Meaningfulness woefully did not grace with its dazzling presence in the previous day. It appeared to be a total mist that requires plentiful effort to grasp. Tyler was wholly absent from my sight on the last day of spring break, and I got a glimpse of how my life used to be. Unbounded but solitary, moneyed but jaded.
This morning, when I started my stroll to school when a familiar car pulled up beside me. Tyler flashed his signature smile while I climbed onto the passenger’s seat.
The distance was brief, and we arrived in a matter of just a few minutes. Though Tyler was still quite popular among his level because of his looks and wealth, we barely get attention anymore.
However, this day differentiated undesirably from others.
As we trod lightly inside the mouth of the school, whispers erupted, reverberating through the halls. It magnified the uttered words, yet they remained murmurs.
I creased my forehead, scanning the hall. Stares of astonishment shot me like bullets. I could tell the topic was not about Tyler’s relationship with me anymore since they were not looking between both of us, or him at all.
Their eyes fixed on me.
“Okay…” I muttered with my head hung low. My voice was only audible to Tyler.
We approached Josh and Grayson by the lockers, who had their gazes anchored onto me with expressions mirroring the rest of the school.
“What’s going on?” Tyler asked from beside me, as bewildered as I was.
“Do you know who you’re walking with right now?” Grayson replied with a question in a tone of utter incredulity. I exchanged a look with Tyler.
“Hope?” he said. Avid for an explanation to ease our perplexity, he turned to look at Josh instead.
“Why’s everyone acting like Hope had just come back from the dead?” he questioned.
“No way!” a young woman I barely recognized interfered and emerged beside me. “You’re in one of my classes,” she shrieked, placing her hand on her chest with bliss sweeping across her face. Bemused, I look at Tyler’s two best friends.
Before I finally got a clarification, Ashley stepped in and eyed me with aversion. “I finally get why Tyler hangs out with you,” she said, leaving me flummoxed. “It’s not because of your face or your perfect grades. It’s the fact that—”
“That’s not true.” Josh sounded somewhat defensive. “Just leave, Ash. We don’t need your snarky unnecessary comments.”
She ignored his request and continued anyway, saying, “It’s because you are the daughter of the wealthiest man in town. I supposed informing the police of the acts you committed at Tyler’s place would not have mattered. Your father would have bailed you out in no time.”
A cloud of bafflement rolled into my chest, gunmetal grey and hefty with the rain in the form of exasperation before it dissolved and I realized the subject of the commotion. The news had already circulated. Calvin must have announced the birth of his son and came public about his marriage and me, his daughter. Everyone in the school would have received the massive news by now, stating that the Chief Executive Officer of the Woodland Company had kept relationships a secret.
I could only put myself in the shoes of the others. It must be shocking to learn that the unspoken girl who always had the highest grades and never had attended or planned any teenage parties was the daughter of the Calvin Woodland.
They were strangers to the truth about the man about his defective character unless I tell the town myself with evidence.
I released the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I adored the way things are going currently in school. No one ever approached me except for some who were determined to have me speak. Would others see me in a contrasting manner because of my stepfather’s reputation?
Tyler seemed to have matched the pieces of the puzzle together. He turned to me to have a glimpse of my reaction, but I am used to submerging my feelings. I buried them because they were a weakness. Perhaps it had caused the emptiness inside, but under no circumstances am I to let them free.
He saw nothing but a composed expression.
It was that moment the bell rang. Conversations died down, and groups dispersed to their classrooms. Tyler and I walked to ours without any exchanging of words since both of us had none.
I recalled the times he was late for almost every class and, how I thought he was conceited and more obnoxious. He varied positively since then. Now, he rarely had to serve detention.
I ignored the fascinated stares from the tables in front and behind me and grabbed my book. I did not have to check to know Tyler was eyeing at what I was scribbling down.
I let Calvin go the last time at the hospital, and I promised myself that the mistake would cease.
My mind wandered to Tyler’s plan of distraction. It was not atrocious, nor was it the finest idea.
“You remember that plan you came up with?” I asked in a mumble.
“You mean the one with me distracting Calvin?” he replied with a question from close behind me.
“You’re aware that you hold the risk of getting hurt, right?”
“Yeah, but a little noise here and there to distract him from you gives you an advantage, and won’t result in anything bad, right?”
Apprehension brimmed within my soul.
I was quite drained from the gaping and discussions around me, but at last, school was over. I leaned against my locker, waiting for Tyler. I was unsure whether I would be grabbing food with him, so I decided it would be best if I waited.
Josh came first.
“Hi,” he said, mustering a smile. His chestnut-coloured hair stood out the most, followed by his charming smile. “I figured since we have some unfinished conversations, would you mind if I asked to grab lunch with me?”
“I don’t mind,” I said, although I was not passionate about reminding myself of Ian. Josh is not a spitting image of him, but there were features I found familiar.
I could see Tyler and Grayson striding towards us from a distance away. “Hey, Ty. You wouldn’t mind if I brought your girl out for lunch, right?”
Tyler’s eyebrow shot up instantaneously after hearing how he addressed me.
“We’re friends,” Tyler told him, looking at me to flash a smile. “I’ll be going then.”
I nodded, returning with a grin before I walked alongside Josh to a small shop with a few food stalls close to our school. We selected a table after we ordered our food.
“I was genuinely surprised this morning when I found out about your dad,” he said, eating a scoop of rice.
“He was just a businessman when I first met you years ago, so there isn’t much I could say. But he isn’t an ordinary father. He’s horrible,” I said, sparing him the details. He might be someone I knew, but I did not trust him. Perhaps just with my voice and nothing more.
“You and me both. I’m not going to ask,” Josh said. “Is there anyone else you talk to besides Tyler? Your family?”
“I’ve spoken to Tyler’s family,” I replied, leaving out the fact that my family is a foreigner to my voice as well. He undoubtedly did not suppose of much when I claimed Calvin was ‘horrible’. It is a massive understatement. He is abominable.
He nodded at my response. “I wanted to speak to you today because of my father,” he said. The topic I dreaded the most.
“I would like to apologize on his behalf. He had probably done innumerable terrible things to you. When he first brought you in, I noticed what he saw in you. Words can’t describe how similar your personality was to my sister’s.”
“We were young, but I knew that you meant something to me.”
Our eyes met, and I looked into those hazel orbs. Almost instantly, I knew the veracity of Josh’s words.
“Your father visits me three times a year, on the day you supposedly died, thirteenth March, and the fourth of June. That’s the day your sister and mother passed,” I filled him in, taking a bite of my meal.
“Thirteenth of March? What happened on that day?” he asked, only to receive a shrug in return.
“I caught onto the pattern in the second year, but that date remains a mystery,” I told him while trying to recall, but I could remember nothing from that date.
“Thirteenth of March.” He seemed to be immersed in thoughts. It did not make much sense for him to come on an arbitrarily picked day. I tried shutting my eyes, but nothing from the past happened then. I was probably still stuck in Calvin’s mansion of horrible memories.
Suddenly Josh’s eyes widened in sheer revelation, and I prepared myself for the inconceivable news.
“That’s the day his best friend, Clyde Valentino, betrayed him.”