Blue sea, salty water, clear sky; three great combinations for canvas painting. Strokes after strokes filled the crisply and somewhat rouge paper. The wooden stand was placed directly on the sand. Joyce had wanted it that way. She wanted a perfect view. Having a clear vision of it with uninterrupted lapses would allow her creativity to lavish. The only rare few days of the year where she would be allowed to experience such a joyful mood and enjoy such a picturesque view. Because she just had to live at a planet where the sun only brightened to its max once a year. Its max for their planet’s record, of course. The gloomy atmosphere always robbing one of any types of possible uplifting moods. Not wanting to dwell on the day only arriving once a year–or having to return to stare at the dreadful atmosphere the following day, she brushed all the pessimistic feelings aside and concentrated on painting. Twenty more minutes and she was done. Not quite, she just needed to make sure one last time she didn’t miss a spot. But before Joyce could take a step back to inspect her new masterpiece, she heard some yelling from afar. Not too far, but since she was in her own world while she painted, it seemed like afar.

“Stop!” A mob bellowed about then.

It was getting closer. Joyce turned around from where she was standing and spotted a group of townspeople chasing after a girl. The girl was almost in rags. Her pitiful look was too much to ignore. Joyce leaped from her spot and raced toward the girl. The girl was being chased toward her direction anyway so it didn’t take much time to reach the commotion. As soon as Joyce slowed down several steps from the girl, the girl hid behind her. The group of people doing the chasing finally slowed down after recognizing Joyce.

“What’s going on?” Joyce questioned, staring at the townspeople one by one, searching for the answer.

“She’s a thief!” One of the enraged townspeople answered.

Joyce turned around to check on the pitiful girl–who was still clinging onto Joyce for protection. She didn’t want to jump to conclusions. So she turned back to face the angry mob. “What has she stolen?”

“She stole all our food,” One woman replied.

“And water,” Another man yelled out.

Joyce couldn’t help pitying the girl. She took another glance before turning to the mob again. “Whatever she takes, I’ll pay for it.”

“It’s not about repaying us,” One man blurted out. “It’s about having a thief roaming around our neighborhood. Who knows what she would do in the future?”

“I’ll make sure she won’t do that in the future.”

“We know you’re kind, but don’t let that pitiful look deceive you.”

“I’ll take all responsibilities if she repeats her actions in the future.”

Joyce noticed the reluctance from various faces in front of her. Yet she didn’t waver. She wanted to protect this poor soul who was probably just hungry. And thirsty.

“All right then,” A man spoke up for everyone. “But we won’t promise we would let her off that easily if we catch her again.”

Joyce nodded in acknowledgment as the crowd dispersed. She made sure they were gone for good before turning to the tethered girl.

“What’s your name?” Joyce asked, studying the girl’s face–and offering her a friendly smile.

“Claudia,” The girl said timidly, still showing some traces of fear.

“I’m Joyce.”

“I didn’t mean to steal from them…”

Joyce nodded, getting it. “I know.”

“I…”

Joyce shook her head then. “No need to explain. Let’s get you some change of clothes.”

With that, Joyce led the way back to her painting. She draped a cloth carefully over it before handing the painting to Claudia as she took to folding the wooden stand up and collecting her brushes and other utensils. Like Joyce promised, they headed to her house–which was a distance from the seaside. It was just that her house was hidden by some other houses so she needed to go directly to the sand area for a better view to paint. Her house, unlike some surrounding houses, was covered in woods–inside out, not covering up its wooden textures with some bland paint like other houses. Though the wooden walls were quite sparkly. Joyce must have kept it nice and clean to create such an effect.

“The bathroom’s down that way,” Joyce pointed out to Claudia after she already placed all her painting items in her studio. “Go ahead and I’ll bring you a change of clothes. I think we’re the same size.”

Claudia was still hesitant but Joyce ushered her toward the bathroom before going into her room to get a set of clothes for Claudia. And it took about half an hour or so before Claudia was finished with her shower. Joyce had entered and hung the change of clothes and some towels by the rack at one point. When Claudia was fresh and clean again, she stepped out of the room and was greeted with a fresh smell of bacon and eggs. And possibly some traces of pancakes making its way into being as well.

“Hey, just in time,” Joyce said with a smile as Claudia entered the kitchen. “I’m going to have an early lunch, want to join me?”

Claudia knew Joyce was trying to make up an excuse so Claudia wouldn’t feel awkward about intruding.

“So want to tell me what happened now or after we’re done eating?” Joyce questioned as she placed the last of the foods on the table.

“Um…” Claudia managed. “It’s a long story.”

“It seems like one,” Joyce teased. Though she could see Claudia’s uneasiness so she rolled out her friendly smile again. “I’m kidding. Don’t worry about it. If you’re not ready to tell me, then you don’t have to. But you have to stay here and recuperate for a while.”

Claudia looked down at her own petite frame, knowing Joyce was right. Though Joyce had said they were the same size, but even Joyce’s shirts were hanging quite loosely on her body. Given Joyce was already slim, Claudia knew she was in a worse condition, bordering on skeletal.

“Thanks,” Claudia said at last as Joyce ushered her into a chair at the table before settling down at a chair next over.

Joyce maintained her friendly smile. “Don’t mention it.”

They ate in silence for a while before Joyce checked her watch.

“You need to go somewhere?” Claudia asked, noticing Joyce’s anxiousness.

Joyce shook her head, though her smile was turning into one of those overly sweet ones. “My boyfriend’s coming over later.”

