Chapter 11

Cyndi volunteered to go check on the secret passage after Joanne was finished with her meditation. Angela went with her. Sophia had stationed herself by the door while Joanne and Sharon waited by the closet. They, of course, had tested the area in front of the secret door before letting Cyndi and Angela go. The door slid shut behind them, yet they were prepared. They each had a flashlight in their hands and each a weapon to use–if that was the case.

“What’s that sound?” Cyndi asked five minutes later.

“Crickets,” Angela replied, shining her flashlight ahead.

“You sure?” She sounded timid.

“Don’t tell me you’re really afraid of ghosts.”

Cyndi gasped.

“Unbelievable. You’re not scared of those guys in guns, yet you’re scared of something that might not exist.”

Cyndi kept quiet. She did not want to justify herself.

Angela liked Cyndi. Cyndi was different from Joanne but was really intelligent. She did not want to make enemies. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

They continued along the path in silence, only pausing once in a while when they detected some unknown sounds or objects.

“Here we go,” Angela said when they reached the bushes that led outside into the front yard.

Cyndi switched her light to low beam, not wanting to attract attention to herself. She kept watch as Angela stepped out.

“I wonder if we can go back in through here,” Angela said after switching her light as well. “Let me try.”

Cyndi still had her back to Angela, keeping watch.

“Whoa!” Angela exclaimed, jumping back.

Cyndi turned toward the bushes again. “What?”

Angela almost got her hands chopped off from the blades slashing from side to side.

“What in the world?” Angela snapped, dropping on the ground to pick up her flashlight.

“Why didn’t we see it earlier?” Cyndi asked, wrinkling her face. She scanned the area where the blade disappeared with her flashlight. “Impossible.”

“Someone must have planted a device or something on the ground,” Angela reasoned. “Like if we step from the outside, that would happen.”

Cyndi turned to Angela. “You all right?”

Angela nodded. “Yeah.”

Cyndi checked their surroundings again. “I guess we don’t have to worry about intruders or anyone finding out that path.”

“Exactly.”

They turned left and made their way to the front door, making sure to scan their surroundings before working on the lock.

“Here,” Angela said, handing the key to Cyndi. She was taking over watch duty.

They heard the lock clicking seconds later.

“Here we go,” Angela said.

Cyndi extended her hand out to stop Angela. “The guys might have activated the traps already.”

Angela nodded. “Good call.”

They used their rods to test the surrounding areas before stepping inside one at a time.

“Light switch’s to the left,” Cyndi said, still shining her flashlight at the familiar room.

Angela reached for it. She shut and locked the door as Cyndi browsed the house.

“Let’s go open the door for them,” Cyndi said, turning off her flashlight.

They found their way to the path that led to the basement again. It took them five minutes to manipulate the doors and open it.

“We did it!” Angela exclaimed upon seeing Sophia standing on the other side.

Sophia smiled. “Let’s go get the other two.”

“How was it?” Sharon asked when they stepped in.

“Of course, they succeeded,” Joanne jumped in. “If not, why would they be here?”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “I meant the traps they found, not the result.”

“No traps along the path,” Angela informed them.

Sharon had on her doubtful expression. “You’re kidding, right?”

Angela shook her head.

Cyndi saw Sharon’s eyes on her. “It’s true. No traps along the path unless you try to get back using it.”

Both Joanne and Sharon had on their confused look. Sophia still displayed her calm expression, waiting patiently for the two to elaborate.

“What I don’t get is…” Cyndi said when she was done with her recounts.

“What?” Angela asked.

“Why would they lock us in here but give us hint of how to get out?”

“Afraid that we’ll be trapped in here if they don’t come back?” Joanne tried.

Sharon grabbed onto Joanne’s arm in alarmed.

Joanne turned to Sharon, wrinkling her face, not from fear or pain. “What?”

“Don’t say that!”

“Like I want it to happen. It’s a possibility.”

“But it’s not the guys who wanted it, Calvin was the one who gave us the hint,” Cyndi pointed out.

Joanne scowled, crossing her hands across her chest. “So much for a hint.”

“Come on now. Think about it seriously.”

“Our belongings still out there?” Sophia asked suddenly.

“I didn’t pay attention,” Angela admitted, her eyes on the ground, beating herself up inside for being so careless.

“Yeah,” Cyndi replied.

“Let’s go check it for any signs,” Sophia suggested.

“Would they even leave anything for us?” Sharon asked, sounding doubtful again. “I meant since they wouldn’t expect us to be out there anyway.”

