A happiness came over Marie that she had not known since the first days of her romance with Edward. In fewer than twenty-four hours, an emotional rollercoaster had taken her through despair, disdain, anger, bewilderment, pleasure, and now, a softening of the purple and black bruise on her soul, a budding happiness and a healing heart beginning to feel again. The reflex action against falling in love had not materialized. She changed from a woman wanting never to love again, to a woman who thought she might have found love once more. The heart that for two years lay dormant and cold, encased in an iceberg of self-pity, the surface of which displayed a superficial relationship to healthy emotion, but beneath held room only for immense capacities of anger and contempt, and a forbidding temper apt to be displayed for a nothing, felt alive once more. Marie’s cold, hard, lifeless heart had sprung to life, thawing the frozen tendrils of passion that had gnawed at her dreams in the two years since Edward had broken her heart.
Nearing sunset, painting finished, brushes and rollers washed and stowed in the truck, children and adults cleaned of the paint that speckled their arms and faces, and it was suppertime. The volunteers who had arrived in the bus returned to the base. The nuns served the children their evening meal at the long dinner table, running back and forth cleaning up spills, urging good manners, praying to favored Saints for patience. Sister Arnalita and her remaining guests rested in the shade of a great acacia tree, drinking cold sodas and chatting about nothing in particular, or nothing at all.
Heat radiated from the blacktop of the highway, shimmered in the distance, and wrinkled the air. Marie and Sister Arnalita, sitting on the bench of a picnic table, cooled their faces with fans woven from palm fronds while the men, not acclimated from childhood to the tropical climate, sat gasping in the heat. Thankfully, the blazing sun would soon sink below the jungle treetops, leaving behind a dark canopy of night awash with twinkling stars to chase after it, a comfortable lethargy, and a blanket of satisfaction for the day’s accomplishment.
No one had the energy to disturb the peacefulness of the twilit evening. The only sound came from the buzzing of insects and an occasional shriek from something creeping, crawling, or climbing in the jungle. The whish of vehicles on the highway whispered across the orphanage every few minutes, but a feeling of serenity, rare for an establishment housing thirty or so children, floated through the comfortable atmosphere.
George, his back against the acacia, looked thoughtful as he chewed his ever-present stub of unlit cigar. Will, eyes closed, lay on his side propped up by his elbow, his head in his hand, Little Lucy nodding by his side. Frank sat next to Marie, lost in thought. Sister Arnalita and Father Michael spoke quietly, discussing the day’s work and making plans for other building improvements. No one wanted the restful evening to end.
The sound of tires crunching on gravel broke the quiet as a car turned onto the road leading to the orphanage. Sister Arnalita, curious at the unexpected intrusion, grew silent. The car drove a few yards and stopped, dust swirling in the dim light. A door opened and a man exited, walked to the rear of the car, and raised the trunk lid. Trees obscured a clear view from the group at the orphanage. After a moment, the trunk lid shut and the man re-entered the car and closed the door. The car continued toward the orphanage, driving slow as if the occupants were uncertain of their location, or reception. Whoever they were, they were well to do, that much was plain: nobody in this part of the province drove a late-model American sedan. A foreboding passed through Marie’s mind and her heart sank. A chill passed along her spine; she stood and edged to the back of the group. She saw Frank look at her, then back at the car. Sister Arnalita pursed her lips and frowned, then walked over to Marie and put an arm around her waist. She called to Little Lucy and sent her to the dining hall. The little girl kissed Will on the cheek and left the group of adults.
The black sedan stopped behind the stake-truck, blocking its exit, the engine idling several long seconds before falling silent. Darkened windows made it impossible to see those inside. A few moments passed, then the doors opened and four men stepped out. Two wore dark suits, the other two street clothes. After a moment, a fifth man exited the far side of the car and paused, apparently buttoning his coat. He spoke briefly to one of the men in a suit before turning. Straightening his tie, he walked around to the near side and toward the group. A handsome man of above-average height, well groomed, confident; a first impression would leave a feeling of arrogance before any words were spoken. Marie drew a sharp breath and the blood drained from her face: Edward. Her face took on a hard look as her anger rose, the ashen hue of a moment before replaced by a deepening red.
