Venice stooped over the wheel of her car to see if it was deflated. It looked fine to her, she was afraid the engine was acting up in this crucial time of the day when she had a deadline to meet. “I should’ve learn how to fix engines.” She dialed a number in her phone and as it rang she shook her head at how fast time had flown. This car had only been a little over three years with her; received as graduation gift from her parents. She admitted that she was not the best driver but she would like to believe herself that she was taking care of it well enough. Irritated that the other line was not picking up, she pressed the end call and opened the hood of her car. Venice crossed her arms, analyzing the intimidating view of the interior parts. She was distracted by a call and as she recognized him, almost immediately she answered. Letting a frustrated air out before ranting, “my car broke in the middle of the street; I have a report to submit in less than an hour; the tow truck is jammed somewhere.” She was countered by a sound chuckle to which she ignored.

“Okay, I’ll be there. Text me your exact location.” Kyle gathered up his things like a lightning. He was awakened by her call from his nap inside the library. He knew her so well that a call from Venice meant emergency. One of his peeves was disturbing his sleep but it was Venice, what else can he do? The moment he arrived, Venice hastily thanked him for coming then moved onto hailing a cab. “Hey!” He called her. “Just use my car,” handing over the key. Venice was taken aback but managed to ask, “how about you?” Kyle ruffled her hair, finding her confusion cute. “I’m going to be waiting for the tow truck here and accompany your car to the repair shop. I don’t need a car.” She accepted the key and hugged him tightly before getting inside.  “What am I going to do without you?” Then, she drove off. He could only talk to her broken car, patting its hood. “Yup, this is what a friend does.” The sight of plane flying southeast, also the direction to Florida, triggered a thought to Kyle who was leaning against the car. Recalling that day when he almost ruined this hard-earned friendship.

***

They were seniors in the same high school and they were only counting days until the graduation, he realized that after the ceremony everything can change. His life, the people around him, and Venice. He knew about her plans, it had been her dream to study in Harvard, talking about it endlessly for the passed few months. With grades like his, the chance was as little as the space within the large crowd waiting for passengers arrival. One girl even nudged his side and he silently suffered in pain. He questioned what he was doing in there; like a light of answer Venice’s figure from afar strolling her luggage reminded him the very reason- professing of love.

He brought her to dinner where, in his mind, things were going to change. “Venice.” Kyle couldn’t catch her gaze. “We’ve been this close for years; I’ve been here for you since then.” He came there ready but putting himself in a romantic setup with the person he really liked for as long as he can remember, probably the most stupid thing he did.
“I know.” Her tone made him even more nervous but he swallowed it.
It took him moments to muster,“I care a lot for you.”
“I do too,” she said. Kyle was confused and dispirited.
“You’re special to me.” When he spoke those words, he was looking right into her eyes. If she was only aware how much courage he gathered to just look, she won’t be as cold. Like every word from his mouth loosening the grip to their friendship.
Venice wanted to stop him. “You’re special to me, as well, ’cause you’re a friend.” If there was a buzzer or any button to impede his pursuance, she could have had pressed it.
“No, I mean-” His explanation was shut down even before he actually confessed. “I know.” She only said, putting down the fork she was holding.
Kyle forced a smile on his face, pleading. “Venice.” His voice cracked but he was ready. Ready to take his grip off of what they had. Suddenly, Venice grabbed his hand, shook her head and said, “We can’t.”

***

High-ceiling and distinctive polygonal interiors painted in white. A white room with minimalistic design infused with wood accents best defined his ultimate desire; simplicity and sound peace. Each day was another complexity, another beast to tame. The news reached the suspect’s ears, enough to be aware of what was to come to his  door any moment. Kaelan snapped his head back to the chair, blowing his hair out of his eye. He was too tired to even worry about the nonsense drama, all he knew was he needed a haircut. “Who am I kidding?” He spared some concern to the issue because media never talked in minuscule.

Zuttoko was alleged to be a new member of mafia in Florida thus, their expansion in the said state. The area where they plan to erect the building was in the early stage of excavation. Kaelan was apparently seen in disguise to attend underground meetings with the powerful affiliate. A few days after rumors started clamoring, a resigned liaison officer stood witness of the undergoing partnership between the toy manufacturer and the secret organization. The outsourced liaison personnel worked with him a few years ago to acquire the private property in Orlando so his words were strongly believed.

