The reason for the title is simple. Back then I was filled with a certain arrogance of having a wider vocabulary than most people around me. Not that I'm not arrogant now. I've chosen the Surgical line instead of Medical. That's saying a lot (inside joke, sorry). Anyway, I used to like using "large, luminous orbs" to describe eyes. Luminous, as in glowing, like the moon. Whatthehell? Tita claims she thinks of me whenever she comes across the word luminous. Or orbs. Sheesh. I do strive for resonance, but certainly not this way!
What I'm about to share is certainly not my first piece of fiction (exam fiction/essays don't count). Maybe someday I'll share that first fiction I wrote. This one was written for my school magazine, for the Creative Writing segment. I was Editor-in-Chief at that time. Of course this short story got published.
Twelve years of writing short stories (with gaps of writer's block in between)...that's a long time. I'm glad to report that my style has changed. Hopefully for the better. I wouldn't know. I need to get published first before I can claim I'm any good. I am not ashamed to share one of my earliest works. I can even use it as an example of how NOT to write a short story. Now that I've read quite a number of books on writing fiction, I can objectively pinpoint where I went wrong with this piece.
That's for another post, perhaps. For now, feel free to read Cal and Emily, and I'd appreciate your thoughts and your take on this story. My skin is thick. I can take a good beating. Don't say I didnt warn you.
Cal and Emily
The new sun arose with an incandescent brilliance, illuminating the whole world with an explosion of colours. Birds of varying types and sizes took wing and soared in the azure sky, singing their praises for the day. Suddenly –
The sound seemed out of place, somehow – to the students of Angel Valley High, at least. The shrill sound of the school bell marked another schooling Monday. Many a student grumbled and mumbled, but all went to their classes without delay. None wanted to face the wrath of Mr. Rogers. More than a few students thought that the shrewd man became the school principal simply for the satisfaction of sending people to detention, which was not pleasant at all.
A lone figure walked towards his classroom casually, his footsteps reverberating throughout the empty hallway. An inhumanly shrill laughter contaminated the silence as soon as he opened the dusty door, making him roll his eyes heavenward. Mr. Wilson was late again, and the students in the classroom were running wild. He slammed the door shut and the noise subdued instantly to hushed whispers. Everyone knew that Cal had an awful temper, and none dared to anger him. He could have been the most popular guy in school, for he was tall, athletically built, and most of all, handsome. But not Cal. He was different. He walked straight to his place at the back of the class and slumped down immediately, oblivious to his surroundings.
The hushed silence broke into excited hoots and whistles as suddenly as the shifting wind. Cal looked up, and saw an extremely beautiful girl. Wavy auburn hair cascaded like gentle waterfall down her slender shoulders. Her heart-shaped face was graced by a pair of lovely eyes, a pert nose, and luscious lips the colour of crimson evening sun. Her figure was statuesque, evident even under a plain, nondescript brown dress. The boys looked not unlike excited monkeys, and the girls were like vipers ready to spit venom. But Cal did not care for these trivial matters. For him, he came to school to get good education, and good education only. For him, social life was just an afterthought.
Mr. Wilson walked in after the girl. He tried to control the situation, but the students ignored him altogether. Not surprising, for the English teacher was a small, timid man, and could be cowed easily. After much pleading and hushing, the commotion finally subdued. "Well class, looks like we have a new student in our class, and her name is…ahh…umm…what did you say your name was?" Mr. Wilson looked at the girl quizzically. The balding man was forgetful of late.
"Smith, sir. Emily Smith," she whispered.
"Yes, yes…I remember now. Emily, is it? Well then, you can sit –" He craned his neck to look for an empty space somewhere in the square classroom.
"Looks like we have run out of place. Mr. Denvers, be oh-so-kind and let her sit beside you, okay?"
Cal stared at him blankly. He had never let anyone sit beside him. He never liked useless chatters, and having someone sitting beside him would mean meaningless noise and conversations. Nevertheless, he was far from being insolent. He cleared his things off the desk beside him and continued reading his book.
