“Oh my gawd, did you see what she posted? #CrayCray.”
“I was #shook, girl! But seriously, I heard she broke down in front of his house… over a piece of sandwich. A freaking piece of sandwich.”
“Talk about dramatic. She has always been a #dramaqueen.”
“What’s #new? She loves the attention.”
“Oh my gawd, did you know what happened on #Tuesday?”
“Why, what happened? What did I miss? #FOMO.”
“Our class got cancelled and no one told us about it. So we waited for a full 30 minutes before we left. #Seriously.”
“You guys just… left? Like… for real? That’s super #thuglife.”
“Yea, we strolled out like a #boss. But oh my gawd, what a waste of 30 minutes. 30 minutes of my life that I will never, ever get back!”
“I feel you, girl. Just the other day, I had to wait 5 minutes for the bus. #Unbelievable! Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
“Wait, don’t you have a car? How dare you take the bus! #Scandalous.”
“I had to get it repaired. Something about the engine or the brakes, god only knows. #FirstWorldProblems.”
“Oh, hold on. My mother is at the door. #Ughhh she’s asking about dinner.”
The hall erupted in a deafening applause. Its audience rose to their feet, cheering in delight at the seemingly impressive dialogue between two plainly dressed actors. Praises of brilliance—‘bravo’, ‘such ingenuity’, and ‘oh, how captivating’—filled the air. And even after the lights dimmed and the stage emptied, everyone wanted to know—what did it all mean?
“It’s art,” many insisted. “An artistic exchange between two beautiful souls. Couldn’t you feel it? Those colourful words spoke to my soul. ”
“It’s the future,” others concluded. “In the future, that is how people will speak. The writer has predicted a world full of expression.”
“It’s reality,” some suggested—though not a popular opinion. “Who we are as people, and the reflection of our inner insecurities.”
Alas, it didn’t matter what it all meant. In fact, there wasn’t any meaning to it—there was no story, no real character development, and nothing philosophical between the lines. If one dared say, it wasn’t a real performance either. The actors on the stage, reciting their lines in dramatic Shakespearean manner, were not telling a story. The ones who truly performed… were the audience. Ah, how strange—it seems that some did uncover the meaning behind it all.
“It’s reality,” they said with an excited grin. “A beautiful slice of life.”
Over the years, I’ve come to realise that writing isn’t just writing. In order to become a better writer, I’ve got to do more than writing.
You see, writing isn’t just about writing my niche genre, building familiar worlds, and creating characters I can relate to. Yes, it’s good to have a label under my name. And it’s natural for me to keep building it – heck, I should build it. I should master the art of my choice. But in order to become a stronger writer, I have to expand. I have to grow. Just like a kingdom, once established doesn’t remain stagnant, I need to push the boundaries of my world. But… how do I do that? Do I change my writing style and publish novels in different genres? No, I don’t. I simply experience – experience what I’ve never experienced.
To grow as a writer, I need to write beyond the comforts of my pigeonhole. I need to write outside of what I’m accustomed to. It will make me extremely uncomfortable, yes. I will struggle to convey my thoughts. And potentially, I’ll create disastrous pieces. But in order for me to become better, I need to take the leap of faith. I need to explore the vast universe and adapt to its varying nature. I may not be a master of all realms, but I have to experience them. And who knows? I might just write a decent piece.
There’s a reason why writing challenges and writing prompts exist. They don’t merely serve as a filler for when you don’t know what to write. These challenges, as they are called, challenge a writer to write something different. Despite not being good at a particular genre, world, or character, taking the challenge helps one get better. It is the stepping outside of a comfort zone that carves a writer. It is the embracing of something new that broadens the mind.
Personally, I’ve endeavoured to write in other genres, embrace different worlds, and toy with characters. I’ve written and will continue to write sci-fi, romance, mystery, and other genres outside of fantasy. I’ll mould different worlds with different cultures, beliefs, and eras. And I’ll create protagonists whom I’ll dislike more than the antagonist itself. Even if I don’t excel in these challenges – even if I don’t write novels through them – I’ll write anyway. I’ll write to challenge. I’ll write to challenge myself, my imagination, my skill, and my potential. I’ll write to challenge, because I know it has helped me in many ways. And I’ll write to challenge you, to write to challenge too.
I’m not just saying this on a whim. Through past experiences, I’ve grown from the challenges I put upon myself. From Dr. Slubgob’s Letters, a novella about a demon and his quest for the truth, to The Clubhouse, a blog series with characters I disassociate from; I’ve learned to construct deeper worlds and fuller personas. I’m still not good in either arenas – I don’t think I’ll ever master them. But, I have improved. And with a long way to go in my writing journey, I’ll continue to challenge myself.
This 2017, my writing goal is simple: write to challenge. As this year revs its engine, I encourage you to adopt this goal too. In fact, I encourage you to adopt this goal in general. It isn’t just for writing, but for anything – for areas you want to see growth. And If you stick through it, no matter the obstacles, you’ll come out a finer jewel than before.
