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Saturday, January 30, 2010

LIVE AGAIN (chapter 1)

Chapter One

“Start of Something New”

My 26-year-old sister, Sara, became a nurse and married Dan, a decent man, just four years older than her age, and now lived in the U.S for almost four years. Not having been blessed with a child due to her husband’s hormonal imbalance, still, this didn’t stop them from loving each other and having the life they wanted. They were happy.

I chose to stay with my mother during those years of her illness, although she insisted that I move to the country where my sister was, since Sara and Dan, who were both US citizens, already filed a petition to sponsor me and let me live with them in California.

Being just a seventeen-year-old, I was practically underage and incapable of taking care of my dying mother. She knew her time was coming, and she wanted to make sure I was settled before that time comes. But I insisted, point-blank, that I will not move anywhere without her, so instead, my sister Sara made arrangements to travel back and forth every few months from California, all the way to our hometown in the Philippines during my mother’s battle. I knew it cost her time and finances to do it, but thankfully she had a very generous and understanding husband, and a stable job, to support her thru it. And I knew she could never leave me and our mother alone thru everything.

It has been a year since the death of my mother, and I was left to live with my mother’s cousin while waiting for the immigration approval.

Now, after the painful process, and after the immigration petition was approved, there was no choice for me but to live with Sara in California.

It took me almost a day, riding planes with connecting flights through different places. My last stop was in Los Angeles, California; where Sara and her husband lived, and where I will be living for the rest of my life, I think. It was the longest journey I ever had, and I was a bit unsure, for it was my first time being in another country. Sara and her husband Dan would be waiting for me at the LAX flyway, having been informed of my plane’s arrival time.

The flight attendant informed the passengers to adjust their watches to 7:00 pm, Pacific Standard Time, Sunday. My watch already indicated 10:00 am, Manila time, Monday. I never bothered adjusting it. It made me feel, somehow, closer to home. Or they would rather say it was nostalgia. My mp3 was playing some of my downloaded songs for the last hour, while I stood with the rest of the passengers waiting for their luggage to pass thru the conveyer.

I just finished a short routine interview with the Citizenship and Immigration Services representative about my visa and all my legal documents upon entering their country. Having seen that things were in order, they welcomed me, somewhat, robotically. Welcome to the pending nightmare, I thought.

I was always the shy and reserved type. But I am used to doing things for myself, on my own. I was independent.

As I dragged my suitcase and swung my black backpack on my shoulder, I noticed a group of people fumbling with their cameras and microphones, usually middle-aged men and women, it looked like they were waiting for someone. This must be people from the news or something, I thought. Sara always said that Los Angeles was home to a lot of Hollywood celebrities, hoping it will endear me to the place, but I remained apathetic about it, with nothing but my mother and my former life on my mind. My senior high class, where I graduated as a Valedictorian, used to envy me upon learning that I’ll be going to college in the States, people from my hometown thought highly of someone who has been or will be going out of the country. Metaphorically, they thought you’re a rock god… Pessimistically, I thought it was crap.

I craned my neck over the crowd of people going about their businesses, in and out of the airport, trying to get a view of Sara and Dan as I went out of the arrival gateway, until I saw them near the exit way. They saw me and waved, smiling. I nodded in acknowledgement, quickly pulled of my MP3 and stuffed it in my backpack, headed towards them.

As I dragged my things with me, a large crowd of people who just got out from another gate, from the flight that just arrived (from what I heard, London) jostled me, almost knocking me off-balance. Then the group of people I saw earlier with the cameras, energetically ambled up towards the arrival door, clicking their cameras nonstop at someone, and calling out things like; “Hey Robbie!”… “Look here, Mr. King!”… The white flashes of cameras were blinding me, as people pushed me out of the way.

