Crimzon5 -> RE: Visions: Faith, Wrath, and Zeal (5/14/2010 3:34:43)
Okay, so I can’t really read your mind! …What? The world might end at any second, and I would rather die an honest man.
The sun continued to hide behind the shield of clouds, a disruptive wall rather than a protective buckler. The air, nonetheless, was very cold. After a break he had to make because of the red traffic lights, Ryan returned his gaze to the Derem’s household. The turns they had to take led them to side of the mansion’s posterior wall – at least twenty feet below it, that is. Not many were familiar with who the Derems were, but the townsfolk referred to their house as the “Big House on the Hill.”
Ryan only appreciated the city from afar and when it was night. Like a child, bright lights would enthrall him as long as it did not cause irritation. Much more like a child, Jhenine was no different. The brunet eyed his surroundings with displeasure but also a familiarity worn out by his travels. His case of nostalgia grew worse as he believed that much had changed beneath the snow, yet nothing in particular had taken any form of transformation. He had been gone for three months, chasing a man that he believed was responsible for the death of his father – but the situation was different now.
Lea Atlantra was a city that housed all kinds of people, from the wealthy to the financially-struggling. There were several vacant lots, green areas on the map during spring and summer. They served as a great spots for snowball fighting, making snow angels, and caroling. As depicted by Landon’s painting, the houses were bunched together, allowing the unoccupied land to gather in more practical concentrations.
A car blew its horn and returned Ryan to reality. He turned to the driver to apologize, and with a firm grip on the handle, ignited the engine. Ryan drove swiftly; he beat yellow traffic lights and slipped between two cars that were about to close the gap between them. The distance behind him grew longer.
“I wonder what the twins are doing now.” Jhenine said all of a sudden, her emerald coat rippling against a wall of air. Honks and beeps drowned her soft voice.
“What?” Ryan asked, failing to hear her statement.
“I said,” she replied shouting, “‘I wonder what the twins are doing!’”
“Oh,” he replied with a raised voice but not a shout. “Probably sleeping. We should do the same. We should be near home by now. I’m going to introduce you to my mom.”
“Your mom? It would be nice to finally meet Mrs. Kristen.”
Ryan overtook two cars before replying. “Lesson One: don’t call her that.” Even without seeing her face, he could tell she arched her eyebrows with surprise. “It’s not that it’s offending or anything, but it does confuse people into thinking that Kristen is her birth name. Her name is Madeline if you’re wondering.”
Jhenine nodded. “By the way,” Ryan continued, “I know you’re nodding, but it’s better for you to say yes. At night when I ask you if you’re okay and when you’re on the phone ordering pizza, sometimes I see you shake your head like that. The person has to see you to know you’re saying yes when you do that. Since I’m driving, I have to keep my eyes on the road to prevent accidents, so I can’t look at you right now.” Man, it’s hard to be using simple words all the time.
“Oh. Sorry.” Shortly after the apology, she asked another question. “The thing which I can’t remember. The… umm… ‘fire.’ Are you going to tell Madeline about it?”
Ryan’s face was consumed by an expression of dismay. “I haven’t really thought beyond bringing you home,” he admitted, laughing. “But I know you’ll make a great addition to the family. Don’t worry, I’ll think of something to tell her.”
Not a single word but a nod from Jhenine followed. For the rest of the ride, their lips were silenced by their own will. Ryan carved a path through the traffic until they reached a long bridge built over a river. There, the cars had enough space between them for him to quickly weave a way to their destination.
Slowly, the clouds slipped away from the sun’s domain in the sky. Lavender walls became orange in the light; gray ice turned to crystal-blue.
Jhenine looked to her side. If the bridge were to collapse by any chance, they would descend a height of sixty feet before crashing onto the water surface. She would have loved the view, but an immature fear ignited her heartbeat. Having the girl clutch her arms around him, her chest in contact with his back, Ryan barely felt her accelerated pulse. The Algrunix River’s vigorous flow gave it immunity from freezing. Sharp boulders lay half-buried on the water, reflecting small white glints and sparkles on their exposed surfaces. Beyond that, the river continued west to the sea where several ports created profits and job opportunities for the people. There was a small settlement next to the stream’s shore with barely enough houses to call it a village. The cabins near the jetties were wooden in exterior but built upon a foundation of metal wires and cinderblock. Ryan took a second’s glance; it was enough to remind him of the flowerbeds that used to surround the river.
The village, Crestens Corner, was a renowned tourist spot. With an experienced helmsman, one could rent a boat and cruise through the waters safely. There were models of machinery such as bulldozers and cranes as well as statues, carved and perfected with detail, of the community’s founders. Smoke billowed from food stalls that served roasted corn, barbecues, and several other meats, while the air was clean and fresh near the merchandises.
