Several days later, Debra took Angela, Will, and Sandrine out to the market for a grocery shopping trip. Though their area had some shops too–especially how Debra was running her own family shop, the shops surrounding their areas were only of services and other types of products. Only the market had fresh grocery items.

“So, what do you think of our town?” Debra asked as they were halfway through the market.

Somehow, Debra seemed to know every one of the owners with each stall that they stopped at to buy a certain item. They barely had time to ask her about it since she was seen at another stall soon after they emerged from one. But now Debra seemed to be on a break hence allowing some sort of conversation with her.

“It’s friendly,” Angela provided the answer lamely.

The reason for her unnecessary response was because they all knew their top code on the planet was to maintain a peaceful attitude at all times. Even if there were different circumstances, such as the murders to which Debra had spoken about the day they arrived, but those rarely occurred, which allowed them to rest assured.

“Well, yeah,” Debra said, trying hard to suppress from making fun of Angela.

Angela shrugged. “It’s too early to tell.”

“You’re as skeptical as those earthlings.”

Though that was supposed to be a joke, Debra had spoken too loud thus drawing some attention from some others who were doing their grocery shopping as well. Or other stalls owners. Angela’s face had also gone pale–or at least seemed uneasy. They all knew Debra loved to joke these past days, almost as bad as Wallace. But she was stretching it too far. It had become an insult. It was an equal type of comment if the earthlings were to call them aliens. They had no issues with earthlings, but such comparisons could mean a doubt in their heritage and their identity.

“What’s wrong?” Debra asked, turning around to face them when she didn’t hear any response from them.

Angela, Will, and Sandrine did an in-sync motion of shaking their heads. “Nothing.”

Debra turned to face front again, still walking and talking like “nothing” was seriously going on.

“So, what are you three going to do after you’re settled in?” Debra asked after they finished getting groceries at another stall.

“Um…” Angela stuttered. “Actually, we’re not quite sure yet. We’re actually developing our band right now, so we’ll probably just get some side jobs to make sure we’re good in the financials.”

“Oh?” Debra finally showed some traces of interest on her face. “A band? Don’t tell me you’re expecting to survive on that type of goal.”

Or were they just imagining about Debra’s slight interest seconds ago before she delivered the final blow?

“It’s something at this point,” Angela said weakly, shrugging again.

Will and Sandrine were the ones exchanging a look this time around. It was like they were in some secret agreement that their friend got kidnapped–or something.

“Cute guy alert,” Debra blurted out as she turned to look at them again.

Will rolled his eyes. He had on the look that said: “I’m here too, you know.” But he didn’t speak up. Angela and Sandrine darted their eyes around the market to check on what Debra meant. It was too hard to tell with this crowd.

“No, over there by Stan’s stall,” Debra said, even pointed with her finger.

They saw a guy in casual attires giving some coins to the stall owner whom Debra just called Stan. The supposedly “cute” guy that Debra dubbed was heading toward their direction. More like he was making his way through the market and was just coincidentally coming toward them. Not like he was acknowledging their existence or anything. He was just doing his routine grocery shopping trip. And he would have passed them by if Debra didn’t interfere.

“Hey, are you new?” Debra asked as she tapped on his shoulder to get his attention.

The guy seemed surprised with Debra’s sudden contact on his shoulder at first. But he did a quick scan of their faces before smiling and nodding. “Calvin, you are?”

He had extended out his hand for them to shake–like a typical earthling tradition they often spotted on TV. For some reason, Angela’s eyes automatically moved toward his ears. No pointy, long ears.

“Angela,” Angela rattled out, grabbing his hand quickly–and perfected the handshake without needing anyone to explain the tradition to her.

Will and Sandrine followed suit before Debra could have a say about the whole thing. It seemed kind of ironic that Debra was actually on the out with this one, considering how she had initiated the contact in the first place.

“Are you visiting or staying for good?” Will asked out of curiosity.

