Days blurred into weeks which soon turned into months; before anyone knew it Declan was celebrating his first birthday. Surrounded by those who love him the most, his mother Chloe also known as Zoey, Lola Junee, Tom, Mari, and a few of the other villagers; Declan could be found shoving cake into his mouth, the majority of it being smeared throughout his hair and his face. With much laughter, chatter, and joyousness Chloe couldn’t have asked for a better family; she rarely ever thought about Peter, Chris, and the others, even though she still wore that thin band of gold on her finger. When asked about it by Mari and Tom she just shrugged her shoulders and left to check on Declan.
She wasn’t sure why she still wore it, maybe a reminder of the shame she had created and the fact that the end results was her own doing; or maybe it was just a reminder that she was a failure at being the proper wife. No matter the reason she still wore it, and it tended to fend off the single males in the village; the less they knew, the more they assumed the better off she was. She was not looking for a relationship, nor was she looking to get married again. She would stay a single mother for all that was concerned; yet to Lola and the village she was married and her husband was just not in the picture. When the few questions came up about her husband she deftly skirted the issue, even dodging those questions about her child that was obviously the spawn of a local.
Chloe no longer cared what others thought about her and her life, in the village she was Zoey, Tom’s sister and she needed a safe, quiet place to raise her child. Everyone had their assumptions yet none of them were closer to the truth then the actual truth itself, therefore she felt that their speculations and rumors were not hurting anyone. That is why she allowed them to say what they wanted about her behind her back and should she hear of such to her face she would just smile, shrug and walk away, uncaring. After nearly two years in the village, living with Lola, she no longer let anything hurt her as it used too; instead she was a silent pillar of strength and watching Declan growing each day only aided in hardening her resolve to be the best that she could, at least as a mother for him.
Occasionally the nights would get lonely, especially if she was sitting on the front alcove, shadowed from any light and watched the lovers of the village sneak off for a few moments of intimate privacy. She could tell what they were going to do by their soft giggles, and the brush of a hand here or there on any given body part. Of course the majority of the villagers had no real religion other then the few who have allowed the Mormon Missionaries to convert them, so they didn’t need to abide by the rules of the Roman Catholics that premarital sex was forbidden. Then again by her observances, those who snuck off together in the night always ended up becoming mates and eventually hand-fasting or marrying, depending on how much money they could scrape up to pay for such ceremonies. So no bastard children were really born within the village, and everyone pretty much stayed monogamous to their significant other.
At times she envied those who had someone to curl up with in bed at night, but then she would think about her little man and be thankful for what she had, had with Peter and his family. Declan was all the man she would ever need again, even if she was still young; marriages and mates were just a hassle that she was not prepared to deal with anymore. That is why she spent so much time with Lola, trying to learn the proper ways of being a good mother, wife and sister; even though she was not planning on marrying again she still felt it important to fit in as best as possible minus the ivory color of her skin. She was even learning to be a midwife; for Lola Junee wasn’t getting any younger and there was no other person in the village willing to take up the position, therefore Chloe was more than happy to help out.
As the festivities began to wind down, Chloe excused herself long enough to wash the birthday boy and put him down for the night. Returning to the few remaining guests she was taken off guard by a familiar face, it was Peter’s brother Chris; hiding in the shadows she held her breath as she eavesdropped on the conversation ever so thankful to Lola for teaching her the language. As he asked about a white woman named Chloe, he got the same response from everyone nearby, that there was no Chloe living in their village. Of course the villagers didn’t pick up on the fact that Chloe sounded much like Zoey, and while she was a white woman they still would not volunteer any information about her.
Looking up as Mari appeared by her side she wrapped an arm around Chloe’s shoulders, pulling her into her side. Mari didn’t quite understand what all happened, as Tom didn’t tell her everything due to his promise to keep Chloe’s secret; but she knew enough to know that what Peter had done had hurt Chloe very much and that there had to be some significance in Chris still searching for her. As Chris offered a hefty reward of $10,000 pesos to anyone who might know of any information leading to the whereabouts of this white woman Chloe; the very subject of his inquiry closed her eyes, her body trembling. Even she didn’t know why he wanted her so much, not after all that had happened, or after all the time that had passed since his confession.
