What did you do, Love?

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Life hasn’t been very kind to Robert Valeria. Her mother left him and his sister with an almost stranger.

Now her sister is missing, too.

My heart cried out in sympathy. I can’t begin to imagine what he is feeling right now.

Although I, myself, am hurting, I could not help but compare and see the contrast.

Indeed, I was still lucky.

Amid the silence that ensued after Rebecca’s revelation, the kids from upstairs ran down the stairs rapidly. The stomping of their tiny feet was a welcome interruption to the conversation that is slowly getting sour.

I was not fond of the look of pain in Rebecca’s serene blue eyes.

Grace and I nodded at each other, with a silent agreement that we were going to let Rebecca relax first.

One kid, which I firmly guess was the one with the out-of-tune voice, was slow in her descent down the stairs.

I snorted at how serious she looked. She was enthusiastically practicing her vocalization techniques loudly.

Definitely a standout.

Her eyes were even involuntarily closing at some of the high notes.

At one moment, when she noticed that majority of us were looking at her, she stopped abruptly, and her brows regarded us with confusion.

“What?” Her voice softened and her cheeks pinked in embarrassment. “Is it time for lunch?”

Grace stood up and raised her right hand. All our eyes followed the motion.

“Who’s hungry?” She said, gathering everyone’s attention even more, especially the kids.

Suddenly, there was chaos.

The kids were cheering, jumping up and down, creating creaking sounds on the wooden floorboards.

The kids playing outside earlier seemed to have heard this and were racing through the front door to know what the commotion is all about.

All of us grownups were laughing at the adorable display.

Out team has provided food for the children today. It arrived while we were talking with Rebecca.

Speaking of Rebecca, I looked at her and I was touched by the way she gazed at the kids in a loving manner. Her eyes were glassy just by looking at the children, and her hands were slowly clapping in joy.

I smiled to myself, and she looked up at me when I stood up and held her hand.

We went to the dining area, her hands still in mine for support.

Then, I stopped momentarily when I saw what was written on the smooth gray unpainted walls on our way to the dining.

By now, the kids were louder, fighting on who would get food first. Grace and the others seemed to be handling them just fine.

Rebecca certainly felt that I had stopped, and followed my line of vision.

On those gray walls were names written with different colors of crayon. There were so many of them. I’m guessing at least thirty.

My heart swelled at how many kids didn’t have parents at a very young age. It was obvious that these were kids’ handwriting

“Are all of these the children you took care of in this house?” I asked, my eyed widened in amazement.

“Yeah. The children wrote their names themselves.” Se said, looking at the wall proudly, thus confirming what I previously thought. “It’s how I encouraged them to not be lazy and learn how to write.”

“Who helps you with them?”

“Well, at first, my husband of course. Also, some friends from work. Now I’m mostly alone. Some students volunteer here. But these kids are responsible enough now that they’re a little bit older. They help me with the chores.” She said, and I squeezed her hand gently.

“But don’t worry.” Rebecca said with a smile, squeezing my hand back. “Some of the kids who grew up here come over frequently to help. Some of them have their own lives now, and some of them have been adopted to nice families. But they never forgot.”

Her eyes shined with tears.

“You’re a superwoman.” I said, sincerely admiring her for her noble cause.

She just laughed at that. The sound was so pure, it was almost heartbreaking.

“I never thought they were this many.” Grace suddenly interrupted, referring to the wall-full of names.

I didn’t even hear her footsteps through the noise of the children.

“Are there pictures? We might need Robert’s childhood photos. It would be a great resource for the investigation.” She added, thoughtfully.

I looked at her and grinned at her intelligent remark. She just raised her left eyebrow at me in response.

“Yeah, I’ll show you.” Rebecca said as she led us to a small bedroom, with a queen-sized bed. On the wall was what I reckoned as her wedding photo.

She looked younger of course, he beautiful curled golden locks elegantly pooled around her shoulders. On her side was a rather tall and handsome man.

Rebecca went ahead and opened a cabinet door. It was full of photo albums. Some looked older and worn out as compared to the bright-colored covers of the new albums.

She pulled out one of the older-looking albums with a beige cardboard and gave it to me. I held it open as Rebecca was flicking through the pages.

Her eyes stopped to scan each photo in the process of finding one that included Robert in it, obviously reliving some of the memories.

Some photos were faded and grainy. It was understandable. The quality of cameras back then was not that precise.

However, the vintage touch to the photos somehow contribute more to the nostalgia that a person feels just by looking at them.

I didn’t know these people personally, but I felt as If I did when I looked at their photos.

Rebecca then pointed at the photo of a group of children playing at the same playground in the front yard. The slide, the seesaw, and the other elements of the playground, however, were painted differently now.

“There’s Robert.” she said, pointing at a small boy with the red shirt.

I have seen Robert’s recent photo already, courtesy of the show. But I didn’t recognize him at all, maybe because the photo was shot at a distance, and their faces were tiny in the photo.

Rebecca must have realized this, so she flipped on to the next page and found a more closed-up photo of Robert. Only now, what she found was his teenage photo, not a photo of him as a child.

“I think they were fourteen years old in this photo.” Rebecca informed, and pointed at Robert’s face.

In the photo, Robert was with a girl and a boy. The boy’s arms were tightly wound around the girl, with his head-full of rich brown curls leaned against the girl’s blonde. Robert’s face seemed to be scrunched up in disgust at the two.

Rebecca chuckled. “This is Sienna, his sister.”

At first, I ignored at a familiar feeling I felt at seeing the boy’s curls when I quickly glanced at it.

Then, my instincts drove me to stare some more at the curly-haired boy.

I was startled at the familiar brown eyes, and the quirky arrangement of his bottom teeth as he widely smiled at the camera.

Too familiar.

I have my suspicions. But I needed to make sure.

My heart pounded against my ribcage. I was certain that even Grace, who was 2 feet away while distractedly looking around the details of the bedroom, heard it as well

I didn’t realize that I will be able to glimpse into his world in this manner. This is so unexpected; I almost feel like I was intruding.

“Who’s this?” I said, my voice tiny, almost cracking.

“Oh, that’s Ace.”

“Ace Valeria?” I asked, still not believing that we were thinking of the same sweet Ace.

“No, he was orphaned at a much later age. He goes by his real surname.”

My eyes widened at that, my fists clenching the photo album a little bit harder. But my thoughts were interrupted when Rebecca spoke again.

I looked at her as she said, sighing, “Those two were always inseparable.”

When I gazed at who she’s referring to, I wanted to cry.

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