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Chapter 10

The talk doesn’t happen until two days later when Janine finally wakes up. The whole while, Vic and Kai try to keep calm and check with Mick from time via text messages and phone calls. They have both been discharged after a thorough checkup. Many doctors are still puzzled as to why they haven’t suffered from more injuries after such an accident. But they let it go anyway, claiming because both have been secured to the car and the impact wasn’t severed as what happened to Janine.
“Chronological events add up what happened to us,” Vic reasons as he settles back in his seat.
Mick was the one who told them of what happened after they supposedly blacked out – after the accident, not the black out when they were trapped in the other realm. The paramedics have called Janine’s emergency contact on the way to the hospital hence him arriving there around the same time as the paramedic team to look after his sister, providing more helpful information for the hospital before the operation.
“She was brought in first so that was why we couldn’t feel anything at first,” Kai takes over from Vic’s deduction.
“Then that means you woke up first,” Vic says, his eyes shifting towards Kai. “I could still hear her whimper before I passed out.”
Kai nods, agreeing with Vic’s theory.
“What are you two talking about?” Mick asks, wrinkling his face – and his eyes darting from Vic to Kai and back.
“You wouldn’t get it if we tell you,” Vic says, his voice sincere, not mocking.
Mick turns to look at his sister for an explanation.
“Trust me on this one, Little Bro,” Janine echoes Vic’s tone. “You would never believe it. Just take it that we’re friends.”
Mick raises an eyebrow. “And I never met them before?”
Janine nods and sends him a weak smile. It’s not that she couldn’t be as convincing, but she’s still recovering from her injuries. Between the three of them, Janine suffers from the most injuries because she had been thrown out of the car in the process. Vic and Kai’s cars were actually a distance from her, but just got impacted because of the other driver swerving madly after the initial crash with Janine’s vehicle. According to the police, the guy responsible for their accident was a drunk driver. It made sense because he sure came out of nowhere. Yet the most puzzling part was how Vic and Kai were seemed in a serious condition when they were first transported in the emergency vehicles but recovered so fast after they were brought in.
“But nothing makes sense,” Kai returns to their subject of discussion. “I meant how come our injuries seemed non-existence after we woke up and Janine still suffered from hers?”
Vic shakes his head. “The universal is playing the double standard game as well?”
Kai isn’t quite amused though Vic has already caved in with a wry smile. “And what about our acquired talents?”
Vic still has on his smart-aleck smile. “It’s obviously gone.”
“Yeah, but it’s just too strange that we were tossed into madness and escaped?”
Vic brushes the back of his right hand across his nose to scratch a certain itch, appearing to be deep in thoughts at the same time. “I don’t know. Maybe we should study the stars or planet movements at that time of the accident to see if that was the cause of the shift?”
“I’m serious here.”
“We shouldn’t be arguing over this,” Janine interferes, knowing it’s hard not to argue, especially when nothing makes sense. “Maybe just take it that we’re getting a second chance.”
Vic and Kai both give their attention to her at that time.
“Does that mean we have to resolve our past conflicts liked we agreed on before we returned?” Kai asks, reminding them all that they’re still waiting for Janine’s answer before they finally wake up.
Contrary to her hysterical state they witnessed two days ago in that strange realm, Janine smiles and nods. It’s like she’s so full of confidence and hope again. Or perhaps they’ve all been through a near death experience so they want to cherish this new chance?

*****

Janine returns home a month later. Not only is Mick there to pick her up from the hospital, but Vic and Kai also accompany them. They have agreed to go conquer their demons together. Yet it doesn’t take place until another month later. It is because of their work schedule and whatnot. For one, Janine has to help Vic locate Margaret after all these years. It’s a miracle she could locate Margaret at all because Margaret still lives at her hometown. Or more like she had moved back there after graduation. Having Janine’s network of reporters as backup made the process easier to locate Margaret in such a short amount of time.
“This is it, ready?” Kai asks as they descend the car.
Kai and Janine have agreed to go with Vic. They have taken Janine’s car, not wanting Vic to be distracted. After suffering and surviving a car accident, they have taken extra caution whenever it comes to driving and the road in general.