“Wouldn’t hurt to try,” Joanne said, dropping her hands to her sides again.

So they made their way upstairs and out to the living room again–where they last dropped their bags that afternoon.

“Nothing unusual,” Sharon blurted out as soon as she spotted their belongings.

The others did not say anything. They dropped down and checked their bags. Sharon crossed her hands and waited for them, not budging, her annoyed expression still on. Of course, she was annoyed that the others did not trust her.

“Obvious,” Joanne mumbled as she opened one of the outer compartments.

“What?” Angela asked, looking up at her.

“Letter,” Joanne replied, unfolding a paper she found.

Sharon scowled and dropped to her feet, searching her belongings as well.

The others continued searching while Joanne read the letter. It was from Calvin. It read:

We only want you all to be safe. Do not leave this house.

-Calvin

“Ugh,” Joanne let out, frustrated.

“What?” Angela asked, looking up at Joanne like before.

“How lame.” She handed the note to Angela.

“It answers our question though,” Angela noted.

“Huh.” She wasn’t Sharon’s best friend for nothing.

Angela folded the paper, not really paying attention to her task. She was busy circulating her mind. “There are other ways we can find them.”

“Humor me, why don’t you?” That was Sharon–no one else. “It’s a small island compared to other ones out there, but it’s not exactly that small.” She had abandoned her searching task altogether, knowing it was highly likely any one of the guys would leave her anything.

Angela was tapping her chin, not really searching her bag anymore. “The question is still: ‘What would we do when we find them?’”

“Help them,” Cyndi replied automatically.

Sharon had on her amused look. “Like we can. We’ll be lucky if we don’t get ourselves captured.”

“You’re optimistic, aren’t you?” Angela challenged.

“I’m just stating the obvious. Would you want to get captured and be held hostage, waiting for the others to save us?”

“No.”

“There you go.”

“Sitting around here waiting is so frustrating though,” Joanne said.

“We can’t go,” Sophia interfered.

“What?” That was Angela. She had on her confused expression–mirroring the others.

Sophia had been helping actively with figuring out the puzzles and getting them that far. What brought this on?

“Here,” Sophia said, handing them another piece of paper.

Joanne grabbed it since she was closer. “Whatever you do, don’t let them go. Calvin wasn’t supposed to tell you the secret.”

“How did he know?” Sharon asked.

“Calvin’s just too obvious,” Cyndi replied.

“Pretend you didn’t see this,” Joanne said, pushing the paper into Sophia’s hand again.

Sharon’s jaw dropped–literally. “You would disobey Jacky ge?”

“Funny,” Joanne snapped, her moods still terrible.

“If Jacky knows, then the others must have noticed too, right?” Angela prompted.

“Duh.” Sharon…no questions.

Angela attacked her luggage again.

“What?”

“Trying to see if anyone else left us anything.”

Cyndi was done searching hers. She was actually stretching out on the floor, using her bag to cushion her head. “Good luck. Jiro didn’t leave anything.”

“If we really want to get out of here though…” Joanne said in her serious tone.

“What?” Sharon demanded, sounding all business again.

“Don’t interrupt, your highness,” Joanne returned.

“Hey.”

Joanne raised her hand up. “Let me finish first.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Go ahead.”

“If we want to get out of here, we have to be prepared. Not just mentally. There has to be a plan that won’t burden anyone.”

“Obvious.”

“I’m getting there.”

Sharon shrugged and crossed her hands again.

“What kind of plan though?” Cyndi asked, staring at the grand chandelier hanging high above. “We could defend ourselves. The only thing left is locating them.”

“Are you kidding me?” Sharon…

“With your strength, you could injure someone,” Joanne snapped. “Or is your energy only where your mouth is?”

Sharon did not want to roll her eyes again, but it was hard not to. “We’re talking about our precious Princess Cyndi here.”

“Jiro taught me,” Cyndi said, sounding defensive. Almost too defensive.

“Those night meetings were for that?” Angela asked, stopping her search temporarily and turning to Cyndi.

Cyndi nodded.

“Jiro just have to,” Sharon mumbled. That wasn’t sarcasm or any other attempts to discredit him. But more like traces of sadness. If that was possible in anything relating to the guards. She only displayed her truth sadness for her father–or possibly her worries for her friends.

Joanne turned to Sharon, her eyes warning Sharon. As if those eyes were reminding Sharon of something. “Don’t start.”

Cyndi could detect the discomfort traveling from Joanne to Sharon and then back. “What’s going on here?”

Sharon blinked. “Umm…”

“She used to like Jiro!” Joanne jumped in.