Kaelan scrolled down to the photos taken. He was not even a celebrity to be getting a paparazzi shot, he sneered. Someone was up to something. The article was not as damaging to Zuttoko because it was a known-secret in large corporations to have connections to such organizations. He was covered up head to toe. It was the clarity and angle of these photos that made its irrelevance to the write-up. The buildings near his apartment in Massachusetts was in the background and if it was him attending a  masonic meeting in Florida, a misleading image they had gotten. “Somebody’s watching me.” He uttered. He set his mind to seek whoever was behind it.

The door slammed open as Mr. Yakamura furiously entered his room and smashed his cane on the wooden table. Bryan was following behind, trying to calm him. The elder exhaled in an effort to gain self-control. “When will you learn?” For like a hundred of times, he kept Kaelan reminded that in this world, people were only waiting for his one misstep.

“You mean, when will I stop thinking for myself.” Kaelan challenged. As much as he respected the man in front of him, he was just as tired being optionless. Being caught to have been doing other things aside form being an acting president for Zuttoko was aberrate from his role. He was not even half as worried to be discovered. His midnight sessions with Mr. Corioli of El Encanta had been going for years while he did intend to keep his sworn promise to his father Kaelan reckoned it was about right to decide for himself this time. It was an asphyxiating childhood he endured and vague memories he was muted.

Mr. Yakamura fell silent because he witnessed him growing up, enough to understand his predicament. “Look away for split second, you’ll see what I mean.” With his hand firm on his cane, the elderly paid Bryan a glance. “Do what you’re here for.” He said before passing through him, puzzled.

Once the door shut, Kaelan was heaving to say “Leave me alone.” Bryan would usually let him be but he thought it was too much of alone time. Although he understood the burden, he barely helped or was asked to do so. Bryan sat on the couch insisted on staying. Nonetheless, Kaelan was more aloof after what had transpired. “You won’t leave, I will.” He said, marching out of the building he considered a jail.

 

Venice was blindly following Tiffany to the mall. Like any ordinary day, the mall was crowded with shoppers but the murmurs were especially vexing that time. She needed sleep. The paper deadlines were lining up as finals was fast approaching. She observed her friends jolly steps from her house to here. “For someone so moody, your love for shopping knows no seasons, do you?” Tiffany glanced back at her to give her a you’ll-see look. They entered a fashion boutique where Tiff loved to choose dresses from. “Where exactly are you going with Alex that you’d have to buy new clothes?” She noticed how she was the only one talking all the way. Suspiciously, Tiffany keeping a close eye to the entrance instead of the dresses. She was disengaged when she told her that she and Alex would have a date, eyes roaming the entire place. Venice called her out for being shady since morning. Felt like she stepped on someone’s shoe, her instinct turned to face the person who was carrying roses. “Sor- Kyle?”

Flattered how she recognized him quickly, he smiled at her. Some things never changed; the way she blushed at his presents. Venice alternately glaring at the two who connived into this.  Nothing was new about surprises with Kyle, but she can never seem to get used to it even after three years. The three of them were then sitting across each other to eat lunch together. “I know you wouldn’t come if I asked you, that’s why.” Kyle explained to the bewildered Venice. Tiffany nodded.

“I told you I’m kinda busy. Finals is coming.” Venice plainly said then headed on drinking the water which just arrived.

“Are you sure you don’t want to?” Kyle said with such a tease.

Furrowing her brows as she grew curious. “Go to where?” They were already together so what was there to reject and accept. Kyle reached inside his coat pocket not retreating his stare at her. He raised two passes. He looked pretty confident about them so she squinted to read where they were for. “Oh my god! An orchestra?” She  snatched one of the tickets and read again. The sparkles in her eyes were undeniable and Kyle was proud to have thought about it. He crossed his arms and nodded once.

“Alex and I are going, too. So please, come.” Tiffany supported.

“You don’t have to beg, it’s El Encanta!” One of the best and oldest orchestra houses in Massachusetts. El Encanta was known for giving lime lights to young and exceptionally talented musicians. They had original players for regular shows but there were special events wherein new group of instrumentalists were introduced and making their debut in a music concerto. The tradition was to keep their orchestra alive and awaited by goers. It was hard to keep everyone together regularly since musicians usually were just part-time musicians and full-time employees. “Tomorrow then!” Her ear-to-ear smile earned an adoring pinch from Kyle.