“Ready,” Vic says, exhaling, not realizing he has been holding his breath.
“Let’s go then,” Janine says, taking the lead.
Though when they finally are in the set of houses that leads to Margaret’s place, the other two slow down and let Vic go first. Vic darts his eyes from Kai to Janine before turning towards that direction.
“Here it is,” Janine announces when they arrive at a grayish house at the end of the path – though it seems unnecessary.
As Vic is about to take a step forward, he spots two kids running out of the house, chasing one another – a little boy and a little girl to be exact.
“Give it back!” The little girl cries out. “If you don’t, I will tell Mommy!”
The little boy snickers and continues to run, taunting the little girl even more. The chase doesn’t last long because the little girl soon stops in her spot and cries for real this time, not just using it as threats like previously. The little boy turns around to face the girl at that time, his face looking alarmed. Before he could walk over to comfort her, they could see a young woman stepping out with a grim expression.
“Vic!” The woman calls out, looking at the little boy with much disapproval. “Did you bully your little sister again?”
Upon hearing “Vic”, both Janine and Kai turn to look at Vic. They, of course, know the young woman wasn’t referring to their friend. However, they couldn’t help noticing the coincidence. Vic is also looking at them, pondering about the matter himself. Yet before anyone of them have time to speak up, the conversation between the three family members continue.
“Mommy, I was just playing with her,” The little boy named Vic answers in his defensive tone. After explaining to his mother, the boy turns to his sister. “Stella, stop being such a big baby, here you go. Here’s your doll back.”
“Vic, don’t be mean,” The young woman continues in her chastising tone.
After a few more words being exchanged, the two kids head back inside while the young woman turns to face them. It’s like she finally notices their presence even though they have been standing there for a while now. Vic wanted to speak up a long time ago; it was just that he had lost his voice. To what, he wasn’t sure. But the smile fading away from the young woman’s face is obvious the minute she realizes who they are. At least when she’s staring at Vic.
“Margaret,” Vic says, finally mustering up the courage to call out to her.
It is then that understanding register for Janine and Kai. They exchange another look, wondering if the little boy’s name isn’t such a coincidence after all.
“We’ll wait for you by the car,” Janine says, speaking up for herself and Kai as well.
Kai nods as Vic turns his attention to them both again.
“No,” Vic objects, somehow grabbing onto Janine’s hand already.
Kai stops without needing to be told a second time. Though he could understand the complication that lies ahead. He could also guess why Vic’s impulse to grab onto Janine seems more urgent than addressing the situation at hand – like actually talking to Margaret. Has Vic figured out what Janine could possibly think of the situation hence the abrupt departure? Or she just doesn’t want to make it awkward for him – just like how Kai was thinking when he had turned to leave?
“I want you both to be present for this,” Vic explains, seeing Janine’s uncomfortable state. He finally lets go of Janine’s hand and turns his attention back on Margaret like before. “I know we parted on rough terms, but I have something I need to clarify about what happened in the past.” He pauses briefly – whether it is to wait for Margaret’s nod of agreement or to recollect his thoughts. “I don’t want us to be like enemies for the rest of our lives.”
Margaret turns around and takes a quick glance into the house. All three of them are staring at her right now and are waiting for her response, whatever it might be. It is up to her after all and they can’t force her to acknowledge their existence. Or give Vic a second chance if she doesn’t. Wanting to resolve the conflicts of their past is one thing, but holding out respect towards the other party is top priority.
“All right,” Margaret finally says – after what seems like an eternity to them.
She doesn’t say anymore, but turns around to walk back into her house. They follow without needing to be told. As they enter, they could see the living room looming to the left and a little hallway to the right. It’s one of those more traditional old houses in the countryside than the usual modernized architectures out in the cities that they’re accustomed to everyday. Margaret’s two kids are playing with their toys at a corner of the living room.
“Vic, Stella,” Margret calls out to her children. “Go get some water for our guests.
“Oh, no need,” Janine interferes, extending a hand.
