Not long after, Romeo and Arizona returned from school. Seeing that it was almost time, Augustine checked at the door to see them walking up the driveway, hand in hand. We went outside and Augustine opened his arms and picked Arizona up in his arms with a big kiss on her cheek.
“How was your day, Princess?”
“It was not good.” Eyed filled with sadness, Ari shook her head. “Jared didn’t come to school today.”
A quick frown appeared on Augustine’s forehead but, he brushed it off quickly and headed back inside the house. “We can go see him someday.”
“Yeah. Do you think he went back to the hospital?”
“I don’t know, Princess.” Augustine returned softly with a hint of sadness in his tone. “I’ll call his mom and ask her okay?”
“Umhmm.” She nodded. “I don’t want him to go to the hospital.”
“Me too, Princess.”
“Who’s Jared?” I quietly asked Romeo.
Romeo turned to Arizona. “Princess, tell Sophia who Jared is.”
“Jared is my boyfriend!” Arizona told me delightedly from over Augustine’s shoulder and I heard Augustine chuckle a little. “We go to the same school and laaaast time, we also stayed in the hospital together.”
The mention hospital was enough to make me feel so bad inside. These beautiful kids deserved none of that sicknesses and pain. It was such a cruel fate for them.
Nonetheless, I smiled at her. “Oh, is he handsome?”
“Umhmm.” She nodded with a heart-melting, shy smile that seemed to squeeze me so tight in my heart.
Augustine pushed the door open and we all stepped in.
“Who’s more handsome, Princess? Me or Jared?” Romeo asked gamely as we followed Ari and Augustine into the kitchen.
“Ummm. . . I don’t know?” She mulled deeply. “Jared is also handsome. You are handsome. August is also handsome. Sophia is also handsome. . .”
I chuckled at how considerate she was for her age, speaking in a way so that she pleases everyone. Romeo drank a full glass of water and went up to his room. Augustine made some fruits and mild Apple juice for Arizona. Soon, as I sat there with Ari on the kitchen counter, putting strawberries on her fingertips, he was busy in the living room talking on the phone with Jared’s mom.
Listening to the conversation, I figured they were pretty close as families and they genuinely cared about one another. Augustine paced around to and from as he spoke in a low, deliberate tone, one hand rubbing the back of his head.
“We’ll come around to see him tomorrow.”
“Yeah. She’s fine. Ari’s doing pretty well for now.”
“Yeah. I do plan to go for another checkup soon.”
“Right. Yeah. We’ll see you tomorrow then.”
He came back to us after they ended the call.
“Is Jared in the hospital?” Ari asked him at once.
“Um. . . yeah. But he’s doing fine. We can all go see him tomorrow.”
“Then, we can play in the lawn together!” Ari immediately glowed up. “We can ride the swing. . . and the see-saw. Will Mickey be still there in the hospital?”
“I’m not sure, Princess.”
“I think he’ll be gone.” She returned, looking down at the counter thoughtfully. “It was a long time ago. I think he’s gone back to Disneyland.”
“Yeah. Probably.” Augustine nodded with a soft smile.
“What’s Jared suffering from?” I asked him.
“The same case.” He replied grimly. “He’s the one on the donor’s list in front of Ari.”
Not long after, Augustine changed for work and before he left, he looked me firm in the eyes and said, “Take good care of her. Don’t let her out of your sight.”
Ari was up in her room with Romeo, changing her clothes since she said she was feeling hot.
“Sure.” I nodded vigorously.
The previous amiable aura he had been flashing before the kids came to school had been completely wiped off and now, he seemed as intimidating as the first time I saw him. I thought maybe it was something to do with the news of Jared. Being as close to the family and how Jared shared so much with Arizona, the possibility that Ari could be in Jared’s place too had hit him hard. He was now afraid. It was all clear in his eyes. How he was fighting to be strong yet he was so close to trembling and breaking down inside.
“I promise I won’t let her out of my sight.” I assured him in good faith. “I’ll let you know at once if she seems to be sick.”
He nodded grimly again and left in his car without another word. Romeo and Arizona came down a few minutes later. She had changed into a light, sleeveless blue dress with white polka dots and her beloved bunny, Pipi, was in her arms.
Romeo stayed with us for long, taking videos with his phone while Ari told me the story of each photo from an album we found on the shelf. We flipped from one picture to the other and in each picture, she pretty much posed in the most fashionable manner ever regardless of whether she was in a grocery store, a bathroom or not, giving her best smiles, stylish waves, she even wore a lot of fancy dresses.
“You are so good I posing for pictures!” I told her.
That instantly put a happy smile on her face and she said, “I want to be Miss World when I grow up.”
I could hardly control my laughter when I found a picture of the three of them dressed in all-black street style - black beanies, black leather jackets, black jeans, black boots, black shades and posing in front of their house with their arms folded in the most badass stance ever, Arizona in the middle looking like a little thug.
I fell back on the couch laughing, throwing my head back in the process. “Whose idea was this?!”
Romeo chuckled from the couch where he was filming us. “August’s. He specially ordered that dress set for Ari just for that picture. Just go on. There’s one more picture of Ari and Jared wrapped together in one T-shirt.”
