Chapter 8

"I didn't expect you to agree to his offer, Lia." Marco, who's busy shuffling the music from my playlist, glanced at me with confusion.

"What offer?" I asked. I tapped the steering wheel as the traffic didn't bother to move. It's been three hours since we left home to travel into that stupid town. 

"You know, going back to Seviwood," he sang. The traffic is annoying, but Marco is more annoying. If he didn't make a plea to my dad to let him attend the reunion, maybe I am alone in my car playing Taylor Swift's songs over and over again. 

Seviwood is an approximately five-hour drive from Esterlight, traffic excluded. Now we are sandwiched between cars for almost three hours from now, making me regret my decision to sign that contract with my dad last week. 

I sighed and looked at the billboards that were placed on top of the buildings. There are different brands, artists, and models. There are even posters about the incoming film of some known actresses in the industry. But what stands out the most was the welcoming poster of the local radio station for Phoenix of Ascension. 

"They are officially in Esterlight now," I whispered.

"What?" Marco asked curiously. I bet his eyes are now on me, expecting an answer to his question.

"Nothing," I dismissed. I saw the cars move, so I drive towards the nearest exit of the expressway. This traffic is too much. If we continue to take this route, we can have twelve hours to spend on the road before reaching our destination. 

"Really?" he asked again. I glanced at him and saw him wiggling his brows and smiling like an idiot.

How annoying!

"Wait, where are we going?" he gasps when he realized was taking a different route. The GPS keeps telling us to make a u-turn, but I continued to drive towards the shortcut.

"This place is so creepy, Lia," he squeaked on his seat. I slow my car down to avoid hitting any children who are playing in this area. 

"This is not the expressway." Marco is now buckling himself and clicked the door lock. "This is the slumps, Lia."

I didn't mind his panic voice and drive. I saw some women dressed in mini skirts and cropped top shirts near the road. They are smoking in their heart's content while admiring my car. The children on the other side of the road were screaming and patting the car's window, expecting it to open up for them.

Marco pressed the volume up from his phone, making the music vibrate throughout the car and cancel all the outside noises. I shifted my gear to a lower setting, making the children chase us more. 

"Lia, this is not funny." He shakes in fear while I smirk. If Helene is here, I bet she's laughing at his reaction. "Why are we slowing down?"

"Shut up, Marco." I silenced him and paused the music he's been playing. I lowered my car's window and nodded at the woman who's smiling at me as she saw my face. 

The children rushed towards my side of the car and gave me their empty-handed palms.

"Miss, can you give us money?" A little boy in the who's age is five asked. I gave him a small smile. The other kids, who range between the age of three and eleven, asked the same question.

The sun was at its highest position, now making their sweaty skin glow. Their palms are open, expecting a coin or two from me, but I didn't give them any. That is not my intention.

"What brings you here?" The older woman between the crowd to ask me the question that was also Marco's. "It's been years."

I know it has been years since I've last stepped onto this place. I didn't even know that I could go back here or even drive around these areas. Many have changed. The once open subdivision for them was now called a slump. I, who have always come here before, haven't stepped outside to embrace these kids. 

"I don't even know," I admitted. The children continued to ask for money, but she didn't mind them. I heard Marco breathe heavily. He's not used to smelling sweat and the sun's heat around these areas. Even garbage isn't disposed of well, making the whole environment a lot worst. 

"You know your reason, Emilia," she stated. "He comes here often to visit these kids."

"I didn't come here to asked about him, Sasha," I objected. Her gray eyes bore onto mine. Sadness was evident, but her mouth refuses. 

"I know you won't admit it to yourself." She smiled. The wrinkles on her face were evident, but she's still beautiful. Retirement really suites her. "He too does."

"I am not here for him," I repeated.

"He always gives me the reason that he's here to avoid the traffic in the highways, but we both know it's not."

 "Yeah, whatever you say, Sasha." I rolled my eyes and tossed her the gray leather wallet that I used as an accessory at an auction six months ago. 

"What's this?" she asked as she clutched it tightly on her hands, afraid that it might fall and be snatched by the kids, who's observing in our conversation. 

