Piso Tales: Detour


CHAPTER 1

“I’m cutting your allowance by half.”

Cutting . . . in half?

BAM!

Joy’s brand new smartphone slipped off her fingers, and the screen neatly split in two as soon as it reached the ground. But, did it matter? No, nothing matters now! This is a catastrophe! A disaster!

She even forgot her freshly painted nails as she grabbed her head, crouched on the thick Persian carpet, and screamed an agonized, “No!”

Half! That was half! How would she survive with half when full could only barely sustain her? For this month, her debit card was already protesting from lack of funds . . .

“No way! You can’t do that to me, daddy.” She picked up her broken phone before helplessly eyeing the notification on her laptop, the one saying that the online purchase she just made was a success. An autumn-edition Botticelli traveling bag, a just released pair of Mikee hiking shoes, and the latest 2016 Aion model for an underwater camera. Express delivery within 24 hours. Just in time for tomorrow’s trip.

“You know that this is my precious last sem break in college,” she sobbed tearlessly. “Pia and everyone are looking forward to it.”

A calm male voice robotically responded, “I’m not saying –  y-you are not permitted to go . . .”

“Hello? Daddy?”

“. . . look . . . talked to your mom . . .”

Joy was panicking. Phone, behave!

“. . . and you’re already gonna use the Ilocos villa for free – “

“Daddy? Daddy, can you hear me?”

“Yes, princess?”

With a sigh of relief, Joy sat on her fairy pink bed, her feelings complicated. She knew that she had, again, exceeded what she was allowed to spend since the term started. Her parents had warned her about it multiple times. She did attempt to lessen her expenses, but it was just so difficult when there are many cute clothes and shoes on display. They were temptation incarnate! Before she knew it, she had bought the items and the cashier was thanking her for her patronage.

“Daddy, I’m a little tight on the budget. My phone broke just now and oh, I promise I’m not lying! Please don’t cut my allowance. After this, I will really, really, really work hard not to shop so much. So, please pretty please with a munchkin on top?“

“Didn’t you just buy . . . ?”

“Like I said, my phone broke just a few seconds ago!”

There was a disappointed sigh on the other end of the line. “ . . . save more . . . I will send you – “

Beep, beep, beep.

Send me what? How much will he send?

“Hello?” Joy wanted to cry but had no tears. Tossing the completely broken phone on top of her side table, she could only hope that her daddy would deposit more to her savings account. Not only did she have to buy a new phone, she would need pocket money for the road trip too.

The very next day, a petite girl carrying a fancy Botticelli travelling bag and wearing purple Mikee shoes stood in front of her condominium. Despite her pretty face and trendy look, she appeared like her soul was sucked out of her body.

“Joy!” A familiar male voice called out from a red SUV. She didn’t notice that Daniel’s car had stopped right in front of her. “What are you standing in ceremony for? Climb up! We have yet to fetch Pia and you know how strict on time management that girl is.”

Dazed, Joy stared at her animated group of friends. How was she to tell them that she only had cash barely enough to cover for a 5-day hotel accommodation? Her debit card was now empty. Empty! Zero! Clean without even a single centavo! What about her food? What about her pasalubong? What about buying a new phone?!

“Mayday, mayday! Earth to Joy!”  

“LOL, she’s sleep walking.”

“Must be the aftereffects of Prof. KJ’s oral exams.”

“Don’t remind Joy. She was still crying about it two days ago.”

“She looks recovered.”

“Wait, you’re Joy, aren’t you?”

“Danny, they’re bullying me!” Joy cried out to the lanky boy on the driver’s seat who had never once joined in the insensitive banters. Daniel, the owner of the car, was also the designated driver for half the trip. With a dainty sniffle, she pouted, “I’m broke! You have no idea how depressed I am now.”

“What happened?” Daniel’s deep baritone asked with concern.

From inside the SUV, teasing could be heard.

“Am I hearing it right? Joy is broke? Are you for real?”

“Change your name to Gloom now.”

“Gloomy Castilla has a nice ring on it.”

Joy wanted to rip them off their seats. “Spare me your antics.”

Aside from Daniel who merely raised an eyebrow at her, the rest of her friends were laughing their asses off. The long-haired Sarah looked like she just heard the best joke of the day, while the couple Ana and Richard were gloating in schadenfreude.

Joy could only roll her eyes as she angrily threw her bag at them. They continued to snicker as they placed her things at the back along with the other baggages. She could only childishly slam the door right at their faces, but with the window rolled down, it barely made an impact. She glared at them before opening the door to the passenger’s seat. “Shut it guys, I’m seriously dirt poor right now.”

“Dirt poor, and still holding a Sunbucks Grande on your manicured hand?”

To Joy and her friends’ surprise, a tall, curly-haired boy around their age seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Leaning against Daniel’s SUV, he spoke languidly with crossed arms, “Hi, Joy.”

