CHAPTER 1 – FLEE

Bright

Bright has always been a wanderer, owning a pair of itchy feet that know no rest.

Itchy feet. The desire to scratch the pair he owns is a temptation he has never been able to resist. Whenever he refuses the urge to grant his soul even just a semblance of freedom, he feels restless and drained, like a desert traveler robbed off of an oasis for days. There is an insistent poking happening inside him whenever he stays still. The struggle nags at him, forcing him to recognize the need to break free from the invisible chains wrapped around his entirety.

Freedom. He desires it. He longs for it. All he wants is to fly and fly and fly until he reaches the peak of nothingness and seeks for that something in the cloud of nothings. He doesn’t have wings, yet he still wants to spread his invisible, complex fluff of woven nerves and fly to the direction of unknown vistas. 

So fly, he often does, his unrelenting flighty feet carrying his soul along with his heart.

Bright’s eyes savor the sight of his shelter for the past two months. His temporary dwelling is nothing but a square, dilapidated apartment building with its pink paint peeling off like pieces of burned skin. It has five floors with five rooms per floor, which can be accessed by foot through a series of narrow staircases. There is no elevator.

Bright lived on the 5th floor, in room 504. His home is a simple studio-type apartment that barely has a space for his backpack. But he has never been choosy. He had long since learned how to live with what is readily available to him. All he longs for anyway cannot be satisfied by any form of comfort money can buy. 

A small smile appears on his face as he continues to stare fondly at the building, his mind replaying his fondest memories about the place. It has not been the best accommodation, but he has the best neighbors, making his life more interesting and quite fun.

There’s Old Man Quinito who volunteers to throw his trash out every morning in exchange for a cup of coffee. He brings his own tin of cookies whenever Bright offers him a space in his small table. The cookies are always freshly baked, implying that he doesn’t make his own coffee on purpose just to have a conversation with his neighbors. Old Man Quinito lives alone. His wife died a few years ago, leaving him with nothing other than their memories. It’s the reason why he always craves interaction of any form, with isolation not being kind to him.

A few doors away from him is Gindhara, the old lady who has been abandoned by her children and grandchildren years ago in pursuit of starting a life in foreign lands. She cooks enough for two and brings Bright food at least four times a day that he never goes hungry in his months of stay. The woman owns the building, giving Bright his own apartment in exchange for free cleaning services twice a week. 

There’s also Crystal, the young single mother whose son adores Bright as much as Bright adores him. Bright babysits for her for free. Crystal works two jobs and often comes home late, but Bright has always been there to make sure little Frankie is always taken care of. The young mother feels uncomfortable about the free service at first until Bright tells her she can pay by telling Bright stories about her job and the people she works with. Bright loves listening to Crystal talk about her day. There is wisdom behind every word the young mother utters and it feeds Bright’s soul. However, there is that small part of him that pities the woman. She is forced to look at life differently, her youth permanently kept hidden behind the hardships of being an adult.

And finally, there’s Joss, the young guy next door who never fails to blush whenever Bright asks him about his day in school. He is a Biology major from a university who’s never afraid to dream. Bright knows Joss has a crush on him, but he has never encouraged it. 

Bright is aware that he is attractive. Some will even say he’s more than just attractive. His tall and lean physique hardened by a few muscles shows he knows how to do labor; and there is that pretty face hosting the most beautiful bambi eyes, full cupid-bow lips, and a well-defined Roman nose. 

His open bisexuality also adds to his appeal. He doesn’t keep it a secret that he is attracted to both men and women. His sexual preference has never been a problem. If there is one thing about himself that he accepts and embraces fully, it is that.

Joss the neighbor might not be Bright’s type, but he is quite attractive. It’s just unfortunate for the young man that Bright can’t return the affection. Bright’s life is too complicated and unstable to entertain such a pure emotion. He refuses to let anyone in when he himself hasn’t entertained the reason why he cannot.

But Bright is going to miss every single one of them. His heart feels tender at the mere thought of not being able to see the people whom he had shared a portion of his wandering with. They will always have a piece of his heart, a piece that he always leaves behind as a mark that he has been there. That he has once become a speck of dust in a stranger’s universe. That he will fade along with the small memories he has allowed himself to create. And in due time, he knows he will become nothing but a vague part of someone else’s past.

