick up the girls. He’s just being a drama king again. You know the usual.”
Calvin did not want to question both of their sanity anymore. Even if he did not want to go with them, he still needed to go check on Joanne. She was probably in her room—like she usually was these days after work. He suddenly wondered if she was caring enough to make dinner tonight or was he going to have to eat alone again. Just as he was heading inside and letting the screen door slammed behind him, he heard something that made him turned around to continue listening again. Chun was still laughing at Jiro while Jiro still displayed his aggressive expression.
“Do I have to lay everything out for you?” Chun asked, swinging his legs back and forth. He had been sitting on the banister. “You’re smart. Just imagine it yourself.”
“How in the world? You know how misleading your details are? I want to know for sure if Kelvin chose Jo or not.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Calvin asked, still standing at his spot by the screen door.
“We’re talking about the book,” Jiro clarified. “Just go change.”
Calvin was not convinced. “Then why are you mentioning my name and Qiao Qiao’s?”
“Kelvin and Josephine, not Calvin and Joanne. Though Chun said it was inspired by you guys.”
Calvin turned to Chun this time, knowing Jiro was not helping at all.
“I was just using some similar incidents to build the story up,” Chun said, sounding almost defensive. “Don’t worry. It’s fictional.”
“Is this why she has been acting strange?”
“Qiao Qiao, who else?”
“You mean how she’s overly nice to the point of being a saint?”
“No…like she’s getting ideas that…oh never mind.”
“What?” Both Chun and Jiro shouted at the same time.
“Why did you have to get ideas into her head?”
It was obvious that Calvin was looking at Chun.
“Like she isn’t madly in love with you already,” Jiro snapped. “What difference does it make? Besides, fictional, remember? Even I like the main character in the story more than you. I think Chun must have used some of his personality in there since the guy was less in denial than you.” Then as if remembering something, he turned to Chun again. “But I still can’t forgive you for such a lame ending.”
“Why are you guys all out here?” Joanne’s voice asked suddenly.
All three guys turned to look at her. She was smiling and holding something in her hand.
“It was about time you come home,” Jiro said, sounding almost like a parental figure. “What is that in your hand?”
“She just came home?” Calvin asked, turning to Jiro with a questioning look.
Jiro nodded. “You don’t know? She goes with some of her friends at work after work lately. It’s like a miracle to find her these days. That’s why Chun and I wanted to come and wait for her today. We had to try our luck, you know.”
“I have to tell you guys something,” Joanne interrupted them.
Calvin had moved out of her way, allowing her to enter the den to interact with the others. He felt almost left out.
“What do you have there?” Jiro repeated his question from seconds ago, reaching for the paper in her hand.
“It’s just my notes,” Joanne replied, not letting Jiro see it. She then turned so that she was able to address all three guys. “Big news, I’m moving out soon.”
“What?!” All three guys exclaimed at the same time. None of them was able to distinguish who yelled louder or who was the most shocked among the three.
“But why?” Jiro asked, the first one to find his voice after some silence resting among them all.
“Convenient for work, convenient for everyone,” Joanne replied casually, her smile apparent on her face.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? You guys always have to take turns driving me to work and picking me up. And we all have our own schedule. I can’t be so selfish and keep getting in your ways.”
“What are you talking about?” Chun and Jiro blurted out at the same time, more offended than ever. It was normal with Jiro since he was known as the ‘Drama King’ among them all. But Chun? It was rare to see him mad—or even offended.
“You’re our little princess,” Jiro said. “How can you be bothering us?”
“Princess,” Chun corrected Jiro.
“That’s what I said,” Jiro shot back, turning to Chun with an annoyed expression.
“You said ‘little’,” Chun pointed out. He knew how Joanne wanted to close the gap of age between all of them.
“Whatever,” Jiro snapped. “I’m sorry, okay?” He turned to Joanne with an intense expression on his face. “Are you treating us like a bunch of strangers here? What’s with the talk?” Then he glanced toward Calvin’s way. “Okay, even if you don’t want to be in this house anymore, you should move in with Chun and me.”
Calvin stepped forward, pushing the screen door opened once again, not wanting to miss out on the action. Though he had taken a step forward, he still did not speak up. He was waiting for Joanne’s clarification.
“It’s not about that,” Joanne said, her voice getting impatient. “I’m not just living at someplace by myself, don’t worry. I’m moving in with Lara from work. She said that we could share the rent together and it’s better living with girls, you know…”
“Lara couldn’t tie her shoes together,” Jiro blurted out. “You expect us to trust her with you?”
