Chapter 1

The last clap of thunder announced the beginning of their war. The rain had yet to stop. It only subsided, taking a spot within the shadows to wait for the moment. The moment when they finally make a move.

The last clap of thunder also startled Joanne and awakened her from a deep slumber. A sleep so carefree that was unknown to her since young because of the constant flee scenes that became attached to her skin. She rose from the sofa, rubbing her eyes.

“Jacky ge,” She called out, still trying to adjust her vision.

Jacky’s presence soon occupied the spot where the little strand of light seethed through the window. “Miss.”

“Is it time yet?” Joanne asked groggily.

Jacky glimpsed at his watch quickly. “No. We still have an hour.”

Joanne got up from her seat, making her way to the door. Jacky followed her outside to the hallway.

“Where are the others?” Joanne continued with her questions as they headed for the main hallway.

“Your father is still in his office discussing the strategy,” Jack replied. “Miss Wang and Miss Hsiao are in the living room.” As if sensing some traces of fear in Joanne, Jacky placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” He removed his hand before adding the last word. “Miss.”

Joanne slowed down to match with his pace, turning to him with a reassuring smile. “I know you will.”

Jacky nodded. “Because it’s my job.”

They finally reached the living room–or what could be qualified as a living room. It was too spacious and too raw for a living room. Aside from the scattered furniture here and there, it was hard to tell if it was some living room at all. Several young men and women were waiting there silently. Only the women were sitting, however, and the men were scattered around the room as if performing their duties as bodyguards.

Joanne turned on a smile as she entered the room. “I guess you two are out.” She pointed toward the women sitting at the sofa–at opposite sides. “Black is in.”

“You can’t be serious, can you?” Cyndi said, getting up from her place and walking toward Joanne. “You just want to wear black so you would look cool like the others.”

“I guess you have to maintain your princess image,” Joanne teased. She then turned to Sharon. “Why would you wear purple in a time like this?”

“Her wearing green is suitable then?” Sharon had gotten up from her seat also. But her eyes did not meet her two girlfriends. “Jacky ge.”

Jacky had stopped a distance from the room, observing the exchange silently. It was his job after all. Now that Sharon mentioned his name, he took a step forward and nodded, not wanting to open his mouth. He never responded to other people aside from his boss and the young miss whom he had to protect. Other circumstances involved cooperation with the rest of the bodyguards for the best result. No more.

A door opened somewhere down the hall at that time. It was the opposite hall that Jacky and Joanne had come from earlier. They gathered around at one place to wait. The men had formed a line to one side, knowing they would be given instructions as soon as their bosses entered.

“Ba!” Joanne called out as soon as she spotted her father.

Mr. Tseng gestured for her to quiet down. She stepped back to form a line with the other girls.

“There are some minor changes in the plan,” Mr. Hsiao announced. “I’ve decided to let Calvin, Chun, and Jiro follow and help protect Qiao Qiao, Cyndi, and Sharon.” He paused briefly. “The rest of you, your duties will still be the same.”

Every one of the men answered in affirmation.

“We have about half an hour left,” Mr. Tseng said. “Be prepared.”

“Can we pick who we want to go with us, Uncle Hsiao?” Joanne asked suddenly, her smile as excited as always. “In case we get separated, that is.”

“One each then,” Mr. Hsiao replied.

Joanne did a survey of the guys lining up behind her. She pointed a finger toward the guy in the middle. “I’ll take Calvin.”

Calvin’s face flinched for a second. Barely noticeable. He seemed surprised.

“You heard her, Calvin,” Mr. Hsiao prompted.

“Yes, sir,” Calvin answered, stepping out of the line.

Joanne turned to Cyndi at that time, her hands on Cyndi’s shoulders. “Come on! Pick your man before he’s taken!”

“Qiao Qiao!” Mr. Tseng warned, implying there was no time for jokes.

Cyndi turned to look at her father.

“Hurry,” Mr. Wang urged.

Cyndi took a step toward the line and scanned the remaining faces carefully. “Jiro.”

Jiro stepped out of the line automatically. He did not care to smile or answer to her. There was a serious aura about him that not even Joanne wanted to utter out a word of teasing. Instead, she turned to Chun with a smile. He did not react to her teasing expression. He seemed to be similar to Jiro. All business and no-nonsense type of person.

“I want to switch with you,” Sharon spoke up suddenly.

Both Cyndi and Joanne turned around to look at Sharon, waiting for her clarification.

“You can have Chun as well,” Sharon continued. “I want Jacky ge.”

Joanne turned to Jacky. She saw him sending her a reluctant look. She smiled and gestured to him, indicating she understood. She turned back to Sharon. “I’m so sorry but Jacky ge has been with me since little. I can’t give him up even if we’re like sisters.” She directed her stare toward Chun. “Not that I don’t trust you, Chun.”

“It is your choice, Miss,” Chun said, slow yet precise.

“No more wasting time,” Mr. Hsiao interrupted them. “Sharon, this is no time for games. Chun could handle it. He has been protecting you in the past.”

Sharon saw the look her father gave her. She had no choice but to quiet down. Across the room, Jacky’s mouth curved into a smile. Subtle, but detectible. Only Joanne could see it, and she also had on a smile of her own.

“All right,” Mr. Hsiao said. “Get ready, everyone.”

Aside from the three being picked out by the princesses, the rest moved toward the door, preparing for the departure that was about to happen. Joanne turned to her two girlfriends–almost like sisters–and gave them a hug.

“Take care,” She told them. Her smile still apparent yet her voice told a different story.

It was a scene they played out once too many times already. They had to always make sure they said their words of goodbyes, regardless of how sure their fathers were of winning. It was always the same. The constant worry and fear of losing one another.

“We’re going to survive,” Cyndi reassured Joanne–another well-rehearsed line–though not any less genuine than when said many times before.

“We will meet again,” Sharon finished.

The girls finally pulled apart and went to stand by their protectors.

“I’m a lucky person,” Joanne said to Calvin and Jacky, smiling and placing a hand on each of their shoulders.

Jacky nodded while Calvin mumbled a set of incoherent words.

The atmosphere was increasing in hectic as the clock ticked away at someplace within the house. They had shut off the lights on purpose with only the low-beam lamps for guidance. The shadows continued to dance as the wind increased along with the thickness of the night invading.

© Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2011