Sunday, August 2, 2015

CHAPTER 4: THE SHADES OF FEAR

Confessions of a Novice Nun
by Trisha Cuarts


ALL THE EVENTS OF THE PREVIOUS DAY CAME crushing back to me as the sun greeted me in the morning. As I sat up from my bed to proceed with my day, I felt a gaping hole just right on my chest. For a moment, I contemplated dismissing Ethan's departure as just something of my own mind's doing, expecting that any second I'll hear him groaning from another room. However, the letter safely tucked between my lamp-shade's foot and the night-stand where it was placed was enough proof that he was truly gone, and that there was nothing that I could do about it.

I had a typical first day of work: I mixed orders of coffee, spilled an entire grande cup, and got scolded by my supervisor. It wasn't rolling well, to say the least.

And the thought of my neighbor kept haunting me the entire shift.

I kept wondering how he was, where did he go, was he eating his meal three times a day, and what did he mean when he wrote that it was best for him to leave me.

I kept seeing him in the faces of our customers, half-expecting him to suddenly show up in front of me.

I once mistook a guy with bronze locks as him.

I was so distracted and on-the-edge the entire day that even I got frustrated about myself. My co-employee, Desiree, comforted me a little by saying that the first day of work is always the hardest, and that it will get better as the days progress. But still, I couldn’t help feeling bad about doing so poorly.

Because of my bad first day, I set a goal to get better the next.

I arrived the earliest the next morning and tried to memorize all the orders.

I brought a notebook and a pen to write down all the flavors of the coffee, vowing to myself that I will memorize the processes and ingredients, thinking that I have to have a routine with my day so that I would commit fewer errors.

I tried to be as cheerful as possible, greeting all the customers with a smile.

And most of all, I tried to put at the back of my mind all my worries about my former neighbor, hoping that I could get my head on my tasks.

At the end of my second day, my supervisor seemed at least satisfied with me. He even patted me on the back, telling me to keep my attitude up. And as he did this, I noticed Desiree furtively eyeing him as she wiped the table near the door.

I settled to approach her.

"Something wrong?"

She was taken aback by my question, jumping a little on the process.

"Wh-what?"

"Why do you keep staring at Mr. John?"

There was a tint of pink on her cheeks as she looked down at the table she was cleaning, obvious in her attempts to avoid my eyes.

"What are you saying? I wasn’t staring at him."

"Come on, Desiree. I saw you. It was quite obvious, actually."

She stared without blinking at me for three solid seconds.

Then suddenly, I didn't even have a chance to protest before she was grabbing both my arms and was dragging me towards the ladies' room.

Once inside, she gripped both my arms, startling me with her suddenness.

"Promise me you won't tell anyone!"

Surveying the room, she spotted the open door, and then marched three quick steps to close it.

She was instantly on my side after that.

"Amy, John is just so hot."

"Alright?" I retorted, unsure of what to react to her.

"I mean, have you seen the way he smiles with his dimples? I kind of am crushing on him a little. I kept waiting for him to ask me out, but he never does, and I never say anything because he probably doesn't like me like that, because he's our supervisor, but do you think I should say something?"

I blinked three successive times, trying to grasp what she said with how fast she said it.

"Err, why not?"

She squealed. "What? Are you crazy? I can't tell him! I'm just a crew here."

Finally understanding her apprehensions, this made me question some things about affection.

Was it really this hard to say what's on your heart?

Was it this frightening that even bold Desiree could not easily say that she likes John?

"Desiree," I called out her name, placing a calming hand on her shoulder. "I think you need to tell him how you feel. Would you rather never tell him, and then watch him go with another girl?"

I was surprised when she suddenly looked like she would cry.

"But that would be super awkward if he doesn't like me back."

"How old are you again?"

"Twenty. Why?"

"Well then, I think you're old enough to be mature about this."

She stared at me for a long time, as though trying to read me. And then, without warning, she suddenly hugged me as she squealed. I was more than astonished by her energy

– I've never met someone as spastic as she was.

"I'll try, Amy. I hope he likes me back!"

And with that said, she quickly ran outside, leaving me alone at the ladies' room a bit confused on what just happened.

When I went back to the shop, I saw Desiree talking to John inside his small office. A smile broke on my face.

It was at that time that I saw him.

One moment I was glancing outside the shop as a mop of tousled bronze hair caught my eye. And then the next, it was gone.

I didn’t have much time to process what I saw. My two legs seemed to have their own mind as they trudged out when I opened the café’s door and were on instinct as they ran outside.

All my thoughts were filled with the knowledge that it was him; all my hopes were fueled with the possibility that it was Ethan.

