The talk didn’t happen until two days later when Janine finally woke up. The whole while, Vic and Kai tried to keep calm and check with Mick from time to time via text messages and phone calls. They’d both been discharged after a thorough checkup. Many doctors were still puzzled as to why they hadn’t suffered from more injuries after such an accident. But they let it go anyway, claiming because both had 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 settled back in his seat.

Mick was the one who told them of what happened after they supposedly blacked out–after the accident, not the blackout when they were trapped in the other realm. The paramedics had 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 took over from Vic’s deduction.

“Then that means you woke up first,” Vic said, his eyes shifting toward Kai. “I could still hear her whimper before I passed out.”

Kai nodded, agreeing with Vic’s hypothesis.

“What are you two talking about?” Mick asked, wrinkling his face–and his eyes darting from Vic to Kai and back.

“You wouldn’t get it if we tell you,” Vic said, his voice sincere, not mocking.

Mick turned to look at his sister for an explanation.

“Trust me on this one, Little Bro,” Janine echoed Vic’s tone. “You would never believe it. Just take it that we’re friends.”

Mick raised an eyebrow. “And I never met them before?”

Janine nodded and sent him a weak smile. It was not that she couldn’t be as convincing, but she was still recovering from her injuries. Between the three of them, Janine suffered 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 seen 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 returned 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 shook his head. “The universal is playing the double standard game as well?”

Kai wasn’t quite amused though Vic had already caved in with a wry smile. “And what about our acquired talents?”

Vic still had 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 brushed 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 interfered, knowing it was hard not to argue, especially when nothing made sense. “Maybe just take it that we’re getting a second chance.”

Vic and Kai both gave 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 asked, reminding them all that they were still waiting for Janine’s answer before they finally woke up.

Contrary to her hysterical state they witnessed two days ago in that strange realm, Janine smiled and nodded. It was like she was so full of confidence and hope again. Or perhaps they’d all been through a near-death experience so they wanted to cherish this new chance?

*****

Janine returned home a month later. Not only was Mick there to pick her up from the hospital, but Vic and Kai also accompanied them. They had agreed to go conquer their demons together. Yet it didn’t take place until another month later. It was because of their work schedule and whatnot. For one, Janine had to help Vic locate Margaret after all these years. It was a miracle she could locate Margaret at all because Margaret still lived 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 asked as they descended the car.

Kai and Janine had agreed to go with Vic. They had taken Janine’s car, not wanting Vic to be distracted. After suffering and surviving a car accident, they had taken extra caution whenever it came to driving and the road in general.

“Ready,” Vic said, exhaling, not realizing he had been holding his breath.

“Let’s go then,” Janine said, taking the lead.

Though when they finally were in the set of houses that led to Margaret’s place, the other two slowed down and let Vic go first. Vic darted his eyes from Kai to Janine before turning toward that direction.

“Here it is,” Janine announced when they arrived at a grayish house at the end of the path–though it seemed unnecessary.

As Vic was about to take a step forward, he spotted 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 snickered and continued to run, taunting the little girl even more. The chase didn’t last long because the little girl soon stopped in her spot and cried for real this time, not just using it as threats like previously. The little boy turned 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 called out, looking at the little boy with much disapproval. “Did you bully your little sister again?”

Upon hearing “Vic”, both Janine and Kai turned to look at Vic. They, of course, knew the young woman wasn’t referring to their friend. However, they couldn’t help noticing the coincidence. Vic was also looking at them, pondering about the matter himself. Yet before any one of them had time to speak up, the conversation between the three family members continued.

“Mommy, I was just playing with her,” The little boy named Vic answered in his defensive tone. After explaining to his mother, the boy turned 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 continued in her chastising tone.

After a few more words being exchanged, the two kids headed back inside while the young woman turned to face them. It was like she finally noticed their presence even though they had 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 was obvious the minute she realized who they were. At least when she was staring at Vic.

“Margaret,” Vic said, finally mustering up the courage to call out to her.

It was then that understanding register for Janine and Kai. They exchanged another look, wondering if the little boy’s name wasn’t such a coincidence after all.

“We’ll wait for you by the car,” Janine said, speaking up for herself and Kai as well.

Kai nodded as Vic turned his attention to them both again.

“No,” Vic objected, somehow grabbing onto Janine’s hand already.

Kai stopped without needing to be told a second time. Though he could understand the complication that lied ahead. He could also guess why Vic’s impulse to grab onto Janine seemed more urgent than addressing the situation at hand–like actually talking to Margaret. Had Vic figured out what Janine could possibly think of the situation hence the abrupt departure? Or she just didn’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 explained, seeing Janine’s uncomfortable state. He finally let go of Janine’s hand and turned his attention back on Margaret like before. “I know we parted on rough terms, but I have something I need to clarify regarding what happened in the past.” He paused briefly–whether wat 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 turned around and took a quick glance into the house. All three of them were staring at her and were waiting for her response, whatever it might be. It was up to her after all and they can’t force her to acknowledge their existence. Or give Vic a second chance if she didn’t want to. Being able to resolve the conflicts of their past was one thing, but holding out respect toward the other party was top priority.

