Two months later, Joyce was seen within the cells that locked up her once attempted murderers. Yet this time, she was visiting one of them. Calvin had succeeded in persuading Joyce to convince Nic in confessing hence also gotten permission to bring Joyce inside this maximum secured prison. Calvin and a guard had stayed outside while Joyce talked to Nic. They knew she was in no state of harm since Wallace and Tony were already stripped of all possible harmful weapons since the day they were arrested and tossed in there. And they were too far away to affect Nic and Joyce.

“You’re looking healthy again,” Nic commented as he studied Joyce’s condition from the other side of the bars.

Joyce nodded, smiling a weak smile. It wasn’t because of her health. It was what she was about to do. “Nic, I want to ask you a favor.”

“Ha! Here it comes now!” Tony drawled out sarcastically from one of the middle cells. “What did I tell you? That Calvin wouldn’t be so nice to let you see that alien.”

“You shut up!” Nic returned. “Don’t you call her that!”

“What? It’s not the truth?”

“You’re the idiot here,” Wallace said in a calm manner, still playing it cool. “You’re insulting me too, you know.”

Tony finally shut it, but his face still reflected traces of anger boiling on the horizon. It was then that Nic turned back to look at Joyce.

“What is it?” Nic asked, knowing too well what was coming. He was not that clueless. But he wanted to hear it from Joyce.

“Cooperate with them,” Joyce said, grabbing onto his hands.

Nic waited for the betrayed feeling to settle in–just like how she had looked when she realized he wanted to sacrifice her that one night. Yet it didn’t settle in. Or had he deserved this betrayal more than anything?

“Calvin told me your sentence could be reduced,” Joyce continued on. “You have to take this chance while they’re still offering it.”

“Why?”

Joyce’s eyes were brimming with tears by now, knowing how she must have appeared to him. “I know what sentences you would be facing if you admit your own guilt and participation in all these, but you know what?”

Nic stayed silent, tightening his grip on her hands.

“You won’t be executed like what would happen if you’re still on my planet. You still have a chance to start over. It doesn’t matter how slim your chance is, you still have a chance. I promise you I will wait for you until the day you’re released. Even if you’re not going to be released…” Joyce paused and tried to regain herself because she had been sobbing all the while saying all those words to Nic. “I will get Calvin to help me so I could visit you for the rest of our lives.”

Nic finally understood. Joyce wasn’t plotting all these years to bring him to justice. Her silence had been masked for her internal battle. What happened in the woods said it all that she still cared for him deeply. But the conflict of betraying another fellow citizen on her own planet was too much, considering how she had silently chosen him. Despite all the harm he had caused her and others around him. It was not an easy path to trample upon, especially outsiders who would never understand their story–and would eventually brush it off as a foolish, blind girl not knowing right from wrong.

After much wonderment, Nic pulled himself out of his own thoughts. He shook his head and attempted to wipe the tears from Joyce’s face. “No, even if I’m sentenced for life, you have to return to Xerphora. You have a whole life ahead of you. You don’t need to stay here and burden yourself by waiting for a person like me.”

It was Joyce’s turn to shake her head this time, grabbing onto his hand again. “I can’t. I can’t leave you here all alone.” She paused to pull herself together again. “Besides, I’m better off here anyway. Didn’t you promise me to bring me here so I could paint all the wonderful sceneries of this world?”

“You have to return so you could forget me and start a new life,” Nic persisted his answer. “I don’t deserve it.”

Joyce shook her head again. “It’s too late for it now. No one would go near me for the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter how many people I helped in the past, you should know it’s not the same there.”

As if a fog had lifted from his mind, other pieces of the puzzle fell into place for Nic. When words traveled around regarding what happened, Joyce would only have to face humiliation and finger-pointing and the name callings from the public for a short span of time–if she were here on Earth. But if she returned to Xerpora, it was another story. She would be condemned for life. She would be branded with an invisible symbol of betrayal for the rest of her life. A betrayal against her own kind because she had chosen to forgive and aid a being who had not only harm but had killed one of her own kind.

“It was all my fault,” Nic croaked out, feeling his throat thick of guilt. “I shouldn’t have brought you here. I should have just left you somewhere safe so you could start over.”

“You brought me along because you know Wallace would eventually find out, right?” Joyce inquired, her tears had subsided for the moment.

Though that was true, Nic knew he can’t let Joyce wait for him and waste her youth away like that. “Even if you’re staying here, our population is still at large. You’re smart and outgoing, you’ll be able to adapt in no time. Then you could find someone who would take good care of you instead of…”

Joyce shook her head more fiercely this time. “No, I chose you.”

