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Prologue

Seagulls were flying off a distance toward the horizon. Breezes were blowing softly by. Sounds of activities heightened up everywhere around them. Yet there was a girl around 12 years old in braids sitting silently and comfortably at the edge of the shore, playing with the sands below her. Her smile so carefree and her enthusiasm so contagious. A group of guys around 20 years of age were standing nearby with their surfboards by their sides. They were waiting for the right opportunity. Volleyball was over and it was time for them to hit the waves. But why were they still standing there? It was not like the area was that crowded. They had chosen a good spot. What were they waiting for?
“What will the bet be this time?” The guy in blue asked, reaching a hand up to push his bangs aside.
“Five days worth of chores,” The guy in black rattled out, his expression matching his mischievous tone.
“How about a meal?” The guy in red – who was standing in between the other two guys – spoke up. “That way, anyone who loses won’t be tortured for long.”
“Too easy,” The guy in black argued. He turned to face the guy in red, but looked past him to a spot behind them. “Who loses will have to give Qiao Qiao a piggy back ride!”
The girl in braids had been occupied with her sand castle making task. But upon hearing the guy in black’s declaration, she looked up at them with a quizzical expression on her face. Seeing her innocent stare, the guy in black dropped his surfboard and came to her side.
“Missy, could you please take your castle somewhere else so we could surf?” The guy in black asked, gesturing toward the half finished sand castle resting at their feet.
The girl in braids took a glance out at the sea before turning back to the guy in black once more. “The wave’s out there. Why do I need to move?”
“Because he’ll be washed up to the shore after he falls off his board,” The guy in blue answered, walking over to them – his board still in his hands. “That’s why you need to clear the way.”
The guy in black turned around to the guy in blue, pointing at him with an accusing hand. “Do I need your opinion, Back-stabber?”
“Would you guys knock it off already?” The guy in red asked, joining them at the spot next to the sand castle. “Stop bugging Qiao Qiao and let’s get this going.”
“Ooh, defensive, aren’t we?” The guy in black mocked. “All right. Let’s go. Last one in is a loser!”
“That’s cheating!” The guy in blue yelled out, chasing after the guy in black.
The guy in red ignored his two companions and turned back to the little girl in braids. “Don’t mind them. You know how they are.”
The girl in braids finally let out a smile, nodding her head.
“I’m going, okay?”
The girl nodded again, watching the guy in red disappeared into the water with his two friends. She stared at them a bit more before returning to her sand castle. However, she did not have to wait long to know the result of the race. She raised her head up seconds later upon hearing the three guys’ outcry. She held her breath upon seeing the friendly waves turning into a vicious monster. The guys were so far out. She jumped up from her place and looked around for the others. But before she was able to call out for help, she heard some loud sounds behind her. She turned in time to dodge out of the way since the guys had been pushed back into shore.
“Are you all right?” She asked, rushing to the guy in red’s side, helping him up.
The guy nodded, wiping his face to get rid of the sand surrounding it.
“Why aren’t you asking about us?” The guy in black asked, finally getting up.
The girl looked over to the guy in blue to see that he was all right as well. He was brushing sand off himself at that moment.
“It was Chun’s fault!” The guy in black blurted out as he was getting up.
“Why was it my fault?” The guy in blue exclaimed, turning to the guy in black for an explanation.
“You jinx us with your mouth,” The guy in black answered back, his voice on the edge of irritation. “The weather was still good before but then you had to open your mouth and…”
“Quit arguing, guys,” The guy in red interfered. Then he turned his attention toward the water again. “Let’s see how we’re going to retrieve our boards now.”
“It’s done for,” The guy in black said, pushing aside a piece of wet hair sticking to his face.
“We still have to try,” The guy in red continued.
“Let’s wait,” Chun said, walking over to them. “We don’t know if it’s going to…”
“Shut your rotten luck mouth already,” The guy in black jumped in.
“Come on now,” The guy in red jumped in once again to play the role of a peacekeeper. “Let’s…”
“What?” The guy in black asked, turning to his friend. Then he could see it as well. “Our princess’ castle got knocked down.”
“It’s all right,” The girl spoke up again – after the initial question of concern for the guy in red.
