“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” --May Sarton
It was typed-written on a buff-colored tissue paper. The other pieces had different passages too, but this one got me. The rain had finally died down, but I was still waiting for Chloe inside a coffee shop near the meeting spot we had agreed to. Good thing I jogged this morning when the day was still clear. It was a thing, actually. Glad did my homeworks too as I should be. Well, it was the weekend and it was my first to be hanging out with strangers.
I damped the napkin to my lips for I was sure my face was already oily that you could fry cook on it. I thought at least I should look tidy in front of these rich people. I was just not used to this weather. It had been a mystery but never been a problem.
A few minutes later, a black car stopped in front of the shop, rolled down the window at the back and suddenly Chloe’s face appeared.
“Sorry, I dozed off. I just can’t handle the rain. It’s making lazy and all.” Then a man in a black tux swiftly got out from the front and opened the door where Chloe was. “Let’s go Sam. Hop in.” I did what she said. Then the man closed the door for me and sat back in front. The man on driver’s seat was also in a black tux, and black sunglasses. They were making me uncomfortable. It had the ominous feeling.
“Charles will be late. He has a meeting he said.” She pouted. “Tasuki was not in the house, he’s making me worried.”
“Tasuki?” I repeated.
“Yah, the guy we’re meeting? I’m currently living in his house. He’s my childhood friend too, like Charles. He is not that friendly though, but don’t worry about it. He’s name is actually pronounced ‘Taski’, but it spells ‘Tasuki’. Oh I’m not used to Japanese names anyway.” She chuckled and turned.
“What?” I gave her a puzzled look. “Anything on my face?”
“I can’t believe you’re actually wearing that.” She giggled. “It looks fun. I like it.”
I was wearing a plain black pair of leggings with not-so-tight denim short, white sneakers, plain green sweater, and ponytailed my shoulder-length auburn hair. While she was wearing a dreamy vintage dress crafted in what I think was cotton featuring a round neckline with row edge, short puff sleeves, four buttons front plankets, a side invisible zip closure, a belt with tassels drawstring, multi layer mesh skirt with blue mesh lining hemline and nude heels.
I scoffed. “It’s not. Mine’s simple. I like yours.”
“Just the casual.” She looked outside the window, fazed. There was a soccer field and kids playing were soaking wet. I caught a glimpse from the driver, although he was wearing sunglasses you could say he was looking at us. “You had your hair cut.” She inspected my face. “It’s good--- Better.”
Could it be that Chloe wanted to be simple? May be even rich people have their own perplexity. Not sure, but it felt like it. “My brother would be cutting my nose off because of it. He didn’t like it whenever I cut my hair.”
“Your brother prefers girls with long hair. I think most men do, after all they needed something to pull when things start to heat up--”
I cleared my throat.
“—I like it when they do that.”
The house was so big. A mansion surrounded by tall gates, green lawn. Nevertheless, what actually amazed me was the number of men guarding the residence. They were scattered everywhere all wearing the same thing. Sunglasses, black suit, black tie, black shoes. Like clones. Both hands at the back, not moving, expressionless, very much like statues. The inside was quiet, gloomy, caliginous, and spacious. Chloe led me to the living room.
“Is there something you want to drink?” I shook my head. I actually wanted to pee. She made a gesture I didn’t catch, and that’s when I realized there was a maid waiting far behind me. She bowed and walked away. “While we wait why don’t we talk about you, Sam?” She sat comfortably to couch and checked her phone. She frowned, placing the mobile under the pillow beside her. “There’s nothing to do much in here. What a good plan this is... That Charles. He was the one who planned this. He’s really a pain. Really!” She heaved a sigh.
“There’s nothing to talk about me.” I dismissed the idea with a flick of my hand.
“I’ve been staying here for five months now, I think.” She started. “I ran away from my family back there in Carmelo---”
Carmelo? I asked myself. I was trying to register where it was. I remembered it was mentioned in a series grandma used to watch. The one about fashion.
“—You see… My parents keep bossing me around. They were arranging my marriage behind my back. Thrice.” Raising three fingers, and then she sighed.
“I can’t believe there are still people doing that… I mean--”
“Exactly!” Her pitch was a little too high and a little too loud, nodding. “Those guys were not even good looking. One day I just snapped and decided to go here when mom demanded me to meet the fourth guy.” She chuckled, scratching her temple. “My mom became an actress when she was just twelve. Because of living and making money in such a young age, she matured quickly and decided to get engaged at nineteen. She was just so in love she forgot she was still young and she should still be living her life to its fullest. She was a darling and every man just begged their knees for her. They broke up five years after and from there her career bloomed. She had a couple of relationships but they didn’t last long. At the age thirty-five, she realized most men of her age wanted younger and bouncier women—juicier.” She let her eyes grew. “Luckily she met my father at forty-two.”
