The Face of Reality

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Chapter 19

The next morning, I woke up to the smell of bacon frying. Before anything, I went to the kitchen to drink water and I found Augustine already making breakfast.

"Good morning," I said as I passed him on the way to the refrigerator.

"Morning," he returned, looking back at me.

I noticed that his hair was damp and he was wearing a fresh pair of t-shirt and jeans.

"Have you showered already?" I asked as I opened the fridge.

"Yeah. I went out running for a while. I showered when I came back."

"Wow. You're fast," I said and drank my water.

"You can use the bathroom in my room if you don't wanna walk pass the living room."

I kept the water bottle back in the fridge and shrugged, "Nah. I'm fine."

Since the room where I sleep had no attached bathroom, I was using the bathroom beside the kitchen and I had no problem with it.

"Are you going to college?"

"Yeah. I think I should. What time is the funeral?"

"10 am. I'll drop you to your apartment or college after breakfast."

"I can just take the bus. I know you have a lot to do."

He shook his head as he turned off the gas stove.

After breakfast, Augustine offered again to drop me but, I refused again. So, he dropped me at least until the bus stop. But before we left, I made Ari's hair. She loved it but she couldn't bring herself to be too happy about it. All these times she'd wanted to go to school with this hair and show it to Jared. It was beyond heartbreaking to think that when she finally did get the hair she loves, she was, in fact, going to his funeral.

Augustine parked at the side of the street. Just as I was about to get down, he said, "Thank you. . . for everything. I wouldn't have been able to break the news to Ari without you."

"You would've done it anyway but I'm glad I could help." I smiled at him.

He shook his head with a soft smile. "Don't deny it. I wouldn't have gone farther than 'he's dead'."

I felt my stomach ripple with laughter and he smiled along.

Resting my head on the headrest, I turned to him, "You did well, August."

"I tried."

Chewing on my lower lip, I stopped to think for a moment before I decided to follow my instincts. Plucking up my courage, I turned to him and threw my arms around him to give him a hug. He had done so well for his siblings all on his own, I could no longer hold myself back from giving him a warm hug of support and appreciation. I felt his body freeze slightly in astonishment at my stunt but I gradually felt him return the hug.

"No one could have done it better, August," I told him with my arms around his neck. "Ari's lucky to have you as a brother."

I felt his arms tighten around me as he replied, "Thanks."

Breaking the hug, I looked at his face. He remained quiet and my heart hammered like a wild drum inside my chest as he brought his right hands to cup my face. For a moment, we just gazed at each other not sure what to do. We were just an inch, just a moment away from kissing but, reality soon took the best of us and we broke away from each other.

"I'll. . . I'll see you in the evening," I said and got out of the car.

As much as I wanted to kiss him, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Although we were becoming closer as friends or something, he still seemed so guarded for me to reach out to him.

"Umm. . . yeah. Sure," he promptly returned.

My face split up to an awkward smile and I waved at him. "Bye!"

He gave me a nod and drove off. The wild throbbing in my chest remained even as I climbed up the bus after two minutes. With the way he had held my face and looked at me so meticulously, there was no way I was getting my mind off it for the rest of the day. I felt my cheeks begin to burn the more I thought of it.

I can't believe it.

I can't believe it.

*

When I went back to their house in the evening, my mind swirled with questions and nervousness.

How the hell am I going to face him after we almost kissed?

Just be normal, Sophia. Chil. Breathe. Be normal.

I met them in their driveway just outside their house. And much to my surprise, Augustine flashed me one of his widest smiles yet as he moved out of the car like he was genuinely happy to see me. I did not just feel butterflies all over my stomach, I felt like I had turned into a butterfly myself. I smiled back at him readily and Arizona skipped over to me. I picked her up in my arms and gave her a kiss on her cheek.

"Sophia, look." Arizona pointed to a plastic, daisy ring on her thumb. "August bought it for me."

"Oh my God! That is so pretty! And it has a daisy on it," I gasped as I took her hand to get a closer look at it.

"Yeah! August bought me a lot of dresses too. I'll show it to you." She moved to get down from my arms so, I set her down.

Augustine and Romeo emerged from behind the car in black suit with shopping bags in their hands, looking taller and cooler than ever. Romeo looked dashing too but my eyes lingered on his brother, who literally took my breath away. I found myself smiling as I checked him out.

Ari ran up to him and tugged on the shopping bags. "Let me show Sophia my dresses!"

"Wait. We'll show them to her inside," he answered and then looked up at me.

"You guys went shopping?"

"Yeah. I took them out after the service. Ari was feeling pretty down do. . ." he replied as he approached me. "How was your day?"

