Everyone has tears in their eyes, specially after the suma cum laude gave his speech. Excitement and anxiety are slowly creeping at the back of each student’s head as the thought of facing the real world approaches them. What am I going to apply for? What company will accept me? Who will be my new colleagues? Will I still be able to get in touch with the friends I have now in college? Will I be successful like mom and dad? These are some questions that they wanted to be answered. After the ceremony, most people are jumping with the beat of their hearts while some are taking pictures of themselves. Everybody is happy and celebrating.
Flory, one of the students who graduated as cum laude, runs to her family excitedly. Finally, something she can be proud of --- can make father proud of. Her heart is beating its way out of her rib cage. Her hands and feet are starting to sweat coldly --- a thing that happens whenever she’s nervous.
“An honorable mention? I’m expecting more from you,” his father uttered as he slowly walks away with a frown on his face. Flory’s immediately changes from excited and proud to sad and irritated. She then took the medals that is hanging from her neck.
“Come on, now. Don’t be sad. You did great! Well, what’s this?” Tim, her brother tries to lift her up again. He look at the medals. There are three of them. Well, she really did great! What’s wrong with her? Why can’t father just be happy for her?
Flory is slim and she has a pointed chin and a full lips. Her thick black hair is flowing carefree on her shoulders while her sad eyes are being hidden by her bangs. Her eyes are round and innocent looking, contrary to her aptitude.
She is born in the prestigious clan of Clayton who is known for their intelligence --- particularly in mathematics --- in different countries. Her Aunt is currently living and working in Dubai’s government as a geophysical mathematician. One of her third cousins is studying high school in a nearby town. And guess what, he’s always one of the top five students. He is even the topnotcher this year. Her grandfather is a statistician who’s also known all over Verona and nearby towns. Her mother is sometimes travelling to Los Angeles to work as a software engineer at SSP Blue, an online police who monitors social networking sites globally. Both her father and Tim are working in the Italian Government: her father is an operations research analyst, while her brother is an actuary. All these things keep pressuring her to do her best, yet she still can’t even make her father smile for her. Everyday, he would just keep on asking her why she can’t ever graduate as number one --- like her brother. She never even finishes school years as a valedictorian, always an honorable mention --- unlike her brother who’s always either a valedictorian or a salutatorian. He’s even the MVP in soccer since he started in grade 5. Even though some of the teachers are really fond of her, there are still those who are quite disappointed in her --- just like her father. Living a Clayton is not easy.
“Hey, Flory!” a small girl who’s sweating all over her face and neck shouts at her. It’s Chris, the only friend she made in college. “You’re suddenly gone. Your boyfriend is looking all over for you.”
“Wait! What? Boyfriend? You have a boyfriend, Flory?” Tim intruded. Flory stood there like a statue as her hands and feet sweat more and becomes cold as an ice.
“No! Boyfriend… I mean, uhh, a guy friend! Right? Remember Morris? Her childhood friend. Our classmate. He’s our --- both of us --- guy friend. Our boy friend,” she answered stutteringly as she tries her best to smile and look as not nervous as she is now. Because she knows that for sure, Flory’s father will give her a day of sermon. No questions, she’ll lose their friendship. “Well, yeah, we’re, uhh, looking for you --- of course! --- to remind you of our trip later. Bye! See you later.”
They’ll be going at Chris’ hometown, Boynton Beach to celebrate Morris’ birthday and to rest their minds before finally doing their first jobs. Flory was already offered a job a week before graduation by her father’s friend in Verona Villafranca Airport as a staff systems air traffic control analyst. Morris is already planning to apply at their school as a professor after they come back from vacation. Unlike the two, Chris still had no offers and plans. She was the one who came up with the out-of-town idea, while Morris was the one who asked permission from Flory’s father since he’s good ties with him.
Flory’s room is cluttered with her baggage, shoes and clothes laid everywhere. She is starting to pack her things for their getaway. Running here and there with her heart throbbing, she’s smiling from ear to ear while looking for the right clothes to bring. Finally, an escape from this house! She was tired living up to everybody’s expectation.
Even before entering school, she has already been pressured by her father with her Tim’s achievement as a child. When she was still four years old, she can already identify letters, shapes and animals. She can even count from 1 to 20. She thought this was enough, but her father keeps on asking her why she can’t even read a book, write her own name, count from 1 to 100 and add them --- like what her brother can do when he’s four.
“Do you need some help?” Tim is standing at the door of her room.
“No need, thanks”
“Alright. If you need me, I’m just in the living room. Also, dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” he said in a jolly voice. How can he even act so friendly and kindly to her when he is merely a competition for her?
