Joyce was looking at some old paintings the next morning in her studio. One of them was a portrait of her and Nic. She had painted it carefully and had wanted it to be part of a surprise one day. But now? After what she found out yesterday afternoon, she felt more than foolish of her previous actions. It was like a slap in the face. Even if she wasn’t in fear for her life of what those three were capable of, she still felt shattered because of the betrayal. How could she not detect those fake signs in the past? Before she knew it, tears had flowed down and onto the paper. She didn’t care to rush to do damage control like in the past when she accidentally got water on the paintings. She had no purpose to perfect this particular painting for.

“Breakfast!” Claudia’s cheerful voice broke through the atmosphere.

Joyce quickly rolled up the portrait and wiped her tears before turning to Claudia. Claudia didn’t make a move last night. Claudia didn’t trust Joyce’s words at first. Not until she overheard Nic and Joyce’s conversation. She thought Joyce was up to something. Joyce didn’t blame her. And was glad Claudia was still around. At least they would try to move forth as cautiously as possible. Maybe they could somehow find some evidence to bring the guys in for what they did. If that was the truth.

“Hey,” Joyce said. “I’ll be out right away.”

Claudia smiled and nodded.

“There’s another traditional festival coming up next month,” Joyce said when they sat down at the table for breakfast. “Want to use that chance to move around a bit? I mean you could get some fresh air and maybe we could go spy around while most of the citizens are at city hall for the gathering.”

“Might be a bad idea,” Claudia mumbled, tensing up even more. She was thinking about the last traditional festival. “We don’t know what they’re up to again.”

“Come on,” Joyce urged. “Don’t be so discouraged. He bought my story and didn’t kill me yet, right?” Though Joyce tried to take it easy, she could almost feel the stab from within. His words came back to her. “He probably needed me for a shield so he kept me around for now. Since Wallace and Tony didn’t see me anyway.”

“Can you remember what they were talking about? I mean if they had mentioned their plan this time?”

Joyce shook her head. “I think I only caught some of their words in the middle. I don’t know what they’re planning, but from Wallace’s words, Nic’s going to leave after that.”

“We can’t let them leave.”

Joyce nodded. “I know.”

“But we can’t fight against them either. I mean…we have to be really careful.”

Joyce nodded again, too automatic and not to mention mechanical. “We’ll figure out something. Don’t worry.”

Claudia could sense something was wrong with Joyce. So she let their conversation died and replaced by a heavy silence as they continued their breakfast.

*****

Several days before the traditional festival, Nic brought Joyce out to the seaside with him. At nighttime. He made her wear a white cloth over her eyes first. She was feeling quite nerve-racking about it. Yet she was already prepared for the worst. In fact, every time she left the house, it was already a routine that Claudia was prepared to flee if anything happened. So when Nic came over that night, Joyce had made sure to make enough commotion around the house to signal Claudia to stay alert.

“Can I take the cloth off yet?” Joyce asked for the umpteenth time, her excitement increasing from the tone of her voice. Yet only she knew it was just anxiousness from not knowing what lay ahead. Was Nic changing his mind about keeping things under wraps and decided to get rid of her first?

“You’re quite impatient, you know that?” Nic teased, still holding onto her hand and guiding her.

“Well, you’re the one acting all mysterious for no reason.” Her voice was still leveled as she chided him.

“Here we are,” Nic said a minute later.

Joyce reached up to pull her cloth off, but Nic beat her to it. As she blinked and tried to adjust her eyes, she could see a blurry set of lights hitting her vision line. But it was impossible there was this much light at this time of night. And where she lived, light was even rarer. Only the main roads and crowded areas of the town had that much light. Joyce closed her eyes tight and tried to focus before opening her eyes again. The lights were still there. As her vision cleared, she could see that the lights were actually red candles. They were arranged in a heart-shaped along with some yellow candles inside forming both their names. She recognized it from the TV programs she managed to catch once in a while. The difference was the names were usually formed with sand.

“Nic…” Joyce uttered, lost for words.

“Like it?” Nic asked, smiling over at her.

Joyce still couldn’t understand all of it. How could he go through so much trouble when he would soon leave her? And that he had been using her as a shield all along? Or were these often done on Earth as a masquerade to complete the act? She wasn’t sure. She was no longer sure of anything. She only knew that her sole purpose now was to track them down and find some proofs of their past misdeeds–whether they had committed those crimes or not.

“Well?” Nic prompted, still waiting for her answer.

Joyce forced herself to concentrate on the current moment. If she as much as let on something was wrong, there would be no telling what he could do. “Why, Nic? Why?”

“Because I love you.”

Tears had formed on Joyce’s face. Whether it was frustration that she was being bought over by his words or how she knew it was all a joke, she no longer could tell. But Nic took that as her being touched by his words so he hugged her to him.

They stayed at the seaside until quite late. He was really prepared. He had cleaned up a boulder nearby, allowing them to sit there and just stare at the red hearts until whenever they decided to go home.

© Monday, October 8th, 2012

Posted: Monday, October 15th, 2012

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