After crossing the bridge, much to the blonde’s relief, they continued their straight path until three blocks where they took a right turn. They skipped many poorly-maintained alleys. Trashcans were toppled and turned into fire bins, litter was scattered here and there. There was a particular building with walls which needed a fresh coat of paint; true enough, some vandals had decided to give it one.
Ryan gritted his teeth; he would have clenched his fist if he was confident enough to drive with one hand. “We’re near home,” he said regrettably, for the ugliness was not far away. “But don’t worry. It’s in a village where only residents can enter without permission. It’s way better than this place.” Just then, his eyes widened slightly, and he reversed the motorcycle’s direction.
“Why are we going back?”
“We borrowed that gown you’re wearing, remember?”
“You mean we didn’t buy it?” she said sadly.
“If you want, I’ll buy you one the next time you’ll need to wear one.” Jhenine smiled. “Besides, we left our stuff in the store. We should really stop there first.”
The two returned to a building located three intersections away from the main road. A trailer the size of a wagon leaned on the outer corner of the infrastructure. Its metallic components shone with black luster, proving that it was well maintained. Fighting the urge to close his eyes in a battle he could not triumph, Ryan became impatient to finish his business here. He pushed the door open; a set of chimes rattled with a soothing sound. A small light bulb barely illuminated the room. A line of black suits and trousers for men stood on one side. The other displayed gowns and dresses for women. Human-sized figurines wearing featured clothes for rent stood in the exhibit, but unfortunately, they gave off an aura of lifelessness. “Hello, sir. Merry Christmas!” Emily, a girl of moderate height, greeted as if automatically before the chimes’ last note was played. She wore a bandana over her hair which was tied behind her head with a ponytail. Her hazel eyes were focused on the floor, preventing her from recognizing the customer who happened to enter when she was still sweeping dust off the floor with a broom.
Ryan replied with a smile and entered further. Jhenine followed. “Merry Christmas, Emily. Glad to see you helping your mom in the shop. Is she here already?”
The young woman recognized his voice and looked up with her body still bended down. “No, but I think I can help you with any business you have with her.” The shopkeeper-in-training then diverted her attention to Jhenine who was fascinated with the clothing. She touched a turquoise gown with rose-shaped sleeves; strokes of reflected light on the dress rose in response.
“Long time no see, Ryan. Is that your girlfriend,” she questioned mockingly. Ryan denied the statement, but Emily was not convinced.
Jhenine was confused with the situation. I’m a girl and his friend, right?
Addressing the emerald-eyed blonde, she said, “Can you tell me your name?” Jhenine replied with her name. Emily gave hers in return before offering her work-strained palm for a shake.
Ryan predicted that a series of questions would follow, eventually leading to an inquiry about how they met. Many answers would have come in mind, but assessing the circumstances gave him a headache. Amidst the darkness, a small spark of a clever idea flashed through his mind. Clearing his throat to draw all the attention, he told Emily of their business in the store.
The young woman laughed in reply. “But you’re still wearing the borrowed clothes. How do you plan to return them?”
“We left our stuff here yesterday. I think your mom said that she was going to place them under the counter.” His words held true. A pair of suitcases, a backpack, and two plastic bags were safely stored under the desk. Emily offered to assist him, but Ryan insisted on getting them himself.
Handing one of the plastic bags to his companion, he said to Emily, “We’ll use the dressing rooms, okay? Sorry we couldn’t clean the clothes but…”
The storekeeper cut him off quick on the trigger. “There’s no need. It’s Christmas. Besides, you may not be a regular customer, but we’ve known you ever since you and I were both still children.”
“Aha… So being friends with you does have it perks,” he said monotonously in a joking manner. Emily squeezed her eyes and curled her lips into a frown, pretending to be angry. Laughter followed at an instant.
Jhenine tucked Ryan by his shirt. “Can I start dressing now?”
“Yes,” Ryan and Emily replied, the latter pointing to the fitting room. Jhenine thanked them and went on her way. The brunet hauled his plastic bag over his shoulder and entered a different room.
Moments later, Ryan returned to the counter, wearing a gray shirt with red sleeves and a pair of loose black jeans.
Waiting for Jhenine to finish, he looked around. None of the clothes captivated him, but he remembered his promise to Jhenine upon eyeing the section of gowns. “Are any of these for sale?” he asked, hoping to buy one.
“Last time I checked, all of these were rent-only.” Ryan sighed. “But we do have these for sale!” she said enthusiastically while pulling out a small box from a drawer. Ryan hoped it was an elegant dress of some sort, but knew one could not fit in such a small container.
“What’s in it?” he had to ask.
“Why? Is this some other Christmas-thing? I think I’m starting to enjoy this holiday more,” he chuckled.
“Mom thought it was a great idea since most of the women customers often brought their children along. As long as they don’t leave a mess, I’ll have to agree with her. Here, take one,” she offered.
