In James’s eyes, one thing about his friend hadn’t changed. Fred would never talk about the past and express his real feelings. Only James’s ability to sense emotions enabled him to know how Fred felt about the subject. It was time to let him choose a new topic.
“I got your message last year,” Fred said.
The email James sent reported that he had tracked down the computer which was used to upload the file. The building where it used to be, however, had been demolished. Further inquiries led him to discover that it was once a computer shop that burned to the ground years ago. James had advised Fred to leave the story on the website since removing it would arouse suspicion.
“About the website?” James asked.
“Yes. I was curious about the date it was uploaded.”
“It could have been a glitch.” James waved offhandedly. “By the way, the writer made you look cool.”
“I thought I sounded pathetic.” Fred shook his head.
“Some. The cool part happened almost at the end.” James smiled. “You never landed that punch. You overbalanced march-limping over to me.”
Both of them remembered the day before graduation. James had tried to help Fred, who shook him off and demanded to know what had happened to Electra.
After learning the truth, Fred had been furious that he threw his walking stick at James. For a person recently hospitalized, the cane flew a good distance. The aim was poor though. In the end, James had to fetch the walking stick and return it to his friend.
“Did you and Sheila talk?” Fred asked.
James walked towards the nearest book case. He trailed a finger against the volume of books. His hand stopped at a slim book and carried it back to his desk. Fred read the title on its cover: “The Light and Shadows of the Mysts – From Real, Reel to Unreal.”
“It’s just a story, Fred,” James said. Why was Fred so interested to know which parts of the story were true? Why can’t he just move on like the rest?
“Did you talk to her?”
What Fred gave off wasn’t anger, but a strong curiosity to know. It was safe to answer then.
“I did,” James replied. “I didn’t tell you because—”
“Telling me wouldn’t bring back Electra,” Fred finished for him. “So, that part is all true?”
James still couldn’t sense any negative emotion from the person opposite him. He had discovered early that beneath the smiles and carefree attitude, Fred’s emotions ran deep. In the whole evening he had been with James, the most prevalent emotions flowing from Fred were calm and interest. James started to have second thoughts. Maybe, he was mistaken. Maybe, Fred had let go of Electra.
They continued to dissect the story well into the night.
Fred had transferred to the academy in the middle of his junior year. He was the talk of the campus for a week until Paolo invited him to join the group. He was happy with his newfound friends, but kept a secret from them: his friendship with Electra Roucan. He had met her on his second day in the academy. They continued seeing each other for more than a year before his friends found them out. Fred hadn’t thought that he would rely on them in their senior year. They were his best friends: James, Paolo, and Michael. Yet, he had let Electra’s death almost ruin that friendship.
Before Fred left, James extended another invitation. It was a get-together with the whole group at a café the day after the next. Fred gratefully accepted it since James was giving him a chance to repair his friendship with the other two.
“That was nice of you,” Diana said, after James told her about the reunion. When he didn’t reply, she continued: “I’m sure Fred appreciated the gesture.”
He still didn’t respond. James lay on the bed, his feet dangled on the edge. An arm covered his eyes. She didn’t know what to make of his behavior. James had acted normally in front of their guest. That was before she had gone to put her son to sleep. What did they talk about that made James tired? All she knew about Fred’s past was his near death experience during a storm. Diana had wanted to know more, but James had clammed up at the first innocent question about Fred.
“Thank you,” James said. He felt her concern and curiosity, yet she didn’t voice out her questions. There were a million things he could tell her, except this one. Not yet, anyway. Sorting messes wasn’t his forte, it was hers. But, he had to do this on his own. He won’t ever let her get involved in this problem.
Diana kissed him on the cheek, saying: “You’re welcome.”
Bells chimed on James’s entry in El Enano (The Dwarf). The café was named as such because of the sheer size of its neighbors made it look small. At a corner table, Michael waved at him while Paolo ordered coffee and food.
It was nine-thirty in the morning. James had planned the appointment ahead to avoid crowds. When the waitress left with their order, he noticed Paolo’s eyes follow the retreating figure – rather, his gaze lower further.
“Ahem,” Michael said.
“What?” Paolo asked, still staring at the waitress.
James exchanged glances with Michael.
“What, can’t I appreciate a great pair of long legs?” Paolo said defensively.
“Your girlfriend probably wouldn’t,” Michael replied.
“She’s not here and you wouldn’t dare.”
“I won’t, but James…”
“No, he won’t.” Paolo glanced at James. “You wouldn’t. Would you?” he frowned.
“I don’t want to, but if she asks…” James shrugged. “She’s my wife’s friend and a good person. I don’t want her getting hurt.”
“You’ll side with her than me?” Paolo’s eyes widened with disbelief. “She poured orange juice on me – at your wedding.”
“That was a long time ago. Plus, she didn’t pour it on you.”