“Chun jinxed you, so we have to fix it for you,” The guy in black said. “Right, Ah Ru?” Though he sounded sincere but his mischievous expression said otherwise.
“You must be kidding us big time, Da Dong,” Chun said, shielding the sunlight with his right hand as he walked over to stand on the guy in black’s left. “Us building a castle?”
“We got to repair the damage,” Jiro said in an as a matter of fact tone. “We have to compensate for our wrongs. At least your wrong, Chun. You and your jinxes.”
“Will you let it go already?” Chun asked, sounding almost whiny. “Like I want it to happen.”
“Say goodbye to our brand new boards,” Jiro continued in a morbid tone.
“We’ll wait for a few more minutes to see what happens,” Calvin said, his tone still positive.
“What are we doing now then?” Chun asked.
“Grab ourselves something to drink and watch the waves for a bit,” Jiro replied casually. “What else?”
“You mean you didn’t have enough to drink?” Chun teased, his smile matching his words.
“Shut up, man,” Jiro lashed out, his voice irritated once again.
“Qiao Qiao!” Someone yelled from a small tent a distance from them.
The girl in braids turned back to the tent and ran toward that direction.
“Come on, guys,” Calvin said to his two friends.
“What?” Chun and Jiro asked at the same time.
Calvin settled down onto the sand, making himself comfortable. Chun and Jiro watched in silence as Calvin placed a plastic board below an empty space before spreading some sands onto it.
“I was kidding,” Jiro blurted out, not believing that Calvin was really rebuilding the castle for Joanne.
“We did wreck it, didn’t we?” Calvin asked back, his hand working rapidly away.
Chun looked at the ruined castle a distance from them. He had some sense of resentment in his eyes. Then he dropped down at a space next to Calvin, helping him. Jiro sighed out, not realizing that his little joke would turn real.
Fifteen minutes later, Joanne came back to see all three guys sitting not far from her previous spot. She stared in amazement as she discovered the sand structure in front of her.
“What are you guys doing?” Joanne asked – though the shapes were distinguishable, dropping down on the sand but maintaining a safe distance from the structure.
“Your future home,” Jiro joked, pointing at the structure in front of them all.
Joanne studied it with fascination as they continued with the task. Her smile widen as the guys continued on. “You guys are awesome!”
“I know,” Jiro said, receiving the compliment in full without flinching.
“You know what’s the best part about this?” Chun asked, turning to her with a sincere smile.
“What?” Joanne asked, her curiosity increased.
“Ah Ru told us to make it for you!” Jiro shouted out a little too loud though Calvin was right next to him.
“What?!” Calvin exclaimed, snapping out of his trance – since he was so focused in his work that he had not paid enough attention to the guys’ previous words.
“Watch it!” Chun yelled out, extending his left hand out to stop Calvin’s hand from applying too much force and ruining their masterpiece.
“I want to keep it then!” Joanne exclaimed with much excitement about the same time as Chun’s outcry.
“We’re three steps ahead of you, girl,” Jiro reassured Joanne. “Watch.”
Joanne observed carefully as Jiro pointed to what seemed to be a board holding the sand structure in place.
“We’re going to place a glass case over it later when we’re done,” Chun continued. “So you can take it home and keep it! Neat?”
Joanne nodded gleefully and sat back to observe the guys again.
“Hey, I didn’t say that we’re creating it especially for her,” Calvin jumped in – a minute too late to clarify of the matter. “We’re just compensating for the one we knocked down earlier.”
“It’s okay, Ah Ru,” Jiro said. “We know you’re all heart. Don’t have to be shy, right, Chun?”
Chun nodded in agreement.
“It’s not funny,” Calvin warned them.
“We’re doing it with all our sincerity,” Jiro said – though his smile said otherwise. “We’re not joking.”
Chun reached for his tool and began to decorate the exterior part of the structure while the others continued to sort it out. He spoke up again after Calvin managed to throw in some more words to disarm Jiro. “Besides, it’s not like it wasn’t your design.”