Then I bumped onto someone.

"Ooufgh," the man uttered incomprehensively as I knocked the air out of him. I instinctively steadied him by clutching onto his arms so that he wouldn't fall.

"I'm sorry, but I need to catch someone…" I hastily said, trying to look at a gap above his shoulder for Ethan.

"Amy?" The man said.

He – calling out my name – made me finally look at him.

And then a flick of recognition hit me.

"Mr. Bradford!" I gushed.

"What a coincidence! Bumping into you again…"

"It's really nice to see you again, but I need to catch up with someone,” I hurriedly said without allowing him to speak, before I extricated my hands on him.

Turning onto my heel passed Mr Bradford’s side, I ran to cross the street, hoping to catch up with Ethan.

I sprinted a few blocks, trying to look everywhere for my former neighbor. When I didn’t see him, I joggled a few more until exhaustion was making me run slower. It seemed like everywhere I look, he was nowhere in sight. And if I was being honest with myself, I was not even sure that it was truly him that I saw.

With all the frustrations and disappointments creeping up in my chest, I finally gave up running to crouch forward, catch my breath, and lean my hands on my thighs.

Faraway, Mr. Bradford seemed to catch up with me.

"Miss Reed!" he called out.

I waited for him to reach me as I steadied my labored breathing. Upon reaching me, he was also catching his breath as he said, "I assume you didn't catch that someone?"

I shook my head in a 'no' with a frown. He scratched his head.

"Well, wow, what do I say? Long-time no see?"

I tried to smile, but even I know that I was faking it.

He cleared his throat to dispel the little awkwardness that was forming between us.

"So, uh, I was wondering why you didn't call."

"Oh."

Caught unawares, I straightened my spine, taking a few seconds to formulate a proper response.

"Uhm, I didn't need help touring the city," I finally came up with.

He laughed a bit.

"I gave you my number not just to help you tour the city, Miss Reed."

Confused, I asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, I was wondering if you want to go out or something. Maybe we could grab some drink later?"

Oh.

"I…"

"But clearly, my timing is off."

I instantly shook my head at him.

"No, you don't understand Mr. Bradford. I-I don't drink."

A look of shock crossed his features.

"Never?"

I shook my head with a smile.

"No."

"Oh. My bad." He seemed to be blushing a bit. "But you're at least of legal age, right?"

I chuckled. "I'm twenty-three."

"Great. Uhm, maybe next time… how about a dinner, you know? So that we could talk about… stuff."

It was a little funny seeing him fumble with words. It was as if I could almost hear what he was thinking: with the unsure look on his face, it was as though he was mentally scolding himself.

"A dinner sounds great," I retorted to placate him. He immediately gave me a huge smile.

"Great! Well, it's a date then…"

The second the words were out of his mouth, his expression changed to one of dread, seeming to have said something he didn't plan to.

"That is, I mean, if you want it to be a date…" he tried to say differently.

I took both of his hands to calm him down a bit. And somehow, the action seemed to work on him.

He kept a steady gaze on our entwined hands as his features returned to normal.

"Mr. Bradford, what happened to you?"

He looked at me with confusion and so I clarified, "You were so confident when I first met you. What's wrong?"

With a solemn look, he replied, "Sorry. I was just afraid that I'd lose my chance with you if I didn't ask you right away. I'm just accustomed to getting what I want."

When he said those words, all the apprehensions and all his self-doubt suddenly vanished. Instead, they were replaced with a confidence that was hard to miss once I looked into his eyes.

And then, when I focused on said eyes – which have the darkest of blues that I had ever seen – looking at me with a certain kind of intensity, I understood too quickly the graveness of what he just revealed to me.

This is a man who can and will get whatever he wants.

There is a lot more to him than meets the eye.

"It's not hard to offer my friendship Mr. Bradford," I said, hoping to convey that I wasn’t seeking any sort of relationship with him.

"So, it's a friendship dinner then."

I nodded my affirmation.

"I don't date, so yes, it's a friendship dinner."

He nodded solemnly; breathing heavily as he did.

"Well, I can wait. I told you – I am accustomed to getting what I want."

I chuckled a bit, trying to mask the sudden discomfort I was experiencing with his presence.

"You've just met me. You don't know if you really want to date me." And more importantly, I am training as a nun.

But then, he looked at me with so much intensity that my smile was immediately wiped out off my face. He turned my hands so that he was the one holding them, and somehow, the innocent gesture that I did earlier to calm him down suddenly morphed into a tension-filled one.