“Let them go,” Margaret says, her voice consists a sense of determination. “It’s a distraction.” She has lowered her voice as she says those last few words.
Janine nods then, not wanting to stop the kids any longer. Instead, she unleashes her friendly smile on the kids as they disappear around a corner of the room.
“Go ahead and sit down,” Margaret urges, gesturing towards the wooden furniture ahead.
Vic and Margaret sit down at the longer chair, which could count for a sofa, while Janine and Kai settle at the side chairs nearby – with Janine being the one next to Vic.
“What are you here for this time?” Margaret asks, her eyes still on Vic.
Vic scans Janine and Kai’s faces first before answering. It’s like he needs to see their supportive expressions to reassure himself. Clearing his throat once, Vic speaks up at last. “I know it’s not a good time to bring it up but after what happened to the three of us several months back, I really want to clarify some matters with you.”
Vic, Janine, and Kai begin explaining to her what happened. Just a little background story – though a short version as to not startle her too much of their strange encounter with one another. The bottom line is they managed to survive and want to cherish this second chance – as they had declared months back. Between the storytelling, Vic and Stella have returned once to place down the water glasses before heading toward the hallway – which leads to another area of the house to play.
“Like I said in the past,” Vic speaks up again after the background story has been covered. “No one came between us. I just realized our different goals in life and I don’t want us to sacrifice those goals for one another.”
“I know that now,” Margaret says, interrupting Vic on purpose – and knowing he isn’t done. Margaret licks her lips once before continuing. “It’s just that I was too stubborn back then to admit that we’re too wrong for each other.” She looks towards the hallway where her two kids just disappeared to awhile back. “After we graduated, I moved back here and wanted to hide for a while. But I met Jack and got married. Little Vic’s really named after you, but it’s not for the reason you three might think. He’s named Vic because I wanted to remember it was because of Vic’s decision that I met Jack.”
Vic smiles then, feeling relief that Margaret no longer hates him for what had happened in the past. It’s too late to now. And considering how happy she looks while talking to her kids earlier, it’s obvious her marriage is a blissful one. However, Vic still wants to settle the matters of the past once and for all.
“I’m glad,” Vic finally says.
After that, they catch up a bit about what had happened these past years and eventually say their goodbyes. But all parties have promised to keep in touch.
“One down, two to go, right?” Kai says as they walk back to their car.
Vic nods. “I’m glad her life’s following a favorable course.” And he doesn’t care that the other two might be picking on his flowery description of the situation either. He’s just glad something that has been nabbing him all these years have finally come to light – and going towards a better direction.
“I don’t mean to spoil things for you,” Kai begins, which gets both Vic and Janine’s attention pronto. “But do you think Little Vic’s really not…”
Vic shakes his head before Kai could finish the sentence. “It’s impossible he’s mine. Margaret and I haven’t advanced that far yet. And Little Vic’s age doesn’t match to make that theory possible.”
Kai nods, finally seeing all the pieces of the puzzle. For some reason, Janine’s expression seems less tensed than previously. Though she seems glad for Vic’s resolved matter, but she seems somewhat distracted as well the whole while since they left Margaret’s place.
“Let’s get out of here and go celebrate, huh?” Kai suggests, his voice full of excitement all of a sudden.
“Sure,” Vic agrees, feeling high-spirited himself.
“How about pizza?”
“That’s fine. Janine?”
Janine doesn’t answer though. She seems to be lost in thoughts. The other two finally realize her distracted state and turns to her.
“What’s wrong?” Kai asks, his voice reflecting the concerned expression on Vic’s face.
“Maybe I should take care of my situation today and get it out of the way,” Janine says at last, her voice a tad lower than her usual tone.
“You sure you’re ready?” Vic asks this time.
Janine nods. “I know it will be hard to face them, but I have to somehow make them understand my path, instead of hiding like that.”
The two guys exchange a look before nodding as well.
“You want one of us to drive then?” Kai asks.
Janine shakes her head. “Maybe on the way back.
The other two nod in agreement and enter Janine’s car. Kai’s still the one sitting in the backseat.