Everyone turned to face Joy with a puzzled face. Joy could only shrug her shoulders in ignorance.

“Wow, you’re chubbier.” The boy continued, his eyes roaming around her body in appreciation. “Must be from too much coffee and sweets.”

A pair of mischievous brown eyes, a lazy smirk and a messy appearance like he just woke up from bed. Joy had no idea who he was, but one thing was for sure. He looked and sounded annoying.

“Excuse me?” Joy wanted to hit him on the head with the heel of her shoe. “Did you just call me a fatty?”

She never went on a diet, but she sure knows that she’s fit and healthy! Her waist was a twenty five last week! Or was it a twenty-six? Unconsciously, she tucked in her tummy. To her horror, she could not remember how many cups of Sunbucks she had drank since the start of the week. She immediately threw the cup of coffee to the nearest garbage can.

“Who are you?” Daniel narrowed his eyes at the stranger. From what he could see from Joy’s expression, she obviously did not know the guy.

The curly-haired boy grinned at him. With a nonchalant wave of a hand, he presented himself. “I’m just here to make sure Joy will enjoy her trip.”

Joy gaped like a goldfish. Was this who her parents wanted to send with her? Someone to nag at her? “D-Did Daddy send you?”

Nightmare. A complete nightmare.

“Ooh, a babysitter?” Sarah asked curiously. Her eyes shone as she carefully studied the smokin’ new piece of meat in front of her. Even the already-taken Ana was eying him approvingly. On the other hand, Daniel and Richard seemed threatened by his presence.

“Bing-o!” the curly-haired boy cheered, his dimples on both cheeks winking. “I’m Wacky by the way. Nice to meet you, Sarah!”

“How did you know my name?” the long-haired girl gasped. Everyone was looking at Wacky like he had grown a third eye.

“Oh, I know their names too. Danny, Ana-bee and Richie. Pia’s not here yet.” Wacky casually mentioned their nicknames, as if he had known them for a long time. But then, thinking about it, Joy’s father might have told him information about them in advance.

“Did Tito Atom really send you?” Daniel popped his knuckles. For some reason, he felt uncomfortable facing this new guy.

Wacky simply smiled before pushing the frozen-like-a-statue Joy into the passenger seat and climbing inside the SUV himself. He then handed Joy a sealed box. “For you, princess.”

“That’s the latest model of Xoni!” exclaimed Sarah. Her hands involuntarily reached out to the sleek black smartphone inside the box. “I thought it hasn’t been released in the Asia Pacific region yet.”

Wacky merely winked at her before shouting like a boy scout to the dumbfounded teenagers. “Off to Pia’s house!” Then, facing Daniel, he gave him a knowing smile. “Oh, by the way, I’m paying for the gasoline so that you won’t say I’m freeloading. Buckle your seatbelt now. Let’s not make Ms. Austria wait any longer.”


CHAPTER 2

“I can’t go.”

After playing a prank on the doorbell, the delight on Joy’s face evaporated upon hearing those three horrible words. Even the ridiculous noise inside the red SUV morphed into stunned silence the moment Pia and a rowdy-looking kid stepped out of the humble Austria abode.

“I’m . . . sorry.” Pia shot a timid, apologetic smile to her friends. Noting the visible shift in their mood, she bit her lip and slowly added, “So, uhm, have fun in Vigan.”

“Whoa, wait!” Richard was the first one to recover from the shock. He angrily thrust a finger at her face. “You can’t just brush it off like that! A last minute cancellation? No, you can’t even call this last minute! Something happened, and you didn’t even bother to inform us? Even through text? You’re not even explaining why! What? Are we just going to accept this bomb then you can waltz off like nothing happened?”

Ana grabbed Richard’s shoulder, shaking her head. Richard struggled to say more, but in the end, he simply snarled, “But this is the last sembreak of the entire gang!”

“We even made a pact on that voodoo doll, remember? Whoever backs out will receive ten years of bad luck!” Sarah chimed in, her awkwardly big frame torn between stepping out of the car to strangle Pia silly, and curling under her travel blanket and pretend this was all a dream. On the way here, everyone was cheerfully pulling Joy’s leg over her monetary tragedy. Never did she expect that the atmosphere would drop the moment they arrived, and that the tension would suddenly skyrocket like this. The change was frightening. Suffocating.

I am not brushing it off.” Pia said through gritted teeth, her eyes reddening. “It’s not like I asked for this. It’s out of my control and I don’t have time–“

“Dammit, Pia. We’ve been planning this trip for years!”

Aside from Wacky who pretended he couldn’t hear them through his headphones, only Daniel was silent. But even he couldn’t hide the disappointment in his eyes.

Others might not understand its importance, but this road trip was no simple getaway. Pia, more than anyone, should have known the real reason.

“There is . . . a situation in the family,” Pia began to explain, “and it’s a long and complicated story. But to sum it up, I need to take care of my cousin Phoebus until an aunt of ours from the province picks him up.”