The dining area was quite noisy when she got there. Her parents and brother are having a great time talking with each other about their busy days at work. Tim sees her and offers her the vacant chair next to her mother.
“So, how did your checkup go?” Flory’s mother asks her father. He said he was diagnosed of hypertension, and according to the doctor, his blood pressure is 130 over 80. “Why? Why does it have to happen to you?” her mother worriedly looks at her husband as she holds his hands. Probably because of his vices like drinking and smoking, or maybe stress from work? Flory couldn’t care less. She just sat there paying half of her attention to her family talk while imagining what Chris’ house would be. Could it be built near a cathedral, a restaurant or a piazza? She tried to look down on her food as much as she can in order to hide away her happiness.
Just right after they finished their food, their maidservant comes from the front door telling them that Flory’s friends just arrived. Upon hearing this, Flory immediately tells her to let them in and to wait for her. She then gets back to her room to fix her things quickly.
There’s space everywhere, yet Flory can’t feel it due to the number of people walking from all directions, waiting excitedly and restlessly for someone they know, or simply sleeping at some chairs designated for the Verona Villafranca Airport’s customers. So, this is where she’ll be working after two weeks. At first, she was really sad that she’ll be working immediately after working her brain till the last brain cells she have, but upon seeing the blinding fluorescents attached to its high ceiling, the polished white tiles on the floor, and the cold and fresh air that embraces every people at the runway, she can’t help but be amazed and excited for her start. Yet, she is still thinking more about their vacation.
“Oh, I can’t wait! The last time that I’ve seen Boynton Beach was 5 years ago, and it was awesome. I promise you guys, you’ll forget everything when we get there,” Chris tells them in high pitch and a combination of different hand gestures.
“But I won’t forget that you almost --- no, you told my brother that I have a boyfriend. Are you really that dumb? I told you it was only because of a contest. Don’t you understand that?” Flory rants.
“Come on, grow up! It’s like I’m talking to an idiot child.”
“Hey, stop that,” Morris interrupts them. “We’re going together on a vacation and you’re arguing? Plus, I’ll be celebrating my birthday in a few days. Relax, girls.”
“Speaking of relax, we can sleep all we want in the plane because It would take us 17 hours before we get there,” Chris informs them.
“Of course we know that, idiot,” Flory rolls her eyes.
“Hey, Flory,” Morris tries to defend Chris.
“I’m just trying to tell her that she doesn’t need to tell useless stuffs like that because it’s obvious! “ she chuckles a little. “Oh, sorry. I forgot she’s dumb.” They became silent for a moment, but continues to chat their way to the plane like nothing’s wrong afterwards.
Due to Flory’s bent on sitting near the window, one of them has to sit beside another person. Tonight’s flight is fully booked with different kinds of people: somewhere in front of them looks like a family who are enjoying the company of their own gadgets altogether, while the man on their left keeps on looking at Flory’s seat time and again --- they were first agitated by his action, but later discovered that he was simply looking at the window for scenes, and Chris --- who lose in the little game they played in order to determine who will sit beside Flory --- is alongside a big dark man with a stern face who’s sitting there perfectly like a statue with his glasses on.
After eight hours, Flory is already fidgeting on her seat. She was so excited at what Boynton Beach might look like that she had totally forgot about a long dull ride on a plane before making it to Chris’ house. She kept on thinking on how many books she had left unread at home. If she just brought them with her, it would be easier for her. She had tried everything she can do: order a food from the stewardesses, go back and forth to the washroom and sleep, yet she remains restless. Flory looks at every corner in order to at least occupy her mind, until she caught herself staring at Morris’ sleeping face.
That was the first time that she had realised he had at least some good facial features. He has thin lips and protruding nose and round full cheeks --- which makes him look more like a boy than a man, together with his ravishing full brows and thick lashes.
When they were young, he was the only one that Flory can go to whenever she feels she’s lacking something. He always comforts her with his lame jokes. And if she’s still not smiling, he would pat her crown and get a good look of her downcast eyes --- which never fails to make her happy afterwards. They would always read books together everyday at her study and play at the garden sometimes. In return, Flory also comforted him when his parents died in a car crash when he was just ten years old. Since then, Morris tried to live every single day for himself and his younger sister.
But it all became memories to Flory, because when they grew older, the two of them would always compete against each other at every class they share. Flory shortly thought that Morris is no different from her brother --- a mere competition.
“What?” it seems Morris noticed her staring.