For the first time, the fate of her family’s survival rested upon her sister’s shoulders. And though it was the result of her so-called betrayal, Guinevere couldn’t be more pleased. When it briefly became Genevieve’s burden, Guinevere could breathe.
To save the company after her father pleaded guilty, her mother found Genevieve a match. Giving Guinevere the silent treatment, it meant Genevieve had to put up with their mother’s pushing and nagging. Under the pressure, Genevieve stopped her habitual loitering and submitted to their mother’s plans. Six months later, she married the second son of a foreign competitor and the Dae’hans lived to see another day.
As much as Guinevere felt guilty for her actions, she had no regrets. It was her opportunity to start anew – her family’s opportunity to do things right. And despite her father never being able to forgive her, her mother and sister had little to no choice but to rely on her expertise. So even if her family was broken – not that it wasn’t to begin with – they were still together. That was all that mattered.
After the marriage, Guinevere and her brother-in-law restarted the company. The responsibility of putting branded goods on the table returned to Guinevere after the short-lived hiatus. It required more work than she’d ever done before. But, she could truthfully say she didn’t mind. It was better than being puppet-ed by her father. Also, it was a breath of fresh air when people stopped assuming she was a rich, spoilt brat. Back in her father’s shadow, nobody took her seriously despite her attempts. Now, she could make something of herself.
“Serve the entrees,” Guinevere informed the catering crew.
“Is everyone here?” Genevieve asked.
“No. Not everyone. But those who want to be here, are already here. So we should start.”
“Shouldn’t we wait a little longer?”
Guinevere shook her head and her sister pouted. “Stop hiding in the kitchen and go entertain the guests,” Guinevere said. “Or stand next to your husband if you don’t want to.”
Not waiting for her sister’s glare, Guinevere left through the back door into the garden. She’d said her round of ‘hellos’ and yearned for a pinch of quiet. But in that silence, she involuntarily thought about Wayne.
Planting herself on a bench, she wondered if what Jodie said was true – if Wayne was simply too busy savaging his status. But then reality hit, and along with it the reminder of his warranted silence.
Since her confession, Wayne refused to speak to her. Even after he was cleared, he didn’t answer her calls. He was also seemingly impossible to find and catch. The only times Guinevere saw Wayne were when he entered his car. And despite having made eye contact once or twice, he’d turned away as though he hadn’t seen her at all. How could he be so cruel?
Yes, she’d made a mistake. But everything she did, she did for family. Why couldn’t he forgive her? Why couldn’t he see her loyalty instead of her betrayal? Some days, Guinevere wished she’d come clean earlier – at least to Wayne.
“If only I-”
“Your sister said I’d find you here,” someone interrupted.
Turning to the direction of the voice, Guinevere stood at the sight of the intruder.
“I was in the area when Jodie called.”
“And, you came?”
“I was in the area because I, well, I thought it’ll be good for our companies to work together.”
“Oh. Yes, it will be. Thank you, for coming, Wayne.”
Guinevere dropped her gaze to the freshly mowed grass. His polished shoes in her peripheral vision turned toward the kitchen door. But Wayne didn’t take a step.
“I’m sorry, for not responding to your messages and calls. I’ve been busy,” Wayne said.
He’d been busy for over a year? The old Guinevere would’ve rolled her eyes.
“I know. I’m glad everything worked out for you. And I’m sorry for being the cause of… everything,” Guinevere replied.
“You’re not in the wrong. I’ll be honest. I dated you because of your family. So in some respects, we used each other.”
“That’s… comforting.” Guinevere chuckled. It was indeed comforting to know she wasn’t entirely to blame for his former predicament.
“But for what it’s worth, I did like you. And the only reason I didn’t reach out after it ended, was because I knew I was in the wrong too.”
“So I guess now we’re even?” Guinevere finally shifted her eyes to meet his.
“Good. Friends?” She stuck her hand out hopefully.
As tensed as the conversation was, Guinevere hoped to put the past behind them. She also longed to hold his hand again, no matter how brief a moment it was. But while her heart raced with expectation, Wayne hesitated. His hands remained stuffed in his crease-free pockets.
“I don’t… want to be friends.”
Her throat tightened at his blatant candour. Pulling her hand back, Guinevere nodded with a forced smile.
“I mean, I don’t think we can be friends,” Wayne added.
“But I want us to try again. Honestly, try again. With no ulterior motives.”
“As… a couple?”
“Yes. Would you like that?”
With breath held, Guinevere replayed his words in her head. Did he mean it? Was he sincere? More importantly, should she say ‘yes’? It was tempting. She’d missed him – his voice, his gaze, and his touch. But what they’d done to each other couldn’t be erased. They’d have to carry it for the rest of their lives. Was it a good idea to try again? Guinevere had to choose.
You’ve decided the fate of the characters. Now they live on in their own stories, not to be tempered by our own desires. Thus the end of The Clubhouse.