She took a step forward. “What do you want here? Get away. I told you I never wanted to see you again.”
Edward smiled. “What kind of greeting is this, Marie? Surely, Sister Arnalita taught you to be polite at all times, even toward those for whom you feel such loathing.
“Hello, Sister Arnalita. It has been a long time since we last met. I trust you are well?” His measured voice was a half octave too sharp to be pleasant. Sister Arnalita was charitable, but unsmiling.
“Mr. Soriano. Welcome to the orphanage. Thank you, I am well. Is there a particular reason for your unexpected visit?”
“Ah, Sister, you make it as plain as Marie does that my presence here is less than welcome. I assure you I come only to pay my respects to you and express my admiration for the good work you do in our Lord’s name. I…”
“You lie.” Marie, her face dark, hissed the words, spittle flying from her lips. She stared hard at Edward, then spat. “Why do you need these other people if all you intend is to admire the orphanage, hey? Hey? Go. Leave now.”
“Now, Marie,” said Sister Arnalita. “There is no need to be upset. I will be happy to show Edward around if he would like to see the orphanage.
“It has been a long time, Edward, has it not, since your last visit?”
“Yes. Quite a long time, Sister Arnalita. Three years since Marie showed me the place of her greatest happiness, and to seek your blessing for our relationship. Years that have passed so quickly it seems impossible that they ever occurred. So much happiness followed by such a turn of events left me an empty man for so long. I come not only to pay my respects, but to beg Marie’s forgiveness.”
“Bah. You have some other reason for coming here. You are nothing but a liar. What is it you want, you pig?”
Edward’s eyes flashed and the white scar above his left eye stood out in the dark of his face.
Marie smiled when she saw the scar. “What happened to your perfect face? Is it flawed? Is that a scar I see? Ohh, too bad for you. I think now, when you look in the mirror you will always remember me. What a pity. I will forget you one day, but you will carry me with you for the rest of your life.”
“Yes, Marie. I see you every time I look in the mirror. I think of you then, and…”
Sister Arnalita stepped forward, waving toward the Sailors. “Mr. Soriano. I am so sorry to interrupt, but I have not introduced our visitors. I am ashamed for not making them known to you before, since they have come from the Navy base to help repaint the orphanage. Without their help we should never keep the buildings looking so well.
“This is Father Michael, George Franklin, Will McBride, Frank Bailey.”
“Good evening, Father Michael,” said Edward, before granting each of the other men a slight inclination of his head, in acknowledgement.
George stared at Edward while chewing on the fat stub of his cigar. Will, arms crossed, and Frank, impassive, stood by while Sister Arnalita continued.
“We have had a busy day and are now relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Will you and your friends join us, Mr. Soriano?”
“I am so sorry Sister Arnalita, but I would like to speak with Marie alone, if you do not mind.”
“I have no interest in anything you may have to say. I wish you to go.”
Edward smiled and gave a slight nod to his men. At the signal, the four men spread out, increasing the space between them. Edward reached for Marie’s arm but Frank intercepted him and grabbed his wrist.
“I don’t think Marie wants you to do that.”
“I would ask you to remove your hand from my wrist. My friends are unpredictable in their concern for my well-being. They might mistake your intentions as hostile.”
“Let them. Marie has asked you several times to leave; why don’t you do as she asks?”
“Frank,” George said. “This is none of our business; we should stay out of it. Let Sister Arnalita handle it. She’ll ask for our help if she needs it.”
“You should do as your wise friend asks. It will spare us all needless aggravation. In fact, if Marie will give me just a few minutes and listen to what I came to say, I and my men will leave without further imposition on your evening.”
Frank released Edward’s wrist and stepped back.
Edward rubbed his wrist. “Marie?”
“No. Go away from me.”
