That afternoon, Jiro was seen sitting on the ledge at one of the side balconies of the mansion. He was cleaning his gun, lost in thoughts at the same time. Something was disturbing him. He never wanted to admit it, but he might be wrong after all.
“Hey, Jiro,” Joanne’s voice entered the room.
Jiro looked up to see Joanne walking in (outside was more accurate). Calvin was following her.
“Hey,” Calvin greeted his friend.
Jiro nodded. “Miss Joanne.” The nod was meant for Calvin.
“You don’t have to call me ‘Miss’,” Joanne corrected him. “You can call me Qiao Qiao.”
“It’s inappropriate,” Jiro replied mechanically. It was too rehearsed–like it was ingrained in his brain since little. Which was possibly true.
Joanne shrugged, seeing the seriousness on Jiro’s face. She stepped toward the left corner and leaned on the banister, staring at the horizon where the sun was setting slowly. Calvin followed Joanne but stationed himself at an equal distance between the two, looking out at the sunset also. Jiro went back to cleaning his gun, oblivious to all things around him again.
“Hey, the sun’s setting!” Sharon’s voice rang out.
No one bothered to look toward her direction. Jiro was still cleaning his gun, his rhythm unaffected by Sharon’s outburst. Calvin and Joanne were still admiring the sunset.
“Hey, are you guys ignoring me?” Sharon inquired, her tone accusing.
“Don’t disturb the atmosphere at this moment,” Joanne warned, her attention still on the sun, her expression still placid.
Calvin finally realized why he did not mind Joanne’s constant chatter. She knew when to shut up–unlike Sharon. And while he was making that little note in his mind, Sharon committed another unforgivable offense. She had to walk over and stand between him and Joanne. So much for watching the sunset with Joanne. Then he stopped himself. He needed to focus on the most important point of all: it was only his duty, nothing more. As he was about to leave the scene, he spotted Jacky walking in.
“Jacky ge!” Sharon called out.
Calvin almost winced for Jacky. However, he only sent Jacky a polite nod.
Jacky nodded, smiling. The smile was for Calvin.
“I haven’t seen sunset for a while now,” Sophia said, walking in to join them.
Sharon’s smile faded upon Sophia’s presence.
Jacky wasn’t planning to stay. He was just passing by. Just a routine check to make sure Miss Joanne was safe. When he saw Sophia entering the balcony, he followed her. Sophia was standing next to Joanne at the moment. Jacky had no choice but to stand next to Calvin.
Sharon had already lost her spot when she stepped out to greet Jacky.
“It has been a long time indeed,” Jacky admitted, staring out at the horizon like the others.
Calvin was not the only one surprised at Jacky’s attempt at conversation. Jacky only talked to Mr. Tseng–and Joanne. Aside from the new guests–Angela and Sophia, everyone knew that.
“If any more people show up, we might as well have a tea party,” Joanne joked, her eyes still on the scenery.
Jiro got up from his spot and made a move toward the door. He had enough of the noise level. Even if he knew Sharon was the only one rupturing the atmosphere all along. That was when he almost bumped into Cyndi. His reflexes kicked in and he steered his gun away from her in time.
“Miss Cyndi,” He greeted her.
The others finally turned away from the scenery and stared at Jiro and Cyndi. Sophia was only curious because the others were staring. They were waiting for the upcoming words–from either party. Cyndi felt her face burning from their staring. She was used to Joanne and Sharon’s teasing attitudes. Yet it was another story with the guards doing the same, especially Jiro. He did not brush past her and leave the scene, not giving a care in the world like before. He was actually acknowledging her existence.
“Say something,” Joanne whispered. Her anxiousness for something to develop was apparent.
“Hi,” Cyndi blurted out.
Jiro nodded and proceeded into the house.
“What was that?” Joanne jumped from her spot, dashing over to where Cyndi was. “Hi?”
Cyndi shrugged. “What was I supposed to say?”
Joanne rolled her eyes. “Huh.” She tossed her hands up in the air–mostly for dramatic purposes. “Say anything, like–Want to join me for breakfast? I meant dinner. Or how about asking about his wound? Oh no wait, he had none. I don’t know. Just ask anything.”
Calvin, Sophia, and Jacky were smiling at Joanne’s eagerness.
“What are you guys talking about?” Angela asked, stopping at the door.
“Dinner,” Joanne blurted out.
