Half an hour later, every one of the gang members had been transformed into normal people. They were divided into groups again. Like last time, the guards and the princesses were the last ones to leave. But this time, they had two more additions to their group. They were posing as friends going camping together. It was convenient enough. Most of them were standing outside waiting for the rest. Joanne was actually the last one to come out. The others turned to check on her.
“Wow!” Angela blurted out, surprised that Joanne had actually found an attire that wasn’t black to wear.
“Yeah, yeah,” Joanne mumbled, her apparent objection.
“I didn’t even think you could find something like that to wear. And it’s even pink.”
Joanne rolled her eyes. “Haha.”
“It’s getting late, let’s get moving,” Mr. Tseng told them.
The others nodded, not chatting anymore.
“Ba,” Joanne called out.
Mr. Tseng gave her a hug and turned to Jacky. “You know it.”
“Yes, sir,” Jacky said. It was always his job. His boss did not have to say more.
Mr. Tseng was the second last group to leave. He had to stay behind to secure the place and make sure the last group was starting off.
“Let’s go then,” Jiro prompted when Mr. Tseng was out of sight.
“You’re our leader, right?” Joanne asked.
“If you want to stay alive.”
“Remember what I said,” Calvin whispered to her.
“I’m just kidding.”
“Jiro doesn’t like to joke.”
“He looks so boyish in that outfit though. So cute!” She had clapped her hands together.
Joanne was right. Jiro indeed looked very harmless in his current attire. Like some regular college student.
“You look cute too, now let’s go,” Calvin urged.
“You just said I’m cute!” Joanne blurted out excitedly.
They were actually making their way down the path while exchanging those words. Jiro and Cyndi were up ahead while Chun and Angela were in the middle. Chun had let Sharon go first as to keep a better eye on her. Calvin and Joanne were behind Chun and Angela. That made Jacky and Sophia last. Jacky had planned it that way. He always wanted to have a clear view of Joanne. It was just a regular trip, almost bulletproof. But they did not want any unexpected occurrences. They had to be prepared.
“I don’t know why your fathers are still fighting over such nonsense stuffs,” Angela said when they had already descended the steps. “You guys could be spending your life in such carefree ways and settle down already.”
“What about you then?” Chun asked. “You could be living on the mainland, not getting yourself stuck on some dangerous island like this.”
“Don’t you guys want to live a normal life though?” She turned to search the others’ faces, wanting an answer.
“It’s not that easy like you think,” Chun said when no one else would answer her.
Jiro locked the gate and the others made their way toward their destination.
“Are we changing course like we were doing the last time?” Sharon asked, turning to the guards.
“Not really,” Jiro answered. Even if he was more talkative lately, it did not mean Sharon was going to be addressed with more words than necessary.
“He meant we’re going to change directions at times, but not so dizzily like last time,” Chun clarified.
“You actually look like a princess in that cute dress,” Angela said, observing Joanne closely. She was walking next to Joanne at that point.
Joanne was wearing a white dress with various colors of flowers spread out on it. The green dots were meant for leaves. The only pink item on her that Angela mentioned earlier was the sweater she had wrapped around her shoulders.
“We should salute to the princess then,” Cyndi said, turning on her mischievous grin. She was wearing a light green dress. It was not as blinding as the dress she wore the other night.
“Quit it already,” Joanne said, feeling annoyed.
“You weren’t so annoyed when someone was saying that you’re cute,” Cyndi reminded her.
“Why are we talking about this stuff?” Sharon asked, her tone challenging. “We should hurry up.”
“We should relax so we would look more convincing with our little show,” Angela contradicted Sharon.
“What do you know?”
“I’m one of the two normal people here with a normal life, okay?”
“So normal that you went and live in this place,” Chun whispered. That earned him a shove in the ribs. He did not want to defend Sharon. He just felt it was amusing with Angela’s attempt to convince them when she was bordering on abnormality.
“Are you all right?” They heard Sophia asking Jacky.
They had been walking ahead so they did not realize it. They turned around to check on Jacky.
“I’m fine,” Jacky said, giving them a reassuring glance. Then he turned to Sophia. “I went through worse than this. Don’t worry.”
“Fake,” Sharon mumbled, increasing her pace.
“You’re not supposed to get ahead of us,” Chun yelled after her.
Jiro made his move. He increased his pace along with Sharon, grabbing onto her shoulder. “We’re not supposed to separate unless it’s necessary.”
Sharon attempted to shrug his hand off her shoulder. “Like I’m going to run away. I just don’t want to be stuck here with a bunch of…” Her eyes were definitely staring at Sophia. “Let go!” That was meant for Jiro, of course.