Calvin did not care to argue with the guys anymore, knowing they would never stop. Joanne, on the other hand, finally realized the familiar design. It was his. He drew it for his final project. Joanne observed the structure, tracing each detail meticulously with her eyes. She then directed her attention to all three guys. They looked so intense. It was like they were competing for some kind of competition and the prize was a word of acknowledgment of their accomplishment. The littlest details were being etched into it.
“Are you guys really going to give this to me afterward?” Joanne asked, her voice full of doubt.
“Yup,” Jiro replied, his attention still on the current task. “In fact, it’s Ah Ru’s wedding gift to you.”
Calvin’s head snapped up at that time, his left hand slapping Jiro’s shoulder.
“Hey! What was that for?”
“Stop spouting nonsense. And stop scaring her.”
“Does she look scared to you?”
As if on cue, both Calvin and Chun turned their heads toward Joanne’s direction. All they were able to spot was a smile on her face. Not exactly a smile. Possibly a sign of unexplainable happiness.
“Don’t listen to him,” Calvin rattled out, gesturing his hands – as if trying to find the correct words for the explanation. “You know how he is.”
“And he’s going to be mad if you wreck it,” Jiro jumped in. “Since we did spend a lot of effort building it!”
“I have to agree with Da Dong on this one,” Chun spoke up again. “Stop your waving hand already, Ah Ru.”
“What I’m trying to say is, stop messing with the kid,” Calvin said, trying to justify himself.
“Kid?” Chun and Jiro said at the same time, turning their attention to Calvin this time – since they had turned back to their task after observing Joanne earlier.
“She’s 12, not 2,” Jiro reminded Calvin of Joanne’s age.
“That’s right,” Chun seconded, pointing to Joanne. Then he realized that Joanne’s bright smile had faded – possibly along with Calvin’s words. “Now look what you’ve done. You’ve made her sad.”
Calvin and Jiro turned to look at Joanne once again. Joanne began to play with her braids – as if nervous by the guys’ accusing stares all of a sudden. Calvin pretended not to notice and returned to put the finishing touch on his side of the design.
“Someone’s cold all right,” Jiro mocked. “Don’t worry, this will still be your wedding gift. Cheer up.” He used his right hand to shield himself from Calvin’s stare. “I said it’s her wedding gift, didn’t say you’re marrying her. There’s a difference. Unless…you want to.”
“She’s a kid, okay?” Calvin said, his hostility rising.
Jiro sighed out. “We’re not getting anywhere with this.”
“Let’s finish this and get out there to retrieve our boards, okay?”
“Forget it already, man. It either washed out to sea already or sank to the bottom or got slashed up even.” He paused and licked his lips – as if to catch his breath. “You’re so dead, Chun.”
“What do you want me to do then?” Chun asked. “Buy you guys new boards?”
“You said it.”
“We went out there on our own,” Calvin said. “No one forced us. So why are we making him pay?”
“He was jinxing us. I already said that like half an hour or more back. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“He was too busy in making this house of love for Qiao Qiao that he forgot,” Chun commented casually.
“Would you guys knock it off already?” Calvin repeated his familiar phrase, his voice still containing the same irritation every time the others associated his name with Joanne’s.
“Hey, we’re just kidding,” Jiro said. “Besides, Qiao Qiao doesn’t mind, right…? Where did she go?”
Calvin and Chun looked up from their work once more and directed their eyes toward the spot Joanne occupied minutes ago. Jiro scanned the beach’s perimeter and completed the inspection a minute later but still no signs of Joanne. All three guys then realized that even the tent was gone.
“She’s mad at us, right?” Jiro asked, turning to his companions again.
Chun shook his head. “Nah, she’s not that petty.”
“Then where did she go? And why didn’t she tell us?”
“Probably her parents packed up and left and she didn’t want to interrupt our conversation so…she left.”
“Yeah…right.”
“Let’s just finish this and bring it to her house to surprise her.”
Jiro nodded, putting the finishing touch to his side.
Five more minutes later, the guys were finally done. They made sure to let the structure settle before placing a glass case they’d found over it.
“Ready?” Jiro asked his friends, wearing a victory smile on his face.
“Definitely,” Chun answered.
“I’ll carry it,” Calvin volunteered.