“What? No. I’m just, just looking at the window at the opposite side.”
“Come on, admit it, you really like me, right?”
“Oh shut up. Just go back to sleep,” she rolled her eyes away from Morris.
Finally after a few more hours of fidgeting, they arrived at Fort Lauderdale. Although it’s summer, the sea breeze keeps them cool. From the airport, they rent a car to Tri-Rail Station where they board a train to Delray Beach Station and walk a 10-minute walk. According to Chris, her parents are out on a trip, so it will just be the three of them for the whole two weeks.
For the past seventeen hours, Flory still wears the same clothes she wore since the last time she ate supper at their house. Upon entering the main door, she go straight looking for a bedroom without even asking where it is from Chris. She quickly throws her things on the bed, opens her baggage, puts it on a corner of the room, walks out fast entering each door she sees, looking for Chris, to ask for the washroom --- because her bladder is just 5 seconds from exploding --- then goes back to her chosen room and sleep. While she keeps on doing things by herself, the other two are helping each other open some windows and dust the furniture first.
The room was dim and she can’t see much of what it looks like. It seems a bit weird for Flory waking up in another bed and house. But what’s more weird is what she’s feeling right now. She tries to open her eyes in the room, yet it feels like she’s opening her eyes in a swimming pool with 75% chlorine. She attempts to sit up, but her head feels like it’s wearing a helmet fit for a monster the size of their house. Furthermore, her stomach is growling like the said monster, yet she’s feeling nauseous. Is this what they call jet lag? She asks herself. One way or another, she thinks that she must fight this feeling and grab some food. Before trying to stand up, she looks for her cell on the bed with her hands in the dark. It sort of took some time, she realizes the bed is large --- probably she has chosen the master’s bedroom? Putting the useless information aside, she taps the screen of her cell to check the time. 6:53? I’ve slept for eleven hours?! No doubt she feels that way. She stares there for a moment trying to find the perfect time and balance for her to stand up. Eventually, she stood up after five minutes.
As she opens the door out of her room, she was welcomed with a smell of something that is refreshing. The walls and doors in the corridor were all made of woods, even the staircase to her right. It is so different from their house back in Verona where it is built up of pillars and cobblestones and everything classic. She curiously climbs up the narrow stairs to find out where it leads to. Reaching the top, she can’t see anything due to the darkness that fills the whole room. She tries to feel for a switch on the wall. She found none. She goes back to her room to get her phone. Even though she has illuminated the walls with the light from her phone, there really is no switch. She decided to continue anyway. It sure is very spacious upstairs, there isn’t anything there except for dust and spider’s webs and everything creepy. In the end, she decides to descend the stairs.
For a night, it really is creepy that it is so quiet at a house --- knowing that she got there with Morris and Chris. Did they abandon me? Oh, hopefully not. Didn’t they know I have work to start right after this trip? She opens the two more doors at the corridor. There’s nobody at either of the two rooms. Where the hell could they be? Getting restless again, she wanders around the house. It is very spacious house filled with wooden furniture and designs at the the ceiling. The only thing that is not made up of wood are the windows.
She walks towards the backdoor, then to right round the house. She walks slowly, taking her time feeling the grass at her feet. When she has finally passed by the front door, she notices that the lamp that was supposed to be off was lit on. A few seconds more, she hears laughter. Could it be a thief? She quickly looks for anything that she can use to defend herself --- like a wood, yet she found none. So she goes back around to the backdoor to --- hopefully --- get a knife and protect herself. She cautiously approaches the door --- her hands getting really cold and sweaty --- when a shadow from inside the house suddenly appears. As the shadow quickly grows bigger and bigger, she prepares her hands up high, ready to crush the brain out of the thief.
“Oh, motherfucker!” eyes are almost bulging out of Chris’ as soon as she saw Flory with those closed fists almost touching her head. “What are you doing here? We thought you were still sleeping in your room.”
“Oh, I thought someone was stealing from your house, so I, uhh…” she breathes heavily through her mouth. “Where’re you from, by the way?”
“We went to Publix to buy us some ingredients for cooking. Let’s go, help him cook.” They walk inside the kitchen. She then hands Flory some garlic and onions and other vegetables to chop. “They were already washed by Morris. You two wait here, I have an errand to do that my mother asked me to do earlier through the phone.”
Flory, haven’t been taught how to cook once, slowly walks inside and gets a knife --- which she had planned to use against the thief earlier --- to cut the ingredients.
“Hey, what are you doing? You should cut them on a cutting board.” Morris turns to him with a puzzled face.