"A toll fee." I smiled and gave her a salute. I closed the window and made my car move again. Some of the children still chased the car, so I pressed the gas pedal a little more. The car sped up, and the tiny humans didn't bother to catch the pace. I glanced at the rearview to see them. The old woman just received my wallet looked at my car that was driving away from that place.

"What the fuck happened, Emilia?" Marco ranted when we reached the fields outside the city. We are entering a new province, and so far, we didn't encounter any problems other than his complaints about the slumps.

"I avoided the traffic," I answered and focused on driving the car.

"No, you didn't." I can feel him shake his head to disagree.

"Don't ask who she is, what we talked about, and how I've come to know this shortcut," I declared, making him sighed in annoyance.

"I know who she is, Lia."


"But why did you visit her? She is an ex-convict, Lia!" He screamed. I shook my head and just continued to drive. I don't need to tell him a thing or two about what happened earlier. Knowing Marco, he can easily spill that tea to my relatives and my dad.

"You're not going to answer me?" he whined and grabbed a pillow from the backseat. "Fine! Good luck driving seven hours straight."

"Okay," I taunted, making him growl. 

Finally peace! 

I can enjoy driving without him asking me things that annoy me. 

I can enjoy this silence before the storm!

I drive city after city with my speakers playing songs and Marco's snoring sounds in the background. My feet are tired in driving, but I am still two hours away from Seviwood. Good thing that many passers do not yet discover this route. Else it would be another area with red marks in my GPS. 

Sasha Vale is good at making this road exist in the secret society. I mean, who would've thought that an ex-convict like her will make this traffic-free route that even the government of this country wouldn't know? Well, maybe because everyone fears the slumps. Who in the world would drive to the recessions anyway? Perhaps criminals and public volunteers. Then there's only a 1% chance that this road will be discovered.

"Are we there yet?" I remove my eyes from the road and look at Marco, who just woke up from his slumber. 

"Not yet," I replied and looked at the road again. "What time is it?"

"Five." He yawns. I heard his stomach grumble and him muttering, 'oh boy'.

"We can be there at exactly dinner time," I declared, making him say 'yes.' 

I nodded and continued to drive. 

The moon showed its luminous color. I drove past the signboard that states, 'Welcome to Seviwood'. It's been seven years since I've last stepped my feet in this progressing province in the region. Unlike before, where the fields filled with grain, now I can see tall buildings and cars honking here and there. 

I merge into the traffic as I entered the highway that leads to the ancestral house of my clan. Yes, my forefathers lived in this land, making this place my hometown too. But I wouldn't say I like this place, even for a bit. All I can think of are bad memories. I can't even remember that last time I had a good one. 

"Seviwood is different than the rest of the province in the region," Marco stated in awe. I nod, agreeing to his statement.

Finally, after some time, I saw the blue concrete road surrounded by trees on each side. There are LED lights in every trunk that guide the mansion where my great grandfather used to live. 

"Everything about Seviwood changed, including your hacienda." Marco is impressed at how time changed everything about this place. I am also in awe of how this become place becomes so progressive. 

"I miss this place," he muttered. I glance at him and saw that he's on the verge of crying. Such a cry baby!

"I don't miss it," I object and smirk while driving towards the opened gate of the mansion in the center of the Hacienda. 

The lights were in full blast, and cars were parked everywhere. Fountains on the sides of the road have their water dancing along with the different rays of light. It is synchronizing at the beat of the music. I parked my car on the farthest corner of the lawn, in that way my relatives won't recognize it. 

"Emilia, this place is a total WAP!" Marco screamed as soon as we stepped out of the car. My feet are sore from kicking the gas and brake pedals for almost eleven hours. Good thing that I am using my rubber shoes from Gucci, else I would be passing out from blisters and sprained ankles. 

I opened the back seat and grabbed my luggage and my backpack that has my name on it. Marco did the same with his things, and we moved towards the entrance of the mansion. Unlike the gate, the grand antique door of the estate is closed. 

"Do we need to knock?" Marco asked me, which made me look at him from head to toe. His brown slippers are new. It matched his wood-printed summer shorts and green printed polo. He seems like a wilderness explorer than a companion. 

I scoffed and immediately pulled the string that was placed on the right side of the door. A bell chimed making Marco gasp. Few moments passed, the door opened, and I can hear the loud party noises from the inside. 

Then I voice screamed. "Oh my God!" 

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