A man on suit came with the maid earlier. The maid placed a glass teapot with a large metal infuser chamber inside, and two small cups on the table. “Rooibos tea, ma’am?” Chloe nodded. When the old lady looked at me, I shook my head.
She took a sip and continued. “Because of her many failed relationships, she wanted me to focus on one man. My father just keeps scratching his forehead about it. I just think she never learned from her experience that getting engaged or too serious to a man at a younger age is ridiculous. Once you get pregnant, it’s over. The once lusty sexy delicious young woman is now a mother. Fuck!” Another sip allowed her to calm herself. “I salute girls who maintained their dignity as a young mother. They’re awesome. I just…you know… I want to have fun and be the rockstar of my own life, focus on myself, travel the world and achieve my goals before I’m thirty. Lucky, for you… you can do whatever you want.” She looked down to her knees. “Finding that one special man is hard nowadays. And it’ll be harder someday, maybe. I guess one day, I’ll just have to give in to who my mother wants. Hopefully not.” Her halfhearted smile meant a lot. “They don’t know I’m here by the way. They have no idea I am living with a very handsome guy.”
The suit guy lowered his head to Chloe’s ear and whispered something to her. Chloe’s eyes rolled and nodded. The suit guy took a step back and just stood there near the maid. Not moving.
“He’s---” she was interrupted by the sudden angry burst of ringing from her phone. “It’s Charles” she stood up and went somewhere. “Hullo Charles?”
I gathered my courage and asked the maid, “Uhm, where’s the comfort room?” She looked at me and told me to follow her. I never thought asking about comfort room in someone’s house needed a lot of audacity.
When I got out from the comfort room, the maid was gone. I lost myself in a maze of corridors. Where is it again? I couldn’t remember. What the hell? The place was murky, so I started panicking.
I heard a soft clatter, then a grumble. Following the sound, I found myself standing in front of a door. Is this it? I thought.
I could hear someone’s breathing hard inside, like hyperventilating, and then a clinking sound. I knocked lightly carrying my guts. There was no answer, but I could still hear some groaning. Knocked again, more strident this time. Still none. I grabbed the knob and it was not locked, so I opened it and barged in. It was dark, only a reflection of light from the moon lit the room. A large window was wide open, letting the curtain sway back and forth from the sweet wind. A person? I asked myself. The shadow seemed like it was bent over a tall table. The person inhaled abruptly and then exhaled, grumbling as he straightened his back. It sounded like a man’s.
“Excuse… me… I got lost… and--” A wave of nausea surged through me as I stood in the room. An orange-colored small light was suddenly prominent. I didn’t notice it earlier. It lifted and its color flared. Air was filled rapidly with a distinct smell of burn. “I got separated from Chloe...and--” He puffed and a stream, thick white smoke popped downwards until it scattered, hiding his silhouette. I couldn’t see him now. There was another clinking sound of glass, and I said squeezing my arm“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t just come in like that. I’m really sorry. I’ll leave now.”
When I was about to turn, he grabbed my hoodie and slammed me to the wall. He’s fast. I didn’t even sense him near me. He was like meters away earlier. He lifted me by grabbing the collar of my sweatshirt then whammed me to I-don’t-know-what, and something fell. A sharp, ear-piercing, shattering sound resonated in the room. He swung me again. Hundred pieces scattered on the ground glimmering as the moon light reflected them.
Finally, half of his face was revealed. I could see his eyes. They were gleaming, like it was glowing. Like cat’s eyes in the dark. They were yellow. Or gold. Must be the effect of moon’s light. His eyes were lifeless, dead. It was frightening, yet I felt sad. But I couldn’t stop myself from being amazed. He was grabbing me still, looking at me. I could feel the searing pain now. He was strong.
Not this again, I thought.
I realized I was shaking. Maybe I bit my tongue, or my lip. I was not sure, but I could taste blood. My back. My shoulders. My arms. The impact. Everything happened so fast.
He was glaring at me, not blinking. My glasses were gone. It flew somewhere. I had no time to think about why I could see this guy so clearly without my glasses. Maybe, I had become a cat too, since cats could see clearly in the dark. My eyes were closing. I guessed my head hit something that my brain swam with stars.