“That’s what she says. Did you know she broke my phone last week? That woman is mad.” Paolo took out a toothpick from the container at the center of the table.
“Have you tried to reassure her?”
“I deleted girls’ numbers in my directory. I haven’t even looked at a woman properly ever since we became a couple.”
“Except now,” Michael added.
“Celine says she needed space. Space. You know what that means.” Paolo broke the toothpick in two.
“Try to talk to her. I think there’s more to it than jealousy,” James said, patting him on the shoulder.
“I can’t help the women chasing me after each race,” Paolo muttered. It sounded like bragging, but it was true. He was polite to his fans and kept the girls at arm’s length. It would have been more helpful if his girlfriend could always join him in the races. That would certainly keep the aggressive ones away from him.
James sensed his frustration and knew he would listen to advice. There was no mistaking that his friend was serious about Celine.
“Where’s Fred, anyway?” Paolo asked. “He should be here by now.”
“Jetlag. He asked to reschedule for another day.”
“Well, it’s his vacation leave.”
“Have you told him?” Michael asked.
“It wasn’t the right time,” James said, shaking his head.
“You know he hates it when we leave him in the dark.”
Fred, the most secretive among them, didn’t like his friends keeping things from him. They accepted that but were annoyed with him. It was unfair that he didn’t make an effort to contact them all these years. They hoped his return meant he was back in their lives for good.
The waitress reappeared bearing their food. Paolo didn’t give her a second glance. He had barely listened to James and Michael’s talk.
Paolo replayed the argument he had with his girlfriend. Then, he went back to what caused it: a phone call from a girl called Ana. He knew several women with that name. None of them had a reason to call him. Ana, Ana, Ana… He stood abruptly, cups and silverware clattered in his wake.
“I have to go,” Paolo said, placing a five hundred murii bill on the table. The amount could buy three loaves of Artisan bread when their bill totaled to less than a hundred muriis.
“Do you want some change for that?” Michael asked, retrieving his wallet. He looked up and saw Paolo was already closing the door of the café. “I guess we’ll order some more.”
Michael and James both ordered a second helping of apple pie as they talked about their years in Roucan Academy. The three of them had been friends since middle school. They recalled the pranks they played on their classmates, how they slipped out of the campus, the teachers that inspired and those that terrorized students… James thought that Paolo’s departure had successfully distracted Michael.
“When are you going to tell Fred about your father?” Michael asked.
“My Dad’s dead. What would be the point of saying that he wrote that story on the internet?” James said.
“If you’re not bothered about it, why did you lie to Fred?”
“You know why.” James put the fork onto the plate, the food still stuck on the tines. He would completely lose his appetite if his friend continued interrogating him.
“No, I don’t.” Michael sipped his coffee. “Fred is closest to you. Sure, he’ll get angry, but he’ll forgive you as soon as you tell him the truth.”
“I need to be sure first. I need to know if he’s truly done with the past. Michael, my Dad was friends with Electra’s mother. After she died, he left a note saying he had gone to the tunnels. Three years we waited for him to come home. When Dad came back, he would lock himself in his study for days. He was a writer, so Mom thought everything was fine. But, sometimes, Dad would let me in his study. He did most of the talking – telling me things. I couldn’t understand half of what he said because Dad spoke in a different tongue.”
“Is that why you studied languages?” Michael interrupted.
“Yes, but I never heard anybody use the same language.”
James’s father had asked him to watch over Victoria Electra Roucan. He had tried to keep his promise, but Alfred Roucan had fooled everyone by then. Victoria had taken Electra’s place in the world. When James discovered the real Electra, he still failed to protect her.
“I don’t see how that’s stopping you from telling the truth,” Michael said.
“I’m not superstitious, but…” James leaned forward and whispered, “Alfred Roucan is cursed.”
“You’ve got to be joking,” Michael’s brows shot up. James wasn’t the type to believe in dark magic. Could writing fiction affect a person’s perception of reality?
James’s expression told Michael that he had seriously thought about it.
“Right.” Michael pulled a straight face. “What made you come to that conclusion?”
“Electra’s mom was murdered. My Dad was already half-mad before he died. Fred got struck by lightning. The man I hired disappeared after reporting Electra’s death.” James shrugged. “Every time Alfred Roucan is near, tragedy strikes.
“If Fred is still the same person he was in high school, he’ll start asking questions. And when he does, Fred would get involved with the Roucans again.”
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: The group is almost complete. They’re all grown up with lives of their own. Who’s got it right? Michael or James?
Is Alfred Roucan really cursed?
We’re back to Fred in the next chapter. Let’s see how he’s coping with jetlag.
Stay tuned. 😉
If you have suggestions, requests or simply have an opinion, please leave a comment. Comments and likes are always appreciated. I’d love both. 🙂
***P.S. New chapters will be uploaded every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month.