"Normal." I shrugged.

We went inside and before anything, Ari began unpacking her shopping. From one dress to the next, she changed while Romeo and Augustine took pictures of her. Sonya dropped her children while she runs an errand so, Ari played with Camilla and Leon for a short while until she fell asleep.

When she woke up late in the evening just as I was about to leave, she had sunken back to her gloomy spirit. Then she nagged and wailed the whole evening that I should stay with them in their house forever. I took her in my lap and consoled her but, every time I tried to leave, another whole chapter of a tantrum would start.

Even Augustine had run out of ideas to calm her. The way I see it, he could neither find the strength too to ask me to stay again for another night, since I had stayed the night before and it hadn't been a Saturday either.

"STAYYYYY!!!" Ari wailed so loud the whole of Walnut Lane could possibly be blown off by the noise. "Stay!"

"Okay! Okay! I'll stay." I pulled her tighter into my embrace and rocked her in my arms. "Don't cry, Ari. I'll stay."

Augustine's shoulders dropped in relief and I stayed for the night again for real. While Augustine and I were wiping the dishes dry, Ari slowly padded into the kitchen.

Standing next to me by the sink, she looked up at me and asked, "Do you think Jared has reached the stars now?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Do you think I can see him from here?"

I gave the last dish to August and took Ari up in my arms.

"We can't see dead people, Ari," I told her as I carried her into the living room. "But guess what. . . You might not see him but, he's watching us from the stars. He's able to hear us too!"

"You mean he's looking at us with a telescope?!" Her eyes lit up in astonishment.

"Yes! Exactly!" I agreed, relieved that she had found her own way of understanding the situation.

"We have a telescope too!" She slid down from my arms and ran toward the kitchen, shouting for August.

The moment he emerged from the kitchen, he took up Ari in his arms and pecked her on her cheek.

And looking at her fondly, he asked, "What, Princes?"

"Can we look at the stars with our telescope? Sophia says that Jared is watching us from the stars with a telescope. I want to see him too."

I met Augustine's eyes and tugged on my lips. I didn't think they would have a telescope.

What am I gonna say now if she can't see him even after looking through a telescope?

God, help me.

Nevertheless, August took her out to the backyard. Romeo brought up Augustine's telescope from the basement, which was mostly like Augustine's secret hideout. It was basically his man-cave. He had a long comfortable couch, a punchbag, a guitar, stereo boxes, a small fridge for keeping drinks, a pool table and shelves on the walls filled with his trophies of football, kickboxing and swimming.

Augustine set the beauty of a telescope on a tripod in the backyard. It was a pretty looking Sky Watcher ProEd 100 mm Doublet Apo Refractor of black and white optical tube. Of course, he told me the name of the model. All I knew was that it was a telescope. A nice one to be precise.

Arizona waited in anticipation as Augustine put his eyes on the eyepiece and adjusted the view for her.

"So, what do you wanna look at, Princess?"

"The yellow one with the little blue one!" She leaped on her two little feet in a thrill. "I think Jared is there."

"Alright. . ." Augustine returned, eye on the eyepiece. "Here. . . It. . . Is."

He pulled away and put Ari on the stool he had kept next to the telescope. I stood by in fear that she might start crying again.

Ari looked into the eyepiece and pulling back with disappointment in her eyes, she turned to August, "We need to get a bigger telescope. I can't see Jared."

"Right. It's still too far away. I need a much bigger one. As big as a bus." Augustine smiled at her and she gasped in surprise.

"A bus?!"

"Yeah. If we can get that, we might be able to see Jared. But it will take some time to get one like that. They don't sell a lot of it in stores."

"I wish we could get one," she sighed and raised her arms toward August. "I will wish for one on my next birthday."

"Sure." He picked her and set her down on the ground. Then, he looked back at me. "You wanna take a look?"

"Um. . . Sure."

"Come on."

I took a step forward and leaned into the eyepiece. The next moment I saw a portion of the night sky with a pair of double stars shining brightly into the vast blackness beyond, I felt an overwhelming bliss surge over me. I had always loved the night sky but, I had never come this close to it. I always believed that beautiful things exist in this universe far and beyond the horizon, beyond what my eyes can see. And to be seeing a part of that beauty this close blew my mind away. I couldn't stop smiling. I felt like I could reach out to them and pluck them in my hands.

"Wow," I breathed in awe, captivated by the incredible view.

"That's Albireo, the fifth brightest star in the Cygnus constellation. It appears like a pinpoint to the naked eye but it's actually two stars. . . as you can see."

"It's beautiful. So bright!" I said, looking through the eyepiece.

