13th of April 1912.
As promised, I gave her my report by lunch, and we ate; problems seemed to be fading away. After the meal, I suppose she went on a rendezvous with Mr McGregor. I have no idea for I have not seen her the entire afternoon.
Henri took me to the gaming area of the promenade deck. I watched him compete with some of Mr Andrews’ friends that we met at the dinner party. They were playing shuffleboard, and his team was winning.
Instead of sitting inside the reading and writing room, I sat on one of the benches to watch them play and enjoy the heat of the gleaming sun. It was the perfect weather to sit back, sketch and, or read a good book. I could hear their laughter and their cues hitting the wooden disks across the court into a white-marked scoring area. When I looked up, I could not help but smile at the sight of Henri’s cheerful mood. It was contagious.
As the game became competitive, stewards brought us drinks after drinks. They chattered and laughed as I drank iced lemonade, busying myself with sketching. When I looked up to see how the game was going, I saw Henri looking at me with a perplexed expression. So, I turned around and saw fazed Jane approaching.
Once she was in front of me, she informed me that Alec was waiting in the boat deck for me. Henri looking suspicious, he gave his cue to his teammate and walked towards us. I knew Henri too much, and I knew what he was thinking.
Jane was facing me as I stood up and watched Henri approached us. She gave a yelp when he spoke.
‘Jane, why are you jittery? Is there something I must not know?’ he chuckled, but it was strained.
She bowed. ‘I beg your pardon, sir. It’s just erm,’ she trailed and looked at me.
Henri tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, is there?’
I gulped. ‘No,’ I declared. ‘Of all the people I trust in my life, you always come first. You’re next to him, of course, Jane.’
Jane smiled a little and stepped back to give us some privacy.
I linked my arm around him. ‘Henri, it’s about…’
He nodded, ‘I understand.’
His shadow towered over me as I looked up at him in surprise. ‘You are not going to stop me?’
He shook his head and laughed. ‘My dear,’ he held my hands and kissed them. He then said, ‘When a strong affection arose, you will not be able to put a halt to it.’
I could see him smiling, but his eyes said differently.
He cleared his throat and gestured for Jane to come. ‘But Jane.’
‘You must stick to her like glue.’ He commanded, and Jane nodded. He then turned to me. ‘Now, I trust you with my life too, my dear, but I do not know this fellow. Is he a good lad?’
I laughed at his expression. There was the Henri I had always known: kind but overprotective. ’Do not worry, Henri, my dear.’ He beamed and shook his head. ‘We will stay out of trouble, I promise!’
Out of happiness, I hugged and kissed him on his cheek.
Jane and I hurriedly walked away. When I looked back at him, I saw him, touching his face where I had planted the kiss, and he looked up and caught me staring. But before I could react with a wave, he turned around and took his cue back from his mate.
As we made our way to the boat deck, with worry shown on her face, Jane said, ‘Are you not terrified that Ms Abram would find out about this?’
I shrugged. I did not care anymore. ‘No, I just wish that she could let me have fun, my way.’
Jane nodded understandingly. ‘I’m on your side. I will not tell her about this! I will come up with a lie.’ She winked at me, ‘You know, when Ms Abram asked me to tell her everything, my fingers were crossed behind me.’
Laughing, I gave her a one-arm hug. In the Philippines, when you held out a search party for me, Jane had been with me since after my not so ‘lost and found’ journey. She is a bit older than me, but her build made her look like we were the same age.
I remembered how grandfather introduced her to us. Jane Pérez was fifteen then, and she did not know how to converse in English. So, even if I was not fluent, we communicated in Spanish instead, for I could not speak in Filipino. She has always been cheerful, even if I was still hesitant with her. She taught me about the culture and festivities of the Philippines. She also took me to some places. In return for the knowledge she gave me, I taught her how to speak in English.
I remember how delighted she was when you asked her if she could come and live with us in London. She was in tears for she had no family left after the Philippine-American war ended in 1902. We had just been friends for a while back then, but in the first few months of her stay with us in DelaCour Estate, we could already communicate in English. She had grown to be a whimsical yet amiable young woman. Her brown hair still messed up even if she tied it into a tight bun. Her fiery brown eyes filled with wisdom from what she had learned in the years she had been staying with us. And the friendship that blossomed and turned out to be unyielding. I am just grateful I have friends who support me or rather, tolerate me.
Jane’s eyes lit up when she spotted Alec, leaning on the railings. I observed him as we got closer; he looked beautiful in the afternoon sun. My mind wandered off to when we were dancing together. I could still hear the music playing as our bodies brushed against each other, heat rushing up to our cheeks and, our smiles were too bright it could light up the room.
I felt my lips curling at the memory.
Jane’s coughing distracted me from my thoughts. I looked at her, puzzled. She raised her eyebrow as she cocked her head towards Alec for his back was already in front of us.
‘Mr Sanders, as you requested, Lady Sierra,’ she said.
Alec turned around at the sound of his name; he smiled brightly at us but, mostly at me.
Jane nodded at us. ‘I shall go somewhere from earshot,’ she winked, giggling, and then stepped further back.
‘May I inquire as to the occasion?’ I questioned.
He shook his head, chuckling. ‘As proper as always.’ He offered his arm.
I linked my arm to him, and he led me towards the deck by the bridge. My mouth hung open at the view of the sun, slowing down to kiss the surface of the sea.
Alec guided me to the railings.
‘Beautiful, is it not?’ he said, looking at setting sun, and then at me. ‘I come here just to see this spectacular view.’
We could hear Henry Burr’s record playing on the Gramophone from Mr Smith’s chambers. It seemed to me that Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland was on.
Having that romantic music in the background, I could feel my heart inside my chest, and I became breathless. I looked from the view and to Alec, still gazing at me. Seeing this gorgeous creature, I could not help myself.
So, I pull my tools out and let my hand do its wonders. I watched him looked up to the skies. I observed him closely; I sketched his outline as my eyes acted as a viewfinder, in my head, I captured his image. So, I could continue polishing the details later.