“It depends,” Calvin replied, looking around the market cautiously–as if making sure he wasn’t offending anyone within view or earshot for that matter.

“We’re sort of new too,” Angela said, trying to ease the moment. “So of course we’re exploring the local areas as well. So if you want to meet up or something like that, we could go together as a group. Might be less scary than just go by yourself.”

Calvin’s discomfort had somewhat dissolved upon Angela’s offer of hospitality. His smile made its appearance again.

“What do you mean scary?” Debra jumped in, sounding somewhat offended–and had somehow found her voice again.

“New place, new culture, isn’t it scary?” Angela pointed out.

It was then that Will and Sandrine had on their proud smile. It was like they were sending a silent message that their friend was back. Angela’s attempt to protect Calvin from this new unfamiliar place must have brushed her own uncertainty aside and allowed her courage to make its appearance again.

Debra shrugged. “Like we’re a bunch of monsters that would eat anyone alive or something.”

From Debra’s attitude, it was obvious she hadn’t forgiven Angela for her rash words yet. At least Angela’s words seemed out of normality for her. And that Angela had committed a major offense by showing the ungrateful gestures at the moment.

“I’m just saying that anyone would feel uncomfortable moving to a new place, it doesn’t matter if we’re from the same culture or not,” Angela continued, her tone said that she was willing to negotiate. “I meant since he’s new too, wouldn’t you like it that we’re helping him the way you helped us started?”

“That’s right,” Will jumped in, obviously supporting Angela.

Sandrine was also nodding in agreement and sending Calvin a friendly smile. Calvin’s expression had made its way back to beyond uncomfortable so Sandrine felt she needed to assure him it was all right.

Debra finally spotted all the staring eyes from various shoppers because of how their group had stopped in the middle of the market like that. She covered the whole incident by doing a shrug and turned to continue on her way again. Angela relaxed then and sent Calvin a victory smile.

“She’s harmless for the most part,” Angela whispered to Calvin as they resumed their shopping trip.

And just like that, Calvin ended up tagging along with them for the rest of the trip. Or more like the others didn’t want to let him go. Will and Sandrine were taking turns asking him about various Earth traditions, trying to find out if their lives were like those shown on TV. And more.

Debra had ended up being an outsider to them. Although she was from the same planet as them. However, her foul mood didn’t last long. Because Calvin had somehow diverted the topic of conversation to one she was more interested in.

“I heard several ghost stories around here, so I actually don’t know what to believe anymore,” Calvin said, managing a smile that he was half kidding. “I meant is it tradition that the newbies are told strange stories to see if they could endure it or just leave eventually?”

Angela smiled, sympathizing with Calvin. She remembered back to the gloomy stories Debra told them on their first day. “I don’t know about around here, but the place where I came from, we were quite close-knit.”

“Then why did you leave it?” Debra jumped in. Was that an attempt to get back at Angela for stealing all the so-called cute guy’s attention thus far?

“We’re just out and about exploring other places,” Will answered for the three of them.

“Let’s not argue,” Calvin finally said what he really wanted to say from the beginning. He was getting used to Debra’s constant snappy words. And was getting quite tired of it. Even if he was in a foreign place, but he felt like these attitudes weren’t any different from some crowd he knew from Earth. “So, how about those ghost stories? Are they true?”

Angela shrugged. “It depends on what you were told.” Then she turned to Debra. “But you could always confirm the details with Debra, she knows everything around here.” Was that Angela’s attempt to disarm Debra’s hostility or trying to dig further into those strange mysteries around town as well? Both might as well be her intention.

Debra had on her bright smile again and was ready for Calvin’s upcoming questions.

“Um…” Calvin hesitated. “I heard about some strange murders in the past and how the girls’ spirits would come back to haunt the neighborhood on the exact night they were killed. That was also the reason why the traditional festivals got canceled.”