“No, no. It’s too much now. I’d really rather buy one. Well, two actually.”
“One for you, and one for her right?” she assumed with a teasing voice.
“You got the second part right. I haven’t seen Rebecca in three months. I think buying her some chocolate is the least I could do.”
“Yes; I was surprised when Madeline said that you left. When I asked for the reason, she told me to ask you when you’d come back. Since you’re here, I might as well.”
Ryan was apprehended by fear. He had thought that he evaded the question by a mile, but now he had to answer it. Was there a way to make a distraction? No, it wouldn’t suffice; he needed to change the topic somehow or at least create a story and stick with it in case others were to ask again. He hated lying. It was not only his tongue that was never trained for such a dishonest thing, but also his heart that held his faith. Sweat nearly drenched his palms when suddenly Jhenine came out wearing an apple-green blouse above her pink shorts. Ryan glanced at her, his brows raised upon seeing her footwear.
“Jhenine, how come you’re still wearing high heels?” he said as if questioning a four-year-old regarding her foolery (innocence if you insist on a euphemism).
“I can’t find my rubber shoes,” she moaned, her cheeks reddened crying over spilt milk.
“Are you sure? If it’s not in the bag, it might be in your suitcase.” Avoiding Emily’s eyes, Ryan reached out for the baggage. Both cases were identical, but by luck, he happened to open the right one. “So they are here. Come put them on, Jhenine.”
Jhenine nodded and approached the counter. While she was tying her lace, Ryan handed the storekeeper some money amounting to more than enough to cover the rent. Emily quickly counted the money and split the bundle into two uneven parts. “Here’s your change,” she said.
Ryan lightly pushed her back. “Nah, I want you to have it. If it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, then maybe I’ll just take a few more bars.”
“Help yourself then,” she replied, shoving the money in her pocket. “I think you’ve taught me how awkward it is when offered too much charity.
“Be a blessing to others,” Ryan quoted from an unfamiliar source. A twitch of his eyebrows was enough to say goodbye. Before he took the last step through the door, carrying all of their belongings, he heard Emily’s concerned voice from across the room.
“Hey, how are the two of you going to carry all of that home? I have my bicycle with me. I think I can help.”
“It’s all taken care of,” he said with a smirk, placing the baggage in the black cart outside. What was left was to hook it to the rear of the motorcycle.
Ryan drove back in his village’s direction with more caution this time. They stopped in front of a house near the end of a narrow road. The residence stood two stories high and was fair in size. A pillar of smoke hovered above the shingled roof. A white fence not higher than a meter was the garden’s only defense.
Ten meters from the front door, in the remote corner of the wooden barricade, stood a twelve-feet-tall mango tree. Its branches were known to block one of the second floor’s windows with a cloud of leaves, but winter had taken the liberty of clearing the obstacle.
Ryan parked the vehicle outside the fence’s boundary and told Jhenine to wait next to it. He leapt over the short wooden gate and approached one of the windows. A fog prevented him from seeing anything, and he discovered that it could only be wiped from the inside. Ryan paced toward the door and rang the doorbell.
He heard the sounds of hooks being unlock, the twist of the doorknob last. He came into eye contact with a woman a few inches shorter than him, and before he knew it, her arms were wrapped around him. “It’s good to have you back, Ryan.” The woman had brown Chinese eyes, very fair skin, and raven-black hair that almost touched her shoulders. She wore a beige bathrobe atop her house clothing, though it was hardly evident. Jhenine was shocked by her appearance. Madeline looked incredibly young for someone to have a child as old as Ryan. Jhenine justified what she saw by thinking that it was God’s blessing.
The young man could feel the side of his face against hers. When Madeline’s first embrace ended, she kissed Ryan on the cheek. Her eyes gave a strange expression upon noticing Jhenine’s presence.
Ryan took a deep breath and said solemnly, “There’s something we need to talk about.” He wished his first words could have been “Merry Christmas,” or anything fitting to return the embrace. He hated himself, he would have stared disgracefully at the pitiful man he had become if he could, but a firm resolve told him the best option was to continue what he had started. Another stressed breath, visible in the air, left his mouth.
“Would you mind coming in then?” Madeline could not ascertain what tone to use, more importantly, what to feel. Several theories came to mind that might explain why Ryan brought a stranger, a girl to be precise, home. She shuddered at every idea, feeling guilty with every thought.
“She can come in too, right?” With her permission, Ryan led Jhenine to the living room.
There were three black fabric sofas facing an oval table from different directions. The seat paired adjacently with both with the other two faced the entrance. There was nothing that separated them from the dining room, save the buffet table that held untouched documents in its drawers. The top was usually bare, unclothed and polished to sparkle, but an Advent Wreath was placed on to commemorate the holiday. Bells and chimes hung with scarlet curtains – often times, they would be brown or beige depending on the homeowner’s mood. Two socks were nailed near the fireplace, one seemed to fit on a kindergartener, the other on an adult.
