05 January 2009

No Need for Normalcy! - Chapter Fifteen

Hi, everyone! The good news is that you don't have to wait an additional two months to read the next chapter of No Need for Normalcy! - because it's already here! Chapter Fifteen starts where Chapter Fourteen ended.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it...

Chapter Fifteen: Dinner at the Huangs’

The last thing he remembered was hearing Miss Luce speak in Fookien; after that, everything went dark.

When he awakened, her worried face was the first thing he saw. She was wafting a bit of cotton soaked in ammonia beneath his nose. He blinked, thinking it was all an illusion. Then, he squeezed his eyes shut again.

“Are you okay?” he heard her ask him.

He opened his eyes again and saw her clasp both his hands in hers.

“His hands are cold,” she told Jake who sat beside her on the floor.

“Did you eat anything at all today?” Jake asked him.

“I had a proper lunch,” Gilbert replied weakly. He propped himself up on his elbows and squinted at them. He winced when everything seemed to spin around him. “I just had a bit of a shock, I think.” He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “Jeez, that was nasty…”

Yaya Bea came in and handed him a glass of water. Nearby, his grandmother sat in an armchair flanked by the twins, Mardi, and a girl he’d never seen before. Gua ma Sophia regarded him worriedly.

“Are you getting enough sleep, syoti?” she asked him in a stern tone of voice.

Gilbert sat up and took a few sips of water. Oh, boy… he thought worriedly. I’ll be in major hot water if Gua ma finds out about my insomnia.


“Um, yes, Gua ma,” he replied.

He slid a sidelong glance at Miss Luce. A single raised eyebrow pretty much told him that she wasn’t buying the story he was trying to sell his grandmother.

“Your glasses,” she murmured to him, handing over the wire-framed spectacles.

“Thanks,” he replied.

“Well, if you’re feeling better, I think we should go into the dining room,” Gua ma said, rising decisively.

“You can all go ahead,” Gilbert assured them. “I’ll catch up.”

Everyone followed Gua ma into the dining room. Everyone, that is, except for Luce. She hauled herself off the floor and sat next to Gilbert on the sofa.

“You lied to your grandmother, you know,” she told him quietly.

“Yeah,” Gilbert admitted shamefacedly. Wearily, he rubbed his eyes before putting his glasses back on. “I just don’t like it whenever she fusses over me. It’s not like I’m around Pixie’s age or Ginger’s.” He frowned and turned to look at her. “It’s not like I don’t like my grandmother,” he was quick to assure her. “Only, it’s my mother I miss whenever she fusses.”

Miss Luce regarded him with understanding. She took one of his hands and squeezed it. “When we were in school,” she said, “the twins used to gripe and say that your mom and dad loved you better than either of them.” She smiled. “Probably because, according to Graham, you were better behaved than either him or Bettina.”

“Not really,” Gilbert admitted with a smile. “Ask Achi; she’ll tell you about the time when we were on vacation in Baguio and I put a couple lizards in her bed.”

“You didn’t!” Luce exclaimed in horrified glee.

“I did!” Gilbert laughed. “Dad said her screams probably echoed across the whole Mountain Province.”

“Graham scammed it up with you, didn’t he?”

“No, I did it on my own.” Gilbert dimpled impishly at her.

Miss Luce gaped at him, as if she couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact. Then, “I wouldn’t have thought it of you! Really!”

“Why not?”

“Well…” Miss Luce looked away and he could see her face was turning red. “You don’t look the part,” she blurted nervously.

Gilbert slyly narrowed his eyes at her. “Would you believe me if I said I only look innocent?” he said.

Miss Luce looked at him for what seemed to be an eternity. Then, to his amusement, she laughed.

“No,” she admitted ruefully. “I can’t.”

They both laughed. Gilbert studied Miss Luce as she chuckled. He thought she was pretty. More than pretty, he thought, feeling the blush rising from his neck to his face.

“Are you okay?” she asked him, concern suddenly replacing the laughter.

“Yeah, why?”

“You’ve gone all pink!” She pressed the back of her hand against his neck. “Not feverish, are you?”