“Stop causing trouble already,” Joanne said. “It’s already forbidden so you could wake up from your dreams before you dip even further.”
“What are you talking about?” Sharon demanded. Though she knew exactly what Joanne was hinting at.
“I don’t want to expose you here. Don’t make me.”
“Well, you should be worried about yourself since I would expose you first.”
Jiro had let go of Sharon’s shoulder already. Not because she ordered him. He was no longer worried about her running off. She was just throwing one of her tantrums.
“Go ahead,” Joanne continued, not backing down.
“Careful,” Calvin whispered, not wanting Joanne to aggravate Sharon anymore than she already did.
“You and Calvin,” Sharon blurted out, not caring if she was going overboard.
“At least Calvin and I get along,” Joanne said. “Unlike you and your fantasies.”
“It’s also forbidden, you birdbrain!”
Joanne took a step forward–to which Calvin had to grab her hand to restrain her. This was getting out of hand.
“I don’t care!” Joanne shot back, not really resisting Calvin’s grasp.
“Huh, who was the one whom was talking about me earlier? Take your own advice and forget about it.”
“At least they would expect me to pull something like that, unlike you who…”
“That’s enough,” Jiro finally interfered. “If you two don’t shut up, I’ll make sure it gets taken care of.”
Calvin increased the pressure on Joanne’s hand, warning her not to contradict Jiro. Joanne turned to him. His face was cold yet his eyes were full of concern. She sent him a smile, indicating that she was not going to do anything rash.
“Who asked you?” Sharon continued with her own show.
“If you’re mad just because you can’t control everyone like how you do to your puppets, then that’s too bad,” Angela took over from where Joanne left off.
“Didn’t I tell everyone to shut up?” Jiro asked, his pace was still casual, but his patience was running low.
“She’ll tire herself out with her monologue,” Chun whispered to Angela. “Stop encouraging her.”
Angela looked exasperated. But she did not care to contribute her opinion anymore. No wonder Sharon was so spoiled, she thought. Everyone was letting her carry on as she wished, not interfering ever.
They continued walking in silence. The groups were scattered by the time they stopped at a creek. Some of them were sitting down. The others were checking the surroundings.
“Still mad?” Chun asked as he and Angela were walking casually along the creek.
“No,” Angela answered automatically.
“I know you are.”
“Good for you.”
“You have to understand that Sharon is our boss’ daughter. We can’t do anything like lecture her or…”
“Then why could Jiro yell at her like that?”
“He’s not. He just wants to do his job.”
“You might not like what you see, but her father took us in and…”
Angela scoffed. “Oh…what is this? Some modern melodramatic soap?”
Angela crossed her hands. “Forget it.”
They walked in silence again. When they were about to turn back, Angela tugged on Chun’s arm. He turned to her.
“Have you ever thought about leaving?” She asked. She was serious. Her expression had been serious since she was forced to shut up earlier.
Chun scanned his surroundings. He wasn’t trying to find the answer, but just the right words to say. “Even if I could, I can’t do it.”
“I know the way, but I just can’t leave like that.”
“You know why.”
“Gratitude, stubbornness, rather live in blindness than…”
He sighed out. “Forget it.” He increased his pace to join the others.
She caught up to him. “What?”
“When we get there, I’ll have the boss arrange for you leave as safely as possible. We can’t guarantee you will be found by the others or not. Unless you want to return to the mainland.”
That was all Chun wanted to say. He increased his pace even more, leaving Angela behind. He knew she would be able to stick with the group. He just did not want to force her to understand anymore. He had forgotten his place for too long. How could he think of something like happiness when he had some heavy burdens to carry? The battle had just begun. He was meant to be there till the end, finishing it off with the other fellow guards. Whether they would survive in the end, it was still unknown. Why was he involving himself into other matters unrelated to his life?
That night, they stopped and camped by a riverbank. The girls and the guards were separated into two tents. After dinner–or what was qualified for dinner, Chun volunteered to take the first shift while the others slept. They extinguished the fires after making sure the girls were tucked in safely. Calvin got up an hour earlier than his supposed shift and went out to sit with Chun.
“Sometimes, it’s better that you just don’t think about it,” Calvin said.
“What?” Chun asked, confused.
It was too dark out to see one or the other’s expression, but it was not hard to figure out they were using the darkness to their advantage. Or perhaps they did not want to use their night vision at that particular moment, sparing one another from having to put up a mask.
“We’ve never been around other girls except for those three,” Calvin continued. It was obvious he meant Cyndi, Joanne, and Sharon. “We know and can deal with Sharon. As for the other two? Getting assigned to them temporarily is a change for us.” He paused, letting out a sigh. “We will have to part ways soon. So does it matter that much?”
