…I must be on a roll.
Angst abounds. After all, I didn't write this for 30angsts for nothing.
Sophie rapped on the door several times with her knuckles, her other hand clutching a covered basket. The high morning sun was at her back, warming her quickly as she waited for the door to open. And when it did, the first thing she did was throw her arms around the young woman who had answered the door, who had bright green eyes and bright orange hair pulled back into two braided pigtails, and hug her tightly as though they had not met in years.
"Oh, Sophie, you sound like you haven't seen me in years." Wendy returned the embrace before gesturing to her friend to enter. "Come in, come in. What brings you here, anyway?"
Twirling a lock of her cropped auburn hair, Sophie obliged, and held up the basket. "I baked some brownies today, and I thought you'd like some." She shut the door behind her and looked all around the simple living room, eyeing one of the yellow armchairs.
Wendy Garret smiled. "That would be nice, but you really shouldn't have – "
"But I wanted to!"
"All right…I'll get some plates, and milk, if that's all right with you."
"Sure! I'll be waiting!"
Leaving Sophie to flop into an armchair after leaving her brownies on the coffee table, Wendy disappeared into the kitchen, and as she got out whatever she needed, her smile flickered before fading, completely gone as she found the pitcher of milk and poured two glasses for her and her comrade. After all, Wendy just remembered someone else who liked milk, and chose it over alcohol…
She paused, pitcher in hand, and frowned until a rather loud squeak – then again, the kitchen was quiet, especially without Sophie and her extremely vivacious voice – snapped her out of her thoughts. The table-sized pink turtle had been snoozing in a corner that it occupied by itself before waking up to the footsteps of its mistress. But before it could stand up, Wendy shook her head and said, "It's all right, Kameo, I'll be the one to take it."
Still, she couldn't shake the fact that perhaps Kameo had squeaked for a different reason as she placed the plates and glasses on a tray she had found, and headed back into the living room, where Sophie was now reclining in the sofa, gazing at a framed photograph.
"Oh…sorry," she said quickly, sitting up. "And thank you so much, I was getting thirsty." The brunette instantly lunged for one of the glasses, draining half of it instantly before suddenly asking, "Hey, Wendy, I never really noticed this picture before. Are they all your friends?"
Wendy glanced at her and inched closer to see the picture, and then began pointing out people and saying their names. "Let's see…that's Yukiko, she's holding up Carlos because he was asleep – yes, he's always asleep – and sitting beside him is Carul – oh, Carmen. That's José, the blond one over there – yeah, is Joshua. There's his older brother Ray, and Barrio, and Nero…"
Before she could continue, Sophie couldn't help interrupting. "Wait! That's you right there, isn't it?"
"Yeah, that's me – "
"Who's that guy sitting beside you?"
Wendy felt a twinge somewhere in her chest – close to her heart, knowing who Sophie was referring to.
"Uh, that's Van…" Even saying his name, that lone syllable, triggered a feeling of yearning, somewhat akin to that of a lost little girl suddenly realizing where her parents were and wanting to find them no matter what.
"And who's the girl beside him? Is that his girlfriend?"
The twinge returned, more sudden and tense. But Wendy managed to answer, "Priscilla? Well…no, at least, not when I last saw them."
Sophie placed the photograph back onto the small table beside the sofa, where it sat beside a small pink glass turtle and a more recent photo of Wendy. "So…you haven't seen each other in quite a while, huh?"
Her comrade nodded, staring at the bitten brownie in her hand. "Yes…I sort of know where the others are now, like Yukiko and Joshua, but up to now, I still have no idea where Van is now, let alone what he's up to."
"You know, I've been wondering all this time why you've turned down all your suitors, Wendy. So many men have been tripping all over their own feet trying to win you, and so far, every last one of them failed. Are you saving your heart…for someone else?"
Wendy's cheeks turned a furious scarlet, made only more furious by Sophie returning to her brownie as though she had not asked such a candid question. Even though it had been a long while, the day when the group photo was taken remained vivid, and for a second, Wendy felt as though time was going backwards, and she was growing backwards too, becoming once again that young girl who had no idea where to sit…
"What about me? Where can I sit?"
And Van had replied ever so casually, "There's room next to me."
He never said anything to Priscilla about sitting beside him; she had simply taken the other empty spot and clung to his arm as the camera flashed. Did that mean something? But…she was so young then, hardly of any romantic interest to any man, least of all Van. Perhaps it was just that he felt more comfortable around her, as she was also the only one who heard the tragic story of his life, and his first traveling companion.