I was trying to quickly grab my stuff altogether before they trampled me or something worst. As I picked up my backpack off the floor, somebody clashed hard with my shoulder, knocking my bag off my arm again. I looked up and briefly saw, as though in slow motion, that somebody; a tall guy who looked no older than twenty, with blonde hair hidden under a black baseball cap, wearing a black sweatshirt and his eyes, which I cannot see, were hidden behind black-fashioned Ray Bans, illuminated by the many flashing of cameras. His face was shortly turned to me while he picked up something on the floor, and in a matter of two seconds, I saw the corner of his lips gave a tiny smirk, before a couple of large men, who looked like bodyguards shoved me out of the way, and trying to fend off the group of people with cameras who continued to follow the throng of the blonde-haired teen and his bouncers.

“Damn Paparazzis…” I heard one of the bodyguards’ grumbled away.

Oh, so that guy was a celebrity. My first encounter with a Hollywood star, who almost knocked me off-balance and didn’t even say “sorry” for it. What a jerk. Well, what did I expect with celebrities? They’re just a bunch of people with egos as high as Mount Everest. Well, almost all of them, I guessed.

I grumbled lightly, hastily grabbed my things together and managed to reach Sara and Dan, who were watching my progress, towards where they are. They both gave me a hug when I finally stood in front of them.

“Kamusta ang biyahe?” Sara asked in our native tongue, rubbing both my shoulders. “How was the flight?”

“It was fine…” I answered, feeling a bit of twinge on my right shoulder where the public personality bumped me.

“Feel a lil bit of jetlag?” Dan asked kindly, smiling at me. “I see you bumped into Robbie King.”

Sara gave a small laugh.

“Who?” I asked in a furrowed brow, properly adjusting my backpack on my shoulders now, while Dan grabbed my suitcase.

“One of Hollywood’s rising teen stars,” answered Sara, “he’s a male model, got a few supporting roles in movies, and I think he’s recording a new album.”

“Another airhead, in short…” I grumbled, feeling a bit groggy and tired after the very long flight.

Dan chuckled. He and Sara helped me carry my stuff and led me out towards where they parked their car. It was a cold, late June night, or perhaps, it was only cold to me since I’m used to the very tropical weather back home. We had more than a quarter of an hour drive towards where they lived, stopping only in the nearest McDonald’s drive-thru, where they ordered some burgers and fries for me to munch.

They had a nice two-floored house in a decent neighborhood at S Matthews Street, at East L.A; at least that’s what I heard Sara said when I asked where they lived.

Outside, it was painted in palest olive-green color and the roof was bricked and blue and thick dark curtains were hanging by the windows, and the front door was illuminated by the porch light. As we got inside, the walls were painted cool white and the floors were carpeted in gray colors. From the door, there was a stairway that leads to a few rooms upstairs.

Sara gave me a short tour around the place while Dan brought my things upstairs to a room prepared for me. The house was simple and cozy, with some Oriental touches; like paintings of coconut trees at a familiar white sand beach that me and my family used to go, and a few small lamp tables made out of bamboo stems. At the right side of the small hallway was the kitchen and a few steps was the bathroom, at the left side of the stairway was the living room, and at the end of the hallway with the French door was the small entertainment room, where the large screen TV and a gaming console were. Sara said the gaming gadget was new and was Dan’s idea, being considerate as he was, for me to play with if I get bored. Their summer starts mid-June and lasts until August or early September.

I had to get one of those online California college applications beforehand, and would probably hear from them soon. My credentials were fairly good, and having graduated as class valedictorian would help as well. It was already planned before I came, both Sara and Dan helped through all the process. I would start college in this new town. I dreaded that.

I dreaded everything that involved me adjusting from the former life I had. I didn’t know if I could cope with it; living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language everyday (although I never had trouble with English), meeting different kinds of foreign people…

Or perhaps, I was the foreigner from a different country, I was the foreigner who spoke a different language and I was the foreigner whom people would soon meet. I was thousands of miles away from home, from where I left the memory of my mother, of the life that I was used to.

“You feeling okay, Julie?” Sara’s voice snapped me out of my reverie.