Understanding registered in for Claudia then. “I’ll…”

Joyce shook her head again. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take you to your room after we’re done eating. You can rest or if you want to meet my boyfriend, you can come out and I’ll introduce you to him.”

“I’ll just stay in my room,” Claudia said quickly, knowing Joyce was already being polite.

As promised, after their meal, Joyce took Claudia to a guest room. They had already cleared the table and washed up so Joyce didn’t need to do the tasks herself when she returned to the kitchen. She was just preparing some teas for later. And some biscuits. Just as she was done with setting both down on the coffee table, the doorbell rang. She smiled, knowing who the newly arrived guest was already.

“Hey, Nic,” Joyce greeted him with that overly sweet smile Claudia had witnessed before as she opened the door.

“You’re home already?” Nic asked, obviously surprised.

Joyce nodded. “I finished my painting early.”

“You seem to be in a good spirit.”

“I just found myself a new roommate.”

“Oh?”

“Come on in, I’ll tell you more inside.”

Nic still had on his puzzled look but he followed her to the living room anyway. He settled down at the sofa and watched as Joyce poured teas for them–and even distributed the biscuits.

“You just had breakfast?” Nic asked, detecting the subtle traces of bacon, eggs, and pancakes in the air.

Joyce nodded. “It was mostly for my roommate, but I had some.”

Nic had on his amused expression. “Breakfast at this time of the day?”

Joyce shrugged. “What? You and your technicalities.”

“It’s just weird to have breakfast at this time of the day, that’s all. It makes me wonder what types of roommate you’re allowing into your house this time around.”

Joyce reached a hand across the table to hit him then. “Stop being mean. She’s really nice.”

Nic didn’t mind the attack but just smiled. He took a sip out of his teacup before scanning the room again. Though he had been there numerous times before and had studied enough of its architectures. “So, does that mean we won’t have our private time from now on with your roommate here and all?”

“Come on now, it’s not like she’s some unreasonable being. In fact, I told her to stick around and meet you, but she said she has some things to do so she left for her room already.”

“She’s here now?”

Joyce replaced her teacup on the table before answering. “I think she’s taking a nap.”

Nic nodded, taking a biscuit from his plate.

“Oh, you know what? I’m going to show you the painting, wait here,” Joyce said after a while.

Nic didn’t wait. He followed her down the hallway to her studio. It was the room across from the guest room that Claudia had just occupied within the hour.

“So, what’s this new painting like?” Nic asked, stopping in front of the studio and staring at the various rooms within the hallway. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen them before. He was just curious about the new roommate.

“Here it is,” Joyce said, stepping out of the room with the painting covered in a piece of cloth. She hadn’t taken it off yet, wanting to conceal the surprise a little longer.

Nic turned and made his way back to the living room. As their footsteps came closer to the front of the house, they could hear a thudding sound–like a door closing–coming from the hallway. Joyce and Nic exchanged a look before turning to take a look.

“Is your roommate all right?” Nic asked, traces of worry shown on his face.

Joyce was pondering the same, but she didn’t want to reveal Claudia’s secret yet. Not when she hadn’t figured out what was going on in Claudia’s life. She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll check on her later.”

Nic shrugged. “All right then, let’s look at your masterpiece.”

Joyce gave him a look, knowing too well he was misbehaving again. Nic ignored–or had chosen not to understand–that look and reached for her painting instead. When he pulled the cloth off–instead of seeing a masterpiece of the sea view, he could only spot some smudges and blobs merging together.

“Oh no!” Joyce shouted, her irritation obvious. “I must have covered it too early.”

“You’re not that careless before, what happened earlier?”

Joyce still didn’t want to reveal her little secret. Or more like Claudia’s little secret. She shook her head and stared toward the promising weather outside. It was today or never, she thought. She returned her eyes to Nic’s face.

“How about we head out and recreate this painting? You’re not going anywhere, right?”

Nic checked his watch and shook his head. “Let’s go, the only day of the year, right?”

Joyce nodded in affirmation. “I’ll go get my supplies.”

Nic nodded and waited in the living room. He would help her carry the items later.

After Joyce finished collecting all the necessary items for the trip, she stopped in front of Claudia’s room and pondered about matters. Placing her tools down, she stuck her head in Claudia’s room to do a brief check. She was able to see Claudia fast asleep on the bed, so she stepped back out and closed the door as gently as she could.

“All right, let’s go,” She said to Nic as she joined him in the living room again.

Nic smiled and took the tools from her, only letting her carry the paper cardboard that would soon be a new painting when they returned. It was not until after the door clicked shut and their voices faded farther and farther away that Claudia crawled out from the bed and ran toward the door. She made sure to keep herself hidden as she watched Nic and Joyce’s disappearing back heading toward the seashore. Not trusting herself, she scrambled back to her new room, locking the door behind her and breaking down into tears as her back slammed against the door. Her body soon slumped to the floor as memories came back into her head of the past incident.

Yes, she was the Claudia who had lost a friend just several months ago and had to flee elsewhere for safety, knowing she could never fight against those three murderers. Feeling like she finally caught a break to encounter such a nice girl, she had unknowingly fallen into another trap. This time, if she wasn’t careful, she would be taken care of right away. She was sure the other two conspirators were still nearby. Because Nic, Joyce’s boyfriend, was the Nic whom she and Cyndi had encountered months back thus leading to Cyndi’s fate in the end.

© Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Posted: Saturday, October 6th, 2012

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