Madeline took a seat on the sofa. Folding her right leg and placing it over the other, she clasped her hands together and rested them on her thigh. She gazed at Ryan with both curious and intimidating eyes.
He felt like a criminal, watched discriminately. He had a bit of reason to get angry with her, but his control of actions yielded his temper. He was present in a court, Madeline being the judge and jury – in addition, the persecutor if the worst were to come.
Ryan sighed. It was difficult for him to start. Ryan decided that casually introducing them with one another would help improve the flow of what he was trying to accomplish. He addressed the adult first, letting her know the guest’s name. He already started to regret his solemn approach, if only he had taken the situation with a casual gesture.
“It may sound weird and uncommon, but…”
Jhenine could sense his uneasiness. She started to tremble like a child facing the dread reality of parent’s incapacity to provide absolute protection. Ryan noticed this and decided that his assertiveness needed to remain firm to help Jhenine remain calm.
He started to speak frankly but not unkindly, unfrightened but without the lack of respect. “I brought this girl over because she needs my – no, our – help.” Madeline remained silent and politely listened. “She…” Ryan braced himself for another lie, “…lost her family to some accident. But that’s not all. She lost her memories, too.”
“That’s terrible!” she exclaimed in terror. She found this loss hard to believe, but found no way to prove it false. Madeline followed up with a few questions of clarity. In return, Ryan answered them confidently without inconsistencies, lies were the main ingredient of his words.
“What motivates me is because I owe her my life. That’s why I’ve taken the responsibility to take care of her,” he said all of a sudden.
“Owe her your life?”
“If it wasn’t for her, I’d probably be still out there, an unresolved man chasing someone he was never sure of for being his father’s murderer.”
“I see…” Jhenine sensed a repressed emotion of sadness, but the sorrow did not root from the death of a loved one – it was Ryan that caused it. “So how can we help her?” Madeline said, turning away to hide a glint in her eye.
“Adopt her to the Kristen Family,” he said straightly.
“Ryan! I want to help her, too, but we can’t do that until we have legal consent. One thing’s for sure though. We’ll need to find and contact her relatives.”
Ryan concealed a grin underneath a layer of dried lips. “I already thought about that. But the thing is… Jhenine doesn’t recall her last name.”
The blonde remained silent and scowled. He’s lying again… But what’s going on?!
“We can keep her around in secret from the officials with all their documents and useless crap!” he snapped. “I can find her a therapist or something to help her regain her memories. Then maybe, if she gets them back, she’ll be able to contact a relative.”
“You sure have thought things through,” the woman remarked.
All just in the nick of time. I just have to make sure that the twins and Emily play along. “So will you stick with the plan?”
“This has been the weirdest Christmas ever.” Madeline sighed and thought for a few moments. “She can stay for now. But perhaps after some rest, you and I will be inspired with a better idea.”
“Sure thing, Mom,” he said emphasizing the last word. Madeline looked at him in surprise. Before she could react through words, Ryan approached her and whispered, “For Jhenine’s sake… could you pretend to be Mom? I know you wouldn’t pass for someone to be my parent, but this girl’s really slow on things.” Madeline was actually his older sister.
“You got to be kidding?! I’ll play along, but this better not get any more difficult, okay?” she whispered back. After those words, Madeline left the two to get some sleep.
Ryan went outside to get their belongings while Jhenine helped herself to a seat. When he had finished, she looked at him with an expression of distrust.
“Ryan, why did you have to lie? You told me it was a bad thing.”
“She wouldn’t let you stay if I told her that I knew your last name,” he replied landing on the couch. Because only the two of them were around, he purged his lips of untruths.
“But why can’t we call a relative to pick me up?”
“It’s too dangerous, remember? The killer’s out there still looking for you. You’re safer here, trust me.”
“Then did you lie about what you said?”
“The terofis,” she replied.
“Ahh… You mean the therapist? Don’t worry, I’ll try my best to get your memories back. After that, we can have an intelligent conversation on what to do.”
“Now Jhenine, can it be my turn to ask you something?”
“Were you paying attention to Mom’s emotions with your Vision?”
“Yes. She was confused and a little bit frustrated. She is also trying to force herself into believing the situation. She seems nice though.”
“I don’t blame her for having doubts,” he said miserably. “I had to mix lies with the truth to get what I wanted… to get what I needed.” What’s happening to me? I’m not like this! Please forgive me, Lord.
Ryan closed his eyes. “Let’s get some rest.” A calm voice was enough to bury his contempt, but not enough to hide it. “I never actually thought that we could stay all night till morning without falling asleep. That party sure was a long one! Hey, do you need a bed?”
“No thanks. I’m fine here,” she said before lying down.