Thank you for joining me in crafting the stories of Zach, Jodie, Matthias, Richard, and Guinevere. I hope you enjoyed this series. Despite its ups and downs, I hope it entertained you. Personally, I entered into The Clubhouse with a goal to improve my character development skill. And, it’s safe to say, I’ve come out of Skypeak a better writer. Though I’m not sure if I have ‘character development’ nailed down, I’ve pushed my boundaries and brought this series to completion. That, I’m proud of – I didn’t give up halfway through.
So thank you for coming along for the ride. If you’re new to this series, you can find the chapter list here. Fingers-crossed, the story stands on its own without the polls.
She hit reply. Then tossing her invite into the bin, she typed, ‘Sure.’
Jodie had received the beige envelope too. But despite the surprise, she decided to go. Guinevere had proven to be more than a gold-digger when she stood for the truth. And the least Jodie could do was acknowledge that. Knowing Zach made good company, she agreed as his plus one. Honestly, it was a relief when he asked – she preferred seeing a familiar face than none. Little did she expect, there were more than one.
After Jodie’s case with the Cortezs resolved, she spent most of her time in the office. Due to the scandal, her company took a financial hit. Stabilising it required arduous hours of work. There were never-ending meetings with investors, partners, and staff. She had little to no life outside those concrete walls. And the almost non-existing friend’s list shortened even further.
Mentally visioning the list, Jodie realised the only person she still met was Zach. Wayne hadn’t responded to her text message two months ago. Neal was on life support. And Piper… well, Piper’s life only made her envious. Piper didn’t run a publishing empire, and had the time to travel the world. Those pictures on social media, garnering thousands of ‘likes’, tempted Jodie to take a sabbatical.
“That’s a good idea,” Piper said, during her phone call from the ruins of Machu Picchu. “We can see the world together.”
“That sounds fun, but I can’t just pick up and leave. The company needs me.”
“The company needs you?”
“There are still-”
“Jodie, I know you. The company doesn’t need you. You need the company.”
“Well, I do need to survive.”
“Oh, please. You have more than enough.”
“Not for the rest of my life.”
“Your company will still be there when you get back.”
“That all depends.”
“Even if it isn’t, you can always start another. Perhaps it’s even better to do so without Neal involved. Bless his soul.”
“Too soon, Piper.”
“We’ve grieved him. His parents are only dragging it out for money. By the way, do you have the contact of that lawyer friend of yours?”
“Which lawyer friend?”
“The one that helped with your case?”
The call ended with Jodie giving in to Piper’s request for Matthias’ phone number. She also promised to ‘seriously, seriously, seriously consider the sabbatical’, as how Piper worded it. Despite the denial, Jodie knew Piper was right. She needed the company. She needed how it made her feel – powerful and influential. Nothing was holding her back, except for the fear of losing the glory that came with the crown. But how long could she keep it up? Jodie opted to rethink that life decision after the party, which arrived sooner than she’d like it to.
“Do you think she invited Richard and Matthias?” Zach asked, as he rang the doorbell.
“She might have.”
As Zach parted his lips to add to his thought, the door swung open. Instantly, the melody of a classical piece, accompanied by a pastel yellow beam, escaped the white-walled bungalow. And there, standing by the doorway, was Guinevere in her favourite colour – red.
“I’m so glad you two made it,” Guinevere said.
“You have a neat house,” Zach replied.
Guinevere chuckled. “You’ve not changed a bit, Zachary.”
“Actually, it has always been just Zach,” Zach corrected.
“Zachary sounds better. Come on in.” Guinevere stepped back to make way. “Oh, Richard and Matthias are here too. You should go over and say ‘hi’.” Guinevere pointed to the staircase where the pair were chatting.
“You go ahead,” Jodie prompted. “I’ll be right over.”
The moment Zach left, Jodie turned to Guinevere with a smirk. “You’ve not changed either.”
“Well, I have. A little. But yes, I’m pretty much the same.”
“I’m surprised you invited me.”
“I’m surprised you showed up. And, as Zach’s plus one.”
“Why? We’re friends.”
“Of course. Was I implying something else?”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
“For once. But honestly, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Yes. I’d like us to be friends. I know I didn’t make a great first impression, but I’m not as horrible as you think I am. If you must know, I really did have feelings for Wayne.”
“Did you invite him tonight?”
“I dropped the letter at his office myself.”
“But he’s not coming?”
“I didn’t hear from him. So, no. But that’s fine. I understand.”
“He’s just busy.”
Guinevere nodded with a thin smile. “Now if you don’t mind, I need to make sure the kitchen is ready.”
“Sure.” Jodie waved Guinevere off, before retrieving her phone.
Whether they could be friends, Jodie didn’t know. But seeing how Guinevere was making an effort, she thought she should do the same too. Despite it being out of character, she considered giving Wayne a call. Perhaps she could convince him to show up. Still, Jodie hesitated. Helping Guinevere meant stepping down from her ivory tower – the self-made empire that defined who she was. And in that consideration, she noticed its uncanny resemblance to her outside world. The simple act of calling Wayne wasn’t going to change her life, but it could affect the way she approached it moving forward. With Wayne’s contact at her fingertips, she had to decide. Jodie had to choose.