“Can’t you hire a babysitter?” Joy felt hope. “If you can’t afford, I can – “

But then she remembered that she had no extra cash on hand. Would Wacky be willing to lend her some? Could they find someone trustworthy on short notice?

“Find a nanny. Even Tito Atom got one for little miss spender here.” Richard scorned, and Joy gave her a flying finger in return. “But, hey? Joy is joining the trip, unlike someone else I know.”

Richard had always had a short fuse, and normally his girlfriend Ana would berate him for being unreasonably rude to people. However, this time, Ana did not try to pacify him.

“I’m really sorry, guys. I know we all promised that no matter what happens, we will be complete this time. And we all know we can’t postpone the trip so I don’t mind – “

Ana clapped her hands like a little girl in an attempt to enlighten the mood. “Maybe we can find a way for all of us to still go to Ilocos.”

Out of the blue, a nasal voice of a young boy harrumphed, “Your friends are selfish jerks, Ate Pia. Why are you hanging out with them?”

Everyone froze at those words. Not because they felt that it hit the spot, but because those words came from the mouth of a boy no older than seven or eight.

Joy glared at him. “Hey, brat. You know how rude you sound? You don’t even understand what’s happening.”

The boy picked his nose, sneering. “Your brain isn’t even capable enough to understand what’s happening, fake Barbie, so why don’t you all leave me and my Ate alone, you BI’s.”

“Phoebus!” Pia scolded, her eyes widening. “You can’t talk like that!”

“Why?” The young boy snorted. “Didn’t you say that you’re going to Vigan because fake Barbie’s family just bought a new villa there? I bet my DOTA fund that she wants to flaunt.”

“It’s getting heated in here,” someone good-naturedly chuckled. “Why don’t we all take a step back?”

“Can you please stop sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, you busybody?” Joy scowled, unimpressed at Wacky’s attempt at mediation. Not to mention her awful first impression of him and that he was sent by her daddy to spy on her, the fact that on the way here, he kept on preaching how to properly manage her finances put him on top of her Black Book of People I Hate. And to think that he wasn’t that much older than her. He said he’s only nineteen, the smarty pants.

Wacky smiled indulgingly at her, giving her the creeps. “Third parties view things objectively. Since my purpose for coming is to make sure you have fun on this trip, why don’t I offer a piece of my mind?”

“Are you gonna ask for additional charges from my parents?” she asked sarcastically.

“I’ll make an exception and tag along with you for free, princess.” Facing Pia, his handsome face turned gentler. For some reason, it bothered the hell out of Joy. Was he trying to flirt his way to her best friend’s heart? Pia was no boyfriend since birth. She might get charmed by that dazzling dimpled smile! “If I’m not mistaken, your family originated from Ilocos Norte. My guess is that your aunt is coming from there?”

Pia blinked at this unfamiliar boy in disbelief. “Uhm, who are you?”

“I’m Joy’s hubby. Wacky’s the name,” he laughed, leaving everyone speechless and in awe of his thick skin. “So, am I right?”

“Yeah,” Pia curiously nodded.

“You’re packed for the trip, right?”

“I am.”

“Your parents asked you totally out of blue?”

“Uhm,” Pia nodded again. As if by magic, her tense shoulders relaxed at his soothing tone. “They didn’t really explain either. Just that, I feel something bad happened. Something major. And Phoebus may act like a prick, but he’s a good boy.”

Joy rolled her eyes. Pia thinks that every single living being in the whole world is innately good. What a pure girl.

“No wonder you’re the best friend.” Wacky accidentally caught Joy’s gaze, his words as if hinting something, and she instinctively shrunk back in undefined guilt. “Pia, why don’t you call your parents and aunt? Say that instead of your aunt leaving for Manila and then returning on a round trip, we can personally deliver Phoebus to your relatives instead. The SUV is big and comfortable enough. We can pass through Vigan on the way, and just in time for the 25th. It’ll be more economical. The gang is complete, we get to travel, and the boy arrives safely at your relatives’ home. It’s a win-win situation, yes?”

It took them several minutes for the information to sink in.

“Sounds feasible,” Ana admitted first, and her boyfriend calmed down before nodding in agreement.

“You’re a genius, Wacky!” Sarah beamed. After calls were made and consent was given, Pia happily brought her things in addition to little Phoebus’ change of clothes to the SUV. While these were being taken care of, Wacky suggested that those with free hands prepare some snacks that they can eat along the drive. Because it’s more fun and economical that way. Of course, having gained the trust of the lambs, everyone agreed to the wolf’s advice.

“I don’t like cooking.” Joy mumbled under her breath. “It’s better to just buy.”

“Money can buy food, but it can’t buy time.” Wacky’s whisper made her jolt. Did he have supersonic hearing? “It’s the love in the food that matters. Besides, it’ll be Sarah who’ll do most of the work. Why are you even complaining?”