He signaled his men and the two in street clothes withdrew butterfly knives from their pockets as they approached Marie.
Marie shrank away as one of them grabbed her while the other flourished his knife at the Sailors. Frank lashed out and cold-cocked him, knocking him senseless to the ground. The other, distracted by Frank’s move, took the brunt of Marie’s knee in his groin and doubled over, the knife flying from his grip. Will dropped him with a blow to the neck. Edward lunged for the knife, jerked Marie’s foot out from under her, and slashed her cheek as she fell. She shrieked in pain as the blade sliced her flesh. Frank kicked the knife out of Edward’s hand, then grabbed him by his hair and slammed him to the ground. The other two thugs rushed in while reaching into their jackets, but George stiff-armed one, while Will grabbed the other’s wrist and spun him around.
“Whoa there, fellas, where do you think you’re going? I think we’ve seen enough excitement for one night, don’t you?” George was a big man, bigger than Edward’s men, and stocky; he appeared larger in the dark of the night. Will was smaller, but solid-built; his grip on the other man’s wrist couldn’t be resisted. The thugs looked at Edward who shook his head.
Frank knelt beside Marie while Sister Arnalita dabbed at the wound. Marie pushed her hand away.
She screamed at Edward. “You Pig! You bastard! Go. Go away now. I hate you. I hate you!”
Edward, smiling, rose to his feet. “Well, my little Olongapo whore. You will be a trophy girl no more. Your pretty face is forever marked with a scar of remembrance. Remembrance for what you did to me. I hope you see me when you look in the mirror.” He spat blood from a split lip and wiped his face on his sleeve.
Edward and his men returned to the car. The one Frank decked wobbled on his feet. As Edward got into the car he glanced at the group and smiled. He said something to the driver and then closed the door. Seconds later the engine roared to life and the car sped away, gravel flying from the spinning tires. The car turned off the driveway and headed north on National Highway toward Subic City
Marie sobbed as Sister Arnalita led her to the dispensary to clean and mend the wound. The men followed and waited helplessly outside. The knife had cut deep but the wound was clean. Marie would need stitches in her cheek, but Sister Arnalita, trained as a nurse, did not believe there would be a scar.
“Thanks to God,” Marie said. “I would hate to be reminded of him when I look in the mirror. I would rather die than face that for the rest of my life.”
“Well, young lady, I have not forgotten the first time I gave you stitches. Those were in your foot after you stepped on a broken bottle. You were six years old. You cried so loud, but you seem to have healed well. So, let us see if I still make good stitches. No more crying now, anak ko. Hold still, this will hurt.”
Marie winced as the plunger pushed the anesthetic into her cheek. After a moment, Sister Arnalita pinched her near the wound and asked if she could feel anything.
“Okay now, good. I will stitch the wound.”
“How many stitches will you give me?”
“Oh, I think maybe four stitches are needed. It is fortunate that your aversion to Edward made you move away so quickly or the wound would have been much worse. The knife was razor-sharp, which is also good. God protected you this night, Marie. You will be thankful I am sure.
“Okay now; hold still.”
Years of caring for young children and treating their scrapes and cuts had kept her fingers nimble. They fairly flew through the air as she closed the wound and tied off the suture. She admired her work as she handed the needle and gauze pads to Sister Mary Ann and applied a small bandage to Marie’s cheek.
“There,” she said. “You look like the six-year old girl who cut her foot on the bottle so many years ago. The same big eyes full of tears, the same manner of looking away from the needle, the same look of relief when all is done.” Sister Arnalita paused and looked down, shaking her head. She looked up again, her head to one side, smiling, tears filling her soft, brown eyes.
“Oh Marie, I have missed you so much, my child. Hush. Tell no one I have said you were always my favorite. When you and Frank – no, no, do not deny it, I have eyes, I can see – when you and Frank have children, I will retire from this place and live with you and take care of your children. They will be beautiful children. I will love them the same way I love you, Marie Elizabeth Taneo.