“It’s not like I don’t know how to take care of myself,” Joanne reminded them.
“Yeah, like last month when you were sick,” Chun inputted.
Joanne ignored Chun’s sarcasm on purpose. “If I don’t learn to do this, how could I ever grow up?”
“But…” Jiro attempted.
“It’s not like we never see each other again. We could still get together and do some things when we have time or…”
“We’re already seeing less and less of you nowadays.”
“I was just busy with arranging the whole thing with Lara and telling my parents about it.”
“They actually agreed?” Chun asked, standing up from his spot at last.
“It’s just because they don’t know Lara or the situation out here,” Jiro argued. “It was probably your persuasion skills that got to them. Or your positive words about this place that made them agree to it.”
“Guys, come on,” Joanne begged. “I know you guys care for me and you’re the best brothers that I could ever have but I really want to do this.”
“But…” Jiro uttered.
“Please,” Joanne pressed.
Chun and Jiro exchanged a look—as if attempting to regroup and send signals to each other. They knew they could not persuade her otherwise at that moment. It was her decision after all. And she sure looked determined. They did not want to hold her back—regardless of the reason. They turned toward Joanne and nodded—though with much reluctance on their faces.
“I’m going to pack,” Joanne announced, at last, her smile of gratitude showing on her face. She entered the house again, heading down the hall, her smile completely off.
Calvin followed her inside, grabbing hold of her shoulders and turning her around. “What are you doing?”
“What are you talking about?” Joanne asked. “I already told you guys why.”
“Are you still mad at me?”
“I told you guys that…”
“I know it’s not the real reason.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
She turned to go to her room, brushing his hands off her shoulders.
“Qiao Qiao!” Calvin tried again, grabbing her hands to stop her this time.
“I’m already confused, okay? Could you not make it harder for me? I don’t want to be your maid or your sister!”
“You shouldn’t be affected by what Vanessa said. She doesn’t know us. She didn’t even mean it either. It passed already. How could you still be bothered by it?”
“It’s not about Vanessa, okay?”
“What in the world are you guys doing now?” Jiro asked, walking toward them.
Both Calvin and Joanne turned to see Chun behind Jiro. They were still having a hold of each other’s hands. It was more like Calvin was maintaining his grip while Joanne was trying to free herself.
“He…” Joanne spoke up.
“I’m trying to tell her to stop her childish games,” Calvin jumped in.
“You’re the one not understanding,” Joanne shot back, freeing her hand at last—the extra energy possibly came from the anger building up.
“Qiao Qiao!” Calvin called after her, taking a step toward her room.
“Stop it,” Jiro said, grabbing hold of Calvin’s shoulder.
“Let’s talk outside,” Chun interfered.
Calvin knew it was two against one. He nodded, following the other two back out to the den.
“What are you trying to do here?” Jiro demanded as soon as they shut the wooden door and the screen door. “One minute, you’re trying to keep your distance. And the next minute, you’re practically declaring your love for her? Make up your mind before all of us go crazy!”
“Da Dong,” Chun jumped in. “Give him a break.”
“I’m the one needing the break here.”
“We shouldn’t force him to like anyone he doesn’t want to,” Chun reasoned.
“Come on now. If I keep pinning some girl on you, would you like that?”
“Then he shouldn’t send mixed signals to her.”
“He’s treating her like a brother treating his sister, like we do.”
Jiro turned to Chun. “You know we’re not really siblings, right? Let’s knock it off. Even if he thinks that way, people will misunderstand his overly protective nature as something else.”
“Maybe it’s for the best that she moves out then.”
“You’re siding with him now?”
“I’m just saying it’s best to let every one of us have a cool off time, don’t you think?” Though he was telling Jiro, he was looking at Calvin while saying that.
“I guess so,” Calvin said at last.
Jiro sighed out heavily. He knew it was decided. There was no point in beating a dead horse—though that horse had just recently passed away. “Let’s meet up with the girls then.”
Chun nodded. “And don’t bring that morbid face to see them.”
“I think I’m staying behind,” Calvin said.
Chun nodded again. “Don’t bother her for the time being.”
Calvin nodded, understanding how it had turned out earlier.
“You don’t need to tell him that,” Jiro said. “All he had been doing was not having a care about her.”
Chun gave Jiro a look.
Jiro shrugged and headed for the screen door, knowing he had enough.
© Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
Posted: Friday, November 5th, 2010