I was sitting in the dining table with Dan, while Sara was preparing our dinner. Dan was reading a sports magazine, and every now and then, glances over at me with mild concern in his eyes. I felt a bit embarrassed, having had to let them fuss over my reactions and well-being, when they already did a lot for me. My head still felt groggy from jetlag, but I tried to sit up straighter.

“Okay lang ako,” I said softly, “I’m fine—just a bit groggy, I think—but it’s alright.”

“That’s just the jetlag—it’ll pass, that’s what I felt the first time I rode a plane to China for a vacation when I was ten,” grinned Dan.

I grinned back sheepishly at him. My sister was lucky for having this man as her husband, for being a pure-blooded American; he had the kindness of my race. Or maybe, it was because he has been, mostly, at every part of Asia, especially the Philippines, so he must have adapted the cultures.

After we had dinner, Sara and Dan showed the room they prepared for me. It had light-blue wallpapers and average-sized bed with dark-colored comforters. On the side table was a lampshade, an alarm clock on 8:45 pm PST, and a framed old picture of me, Sara and mom, taken years before she got sick. I also have an average-spaced closet, where my unopened suitcase was already placed neatly in it, while my black backpack is on the bed. Across the bed is a large window where you can sit on the sill, watching the back street with the passing cars. This was totally different from my room back home. And this was my home from now on.

“We’ll leave you to unpack your things,” Sara said, watching me, “the bathroom is just across your room, and our room is at the end of the hallway, if you need anything…”

I nodded, smiled shyly, and said: “Thanks”

Dan smiled back, his arms around Sara and said; “This will be your home from now on…”

I gave them both a quick hug before they walked out of the room.

I sat at the foot of the bed, looking around, a single tear fell on my cheek, but I quickly wiped it off…”I miss you, mom…” I whispered.

At the corner of the room was a full-body mirror. I stood in front of it, staring at myself. I was an average-looking Filipino girl, though my features had a bit of Spanish in it, my great grandmother was half-Spanish, as almost all Filipinos have Spanish ancestry in them.

I pulled off the ribbon binding my straight, light-brown hair in a ponytail. It fell past my shoulders. My cinnamon-colored eyes looked tired. My skin had a hint of tan, slightly sun-kissed, but gave a bit of a pinkish glow against the room’s light. I scratched the corner of my long, thin nose. I had an average-sized body. Not too fat, not too thin either, and had a height of 5 feet 3 inches tall.

I pulled my blue, hooded jacket off, turned away from the mirror and sat back down on the bed, where my backpack was. I wanted to find a shirt to change into…

But there was something wrong with it.

For one thing, it doesn’t hold the little shoe-shaped key chain I used to hang on it. I grabbed it; felt it was slightly bulging and heavier now, considering I’ve only put my passport, a couple of t-shirts, my scribble pad, my travel documents and my mp3 in it. The brand was even different now; it was labeled something French that even my mind can’t pronounce.

“What the…” I mumbled in confusion.

I must have had a baggage mishap!

I carefully unzipped it to see the contents. My hand pulled out a sleek jewelry case, opened it and saw a shiny, silver-chained bracelet, I closed it quickly. Never wanted to mess with that.

Feeling a reckless intrusion, I poured out the whole content of the bag on my bed. If my mother were alive, I knew she would disapprove, she always taught us not to touch anything that doesn’t belong to us, and to observe the rights to privacy. I felt a bit guilty about it, but reasoned to myself that I can only return the bag to the rightful owner if I poked thru some of the things that might lead me to that person.

I stared at the jumble of things in front of me. There were some perfumes and aftershaves. So the owner probably was male. There was a first aid kit in a white bag with a red cross on it, a couple of “smarties” tubes (which does not contain the usual rainbow-colored candies), but white tablets, a Tic-Tac, a leather-bound personal diary (thinking about the rights to privacy again, I didn’t read it) with a picture of a, somehow, familiar blond-headed boy with a blonde man and a brunette woman. The blonde man, who looked like in his late thirties, must be the owner.