That’s how his life is. That is how it has always been. 

He can’t stay. He never stays. 

Staying means accepting the concept of home. And home? It’s not for him.

Home is a concept he refuses to add to his life’s dictionary. Having one gives him an uncomfortable feeling that refuses to go away. Home is a luxury he doesn’t want to afford even though he can. 

Bright doesn’t need a home. A home grounds him, clips his wings, and incarcerates him—and how can he fly without his wings?

Bright glances at the building one last time before steadying the strap of the backpack slung over one of his shoulders.

Then finally, he walks away.

He doesn’t look back.

He never looks back.

***

The way of the lost soul.

Bright leaves the same way he comes—quietly and out of anyone’s sight. 

It’s how he prefers things done. He hates causing any type of commotion, and he knows saying goodbye will do just that.

Upon arriving at the small shed serving as the bus stop, he takes a long whiff of the aroma that defines his temporary freedom and sits patiently at the lone wooden bench erected at the worn-out shelter. He still has an hour to go before the bus arrives, coming from a nearby town that is 20 kilometers away. 

Bright is alone at the bus stop. Just like how it was when he first arrived. The people of this town rarely leave their comfort place. They cultivate enough products and build local shops that will sustain their needs as a town. They live a simple life, making him feel instantly at home when he first arrives.

If only his life can be that simple.

***

Bright’s ride arrives before the first drops of rain comes. 

His first step inside the bus feels heavy yet he does not allow himself to wallow in such a melancholic emotion. It’s the same in every place. The feeling will vanish on its own once he finds himself adjusting in his new life.

“Where to?”

“Where’s the end destination?” 

Bright doesn’t really know the stops. He never bothers to search or memorize them. His destination is often where his heart and soul feel at ease. Temporarily. They never go still for so long.

The driver doesn’t even blink as he answers him in a deadpan tone. “Capital.”

He nods. “That’s my destination.”

Bright hands the bus driver enough money and goes straight to the back of the bus, taking a window seat. The last row is his favorite. He can hide there. No one will bother him. He will always be that strange recluse who loves isolating himself. He has no idea what his life is going to be in the next town, but that’s the beauty of not leaving a piece of himself anywhere – he can move on with his life with nothing holding him back.

New beginnings aren’t new to him. New beginnings are his lifestyle. No regrets, he thinks, and promptly falls asleep.

Wynn

Wynn always finds himself dreaming about the same thing over and over again—saving people.

He is always the hero, the good guy, the selfless guy who will endanger his own life just to save another. In his dreams, people are grateful, happy that someone else steps up to make sure everything will be okay. They always appreciate his philanthropic intentions, their hearts feeling indebted towards a stranger for being able to escape peril and possible death.

In reality, it’s different. Wynn’s heroic deeds are not often taken lightly. He is rarely appreciated. Hero complex, that’s what they call it. Not everyone wants to be associated with someone who feels like he needs to save everyone.

Wynn is stirred away from sleep by the sound of tiny footsteps in the hallway. With a sleepy smile, he turns on his stomach and buries his face on his pillow, waiting for the intruders to barge in and completely disturb what’s probably his only break for the week—his Sunday morning. 

The ceasing of the steps alerts him that the intruders are already right outside his door. He hears whispers, causing his smile to widen. The little intruders are probably having a fight as to who should do the disturbing. 

These fights, however loud and intense they get, usually do not last very long. The older one always wins. She’s a bit cunning for her age—a quality she inherits from her father.

True enough, after a couple of seconds, he can hear his door knob turn. The footsteps are quieter than before, but anyone with an average hearing can still hear them. That, and their voices aren’t really making them subtle.

Wynn has to suppress a laugh. They are too adorable for their own good.

“We should wake him up now,” whispers a demanding voice, which belongs to the older one.

“Won’t he get angry at us? It’s Sunday,” the younger one replies, the tone of his voice showing his doubt. This one has a point, a point that Wynn would have loved to come across the older one’s thoughts. The younger one has always been more sensitive than his older counterpart.

“He won’t,” the older answers, stubbornness floating on the surface. “I’m hungry and Bow’s not opening his door. I could eat a dog!”

“Hey! Don’t eat dogs. Dogs are cute!” 

“Stupid. I mean the long ones we eat for breakfast.”