Zach never thought he’d see the amount in his bank account surpassing five digits. And when it did, he was amazed. He was amazed at how someone like him, who always identified as the kid at the back of the classroom, finally found himself in front. He was in disbelief at the possibility, when he made not a single effort. It seems the universe remembered him after all. And it felt surreal – like a dream broke the code of fiction to cross into reality – as though he was living an alternate timeline.
Through Matthias’ recommendation, Zach found himself working for a private investigation agency. He started as an office assistant, but began handling cases on his own a couple of months in. He found his niche – one he had no idea he had the talent for. After his first successful case, he was banking bundles of cash weekly. And suddenly, he wasn’t the underdog any longer. Suddenly, invitations to grand parties, hosted by his rich clients, slipped under his door. Suddenly, he was somebody. The shift of identity came so subtly, that it only dawned upon him then, as he sat staring at the brown envelope beside the embroidered party invite.
“So you going?” his colleague asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Zach replied. He wasn’t a big fan of parties. He wasn’t a fan of socialising in general. But since it came with the job, he tried not to turn them down.
“Who’s it from?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t looked.”
“And the cash?”
“Upfront payment from an… acquaintance.”
“That’s a pretty thick envelope.”
“I’ll have to leave the country for this one.”
“Then I suggest you go for the party.” His colleague gestured at the invite, before picking it up. “Fancy paper. Ah, look what we have here. I didn’t know you know the Dae’hans.”
“Who?” The name rang no bell. Then his colleague flashed the invite and he caught the signature at bottom.
“Is this for someone else? No, wait, it has your name on it. You sure you don’t know these people?”
“I know them.”
“They’re rebranding, so I’ve been told. Looks like you’ve been invited to their private launch party.”
“Come on, if you’re not going, let me go. Families with scandals invite prominent people to make amends. Here’s your chance to build your client base. And guess what, this party invites two. I can be your plus one. What do you say?”
“No. You’re not going to be my plus one.”
“Ah, I’ll just go in your place then.”
“Nice try. But no.”
“Killjoy. Have fun by yourself then.” His colleague stalked off.
“And don’t expect your desk to be here when you get back.”
“It will be. I’m the best,” Zach called out with a chuckle.
Zach had no issues with Guinevere, and his colleague made a point. Even if half of the people the Dae’hans invited didn’t show up, those who did were potential clients. And since he was on a streak of wealthy patrons, there was no reason to say ‘no’. The only question remaining, was whether he should fly solo or bring someone along.
Among the four other contestants, Jodie was the only person he still met. Their offices were a few blocks apart, and they had yet to change gyms. She was his friend. And he, despite denying, had developed feelings for her. Unfortunately, he never felt adequate to attempt to be more. Or at least, he never felt adequate until recently. The sudden urge to invite her along kicked in, but he hesitated.
Those who didn’t know of his past gave him the fresh start he needed. But for those who did, there were only two reactions when they learned of his success: they buttered up to earn his favour or pretended oblivious. The exception was Jodie. She was neither. She treated him the same, and Zach wasn’t sure if that was a good sign. What did it mean to her when she treated him the same? Despite their occasional meet up, she was tough to read. And Zach had become a good reader of character ever since his new job. If only he knew. If only she left hints of being interested in a deeper relationship, it wouldn’t be a risk to invite her.
Perhaps he should play it safe and RSVP alone. Why ruin a perfectly good friendship over a party? What if Jodie and Guinevere were still stepping on each other’s toes? Instead of making a positive impression, he’d make an unfavourable one on both ends. Zach was never a risk taker. He’d played it safe and it had gotten him this far. But how long was the universe willing to spoon-feed him? How long would it remember him? It was now or never. The decision would determine the rest of his life and how he lived it. He either took his life into his own hands, or continued to accept whatever is handed to him. Zach had to choose.
Life went on. For those in the Wilhelm Group scheme, their ship sailed into a storm that nearly brought the company to its knees. Lawsuits after lawsuits, it seemed never ending for the global multi-industry giant. Fortunately for Richard, he wasn’t a part of it. In fact, he reaped a massive cheque from suing the group, the law firm, and the Lees. It was easy money for the unexpected victim.
After Matthias surprisingly agreed to work with Richard, Richard launched his first fashion line. From a rich heir to an orphan, his story made him a celebrity. The day his first boutique opened its doors, hundreds queued around the block, with reporters snapping pictures for their favourable articles. In reality, what people assumed to be a ‘riches to rags to riches’ story was truthfully and simply ‘riches to riches’. Yet no one read between the lines of those biased, and occasionally paid, interviews.
It would seem Richard’s story ended on a high note, unlike the rest of the clubhouse contestants. There was no lost of status, fame, or wealth – only time and perhaps, the truth. For him, time wasted in court wasn’t time wasted at all. But the truth that surfaced during each session weren’t full truths. And the more he realised they were empty shells, the more he found himself questioning his identity.