“Well, yeah, of course. I, I know!” she walks towards the cabinet looking for something that looks like a cutting board. Well, what could it look like? She hasn’t seen once for cooking is always done for them by their maidservant. By the way that it sounds, it should be something that is hard and flat --- to cut food, of course. She gets something from the cabinet.
“Uhh, Flory, what are you going to do with that?” Morris asks her with obvious curiosity on his voice.
“To cut food,” her voice is vanishing. It was quiet for five seconds, until Morris bursts into laughter.
“You gotta be kidding, right? That’s a saute pan!” followed by more laughs.
Flory can feel her hands start to sweat as she looks down on them. Another moment of her life when she was being sized up by someone.
“Hey,” Morris’ laughter fades away. “Sorry. I, uhh, I-I didn’t mean to. It’s been so long since I stayed at your place so… You know what, why don’t we just start cooking? I’ll teach you how. You’ve slept for long hours, you must be hungry,” Then he introduced Flory to the cutting board and a peeler.
Flory’s hands continue to sweat. Her heart is pounding. It is like one of those times when father would question her why she can’t do anything but fail. Throughout the whole three-hour cooking lesson, she’s been quiet.
Sitting crossed legs at the living room, Flory is staring at the wide space offered by the house. Chris and Morris have long gone to bed. She tried to sleep but she can’t, not after what happened earlier. She hates it everytime someone asks her why she can’t do something good. She always keeps on doing her best, yet she still feels she’s being underrated.
With those thoughts going on in her head, she heads towards the kitchen. She rummages through the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen, and found some instant noodles. I think I can start with this. She also looks for some leftovers in the fridge, like vegetables. She reads the instructions and makes sure that she accurately sticks to it. She also cut some of the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. She’s not really hungry --- in fact, she’s still full from the dinner they had earlier --- but she feels like she must at least do something so she’ll learn how to cook.
While mixing the noodles and vegetables together, a figure suddenly appears from her right --- Morris. He said he thought she was a thief. They both chuckled. He walks over to the noodles that Flory just cooked and tastes it --- Flory’s hands starts to sweat again --- then his full brows furrow. Undeniably, it is not good! Without even tasting the food she did, she takes it away from him to the garbage, but he stops her. He told Flory that they can still fix it, so Flory lets him. He gets something from the cabinet and puts it on the food. Flory doesn’t exactly know what he’s doing but it seems like he’s doing some kind of magic. Later on, she tries the noodles --- and it’s flavorful! It seems just like the food that they would order at a five-star restaurant, except for the vegetables are really stringy. Unfortunately, she still loses against Morris even with cooking.
“Flory, is there really no chance for us to be together again?” Morris’ voice became low.
“What are you talking about? I told you, it was just because of the contest. Don’t take it too seriously.”
“But, the way that you look at me back at the competition, or rather, the breaking in we did at school. And at the plane.”
“What nonsense is that? I just agreed to be your girlfriend because you asked for it! Because I can’t enter the school without your help.”
“But, Flory, I-I love you!”
“Are you foolish? You’ll just be a nuisance to my career! Plus, father will just, he will…” Flory breathes a deep sigh. “You know what, this is nonsense. Let’s stop this, I’ll be going back to my room.” Turning her back on him, Morris suddenly grabs her by her arm and forces his mouth against her. He presses her hard against the wall. Flory tries to shove him, but her strength is not enough to stop him so she kicks his groin. Morris backs off but manages to block the way out of the kitchen.
“I’ve dreamt of nothing more than you,”
“Didn’t know you’d turn out like this. Maybe it serves you right that your parents die!” She tries to suppress her heart that palpitates fear and anger and her hands that keeps on secreting pails of sweats.
“Wait. What did you just say?” Morris clutches her arms. Shaking her. “OK,” he chuckles. “You know what I’ve got to say? You breaking inside the school and changing your grades, everyone --- including the school and your family --- will know this.”
Flory’s world suddenly stop. She can’t believe what she had just heard from him. She grabs his arm and kneels and pleads him to not say anything about their intrusion, but Morris just don’t listen. I can’t let my career end even before it starts. I don’t want to see another set of disappointed eyes looking at me.
Unable to control the beasts roaring inside her heart, she reach for the knife she used earlier. Without a word, she raises her hand as high as she can and stabs him multiple times in his shoulder and neck, taking the life out of him. Dumbfounded by the egregious act she just committed, the knife slips from her sweaty hand. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault! She weeps like a child beside the lifeless body of Morris. I just wanted a good career, but look at what you’ve made me do.