Chun knew Calvin meant if they weren’t close with the three princesses anyway, it wouldn’t matter with strangers. Yet he was unable to let go. “I don’t know.” Then he turned to Calvin–or at least toward the direction where his voice came from. “You make it so easy. You’ve been getting along so well with Miss Joanne.”
Calvin smiled–though Chun couldn’t really see it. “Maybe because she’s easygoing so we get along. But you know the rules.”
“She made it like a done deal with you two though.”
“She’s close with Jacky too and he’s just a brotherly figure. Maybe she treats me the same way.”
This time, Chun was able to hear Calvin’s laugh. “You know the answer already.”
“Forbidden.” Chun was reciting one of the rules. It had been brought onto the surface for quite a few times already these past days.
Calvin’s sigh was too obvious in the placid night. “Get some sleep.”
Chun got up and made his way toward the tent, knowing Calvin did not want to talk about it anymore.
Calvin was fidgeting with an object in his hands, trying to stay awake and alert. His thoughts were full of turmoil, but he forced himself to get rid of it, trying to take his own advice. It was always easier to advise than actually do it oneself. His concentration on the inner thoughts had dropped his alertness on his surroundings. He almost jumped when he felt someone grabbing him from behind. Then he realized it was just Joanne.
“Go to sleep,” He said, undoing her hands wrapped around him. “We have a long day tomorrow.”
“You’re not my brother,” Joanne said, still maintaining a strong grip.
He let go of her hands, shocked. She had overheard his conversation with Chun. Regaining himself, he finally pulled away from her. “It’s late, Miss. You shouldn’t be playing jokes on others.” Calling her formally was enough of a blow. He hoped the message got through.
“If you don’t have feelings for me, why would you care so much as to remind me about things, look out for me…”
“It’s my job to look after you.”
“Then what about the constant reminder?”
“It’s for your own good. Jiro hates noise. I told you that. You don’t know what Jiro could do if someone aggravates him. It doesn’t matter if you’re a princess. He will make sure you get the message. He won’t hurt you, but will find a way to…”
“Enough. You’re just trying to find a way to dive right out of it.”
“You don’t like me.”
“We grew up together. Chun, Jiro, and I are the only guys you know that are around your age. Once this battle is over and we’re out of here, you will meet other guys. Then you will realize you don’t really like me.”
“Stop making excuses.”
“What I’m saying is true.”
“You just don’t want to fight for your happiness.”
“My happiness? It’s just your one-sided fantasy.”
They were actually standing up at that point, staring at each other. The noise level had disrupted the others’ sleep.
“What’s going on here?” Angela asked, stepping out of the tent. “I thought someone was trying to play peacemaker earlier. Why start something up? And it’s in the middle of the night.”
“You guys have too much time on your hands?” Jiro asked, stepping out of his tent also.
Calvin turned to Jiro. “I was keeping watch here. It was just that someone was throwing one of their tantrums in the middle of the night.”
Joanne reached out and shoved Calvin’s shoulder before marching off to her tent.
“What happened?” Sophia asked when she saw Joanne’s face full of tears.
Joanne did not answer. She just leaned into Sophia and continued crying. Sophia patted her back and tried to soothe her, knowing Joanne did not want to talk about it.
“What’s going on?” Sharon asked groggily.
Cyndi had gotten up also. She crawled over to Joanne’s side. “What’s wrong?”
Joanne had shut their tent so the ones on the outside weren’t able to see her cry. If they had tried to through the darkness. Sharon gave up and went back to sleep after several attempts of getting the answer out of Joanne. Only Cyndi and Sophia remained. While that was going on, Chun stepped out of the guy’s tent also.
“What now?” Chun asked, turning to Calvin and Jiro.
“Nothing,” Calvin answered.
“Nothing sure is loud.”
“Let’s all get some sleep,” Jiro ordered.
Angela could see that Chun was avoiding her stare. (Her night visions were improving after staying with the gang for the past few nights.) She saw no point in pursuing the matters, especially in the middle of the night. And Joanne had already left the scene. “Whatever.” She joined the others in the tent. It was then that she realized Joanne had been crying. “I never knew anyone who cried so soft.” It was just an attempt to distract Joanne.
“You two can go to sleep,” Sophia told Angela and Cyndi. “I’ll comfort her.”
“You sure?” Cyndi asked.