“Money can buy convenience,” she retorted.

“But convenience is not a factor of friendship. Friendship is built with time.”

Buy time?

Joy remained pondering as she unconsciously followed Wacky towards Pia’s living room. “How did you know that Pia is from Ilocos?”

Wacky let out one glorious laugh, his brown eyes speaking volumes. Unfortunately, she could not understand anything at all.

And even if she could, she didn’t want to.

 

CHAPTER 3

“Too expensive.”

Joy suppressed the urge to look at the devil behind her and yell at him. She went outside Castilla Villa to roam around the souvenir shops without telling her friends, afraid that Wacky will follow her. And when she thought that she had already escaped from him and drowning herself on the latest fashions, she almost jump in surprise when the guy appeared in front of her, reminding her she doesn’t need it.

She heard that sentence from him countless times. And it started to piss her off big time. Why did her Daddy give Wacky her money to manage? Every time that she would pick an item that looks beautiful in her eyes, he would either say it was expensive or he would tell that she already has it or she doesn’t need it.

“I know. Just appreciating the beautiful design,” she replied before pulling away from the well-knitted bracelet. “And don’t worry. I won’t buy it, so you can have your peace of mind.”

For the past three days, her friends seemed to grow fond of him. Although, she noticed that he was still reserved and seldom talked when the rest of the gang were around. Among all of them, she also noticed that Daniel was the one close to him. The two even started to bond as brothers.

Daniel was the epitome of a miser. Since they were kids, he would buy the cheapest things. He would settle for the good bargains as much as possible. According to him, he’s just being practical. And because of being like that, he has saved enough to buy his own car after working at a call center for two years. Now she wondered, could Wacky be the same as him? Well, she didn’t know. She didn’t care at all.

“Bad mood, huh?”

Joy ignored him and just started to walk. Seconds later, she felt his presence beside her. “Ignoring me, huh? Are you mad at me?”

She sighed before looking at him. “No, I’m not. I’m happy seeing you, following me around. This is actually my happy face.” She kept a straight poker face.

 “I didn’t know that you had this sense of humor. But, it doesn’t make sense at all. Can you try harder?”

She stopped her strong urge to punch Wacky and erase that playful smirk on his face. He could be the cause of her early death! Argh! “Can you get out of my face before I beat the hell out of you?”

Her friends didn’t lend her cash because of him. She couldn’t buy anything. He won’t even let her buy anything she would want. Begging him to give her cash was the least thing she would do. She won’t give him the satisfaction of insulting her.

Before he could say anything, she turned her back on him and walked as fast as she could. By then, the curly-haired boy was on her side again. “Hey! Get your hands off me!” she protested when he held her right hand and dragged her. To where? She didn’t have the slightest idea.

“Where are we going?” She couldn’t help but ask him, still walking as they passed some souvenir shops.

“Why did you leave by yourself?” Instead of answering, he asked in a monotone voice without looking at her direction.

“Isn’t it obvious? I want to be alone,” she answered, full of sarcasm.

“Wanted to be alone and acting childish are two different things.”

“Wow. I’m acting childish? Says the guy who had nothing more important to do than annoy the hell out of me since the day we met.”

“Am I annoying you?”

“Stop playing numb, you dimwit!” she hissed through gritted teeth. She also tried to pull her hand from him, but he didn’t let go. He even tightened his grip on her.

Minutes later, Joy almost bumped into him when he suddenly stopped. “Why are we here?” she asked, looking around where they are.

“I want you to show this.” They saw locals crafting baskets and other souvenir items for sale. She noticed that most of them looked younger than the two of them.

 “Do you know what they’re doing?”

“Do I look like stupid to you?” she retorted back. Somehow, she felt insulted by the way he asked her that question.

“You can call it child labor or a part-time job. They do that for a reason. Either they don’t have that much money to support their needs or they just want to get extra income so that they don’t have to ask their parents about it,” he explained coldly. Even his expression was indifferent.

She raised an eyebrow. Even though she wanted to cross her arms, Wacky was still holding her hand and didn’t let go. “And your point is?”

“Aren’t you ashamed that they are more capable of earning money on their own than you? Compared to you, at least they know the importance of money and how hard it is to earn. I doubt you even know how to differentiate between your needs and wants.”

“Well, maybe I did something good in my past life that’s why I was born rich now. It’s not really my fault they are born poor.”

“You’re such a spoiled-brat, do you know that?”

“Yes, I’m fully aware of it,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes at him. “Just for the record, I know how to differentiate between my needs and wants. Even without my parents, I am perfectly capable of being independent.”

“I think those children,” Wacky motioned them using his free hand, “are better much suited to call themselves ‘independent’ than you,” he said, emphasizing the word independent. “Being independent means more than just living by yourself,” he added.

Joy lifted her chin. “I can live on my own,” she answered with full of confidence.

