Panning to a century-style mansion, sculpted Roman gods guarding the area engraved pillars with sparks of gold, it could easily be mistaken as a historical site rather than a house where a family lived. Ingress to the door had Venice gasping at the huge paintings, betting those were genuine. There was a grand piano sitting at the center of the vast room, keys aged with yellowish tone. An old arranged score by Bach was left hanging open at what felt so familiar to her, reading the notes as if she knew how. Venice noticed a note thanking for the music.

Only prompted when a housemaid handed her a glass of cider. Kyo chided her to the seating area as they wait for his mom to come down that royal staircase with a running magenta carpet. Completely immersed by everything she saw, Venice jumped in surprise when he enveloped his warm hands to hers. Unexpectedly, it gave her a sense of security, a sweet tenderness coming from his touch. She stared at their hands united through the test of time-and space. Venice had to see his face at that moment only to be dismayed to read nothing as he looked at his mom coming toward them. Bedazzled and angelic, warm and sincere, all these mismatched characteristics denying her realistic existence overwhelmed her to the point she missed Kyo’s too-close-for-comfort gesture. His arm rested on her shoulder when he introduced her to his mother. The soft-spoken woman had to ask if Venice was fine as she was frozen there under his embrace. Her hand even unconsciously wrapped around his waist, serving as additional support. His mom begun speaking in mute, she seemed very excited though. Venice pulled an agreeable act but still in reverie.

Indeed, she was.

To catch some fresher air outside from the greenery of uneconomically large patio of this mansion, Kyo and Venice continued observing the live entertainment set up. Formal gatherings like this were normal. People knew him despite him not recognizing them. A nod usually was enough but in rare moments, he had to converse. Two aged men greeted him in a fatherly fashion. “It’s nice to see you again. Your father came back from Japan yet?” Gray-haired man with concerning eyes asked Kyo.

“No. You’ll probably know when he does.” They’d come crawling when his father was in the country. He escorted Venice to walk pass the man. She seemed uneasy and he wanted to ask but guests kept blocking their way wanting to have some sweet-talks. Kyo mastered the art of cutting the stories short without being too impolite. Once settled to one corner, four intimidating bachelors approached the two. Their smiles were rather menacing, calculating even.

“Bro! Where have you been caving all this time?” The pale-blonde-haired fist bumped with Kyo but was already looking at Venice who was holding the goblet with both hands. The blonde laid his palm outward to her asking for hers. In confusion she only instinctively gave her hand but was halted when Kyo intervene. “We’re not in the 19th century,” indicating the tradition where men kissed women’s hands for showing respect.

“Back off, Arn. She’s his girl.” The one with night blue hair said. He caught her eyes, still annoying to see them acting like gentlemen that they were not. “I’m Vincent.” He gave a royal bow. His one hand on belly, the other motioning a circle in front of his face and one foot leaning.

The tangerine-haired guy, who must be the tallest among them, smacked his head in shame. “We’re not some random guy in the old centuries rode a time machine to here.” First, he hugged Kyo, not the gayish way but rather friendly. Next thing he did was to shake hands with her. “Jean. Valjean.” Kyo squinted while Venice mouth left hanging. “But you can call me Jean. Valjean is to make it cooler.” A cringe-worthy humor he had.

The last guy was far timid compared to others but he noticed Kyo’s sign to introduce himself so he did. “Kuichiro-desu.”

“By the way Kyo, how did you find her and when?” Jean carelessly spouted. Kyo glared at him too-sharply that had him putting a sock in his own mouth.

Venice was growing noticeably uncomfortable and having too many strangers gathering around then was not helping. As if the boys were not enough distraction to them, two more ladies came uninvited. One of them was obviously setting a mouse trap for Kyo by brushing her exposed leg to him. All it did was disgust him. The concern was stronger looking at Venice’s wary expression. “Sweetie, why don’t we look for mom?” Kyo confidently took her hand in his giving it a soft rub.

“What is it?” She stopped walking all of a sudden. Venice said nothing in a perfect Japanese accent which he felt was weird. “You’re weird.” Kyo whispered. She agreed that she, thus, felt weird. He wished he had a clue but no. As somebody who was used to being alone, he must just be thirsty for anyone staying by his side; and the certainty that she was there because of him. Letting someone at a hair close distance was foreign and the breathe of relief she brought him at that proximity surfaced another fracture of himself. Venice was never a stranger, at least not her embrace, not her warmth. He was becoming more conscious of the lights striking them and it was not just the party lights- it was the sun.

