“Why did we stop? John, was that Oliver on the phone?” I looked outside, trying to get a view. It was definitely not the resort; it was an uncertain place. There were few abandoned houses by the road and no sight of a single person around. It instantly gave my skin shudders.
John glanced over his shoulder, “Stay in the car, ma’am,” he ordered, his voice tight as well as his hand on steering wheel hard. “Mr. Katrakis ordered me to pull over.”
“What? Why would Oliver want us to stop? Betty is waiting for me at the resort.” I panicked.
“I don’t know what’s going on, Miss. They just told me to stop.”
I gripped my bag tight, “But Betty…. She texted me that she would be at the resort,” I informed him. I was beginning to get nervous. “Did they tell you what’s going on?”
“They’re coming here. They didn’t say why.”
“I’m going to call Brandon.” I opened my purse then grabbed my phone. I called Brandon.
“Sorry, there’s seems to have a problem with your network.” the automated operator stated. Damn. I had no signal.
Gee, what’s wrong with my phone? “John? Oliver contacted your phone, right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
“May I borrow your phone? I wanted to call Brandon.”
John handed me his phone, “Here.”
“My pleasure, Ms. Hart,” John said with a small smile.
I went to the recent calls the selected Oliver’s number. It rang. Thank God!
It was ringing. “Please answer. Please answer…” I whispered repeatedly.
Oliver answered on the second ring. “Yes, John?”
“Ollie? This is Alayna…” I almost cried, “What’s going on? Why did you ask us to stop?” I rambled.
“Alayna? Are you okay?”
“Of course, what kind of a question is that?” I questioned. Something’s definitely not right. I bit my bottom lip hard. “Can I talk to Brandon?”
“Alayna was coming to get you. Stay in the car with John and don’t come out, please. Do you understand?” There was a tension in his voice. Why would they come to get me?
“Ollie, just tell me what is happening!” I snapped. “Put Brandon on the phone right now, or I will get out of the car!” I nearly yelled. I didn’t want this kind of suspense they’re giving me.
“Betty’s phone has been stolen. The one who texted you isn’t Betty.”
I caught my mouth instantly. Chills traveled down my whole being, making every hair on my body stood. Now, I am absolutely frightened! How could someone steal Betty’s phone when there was no other person in the house? It’s just us, including John. The villa was highly secured. Unless one of the workers took it and texted me? Why would they text me a prank? They didn’t even know me. How could they know that I am meeting with Betty at the resort?
Oh my God! Someone was baiting us. They’re trying to harm Brandon again. They knew where he was.
How could they get Betty’s phone?
The culprit might be in our circle. I glanced at John. He was watching me innocently as I talked to Oliver. Was it John? No. John has been working with Oliver for a long time. He even let me borrow his phone to call them.
How about Betty? We didn’t know much about her, but Ollie. No. It was impossible to be her. Why would Betty use her phone and play a prank us? She didn’t know about Brandon’s past or secret. It can’t be her. She’s Oliver’s fiancée. Maybe one of the workers in the villa?
“Hello, Alayna? Are you okay?” Oliver was still on the phone.
I swallowed, “Yes. I am fine. Where are you?”
I jolted when someone knocked on the car window. I looked up then found Brandon standing outside the car. I stepped out immediately.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I let you go alone—Oh!” I jumped on him, not letting him finish the sentence. He caught me with his arms, holding me so tight against him. I began to cry. I buried my face in his neck.
“Brandon!” I sniveled.
“Hush… It’s okay. I’m here,” he reassured, I felt his palms on my back, stroking me gently. “It’s alright,” he whispered.
“Brandon,” Oliver called. “We have no time. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“We’re going alone,” Brandon said. “I’m taking Alayna with me and we are going a different path,” he announced.
“What did you just say?” Oliver asked as he marched towards us. “Where will you do?”
“Just do what I say, Ollie. It is not safe for all of us to come together. Alayna and I are going alone and meet Cassius later. You, Betty and John, should go back to the villa.” Brandon told his cousin and Betty who was quiet and concerned as well.
“Wait, is he really coming here?” I asked, so I heard it all right.
“Yes, Cassius is coming,” Brandon said.
“Brandon, no one is going alone. Not you. I’m coming with you and I won’t let both of you go alone by yourselves.” Ollie protested.
“Please…” Brandon exhaled. “I know you can understand why, Oliver, but listen to me now.”
Oliver’s jaw tensed. “I can’t let you go alone.”
“I am not alone. I’m with Alayna.” Brandon said. “I also can’t tell you where we are going. Ears are everywhere Oliver.” He said, as if he was suspecting something as he briefly glanced over John and Betty, then his eyes turned back to Oliver. “Let’s meet later when Cassius’s here.”
“Call me. Please.” Oliver demanded.
Brandon nodded, “Sure. I’ll take your car from here.”
Brandon took me to Oliver’s car, then held the door open. I stepped inside without taking my eyes off the three in front of us.
“Put the seat belt on,” Brandon ordered as he gets into the driver seat.
I did what he said. “Where are we going?”
“Change of plans. I’ll take you somewhere else.” he brushed my cheek with his thumb then smiled. “You’re the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t let anything bad happen to you.”
I smiled back, “I trust you.”
Brandon revved up the engine then pulled out of the place.
