Chapter 15 – Surreal

It was in late November. Bryant was the one who spotted Sophia first. She was standing at the famous bridge that linked hers and their lives years back with her hands on the railing, looking down at the world below. Her eyes soon directed toward the horizon like Joanne’s once did months back when Bryant found her there. Yet the difference between Joanne and Sophia was their emotional state. Bryant was able to detect the devastation on Sophia’s face. And the fact that he had met up with Joanne early versus the late afternoon this time.

Bryant didn’t know how to react at first. He just stood there, looking at her from a distance. He finally stepped forward when he remembered what Joanne had told him once.

“Hey,” Bryant greeted, his voice low as not to startle Sophia. “I didn’t know you were coming back. Is this another surprise from Ehlo?”

Sophia was still quiet. But for a few more seconds. Then she turned to look Bryant, her face still displaying that hopeless expression.

“What happened?” Bryant asked, knowing he shouldn’t beat around the bush anymore.

Sophia shook her head, turning toward the horizon again. Bryant was suddenly reminded of the time he discovered Joanne standing there. It was their second meeting and also the time when he learned about Tang Feng. He didn’t know how to help Sophia either. Yet he knew he couldn’t leave her alone.

“The first time Grandpa took me here, he carried me on his shoulder,” Sophia finally said after about five minutes later. “The last time we were here together was before we left for the States. I promised him we’ll be back when he’s better again. But now…”

Bryant was able to see Sophia breaking down in front of him at last. Her tears were running down her face, and her sobbing was finally audible. That was also when Bryant felt chills all over, because understanding finally registered in for him at last. Sophia was now leaning on the railing and crying away, no longer caring if anyone saw her. Or it was more like she was leaning on her hands, which were still gripping onto the railing since Bryant saw her.

“Bryant Chang!” Joanne’s voice startled Bryant at that moment. “So you’re standing here while I’m waiting at…”

Yes, Joanne finally saw Sophia. And that Sophia was crying. Joanne’s view was blocked by Bryant previously so she wasn’t able to see what was going on. However, as soon as she spotted Sophia, she rushed over to Sophia.

“Sophia jie, what happened?” Joanne rattled out, panicking inside. “Tell me.”

Even if Joanne didn’t know exactly what was wrong, she still gathered Sophia into her arms and tried to comfort her as much as she could. She was also trying to coax Sophia into disclosing some information.

“Qiao,” Bryant spoke up at last. “Let’s take Sophia back to the house first.”

Joanne turned to Bryant and nodded. She soon directed Sophia back to their side of town while Bryant hauled Sophia’s luggage along.

*****

Half an hour later–more or less, Sophia was sitting in the living room with Joanne still comforting her. Bryant wasn’t the only other person there. Ehlo, Angela, Wallace, and Yvonne were also there. Bryant had used the red lights as leverage to text them while on the road. Jacky was on his way. Sophia had already calmed down since they entered the house and had stopped crying. Yet Joanne was still worried so she’d been placing a protective hand around Sophia’s shoulder the whole time while Sophia recounted to them what had happened to cause her sudden return. Johnny and Bianca came somehow along the way and had stayed silent as Sophia continued. Esther, Andy, Achel, Nic, and Cynthia had arrived ten minutes after Johnny and Bianca. They had also stayed quiet.

“He was so happy to hear about everyone’s stories,” Sophia said when it seemed like she had neared the end of her story, her tears returning. “He was doing so well at that time. He continued to improve after that. Even the doctors were surprised and happy for him. But just one month and…”

Sophia’s voice broke and she ended up sobbing like how she was when Bryant found her an hour or so back. Joanne rushed to pat her shoulder once more. It was also then that Jacky entered and rushed over to them. He had sat down at a corner of the chair nearby while Joanne and Sophia had been sitting on the sofa. And for some reason, the others had been crowding around the coffee table, not sitting at all.

“Jing Jing,” Jacky called out, not knowing what else to say, having received the message from Bryant already.

“Grandpa, he…” Sophia managed, looking at Jacky through her tears.

Jacky nodded, placing a hand on hers. “I know.”

“Before Grandpa left, he told me to be strong and take care of myself,” Sophia continued. “But I…can’t….” She sniffled once before continuing again. “I can’t help but think that…” Another pause “That I don’t have any family anymore. I’m all alone now.”

“No, you’re not alone,” Jacky said, shaking his head at the same time. “You have us.”

“That’s right,” Joanne said. “You have us.”

The others spoke up one by one, echoing Jacky’s words previously. They waited for a while more, waiting until Sophia calm down–and they had also settled down at different places around the room already. Joanne was still patting Sophia on the shoulder. Jacky was still holding onto Sophia’s hand as she mourned for her last family member. And as Jacky was about to utter another word of consolation or two, he stopped himself. It wasn’t because he didn’t have an ounce of sympathy for Grandpa Chou, but it was because the doorbell had rung at that time to announce an unknown guest coming. That little interruption also pulled the others present back to reality. As they all exchanged looks among themselves, wondering who it could be, considering how most of them were there already, Jacky got up from his seat.

“I’ll get it,” He said–though unnecessary.

As Joanne continued to pat Sophia’s shoulder to comfort her, the others directed their focus to Jacky as he made his way to the door. But as soon as the door flung opened, everyone in the room got up from their places in astonishment. Possibly the only person still sitting was Bryant because he didn’t know who the other party was. Joanne didn’t mean to abandon Sophia but she was as shocked as her friends. What was shocking wasn’t the person standing in front of them all. But the fact that she had thrown herself into Jacky’s arms and allowed herself to be comforted by Jacky. And not to mention her devastated state.

“Sonia,” Jacky finally uttered out, after having found his voice at long last.

Yes, it was Sonia. A Sonia who was supposed to be happily married to James. Yet her current state told otherwise. Jacky didn’t know what else to say after blurting out her name. He just continued to pat her shoulder as she cried. And as the others unfroze themselves from their spots, Angela quickly rushed over to where Jacky and Sonia were. That intensity in the atmosphere heightened as Ehlo turned to stare at a Sophia who had stopped crying already–because she had realized there was a change in situation. It was also then that Joanne caught on with Ehlo’s glare and returned to Sophia’s side, placing a hand on her shoulder for comfort again. Yet what completed the picture was the fact that Jacky had turned to stare at Sophia–who was trying her best to pull herself together–while still having a comforting hand around Sonia.

© Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Posted: Thursday, December 18th, 2014

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