Halcyon Days: Chapter 1

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Chapter One

Halcyon Days

The scream from Uncle Mat’s house tore through the air like a serrated knife, chilling my blood. Oh god somebody’s in trouble!  I dropped the book I was reading and dashed out of the house, still clad in my boxers. It was Saturday and I was planning for a good rest, perhaps another sleep-in.

Another scream, this time softer and less… painful, and accompanied by children giggling.

I rounded the corner only to find Filipe playing chapteh with Mat’s five grandchildren. The red and orange feathers leapt in the air as Filipe expertly kicked the toy with his foot. The five harimau cubs, ranging from the ages of five to ten, were giggling and clapping their hands at the spectacle. I never knew he was that good at shuttlecock. Then again I hardly knew anything about him.

The adrenaline fizzed out of me and I sank to my haunches, rubbing my face. Oi.

Filipe came into my life like a lightning bolt out of nowhere. He was my half-brother, sired by my father, the late Lord Sutherland, with another woman. I was now current Lord Sutherland. Filipe was my problem. I took him in at a moment of soft-heartedness (no, because I was not in the habit of taking in strays) and there he was, making himself comfortable in my house, in my life, in everything.

Granted that he was probably targeted by the Dark Claws and the dark elves – now things had gotten spicier and messier, hadn’t they? – Filipe found staying with me a definite improvement from his own current situation. His own house was burnt down, his possessions almost gone – only left with a box of his mother’s belongings and his life. The clothes he was wearing were half new and half borrowed from me. He shared the same body build, something I wasn’t sure to be proud of, if being my half-brother was of any indication. My advisors, Gluttony and Famine, swore he was bad news, possibly the one who would unravel everything in the Sutherland clan.

I hadn’t had the heart to chase him away.

Yet.

The red-orange feathers landed in front of me. I scooped it up and threw it back at the bunch of kids who laughed and asked me to join them. I shook my head with a smile. Later, I told them. They went away, grumbling a little before trooping back into their house for breakfast. Mat was making lontong. The smells of spice and coconut made my mouth water.

“You are up early,” Filipe flopped down beside me, happy as a puppy. He mopped his brow with a towel. His t-shirt was stained dark with sweat.

“I was having breakfast when I heard the screams, mind you,” I said a little testily.

Filipe grinned. “You should have seen the kids. They are experts!”

“I see their enthusiasm.”

“You sound like Famine.”

The comparison irked me. “No, I don’t. Joining me for breakfast? Bilini and smoked salmon or ordinary prata with curry. Your pick.”

“Anything,” Filipe said and started to make his way back to the main house.

“Anything. Whatever.” I muttered.

~*~

Since it was Saturday, I left Filipe alone and spent most of my time in Father’s study, sorting out letters, receipts and invoices. I filed the letters in, dated the invoices and matched the receipts to the correct invoices. It was basically boring and unimaginative administrative work, but it helped put me in a meditative state. It was past noon when I was done. I was itching to go for a ride on my bike.

I knocked on Filipe’s door twice before he answered. When he opened the door, I could see his mother’s possessions strewn on the floor, as if he had been looking at them one by one. I saw a jade claw, a beautiful green carved sculpture, and a stack of richly patterned textured fabrics in colors of crimson and earth.

“Want to join me for a ride?” I asked.

“You have a bike?” Filipe blinked.

“You have to ride pillion.”

“Do I have to wrap my arms around you?” A hint of amused disgust colored his voice.

“If you want to fall off, that is.”

Come to think of it, I had never told anyone about my sexual orientation, and I wasn’t the type to bring in random women into the house. I was sure that the house staff had been speculating about it. I had my brief intense crush on Jan Xu, but that was it. I wasn’t interested in anyone or anything. I had intensely erotic dreams and nothing else. I wasn’t looking for sex or a relationship. Shu Yin, Jan’s cousin, seemed to have a crush on me. I hadn’t considered reciprocating. Furthermore, I was sure that Filipe thought I was gay or at least a closet one.

I guess I had given up on looking for someone in my life.

Yet when Filipe appeared at the garage in his jeans and clean brown tee, I wondered if I had been far too lonely for a long time. After Jan Xu, I had sworn off women. Or unattainable beautiful women. Filipe looked good. I had to turn away, suddenly confused.

What the fuck.

Something wrong in your head, Gabriel Sutherland?

“Let’s go,” I growled, revving up the bike.

~*~

I tried to ignore Filipe’s arms around my waist as we zoomed down the highway, dodging between cars and trucks. This, I swore, came out of nowhere and I didn’t expect my body to react like that. I was disgusted with myself. Should I really bathe myself with acid? There was something really wrong in my head.

I focussed on the sensations of riding my bike. The power rippled through my limbs, up my legs, up my arms. The air was filled with car exhaust. I didn’t care. I loved the feeling of freedom. I gunned the throttle and the bike responded with a resonant roar. Cars became mere blurs. It was earth-bound flying of sorts. I was dimly aware of Filipe shouting in my ears. I didn’t care and didn’t answer back.

Instead I headed for my usual spot up on Mount Faber. I revelled in the roar of the engine as we raced up the winding hill, pasting cars and tour buses.

I stopped at the summit looking out into the harbor.

“Bloody hell,” Filipe’s voice reminded me that I did have a pillion rider. “That was hair-raising.”

“I am sorry,” I shrugged and pulled my helmet off, letting the breeze cool my face.

Filipe shook his head, ruffling his hair. I pretended not to see that.

“This reminds me of Manila Bay,” he said, leaning against the stone parapet. “But cleaner.”

“I see.”

“You okay? You look as if you want a drink.”

“I am fine,” I lied. Seriously, Gabriel Sutherland, you need to get your head examined. That’s my half-brother! What the fuck is wrong with me?

Filipe lifted an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. We stared at the container ships and the cranes busy at work. Somewhere music blared. The cable cars trundled across the sea to the resort island. Nearer the scenery reminded me of forest land, albeit controlled and fenced in. I toyed with a morning glory tendril. I was flooded with memories of Mat harvesting kang kong from a nearby stream. Those were happy days, when Mat was younger and taught Sharon and me a lot of things about Singapore native plants.

“Bro,” Filipe said, breaking the fragile silence.

“Uh?”

“Let’s talk about dad.”

~*~

 We found a shaded pavilion. Filipe sat a little away from me, looking suddenly pensive. Me? I was just glad I had some distance from him. Filipe glanced at me and cleared his throat. Was he nervous?

“Tell me about dad. Tell me about Father.”

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