“I do not!” Sharon reacted, her annoyed expression back on.

Joanne shifted her eyebrows. “Well, it was just a small crush, not serious like how it is with Jacky ge.”

“Whatever.” Sharon decided it was useless arguing with Joanne. She turned to Sophia. “What about you?”

Sophia didn’t answer.

Sharon looked at Joanne again. “Okay, so even if some of us can defend ourselves, then what? You know you can’t exactly do that anymore. If you would just see some guns, you would end up…”

“Sharon!” The others yelled out at the same time–excluding Joanne, of course.

“Am I wrong?”

“She’s right,” Joanne said, her voice too low.

“We’ll figure something out,” Cyndi reassured Joanne.

Sharon had to roll her eyes again. “Great, trying to lie to her. Sympathy’s going to get us killed.”

“We’re not getting anywhere with this,” Angela said, hitting at her bag and getting up.

“What’s that sound?” Sophia asked.

Angela turned to her. “What?”

“That clanking sound,” Cyndi answered, sitting up from her place. She reached toward Angela’s bag and began to shake it in various areas.

Angela dropped down and opened the area where they just heard the ‘clank clank’ sound again. “That’s strange. I don’t know how the box got here.”

“Oh great,” Sharon grumbled. “You two got a note and she has a box of chocolate. Merry Christmas, everyone.”

Cyndi ignored Sharon. “Open it.”

Angela found the latch and opened it. “Great…”

“Yes, all we need now is a mirror,” Sharon snapped, still dripping sarcasm.

There was a comb and a brush inside, along with a scissor.

“You forgot lotion and makeup,” Joanne added, slapping Sharon a high five despite the situation.

“You two…” Cyndi chided.

“Hey, what are we supposed to think?”

Angela tossed the box down in frustration, sending the items inside splattering everywhere, not bothering to argue with Joanne or Sharon. Sophia collected the items and placed them inside the box again.

“What’s the point?” Angela scolded, not really directing her anger at Sophia.

Sophia did not say anything. She studied the items carefully. She took one item out and sniffed at it. Sharon sent Joanne a look. Joanne shrugged. They watched as Sophia tapped on the inside of the box. Then Sophia wrinkled her face.

“What?” Joanne asked, making her way toward Sophia.

“The wood smells familiar,” Sophia said. “I can’t seem to remember from where.”

“Don’t tell me if we figure that one out, we know where they are,” Angela mumbled.

“You guys want to know what I think?” Sharon asked.

“No!” Angela and Cyndi blurted out at the same time.

“Huh.”

“Go ahead,” Cyndi said, though she had turned down Sharon’s attempt.

“We need to get some food in us before we could do anything.”

Cyndi nodded. “Good point.”

They all stared at Sharon, except for Sophia and Joanne who were still playing with the box.

Sharon blinked. “What?”

“You suggest, you cook,” Cyndi said, tapping on the wood surface of the floor. “Duh.”

“Ugh…”

“I’ll cook in a bit,” Sophia volunteered, still playing with the items.

“It’s no use,” Angela shouted, getting up from her place. “I’ll cook.” She meant the box and not Sophia’s culinary skills.

Sophia handed the box over to Joanne and followed Angela toward the kitchen.

“You two might want to go hunt downstairs for more supplies,” Angela said, meaning Cyndi and Sharon.

“Why don’t you order her?” Sharon protested. She meant Joanne.

“I’m studying this,” Joanne spoke up for herself.

Sharon scoffed. “What? Now who’s behaving like ‘your highness’?”

“Come on, Sharon,” Cyndi urged, dragging her toward the basement. “Serves us right for not knowing how to cook.”

“And she does?” Sharon was still protesting. That was Sharon. Always wanting to have the last word.

It wasn’t until no one else was left that Joanne finally dropped the façade. She checked the hallways once more. Then she reached for her bag, taking out another piece of paper similar to the one she tossed aside earlier. It was supposed to be the first page. She managed to hide the first page before anyone noticed it. She spread the paper out and read it slowly, taking in every word:

Qiao,

Perhaps I’m wrong but it’s too late now to dwell on it. But if the circumstance was different, I would’ve chosen to be a coward too. Maybe it is meant to be that way. It doesn’t matter how much of a rebel you want to be, you can’t change our roles.

Joanne skipped down toward the last paragraph. She did not want to read about how hopeless their future already was.

The decision is in your hands now. Be strong. I know you can do it. Don’t let Cyndi or Sharon leave this house. It doesn’t matter how Angela persuade you all with her pep talk about being able to change things. You can’t. Not this time.