The streak of sunlight from the window in his hotel room blinded him awake. He pulled the comforter up to his face and turned away. He cursed the morning like every single day. It was a rule not to book him in the east side. Switching was impossible when he arrived since the hotel was fully-booked yesterday. He irritatingly jolted from his bed and leaned back to the headboard. His fingers ran fixing through his bed hair. He bit his lip as he remembered every detail of her, a pleasant adoration enough to brighten up his face with an unexpected smile.

Kaelan was hesitant about committing a two-week stay in Florida because his five-year old sister Kikio would have to be left behind in Massachusetts. He took all responsibilities as her guardian along with the passing down of administration of their company. Disregarding the weights of both, he thought that these will end up in his hands anyway sooner or later. Many things were happening and it would only be a waste of energy to be burdened. He dried his hair with a towel taking mental note to dye his hair black later in the day; his blondes were peeking through.

First activity in the morning was his building inspection. In the process of finalizing the legal acquisition of the land where the second office branch will be erected, designs had to deal with major revisions according to the requirements from the local government. Since the overall structure was to be modified, the underlying industrial designs had to adjust as well. Constructions were set to begin in two months but with this progress, Kaelan had to push back a little. He stayed for a bit in the cafe where he met with the legal office representative and structural engineer. His next appointment will be in an hour.

The ventilation was perfect for some reading but he took his pencil and clean sheet of paper and began sketching an eye. Sharp line for the inner corner and an arched crease for her lid. It sure was inviting especially paired with a centimeter and a half long lashes. He was piecing out other features in his head when he was served a coffee. Kaelan returned it; but was informed that it was from a girlfriend. As if he knew who it was, he rolled his eyes frustrated then insisted returning the americano.”Lie.” He pushed the cup to the side and went back to drawing. He find her eyebag fitting her unprecedented innocence. The aroma nuzzled in his nose reminding how it was easily comparable to her simple and strong personality; strong enough to leave a mark. A cast of shadow over his paper stopped his imagination so he leaned back, unwavered when the hand of the unwelcomed guest took the sketch. “It’s nice.” The girl from behind said, then walking to the chair across him. “But better if it’s me.” Bettina called the waitress to order herself a drink. Kaelan stood intending to leave her without saying a word. He took the sketch then his laptop after throwing an uninterested look at her. But being acquainted for eight years made this scene “controllable”- in Bettina’s words.

Kaelan was only a couple of steps afar when she scandalously cried, “Is it this easy for you?” He could not even look at her blabbing, he hated that he was aware of the paparazzi hiding himself inside the car outside the shop. “Am I so easy to you? When you’re done with me, you can leave wordlessly.” The scene she was putting him into had the others shaking their heads in sympathy. He inwardly mocked at the natural sympathetic behavior toward someone who appeared weak. Kaelan reached for his handkerchief, gently putting it on her hand. “You’re not easy.” Talking in the softest voice he could play, “You’re only that difficult to be with.” Bettina tried to gather herself back up but was too late when he left with his car. She glared at the guy filming the whole thing to cut it off. As expected, he was impossible to deal with and it was frustratingly attractive.

The expansion turned out to be an ambitious plan at that time. Kaelan could make it work although he might need a few more hands to put this up together. Ever since the technological age, the hype were stolen from the traditional toys that children play during the older days. Twentieth century marked the evolution of toy manufacturers. Robotics and mechanisms tremendously played an important role to attract customers. With the surge of other Class A products, quality and goodwill were irrelevant. Another problem was that their designs can rarely be copyrighted. Toys were for kids, and kids only wanted something they could chew on and then throw away. So from traditional action figures and stuffed toys they upgraded by making them more interactive and beyond common entertainment; came also the introduction “for kids” devices. Zuttoko stretched the market during the transitional years. It was quite an investment but it strengthen their position in the industry.