“Good idea,” Jiro said. “You’re more cautious. And…wouldn’t want to ruin the gift for your bride.”
“Stop messing with him already,” Chun interfered. “Let’s clean up and get out of here. The sun’s setting soon.”
“You carry the tent, I’ll carry the chairs,” Jiro said, gesturing toward their spot.
“Fine.”
Though they seemed to rush each other, but they had to spend a good ten minute in taking the tent down and placing it into its original bag. Chun even had to carry the tools box they used to decorate the sand structure earlier. They let Calvin go first since they did not want to get in his way.
“Say…” Jiro spoke up again when they made their way down the path leading to the parking lot.
“What?” Chun asked, continuing with his even steps.
“If Qiao Qiao wasn’t a kid, would you marry her?”
“Me?”
Jiro nodded, his smile mischievous.
“She’s cute but…”
“What? Are you saying she’s not good enough for you? She’s the prettiest girl in town! Come on now. Think about it.” Though Jiro was urging Chun on but he was staring at Calvin with radar eyes at that moment.
Chun seemed to catch on to Jiro’s scheme. He let out a chuckle. “I guess you’re right. You can’t turn such a sweet girl down. So if she was my age, I wouldn’t mind.”
“What about you, Ah Ru?” Jiro jumped at the planned opportunity.
“Why would I want to marry now?” Calvin replied in an as a matter of fact tone. “I just graduated and wouldn’t want to get marry without venturing around in the real world first.”
Jiro shook his head. “It doesn’t have to be now. It could be in the future.”
Calvin wrinkled his face – as if pondering about matters. “Well…”
Jiro’s eyes brightened. “Well?”
Chun’s smile grew wider also.
“She is a nice girl,” Jiro baited again, his tone too encouraging – though there was an apparent sense of mischief within his words.
“I guess I would consider it…” Calvin finally said.
“YES!” Jiro exclaimed. He forgot that he had been holding chairs and ended up raising them a bit too high for comfort. He brought them back down to level again before turning to Chun. “You owe me a new board, Chun!”
“What are you guys up to?” Calvin asked, knowing that he had fallen for their trap.
“He’s still sore over his lost surfboard,” Chun explained, tilting his head toward Jiro’s direction.
“Correction, we set up the bet while we were folding the tent up,” Jiro elaborated.
“And betting on my answer is the ticket to your new board?” Calvin asked, outraged. “That’s how much our friendship is worth?”
Jiro holstered the chairs to his right hand before placing his left hand on Calvin’s left shoulder. “Come on now, man. We’re just kidding. No hard feelings, right?”
“That’s right,” Chun chimed in. “The most important thing is Qiao Qiao isn’t here so she didn’t hear your admittance. That also means that you won’t have to explain your way out of it later, right?”
“You said it all, man,” Jiro continued in his cheerful tone, returning to carrying the chairs with both hands instead of one like before. Then he turned to Chun – who was walking on his right. “You want to head to my house for some pool later?”
Chun nodded. “Sure.”
“I’m here too,” Calvin interrupted them, sounding almost wounded that he was ignored by both guys.
Jiro turned to Calvin again, shaking his head. “Sorry, man. But you’re delivering the gift alone. After the answer you gave us, we couldn’t rob you of the chance to score points with Qiao Qiao.”
Chun clapped Jiro on the shoulder as a sign of support. “Totally.”
“You just said it was a ‘what if’, not…” Calvin protested.
“Come on now,” Jiro cut him off. “Who are you kidding, man?”
Calvin looked at Chun before speaking up again. “He admitted that he would consider her too, it wasn’t just me.”
“My answer doesn’t count!” Chun rattled out quickly.
“I just told you she’s not here,” Jiro reminded Calvin. “So no need to clarify anything. As long as I win, I’m happy.”
“You’ll pay back in pool,” Chun shot back.
Jiro smiled casually – showing signs that he was not afraid of Chun. “We’ll see.”
The three guys continued to walk and talk, making their way toward their car. They had no idea that there was a girl standing not far behind them, staring at their disappearing backs in the setting sun. More specifically, she was hidden behind a tree, smiling and observing Calvin’s every move while playing with her braids.
© Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
Posted: Friday, September 24th, 2010

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