Mr. Wilson cleared his throat nervously. Like any other person in the school, he knew why the seat had remained empty. To Emily he whispered, "You go sit beside him, young lady, and never you mind his attitude. He's the best student this school has, you know."
Emily apologised to Cal for the inconvenience, but he acted as though she did not even exist. She sat at her place as timidly as a frightened doe.
Class was soon over, and Mr. Wilson was at last free to leave the classroom. As soon as he was out, though, the boys started flocking around her like ravenous wolves. They whistled, jeered, and more than one boy had the nerve to ask her out on a date. The girls' eyes burned with seething jealousy, for they were all but forgotten. The excitement started to gain volume, and soon it was unbearably noisy. At last, feeling both annoyed by the noise and pity for the hapless girl beside him, Cal shoved off his desk and raised his voice above the din.
"Will all of you stop it!" he bellowed. "The girl is new here and this is how you welcome her? She is a human being too, just like us, not a freak at a carnival!"
The red Cadillac stopped in front of Ben's Diner with a smooth rumble. Evening sun glinted off its sleek exterior. Cal stepped out of his car and ran a finger on the car's smooth surface lovingly. Not long after getting his driving license, the young man had come across a broken husk of a car at a junkyard. He had rescued the car with a ridiculously high sum of money, but for him it was well worth it. He had worked hard to get the rickety old car into shape, toiling day and night for two weeks. Now the car purred like a cat and rolled like thunder. He had never let anyone ride the car, for it had a sentimental value to him. The car was his, and his alone.
Juggling the keys in one hand, Cal entered the diner. He sat at a lonely corner and waited there patiently. A waitress, still intent on writing down her previous customer's order, came to Cal's side. Cal looked up to order his food, but stopped in astonishment. He blinked his eyes, surprise evident in them.
"Emily. What are you doing here?"
She gaped at him in utter silence. Her cheeks suddenly flushed with embarrassment. The owner of the isolated diner had designed barely decent clothes for his waitresses to wear, and she had no choice but obey the dress code. To attract customers, he said. Emily certainly did not expect to see her classmate there.
"What are you doing here?" she asked back.
Cal, wits as sharp as knife, realised that it was an awkward moment for Emily. He flashed a lazy smile at her, silently showing her that he would not tell others about her working at the diner. Instead of saying anything regarding the awkward subject, he only ordered a hamburger and soda. Receiving his unspoken message, Emily smiled back in gratitude and disappeared into the kitchen.
Emily came back a while later balancing a tray filled with freshly cooked food. She handed Cal his food and went to deliver her other customer's food.
Cal had barely opened his mouth to eat the seemingly-appetizing hamburger when he heard Emily yelping in undignified surprise. Cal looked up to see a burly man handling the beautiful girl like a plaything. No one else seemed to give her any notice. Apparently, this sort of treatment was a usual sight here. Emily cried for help, trying hard to escape from his strong grip. She looked as if she would burst out in tears. He did not like her reaction, and raised his hand to slap the insolent girl.
Cal, arriving just in the nick of time, stopped the oncoming brutality in mid-air. The big man twitched in pain; Cal was extremely strong for a teenager. Emily used the opportunity to escape from the man's hungry grasp. He yelled in surprise. He certainly had not expected this reaction. An obese man in a grimy white T-shirt and an even dirtier apron stormed out of the kitchen to find out the cause of the commotion. Ben Kazinski was a simple man who did not appreciate fights, especially in his own diner. He waved a pudgy hand at Cal's direction.
"What's this about?" he asked sternly.
"Ben. That girl of yours." The big man pointed at Emily with one free hand. "You said that I can do what I like with your girls. I didn't expect this!" He looked up at Cal vehemently. He looked like a volcano ready to explode. "If this is how you treat your customers, than I'm not coming here again!"
