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II. Bird Cage

No. I can't. I can't just leave whenever I want. My heart pounded out of my chest as I twiddled my thumbs. A voice inside my head was telling me to take this chance. That if I want something, I have to go and take it. Why wait for the approval of others? I remember him telling me that. That him and I, we are doers. That's what he saw in me. Then it wouldn't hurt to just get out and see the world again. Right. Tomorrow, he said it's going to be a big day.

I struggled to find the biggest sunglasses to hide my face from the collection sprawled across a desk. The closet was an organized jungle of fabric. When faced with this many options, I found myself taking more time to come up with a decision. So I let go of any thought and picked the one where my hand stops trailing. it's a collection of clothes tailored for me, anyway. Lucian is that particular about maintaining my image to which I still have little understanding of. He kept telling me I was fine and that I am doing well. But it only made me more self-conscious, especially when he has everything in control down to the minute details. Am I really acting the way I'm supposed to be? Is this the real me shining? Is my concern over showing the real me… my default setting? A sharp bolt pierced through my ear once again and I just closed my eyes and hurried out with whatever I put on.

Any minute now, Lucian's hired bodyguards should show up. Hell, they could already be watching me. Yet I stepped out without slowing down and walked down the corner in a pace. It was as if every hall I turn to was something I've never been before. How much time have I been spending in the dressing room that our way in has become unknown to me? Using only what little sense of intuition I have left, I pressed forward. Just keep going and you'd find an exit.

And there it was, a lobby. It was the first time another human being was before me that was not my manager. Surely it's an exaggeration. But everything seems so new to me for some reason. I heard the man over the desk greet me a good morning. His tone hinted nothing special which may mean he did not recognize who I was or that was part of their training. It was 9:03am said the huge antique grandfather clock on the wall. There were yellow cabs passing by as I stepped out of the patterned carpet and into the concrete pavement. I struggled to wave at one and quickly, a cab stopped right in front of me. Without any hesitation, I got inside eager to not let any of the guards that might be on their way to see me.

"Where to?" The taxi man was an old driver with graying hair down to his neck.
"The park." I felt a sense of relief from saying that word. Excitement flew over me next as the thought of seeing the pond and all the pigeons on the open washed over me.

It did not take long before my imagination became true as I stepped down the vehicle and all I could see was the open concrete space. People walked past me as they go on about their own lives. Some would run from behind me as I watched their skin glisten with sweat under the morning sun. Others had dogs with them. Parents had their children by their hand yet the little ones still manage to run after seeing the ice cream truck stopped by the corner. It was bright but the sun gave no harm on my skin as I breathed in the fresh air from this side of the city. A few minutes into the walk and I found myself struggling to breathe properly that I had to sit down to the nearest bench I could lean on. My skin was cold and my hands started to shake while I calm them down with my breath. Overwhelming. Don't know if it was all the new things I'm taking in or the guilt of leaving without notice. Or maybe fear of punishment. No, Lucian has never punished me. He would not lay a finger on me. But seeing his eyes at every disappointment I make is punishment enough. He need no words to hurt me. And when he does, it is not his fault. For I am the one who thinks I fail him every time.

What am I even doing? I'm finally free. Yet I still feel like I have nowhere else to go. No. This has got to stop. I'm going to have a great time before it becomes harder for me to step out. This is the only time or maybe even the last time I'm going to enjoy sitting at a park without anyone taking pictures or asking for an autograph.

"Ah you'll get used to it."

I did not notice I was sitting beside someone on this bench the whole time. And for a moment, my heart beat stopped, "Excuse me?"

"I mean, the outside world. You'll get the hang of it." He sipped his coffee from a paper cup.

"Wh..Why do you say that?"

"Oh, I uh think you're very pale. I mean, there's nothing wrong with being pale, you know. Wear your skin color proud and all. Oh, god that's probably rude, yeah?"

"This is how you talk to people?"

"Wow, I deserved that," He smiled. It was nice seeing another person smile. For some reason, it felt contagious that I had to give him one too. A few more seconds and it would have been awkward but his timing was just right, "I can see you're a very beautiful lady."

"And I can see you are a hungry man," referring to a small bag of tacos and another of a sausage between us.

"Oh, the other one's for you. Depends on what you like." He winked at me as he crossed his legs and took another sip from his coffee.

"You think I'd take food from a stranger. I don't think that's how the outside world works."
"Well, how about a name?"
"Jagger." And he reached out his hand. As I offered mine, he firmly held my hand, "And I'm no longer a stranger."

"I'm not hungry, Jagger." I insisted.
"Oh, you're gonna be later cause I'm gonna invite you for a walk." He crushed his paper cup, took the bags and stood in front of me holding his hand out. Just like that, I found myself pacing a step behind him as we walked with my hand in his hand. He had a way with his hands. His grip told me not to worry but at the same time to keep up with him. He wore a thick midnight blue sweater that fit his frame well. We stopped in front of the lake where no other people stood. It was at a curve where the ledges crisscrossed one another as they separated us from the view below. He pointed at the family of ducks moving on the still water.

"Did you know that ducks are born precocial?" He asked while I watched the mother duck lead the way for her five ducklings and another one left behind seemingly looking around freely. "It means they were born in an advanced state. They knew the world before they even hatched and that they have the necessary skills to survive in it like feed themselves or walk at once without being taught how to do so."

I didn't know where he was going but his enthusiasm and seriousness about the topic was mesmerizing. There was a hint of sadness in his smile and a certainty in his pauses. It was then that I realized all his distinct features. And that he had a pretty face, an alarming gaze and a calming presence. He had that intensity in him that reminded me of Lucian but it was the opposite. He felt free.

"Well Glory, some people are just born into this outside world knowing how it works while others need to be awakened. But we're all trapped in this bubble no matter what knowledge we have of it. We may break free or distance ourselves, but we're part of the system. So we do what we can to survive with the skills we were born with."

Stunned, I had no words. What did he mean? Somehow it struck me that he knew who I was. He held my hand once again and I followed him into the increasing number of people walking by.

"Jagger, what do you do?"
"You'll know soon enough." And he grabbed my other hand to give me the two paper bags. He let go and just like that, he was gone in the crowd before I could protest. In that moment, my fears suddenly crept back under my skin. My breathing became heavy and my vision blurry.

Two firm grips on my arm dragged me forcefully to my surprise. In my struggle, I felt weaker as two big men in suits pushed me inside a black van. "We found her. She's safe." One of the men spoke into the microphone strapped to his collar.

I don't know if I could agree.

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