For a long time, it was all about the two of them, Wendy simply tagging along and running after Van in case he forgot that she was coming too…she found herself running, dragging her suitcase through the badlands, under the sun, searching for the clawed man who had warped their lives…searching…searching…
She blinked, and once again she was on her sofa, talking to Sophie, who decided to apologize.
"I'm sorry…am I asking too much? Maybe we should try a different topic…"
"No, it's not that," said Wendy. "And besides, you have a right to know, since you're my friend and all." Placing her half-eaten brownie on her plate, she added, "It's just that…I'm not really sure. Maybe you might think it's impossible, but…I don't think any of them are right for me, and now isn't the right time either. And I don't know…I don't know if I really am saving my heart for someone else. Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not. It's all just…sort of confusing these days."
Sophie nodded, tugging thoughtfully at a few strands of her hair with her clean hand. "I see…"
And for a while, they were eating and drinking quietly, the transition sort of unnerving, especially for the more loquacious Sophie, and in no time at all, the silence was broken by a question that would haunt Wendy for a long, long time, several days and maybe even weeks after it was dropped, constantly hanging without a definite answer…
"Wendy, are you waiting for…Van?"
Some considerable distance away, Don Rei strolled down the dirt roads of a town so small that it was closer to a village than a town, his cane kicking up dust along with his feet. He was in a hurry; it was his wife's birthday, and he still didn't have a gift for her. A beautiful amethyst ring had caught her eye, and he was determined to have it, willing to pay an arm and a leg – or at least, all the money he had earned from his novel sales in the span of six months…
A collision with a passerby snapped him back to reality. Don staggered, but had his cane for support. The other man didn't fall either, and stared at Don with a strange look in his eyes as he adjusted his hat, and a golden loop on one corner sounded its faintest chime as the warm breeze made its way past them.
"Sorry," they apologized at the same time. Don Rei noticed something colorful at his feet, and bent down to pick it up.
"You dropped something."
It was a laminated photograph; a group picture. The man he had bumped into was at the center, with a young woman, probably barely out of adolescence, clutching his arm.
"Is that your girlfriend?"
The stranger's eyes widened and he seemed taken aback, as though Don had asked him if he had two heads. "Huh? No."
Don chuckled. "There are some nice-looking women in here," he remarked, tapping the photo with a finger. "Even that little girl is pretty cute, but I'm sure she'll become quite the looker when she grows up…she'll be worth the wait."
"Actually, she's already grown up…at least, the last time I saw her."
"You haven't seen her in a while? What about the rest?"
The man merely shrugged scrawny shoulders.
"I see," was all Don Rei could say. "Well…you know what they say, you better be quick, or else all the good ones will be gone! When I was your age, I found my wife, my dear Anissa, and it was love at first sight." He sighed dreamily and placed a hand upon his heart before returning the photo to its owner.
Once again, there was no verbal answer; only a nod.
"Well then, it was nice – ah – bumping into you, sir. By the way, I'm Donald Jameson Rei. And hey, that rhymed! Maybe I should start writing poetry too. But call me Don, or Don Rei. What about you?"
"Just Van," said the stranger, who was no longer that much of a stranger. "Actually, people call me…Van of the Dawn."
Don held out his hand, and Van shook it. "Well…I'm afraid I have to leave. It's my wife's birthday tomorrow, and I simply must get her a present. Hopefully that ring's still there. Till we meet again, Van of the Dawn, it was quite a pleasure!"
Without looking back, Don Rei hastened and disappeared into a crowd. When it dissipated, there was no trace of him. Van stepped aside and casually leaned against one of the posts of a nearby tavern, photo in hand. It had been a while since he had properly looked at it, and he went over each face, remembering what each one had done in the past – and how they had all come to follow him.
The last face he came to was the little girl Don had pointed out. How long had it been since they had last seen each other? Wendy was probably much older now, much older than he said she was.
Even that little girl is pretty cute, but I'm sure she'll become quite the looker when she grows up…she'll be worth the wait.
Van found himself wondering if Wendy Garret would be any different as a woman…and, for some odd reason or another, if she really was worth the wait. After all, there was just something about her…something that made him give her his solved puzzle, lend her his tuxedo whenever she was cold, and most of all, tell her everything about his tortured past.
And for a fleeting second, he thought of Wendy, and whether wherever she was now, she was also waiting.