“Nah,” Gilbert assured her. He placed his hand over hers to remove it, but suddenly stopped. His gaze seemed to lock into hers. He rested his hand and closed it over hers. Mercifully, she didn’t pull her hand away.

“Gib?” Ahiya Graham’s voice called, breaking the moment. “Where are you? We’re starving!”

Gilbert glared sourly in the direction of the dining room. “I hate it when he does that!” he grumbled, feeling more than a little put out when Miss Luce withdrew her hand.

“We used to call him the ‘Romance Wrecker’ back in college,” she snickered. “Whenever Jake and Bettina wanted a moment to themselves, Graeme would suddenly show up and ruin the mood!”

“I think he’s trying to get back at me for all the times I ruined his moments with Ate Mardi!” Gilbert sighed. He got up and extended a hand to Miss Luce to help her up. “Thanks for helping me wake up, Miss Luce.”

“You’re welcome.” He was about to walk to the dining room, but she held him back. “Um, if…” She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “If we’re going to be friends, you can drop the ‘Miss’ and just call me Luce.”

Gilbert felt his heart do somersaults when she said that. He squeezed her hand and beamed happily at her.


“Luce, I’m going to throw a fit right now if you don’t give me the recipe for this pork!”

Dinner was a most enjoyable affair. Everyone raved about the pork dish Luce brought over and both Bettina and Mardi demanded the recipe. Bettina’s dimsum earned more than their fair share of compliments. Mardi made amazing side dishes and the menfolk knew they would hate themselves if they didn’t do her cooking justice. Yaya Bea’s ngohiong was, for that evening anyway, the last word as far as that particular dish was concerned.

“Save some space for dessert!” Bettina cajoled them all.

Ah, yes, dessert… When the dinner plates were cleared away, Yaya Bea entered the dining room with a tray set with a stack of smaller plates, a knife, a can of whipped cream, and a most toothsome-looking pie. Luce rose and took the tray, murmuring thanks and telling Yaya Bea to grab a seat.

Luce held up the can of whipped cream and raised a questioning eyebrow at everyone at the table. “You guys want me to splodge this on now, or do you want me to put this on individual slices?” she asked them.

“No cream for me!” Jake chuckled, patting his ample belly. “I think I’ve had enough.”

More than enough!” Bettina teased her better half. “I think you and Gib were trying to take down the platter of ngohiong between yourselves! The rest of us only had one roll apiece!” She grinned up at Luce. “Bring on the cream, Luce!”

“What about you, Mrs. Kua?” Luce asked the old lady sitting beside her.

“Oh, you only live once, darling.” Her eyes sparkled with mirth. “Cream for me – and I hope you and your lovely sister can call me Gua ma like my little ones.” As an afterthought, she added, “Or Mama Sophia, if you’re not comfortable with Fookien.”

Luce smiled and set a generous slice before her, taking care to top it with a small mountain of whipped cream.

“Here you go, Gua ma,” she said. She turned to Ginger and Pixie who were staring at the pie with unabashed yearning. “Cream for you, piglets?”

“Yes, yes!” Pixie shrilled in delight.

“What do you say, Pixie?” Mardi gently admonished her daughter.

Meekly, Pixie lowered her head and said, “Yes, please, Tita Luce.”

“There’s a good girl,” Graham beamed. “But not too big a slice, Luce; her pediatrician wants her to trim down a little.”

“Me, too, ninang!” Ginger crowed. “Please?”

“No prob, kiddo.” Luce cut small, equally-sized portions for the children and added dollops of cream before handing them over.

“Aren’t you going to cut me a slice?” Gilbert protested, seeing how Luce was serving everyone before him.

“Wait your turn,” Luce rebuked him primly as she passed around plates to everyone from Graham to Yaya Bea. She put a plate with a rather thinnish slice on her place, then placed the pie plate before Gilbert. The plate was still about a quarter full. She held up the can of cream and asked rather archly, “Would you like cream on that, o man of the house?”

“Hey!” Graham protested. “What if I want a second slice?”