“Really? Can you?” he asked scornfully.

She was outraged by the way he looked at her from head to toe. She shot him a death glare, wishing that she could scare him and burn his arrogance away. However, she failed because he didn’t flinch a bit. She was about to say something when he spoke again.

“Please, enlighten me on how will you live by yourself. How are you going to buy your basic needs? How are you going to pay your bills? Tuition? Place? Do you even have savings or a source of income? What plans do you have after graduation? Are you going to continue to leech off and depend on your parents?”

He continued to nag at her. All she did was clench her fists and grit her teeth, at a loss on how to respond to his accusations. “Who the hell do you think you are? You talk so much as if you know everything when you are just— ”

 “I live on my own and have never depended on anyone but myself,” he cut her off before she could even finish her sentence. “You don’t need to know this, because even though you know, you wouldn’t care at all, but I no longer have a family to depend on. Sir Atom, your father, is like the only family I have.”

She was left speechless and dumbfounded by his revelation. This was the first time Joy has heard something about Wacky since the day she met him. He didn’t open up to everyone until now. She angered him and it terrified her. His grim, blank expression on his face made him seem like a different person. 

After a few minutes of silence, she laughed dryly. “You think I’m a pathetic and hopeless case, do you?”

“No, I don’t,“ he answered, looking intensely into her eyes.

She looked away and started to play with the tip of her hanging blouse. “Liar. Just say it already. Call me pathetic, hopeless or any other name. I’m used to it, anyway.”

Wacky closed his eyes, heaved a deep sigh. “I know why you’re acting this way. You’ve been more cynical and fuss about everything since we arrived in Vigan. I know what you’re going through. You’ve become like this when— ”

 “Stop right there,” she cut him off, glaring at him. “Don’t you even dare mention it,” she warned him. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

He was about to say something, but Joy didn’t let him. She started to walk away from Wacky. She wasn't too far from where she left him when something caught her attention. She stopped and took a glimpse of the delicate feathered necklace.

While staring at it, memories started to flow back in her head. Good and bad ones. When she thought she already moved on from the past, it all came back in just a blink of an eye.

"A dream-catcher."

Joy didn't need to look at the guy who spoke behind her. Blindfolded or not, she could easily identify the owner of that cold voice just by merely listening to it. Wacky.

A dream-catcher, huh? It was supposed to catch beautiful dreams, right? But I guess, it doesn't work to all. Because it didn't work on me. My dream turned into a nightmare, she told herself. She couldn't help but smile bitterly when she remembered something from her past. An unforgettable and painful past to be exact which reminded her how stupid she was before.

"Recalling your old flame with your good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend?"

She wasn't surprised at all when he already knew about her ex. Even her friends weren't bothered at all on when he said something. It was as if he knew everything about her.

"You told me earlier that I didn't know how to differentiate between my needs and wants. You're wrong. I know exactly how. I needed him, but he just wanted me because of my money."

She and Drew were in a relationship for two years. They met during their freshman year in college. She was a well-known, rich fashionista in their campus and he was a popular varsity player during high school. Yes, a typical love story that can be read on novels. The whole college student body thought they were perfect for each other.

"A dream-catcher for you, Joy. So that you can catch your dream. You can catch me."

Together with the feathered necklace, those were the words that made her fall for him even more. He was like a dream come true for her. He was even on the list of her plans.

Even though she was spending money and even paying for their dates most of the time, she would also shower him with luxury gifts during their monthsaries — and this was besides the gifts he was asking from her, she could say that once in her life, she felt happy being with him.

She believed that she was being a good girlfriend to Drew. She gave him everything she had — Money, time, efforts. Even her heart. 

Then, he heartlessly dumped her a year ago. His reason? She didn't agree to sleep with him. The next day, he began acting cold and being a jerk towards her. He even used that 'rejection' thing to be mad at her. The sweet and understanding boyfriend she used to love was gone. All the plans and dreams they built together, has been thrown like an old rug. To think that he made her believe that he was the one for her. It was all nothing but lies. She was stupid enough to believe his lies.

She felt like she was being scammed by her ex-boyfriend. After hearing his flowery words, placing her trust in him and getting what he wanted from her, he suddenly disappeared. It sounded bitter, but that that was the truth. She was still in pain.

Joy was back to reality when she felt something on her face. Wacky was touching her left cheek, gently wiping her tears.

“Still crying for that jerk, princess? Is he even worth it?” His gentle, soothing voice made her cry even more.

The next thing she knew, he wrapped himself on her, hugging her tightly. She couldn’t help but close her eyes and savor the moment when he slowly caressed her back. She felt secure. Being in his arms was the safest place for her.

She stayed a few more minutes in his embrace before she felt herself calm down.

“Do you need to spend more money just to forget about him?” he suddenly asked, breaking the silence.

“Part of moving on.”