“God, end it already,” Tony jumped in again. He had enough. In fact, he’d already given himself so much credit for withstanding the whole mushy exchanges without gagging yet.

But Wallace didn’t back Tony up this time. He was deep in thoughts. Or more like he was thinking about Joyce’s words. Not that he had suddenly grown a heart and repented of his past misdeeds. He was thinking about how he was facing an execution regardless. His best shot was life imprisonment on Earth versus automatic execution on Xerphora. Not to mention after their recent escape as well. If assaulting one of the agents hadn’t added onto his already trying sentence. Wasn’t that why he wanted to take the chance on Earth in the first place? Well, at that time, he had wanted to fake defeat to try his luck on Earth. But now that the escape plan had already failed, what more could he hope for?

“I’m confessing,” Wallace said suddenly–though no one asked him.

“What?” Tony yelled out, beyond shocked. “You can’t!”

“The best shot I have is life imprisonment at this point,” Wallace voiced his thoughts previously. “I’m thinking of taking it.” For some reason, he stared straight at Joyce. “I’m so glad we didn’t kill you yet. You just reminded me of the worst on our home planet.”

No one took it into their hands to remind Wallace that it was Nic who had skillfully tricked both Wallace and Tony into thinking Joyce was already dead–thus allowing her to survive this long in the first place. Tony was busy still arguing with Wallace while Nic was reconsidering what Joyce had said. He hadn’t given up on convincing Joyce to move on with her life yet.

“He’s confessing, how about you?” Joyce asked, tugging on Nic’s hand to get his attention.

And Nic found his new strategy. “Only if you promise to move on with your life and forget about me.”

Joyce still shook her head in determination. “No deal.”

“Then no deal as well.”

“Oh come on,” Wallace interrupted them. “If you agree to confess, we’ll join forces to pin it on him. We’ll both get lesser sentences. It’s a win-win, right?”

Joyce shook her head then, still staring at Nic. “You can’t join forces with him. If he’s out, imagine how many more people will get hurt.”

Nic knew that without Joyce telling him. But Tony didn’t know that. He was no longer acting “smart” like previously. He ended up starting another fight with Wallace while Nic continued to drift in his mind.

“He could twist it around and pin it on us if you still choose to stay quiet,” Joyce reminded Nic as she took a glimpse in the other cells’ direction.

Nic couldn’t let that happen. His reason for sacrificing his freedom in the first place was to protect Joyce. If Joyce got dragged in, wouldn’t all his efforts be in vain? He nodded, at last, agreeing to her plea. A relief expression had formed on Joyce’s face.

*****

The confessions came in shortly after Joyce visited Nic. Between the three of them, Tony was keeping it shut with the details while still turning against Wallace by stating that Wallace was lying about everything. As for Nic, he had recounted all of what he had done these past years, including joining forces with Tony to build the said weapon of mass destruction thus seeking Wallace’s help in getting some much-needed components for the operations to work. From his statements, they knew for sure he’d killed Cyndi–and disproved the theory that Cyndi could possibly still be alive. His participation in killing Cyndi was only a fraction of the mass killings these past years, but he had also disclosed about Wallace’s bragging about offing someone named Heather in the past. That had matched up with Wallace’s own confession. But no one could prove or disprove Tony’s murdering of a guy named Bryan in the past. And no one could verify the number of deaths the other two were responsible for in their haste to gain all the richness for themselves. The mess had escalated so high that it was hard to distinguish all the details from one another. Yet they had to approach it one by one, sending out different teams to follow up on different records and databases according to what of the limited information they had on hand.

After months of investigation, they managed to sort it all out at last. Among the three of them, Nic received the lowest sentence of all. He got moved to a regular prison instead of suffering through more severe punishment like Wallace and Tony–and needed to be sealed up in that highly maximum secured prison like before. That also meant that Nic was allowed to have visitors from time to time. There was a routine Joyce had to follow just like any other citizens on Earth each time she went in for a visit, which was signing her name on a sheet of paper and going through security. Aside from visiting Nic, Joyce had been adapting to life on Earth. Considering her vast knowledge from the usual TV programs already, she was able to grasp all the concepts faster than she had thought possible. She surrounded her life with arts and paintings as she usually would if she were still on Xerphora. However, her advantage this time was having a view of four seasons and an extended variety of themes to explore and challenge. But all the while, she never stopped marking her calendar day by day, waiting until the moment she would be reunited with Nic again. To start their new life together.

© Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Posted: Saturday, June 13th, 2015

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