Yvonne’s investigation revealed that Tanya’s family had rented a house in a village in Jadeborough’s countryside in order to seek treatment for Tanya.
Sophia drove almost half an hour to track down the village Yvonne had indicated.
The village was located just off the fringe of town and was in better shape than she had imagined. However, it was certainly far less developed than the city.
Sophia parked her car and asked several villagers before pinpointing the low-cost flat Tanya was renting.
The privately built flat did not have an elevator, and Sophia had to trudge up six flights of stairs to get to Tanya’s unit.
The outdoor temperature in Jadeborough was nearing thirty degrees Celsius in June. Sophia’s forehead was covered in a thin sheen of sweat by the time she got to the sixth floor.
She checked the unit number and turned left after leaving the stairs.
The stench of traditional medicine stung her nose as she approached Tanya’s unit.
Sophia stared at the metal door before lightly knocking on it.
Someone opened the door soon after, and a woman who looked somewhat similar to Tanya appeared in the doorway.
Sophia guessed this woman was Tanya’s mother, Laura. She smiled and explained, “Hello, Mrs. Gomez. I’m Tanya’s university—”
“Get lost! Tanya doesn’t have classmates like you!” Laura yelled, cutting Sophia off. She then tried to slam the door in Sophia’s face.
Sophia quickly collected herself and stopped Tanya’s mother from shutting her out. “Wait, Mrs. Gomez. You’re mistaken. My name is Sophia Yarrow. I’m not like the students who visited earlier. If you think I’m lying to you, you can ask Tanya. Please tell her my full name. It’s Sophia Yarrow.”
She sounded sincere and gentle as she made her case to Laura. There was not a hint of arrogance in her beautiful eyes.
Laura could feel Sophia’s goodwill, yet she was reminded of how Tanya almost took her own life after being agitated by her university classmates a couple of days ago.
Eventually, she decided against letting Sophia in and said, “Wait here. I’ll ask Tanya.”
Laura’s expression was still cold, but the hostility in her tone had dimmed somewhat.
Sophia took a step backward and no longer blocked the door.
Tanya’s mother promptly closed the door, leaving Sophia outside.
Footsteps sounded from the stairwell—it was Tanya’s neighbor.
The man had probably never seen a woman as pretty as Sophia and stared blatantly at her.
Sophia glanced at the man but ignored him.
She returned her attention to Tanya’s unit just as the metal door opened.
Instead of Laura, Tanya now stood in the doorway.
Sophia had not seen Tanya since their graduation five years ago. Tanya looked like a completely different person. The spark in her eyes was gone. Still, when she spotted Sophia, Tanya seemed to perk up in surprise. “Sophia. It’s really you.”
She stepped back and said, “Would you like to come in?”
A pause later, Tanya suggested, “Or, should we catch up at the café downstairs?”
Sophia smiled and replied, “Sure.”
Tanya mistook Sophia’s reply as an agreement to meet at the café and was about to return to her room to change. To her surprise, Sophia strode into the house just as she turned around.
The living room was suffocatingly small at five square meters.
Sophia plonked herself on one of the stools in the room, surprising Tanya. The latter composed herself a moment later and apologized, “Sorry. My house is pretty small.”
Shaking her head, Sophia reassured her, “Don’t sweat about it.”
Tanya took one of the stools just as Laura reappeared with a coffee pot in hand. “I’m sorry, Ms. Yarrow. I thought you were one of her malicious ex-classmates from university! Just a few days ago, two fancily dressed women came knocking, claiming to be Tanya’s classmates. I happily welcomed them into the house. Dear God, they said the nastiest things to my precious Tani once they came in! I was so—”
Tears welled in Laura’s eyes as she recounted the incident.
Then, as though embarrassed over her emotional outburst, Laura wiped her tears and explained, “Don’t mind me, Ms. Yarrow. At my age, I just lose track of time and go on and on.”
Tanya called out to Laura, who replied, “I’ll prepare lunch in the kitchen so I don’t disturb you two. Why don’t you stay and eat with us, Ms. Yarrow?”
“Okay.” Sophia accepted Laura’s invitation with a smile.
Her agreement cheered Laura to no end. “Well, have fun catching up among yourselves. I’ll get started on lunch.”
Laura walked into the kitchen, and the sound of cutting vegetables soon drifted out of the space.
Tanya said by way of greeting, “You’re still as beautiful as I remember, Sophia.”
“You’re also as cute as I remember,” returned Sophia.
They rarely interacted despite being classmates in university. If Tanya had not sought Sophia out to discuss Connor’s affairs, Sophia would have forgotten the former’s appearance after years of separation.
The atmosphere suddenly grew heavy.
After their graduation, Tanya landed herself a job at a local bank in her hometown. For two years, she led an unassuming but decent life.
Later on, she got into some bad company, and coupled with a slew of malicious rumors thrown her way, Tanya gave in to the demons that lurked in her heart since her university days and fell into severe depression.
Sometime later, Sophia said, “Actually, I came to visit you today to ask for a favor.”
“I’m sorry, Sophia. I’m not too sure how I can help you in my current state.”
Tanya had always wanted to become a comic book writer, yet reality had cruelly trampled all over her dreams. Dreams are the least of my concerns for my life is a disaster.
Undeterred by her silence, Sophia smiled and explained, “I’m not sure if you’re aware of my work. I recently set up an entertainment company, and we occasionally deal in copyright investment. My friend and I just invested in a novel called ‘Silk Stream’ this year.”
Interest flashed through Tanya’s eyes. She mumbled, “I’ve read it. It’s very good.”
“We’re making a movie adaptation of the novel now, but I’d like to have it adapted into a comic as well. We’ve been busy looking for someone to helm the project, but none of the candidates have impressed us so far.”
Here, Sophie paused before continuing, “A few days ago, I attended a talk at our university. When I walked past one of the bulletin boards, I suddenly remembered how the school had once used half the board to publicize your second-place award in the National Comics Competition. Your drawing style would suit ‘Silk Stream’ immensely. Everyone has a different style of interpretation. You’ve read the novel, and I believe you have your ideas on bringing the lead couple to life. That’s why I’d like to invite you to be the lead illustrator on the comic. Of course, I realize I may be piling a lot of pressure on you through this request.”
Tanya suddenly covered her face and burst into tears.
She stammered through sobs, “I’m in a horrible state right now, Sophia. I’m not lying. I don’t know how I turned out like this, but my life is a disaster.”
When Sophia brought up her dreams and the past, Tanya felt her heart beating with purpose again.
Still, she believed she was too big a mess to deserve a comeback.
A pair of hands closed over Tanya’s. Stunned, Tanya watched as Sophia gently pried her fingers away from her face and wiped her tears with some tissues. For the first time in her life, Tanya felt that the world could be a warm, welcoming space.
Over the past half a year or so, Tanya had believed that she did not deserve to live.
“How can I help you, Tanya?”
Sophia’s gentle voice rang out beside her ear. Tanya looked up at her former classmate’s beautiful face and uttered, “I’m sick, Sophia. Very, very sick.”
“It’s fine. I’ll get the best doctors to treat you.”
To her surprise, Tanya wailed, “It’s useless, Sophia. They’re all over me like a bunch of cobras. They’ll never let me go, Sophia!”
“Who are they?”
Tanya no longer replied, appearing to have relapsed into her illness. She suddenly shrieked, pleading with “them” not to approach her.
Hearing the commotion in the living room, Laura rushed out of the kitchen and hugged her daughter tightly. “Tani, I’m begging you. Please don’t do this, okay? I’m begging you!”
Sophia had a lump in her throat as she observed the scene.