“That’s called a sauce age. Sauce age.”

The little argument happening floats on Wynn’s thoughts as his mood dampens automatically at the mention of Bow’s name. It’s been years since the accident, but his younger brother’s coldness hasn’t melted yet. Wynn fears that—

His thoughts are cut by the sudden dip on the side of his bed. He can hear the not-so-soft whispers of two little voices still not yet done with their argument as to who will poke him. He patiently waits. It will be over in a bit.

“Fine, I will do it,” he hears the older one finally relenting. She will not admit it, but her younger brother’s puppy eyes always work on her. The younger one has his own way of manipulating people around him. Wynn thinks they are quite more alike in that aspect.

He hears the older of the two take an exaggerated deep breath, almost making him laugh.

“Okay. Here it goes,” she whispers. Wynn gets ready too. “One… two…thr—AHH!!!!” Wynn completely turns around before the two finish counting, snatching the little girl around the waist.

“PAPA! PAPA! STOP!!!!” she giggles while struggling in his arms, but Wynn continues to tickle her, earning him gasps, kicks, and claws. She is a bit strong for her age.

“You are so sneaky, huh,” he says, his fingers merciless on her. The tickle fight continues until Wynn feels another poke on the shoulder. He stops and turns his head to see the younger one standing at the foot of the bed, staring at them and looking lost and a bit shy. Wynn narrows his eyes at the younger one. “Daniel… don’t just stand there.”

Daniel looks surprised at the full use of his name, but a slow smile starts to appear on his adorable chubby face. And before Wynn can call on him again, Daniel jumps at both of them and joins the tickle fight. Laughter ensues, and the sound echoes inside the four walls of Wynn’s usually silent haven.

“Breakfast?” he asks, breathless, as they finally stop. Mia is tucked on his side while Daniel is lying face first on his stomach.

“Am hungry,” Daniel mumbles. “Want sauce age.”

“Me too,” Mia echoes, lightly pinching Wynn’s side.

“All right, all right,” Wynn declares. He sits properly, carefully putting Daniel down, and looks at them both with a softness that no one outside of this family has seen. “You will help me, yes? Do pancakes and sausages sound good? Chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream and berries?”

“YES!” are the simultaneous answers from the two bubbly children who both start jumping in celebration. Wynn’s pancakes are the best. He can’t blame them for being excited over his breakfast choices.

“Is that right?” The children nod enthusiastically. “All right. Go to the kitchen, soldiers. And we will prepare breakfast for our battalion.”

With a wild whoop of joy, Daniel hops off the bed first and runs out of the room faster than a hurricane. Wynn chuckles and starts to follow him until he notices that Mia has not left the bed yet. The smile instantly drops from his face as he sees the little girl looking at him with sad, guilty eyes, all traces of her earlier joys gone from her face.

Wynn slowly approaches her, sitting at the edge of the bed. “Mia?” he asks. He has an idea what caused her to suddenly act like this, but he wants her to be the one to address it. In fact, he can let it go if it isn’t for this sudden tension. It’s not a big deal, but perhaps in Mia’s heart, it is. 

“I called you Papa,” she says without preamble. “Again.”

Wynn slowly exhales. So he’s right.

With a sigh, he pulls her towards him and kisses the top of her head. With his 6 foot tall stature, the little girl looks more fragile in his arms. He feels her tremble, but he knows that there will be no tears. Mia has always been strong. She hasn’t cried once in her life.

“It’s okay, Mia,” he says, trying to soothe the child’s aching heart. “I know I told you you shouldn’t, but it doesn’t mean I will get angry if you do.”

“It’s just hard not to,” Mia replies softly, her voice muffled by his shirt.

“I know,” Wynn says while stroking her soft hair. “It will get easier, love. I promise.”

Mia nods but doesn’t say anything. Wynn just holds her until Daniel’s impatient voice prompts them to abandon their tiny moment. He stands up from the bed and offers his hand for Mia to take.

The little girl grasps it with determination. 

They walk to the kitchen hand-in-hand. Mia’s hold on his hand is tight.

Hero. He is their superhero.

***

Wynn gets a call from his staff just as he is washing the dishes—they need him.