The angered customer arose from his seat. Cal, judging it safe to release him, eased his grip on the man.
"Ask for a lady’s permission before you touch her," Cal growled between clenched teeth. He let go of the man.
The big man rubbed his sore wrist to return blood circulation to his hand. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he clenched his fist and punched Cal's smooth face.
Blood seeped out of the young man's mouth, but Cal denied the man the satisfaction of watching him howl in pain. Instead, he stood erect as a rock. He did not even twitch a single muscle. The man, obviously disappointed, walked out of the diner in smouldering anger.
"Look at what you've done!" the owner screeched at Emily. "You've just made me lose my most loyal customer."
Emily burst into hiccuping sobs. She hated being yelled at. Cal looked at her with sincere compassion.
His blue eyes turned as cold as ice when he looked at the fat owner.
"You'll lose more than a customer when my father finds out about what you've been doing here."
Ben was certainly not intimidated by a mere teenager. "And who's your father?" he jeered.
Cal did not have to elaborate further. Everyone in town knew about Gary Denvers. He was a lawyer of renowned reputation. It was well-known fact that Gary Denvers wins every single case he receives, and he did it with such passion that his opponents backed away in utter humiliation.
All confidence seemed to have fled the pudgy man. His face became as pale as sheet immediately after knowing whom Cal's father was.
"I don't want no trouble, you hear?" To Emily, he dared a glare and said, "As for you, you're fired!"
Emily wiped her tears and stood erect, dignity returning. "You can't fire me. I quit!"
With that, she took off her apron and silly cap and threw them at Ben's face. She stormed out of the diner, Cal trailing more slowly behind her. He decided that she needed time to cool off. He surprised even himself by asking her to ride his car. Still seething with anger and humiliation, she accepted his offer without a comment.
Cal drove his car up Sunset Hill slowly, revelling in the dense growth surrounding the road. He had put down the car's hood, and gentle breeze caressed them lovingly. Cal deliberately drove in utter silence. He wanted nature to work its magic on Emily as it had always done with him. He wanted her to cool down on her own. Towards the end of the road, Cal turned his steering wheel and drove down an obscure path. He finally stopped before an open space. Emily blinked in surprise.
"Where are we?"
"My secret hiding place."
"Why are we here?"
Cal pointed ahead without saying a word. Guided by his finger, Emily turned her gaze forward. And saw a sight of simple yet awe-inspiring beauty. A deep red orb was setting behind a vast body of pristine water. The Angel Valley Lake reflected the last rays of the sun, making the water look like liquid fire. The sky was lit aflame with the sun's red light. Big, fluffy clouds glowed pink for a moment, and then shadow crept noiselessly, slowly consuming light and brightness. The sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon, and the shadow lengthened more swiftly. The sky turned purple, then indigo, and at last the darkness of twilight took over the valley.
Suddenly, like a million fireflies, lights were turned on. The city came to life with a fantastic display of lights of all colours. Emily, entranced by the beauty of sundown, dared neither blink nor breathe lest she would miss the rare view. Cal smiled, but did not speak until the first star began to glitter like a precious diamond in the velvety black sky.
"I found this spot three years ago when I was mad at my parents. Almost fell down the cliff, but the sunset calmed me down. My anger fled. I come here whenever I want to clear my mind. I think this is why they call this place Sunset Hill."
Emily listened to him silently, intent on absorbing his every word. The cold started to creep at her, and she vainly tried to suppress a shiver. Cal noticed it, however, and reached for his leather jacket from the back seat and handed it to her. Emily took it without saying a word. Seeing that she would not start speaking anytime soon, Cal continued speaking.
"Why were you working there, anyway? That guy was a jerk."
Emily dared not look at Cal, for she dared not show him her weaknesses. More than once a boy had used charming words and even more charming manners to get to her. She envisioned a trap being set here, but she had no intention of seeing it sprung on her. Never again. She waited in utter silence, but nothing else came from Cal. He sat motionless at his seat, as silent as her, patiently waiting for her to reply. At last, Emily gulped down suspicion and nervousness and decided to comply.