“All right,” Margaret finally said–after what seemed like an eternity to them.

She didn’t say anymore but turned around to walk back into her house. They followed without needing to be told. As they entered, they could see the living room looming to the left and a little hallway to the right. It was one of those more traditional old houses in the countryside than the usual modernized architectures out in the cities that they were accustomed to every day. Margaret’s two kids were playing with their toys at a corner of the living room.

“Vic, Stella,” Margret called out to her children. “Go get some water for our guests.

“Oh, no need,” Janine interfered, extending a hand.

“Let them go,” Margaret said, her voice consisted of a sense of determination. “It’s a distraction.” She had lowered her voice as she said those last few words.

Janine nodded then, not wanting to stop the kids any longer. Instead, she unleashed her friendly smile on the kids as they disappeared around a corner of the room.

“Go ahead and sit down,” Margaret urged, gesturing toward the wooden furniture ahead.

Vic and Margaret sat down at the longer chair, which could count for a sofa, while Janine and Kai settled at the side chairs nearby–with Janine being the one next to Vic.

“What are you here for this time?” Margaret asked, her eyes still on Vic.

Vic scanned Janine and Kai’s faces first before answering. It was like he needed to see their supportive expressions to reassure himself. Clearing his throat once, Vic spoke 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 began 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 was they managed to survive and want to cherish this second chance–as they had declared months back. Between the storytelling, Vic and Stella had returned once to place down the water glasses before heading toward the hallway–which led to another area of the house to play.

“Like I said in the past,” Vic spoke up again after the background story had 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 said, interrupting Vic on purpose–and knowing he wasn’t done. Margaret licked her lips once before continuing. “It was just that I was too stubborn back then to admit that we were too wrong for each other.” She looked toward 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 was really named after you, but it was not for the reason you three might think. He wass named Vic because I wanted to remember it was because of Vic’s decision that I met Jack.”

Vic smiled then, feeling relief that Margaret no longer hated him for what had happened in the past. It was too late to now. And considering how happy she looked while talking to her kids earlier, it was obvious her marriage was a blissful one. However, Vic still wanted to settle the matters of the past once and for all.

“I’m glad,” Vic finally said.

After that, they caught up a bit about what had happened these past years and eventually said their goodbyes. But all parties had promised to keep in touch.

“One down, two to go, right?” Kai said as they walked back to their car.

Vic nodded. “I’m glad her life’s following a favorable course.” And he didn’t care that the other two might be picking on his flowery description of the situation either. He was just glad something that had been nabbing him all these years had finally come to light–and was going toward a better direction.

“I don’t mean to spoil things for you,” Kai began, which got both Vic and Janine’s attention pronto. “But do you think Little Vic’s really not…”

Vic shook 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 nodded, finally seeing all the pieces of the puzzle. For some reason, Janine’s expression seemed less tense than previously. Though she seemed glad for Vic’s resolved matter, she seemed somewhat distracted as well the whole while since they left Margaret’s place.

“Let’s get out of here and go celebrate, huh?” Kai suggested, his voice full of excitement all of a sudden.

“Sure,” Vic agreed, feeling high-spirited himself.

“How about pizza?”

“That’s fine. Janine?”

Janine didn’t answer though. She seemed to be lost in thoughts. The other two finally realized her distracted state and turned to her.

“What’s wrong?” Kai asked, 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 said at last, her voice a tad lower than her usual tone.

“You sure you’re ready?” Vic asked this time.

Janine nodded. “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 exchanged a look before nodding as well.

“You want one of us to drive then?” Kai asked.

Janine shook her head. “Maybe on the way back.

The other two nodded in agreement and entered Janine’s car. Kai was still the one sitting in the backseat.

The drive to Janine’s mother and stepfather’s mansion took about an hour or so. They stayed silent on purpose, not wanting to distract her. When they arrived at the coast area, darkness already covered the area. The sunset view was actually quite breathtaking on the drive. Janine parked at an empty parking spot and exit without saying anything.

“It’s going to be okay,” Vic said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “We’re here.”

Janine managed a small smile and began heading toward the front door.

“Sis!” Mick’s voice greeted them at the door.

“What are you doing here?” Janine asked, surprised.

“Celebrating Uncle Lu’s birthday,” Mick answered.

Janine’s alarmed state kicked up another notch. “Am I interrupting then? I should come back another day.”

“No, sis, come on in,” Mick rattled out in his happy tone as he grabbed 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 asked, her shock mode had increased yet another notch.

Mick shook his head. “The partying has toned down since several years ago.”

“Oh,” Janine uttered, still trying to take in all the new information.

“Hey, Vic, Kai, come in,” Mick said, looking in their direction. “We’re glad to have more guests.”

Vic and Kai had no choice but to follow. After all, they couldn’t just leave Janine there all by herself to fend off whatever unexpectedness that was still yet to come. Though the situation seemed less pressurized due to the absence of some crowd, that didn’t mean something out of the blue won’t occur within their own family.

“Janine!” A man with grayish hair called out 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 rattled out, still feeling numbed of what she was seeing. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring a present.”