Angela wrinkled her face. “Dinner?”
“Yes, we all have to eat, don’t we?” She turned to Calvin. “So let’s go, Calvin.”
“Yes, Miss Joanne,” Calvin mumbled, following her back into the house.
Though not called upon, Jacky made a move to follow Joanne as well. That also meant Sophia was leaving with him.
Angela stared at the remaining parties. “What? Something I said?”
Cyndi shook her head. “She was just teasing me. Don’t worry.”
Angela shrugged. “All right.”
After that, Angela made her way down the hall as well, joining the others in the dining room.
Sharon still had her long face on. She barely mumbled a departing word in Cyndi’s direction before leaving also.
Cyndi let out a sigh, scolding at herself for the lost chance. She was not even sure why she had blanked out. Why? She did not want to dwell on it. She stepped out to the hall again. And just like that, Jiro was standing there. Like thinking about him would conjure him up. But then she realized he must have made a trip to his room before going to the dining room.
“Hey,” She said. Another lame word that would get her a knock over the head–if Joanne knew.
Jiro took a quick scan of the hall before stepping into the balcony again. “I wanted to talk to you earlier, but they were there.”
Cyndi’s brain went into a frozen state again. Not only was Jiro talking to her, but he was using longer sentences. “What about?” She gave herself an invisible pat on the back since that did not come out too lame.
“I’m sorry about last night,” Jiro said.
“For protecting me?”
“No, for yelling at you. I didn’t know you were anxious. It was your way of coping, wasn’t it?”
Cyndi did not know what to say. Though it was true, how did Jiro know? Then she remembered. They were near Jiro’s room when Joanne was talking about Cyndi’s condition.
She smiled–no longer confused, glad that Joanne was so loud sometimes. “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”
“Let’s go eat then,” Jiro said, gesturing toward the hallway.
When they entered the dining room together, Joanne’s eyes caught them right away. She was actually sitting at the same table as Jacky and the others. Usually, she had to sit next to her father, which was the same for the other princesses. That was why Sharon was still sitting next to Mr. Hsiao like many times before.
“Over here!” Joanne yelled out–despite the number of people in the room.
“Qiao Qiao!” Mr. Tseng’s yelling followed.
It was a routine they were used to. Joanne had to be the odd duckling among all the princesses. It was an embarrassment that Mr. Tseng could never live down. Yet the others did not dare to laugh at him, except for his sworn brothers.
Cyndi turned to Jiro, unsure if he would even join them. He liked his privacy–and solitude–more than anyone. Jiro surprised her again–and possibly the others as well–by taking up Joanne’s offer. He gestured his hand briefly for Cyndi to go first. He took the seat next to Calvin while Cyndi was next to Angela.
“So you took my advice?” Joanne asked cheerfully, her voice still a tad too loud for comfort.
“Sh…” Cyndi urged. She took a nervous glance around the room.
“Like they dare to say anything.” That was Sharon. Even if Joanne was brave, she was never rude, especially to the other gang members. Though Sharon was one table over–and right next to her father, she was still not restricting her behaviors.
“Thank you, Sharon,” Joanne said, her sarcasm apparent.
“Why do you guys even do this anyway?” Angela asked after the attention was already diverted from their table.
“What do you mean?” Joanne asked back.
“Living this life.”
“Not all of us are lucky like you, getting to choose.”
“I didn’t mean it in that way.”
“I know. I’m just stating the obvious.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Then why are you living on this island?”
“I don’t like to be contaminated by the rest of civilization.”
“This isn’t the best place to do that,” Chun jumped in. “Talking about irony.”
“Then how did you guys end up here?”
“Should we be talking about this at the dinner table? I’m going to lose my appetite soon.”
Angela shrugged. “Fine then.”
“The memorial service is tonight,” Calvin spoke up after some silence fell over the table.
Angela turned to him. “What happened?”
“Some people didn’t make it.”
“It might be a good idea to train us to fight too,” Cyndi commented.
“Sometimes, it’s better not to even try,” Joanne said, her tone conflicting her previous mood.
Cyndi turned to her in surprise. She remembered Joanne was the one always ranting about the injustice of not being to fight alongside the others. Why the change in attitude? Joanne’s reaction also got Jacky’s attention–who was carrying on a quiet side conversation with Sophia all the while. He studied her uneasy behavior as she tried to scoop some food into her bowl. Calvin finally came to her rescue and placed a different piece of food into her bowl since she had dropped the previous one. Then Jacky understood. He knew it was not the place to ask her about it.