"I had to. My dad's ill, and he's off from work for a month now. The doctors here are the best, so we moved here. But we have run out of money to pay for his medication and support our big family at the same time. My mom works as a housekeeper, but the pay is not enough to support my five other younger siblings and I. She won't let me stop schooling, though. Not now in my final year. So I had to find work somehow. Ben, the owner, was my father's friend. So I worked there. Didn't expect him to use me like that, though.
"But now I don't know what to do. Without the money, I can't afford extra classes, and if I do badly in my SAT, I won't be able to get a scholarship. And without a scholarship, I can't afford to go to college. Maybe if I apologise to Ben, he will let me work there again."
"And let him use you as a toy?"
Cal looked straight at Emily. He had never known what it was like not to have money, and it saddened him to know that Emily had to go through such hardships in life. Suddenly, an idea blossomed in his mind.
"Tell you what. What if I was to help you in your studies? Then you won't have to spend money for extra classes. It's not like I have much to do, anyway. And about the money, maybe I can help –"
"No!" cried Emily angrily. "I won't take money from anyone."
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. She held the door handle in one hand, ready to flee from Cal if he crossed the line. Cal ran his hand through his smartly cut sandy hair. He had not expected her to react so.
"Wait. Don't go. I'm sincere about my offer, okay? And about the money. Just consider it a loan. Maybe you can pay me back after you get a good job after college or something."
Emily looked at Cal straight in the eyes. Her own eyes narrowed even more. Never in her life had she encountered someone who would help her so willingly, and it scared her to know that. Suspicion, doubt and a glimmer of hope battled in her mind. She studied Cal's face, hoping to see insincerity somewhere. However, as she looked at his blue eyes twinkling in the dim light, Emily could find none. Cal's handsome visage only showed frank sincerity.
"You are serious, aren't you?" Cal nodded slowly. "You really are sincere, aren't you?" Tears started to form in her eyes. It was hard for her to believe that such person existed in this trying world. She had expected Cal to make a move at her, for he was athletic, strong, and handsome, and she was just a vulnerable girl.
Finally realising that she was not dreaming, Emily let her tears flow freely. This time they were not tears of sorrow, but tears of happiness and gratitude. She hugged herself closer and whispered the words 'Thank you' to Cal. Suddenly the world seemed brighter, she thought as she gazed the world with a new perspective.
And so it came to be that Emily had found a true friend in Cal. He drove her daily to school and back – which was a major surprise to everyone, knowing full well that he had never let anyone touch his precious car. Cal also stayed true to his promise and helped Emily in her studies, sometimes at his house, sometimes at hers, and sometimes elsewhere. Emily, knowledge-hungry, paid full attention, and that fact alone made Cal happy. Not many girls as alluring as Emily would spend time in libraries and parks studying. He also enjoyed taking her siblings out to the parks during the weekends. Being the only child of two successful lawyers, Cal's parents seldom had time to spend with him. He grew up a lonely and moody child. Somehow, being with Emily's family had melted his sombre mood away. Soon they became fast friends, and Emily found out how different Cal could be from other guys. She was deeply grateful for that.
Finally, the big exam came. As expected, Cal excelled in his exam and was voted Valedictorian. However, he was not alone in holding the title. Emily too received extremely good results and would stand beside him as Valedictorian on their graduation day.
The day she had been waiting for was just around the corner. She was graduating from high school. The thought alone brought a flush in her cheeks. She waited excitedly for Cal to pick her up, but he was late that day. Emily found it unusual, for he was always punctual. Maybe he was just as excited as her that he had forgotten the time. She paced about in front of her house nervously. Something did not feel right that day, and she could feel it deep inside her stomach. Suddenly the phone rang. She rushed inside and picked it up. Maybe it was Cal. However, the voice that greeted her was female, and a stranger's.