The old man whom Janine just called Uncle Lu maintained his smile and waved 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 ushered everyone toward a chair along the long table. It seemed so lonely with just some members present. But it now made up all the difference with the additional members. Janine was sitting across the table from an older woman, which Vic and Kai guessed was her mother–from their resemblance. Mick returned 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 said, still resuming his peacekeeping, host-like attitude.

“Mom,” Janine said, looking at her mother, her expression still tensed but it was reflecting a sense of worry more than hostility.

“Let’s eat first,” Uncle Lu interfered, keeping his happy smile on, trying to reduce the intensity that could threaten to tear them all apart.

They were actually still waiting for the older woman to respond. She finally nodded and smiled at her husband’s suggestion, releasing them all from the wait. They all dug in–with Mick still playing host.

“Where are the servants?” Janine asked out of curiosity when she realized Mick had been making trips to the kitchen constantly to get some needed items.

“I let them have a day off,” Uncle Lu replied. “I want it to be just a regular family dinner.”

Janine smiled, nodding in a polite manner, still trying to get used to it all.

And after learning of that little new information, Vic and Kai ended up volunteering to help Mick with the constant trips between the kitchen and the dining room as well. That little gesture had reduced even more of the intensity forming since Janine and the other two entered the room. Their conversations actually steered toward the playfulness path slowly. After dinner, they moved to the living room. With the exception of Mick and his mother. They had actually volunteered to do dessert as the others sat in the living room and chatted. Vic and Kai pretended to be studying various art pieces around the room as Uncle Lu approached Janine. The two settled down at the sofa before Uncle Lu spoke up.

“I know that we haven’t been getting along since the beginning,” Uncle Lu began. “But I never meant to steal your mother from you or Mick.”

Janine nodded. “I know that now. It’s just that…” She stopped and lowered her glass, trying to recollect her thoughts. “I think it was bad timing. And then all the parties…” She stopped to gesture at a direction behind them.

Uncle Lu nodded as well, understanding what Janine was 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 displayed some source of surprise at this point. She glimpsed toward 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 put 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 smiled at last. One containing relief, not the forced one she had been trying on just to keep things peaceful–and possibly respectful.

“I guess that means we could become a family after all?” Uncle Lu said, bringing his glass up to eye level.

Janine nodded, clinging her glass to his.

At that time–whether preplanned or not, Mick and his mother stepped out from the kitchen with two trays in their hands. Vic and Kai stepped forward to help as Janine and Uncle Lu moved to make some space on the coffee table for the desserts.

“We should do these family gatherings more often,” Mick said as he settled down next to his sister.

“Yes, we should,” Janine agreed, smiling across the table at her mother.

It looked like the older woman had recovered from the sudden appearance of her daughter after all these years. She seemed more relaxed and actually returned Janine’s smile as well. Vic and Kai exchanged a smile of their own, knowing that Janine’s past had been resolved. Sometimes, misunderstandings were unavoidable. But small misunderstandings could cause so much impact for many people, whether family or friends. Yet perception sure played a major role in distorting one’s view of another thus driving forward the misunderstandings even more.

That night, they stepped out of the mansion late, but the guys did not mind. They were actually glad to have accompanied Janine on this trip. Kai volunteered to drive once again and Janine actually agreed. She still had much to reconsider. Vic actually switched to the back seat to monitor Janine, not wanting to just check on her well-being through the rearview mirrors.

*****

Still another month passed by, they managed to catch a break at work and took some time off for a camping trip in the woods. They actually invited Janine’s family along as well. After they were all set up at the cabin, Vic, Janine, and Kai headed out to the river nearby to watch the sunset. Yes, it was the same area where Kai usually did his camping and fishing trips. The difference this time was settling for cabins instead of the usual rouge natural camping. The reason was because of both Uncle Lu and Janine’s mother’s health conditions. They did not want the old couple to exert too much strength for some leisure activity. Mick had 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 asked, staring out at the view with much satisfaction. “We’re going to shoot two birds with one stone this time, right?”

Janine wrinkled her face. “What do you mean?”

Kai had settled down at a big boulder in front of the river and is tossing some stones into the water. Vic and Janine were still standing and watching the view ahead.

“You’re afraid of the darkness in the woods, aren’t you?” Kai reminded her. “And I still have this whole wilderness to conquer.”

“Want to see who conquers what faster?” Janine challenged, her smile was equally cunning.

“No deal,” Kai returned, 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 faded at the same time. They turned to look at each other, feeling somewhat of the awkwardness unraveling already.

“Don’t even try and deny it,” Kai’s voice traveled to their ears again. “I’m not that oblivious to things around me, you know.”

Vic and Janine had broken their stare already and continued 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 responded at last, smiling out to the orange-yellow rays dancing back and forth on top of a tree nearby.

Somehow, Vic smiled also, feeling hopeful as they were waiting for the darkness to wrap around them in totality. That was until they turned on their own flashlights and headed back to their cabin. Until then, they still had 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 accompanied the setting sun–after Kai had stopped tossing stones down at the river.

© Friday, August 31st, 2012

Posted: Friday, October 5th, 2012

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