Everything his lawyer brought to the table was an assumption. What happened to his birth mother? Was there foul play in her death? Where was his biological father? Was he dead or alive? And all attempts to find the answers were futile. Leaving the courthouse with millions in his bank account was great, but no amount of green notes could buy the answers he wanted. After realising how his lost of self held him back, he decided to move on and start over. And that was how his fashion empire began.
A year after the Lees made the headlines of every newspaper in the country, Richard received a call from Guinevere. They didn’t bother keeping in touch, but they did occasionally say hello at galas and showcases. To actually see Guinevere’s caller ID on screen washed a wave of nostalgia up his shore.
“Inviting me to an event, are you?” Richard answered.
“Now that wouldn’t be surprising. But, I’m calling because of something else,” Guinevere said.
“What’s that something else?”
“My brother-in-law has taken over my father’s company, and while clearing old files, he found something you might be interested in.”
Richard made a conscious effort not to be involved in any subsidiary of Wilhelm group. So, he didn’t see how any old file would interest him.
“Are you planning to sell information on my competitors?” Richard joked.
“No. I have information about your father. Your birth father.”
“Wait… what? How?”
“When he worked for your other – the Lees – he was given insurance under the company. There is a family contact with a country code of another… country.”
That was new information. The records of his father and mother in the Lees possession had mysteriously gone missing during the trial. The few local contacts related to his father couldn’t be reached. And there wasn’t a single international contact on the list. It could very much be a dead end, but it was new nevertheless.
“I can send you this document, if you’d like to look into it,” Guinevere added.
For the first time, in the opportunity to find himself, Richard contemplated.
“Give me a minute. I’ll call you back.”
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know. Aside from the fact that he didn’t have the time to go on a wild goose chase, he was afraid of what he might find. Should he try again? Was it worth it?
Just last week, he was invited to an internationally acclaimed fashion event. He could use the lack of time as an excuse to drop the idea. But as his thumb hovered over the dial, he recalled Matthias telling him about Zach. Zach had found a place in a private investigation agency. After all the spying and snooping during their Skypeak days, it seems the man discovered his forte. If Richard really wanted to find his father, he could hire Zach to get the job done. Unfortunately, it was a much tougher decision than he thought it would be.
The thought of completely tossing the opportunity lingered at the back of his mind. Perhaps it was better to ask Guinevere to burn the file. Perhaps not knowing who abandoned him – who sold him off as a puppet – was a smarter decision. What would he say to the man who left him with the wolves? How could he even face him, if he was still alive? And what if he was dead – would that make Richard feel any better?
Still, he promised Guinevere he would call her back. And if there was one good thing Mrs Lee taught him, it was to never keep a lady waiting. Dialing Guinevere’s number, Richard had to choose.
He wasn’t ignoring anyone on purpose. He was simply too busy to entertain those he thought weren’t important. Matthias decided to return Zach’s calls once the workload lessened, but after countless went unanswered, he gave in to the ring that particular midnight.
“You picked up,” Zach said.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Don’t worry about it. I need your help with something.”
Matthias contemplated excusing himself. But he ended up feeling obligated and listened to the need instead. When Zach was done explaining, Matthias said, “Give me fifteen minutes. I’ll call you back.”
Fifteen minutes was all he needed. His company acquired insurance from the same agency and had access to their online portal. A boot of the hacking software he’d invested in a year ago would do the trick. And a minute short of fifteen, Matthias had what Zach needed.
“The case number is 763340. Call me if you need anything else,” Matthias said.
“That’s all I need. Thank you.”
With a click, Matthias had done his last deed for Jodie. There was no way he could make up for selling her out, but at least he did what he could to help. With no more rings from Zach, Matthias woke the next morning to a text from Guinevere. And when he tuned in to the morning news, another case was solved.
Neal Cortez was found alive, though unconscious, in the Wilhelm Group owned hospital. The case against Jodie was dropped, and his own case against the Lees had just been made easier. Matthias was certain he could put mama and papa Lee behind bars. Though unfortunately, there was nothing to pin Gabriel to, to lock him up along with his parents. The sly youth would take over what is left of the company, and if he were wise enough to save it in the midst of hostile shareholders, he’d rule the new empire. But Matthias couldn’t be bothered with what happened after. He wanted to move on. If anything, he’d made a good impression with the press in his fight for Guinevere and Wayne’s freedom. That was enough for him to leave his old company, and perhaps leave the country altogether.
A month after the settlement of Guinevere’s case, Matthias handed in his resignation. He then paid Zach his last paycheque, and put in a good word for him with an old college friend. He also signed a blank cheque for his sister to hand to his parents on one of her visits home. No, he still found no reason to reconcile with them. And being unable to sever ties, his only option was to get away. Perhaps one day, in the future, there would be a story to tell about his dark past. But for now, it would remain untold.
As Matthias’ life began to quiet down, he finally resolved on leaving the country. With multiple job offers, he started his search for the soonest flight out of town. But the day he decided to book his ticket, he received an odd proposition for him to stay. Richard had called for brunch, and after what they’d been through, Matthias agreed to the free meal.
“So, what do you say?” Richard asked.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“We’ll make a great team.”
