Chapter 12 – Paper Can't Withstand the Flames

For the upcoming days, Cyndi’s little plan went through. Or more like conspiracy. Regardless of whether Jiro and Nic wanted a part of it or not, they were already pulled in. Instead of speeding up her investigation with the lady in the photo as she aggressively claimed that one afternoon in Cynthia’s shop, she focused on watching out for Cynthia. That also meant that Cynthia had to make an extra effort to fend Cyndi off, wondering why the sudden attention to her eating habits – from what not to eat, what was too cold, too hot, or whatever else she could no longer keep track of.
“What’s up with you and acting like my personal nutritionist here?” Cynthia asked one day when they were eating at some park together – mostly because they were sharing notes regarding the investigation again, and mostly Cynthia’s notes since Cyndi’s progress was already a sad case.
“Well, we wouldn’t want you to get all sick and delay progress, do we?” Cyndi justified her actions.
Cynthia wasn’t convinced yet she let it go. “Huh. It seems like you’re the slow one here, not updating us at all these past days.”
Cyndi shrugged. “Like I want to be so slow. I just have other things I need to take care of. It’s not like I own some shop like you. I have to work for someone, remember?”
“Whatever. But anyway, I hired a PI already. It’s better that he does the digging and get back to us.”
“You’re serious?” Cyndi asked. “What about our bet?”
“Well, do I have any choice? I have a deadline to make and you’re dragging your feet. Forget the bet. We’ll find something to make up for it in the future.”
Cyndi shrugged, not caring to argue with Cynthia.
After their little get together, Cyndi left with Jiro while Nic stayed behind to take care of Cynthia – subtly without her knowing of course.
“It’s strange that you’re not arguing with her anymore,” Jiro commented as they were walking to Cyndi’s car.
Cyndi shrugged. “I’ll make up for it later when the baby’s out. You know how temperamental pregnant women are. I’ll endure it for the time being. No wonder she keeps ranting about some deadline. I think her stomach’s going to show soon.”
Jiro didn’t say anything, feeling uncomfortable about the subject matter altogether.
“But anyway,” Cyndi went right on, whether ignoring Jiro’s discomfort on purpose or accidental. “It’s good that she hired some PI ‘cause he or she might find out more about that woman than we’ll ever find out.”
“True.”

*****

Just as Cyndi vouched, she managed to keep to the code with restraining herself and not arguing with Cynthia. At the same time, she waited for Cynthia’s answer regarding the PI. They soon got an answer back and it was said that the PI needed at least a month – and that was being lenient, considering his workload. Though Cynthia didn’t let on about her pregnancy to the others, but it seemed that the others knew already – at least Mr. Wang was especially attentive to his daughter’s eating habits and many more. During that one month waiting time frame for further development – regardless of situation, Cynthia seemed to shut herself in her room more and more after work. That little hint confirmed their suspicion about her pregnancy even more. They had assumed she was thinking of ways to break it to them since her stomach was going to show soon.
A week before the supposed one month deadline, Cynthia invited them all to a dinner gathering. The guest list included every one of her family members and friends. However, their mutual friends had turned Cynthia down and claimed previous commitments, thinking that it was the final moment when she was going to break it to them about her pregnancy. Therefore, they wanted to preserve the eventful moment for family members only. Though that didn’t go as planned either because Jiro and Cyndi bailed out on Cynthia as well, coming up with some excuse about already having a date planned. But in actuality, it was because Cyndi wanted to preserve that moment for Mr. Wang and Nic, thinking that it was a good idea Nic would move in and expressed his thoughts, considering how the supposed father didn’t even show up in their lives yet. Cyndi had guessed that the idiot bailed already. That also meant their mother wasn’t going to be there either, but she was also worried about the outcome. Yet Cyndi had set out to reassure their mother that it would be all right.
Dinner took place at the Wang resident. Cynthia was in high spirits that night, even wearing make-up for the occasion. Mr. Wang and Nic weren’t sure if she got too happy because the make-up was a bit thicker than usual but they didn’t want to sabotage her good moods – or add more pressure. They were waiting patiently for her to break the news. However, the news didn’t come. At least not at the beginning or the middle part. Both men had assumed Cynthia was suffering from nerves so they bit down their teeth and remained patient – or tried to, maintaining whatever was left of the conversation as casual as possible.
“I’m so glad for tonight,” Cynthia said when they were done eating. “And I’ll never forget it.”
Her smile was at ease, causing both men to exchange a look, pondering if the news was coming.
“I have something to tell you both,” Cynthia continued, making both men thinking they had guessed right.
Cynthia smiled then, a weak smile but still genuine. Yet they thought it was from nerves.
“I’m glad to have your support thus far,” Cynthia picked up her thoughts again. “But I’m not quite ready to say it yet. So…maybe later?”
Both men knew what it must be like, so they nodded – not wanting to give her more pressure.