After almost an hour of drive, we stopped in front of a traditional Japanese wooden gate. There were words painted each side of the gate in Japanese calligraphy. I curtly felt like I was in a different dimension.
“Did we just escaped to Japan or something?” I joked as I stepped out of the car.
“This was a dojo. Come, let’s get inside.” Brandon took my hand again and lead the way. It was surprising he knew how to open the gate by pushing blocks of wood like pattern codes as the lock.
“Dojo? Is that where people practice martial arts or something?”
“I didn’t know that there is a place like this in Portland.”
He chuckled, “You’re going to love it.”
Entering the gate was like entering another world. Inside, I found Minkas, Japanese traditional houses. The aura of the ancient culture was in the air. I felt like I was back in the early civilization as I scanned the surroundings—like the scenes in the Asian films. The ground’s landscape was unbelievable as I noticed that we were actually uphill. The interior was even more massive than what it looked like on the outside.
Brandon knocked on the door of the largest house in the compound. The door automatically opened for him after the single knock. An old woman in a kimono, a Japanese dress, appeared at the doorstep. Though she didn’t look Japanese at all.
“Lydia,” Brandon grinned at her.
Lydia’s eyes widened in genuine surprise. Her eyes seemed to sparkle. She caught her mouth with her palms, staring at him too long. The pure joy in her eyes would never lie. It’s like a mother’s gaze to his long lost son she hadn’t seen for a long time.
“Brandon, my dear. It’s really you.” Lydia’s fascination was priceless.
“Oh, Lydia,” Brandon enveloped his arms around her. He dwarfed Lydia with his height. I almost wanted to cry at the scene in front of me, even if I don’t know who she was. They seemed to miss each other so much.
“Cassius isn’t lying. You really came.”
“Lydia, I want you to meet my girlfriend. This is Alayna, Alayna, this is Lydia,” he introduced us. She swiftly gazed at me in an awe expression.
“Oh, my boy is all grown up. Is this her?”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” I greeted her back. She didn’t shake my hand, she held it with a gentle squeeze.
“Lydia is my Mom’s aunt. She’s not from the Katrakis side and basically, she’s my grandaunt. She took care of me when I was a kid and whenever we stay here. She was always visiting us in my mother’s villa, right, Lydia?”
“Oh, yes! He’s just a little boy back then. I’m just so surprised you grew up so tall and so handsome, my dear boy and oh, it’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Alayna,” she said with a warm smile. “And such a beautiful young lady.” She looked into my eyes. “Come inside both of you. You are safe here.”
“She knows what’s going on?” I whispered to Brandon, but Lydia heard me.
“Oh, dear child, I always look after Brandon even if I’m too far away. Casey’s my bridge to know what was going on with him,” she said. She spoke slowly than average, which made her even gentler.
“Oh, I see. I’m glad she has you.”
Brandon cleared his throat, “May we come inside now?”
“Oh, sure. The dinner’s about to serve. Come in, come in. Let me show you your room first. You don’t have to take off your shoes. You are my guests.”
When we get into the inner part of the house. All I could say about it was a big wow! The wooden structure, though looked old-fashioned, it didn’t seem fragile and the landscape was very original. Their doors were shoji, a door which had a divider consisting of translucent paper over a frame of wood or bamboo and then flooring was tatami, a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. It was more like a museum to me. Why did she choose this kind of house?
“Wow, Brandon. This is very rare. I wish I could take a picture.”
“You can’t, because her husband, my granduncle didn’t want it to be like a tourist spot,” Brandon explained. “Lydia’s husband is a pure Japanese.”
“Oh, okay. I get it now,” I nodded in approval and amazement.
“Where is Kanjo?” Brandon asked Lydia.
“You know where he is at a time like this. He did not change his way of life. He won’t be back until next week.”
Brandon laughed, “It was still his hobby,” he said.
“Yes. It makes him happy, so I let him. Teaching is his obsession,” she paused in front of another shoji door. “This is going to be your room, or do you want separate rooms?”
“No,” we both said. Brandon laughed. “We’re okay here. Thank you, Lydia.”
Lydia winked at him. “I know. I know. I will call you once the dinner is ready. The bathroom is at the next door. If you need something, just tell me.”
“Thanks, Lydia. I’m sure everything you have here is enough,” Brandon reassured.
“Yes. Thank you,” I agreed as well. We watched her as she strolled back from where we came in.
Brandon slid the door. “Ladies first,” he smiled a crook smile that I always love.
I stepped into the room first. Brandon followed me, bringing our luggage inside. I sat on the floor since there were no chairs, but thick comforters with glossy blankets. So much for the Japanese feel.
“Did I mention they have a hot spring here?” Brandon randomly said.
“Oh, really?” Oh my! I wanted to try it badly with Betty until something came up. “Can I go there now, please, please?”
“Yes, but after the dinner, we will. Lydia is very strict with the dinner time.”
“J-join me? Join me where?”
His brows furrowed, “The hot spring, where else?”
I felt my cheeks flared. I was planning on getting naked while soaking myself for a few hours under the steaming water. Did he just say that he would join me?
He laughed softly. “Don’t look at me like that. Relax. I won’t do anything you don’t want to. I just want to be with you, and I need to tell you something.”
“O-okay,” I nodded, but why did I think it isn’t any good?