“I’m going to catch you!” Mrs. De’ Santos or Shan as she had begged us to call her, yelled as she chased the toddlers around the backyard.
The children ran in glee, Shan not too far behind them and as she neared the twins, they giggled before splitting up. Having evaded her grasps, Shan tried to reach for little Joey who yelped as she grabbed him in a hug.
“¡No! ¡Ayuda!” he cried playfully and Shan’s eyes widened as the horde of toddlers stomped their way towards her.
“¡Salva a Joey!” the twins cried as they chased Shan, the other ten children not far behind.
“That’s not fair Ellie and Mellie! There are so many of you and one of me!”
The girls laughed joyously as they caught Shan and she fell onto the green grass in hysterics, playfully crying for help. The children laughed and dove on top of her. Shan laughed, tickling the little munchkins and I smiled as I watched them from the shade provided by the large tree.
The sun was blazing hot today and majority of us were outside, enjoying a drink in the shade or playing at the mistress of the orphanage was with the kids. The only relief from the scorching heat were the strong breezes that ruffled our hair and cooled our heated flesh.
The hot days would soon fade with fall and winter approaching bringing rain and snow. The winter season was always the children’s favourite but they had never gotten the real feel of the Christmas season. This year would be different, better.
We were hitting two weeks since the meeting and Giovanni’s demise. The older children had fell into a solemn mood, still mourning the loss of their friends while the younger ones were ignorant to the situation, keeping us afloat with their cheerful moods.
Now, I saw what was meant when they said ignorance is bliss…
“She’s good for us. The both of them,” PJ stated as she sat beside me, a weak smile on her lips.
Dimitri had now joined the fun but instead of saving his wife, he joined the mob, tickling her until she snorted.
“They are,” I agreed looking at my usually cheery friend.
Her green eyes were droopy, her skin pale and her hair dull. She wore a thin, grey T-shirt with matching cotton shorts similar to me but I wore black shorts instead. My tattoo visible to all.
“Have you decided on what you’re going to do?” she asked as she rested her head on my shoulder.
I had told her about what my parents said that day when I had visited she, Artemis and Orion in the infirmary. They didn’t want me to leave but they understood that I had a family that missed and loved me, they didn’t want to be selfish.
“I’m waiting on Vanni to wake up… I want to know what he thinks…” I stated as I caught sight of my parents making their way into the backyard.
My father pulled my mom into his lap after sitting against a tree before kissing her forehead. They smiled at each other before looking around the yard and waved when they spotted me. I waved back with a smile.
The past week had made me grow attached to them. The way they fussed over me, tried to spend every second with me yet gave me space when their actions became suffocating. Mom made it her duty to tuck me in at night and sing our song. Even though I was no longer a child in need of it, I basked in the affection I had missed for so many years. We had dinner together and talked about all that had happened over the years, mostly them talking and me listening intently and asking questions.
In the days, dad would try to bond with me and it was awkward at first but overtime we found something we both enjoyed doing, ‘working out’. He handed my ass to me a few times on the mat but not without a fight and those moments brought a smile on my face.
“I don’t want you to go, SJ,” PJ whispered a few seconds later and I smiled sadly, holding her hand.
“I know, PJ… I know…”
“I thought I’d find you here,” I said as I walked towards the small spring.
The vegetation had grown out, almost obstructing the marked path I would usually take and the vines now fell into the small pool of water, covering half of its surface.
Vanni sat at the edge of the pool, his feet in the water and his shoulder’s hunched. The moonlight danced across his naked torso, the bandages covering the upper half. Thankfully, he hand pulled on a pair of shorts before hightailing out of the compound.
When I had gotten word that he was missing, I nearly had a heart attack but I knew he wouldn’t have gone far. When we didn’t find him at the compound I knew this was where he had went.
Our secret place.
“I brought this just in case it got colder,” I continued as I placed the blanket over his shoulders and took a seat beside him.
The cold water caused me to hiss as my feet submerged in it, my pyjama pants soaked mid-shin. I tilted my head, gazing at Vanni, noting that his eyes were transfixed on the water and his fists clenched. His eyes held multiple emotions and I could tell there was a war raging within him.
“I heard every word you said to me,” Vanni rasped out interrupting me. “What had happened, how many died, how you felt, that my father was dead and that your parents wanted to take you away from here…I heard it all.”
Not knowing what to say, I said quiet looking out at the waters, the moonlight gliding over its surface. The crickets chirped and the other critters joined in on their soft song, filling the silence.
“I feel responsible. I may not have been the one to cause all this but I was there and I caused it get this far. You were right…I should’ve fought—”
“Don’t blame yourself, Vanni. I was angry when I said those words to you,” I interrupted hating the self-loathing in his voice. “You cannot blame yourself for your father’s doings. Giovanni manipulated all of us… Their deaths are not on your hands but his…a-and he has paid for it…”
Vanni gulped, the moonlight glinting on the tears falling from his eyes. “I lost my mother before I really had a chance to know her and because of that I had hang on to the possibility that my father…ha… I thought he would care for me but I was always an outsider.”
His chest shook with a sob and I gently took his hand in mine, biting my trembling lip as I stared at the distraught look he wore.
“I put myself out there trying to please him, to be what he wanted but I c-couldn’t. I couldn’t be the heartless heir he wanted. I tried to please him but it was never enough! I just wanted my father to love me…someone to love me… My mother and uncle left me… He forced you to leave me and now, you’re going to leave me again…”
My eyes widened in shock. He knew Giovanni was the one that forced me to break up with him.
“This must be how you felt all those years when I left you…” he stated with a humourless chuckle. “I deserve this...to feel the pain I once put you thro—”
“Come with me,” I pleaded as I manoeuvred myself in front of him, the water soaking through my clothes, reaching mid-torso. “I don’t want to leave you here. There are so many bad memories here. Yo—”
“I wish I could but I can’t just leave them here, DD,” Vanni said sadly, cupping her cheek with a tearful gaze. “I might not be the one to cause their suffering but I owe it to them to stay and help them were I had fallen short.”
I understood why he would want to stay. It was his way of making up for the wrongs he had sat back and watched his father commit but even though I understood… I didn’t want to leave him. The lure of starting over away from here was strong but then leaving behind everyone here…It made me sad.
I wanted to be with my parents to be a family but I had a family here and I didn’t want to leave…
“Then, I’m staying here in Spain,” I said sharply staring into his eyes.
His eyes widened before he shook his head but I placed a finger on his lips, silencing him.
“I may want to start over but I not without you or my family at the compound. I’ll ask my parents to stay in Spain…maybe not here at the compound but somewhere close so I can visit… Vanni, I don’t want to leave you. I love you too much to do that…”
I smiled at him, caressing his cheek and he stared at me with a multitude of emotions in his eyes before a smile pulled at his lips.
“You love me?” he asked with a boyish smile, cupping my face with both hands and I nodded, his bright blue eyes captivating me.
“Yes. I love you, KISA…always.”
He leaned forward his forehead against mine and my heart fluttered as his lips brushed mine. “I love you too, DD… so much.”
When his lips touched mine, everything ceased to exist in that one moment. The coldness of the water seemed to disappear as a searing heat took me over. Our lips moved slowly, sweetly. The sensations coursing through us reassuring both of us that this thing between us was real…
It was just him and I… neither of us knew what the future held but we were going into it together.