Angela, Will, and Sandrine exchanged one of their amused smiles again. The story was getting too interesting to not be amused. Yet they held their laughter for Calvin’s sake. After all, didn’t they want to be a good sport instead of driving Calvin away like how Debra and some of the locals were doing with the hokey ghost stories? Instead, they turned to Debra for her side of the story. It was obvious Debra was unfamiliar with that version of the story.

“That’s ridiculous!” Debra shouted, confirming their suspicion. “Where did you hear it from?”

“Just from some of my neighbors,” Calvin answered, not even blinking.

“Well, I’ll tell you the real version. Some people and their jokes.”

They were not within the view of the market anymore. In fact, they were heading in the direction that led back to Angela, Will, Sandrine, and Debra’s place. Though Calvin had no idea.

“You’re not in a hurry, right?” Debra actually found some sense of considerate nature to ask.

Calvin shook his head. “I’m good.”

“Okay then. I’ll tell you on the way back to our place.”

Calvin nodded, following them–and waiting anxiously for Debra to start her tale. After they turned toward a smaller street, Debra began. She told Calvin most of the details she had covered with Angela and the others previously. This time, she went ahead and condemned Claudia to the fullest without the others needing to ask much.

“But why did she kill those two girls?” Calvin asked, still puzzled. He felt Debra’s story was already as clear as mud. Yet he didn’t want to say it straight out like that. It would offend her too much and cause her to clam up. Besides, he was the new guy–and with her amount of connections, she was the last person he wanted to offend.

Debra shrugged. “Who knows? She’s crazy.”

Calvin had on the shocked expression–mixed in with disbelief. “She’s crazy?”

Debra nodded. “The first girl was actually her friend. I heard they worked together at this one place earlier. The poor girl who died switched jobs briefly before her death. It might be possible that she learned that Claudia girl wasn’t normal or was freaking her out so she switched jobs.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if she had reported Claudia?” Calvin saw Debra wrinkling her face so he rushed to explain. “I’m new so I’m not sure how it works here, but are you allowed to report on strange behaviors at your workplace or the like? For public safety, of course.”

“We have those,” Angela replied. “But what I don’t get is, if they’re friends, then why did the girl who died had to avoid her by switching jobs? They still kept in contact with one another after the other girl switched jobs or no?”

Calvin had to smile at that because he felt like pieces weren’t fitting at all. He was glad Angela pointed that out for him–and had asked it. He wasn’t that big of a scaredy-cat, but he felt like he already overused his patience card with Debra.

“What are the girls’ names anyway?” Sandrine interfered before Debra could even justify her story. “I meant the victims. It’s too confusing to call them ‘that girl’ or ‘this girl’. And it shows less respect for them.”

Debra actually had to rack her brain for this one because they were walking about half a block–according to Calvin’s estimation–before Debra answered them.

“The first girl, I think her name was Cyndi,” Debra said, her voice unsure. “And the second girl was Joyce. I told you she was Nic’s girlfriend so I remember her. I meant I haven’t met her yet, but I heard Wallace talked about her before. I guess Nic wanted to find the right time to introduce her to us. But…”

Calvin’s face scrunched up with such disgust that had alarmed Angela somewhat. Anyone would be upset over such tragic incidents, but Angela had a feeling it was for something else. However, like previously, his expression seemed to disappear before Angela could be sure of what she was seeing was true. He resumed his passive expression and turned to Debra again.

“So both Cyndi and Joyce were killed by Claudia?” Calvin asked, though that was what Debra had said all along with her long version of the story. He noticed all eyes on him too, like he was the one not following the story. “I mean it’s just hard to believe. So she’s crazy but it doesn’t make sense with the pattern. I read in this book once that there has to be some reason, even if the killer is crazy, for such killings.”

“Whoa, where did you get those stuff from?” Debra exclaimed, her expression outraged.

“It’s not illegal to read, is it?” Calvin asked, but he wasn’t exuding mockery. It was uncertainty.