“I kind of doubt that.”
Richard laughed. “We’ve changed, both you and I,” he added.
“I’m still the same. You, maybe.”
“Ah, yes. I had a lot of growing up to do. And I think, now that I’ve matured-”
“You over credit yourself, Richard.”
“Now that I’ve matured, starting fresh would do us both good. I’ve gotten talented people on board. And with the world, just waiting to see what I’m about to do next, it’ll-”
“You’ve matured all right.” Matthias chuckled.
“Thank you for acknowledging that. The point is, my brand will sell. So are you in or out?”
“Let me think about it.”
“Take all the time you need, Matty.”
Joining Richard’s company was a shift in the direction Matthias initially aimed for. The creative industry wasn’t his ideal career path. But the change might be for the better. After all, the politics wouldn’t involve as much manipulation, blackmailing, or framing, as in the business world. He wouldn’t cross paths with familiar faces, who could use his past against him too. Perhaps Richard was right. Perhaps he had changed after all, seeing as he was done with dirty work. Replaying the accounts of when he betrayed people for the benefit of his past company, he inevitably reminded himself of Jodie.
Matthias had not spoken to Jodie since his last assist. She seemed to be doing well on her own, as the world moved past the claims of murder. If Matthias were to stay, he could hope they’d bump into each other and he could make amends. Despite living in a large city, the five had brushed shoulders one too many times. And seeing Jodie on the streets wouldn’t be a first. However, if he left the country as he initially planned, there would be little chances of admitting what he did. And seeing as he’d wanted a clean slate, telling Jodie the truth was a great start. Still, it all boiled down to his decision to stay or leave. Should he remain in the city to start over, or should he leave to a new place for a new beginning? Matthias had to choose.
It was close to 1a.m – the city quieting after its bustling day. At the wheel of Richard’s car, Zach accelerated toward the lowest basement carpark. He thought it strange the access to the eleventh floor was in such a remote location. But he’d experience enough to not rule out the possibility either.
Once parked in a random lot amidst a handful of cars, Zach exited and strolled over to the passenger seat. With blinking cameras watching their every move, the acting began. Zach ushered Jodie out of the car, before looking for the grey elevator. Richard said it was at the right corner of the floor, almost obscure. But there was no need to look for it, as it would open on its own. And, he was right.
Just as Zach glanced past the foyer of the main elevators, a wall parted at the far corner. Orange light streamed into the basement, and he pointed to it. “Over there.”
Jodie spotted it too and took the lead. In a long cloak and big, round shades, Jodie was unrecognizable. Contrary, Zach wasn’t in such a thick disguise. And perhaps that was why she needed his help – no one would do a double take even in his minimum makeover.
As they entered the elevator, the doors shut on their own. There were no buttons, not even an open or close, but there was a camera. Once the elevator began its ascent, it only took a few seconds to reach its designated floor. And when the doors reopened, a nurse strode over to greet them.
“Welcome. Kindly follow me for registration,” the nurse said.
“I don’t want to register,” Jodie replied.
“Rest assured, we only need a few details of which we will not store after your visitation.” The nurse smiled as she gestured at the main counter.
The eleventh floor lobby was alike a 5-star hotel. One wouldn’t be called naïve for thinking otherwise. A crystal chandelier hung above the waiting area, the floor glistened from daily polishing, nurses attended to every guest with tablets, and a bar stood offering free drinks.
As Jodie began to fill the simple form, Zach thought through their plan. Richard had handed him a pendrive capable of stealing information off a nurse’s tablet. All Zach needed to do was pluck it into an unattended device and the records of patients staying on the eleventh floor would be theirs. Being that all the names would be aliases, they’d have to look for the one that described Neal’s condition the most. Once they found the correct room, they must forward the information to Richard for him to send it to the detective. But before all that, they needed a distraction.
“Where’s the washroom?” Jodie asked, after submitting the paperwork.
“This way,” the nurse said.
The pair followed the nurse, turning down a corner from the foyer toward the washrooms. They weren’t far from the midnight crowd, but the distance would buy them enough time. Crossing gazes, they executed Plan A: a fake faint.
Jodie collapsed to the floor and began mumbling about feeling light-headed. The nurse propped Jodie against the wall, placed her tablet down, and pulled out a mini torchlight.
“Can you follow the light for me?” the nurse asked.
“Light?” Jodie questioned in convincing bewilderment.
Crouching beside them, Zach swiftly slid the tablet to his side. Then as discreetly as possibly, he plugged the pendrive and waited. It was the longest wait in the shortest amount of time. When Jodie pretended to lose consciousness, the nurse told Zach to stay while she went to get help. With the tablet out of the nurse’s sight, she forgot to take it with her. A minute later, the nurse returned with a gurney and a few others. Zach instantly unplugged the pendrive and stood out of their way. It was now up to him to decipher the records.
As Jodie was wheeled away, Zach excused himself to the washroom. Safely inside a cubicle, he transferred the data to his phone and began scanning through them. Both Zach and Jodie knew nothing about Neal’s condition. Aside from the fact Neal was supposedly brain dead, there were no other information to help him with his search. The records had more than one comatose patient, and thinking of the number of rooms he had to search without getting caught was perturbing.