Cyndi barely got some winks in when she was awakened again. It was her internal clock–and not some people finding more time to argue. She checked to see the others were fast asleep like before, including Joanne before sneaking out of her tent. She was glad she had changed into sweats earlier before going to sleep. The night air had increased several notches. She stopped and let her eyes adjust, scanning the place. She found Jiro sitting so close to the water.
“Aren’t you afraid of falling in?” She spoke up when she was only a few steps from him. Her voice was soft, not wanting to alarm him.
“I would like to see you try.”
She settled down next to him. “What are we learning tonight then?”
“Basic stuffs, lectures only. I’ll teach you the moves next time. Can’t rouse the others up after what happened.”
Jiro slid closer, lowering his voice even more. He was a cautious person. Getting caught was the last thing on his mind. Being misunderstood like the other day was one thing but being caught teaching Cyndi self-defense was another thing. A major offense.
Their lecture session took the rest of the night. It was only several hours because Jiro had planned it that way, but it seemed forever for Cyndi because she was having problems grasping the concepts. It was harder to memorize without actual demonstration. However, Jiro was patient. He stopped and answered her questions from time to time, making sure she understood.
“Morning,” Angela’s voice greeted them when the sun was in the process of rising.
Jiro pulled away from Cyndi and got up from his spot. He was greeted with Angela’s teasing smile. He chose to ignore it. “I’ll go wake up the guys.”
Angela was playing with her hair. “It looks like…”
“I’ll go change,” Cyndi mumbled, leaving as well.
Angela turned around in time to see Chun stepping out of his tent. His cold stare turned her smile off.
“Breakfast and then we’re leaving,” Jiro rattled out his orders as he set up the fire.
Jacky was the next one to step out of the guys’ tent. He saw Chun and Angela starring at each other. He only paused a moment to observe. He made his way over to the girls’ tent, checking on the others.
“You girls all right in there?” Jacky asked.
Sharon unzipped the tent and stepped out at that time, greeting him with a sweet smile. Jacky stepped back, diverting his eyes into the tent. Joanne was still sleeping. Or so it seemed. Sophia had already changed into a light blue outfit. She was folding her clothes and packing up at that moment. Her hair was tied back.
“Jacky ge!” Sharon called out suddenly, trying to get his attention.
“Sh…” He turned to her, wrinkling his face, a finger on his lips. “Miss Joanne’s still sleeping.”
“We have to wake up and get going anyway.”
And Jacky was right. Joanne was startled by Sharon’s outburst. She stirred and stretched, looking outside the tent.
“Jacky ge,” She greeted him groggily.
Jacky nodded. He wanted to ask her more, but that would mean letting others in on it. Questioning about her puffy eyes at that moment was like broadcasting it on satellite. It was too obvious that she had cried. He would ask her later. Or maybe Sophia.
“I’m going to shut the door,” Joanne announced, zipping the tent up when she received a nod from Jacky.
Jacky walked toward the fire Jiro started and helped him prepare breakfast. Sharon scowled behind Jacky’s back, not believing that he didn’t even acknowledge her existence. Chun and Angela’s staring contest had ended a minute or two ago. Chun was packing at that point. He came out to help Jacky and Jiro afterward.
“Hey, go wake Calvin up,” Jiro told Chun.
“He’s up,” Chun replied.
Calvin stepped out at that time, dressed in jeans and white t-shirts. He was putting his dark blue jacket on. He proceeded to taking the tent apart after placing their belongings to one side. Coincidentally, Joanne came out right about the same time.
“Are you two twins or what?” Angela exclaimed. She had forgotten about the promise she made to herself–don’t talk. At least not addressing the guys in general.
Cyndi and Sophia were moving their belongings outside, so they could take the tent apart. They stopped and checked out what Angela meant. Even the guards by the fire were looking up as well. Then they understood what the fuss was about. Joanne was wearing a dark purple outfit. She had abandoned the cheerful dresses completely and opted for sweats. The link? Calvin’s sweater had a slanted, dark purple strip running from front to back as some form of fancy design. Of course, Angela was exaggerating because it was only a little similarity. Yet it made the others wonder along with her. Even Calvin had stopped what he was doing and was staring at Joanne.
“What?” Joanne reacted, her attitude was cranked up tenfold from last night. “Never seen anyone wearing sweats before?”
That discouraged Calvin. He resumed his task, not daring to take a glimpse her way for as long as he was folding the tent.
“Let me do it,” Jacky said upon seeing Sophia getting ready to take down the tent. He handed Chun the utensils he was holding and headed toward the girls’ tent.
“If I was the one at the tent…” Sharon mumbled.
“You don’t know how to do it in the first place,” Joanne snapped, having heard Sharon since she was standing nearby. She did not care to let heads roll this morning.