*****

The next morning – or more like it wasn’t even anywhere near dawn yet, Nic got a call from Cynthia to meet her at the park the four of them usually meet at for their conspiracy updates from time to time. Nic was quite puzzled of the strange time yet he guessed that she wanted to break the news to him first, wanting to have some support by her side when she finally break it to her parents. So he wore warm clothes and arrived at the park in as a calm state as possible. Cynthia was also wearing warm clothes. In fact, Nic didn’t even know why he doubted her since anyone would be wearing warm clothes considering how the weather had changed all of a sudden this past week, and not to mention it was early morning.
“Hey,” Cynthia greeted him, smiling – though her face was quite pale.
“You shouldn’t be out here so early,” Nic chided her, thinking she must still be cold.
Cynthia shook her head upon seeing Nic taking off his coat for her. “It’s okay, I’m fine.”
Nic wasn’t too sure but he obeyed her wish anyway. He could always lend her his coat later if she changed her mind. He also made sure to stay close, shielding the wind for her. The wind wasn’t too wild yet he couldn’t take any chance, considering her current health state.
“Want to take a walk?” She asked with a smile.
Nic didn’t object, following her down a path leading into the woods. It was one of those paths that they didn’t care to acknowledge in the past though they knew of its existence. It was just that they were too busy planning out their conspiracy to care.
They stopped at a pavilion – probably designed for those wanting to stop and watch sunrise or sunset – and Cynthia settled on its step, not even caring for the chairs inside it. Nic, alarmed, walked over and attempted to urge her toward the chairs.
“It’s cold too,” Cynthia reasoned, hinting that the chairs would also be cold like the steps so it didn’t make a difference. She smiled upon seeing Nic’s worried expression. “I’m sitting on my coat anyway, right?”
Nic settled down next to her on the steps since he wasn’t able to stop her.
“Sunrise is indeed beautiful,” Cynthia commented, looking at the small light rays peeping out from behind the clouds, ready to announce its arrival for another day. “I wish I have thought of it earlier and watched the sunset before this.”
“We could always go later,” Nic reassured her, looking at the light rays also.
Cynthia smiled then. “I wish.”
Nic stayed silent after that, wondering if she was thinking of her fate of the coming days if she were to break the news to her parents.
“Cynthia,” Nic called out finally – after much consideration. He waited for her to turn her attention to him before continuing. “Whatever it is, you can tell me and we could go through it together.”
Cynthia smiled, shaking her head. “No, this is my burden to carry alone, not involve others…”
“But I want to.” Nic cut her off, taking her hands into his.
“I have to say that I’m touched,” Cynthia joked, trying to make light of the situation. “But…”
Nic shook his head, cutting her off again. “I have already decided.”
Cynthia could see the determined look on Nic’s face so she nodded. “We’ll see.”
Nic, feeling happy that she was going to confide in him, grabbed hold of her shoulders and hugged her to him. He forgot that he wasn’t supposed to hug her too hard – or so he had reminded himself these past days while practicing those speeches in front of a mirror. Yet she didn’t mind the pressure.
“But I’m afraid I might disappoint you and break my promise,” Cynthia spoke up again, her voice a little lower than before. “Because I’m going to go see my mother.”
Though her voice was getting lower and lower but Nic was still able to hear her. He wasn’t used to her being so weak and gentle like she was at the moment, but he knew that wasn’t the point.
“Don’t worry,” Nic responded. “I’ll be the one keeping the promise.”
But Cynthia didn’t react or tease him like those times when he attempted to be brave or tough. In fact, she stayed so still in his arms that it was making him feel unease. It was also then that he realized how cold she was. He released her from his grip and checked on her state.
“Cynthia!” Nic yelled out, shaking her and trying hard not to panic.
But she didn’t respond – or move, or give him any signs that she was still alive.
“Cynthia…” His voice broke then. “Cynthia, wake up. Please wake up.”
He tried to calm himself, wanting to do a reality check. He checked her pulse carefully, trying to keep his hand steady. Then he grabbed his cell phone and dialed a number when he didn’t get any response.