“Why did I agree to this?” Zach muttered under his breath. “We could have all met at the school first to talk things out.”
In the midst of ‘what if’s, Zach spotted a similarity between the patient files: all the patients liaised with the same insurance company – Guinevere’s father’s company. Was that a coincidence? No, there were no coincidences in regards to Wilhelm Group. But, there was hope.
Zach could get Guinevere to check the company files to see which belonged to Neal Cortez. However, they were pressed for time. If Guinevere wasn’t home, the trip back together with the search time, would take too long. So the only other option was Matthias. Matthias was good with a keyboard, and if he knew what to look for, he could obtain the information quicker than Guinevere. Even though neither of them would answer his call, Zach had to try. But before he did, he needed to choose.
It has been three years. Three years since we boarded the plane together. Three years since we fought over the window seat. Three years since we flipped a coin, just to see who should ask the air steward for an extra pillow. Three years since he proposed with a box of chocolate. And three years since we said goodbye.
As I curled up in the stiff economy class seat, I wondered what life would’ve been if he didn’t walk away. Would we be living in the cozy apartment we imagined? Would we have named our first child after his favourite actress? Would we be flying to Peru, right at this moment, for our great Machu Picchu adventure? Would we still be in love? If we didn’t say those words, would we still be together?
I can still recall the night of our tiff. It was a pleasant night. The day was filled with gentle showers, setting dusk in a cool breeze, fresh with the scent of rain in the air. It was the perfect night to cuddle with a hot cup of cocoa, as we shared the stories from our uneventful day. But that didn’t happen. We would still be together, if it actually did.
“So you’re coming to my mum’s birthday party, right?” I asked.
“Sorry love, I can’t make it this weekend. I’ve got work.”
“It’s the weekend. Why are you always working on the weekend?”
“Trust me, I don’t want to. It’s the boss. You know how he’s like.”
“You should quit.”
He turned to me, eyes wide with surprise. Then he chuckled.
“I’m serious,” I added.
“I can’t just quit. The wedding needs money.”
“You’re not the only one working.”
“But I want to be. I want to give you the best wedding ever.”
Resting his hands on my shoulders, he gave a gentle squeeze as he flashed his famous childish grin. I smiled. How could I not?
“Fine. But you still have to attend my mum’s party. She’s turning sixty,” I said.
“Only sixty. She’s still young.”
“You know how some of the older people are. Sixty is a big deal. And if I go without you, she’ll ask an unbearable amount of questions.”
“I can’t go. I really can’t.”
“Just tell your boss-”
“I can’t,” he interrupted.
Why did he interrupt? If he hadn’t done so, I might have given in. I might have let him skip the party. I might have held my tongue.
“Why are you so straight with your decisions?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why can’t you try to work things around? Saying you can’t when you’ve not tried-”
“How do you know I’ve not tried?”
“I know because I know you. And I know, for sure, you didn’t ask your boss if you could have the weekend off.”
“Are we seriously arguing about this right now? I’m tired. Let’s talk about it tomorrow, alright?”
“It’s always tomorrow with you.”
“Yes, because I don’t want to say something I’d regret. So let’s talk tomorrow.”
He gave me a quick peck on the forehead before stalking toward the door. Here’s my regret. I didn’t let him go. I made him stay at a time he needed to leave the most. I went after him, reached for his wrist, and pulled him back.
“No, let’s talk about this now. We will forget about this tomorrow-”
“And maybe that’s a good idea.”
“How is that a good idea? We’re getting married. This is something we need to discuss. How do you expect me to live with a man who will be absent every weekend?”
“It’s only this weekend. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?”
“It’s always ‘only this weekend’ with you. Fine. Go then. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Like a child, I folded my arms and glared. And for that brief moment, I had hope. I was expectant. I thought he would stay and ask for forgiveness. That he would choose to work things out, instead of leaving. But I guess, he really was tired. And without another word, he walked out the front door never to return.
I have cried enough over what happened three years ago – stifling tears in the shower and hyperventilating by the sidewalks. But nothing I did brought him back. What could tears do to bring the dead to life? Was there a potion for resurrection? Would true love’s kiss work? When I became too tired to feel anymore, I forced myself to move on. I forced myself to disassociate the past from my present. Though unfortunately, the memories live on. I can recount every part of it as if it were a movie I’d watch one too many times. But even if I don’t tear up, it leaves a bitter aftertaste of regret.
As the air steward walked past with a pillow in hand, as the child clumsily unwrapped his chocolate bar, as I gazed at the cumuliform clouds, I wondered once more what life would have been. And then I concluded before the seatbelt sign blinked red: life would’ve been great. We would’ve been happy. We would’ve created wonderful memories. But life, unfortunately, goes on. And if I were to ever find love again, so should I.