But underneath the diary was a plane’s boarding pass, with the current date, a seat number, the time, the destination, and a passenger name labeled as: KING, R.A.

The name sounded familiar. Where did I hear it again? I stared back at the picture on the diary, at the blonde man—then back to the boarding pass, as if willing my tired brain to pick up some clue, repeating the name “King” in my mind.

And then it hit me. My mind was suddenly awake. I stared at the picture again, but this time my gaze dropped at the familiar-looking blonde boy, the name King popping up in my head. There could be no mistaking that feature.

“Oh, my…” I whispered in disbelief.

Could this bag possibly belong to the tall teen I bumped into at the airport? The one followed by enthusiastic paparazzis? The smirking teen model, Robbie King?

I stared at the picture again. There was no mistaking that face, though it was way younger in the picture, looking like nine or ten, and it showed his clear blue eyes, whereas the Robbie King I remembered a couple hours ago was wearing black shades concealing his eyes.

Holy crap! I’ve had a baggage mishap with a Hollywood celebrity? My mind was racing to remember how it happened. Then I recalled, as I bumped into him, my backpack fell out of my grasp and his as well, and I was so distracted with looking at him that I didn’t realize which bag I picked up from the floor.

“Lagot na…” I babbled distractedly in my native tongue. Would I get arrested for this? What do I do? Should I tell Sara?

Then there was a knock on the door. I quickly dumped the contents back into the bag, and threw it at the foot of the bed. I was a bit confused and nervous to decide yet. So I stood up to open the door.

Sara was standing at the doorway, smiling. I quickly wiped my sweating forehead.

“Are you ok, Juls?” she asked, a bit bewildered.

“Y-yeah… I’m fine, j-just unpacking my stuff…” I stuttered nervously.

“Oh, dear…” she said soothingly, placing her hands on my shoulder, misreading the look on my face as cluelessness (well, I guess that’s what I do felt) “I know this is hard for you, I know you miss home and your friends, but it’ll be alright soon, you’ll see…”

Yes it will be alright, as soon as I return Robbie King’s bag, as soon as I get a hold of him. But how in the world are you gonna get hold of a celebrity? It would definitely fall in the category of “stalker”, wouldn’t it? But wouldn’t he realize by now that he had the wrong bag as well?

“Yeah, I’ll be alright…” I managed to tell Sara.

“You want help unpacking your bags?”

“No!” I refused too quickly. Then added, abashed; “I can manage…”

“Well, you can just go to bed, just leave unpacking ‘til tomorrow,” Sara said, reassuringly. “You’ll have all day, anyway…”

I nodded and instinctively stared at my wristwatch. It indicated twelve noon, Manila time.

“I might need to adjust my body clock here…” I said, half-smiling.

“You didn’t adjust your watch to PST when the plane landed, did you?” Sara asked knowingly, almost laughing.

I gave her a guilty smile. Then she patted my back with understanding on her face.

“It’s okay, kiddo…” she said softly, “we’re still all adjusting, don’t worry…”

She gave me a quick hug, said goodnight and left the room. I closed the door and went to grab the backpack again.

I stared at it, weighing my options.

Option one: Tell Sara about the mishap and ask for help in returning it. Option two: Wait for him to find me and ask for the bag, which is more probable than me finding him, (remembering I have all my personal information and addresses in that bag) since he doesn’t have any complete address anywhere in his bag, and besides I’m way too coward with having anything to do with a Hollywood star.

And so I chose option two, since I really didn’t want to trouble Sara and her husband about my stupid carelessness. They’ve done more than enough to plan my good future ahead of me, the least I could do was to be an easy burden for them, if that were possible.

So, yes, I will wait for Robbie King to find me, though that idea gave a slightly “scared-out-of-my-wits” feeling, just thinking of having an international public figure to have any business with me, and another idea scared me as well; What if he thought the mishap was deliberate? Would he send me to jail? Knowing how celebrities hated stalkers and papparazzis. Would he consider me as one?

These questions sent my mind to an uneasy sleep.

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