*****

An hour later, everyone was present in the waiting area in front of the E.R. Everyone meant family and friends. Contrary to his previous near hysterical state, Nic was sitting at a corner of the waiting area, not talking to anyone. Jiro and Cyndi were pacing while Mr. Wang and Ms. Shen were sitting at opposite ends of the row of chairs, their expressions worried. Mr. Wang was actually praying silently at his corner of the room. The rest of the group were just sitting there, staying quiet. Another ten minutes passed by when someone appeared at the door of the E.R.
“How is she?” Mr. Wang jumped up from his seat.
The others had already gathered around the doctor.
The doctor shook his head. “We tried. It’s too late. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Mr. Wang crashed down at the chair he was sitting at earlier, clutching his head. Cyndi had felt her leg wobbling and Jiro had tried to hold her up as best as he could since he was as shocked of the turn of events. Larissa and Melanie were hugging each other and crying. Ms. Shen, on the other hand, was in somewhat of a denial state, shaking her head.
“It was my fault!” Nic yelled out, his tone beyond frustration mixed in with pain. “I didn’t make the call fast enough! I didn’t…”His voice trailed as he crashed down in his seat like Mr. Wang.
“No, sir, it wasn’t your fault,” The doctor contradicted Nic. “She’s going to go sooner or later.”
“What do you mean?” Ricky asked, being the only strong one to speak up.
“According to her records, she has the virus for a while now,” The doctor clarified.
“That means she lost her baby too?” Cyndi asked, her voice shaky, trying to control her sobs at the same time. It was a dumb question and if circumstances called for it, she would never ask it but Cyndi was beyond herself at that point.
The doctor looked confused. “There was no baby.”
“What?” The others asked at the same time, equally confused.
It was as if the doctor thought they didn’t comprehend such a simple sentence. Yet considering their current state of losing someone so close to them, he maintained his patience. “She was never pregnant.”
It was then that the others turned to Cyndi while Cyndi, Jiro, and Nic exchanged a look among the three of them.

*****

After the initial shock wore off, Mr. Wang and Ms. Shen pulled themselves together to go forth with Cynthia’s funeral arrangements. Unknown to them, a lawyer informed them that Cynthia had already taken care of all arrangements. They just had to sit around and wait for the plans to roll itself out. The will was also read not soon after – all according to Cynthia’s previous arrangements. Cynthia had left the shop to Cyndi – with an attached note written by Cynthia as: So now you can stop complaining about your slave of a job. And the shop stayed closed until further notice. As if Cynthia had known about their decision, she had sent two months of advancement in pays for her employees.
“The last of the arrangement,” The funeral director – aka the person Cynthia had put in charge of her funeral – read aloud one afternoon when they were in the Wang living room. “Cynthia wants to be buried next to her mother, Vicki Wang.”
“I knew it!” Ms. Shen exclaimed, getting up from her place at the sofa. She was staring at Mr. Wang at the moment, not even aware that it wasn’t even the time or place for that discussion.
“It’s not even time for this,” Mr. Wang returned, his voice and expression reflected of anger and frustration rolled into one.
But it was then that Nic understood what Cynthia meant with her last words. At first, he thought she meant she had to face her mother – aka Ms. Shen – later when they go together to talk about the matter, but now he knew the truth.
“Regardless of the time or place,” Ms. Shen said, her voice determined and edgy. “I want everything out in the open today.”
“I’m sorry, Miss,” Jiro said to the funeral director. “But could we continue this another time?”
The funeral director seemed to understand so she excused herself and promised to come back at another time. After the lady was gone, even Mr. Wang got up to leave the room.
“We have to settle this today,” Ms. Shen stopped his departure.
Mr. Wang wasn’t feeling threatened from her presence or state. “All right. But what I want to know is….who the hell told her about Vicki?!”
The others were startled by his sudden outburst, except Ms. Shen. Then a timid Cyndi stepped out from the line formed among the three of them by the corner of the room.
“We were sort of investigating about what happened,” Cyndi confessed, her head down, not daring to look at her father. “Cynthia found the picture of a lady in your room and she had a PI tracked her down. I guess she found out that she wasn’t Mom’s daughter and…it happened before she could tell the rest of us.”
“That’s the reason she wanted to move back here?” Mr. Wang inquired, his tone less fierce yet his expression hadn’t changed.
Cyndi shook her head, knowing from her father’s tone that it wasn’t safe to look up yet. “She really misses you too.”
Mr. Wang’s expression seemed to soften upon hearing that, replacing his expression with a renewed sense of sorrow. He collapsed on the sofa again, feeling his emotions overtaking him.
“And you didn’t care to tell me what you were doing the whole time?” Ms. Shen questioned, her eyes on Cyndi.
“You guys weren’t cooperating when we attempted to ask,” Cyndi replied. “So we had to…get crafty.”
“It’s the past,” Mr. Wang spoke up again, his voice softer and lower than before. “Let it stay that way.”
The others stayed quiet after that, even Ms. Shen was no longer eager to confront him.
© Friday, November 4th, 2011
Posted: Sunday, November 6th, 2011