Silence fell among them again as Angela detected the uneasiness from Joanne as well. She quieted down and continued eating.
After dinner, they all gathered out in the garden. It was dark, just like any other night. They had set up some torches along the path. They observed a moment of silence to show some respect for the ones who had been left behind.
After they were dismissed, they went back inside. Most of the members were making their way to their rooms, waiting for further instructions. Only the guards who had to follow the princesses were allowed to roam free. Or more specifically, go where the girls went.
“I need to talk to you about something, Miss,” Jacky said when they were out of the earshot of the majority.
Joanne turned to him, seeing his serious look. Like he was ever displaying any other expression aside from his all-business one. But she was able to detect some traces of concern in his eyes.
She nodded, knowing she could not avoid the inevitable.
Only Calvin followed Joanne and Jacky as they made their way toward a balcony nearby. It was different from the one they were gathered in earlier watching the sunset. In fact, it was the one on the opposite side of the mansion. Calvin stayed at the door to wait for the two as they entered the space.
“You made your first kill, didn’t you?” Jacky began.
They were both looking out into the void of the night.
Joanne nodded after a minute of reflecting. It was a fact. A yes or no question. Yet she felt unusually heavy upon admitting it. She no longer wanted to cry like when she was confronted by Calvin. But there was a definite tingling feeling nabbing at her heart. Taking away one’s life was so easy yet having to deal with the aftermath was even worse. That was also the reason why Jacky never wanted her to learn in the first place. She just had to keep on insisting she would be careful, would listen to him. When he finally gave in to her plea, he had used the extra time to train her. It was not because she was not able to comprehend the technique. Training to kill was easier than training to injure. The nightmares had not come for her during her previous sleep. At least not yet. But she knew it will eventually–just like how Jacky said had come for him.
Jacky let out a sigh after what seemed like an eternity. “I’m sorry. It was my fault.”
Joanne had already been prepared for his lecture–or possibly scolding of being careless. Yet he was blaming himself? She knew it was not because he had regretted in teaching her. She turned to him, waiting for his next words.
“I was not there to fulfill my duties.”
She knew very well it was not his fault. He had used himself as bait–for her to escape. How could he be blamed? Then things registered. It was always his duties, regardless of the circumstances. She had a strong urge to hug him and she did just that. “Jacky ge.” She was not planning on crying. And the unexpected had happened. She was not crying for herself but for him. Then her father’s words echoed back to her. How could her father be so cruel as to want to abandon him–if he had not joined them in time?
“It’s all right,” Jacky said, patting her on the shoulders. “What we need to do now is reduce your chance of getting those nightmares.” He looked out at the night again. “I’ll think of something.”
Joanne nodded into his shoulder.
Calvin was about to leave, knowing Jacky was more than capable of responding to a crisis. Though they barely interacted in the past, he knew how Jacky operated. But Jacky gestured toward his direction, wanting him to come forward.
“I might have to trouble you to take care of Miss Joanne for the time being,” Jacky said. It was not a request or an order. It was a plea.
Sophia opened the door joining their rooms upon hearing some rustling in Jacky’s room. He looked worn out though they had rested earlier in the day to restore their energy. Was his wound acting up?
“Want me to change your patch?” Sophia asked, walking toward the tables to the side.
Jacky shook his head. “I’m good.”
“You don’t look so.”
Jacky settled at a chair next to her. He licked his lips once. He had never had that habit before because he never hesitated. It was either talk or stay silent.
“What’s wrong?” Sophia asked patiently.
“Qiao Qiao made her first kill,” Jacky replied, his voice passive. Calling her by that name was forbidden, especially without the ‘Miss’ in front of it–and especially when he was under her father’s command. Yet he knew Sophia wouldn’t rat him out.
He spent the next hour recounting how he had taught Joanne, leading up to the incident taking place last night.
“Don’t blame yourself for it,” Sophia said when he was done.
“How could I not?”
“Then I’ll help you think of a way as well.” She was referring to reducing Joanne’s nightmare.
Jacky nodded. His face showing traces of fatigue though he had rested enough. No, he could never really keep his guard down unless he could finally help Joanne erase that horrible experience.
© Monday, January 3rd, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, February 1st, 2011