"You wanna see Saturn?"

"Yeah!" I chipped elatedly and moved away to give him way to the device.

He stared up at the sky and pointed out the constellation Sagittarius to me. It was mind-blowing for me that he could trace out the constellation because no matter how much I love the night sky, I was simply constellation-blind. I knew the positions of few stars but I had no idea what constellation they are a part of.

"Saturn rises at nightfall from the southeast over Sagittarius," Augustine said and looked into the eyepiece.

He adjusted the magnification and all for a few seconds before stepping away from the eyepiece for me to see. I leaned into the eyepiece again and another wonderstruck sigh deeply left my chest yet again.

"Woahh."

"You see the rings?"

"Yeah. It's so. . . It's so wonderful. I'm getting goosebumps." I glanced back and grinned at him.

He smiled back and I looked at Saturn again. It had a golden color hue and its rings looked like ears.

"Wow. I can even see the division between the A ring and the inner B ring. Hmm. . . it's funny." I chuckled.

"What's funny?"

"I have a funny image in my mind. Saturn looks like this." I pressed my thumbs just above my ears and flapped my fingers while sticking out my tongue and wiggling it. He broke out chuckling too.

Romeo took Ari up to his room to sleep and he didn't come down to the yard again. He said he had homework to do. August showed me more stars and planets and constellation. While tracing out the constellation Cygnus for me, we lay on the grass next to each other and gazed up at the sky since he told me it was easier to spot it by looking straight up.

"You see that line of Milky Way?" He asked, moving his hand over our faces like he was painting the sky. "Cygnus flies south along the path of Milky Way. Then look for three bright stars that form a triangle called the Summer Triangle. Here it is." He traced them out for me again. "The bright star in the lower left of this triangle is Deneb, the tail of the swan. See?" Moving his forefinger across the sky, he pointed out the stars and opened my constellation-blind eyes to Cygnus the swan.

I could hardly blink at what I saw. He was right. There it was. The Swan, elegant and miraculous. I felt my heart pound within me in joy and awe and thrill like a little kid in a candy store.

"God, I wish I could stay out like this forever and just watch them." I sighed.

"That's what I feel every time I look at them," Augustine commented in a calm voice.

"I wish I could trace out constellations the way you do. It's so cool."

"I could teach you. My dad taught me too. He even built me my first telescope."

"Did he study Astronomy too?"

"No. He just loved it."

"Oh."

He taught me more about constellations and Astronomy as we lay side by side looking into the vast, magnificent ocean of stars. And when the back of his hand accidentally brushed against mine, I felt an electrifying jolt in my heart. I looked at him. He glanced at me too but said nothing. He just moved his hand away.

"I think we should get inside," he said.

I agreed and helped him put the telescope back in its case. Then we went inside. At the door, we stood facing each other like every other night.

"Good night, then. Sophia," he said, eyes lingering on mine.

Just by looking at his face, I felt a knot in my stomach and my heartbeat began to pick up speed again.

"Yeah. Good night, August."

He set the telescope on the floor next to his feet and asked me, "What are you doing tonigh. . . tomorrow. I mean."

"Just college," I answered, chewing on my bottom lip, nervous at the way he was looking at me so very calmly and meticulously like he was trying to solve a math problem in his mind. "You?"

"Maybe I'll come to college too."

"Ookay?"

"Sophia. . ."

"Yeah?"

"I. . . uh. . . there's something I thought I should. . . it's something." He faltered with his words unsure where to even begin.

"What?"

He opened his mouth to say again but, it seemed as though all the words he planned to say had got lost on the way. "I just think it's important to. . . oh, fuck. It doesn't matter." He cursed and came straight toward me.

His hands darted out to cup my face and before I knew it, his lips crashed into mine and I lost my breath in complete surprise. I gasped out in shock and his tongue dove into my mouth, sliding against my tongue.

August. . . God!

My hands went up to his chest as he backed me onto my door. Kissing me passionately, he pulled back a moment to look at me. I could hardly breath when I met his eyes. I could hardly believe this was happening for real. August, for real!

"August?" I called out in surprise, my hands moving up to cup his face to make sure he was really there. That it was really him who kissed me.

He didn't answer. He only dipped his face in and kissed me harder. My head spun like a wheel at the touch. It spun so wildly that my head could have possibly exploded. But having craved for his affection for so long, I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him back with all I could. I wanted him and I didn't want to let this moment go wrong.

Much to my pleasure, Augustine's hand found the doorknob and he led me inside my room. I had no idea but, judging by the way I was now making out with him, I realized I had been so badly ready for him all along.


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