“Don’t pick on me just because you got dumped,” Sharon shot back.
“Who did your braids?” Angela jumped in, walking toward Joanne. She did not feel like arguing that morning. Or more like she did not want to pick on Sharon anymore. She had given up on it. She saw no point in doing that.
“Sophia jie,” Joanne answered, her voice less edgy.
Actually, Joanne’s hair was tied up. Only the two ends were braided and then being wrapped around in a circle.
“Let’s eat everyone,” Jiro called out.
The others obeyed and gathered around the fire. They were kind of scattered around. Calvin and Jacky joined them a bit later after putting the tents away. Only Jiro and Cyndi were sitting close to one another. Or at least they were closer than the others. Jacky and Sophia were still getting along but they kept a polite distance from one another–for very obvious reasons–they needed space to eat. As for the rest, Joanne and Angela were sitting next to each other. Same for Calvin and Chun, but on the other side. It was like they had divided into two groups: on-speaking terms and not-on speaking terms. Sharon was actually somewhat by herself, not close to any group.
“Why is it so quiet this morning?” Sharon asked, feeling like it had been an eternity since anyone had spoken.
“You’re the only loud one here,” Calvin and Joanne shouted out at the same time. Then they stopped eating and turned to look at each other. Calvin still had on his passive look but there was some sense of unwillingness in his eyes. Joanne, on the other hand, was fierce all the way. No surprise. She turned away first, continuing to attack her food.
“Bite my head off why don’t you?” Sharon returned.
“Sorry,” Joanne mumbled. She knew she had gone overboard too many times these days. Taking it out on Sharon was stooping low.
Sharon had the look of shock on her face, so she did not bother to pursue the matter anymore. The atmosphere fell back into silence as she did some thinking of her own. Regardless of what happened these past days, they had always been friends, just like their fathers. It was not like they never picked on one another before. Yet Sharon became Joanne’s target more than once these past days. And the saddest part was Joanne was dead serious about her attacks.
“I’m done,” Joanne said five minutes later. Her plate was indeed empty. She got up and went over to the water, washing her plate. Then her hands slipped as she was suddenly lost in thoughts. She reacted too late, only managing to catch half a piece since the other part had already crashed into some rocks.
Then they heard the scream. Everyone looked up to check. Joanne had cut her hand on the shard. She was not a wimp. The reason for her outburst was seeing the blood flowing out and then having the images of the other night flashing through her mind. She shut her eyes and covered her ear with her hands. Calvin was the first to jump up from his place. He rushed over to her, hugging her from behind, attempting to pry her hands from her ears.
“It’s okay,” He yelled out in panic. “Let go. Your hands are…” He stopped because he knew.
She was having flashbacks from the other night. She was trying to block out the sounds of gunshots. He managed to grab hold of her hands, bringing them down.
“It’s okay,” He repeated his words from earlier. “You’re okay. You’re not there anymore.”
Her sobs were getting louder. It was like she couldn’t control herself. The others were by their side at that time.
“What’s going on?” Sharon asked, alarmed.
“It’s best not to ask now, Miss Sharon,” Jiro said. He had regarded her with formalities.
It was effective because she was stumped into silence.
“Here,” Cyndi said, joining them again. She had run to get the first aid kit.
Jacky was sitting on Joanne’s right at that point. “Don’t think about it. Concentrate on the wind around you, the clean air…” He knew was grasping at straws, but he was trying to remember the techniques he’d been taught a long time ago.
“His face’s staring at me,” Joanne managed at last, shaking her head. “He wants revenge.”
“No, he’s not,” Jacky continued. “He’s coming to make peace. He knows you did it because you were on the opposing side. He knew you had no choice. He’s smiling at you and waving goodbye for the last time, letting you know that he’s at a peaceful place now. See that? Try harder.”
Joanne’s sobbing had stopped. She was concentrating on changing the images in her head. She finally nodded, her breathing returning to normal. “He’s going to a place with lots of flowers…”
Sharon was getting impatient, wanting to know. As her lips moved, Jiro placed a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head.
Joanne’s grip finally loosened. She had been clutching on Calvin’s hand so hard because of the traumatizing experience. When she opened her eyes, she could see the blood in their hands, not sure if it was his or hers–or both. She gasped.
“You cut your hand with the shard,” Jacky reminded her, not wanting her episodes to come back. “That’s it.”
“I remember now,” Joanne said, attempting to reassure him.
Jacky nodded, getting up from his spot. He signaled to the others. They went to clean up and get ready for the upcoming journey as Calvin helped Joanne tend to her wound.
© Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011