He slightly pushed her away and held her shoulders. “Part of moving on? Really? It’s okay to spend money if it goes to something more useful like investments or helping the less fortunate. But, what you did was completely wasting it. It means your steps for moving on were useless and was for nothing.”

“Hey! Be sensitive, would you? I’m still human and hurting.”

“If hurting you would wake you up from what you’re doing, then I would gladly do it.”

Joy was about to defend herself, but choked on her own words when his lips pressed against her forehead. She was caught off guard by the gesture. She felt a tingling sensation that ran through her veins. Was it sparks? She asked herself.

She was still in a state of shock when he pulled away and went to the souvenir shop. He came back with the feathered necklace in his hand. She held her breath when he put the necklace around her neck. “I’m giving you this dream-catcher for you to remember it differently. So that when you look at it, you won’t remember that jerk but me. No one else but me.” 

Joy touched the necklace before she could even stop herself. “Hm, thanks?”

Wacky didn’t respond and just stared at her. She didn’t know how long they stared to each other. Joy just heard him groan in frustration and noticed that his ears started to redden. “Stop staring, princess. You don’t know how much I tried to control myself from refraining to kiss you right now.”

Her cheeks turned crimson red. “Why are you so being nice right now? Are you serious in the babysitting job?” she managed to ask, ignoring the strange feelings she was feeling right now. She can’t develop feelings towards him this fast. They only met a few days ago and she barely knew anything about him except for the fact that he has no family.

“Who says I’m babysitting you? I’m here because I want to, not because your father requested me to look after you. Even if he didn’t request it, I would still do it.”

“Why?”

He just shrugged in response. But seconds later, "You know what? I envy money.”

"Why?" she asked, frowning.

He smiled. That made her heart skips a beat. "Because it has value and it has an important role in your life.

CHAPTER 4

 

“If he was ice cream, he would’ve already melted by now.”

Joy glanced at Pia and Ana who were now sitting beside her. She shrugged in response to Pia’s statement before looking back at the guy who she was staring at which she wasn’t sure for how long. Wacky was busy helping the guys grilling some fish. This would be their last night here in Castilla Villa before they headed back to the city tomorrow morning.

“What’s with the stare?” she heard Pia again.

“Nothing. Just curious,” she simply replied without leaving her gaze at Wacky.

After their conversation outside the villa, Joy started to be curious about him. She would find herself staring at him without even realizing it. Her first impression about him proved her wrong. He was really something more than meets the eye.

“What?” Joy asked when she noticed Ana was staring at her meaningfully.

“Do you have feelings for him now?”

She gasped in disbelief. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Well, you were staring at him differently. It’s the same way you looked at your ex before,” she answered bluntly before looking back at the curly-haired boy. “I can't blame you. He's kinda mysterious, but looks cute and handsome at the same time. His mysteriousness adds to his appeal.”

Curiosity and feeling the hots for him are two different things,” Joy answered nonchalantly. She mentally cringed her neck when Wacky’s voice echoed in her head, saying things similar to what she said earlier. “And I don't feel the hots for him if that’s what you're trying to imply. Just even thinking about it is already giving me the creeps,” she added.

Pia raised an eyebrow. “Still choosy? Wacky maybe not your type of guy. But compared to your good-for-nothing ex, I think he's a nice guy,” she stated, crossing her arms to her chest. ”Your ex only used you like an ATM machine. He was only there for you and acting like a real gentleman because he got something from you. But, the moment you refused and he didn't get what he wanted, his true colors just came out. He even had the guts to dump you. What a real jerk, right?”

“Hey, relax. It’s already in the past and no one's arguing with you,” she consoled her friend, but Pia rolled her eyes in response.

Minutes later, she heard Ana sigh. “We planned this trip not just for us to have fun. We pushed this for you to have fun and forget Drew,” she stated, emphasizing the word ‘you’. “Even if you don’t tell us, we know that you’re still hurt because of him. You’re still in pain. We can’t blame you. He was your first love after all. But, you have to move on, Joy. He’s not just the only guy out there. He didn’t deserve every penny you spent on him. He’s not even worth every single tear you shed for him.”

Joy couldn't help but smile at her. She was grateful because she had friends who were always there for her. When she and her ex broke up, she lost count on how many times they called her a fool. Even when she was still in a relationship with him, they already called her a big fool. Of course, she just ignored them since she was still foolishly in love with him at that time.

“Don’t worry, girls. I learned my lesson. And move on? I’m getting there.” I smiled, reassuring them. She was done investing so much money and emotions in the wrong person. Like her friends said, he wasn’t even worth every single [OCK1] of it.

When she looked back at the boys, especially at Wacky’s direction, his eyes met hers. Her heart skipped a beat when he genuinely smiled and winked at her. She smiled back sheepishly before averting her gaze. Her two girl friends teased her when they noticed it. She shrugged it off, but she could feel her cheeks burning red.