The next day came especially early for Venice as anticipation devoured her will to sleep after waking up by dawn break. Touches of violets, splats of yellows were luminous and magnificent all over the reddish orange morning sky. She ushered more light into her room by drawing her nice sheer curtains. Her visible reflection on her slightly dusty windows was enough to send herself a grimace at how ragged her hair made her out to be. She took her eye glasses where she put it at night, passing across a head-to-toe vanity. Thoughts played around her mind, from pointing out her shabbiness to the ticket in between the pages of her notebook. “You’re really something, Kyle.” The telephone all too suddenly rang which made her jump, looking at the thing with horror. It was not a usual time in the day to receive calls so  she carefully read the screen. It was the number from her parents’ house. “Sweetie, what took you so long?” Venice recognized her father’s voice. “Oh, dad. I am kinda busy with something? Ha ha.” She answered trying not to spank herself for being scared for nothing. “Like talking to your mirror?” He said well that provided no more excuses.

She asked  the reason for calling at this hour. “Have you forgotten? It’s your grandma’s death anniversary. We’ll be flying there.” Her dad said.  She shook her head vigorously to deny, “How can I forget that?” In reality, the orchestra preoccupied the rest of her yesterday. “What time will you arrive?”

The show would start by 1:30 pm which fortunately worked with her family’s 5 pm arrival. She took the robe just sitting on the chair and wore it, tying the lace tighter than she normally did. It was going to be a long day so she decided to go for her run today. Scratching her head when she realized that she would have to change in her jogger outfit. Thinking the dedication she put into tying her robe laces seconds ago had gone to waste.

Living in a commercial area had its perks, shops, restaurants, and offices were right around the corner. Hassle-free from long drives and great for leisure walks- or jogs for her matter. Venice was again up to boosting the day for 10,000 steps to maintain physically fit. A towel hanging on her right shoulder fell off so she picked it up half-kneeling when she overheard something aggravating. A guy who looked so done with the  extra-large girl jogging next to him, “I just knew this is a bad idea.” He was fast-walking before her as if embarrassed with his friend. “Okay. Give up. It’s not going to work anyway.” He tossed the towel to the girl. They walked passed Venice already so she couldn’t hear the next things said but the girl threw the towel back at him and ran the opposite direction. She was going toward Venice who only finished pretending to be tying her shoelace. Venice stood and projected her shoe laterally to see. In her surprise, the girl who was running in her direction tripped on her obstructive foot. The guy hurriedly came to help the bigger-sized girl. One could have not catch her naughty smirk when the guy completely washed off his annoyed face to a worried look.  Instead of apologizing, Venice pat them and reassured the girl, “See, he really likes you.”

“Wait, wait, wait, wait!” Tiffany made her way to the sofa in her friend’s living room. She raised her feet up to the coffee table before speaking. “You intentionally tripped that girl, do you?” Amused when Venice stayed silent and only looked away. “You did?” She was smiling like she discovered something vital for the survival of human race. Then, she let out a laugh thinking she knew why they became friends after all. “You evil little smarty pants!”

Venice laughed along, she didn’t expect the same behavior as well. She was just extremely curious how it would turn out. “It’s a social experiment.” She shrugged. On a different light, she wondered what Tiffany was doing early in her house. “Shouldn’t you be with Alex for the show?” The dark-haired friend complained that Alex had to go early for tuning the instruments and tidying up the stage. It was too early for Tiffany and she had not gotten herself ready yet. She was still, in fact, in her pajamas.

“Okay, what time’s Kyle fetching you?” Tiff asked, her bright eyes sparkling with excitement. There was no such arrangement, Venice informed. Her arms crossed while giving her “the” look. She snatched the phone and dialed. Her wide smile spread all over her face when the person picked up. “My handsome friend, sorry to burst your bubble mine has just did.” Throwing daggers at Venice sitting next to her.

“I believe that’s my phone, Miss.”

Tiffany ignored her. “Will you pick us up by 12pm? Really? Thanks! Venice wants to talk to you.” She shoved the phone to her ear and encouraging her to speak with a hand gesture.

She could only roll her eyes in exasperation. “You don’t have to do it if you-” She was cut off by Kyle’s excited tone. She nodded. “Alright, if my car would’ve been ready before lunch, saves you the trouble.”

Kyle sincerely finding it cute that Venice sounded nervous talking to him. “Only one of the many things I’d do for you.” Before she shut him down, he ended the call with a  hyped “See you later!’ leaving Venice frozen and astounded about where he was getting his courage lately. Tiffany noted how Venice snorted before putting her phone down her lap.

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