Window, pillow, and chocolate were words given by kara562. Firstly, let me apologise for writing this rather depressing piece. You see, I’ve been watching too many sad dramas recently that they’ve had an affect on me. So, when I saw those three words, the two things that came to mind were aeroplane and regret. I don’t why. Hence, this story. I do hope it was an engaging tale though.
Now, it’s your turn. I challenge you to use this same three words and write a piece of your own. It’s fun. You don’t have to try so hard. And oh, it makes a great writing practice.
*To download the banner, left-click then right-click to save.
Jodie held the memory card tight in a fist, as she tapped the up arrow of the hotel lift. She was nervous – more nervous than she needed to be. The atmosphere was unsettling and the air stifling in the marble-themed lobby. Staring straight at the silver doors, Jodie tried her best to ignore the hawking reporters. They’d seen her exchange with the receptionist. And they’d begun murmuring when the receptionist made a call. Fortunately, the hotel guards were diligent that night.
When the lift finally arrived, Jodie slipped in and jabbed furiously at the close button, avoiding the reporters’ gaze. It seems Richard had caused quite a stir. It wasn’t Guinevere or the Lees’ corruption they were after, it was the story behind Richard’s birth – society needed to get its priorities straight.
Upon the arrival ding of the thirtieth floor, Jodie heaved a sigh and turned right to suite #337. A second before her knuckles hit the wooden room door, it swung open.
“Were there a lot of-”
“Yes. Can I come in?” Jodie interrupted.
Richard gestured for her to enter, as he said, “It’s nice to see people care.”
“Oh yea, the youth of this country loves you.”
“Well, that’s no surprise. Have you seen me?”
Richard chuckled, but stopped himself abruptly when Jodie didn’t follow suit.
“I’ve seen you,” Jodie stated.
“Sorry. What do you need me to pass to the detectives?”
There was no hesitation when Jodie handed Richard the memory card.
“What’s in this?” Richard asked.
“Information about Neal’s whereabouts.”
“It started with you, didn’t it?”
“Is that a ‘thank you’?”
Jodie couldn’t blame Richard for keeping quiet. After all, his family was involved. And if it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t have discovered Neal being alive either. Though, if she wanted to be precise, Neal was merely existing. There was nothing lifelike being in a coma.
“You’re welcome. I’ll call a detective over. Would you like to stick around?”
“No. I’m afraid if I do, Neal would be gone.”
“What do you mean?”
From the recording, Jodie learned Neal was at the Wilhelm Group-owned hospital, kept under tight surveillance on the eleventh floor. The eleventh floor was a VIP floor for the famous, rich, and royal. Those who visited the floor could come and go without leaving any record of their visit. And after the news about the Lees, the Cortezs might decide to pull Neal out. Neal could disappear like the many others, as though he’d been dead for years.
“You won’t have access to the eleventh floor,” Richard stated. “They won’t give you access.”
“You’re not high up enough. Sorry.”
Who was she kidding? Presidents were rumoured to visit the eleventh floor. Jodie grunted, realising she’d overlook that fact. The stress had officially gone to her head.
“But I have an idea. You can’t go alone though,” Richard added. “I can arrange for you to check in with a few fake claims.”
“Does the hospital even know who you are? No offense.”
“Yes. I’m high up enough. I’ve been there a few times.”
“Well, more than a few times. I’ve always wondered why the staff were always so nice to me. I guess it kind of makes sense now. They probably thought I’d be their new boss.”
“But the news is out. You’re not their new boss. You’re not even related to their new boss.”
“Yes, but I can still pull some strings. Pay some people off. Money makes the world go round, Jodie. I thought you knew that.”
“Thanks for the reminder.”
“So, you up for the plan?”
“You have the money?”
“Plenty. The Lees thought they could pay me for my silence. Hah!”
“Then yes, I’m for the plan. And… thank you.”
“Anytime,” Richard said with a smirk. But just as he reached for his phone, he turned and asked, “Who’s going with you?”
“Who’s going with you? I’m going to tell them you’re my famous friend who doesn’t want any publicity on your secret illness. And if you’re famous, you can’t go alone. You need at least somebody to go with you.”
What Richard said made sense. She was going to put on a show, and all shows worked better with dialogue. Unfortunately, Jodie didn’t know anyone that could help her pull off the stunt. She didn’t want to involve anyone personal, and her options were limited if not none.
“How about Zach?” Richard suggested.
“Are you serious?”
“I don’t know about his acting skills, but his face isn’t all over the media. For the most part, he’s a nobody.”
“He’ll do anything for you. I thought that was obvious.”
Jodie narrowed her eyes and Richard laughed.
“You didn’t know?” Richard asked, eyes wide in fake surprise.
Jodie knew – she’d picked up on the hints. But as far as she was concerned, it wasn’t something worth responding to.
“So is he going to be your plus one or not? The clock is ticking. Neal might be gone forever.”
Neal might’ve been gone already, but she wasn’t going to assume the worst. Jodie needed to make sure he was there. She needed to keep him there, at least until the detectives arrive. Still, she didn’t like the thought of using Zach even if she knew he’d help. Jodie had to choose.