"Hello, is this the residence of Miss Emily Smith?"
"Speaking. May I know who's calling, please?"
"I'm Nurse Jane Walters from Angel Valley Community Hospital. Do you happen to know a young man named Cal Denvers?"
"Yes, I do. Is there anything wrong, ma'am?" Emily was shaking uncontrollably, afraid of the nurse's reply.
"I'm afraid he has met with an accident. According to witnesses, he was driving when a little boy suddenly crossed the road. It seems that he was trying to stop his car but it skidded and rammed into a big tree. He's in critical condition, but the best doctors here are tending him right now. We tried calling his parents, but the maid informed me that they are on a business trip. Yours is the only other number we could find in his wallet. Could you please come here miss, or do you need a lift? Miss? Hello?"
"Cal…." It was all she could utter after digesting the nurse's words. Ten minutes later, a police car came to fetch her. She hated hospitals in general. Too many people died there. Entering the ICU did not help dampen her queasiness, either. Breath and speech deserted Emily when she saw Cal, and she would have fallen if it weren't for a doctor supporting her from the back.
Cal was bandaged everywhere. A square bandage covered his left eye, but a bluish-black bruise was still evident. The white cloths were all soaked with crimson liquid. Blood. Cal's. His mouth was covered by a respiratory mask, and his breathing was shallow and uneven. He wheezed for air, as though his lungs would fail him anytime soon. Drips and wires surrounded him like menacing tentacles, and both of his legs were wrapped in cast. They were broken, and Cal might never walk again.
Badly shaken but undeterred by the sight, Emily rushed to his side. She held his hand in hers and squeezed it tightly. She whispered his name, hoping that he would wake up, but the doctor said that it was useless. He was in deep coma, and the chance of him waking up was slight. Yet against all logical reasoning and scientific calculations, Cal's one good eye shot open and blinked in undisguised pain. He wrenched away the mask and gasped deeply for air, causing him to cough, wracking his body even more. Blood spewed out of his mouth.
"Em…Emily," he gasped between fits of cough.
"Hush, save your strength, Cal. You'll need it to be well again." She gripped his hand more tightly. It was all she could do to keep her from crying.
Cal's bleeding lips curved into a twisted smile. "Save your breath, Em. I am dying. I can feel it in my bones."
"No, Cal. Don't say that. You are supposed to deliver your speech tomorrow, remember?"
Cal's smile lingered as an answer. "Looks like you'll be the one making the speech tomorrow, Em. You deserve it. I'm proud of you, you know? You are like a sister to me and I'll always be proud of you no matter what. Thank you for showing me how sweet life could be, Em. And say thank you to my parents for me, okay? Tell them I love them.
"Em, I need you to be strong for me. Don't say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. Just smile for me for one last time, okay? I hate to see you cry."
Somehow, Emily managed to smile for Cal. She wiped away her tears and planted a gentle kiss on his cold hand.
A couple of people were laughing not far behind her. It seemed so unfair that they could be so hapy. It was so unfair that the one guy who had treated her as another person and not some pretty object would make an exit as sudden as an entrance to her life. She wanted to cry, but tears eluded her. She had no more tears to shed. She sat down and rested her head on her hands. The world was not as beautiful as it had been. Everything was bleak, and she felt cold, as if an arctic blizzard had found its way there to blast at her.
A bird chirping in front of her made Emily start and look up. And she saw the sun setting at the western horizon. She remembered then the pact she and Cal had made at the same spot not long ago, and felt her heart brighten once more. She smiled and held her graduation cap high. She stood up, shouted Cal's name and threw the cap into the sky. She watched it whirl in the red sky before plummeting down the ravine. And she made a vow in Cal's memory that she would indeed make him proud of her. With the scholarship that she had earned, she would not let him down.
As she walked away from the setting sun, she felt Cal's approving smile accompanying her down her path of life.