Indecisive, cowardly, and a sissy!
The words echoed in Ryan’s mind as he walked back to meet Olivia. Did he have a stand on anything or did he just live by set rules and abandoned himself to fate? No denying the Society offered him
an opportunity to turn his life around, sponsored his university education, gave him shelter and a job. But was this in exchange for his dignity? No, better not confuse the Society with Vincent—a
perverted sociopath. God forbid! He’d never for a second doubted its holiness and the good intentions of the rest of his spiritual brothers. Goodness, were it not for the Society, he’d have
probably long committed suicide or became a robber and gotten himself gunned down.
It was Vincent who made it hell for him to continue being a member of the Society. The more he interacted with this monster of a brother, the farther he wandered from the kingdom of God. In fact,
he was helping Vincent make the Society look like Gehenna for the would-be joiners. After seeing how Vincent treated his perceived desperate brothers, no one in their sane mind would want to be
part of such diabolical coexistence.
He would have gone in a different direction, but Olivia waved him over. “Hey, this way.”
She took off her hat and shook her hair down. After hugging, she laced her hand with his as they walked down to the gazebo behind the library.
“Sorry about the text,” he said. “It wasn’t meant for you.”
She shrugged. “I should be the one saying sorry. What happened?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine.”
She wiped the bench, sat, and patted the space beside her. “What are you gonna do?”
“Still thinking about it. Maybe I’ll go to my village for a while.”
“Village! To do what? Why not look for another job?”
“I dunno. Um… Just to clear my mind before I decide what’s next.”
Until she asked, he’d not seriously reflected on his next move. How would he survive in the city without a job, considering how difficult it was to find one? No wonder Vincent had no trouble
ill-treating him—where else would he go? Whatever! Even if it meant Ryan joining his dad in the village as a peasant farmer for the rest of his life, so be it. No more shit from that asshole.
Students and staff roamed about, casting glances in their direction. Once in a while, someone passing by smiled and waved.
Gisela joined them. “Hey, Ryan.” She took the hand he offered her. Then she turned to Olivia. "Class is about to start."
Smiling, Olivia waved her off. “Carry on. I’ll join you shortly.”
An hour later, she was still with him on the bench.
He looked at his watch. "Uh-oh. Looks like you missed your class."
“It’s okay, don’t worry.” She smoothed her hair back. “So long as Gisela attended, I’m covered.”
“Yeah, she’s a genius. I understand her better than all the lecturers.”
“I’ve heard Ken say the same thing.” He focused on her. “But it’s my fault. I made you miss class.”
She smiled. “Not at all. Err, don’t forget it. I’m the one who called you.”
“Yeah… But, I mean, I should’ve let you go with Gisela.”
She dropped her gaze. “I-I I thought you wanted me to stay?”
“Of course.” He took her hand. “I still do want you to stay.”
A brief silence ensued.
She asked, “What are you thinking?”
He picked at loose paint on the wood backrest. “Well, I just feel blank. Okay, wait, now I’m thinking about Ken.”
“What about him?”
“How he’s so obsessed with Gisela.”
“Poor guy. I think Gisela’s seeing someone else and wants nothing to do with him anymore.”
“Are you for real?”
“Yup… She’s not told me, but I can tell.”
“Ken’s suspecting the same.”
"Really?” She leaned forward. "Who does he think it is?"
He froze, his thoughts racing to keep up with his mouth. Wait! Ken thinks it's her father! Oh shit. Can't say that! "Oh, uh, well, he doesn't know. Not exactly."
She leaned back. "Oh. Well, it's deserved. He never treated her right.” She removed her boots and crossed her legs. “I hope things work out for her with the new guy.”
“I’ve never understood. Why is it when someone loves another so much, that other isn’t into them?”
“Tell me about it. You’re a victim. Right?”
“I don’t understand.”
"Annie, silly. She's so into you. Yes?"
"Oh. Well, um, there's nothing going on between us.”
She gathered her long hair into a ponytail and hung it over her shoulder. “I saw how she was looking at you at my birthday party.”
“That’s funny.” He fiddled with the loose paint. “Just a mere look and you can tell--”
“Not only that.” She patted his shoulder, then moved her hand down his bicep. “Whoa, you got tough muscles.”
“Oh. Um, err..."
“Sorry. I’m making you uneasy?”
“The goosebumps.” She vigorously rubbed the whole length of his arm. “Much better now. Feeling cold?”
“No. Ticklish. Just a bit.” He smiled. “But so nice, I love your soft touch.”
“Is that what you tell girls?” She traced a finger around his triceps. “You must be hitting the gym daily.”
“No. Which girls?”
“Trust me, there’s nothing to write home about.” He threw away the loose paint. “But seems like you know something I don’t.”
Olivia revealed more than he ever expected: how he'd fallen in love with Annie while they were still kids, how Annie wished he'd gotten a well-paying job rather than scraps the Society threw him,
how she also wished he'd forgo his vow of celibacy. How the hell did she get to know all these?
"Oh! Wow. Well. Who-- Um, who told you?"
“Never mind.” She switched position, crossing the other foot on top. “So, how d’you feel learning I took all the time digging for dirt on you?”
“Oh boy, I still can’t believe it. You know so much about me. I’m not sure that’s a good or bad thing.”
Her face fell. “So you guys have been dating all this time?”
“It’s not what you’re thinking.” He rested a hand on her lap. “Look, other than those childish times you talked about, we’ve never seriously dated.”
Her eyebrows rose. "So you two never-- Um, well, you're still a..." Her cheeks reddened. "Well, you know."