"Miss Reed, you clearly don't understand me. I might have stammered on my words earlier, I might have seemed stupid, but you see, I have a gift – an eye, if you must – for things that I like, things that I want. And when I settle my eyes on one, I would do all that it takes to get my hands on it – whatever it takes. I knew it since the moment I met you that I wanted you. And I would stop at nothing, nothing, to have you."

His look, where before a carefree one, suddenly turned electric; possessive; domineering.

It made my heart beat loudly, as if it was trying to warn me about him.

I didn't know where the stammering and funny man went, but I knew then at that moment that it wasn't him who was before me anymore. This was a different side of Mr. Bradford. It was his darker side, which, in our short time of knowing each other, I already had a glimpse upon.

"Have a good day Miss Reed."

And there he left me on the sidewalk, confused and frightened of him.

And suddenly I wondered if our meeting was really a mere coincidence…

Or all along, he had a hand in it.


oOo


I didn't call Mr. Bradford for the next days. There was something in my mind, in my gut, that kept me from calling him. Maybe it was the fear that I experienced the second time that I met him. And so I carried on with my life, trying to forget the two conflicting men that kept invading my thoughts.

The next day when I went to work, Desiree seemed to be in a foul mood. She didn't talk to me, nor responded when I greeted her. I figured the talk with John didn't go well, so I didn't try to ask her about it. I settled to just focusing on my job.

This same focus was what I hoped to achieve on Thursday when I tried to lose myself with my mission with the prisoners.

Meeting Mother Elizabeth and her congregation reminded me of my true purpose to New York. They were kind to me, and taught me a lot of things I should do to prepare for my proclamation as a nun. But try as I might, I still couldn't put my entire head in the tasks ahead of me.

The first project we planned was to have the prisoners help in our feeding program. They were assigned tasks to cook food, place them on containers, and give them to the street people. It took a whole day for us to plan everything. I was assigned to see that all prisoners were performing, and not taking for granted their chance to help the community.

And so the next day, with everything set, we put out stands in one of the few secluded streets of New York. The said place seemed familiar with the beggars because in less than an hour, it was already crowded with them.

As I helped on disseminating instructions to the prisoners, I saw one with the number 50664 sitting at the faraway benches. His isolation seemed deliberate, as though he doesn't bond well with the others.

I walked towards him with a warm smile.

"Hello, Mister. I apologize for disturbing you, but you need do your assigned task so that we could help all these people in need."

He smirked at me with sarcasm.

"What'st for me?" I traced a thick southern drawl in the way he spoke. The grubby man looked like he was in his fifties, with grayish hair, pitch black eyes, scraggly face, and three missing teeth.

I tried to speak again with an encouraging smile.

"Well, for one, it is at least better than doing nothing inside your cell. Second, this can help you in your parole,” I said as I took a seat beside him while he kept the sarcastic smirk on his face.

"Have been in jail for four years, miss. Ain't nothing good it did me. I ain't never goin' out."

"But wouldn't this – helping the others – at least give you something to feel good about yourself? It's never late to be a Christian to your neighbor, and I think you can be a good one."

He laughed without humor.

"Good Christ'an, eh? Piece of shit, is more like it. See miss, I don't care 'bout them religion, or all the Jesus-God-damned-things you tell me. I ain't never goin' anywhere after this except hell."

I cringed upon hearing him swearing so explicitly. But even more so, I felt saddened by how deep he had fallen that he sees no other endings for himself besides going to hell.

I decided to try to understand him better, and so I asked, "What is it that sent you here to prison?"

"Murder," he said without even blinking – the coldness in his eyes speaks volume.

"I was hired killer. Been doing it for six years. Not really that good, and crappy old trick didn't work out, so I got cops smelling my shitty trail and got me." He laughed sinisterly. "Hope I've been as quick as our guy ‘Russian Roulette’. That boy works like a ghost. Got no cops on his trail. Always cleans after his job. Never got no one seen his face, that one. "

"Russian Roulette? Is that a code name for him? What does he do? Is it the same as yours?"

"Yep, a fucking murderer, that's what. Earns millions. Boss' favorite. Even got the cops scared. Slits your throat if ya didn't see him. Fires a gun like its fucking invisible."

He suddenly stood up while I contemplated the grimy things he just revealed to me. There was something intriguing in the way he told me about this “Russian Roulette” person.

"I'd be careful around here, Miss, if I were you. Russian Roulette is cruel. But I ain't seen anyone finer than him. Easy on the eyes, that boy. Will rob your heart and kill you at t'same time, if you're not careful. Better not cross him in the streets, if ya' know what I mean."

"But why does he do what he does? Why did he become a hired killer?"

The man only laughed.


(to be continued...)

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