The drive to Janine’s mother and stepfather’s mansion takes about an hour or so. They stay silent on purpose, not wanting to distract her. When they arrive at the coast area, darkness already covered the area. The sunset view was actually quite breath-taking on the drive. Janine parks at an empty parking spot and exit without saying anything.
“It’s going to be okay,” Vic says, placing a hand on her shoulder. “We’re here.”
Janine manages a small smile and begins heading towards the front door.
“Sis!” Mick’s voice greets them at the door.
“What are you doing here?” Janine asks, surprised.
“Celebrating Uncle Lu’s birthday,” Mick answers.
Janine’s alarmness kicks up another notch. “Am I interrupting then? I should come back another day.”
“No, sis, come on in,” Mick rattles out in his happy tone as he grabs onto his sister’s hand to stop her from leaving. “The more the merrier. Besides, it’s only the three of us.”
“No grand party?” Janine asks, her shock mode has increased yet another notch.
Mick shakes his head. “The partying has tone down since several years ago.”
“Oh,” Janine utters, still trying to take in all the new information.
“Hey, Vic, Kai, come in,” Mick says, looking in their direction. “We’re glad to have more guests.”
Vic and Kai have no choice but to follow. After all, they can’t just leave Janine here all by herself to fend off whatever unexpectedness that is still yet to come. Though the situation seems less pressurized due to the absence of some crowd, but that doesn’t mean something out of the blue won’t occur within their own family.
“Janine!” A man with grayish hair calls outs upon seeing the four of them walking into the dining room. “What a surprise. Just in time to celebrate my birthday.”
“Hi, Uncle Lu,” Janine rattles out, still feeling numbed of what she’s seeing. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring a present.”
The old man whom Janine just called Uncle Lu maintains his smile and waves it off. “No need. As long as you’re here for the family dinner. Your mom and I really miss having you around.”
Upon hearing those words, Mick ushers everyone towards a chair along the long table. It seems so lonely with just some members present. But it now makes up a difference with the additional members. Janine is sitting across the table from an older woman, which Vic and Kai guesses is her mother – from their resemblance. Mick returns to his seat next to the older woman after ushering Vic and Kai to the chairs next to Janine.
“I guess we could start now, huh?” Mick says, still resuming his peacekeeping, host-like attitude.
“Mom,” Janine says, looking at her mother, her expression still tensed but it is reflecting a sense of worry more than hostility.
“Let’s eat first,” Uncle Lu interferes, keeping his happy smile on, trying to reduce the intensity that could threaten to tear them all apart.
They’re actually still waiting for the older woman to respond. She finally nods and smiles to her husband’s suggestion, releasing them all from the wait. They all dig in – with Mick still playing host.
“Where are the servants?” Janine asks out of curiosity when she realizes Mick have been making trips to the kitchen constantly to get some needed items.
“I let them have a day off,” Uncle Lu replies. “I want it to be just a regular family dinner.”
Janine smiles, nodding in a polite manner, still trying to get used to it all.
And after learning of that little new information, Vic and Kai end up volunteering to help Mick with the constant trips between the kitchen and the dining room as well. That little gesture has reduced even more of the intensity forming since Janine and the other two entered the room. Their conversations actually steer towards the playfulness path slowly. After dinner, they move to the living room. With the exception of Mick and his mother. They have actually volunteered to do dessert as the others sit in the living room and chat. Vic and Kai pretend to be studying various art pieces around the room as Uncle Lu approaches Janine. The two settle down at the sofa before Uncle Lu speaks up.
“I know that we haven’t been getting along since the beginning,” Uncle Lu begins. “But I never meant to steal your mother from you or Mick.”
Janine nods. “I know that now. It’s just that…” She stops and lowers her glass, trying to recollect her thoughts. “I think it was bad timing. And then all the parties…” She stops to gesture at a direction behind them.
Uncle Lu nods as well, understanding what Janine’s trying to convey. “Actually, your mother has always wanted to draw your attention and try to get you to like me. Those are the reasons for the parties. She’s not too fond of those guests either. They could be so gossipy and judgmental. But Ada – your mother, has always been holding onto some hope that those lively parties could stir your interests.”