“I met Wacky on the street. I couldn’t stand to see him searching for food on the garbage, so I invited him to eat with me in a fast-food chain. He was only nine years old back then.” Her Dad’s revelation about him made her dumbfounded. She wasn’t able to utter a word.

One week since second semester started. Joy asked her Dad about Wacky’s identity. She last saw him after their Ilocos trip. She didn’t have his contact number which is why even if she wanted to ask the guy herself, she couldn’t. What she only knew about him was that he was living on his own and he had no family but her father. The more days passed without knowing him, the more it frustrated her. Only her father could help with her dilemma.

He continued, “I asked where he lived. He said that he was already living on the street for almost two years. Accoridng to him, after his parents died when he was seven, his mother’s step-brother abused him. When he got a chance to escape, he did and never came back to that guy.

“I told him that I’ll send him to the DSWD, but he refused and asked if he can work for me. Whatever job, he’ll accept it just for him to earn money and support his needs. That day, I admired him. At a very young age, he already knew how to live on his own without depending on anyone.”

“It must’ve been hard on him,” she murmured.

“It was,” he agreed, nodding. “Without thinking twice, I told him that I couldn’t allow him to work for me. Instead, I offered him to live with us and would support his studies but he refused. I tried to convince him, but he refused again. In the end, I offered a proposition. He could rent the maid’s quarter’s area beside the restaurant and he would work part-time on weekends as his payment. I’d support his studies, and then he’d take care of his allowance. He’s a working student now.”

No words came out from her mouth. After hearing those words, she couldn’t help but admire him more. Who would have thought that behind his quirky attitude and playfulness, he already experienced hardships at a very young age. When she was nine, she was living a comfortable life and her parents were buying everything she wanted.

 “He’s a nice guy, princess,” her Dad stated.

No doubt about that. Maybe he was annoying, but she was sure that he’s a good guy and a very responsible one, too. Joy didn’t know why she felt a sudden pang of regret for not knowing him earlier. How she wished that she had met him first before Drew.

“Out?” Joy asked in astonishment. After her afternoon class, she was a bit surprised when she saw Wacky, standing outside the campus.

She met his gaze and her heart almost jumped out of her ribcage. She was even more surprised when he walked towards her and asked her out.

“Yes, out.”

“As in out? Together?” she repeated as if his question didn’t sink in.

“Yes, together. Just you and me. Out as in date, if you want to put it that way,” he answered, holding his nape with a timid smile on his lips.

Date? He was asking me out on a date?! Joy exclaimed on the back of her head.

“So?” His voice was almost pleading and waiting for her reply.

“Okay. I don’t have anything to do, anyway,” Joy answered with a straight face. Wacky didn’t need to know that she was excited for their first date.

On the other hand, the curly-haired boy couldn’t stop himself from smiling widely. His face even lit up in delight when she said yes to him.

She cleared her throat, stopping herself from smiling back at him. “Where would you take me then?”

“To a dating place where we could enjoy together while doing it. And I bet you still haven’t gone there.”

Her forehead creased. A place she still hasn’t visited? Hm. Wait…. Her eyes widened when a particular place popped on her head. Damn! Did he mean—

“Ouch! What was that for?” Joy asked in confusion, massaging her forehead where he had hit her.

“Stop imagining green things. I never thought of you as a pervert,” he stated, shaking his head.

She felt her cheeks turn crimson red. “Who said I was imagining green things? I’m not a pervert!” she answered defensively.

He chuckled. “Really? Your beautiful face tells the opposite, princess.” He stopped teasing her when she glared at her. “Okay, I’ll stop. Shall we?” Wacky extended his right hand to her.

Joy rolled her eyes before accepting it. “Just make sure that I’ll be really enjoying our date in your so-called ‘dating place’.”

“Sure, princess. You won’t be disappointed,” he answered with a smug smile on his face.

She raised her eyebrow. “Let’s go then and impress me.”

“We’re here.”

Joy frowned when she saw where they stopped. There were many people around, buying and eating street food. “Where are we?” she asked even though she already had an idea of where they are.

“Night market.”

“And what exactly are we doing here?”

He turned his eyes on her. “To have a date?”

“This is the dating place you were talking about?” she asked, frowning even more.

“Yes.”

Joy looked at him in disbelief. “Seriously? This is it? I thought –”

“You thought what?” he cut her off. “That I’d take you to a fancy restaurant? Or to the mall to watch a movie? That’s pretty common nowadays. You’re not like that, princess. I want you to feel how special you are. Money and place don’t really matter on a date as long as you’re with the person you love.”

His last sentence made a big impact on her. It kept echoing in her head. “But, why here?” she only managed to ask.

“I want you to experience something new and enjoy it. You’ve never been here before, right? Let’s go.”

Before she could even protest, he already held her hand and dragged her to the food stalls. A few minutes later, “What’s this?” Joy asked after Wacky placed food on their table. Well, that is if she could really call it food.