“I think what she meant was where did you get the material,” Angela explained. “It’s just that those psychological or serial killer type of literature isn’t really widespread among us yet. It’s like really rare. The most we get from are those TV dramas or some analytical talk shows via Earth satellite.”

“Oh.”

“Still, those types of things shouldn’t be focused on too much,” Debra said in her lecturing tone. “It’s going to influence our minds and make us terrible people, like those complicated earthlings.”

Angela, Will, and Sandrine all glared at Debra at the same time.

Debra wasn’t too clueless to realize she had said the wrong thing–in front of Calvin. “I didn’t mean you.”

Calvin shrugged, his face draining of its friendly essence. “From where I come from, knowledge is power and it doesn’t mean what we read defines us, but it is more like the decision that we make.”

“Hey, I’m not trying to imply anything. I’m just saying that…”

Angela, Will, and Sandrine had on their “Oh really?” expression around the part where Debra said “imply”, knowing too well Debra had definitely implied it. In fact, to be accurate, Debra wasn’t even implying, she was outright calling Calvin barbaric without the actual word.

Debra shrugged and attempted to do some damage control again. “Don’t condemn me just because I said those words. You earthlings started the whole aliens looking like monsters first.”

“They’re not talking about us only, you know,” Angela pointed out. “We’re not the only aliens in this universe. Besides, did you know that if you’re from a foreign country immigrating into another country, you’re considered an alien too? So the word ‘alien’ is actually only used to define people from a foreign land from one’s own place, not an insult to anyone’s heritage or culture.”

Calvin was actually quite impressed with Angela’s knowledge of Earth, so unlike Debra. Or was Debra actually the minority on this planet? Or did it also depend on location?

“Hey, we’re here already,” Will said, changing the subject on purpose–and wanting to dissolve the amount of hostility surrounding them. “You want to come upstairs with us and hang out?”

Will meant Calvin. Calvin checked his watch then, still debating whether to stay or not.

“I’m going to get back to my shop,” Debra said. “Talk to you all later.”

But before she could turn and walk away from them completely, they saw Wallace coming out of the white building.

“Hey, Wallace,” Sandrine greeted him first–as Debra was busy studying his attires and whatever else.

“Hey,” Wallace returned with a wave and a smile. He had scanned the contents in their hands briefly as well. “Out shopping? Did you buy the whole market?”

“Very funny,” Angela said–about to hit him on the shoulder but had remembered that it was Debra’s signature so she just shook her head at his attempt of a joke. Then she turned to Calvin. “This is Calvin, we met him at the market. He’s from Earth and we’re helping him adjust.”

Upon hearing those words, Wallace’s expression tensed up slightly. Just slightly, barely visible. But he soon relaxed after the initial scanning of Calvin’s features, realizing how different Calvin was from them. Then he reached for Calvin’s outstretched hand and offered a friendly smile as well.

“You live here too?” Wallace asked, pointing his thumb inward at the building behind him (and in front of them).

Calvin shook his head. “I was just tagging along.”

“Want to hang out with us?” Angela asked, looking at both Wallace and Calvin.

“I have to go take care of something,” Wallace said quickly. “Maybe later when I come back.”

“It’s the weekends,” Sandrine whined.

“We all have stuff to do, right?” Will said, sympathizing with Wallace. “Even we had to go grocery shopping earlier.”

Wallace sent Will a smile full of gratitude before waving goodbye to the rest of them. Angela took the lead with heading toward the front door of their building while the others followed. Debra was actually following Wallace and pestering him about something. As for Calvin, he was still standing at his spot, studying Wallace’s every move. In fact, he had been studying Wallace since he saw Wallace. It was like he’d recognized the other party or something. And his expressions had changed since Wallace’s presence was around them. Though he hadn’t really let on much–and had managed to cover it with somewhat of a friendly offer of the handshake previously.

“Hey, Calvin, coming?” Sandrine’s voice asked from somewhere.

Calvin turned and found her coming back for him. He pasted on a smile and followed her inside to join the others.

© Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Posted: Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

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