“What’s wrong?” Cyndi asked, startling Joanne out of her thoughts.

Joanne rolled the letter up into a ball and shook her head. “Nothing.”

Cyndi tossed the box of supplies aside and rushed toward Joanne’s side.

“Ow…” Sharon screamed. “That was my foot.”

Cyndi ignored Sharon and patted Joanne on the shoulder.

“I’m fine,” Joanne said, her voice hoarse, not realizing she had been crying–again.

“Hello, you just slammed that box on me!” Sharon hollered louder.

Cyndi turned to Sharon, her expression annoyed. “It’s not that heavy.”

“What’s going on here?” Angela asked, approaching them. “We’re missing some items, so I thought I go look for you guys. The basement’s just down there, not across the island.” She didn’t notice the girls on the floor. Nor did she realize Sharon had to bend down and remove the box from her foot. “What’s wrong? Why is she crying? What are you guys doing again? I thought we need food before making a move.”

“It’s no big deal,” Joanne said, brushing her tears aside and getting up. “I’ll help.” She took the box from Sharon and made her way to the kitchen. It was the box Cyndi slammed on Sharon, not Sharon’s own box.

Angela turned to the other two.

“Don’t look at me,” Sharon defended herself. “She just started crying on her own.”

Angela took the remaining box from Sharon and marched off also. “Whatever.”

*****

When the others already turned in, Joanne was still awake. She was still thinking of what Calvin mentioned in the letter. She had unfolded it and read it once more after going to her room. She had read the contents fully, instead of omitting the details like previously. Yet that was the reason why she couldn’t sleep. She got up from her bed and risked a little moonlight into the room by parting the curtains slightly.

“I can’t let this obstacle hold me down,” She mumbled. “Let me be selfish this one time.”

Then she heard a knock at her door. Someone else was not sleeping. She pulled the curtains shut and ran to the door, opening it slowly.

“Hey, can we talk?” Cyndi whispered to her.

Joanne sneaked a glance past Cyndi’s shoulder. No one was around. No harm done. She pulled Cyndi inside and shut the door. They settled down on the bed before starting. They did not need light. Light would also get them exposed.

“So, what’s going on?” Joanne asked, lying back down on the bed, trying to relax.

“How about we force them into agreeing with us?” Cyndi said.

“What?” She was really confused and did not care to sound dumb. She knew Cyndi would never laugh at her.

“Suggest to them with voting tomorrow. Majority rules.”

Joanne used her hands to cushion her head, trying to mull things over. More like she was fighting with herself inside. “I was just thinking about that before you knocked.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.”

“Sophia doesn’t want us to go because she respects Jacky’s wish. Sharon is…”

“She’s not siding with Jacky ge, she’s just being a pessimist.”

Then Cyndi remembered something. She turned to Joanne. “Did she really have a crush on Jiro before?”

“Scout’s honor.”

“You’ve never been a scout.”

Joanne shrugged–though she found that hard to achieve when lying down like that. She let out a sigh. “So we have two against two. Then there’s Angela.”

Cyndi noticed Joanne had changed the topic on purpose. Or more like steered the conversation back on track. But she still wanted to know about Jiro and Sharon. Was that why Sharon always seemed mean to Jiro? Or Jiro seemed to distance himself from Sharon? Always letting Chun took the duty of protection whenever possible? But Sharon liked Jacky for a long time already, how could she…? It was getting too confusing for Cyndi. Was she that clueless not to see obvious hints?

Joanne tapped on Cyndi’s shoulder at that time. She had straightened up again and was staring at Cyndi. “Hey…”

“Sorry,” Cyndi mumbled. “I was just thinking.” Something was definitely wrong, and it wasn’t just about who Sharon liked. Something was not clicking in. Then she realized it. “What’s that smell? Lilac? Or vanilla?”

Joanne scratched her head, trying to remember. It was awhile ago. “Orchid.”

“Really?” Cyndi sounded excited.

“Yeah.” Her voice much more confident this time. “I couldn’t sleep and found it in the drawer earlier, so I thought I place it on the table. But I guess it’s not helping that much.”

“It’s soothing though.”

“Want to sleep here instead?” She bit her tongue. She lied down again, not wanting to be exposed.

“Sounds good.” And she helped herself to the extra blanket in the far corner.

“Let’s sleep and worry about the problem tomorrow.”

Cyndi nodded. “Better to have all of our energy if we do set out tomorrow.”

© Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Posted: Thursday, February 17th, 2011

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