“You never tried street food, right? This is the perfect time for you to try it. Fish balls, squid balls, and kikiam. And this one, isaw, kwek-kwek and balut,“ he said, pointing at the food, one by one. 

Joy didn’t reply to his statement as if she didn’t really know what those foods are. She knew what the food was, but didn’t try. She witnessed her rich high school classmates curse and feel disgusted when they ate street food. Most of them vomited and even passed out. It was not an exaggeration.Because of that incident, she never tried it, scared that what happened to them might also happen to her.

Wacky pricked a fish ball on his stick and hover it in her mouth. “Say ah.”

Joy looked at him hesitantly, but he just gave her a wide smile, urging her to open her mouth. Argh! Whatever! She told herself before swallowing hard and opened her mouth. With her closed eyes, she chewed the fish ball slowly.

“How was it? It tastes good, right?”

Nodding, she replied, “Yeah. Not bad.”

“You can also try this one.” Automatically, I opened my mouth again to take the kwek-kwek that was placed on a stick.

“It tastes good,” she said in awe while nodding. After that, she found herself digging the street food that was placed on their table. She also did what Wacky was doing. She took her stick and got one fish ball and hover it on his mouth, he ate it indulgently.

"I heard something from my Dad about you."

"You heard?" he asked, not convinced on what she had just said.

She heaved a deep sigh. "Actually, I asked him about you."

"What did Sir Atom tell you about me?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"He told me when, where and how he met you. Enough information to know your past. And I'm sorry."

"There's nothing you can do about the past. Also, I don't need your pity now," he said in a flat tone.

Oh, no! Did I anger him? She muttered to herself. She quickly shook her head. "That's not what I meant. I don't pity you. Actually, I admire you. At a very young age, you were already working and living by yourself."

"I need to because I don't have anyone to depend on. I was lucky to meet someone like your father. I am always grateful to him." He leaned forward. "If it's not out of pity, then why are you saying sorry? That's not you, princess."

She didn’t argue. "I know. I was sorry for being stubborn and being a brat during our Ilocos trip."

"“It was given that you’re a brat and I'm used to it now," he stated, grinning widely.

Joy didn't mind his teasing. She stared at him for a moment. "How could you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Smiling and teasing despite your sad past. If I were you, I’d already hate my messed-up life because it’s unfairn."

"I did, princess. I did hate the world and almost threw my life away. But then, I woke up one morning, remembering what my parents told me before. Nothing would change if I blamed the world. Nothing would happen even if I whined about it for the whole time. When I got the chance to meet your father, I grabbed the opportunity without thinking twice. Instead of making a fuss on how life was unfair to me, I stood up and worked hard. Not only for myself, but also for your father. That's the only thing I can do to repay his kindness to me. Actually, I'm thankful for what happened in my life before."

"Why?"

"Because if you and I were on a different situation, I doubt if I would meet your father. I don't think I would also meet you, staring and having this conversation with you right now."

She couldn't help herself but smile genuinely at him. "Point taken."

“I miss your smile.”

“Huh? That was only more than a week ago?”

“No. After breaking up with your ex, I haven’t seen the smile reach your eyes until now. And I’m glad to see it again.”

“Y-you mean, you already saw me before the Ilocos trip?” He nodded. “When was the first time you saw me?” she asked, almost a whisper.

 “When Sir Atom took me to your house three years ago. That was my first and last visit there. If I remember correctly, you didn’t pay me any attention. I can’t blame you. You were still foolishly in love with your ex at that time, smiling from ear to ear.”

Joy’s brows furrowed even more, trying to recall what he just said to her. Then, she remembered the day when they had a visitor. She was so busy wrapping the branded wristwatch which was a gift to Drew that she didn’t even bother to look at them when her father introduced the new visitor. 

“Oh! I think, I remember now.”

“Do you know why I brought you here?” Wacky suddenly asked.

“For a new experience?” She was hesitant on her answer.

“With or without money, you can still enjoy life. Money can’t buy one’s happiness. Money can’t buy love. You can do what you love without compromising anything, without spending too much. I saved enough for my future. Still, there’s one investment I wanted to try.” He held both her hands, looking intensely at her. She felt it again. The familiar sensation that was running through her every time she would meet his gaze. “I want to invest all my time, effort and feelings…even my heart. Actually, I’m investing everything on you, princess. And I hope you accept it.”

er heart beat hard and louder. Wacky’s words struck something directly in her heart. She felt warm inside. After staring at each other in what seemed like forever, she found herself nodding and smiling widely at him without any fear and full of anticipation.

If there’s something Joy learned from him, it was how to spend money, time, effort and feelings with the right person. They said in investment, it’s uncertain, but you have to take a risk. Just like in love. And she’s taking a risk now. Because she knows, even if she invested everything on him, she was sure that she would also get everything in return with so much interest.