“Be nice, Graham,” Gua ma Sophia snapped at him between small bites of pie. “It’s Gilbert’s house and I believe Lusia meant the pie as a hostess gift for him. Am I not right, dear?”

“That pretty much sums it up, Gua ma,” Luce replied with a smile as she sat down.

Gilbert made a playful face at his older brother and forked up a large bite of pie. It was very good: rich, fudgy, not too sweet, and the cinnamon-spiced crust went perfectly with the creamy filling. He sighed rapturously as the pie melted in his mouth.

“Oh my goodness!” Bettina declared, her own small eyes widening in delighted surprise. She put down her fork and clapped her hands. “That was fabulous, Luce!”

“Not bad for a girl who didn’t learn how to bake till after college, ne?” Luce grinned mischievously and winked at her friend.

“You can’t be serious!” Gua ma Sophia exclaimed, surprised by this announcement. “But this seems like the work of a master patissier!”

“Thank you, Gua ma; you’re very kind.” Luce inclined her head modestly to the older woman. “But it’s true: I could cook, but baking was beyond me till after we were done with school.” She chuckled ruefully. “My grandmother was very put out with me for that, seeing how Gran was – and still is – the family’s reigning Queen of Desserts.”

“You should have seen our Gran’s face when Ate finally got her cinnamon roll recipe right,” Kitty chimed in between bites of pie. “Lucifer had nothing on her; she was just so proud!”

Gua ma Sophia studied their faces. Then, “Your grandmother?”

“Our maternal grandmother,” Luce nodded. Then, she grimaced. “We do not get on so well with our paternal one.”

“I just realized…” Gua ma raised an eyebrow at the Saavedra girls speculatively. “Your grandmother wouldn’t be Carmela Imatani, would she?”

The Saavedra girls stared at her, startled.

“Yes, she is,” Luce replied.

“I should have known – I should have guessed!” If she’d been jovial before, Gua ma now looked tickled pink with delight. “We were friends many, many years ago; still are, though I haven’t seen her in ages. How is the old dear?”

“Quite well,” Luce assured her. Sadly, she added that her grandmother now had to walk with a cane. “Gran says it’s what she gets for all those cakes she baked when she was younger – her knees are having a hard time supporting her weight.”

“Goodness! But she isn’t diabetic, is she?”

“No, Gua ma, it’s just her joints that are giving her grief.” Luce grinned. “Otherwise, she’s still the glampuss she’s always been.”

“You know Luce’s grandmother?” all three of the Huang siblings declared incredulously.

“We were girls in school together,” Gua ma remarked with a shrug. “Later on, Mela drew your grandfather and me into their social circle; her husband was a diplomat, you see. Thanks to the Imatanis, your grandfather was able to accumulate business contacts.”

“What a small world!” Graham murmured.

“She was a magnificent beauty,” Gua ma went on. She nodded towards Luce. “She looked very much like Lusia here when we were younger.” She narrowed her eyes slyly at her. “I hope this means that she’ll age quite gracefully in the years to come.”

Lusia blushed and lowered her face. Gilbert looked her way and smiled.


“Aw, hello, foldie!”

After dinner, Gilbert ushered everyone back to the living room for an evening of music. Kitty Saavedra had not said much during the meal, but she was thoroughly enjoying herself. The Huangs and their feisty grandmother who arrived so suddenly were very interesting people. Plus, Gilbert had such an amusing-looking cat. Kitty carefully removed the snoozing feline from an armchair before she sat down. The cat simply stared up at her, then went back to sleep in her lap.

“What’s her name?” she asked Gilbert.

“Oh, that’s Yi-Che,” he replied, smiling. “It means ‘pearl’. I gave her the name because her head looks like one. You know: ears folded close and all that.” He turned to Kitty’s Ate Luce. “Do you keep a cat?”

“He was snoozing when you were at the house Friday night,” Luce replied with a dimpled smile. “His name’s Bartholomew and he’s a Scottish Shorthair. It’s a breed related to the Scottish Fold.”


“He’s a Garfield cat,” Kitty chimed in. “Big, fat, and orange.” As an afterthought, she added that Bartholomew wasn’t as lazy as the comic strip feline. “He’s a very good mouser.”