It can’t be helped, he finds himself repeatedly thinking. This is not the first time he needs to go to work on a Sunday, but he still feels a bit disappointed and annoyed that he has to sacrifice another day with his family. He barely has time for them already, and it pains him that he is missing some parts of the kids’ lives.

He fixes another tray full of pancakes, causages, and coffee, personally bringing his brother his breakfast. Wynn is pretty sure the young man will not take the initiative to come out from his sanctuary yet again. 

Bow rarely joins them, which always sparks an argument between the brothers. As much as Wynn tries to be patient with the younger, Bow has responsibilities he should not be ignoring.

Wynn knocks twice before turning the knob and coming in. His brother barely glances at him as Wynn places the tray on his bedside table.

“They need me at the shop. I will be gone for a bit.”

A grunt. 

“Please look after the kids. They know enough not to leave the house, but you also know how mischievous they are. They might get into small accidents.”

Silence.

Wynn sighs and simply leaves the room without another word to his brother. It’s useless to talk to the younger man sometimes. It always feels as if he is talking to the wall.

He goes straight to his room for a quick bath. The faster he goes to work, the earlier he can come back home. Work is the cafe he owns, whose main branch is located in the business district of the city they live in. He is the only one who handles it now. Bow is not interested, hasn’t been in the past few years. 

Wynn’s happy that the business is doing quite well even though he’s taking care of it alone. The sacrifice of a free day with his fam is almost worth it. Despite him opening two more branches of his café in two more locations, the crowd in the main branch hasn’t thinned down a bit.

“Do you have to go, Pa—Wynn?” Mia asks, almost slipping again. Wynn decides to ignore it and pats her head instead.

“Sundays are busy at the café, Mia,” Wynn explains for the umpteenth time. They always have this conversation whenever he needs to leave for work on Sundays. “I will try to go home early and bring back your favorite croissant, okay?”

Mia is still pouting, but she nods and stays quiet. At age 5, she sometimes tries to act like an adult. This is one of those times.

“And please. Don’t give Salome a hard time.” Wynn’s voice has a soft warning tilt to it, but not enough to sound harsh.

“We behave,” Mia answers innocently.

A possible lie in an adult’s perspective, Wynn thinks. Apparently, Mia and Daniel have a different definition of behave. He gets a lot of text messages from Salome, the kids’ sitter, complaining about the two’s deviant behavior. Salome is a senior in college who needs extra income and babysitting is the only job that allows her to study while working.

“Just behave, please?” Wynn reiterates. “When I mean behave, I mean not to be a bother to Salome. She is good to you both and you should be good to her too.”

Mia sighs and rolls her eyes. It’s a sign of her agreeing but with hesitation. Daniel simply clings to Wynn’s legs as he gives Mia the eye. But Wynn will take it, it at least means they will try to behave.

An hour later, Salome arrives, looking tired and a bit put off. Wynn can’t also help but notice that she keeps glancing at the two children with that wary look on her face.

He knows that look. He is very much familiar with that look. It’s the same look the past sitters had on their faces before they resigned. Mia and Daniel are angels, but they’re the good and mischievous kind. Sitters never last long on them. But Wynn can’t afford to lose a reliable sitter now. Salome is the most reliable he has seen for months. He will need to talk to her later when he gets back from the café. Perhaps he can add a little bonus to her salary.

Wynn glances at his watch. He’s not yet late, but he needs to pick up an important document on his way to the shop. He immediately leans down and kisses both Daniel and Mia at the top of their heads before snatching his blazer and going out of the three-bedroom flat. 

“I’ll see you all later. Salome? Let’s talk later, yes?” He sees the sitter hesitantly nod, and it makes him smile. Perhaps he still has a chance to stop her from leaving later.

In Wynn’s haste to leave, he almost bumps into a tall man, who is standing right in front of his door.

“Uhm, excuse me—” the man starts to say, but Wynn immediately brushes him off.

“I will not buy your product,” Wynn says, cutting the young man’s words off. “Go and try other doors,” he says with finality, leaving the other alone standing in front of his door. Wynn glances at him before he steps inside the elevator. He calls Salome on the way and tells her to make sure the door is locked, just in case.

Wynn forgets all about the man at the door as soon as he arrives at the café, the Sunday crowd fully occupying his thoughts.

Chapter 2

Published by katrinasaba

Author, writer, dreamer

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