Janine’s face displays some source of surprise at this point. She glimpses towards the direction of the kitchen briefly before returning her eyes on Uncle Lu. “I never know…I thought she was just…trying to fit in with your crowd and…I meant, I’m not trying to say that your friends are…”
Uncle Lu puts a hand up at that point to stop Janine, understanding her urgent rambling. “I know you didn’t mean it. Like you said, it was just bad timing, right? So it’s easy to assume about everyone’s motives, including your mother’s.”
Janine smiles at last. One containing relief, not the forced one she has been trying on just to keep things peaceful – and possibly respectful.
“I guess that means we could become a family after all?” Uncle Lu says, bringing his glass up to eye level.
Janine nods, clinging her glass to his.
At that time – whether preplanned or not, Mick and his mother step out from the kitchen with two trays in their hands. Vic and Kai step forward to help as Janine and Uncle Lu move to make some space on the coffee table for the desserts.
“We should do these family gatherings more often,” Mick says as he settles down next to his sister.
“Yes, we should,” Janine agrees, smiling across the table at her mother.
It looks like the older woman has recovered from the sudden appearance of her daughter after all these years. She seems more relaxed and actually returns Janine’s smile as well. Vic and Kai exchange a smile of their own, knowing that Janine’s past has been resolved. Sometimes, misunderstandings are unavoidable. But small misunderstandings could cause so much impact for many people, whether family or friends. Yet perception sure plays a major role in distorting one’s view of another thus driving forward the misunderstandings even more.
That night, they step out of the mansion late, but the guys do not mind. They are actually glad to have accompanied Janine on this trip. Kai volunteers to drive once again and Janine actually agrees. She still has much to reconsider. Vic actually switches to the back seat to monitor Janine, not wanting to just check on her well-being through the rearview mirrors.

*****

Still another month passes by, they manage to catch a break at work and take some time off for a camping trip in the woods. They actually invite Janine’s family along as well. After they’re all set up at the cabin, Vic, Janine, and Kai head out to the river nearby to watch the sunset. Yes, it is the same area where Kai usually does his camping and fishing trips. The difference this time is settling for cabins instead of the usual rouge natural camping. The reason is because of both Uncle Lu and Janine’s mother’s health conditions. They do not want the old couple to exert too much strength for some leisure activity. Mick has volunteered to stay and help the other two unpack hence the three of them having all the time to themselves by the river.
“So, what do you guys think?” Kai asks, staring out at the view with much satisfaction. “We’re going to shoot two birds with one stone this time, right?”
Janine wrinkles her face. “What do you mean?”
Kai has settled down at a big boulder in front of the river and is tossing some stones into the water. Vic and Janine are still standing and watching the view ahead.
“You’re afraid of darkness in the woods, aren’t you?” Kai reminds her. “And I still have this whole wilderness to conquer.”
“Want to see who conquers what faster?” Janine challenges, her smile equally cunning.
“No deal,” Kai returns, his mischievous smile on as well. “I rather bet on how long before you two get together.”
At the mention of that, Vic and Janine’s smile fade at the same time. They turn to look at each other, feeling somewhat of the awkwardness unraveling already.
“Don’t even try and deny it,” Kai’s voice travels to their ears again. “I’m not that oblivious to things around me, you know.”
Vic and Janine have broken their stare already and continue to watch the sun rays hitting the water below – along with the water trickling down the different levels of the river’s curves.
“So, what’s the answer, guys?”
“We’ll see,” Janine responds at last, smiling out to the orange-yellow rays dancing back and forth on top of a tree nearby.
Somehow, Vic smiles also, feeling hopeful as they’re waiting for the darkness to wrap around them in totality. That is until they turn on their own flashlights and head back to their cabin. Until then, they still have some time to experience the various signs of nature transferring itself and preparing for the upcoming night. And also the little serenity of nature that accompanies the setting sun – after Kai has stopped tossing stones down at the river.
© Friday, August 31st, 2012
Posted: Friday, October 5th, 2012

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