Everyone had settled in. Mama Sophia sat across from Kitty in another armchair; Pixie was perched on one arm and Ginger was snuggled comfortably in their great-grandmother’s lap. Kuya Graham, Ate Mardi, Ate Bettina, and Kuya Jake were all on the sofa. The babies were in their mothers’ arms. Gilbert and Ate Luce were sitting on the floor beside the baby grand piano, rifling through a small wooden chest where the musical pieces were kept.

“You play Gershwin?” Ate Luce asked.

“Our parents loved the standards,” Gilbert replied.

“You sing?” Kitty sat up when she heard the amusement in her sister’s voice.

“A bit,” Gilbert replied. He got up and sat on the piano bench, opening the keyboard lid in the process. He warmed up with a few scales, then grinned at Ate Luce. Gilbert began with a rippling cascade of notes, and proceeded to sing:

There’s a somebody I’m longing to see
I hope that she turns out to be
Someone to watch over me.

I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood;
I know I could always be good
To one who’ll watch over me.

Kitty noted the look on her sister’s face. She was shocked; obviously, she was not expecting their host to sing in such a warm tenor or in a manner that rivaled most balladeers’.

Though I may not be the man
Some girls think of as handsome
To my heart she’ll carry the key.

“Who told him he wasn’t handsome?” Mama Sophia demanded sotto voce of Ate Bettina.

Won’t you tell her please to put on some speed?
Follow my lead, oh how I need
Someone to watch over me.

“That was lovely,” Ate Luce murmured admiringly.

“Thank you,” Gilbert replied without turning.

It was at that point that Mama Sophia caught Kitty’s eye and, quite deliberately, winked.


Meanwhile, far off in Tokyo, another young man was busy singing. Not for pleasure, alas, as Gilbert Huang was currently doing in Manila; this young man sang for a living. Unfortunately, he wasn’t doing so well at the moment.

As if hitting the wrong notes wasn’t bad enough, his pet Chihuahua kept howling along with him.

That does it!” Shinichi fumed, slamming down the lid of his piano. He grabbed little Koyuki off the floor and dealt with him with the business end of his house slippers. His bandmates were horrified by this sudden act of violence on the tiny white dog.

Shinichi!” YuYa shrieked at him, quickly grabbing Koyuki from his irate master’s clutches. “How could you?” he demanded, gently rubbing down the frightened dog. “He hasn’t done anything wrong!”

“What the hell do you mean he hasn’t done anything wrong?” Shinichi roared at him. “He howled, damn it! He howled every time I hit a wrong note!”

“That doesn’t mean you should spank the dog!” YuYa shot back hotly. “Gods, Shinichi! You’re so damned full of yourself!”

“What’s eating you, man?” Shura asked worriedly. “You’ve been more than a little antsy of late.”

“’Antsy’?” YuYa snorted derisively at the idea. “More like he’s been pissed ever since we found out Luce had a crush on the Huangs’ kid brother.”

Shura stared at Shinichi in disbelief. The whole room fell silent and every eye was suddenly on the raging vocalist.

He was about to say something, but YuYa beat him to it.

“I don’t think you’re jealous, Shinichi,” YuYa said bluntly. “You and Luce are pals, but you’ve never thought of her as a woman.”

“More like one of the boys,” Ranmaru remarked to no one in particular.

“You just don’t want her to be happy,” YuYa continued smugly, cradling little Koyuki in his arms. “I mean, you think that if you’re miserable, nobody else has the right to be happy.”

Shinichi gaped at him incredulously as he made his way out of the room.

“Just one thing,” YuYa declared as he stood in the doorway. He shook a warning finger at Shinichi. “I sincerely hope you’re man enough to face the consequences if you get in her way.” With that, he and Koyuki flounced out of the studio.


As with all my other writing projects, you probably know the drill already. Did you like this chapter? If you did, please feel free to write your comments at the end of this post. Plus, if you want to get more updates regarding No Need for Normalcy or any of my other writing projects, drop me a line at midge.manlapig@gmail.com.

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