In search of that picture, I flipped through the album faster and found a beautiful boy with gentle, blue eyes and silky ginger hair pulled together with Ari in one huge, white T-shirt that had an enormous, red heart print on it. From each hole of the T-shirt, one each of their arms were pushed out and the other hands were entangled. I could hardly breathe after that. To think that this was all Augustine’s idea was funny.
“That’s the couple T-shirt August bought for us.” Ari told me with the same giddy smile she was wearing in the picture and I could only laugh harder.
Their giddy smiles, overwhelmed with the thrill of their puppy-love and sharing a shirt was the single most adorable thing I had ever seen. I was a mess of bubbles and butterflies and heart-shaped confetti inside.
Ari showed me more pictures of her and Jared captured in the hospital, parks, and school. They seemed to spend a lot of time together and truly enjoy each other’s company. Looking at their pictures, I could only imagine what they could be like if they could grow up together hearty and hale.
Romeo went out sometime later with his skateboard in hand. Ari and I spelled out some spellings aloud together and she soon got busy with drawing. I found some time to write and reply to a few comments on wattpad as I sat next to her on the floor while she drew. But, she felt tired not too long after so, we went up to her room and got in her bed. I told her some made-up stories about Princesses and Giants from Chopchop land, she contributed a lot to the storyline and so listening to our low, mingled voices, she drifted off to sleep.
I lay with her that way listening to her soft, shallow breathing and just staring at the fluorescent stars and half-moon stickers pasted on the lavender ceiling. My mind gradually got swept away into my own world of fantasies, thinking about Ari’s health and how different the perspective of mankind about death could be if we really could turn into stars in the afterlife and be able to watch over our loved ones from the sky. . .
I wonder. . .
We might not be so afraid. . .
We might not feel so apart.
We would know where we are, where we would be.
We could literally look up to the ones we love and. . . maybe communicate with them somehow.
I wonder what difference it would make.
I lost track of time as I followed one thought after the other, lost in my own world. Two quiet knocks on the door brought me back to reality.
“Sophia?” I heard Augustine’s voice outside.
Lifting up my head from the pillow very slightly, I responded in a whisper, “Yeah?”
I heard him twist the doorknob open and saw him step inside.
“Is it raining outside?” I asked him in surprise with a quick glance toward the window when I saw him come in with damp hair.
“No. I took a shower at the gym.” He replied as he approached us from Arizona’s side. “Is she sleeping?”
I sat up carefully and as quiet as a mouse and got down from the bed. He stood beside her and watched her deliberately for a moment as he adjusted the quill over her.
“Tired?” He looked up at me with soft eyes.
“Nah.” I smiled while adjusting my hair a bit. “I’m okay.”
“Let her sleep. We can go down. She usually naps around this time.”
I followed him out the door.
“Sophia, I’ve been thinking if we could make some slight changes with your work timing on Saturdays.” He said as we descended down the stairs to the living room.
“I need to go out on Saturday nights and I would need someone to stay with the kids while I’m gone. Can you stay over? Only on Saturdays. I’ll pay 150 per night from 8pm to 8am in the morning.” He looked up to me once he reached the end of the stairs.
“Oh.” I thought for a moment, following him into the kitchen.
I’ve never been the kind of person who likes to stay over at people’s houses. I could never sleep with the thought that I’m in somebody else’s house. It would take time for me to get used to the new atmosphere.
“You don’t have to do much. I’ll leave only after dinner at 8 pm and I’ll be back latest by 1 am. I just want you to be with them. You can do all the things you do at your own place. If need be, I’ll come to pick you up and drop you too. Just be with them. I don’t feel good leaving the two alone.”
“Umm. . . so I get the afternoons off on Saturdays?”
“Yeah. I need you to be here only at night.”
“Hmm.” I chewed on my lips, leaned onto the kitchen counter and thought for a moment again.
I really didn’t want to stay over but then, I could empathize for his love and the responsibility of looking after them like a parent. With the kind of respect I had grown for him over this past two week and with the way his earnest eyes were watching me desperately, I didn’t have the heart to say no. And when I thought of Ari too and if anything happens to her during one of those nights that I had refused to stay with them, I knew I could never forgive myself. Without realizing, she had become such a big part of my life now.
And hell, even the pay is good.
You still need to buy a car, remember?
Also, it’s just one night out of seven nights. It’s totally worth it.
“Sure.” I answered Augustine. “I’ll stay.”
“Thank you.” He breathed out an audible sigh of relief and in the moment of sheer gratitude, he subconsciously took one step forward to hug me.
My eyes went wide in shock at the thought that the intimidating Augustine Urban was seriously going to hug me now. Then, as if in par with my thoughts, he caught the look in my eyes and halted his movement at once. We stared at each other eye to eye for a moment in the close proximity, stunned, my mouth slightly agape.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He abruptly said, turning his face away awkwardly with a quick frown on his forehead.
“Right. Yeah. See ya.” I returned and scurried into the living room.
I grabbed my backpack from the couch and hurried off without another look at Augustine, slightly embarrassed at the awkwardness.