Drawing in comfort from Mari she turned in her arms and buried her head into the other woman’s shoulder, silent sobs shaking her body as the tears fell, wetting the material of Mari’s shirt. As Chris turned to leave, Mari watched as Tom approached him, offering him to spend the night in their Nipa hut, as was the proper thing to do; but Tom also did this in the hopes of being able to find out more about what Chris was wanting with Chloe and why. As the two males walked away, Mari guided Chloe back into the home she shared with Lola Junee, and sitting with her she waited until she fell asleep before returning to her own hut where her husband and Chris were waiting.
Mari made coffee for the two males before turning in for the night, for Tom would tell her all that he wanted her to know come the morning light. Sure they talked about everything and had no secrets between them other than those that were promised to be kept, such as the one that Chloe had Tom promise to never tell. Ignoring the coffee, Tom pulled out a bottle of Tanduay and a bottle of sprite, pouring a glass of each he offered the first shot to Chris; he had lived within the country long enough to know the proper way to get a man to talking. By the time the rum was gone both men weren’t feeling any pain and turning in for the remainder of the night, Tom was satisfied by what he had learned from Chris.
Chris had been more than happy to open up about Chloe; he had even gone so far as to admit the seduction and adultery that had happened between the two. He told about the fact that she had come up pregnant and how she had left with just a note behind explaining that she felt she had shamed the family and felt it best to leave. Of course Tom knew all of this already, yet he let the younger male talk; eventually he opened up about his true feelings about Chloe and how deeply he loved her. The majority of his searching was just to make sure that she was okay, for he knew the dangers of a white woman alone traveling; while he hoped she would still be single, he would be okay with the knowledge of her being another man’s woman so long as she was properly cared for.
At his weakest moments Chris could not hide the anguish in his voice, nor did he try to hide the tears that filled his troubled gaze. Tom knew it was not just the rum talking, that the young male before him was completely sincere in his admission of feelings and concern for Chloe and her well being. Tom felt guilty for not telling Chris that he knew where she was, for it had to be her decision if she wished to talk with him, no one else could make that choice for her. That is why as soon as he woke from his drunken slumber he kissed Mari lightly on the lips with the promise to explain all when he returned; and headed out of the house a strong cup of coffee in hand. He knew Mari would let Chris sleep until he woke on his own, and then she would feed him and by the time Chris was ready to leave, he would be home again to see him off on his journey.
With a polite greeting to Lola Junee, he moved onto Chloe, and picking up Declan into his arms he guided Chloe outside. Sitting her down in a secluded spot so they could chat, he kept her with her back to the village and he sat across from her so he could watch out incase Chris appeared unexpectedly. With a giggling, bounding Declan on his lap he looked to Chloe and spoke. “As you know, Chris stayed the night in our home last night.”
Chloe just nodded her head at his words looking all the world as if she didn’t sleep a wink the night before. Pushing a hand through her hair she leaned her elbows on her knees and looked to Tom to continue. “Yes Mari told me about it before she returned home last night; she said you two had agreed to offer him a place in exchange for a way to get more information.”
“In spite of his family thinking him touched in the head, he has not given up searching for you; they all think you are dead or worse. Chris doesn’t believe it and won’t until he has proof to show him otherwise.” Tom continued, and as Chloe looked ready to interrupt he raised a hand to silence her would be questions. “I know you have questions, we all do, but in time the answers will be revealed. Right now you need to decide if you wish to speak with him, or let him go on in his searching.”
With that Tom got up, and leaning down he kissed the top of Chloe’s head, in the way a parent would do to a child, “I’ll keep an eye on Declan while you think about it, but if you decide to talk with Chris, you know where he will be, if not I will bring Declan back to you in a couple of hours.” With that Tom moved back towards his hut, knowing that it was risky to take Declan with him, but he was sure that Chris wouldn’t pay much attention to the child, at least not right off the bat for he would have a hangover from hell pounding in his head.