“All we’ve done were stupid, childish things that really don’t count.” He pressed her hand. “Really, who told you all this?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah. If you don’t tell me, I’ll start drawing my own conclusions and I could be wrong.” He brushed away an ant crawling up her dress. “I suspect it’s Ken, but I just want to be sure.”
“C’mon, I don’t talk to that jerk.”
“It’s only him and Annie who know my childhood.”
His eyebrows rose. “You guys talked… With Annie?”
“Before you bite my head off, no. Gisela told me."
“Jeez, I’m so sorry. Did I shout? I didn’t mean to—”
“No, you didn’t. Are you always that caring?”
"I try." He snorted. "Ken. Man, that punk has such a big mouth. How dare he tell Gisela stuff about me.”
“It’s my fault. I’m the one who asked Gisela to do this for me. Ken shouldn’t know anything about this.”
He smiled. “Only on one condition.”
“All your research will now be conducted directly from the source.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“Sorry if I’m being too forthcoming.”
“I like it that way.” She leaned forward. “By the way, I’ve noticed you like apologizing.”
He was silent for a moment. “Um uh, I haven’t noticed I do that. Isn’t it polite though?”
“Sometimes… But dad doesn’t like it.” She straightened. “Could be a sign you’re so prone to unhealthy guilt. Or been in an abusive relationship. Oops, sorry.” She rubbed his shoulder. “That’s
“Not at all. You’re helping me know myself. I like it.”
“Okay. Believe me, it’s true.” Her entire expression reflected her eagerness. “Don’t get me wrong. There’re genuine cases when you should say sorry.”
“Mmmh.” He nodded.
“Well, I’ve never been in any abusive relationship. But, ah, I can tell you it took me a long time to see this. I used to really fear disappointing people. At my own expense.”
Ryan laced his fingers. “How’s that?”
“I hate hearing myself when I talk. It now feels like I’m lecturing you.”
“Yeah, you are. In a good way though. I think I’m a victim of what you’re saying.”
“Go first, I’ll tell you.”
“Well, nothing much. I’m actually done.” She shrugged. ‘’I mean; at times I’d apologize even when I was the one who’d been wronged, just to end animosity.”
“For me, maybe it’s because of my boss. He’s such a bully.”
“I’m so… sorry.” She pressed his shoulder. “You should get another job. I can help you send applications.”
“Really? Thanks.” He moved to the edge of the bench. “That’s sweet of you.”
Wow, what a chick! So sweet and clever. For sure, she must have fallen for him. But certainly not desperate. Her class wouldn’t permit stooping low. This made her even more attractive. Damn it! He
saw Gisela approaching from a distance.
“Hey girl, are you not attending the next lesson too?” asked Gisela. Then, to Ryan, “What’ve you done to her?”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “He’s got nothing to do with this. I’m coming.”
Gisela frowned, then smiled. "I see I'm intruding. Well, let me go before I'm lynched."
Olivia looked at her watch. “Gosh, no wonder I’m feeling hungry. It’s five o’clock.”
“Time’s moving so fast.”
“I’m starving. Let’s go grab something.”
They walked into the café and sat at the back. A few staff, sitting at a table across from them, cast what he thought were suspicious glances in their direction. He couldn’t tell which would be the
biggest scandal: A member of the society having spent the entire day with a woman, alone by themselves, or a staff, holed up with a female student the whole day? Her back to them, Olivia failed to
notice their glares. He overheard part of the gossip coming from the table.
“She’s not letting him go. They’ve been at the gazebo the whole day.”
“This is getting indecorous,” said a lady in a pink top. “I thought he belonged to the celibate society.”
“Oh really? Why not just marry instead of this?”
“I don’t blame him… It’s one of the ways some students from poor backgrounds get access to scholarships.”
Olivia tapped on the table. “Hey, are you okay?”
“Yup. They say we can’t multitask and it’s true.” He lowered his eyes. “I’m trying to eavesdrop while at the same time listen to you.”
“Forget about them. They can say whatever they want.”
“You know what they’re talking about?”
“Of course. All I can say, follow your heart.” She put her handbag on the table. “We can order for takeaways and go back.”
“No, it’s okay. Let’s stay.”
Oh my God! Her class overwhelmed him. The way she towered above pettiness… If it were Annie, she’d have extended the gossip to their table—citing a thousand more reasons why Ryan should quit the
society. But not Olivia. She lent him logic, but left him to decide what he deemed best for himself. Wow, so civilized!
They talked long after they'd finished their snacks.
Gisela stomped into the café. “Hey, is your phone off? Your mom has been trying to reach you.”
Olivia rummaged through her purse. “Oh, I put it on silent.” She peered on the screen. “She must be worried stiff. The driver has also called several times. What’s the time?”
“It’s seven,” said Gisela.
“Goodness, we better get going, my dad will be here any minute, if he’s not called the Dean yet.”
Ryan demurred from going along, but Olivia insisted. He must meet her parents. Otherwise, how was she to explain her whereabouts? They must know she was with him. This girl was just at a different
level. Speak of class! This was it.
Thirty minutes later, her driver was pulling onto the compound where Olivia lived. Ryan's mouth opened. With the birthday party crowd, he hadn't noticed the compound's size. Now, it was there in
all its sprawling glory: the trimmed hedges along the fence, the three-story townhouse with its glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows, the lamp posts that seemed more fitting for a posh hotel
than a mere homestead. Holding hands, Olivia led him into the house. Gisela followed a few steps behind.
Ryan walked with a throbbing heart. Taking her slender, soft hand, he laced his fingers with hers. At that point, he imagined his life with her. Unlike other marriages, in which he heard couples at
times quarreled, theirs would have nothing of the sort.
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