“Kyo-” Kaelan didn’t look as bothered as the other day but Bryan tied his tongue back up by matter-of-factly telling him that, “Kyoto is the capital of Japan in reverse.” He tilted his head to the side, angling a better view on the piece of paper he just finished drawing. A rare atmosphere hovering in the white and dull room it used to be. These walls had been the cells secluding from the luxury to choose his journey. He ought to stay where he was left in. A friend overflowing of optimism, always wearing a yellow cap of emotion was quintessential for his survival, hyperbolically speaking. Bryan thought it was weird seeing him letting his guard down after the news a few days ago. He shivered in the idea that cracked in his head. “Don’t tell me you really had a date in Florida?” It was all over the news, in one fancy cafe Zuttoko’s CEO was spotted cozy with ex-fiancee model Bettina Yllarez. The moment when he gave her a hanky was captured and spread through a fabricated write-up. Kaelan hissed at his accusation but set it aside to ask him a favor. He handed the sketchpad to Bryan asking to take it to the realist photo editor he knew. The latter curiously look at the drawing and surprised to see a sketch of a woman; different from all his other art pieces which were out-of-this world scenarios with silhouette of lovers. As expected, musicians were no different from a shellfish; walks around with an exoskeleton to protect their delicate insides.”Why don’t you go out for awhile? Your lunch meeting is moved tomorrow.” Bryan informed and smiled knowingly.

The blanket of clouds layered in a thin and uniformly stretched out formation, lower than the usual days. It was indicative of an anticipated rain later. Kaelan especially found relaxation in this kind of weather, the quiet drizzling and whirling of the wind softly. The wind direction was like guiding him to his destination, as if it knew. Dried leaves flying over to where he was going- to El Encanta. He promised he would come back before his trip to Florida, he did, but what was he supposed to do after. His uncertain steps toward the door were apparent to other passersby who would have thought badly of his intentions if not for the silk tie around his collar. He hated the attention; but the excitement on his face was more than evident to tell what he wanted to do. Not realizing that he was already inside when he saw the displays all over its high walls. The wooden instruments hanging safe behind the glass shelving preserved their stories. Engraved in a slate were the geniuses and prodigies who laid their gifted hands on these. Lucky were those who lived the lasts of their lives enjoying the passion of their souls. Kaelan turned hearing a tune of music in one of the rooms. There were other visitors going to the right hallway so he followed them hoping to have a better perception of the sound. It was right that the sound was coming from there. This part of the building was designed more conventional of modern classrooms. He guessed these were practice rooms during the night. Most orchestra players came by during the night right after their full-time jobs. He strode at the end of the hallway and chanced up to an empty room number 123. As he opened the door, the smell of European maple gave him the sense of familiarity- of an abandoned passion. He touched the strings of the violin, he once dreamed playing a Stradivari. The replica had the name of the famous instrument-maker handcrafted on it. Then he was stolen by the sight of a piano with already yellowish keys. He brushed two fingers onto the black walnut which was slightly dusty. Kaelan rubbed his fingers together removing he dust. He, then, stepped next to the stool and patted clean the upholstered chair. After he sat down, he placed his thumb on the C note key followed by the rest of his fingers. He stayed still like that for a while before ear-playing the last symphony he listened to on the plane going to Florida, Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no. 3. The introduction was a rough start as the piece was known to be one of the most challenging scores; not to mention that Kaelan was playing it by ear then. He was missing a few notes during the transition to the second theme but he chose to immerse himself in this piece. He smiled as he was nearing the portion when the girl beside him on the plane choked in her sleep back then. He remembered it so well how she coughed and cleared her throat carelessly while facing him. He pursed his lips together at that image.

“You’re playing Rachmaninoff by ear? Impressive.” Kaelan stopped in an instant he realized somebody sneaked in and listened. He recovered from his reminiscence and studied the old man with grayish beard down his neck. His broad physique was enough to cover he light from the window. “I’m sorry, I have yet to introduce myself.” Extending his hairy arms at Kaelan, he said “I’m Mr. Lucas Corioli, El Encanta’s conductor.” Lucas wore a matching red leather suspenders and red watch bracelet along with a plaid shirt loosely buttoned down his stomach.

It took him a good seven seconds before receiving his hand. “Kyo,” Kaelan unveiled himself from the name he was carrying in public. Anyway, the place was going to be a secret.

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