Chloe sat stunned after Tom left with Declan in his arms; her perfect little world as she had built it was slowly cracking, threatening to crumble under her. Absentmindedly she twisted the thin band of gold around her finger as she thought about Tom’s words; she wasn’t sure what he meant by them when he said that in time all answers would be revealed. Then again she wasn’t so sure she wanted to know what they meant. Leaving the ring alone she crossed her arms over her abdomen, as if to contain the fluttering of nausea there, and leaning forward some she stared off into the spot where Tom had just sat moments earlier.
Of course she had questions and wanted answers, but so would he; after all this time he would want to know her reasons why, just as she would want to know his reasons why. She just wasn’t sure if knowing the answers to her questions would be justification enough to give up her safe haven, and the only home she had come to know and love since she left Peter. Here, in the village, she felt safe, secure and part of one big family; there, with Peter and his family, she felt like an outcast, unwanted and even some resentment. No matter how hard she tried she would never be able to fit in with Chris, Peter, and their family, she would just be another ‘Kano’ but here with Lola Junee she was like a daughter, a sister and she was also the mother of Declan.
Just as Mari was about to check on Chloe, she finally moved from her position; having sat there the better part of an hour and a half, she was no more close to knowing the right thing to do then she was before. With a heavy burden weighing down her shoulders she hugged herself tightly before turning slowly to look at the still sleeping village. Normally by this time everyone would be up and doing their daily chores, but after the party the night before everyone was still snuggled into their sleeping areas. Inhaling deeply she slowly exhaled trying to calm her run-away heart and steeling her shaky nerves. Knowing that if Chris had not given up in over a year looking for her, then he would not go away so easily; in fact he would return time and time again, especially once the villagers got a visual of what this white woman Chloe looked like and they decided that the money was too good to pass up.
To keep the confusion within the village to a minimum she slowly walked towards the hut shared by Tom and Mari, her steps sluggish and each one feeling heavier then the next. Reaching the spot where Mari stood, she embraced the older woman, hugging her tightly as if to draw upon her strength. Softly Mari whispered to her, “Things will be okay Chloe, you are doing the right thing, that boy sleeping in there loves you.” By this time Tom had completely filled Mari in on what had transpired between him and Chris the night before as they killed off a bottle of rum talking the rest of the night away.
“I can only hope so Mari, I will admit that I’m scared.” Chloe told Mari in return before pulling from their hug. Straightening out her clothes, and smoothing a few strands of hair behind her ear she gave a half smile to Mari, wishing she could feel as confident as her friend was. Then with a deep breath taken in and a slow exhale she slowly moved into the hut, Mari following closely behind her.
With a nod to Tom she stopped to kiss Declan’s cheek before moving onto the second room that they used for guests or family who stopped into visit while they were at the village. Not bothering to knock on the door, she slowly opened it up, and peeking in she noticed that Chris was still sleeping. Having heard about the amount of rum that the two men had consumed the night before she gave a soft smile and shook her head lightly as she quietly walked into the room, closing the door behind her; perching on the edge of the only chair in the room she let her eyes take in Chris’ sleeping form. Of course this was not the first time she had seen him sleeping, but this time seemed much more different than those other times.
As she was about to take flight and leave, turning back on her decision to talk to Chris, he stirred in his sleep; watching him, she noticed him stretching under the covers, and as he rolled over with a groan, he buried his head under the pillows as if to block out all light and sound. Yes it seemed that the rum had the poor man deep in her clutches, and with a smirk she softly spoke, but loud enough for him to hear her. “You always did like your rum a little too much.”
With those words, Chris halted all movements and froze, blinking under the pillow he waited to see if she would speak again or if it was just a figment of his Tanduay laced dreams. Surely this was all just a dream, for there was no way that Chloe could possibly be in the same village as him, and surely not in the same hut as him. Or was it indeed possible that it could be her? All he had to do was open his eyes against the hang over and have a look for him-self to see if she was truly there or just the rum playing a trick on his mind’s eye.