THE PROCESS OF FALLING
by Jel Tordesillas
It was the first week of summer vacation—a Wednesday.
Incidentally, it was also the first summer before Janella Gonzaga started college at the International Asian University in Pasig. It was also the start of her first day as Charlie’s baby sitter. Charlie was the seven-year-old son of Brad and Natasha Wakefield, her neighbors who had just moved to the subdivision, Ayala Hills Alabang, a couple of months ago. They were in their mid-30s. Brad, an American, was a pediatrician, while Natasha, a Filipino, was quite a well-known freelance painter. The two met when Brad was doing a medical mission in Tacloban, right after the dreadful disaster came to an end. During that time, Natasha was a Philippine Red Cross volunteer who was also doing research for her Tacloban charity exhibit. They hit it off instantly and the rest was history.
While Janella thought their story was amazing, she personally didn’t considered herself as the lovey-dovey type. Her parents were annulled when she was 9, and she barely had any memory of them together. Now, she lived with her Mom, Cecile, and her stepfather, George, who made a living as an interior design tandem. They’ve been together for 9 years.
While Janella adored and loved Tito George very much, there were times when she couldn’t help but wonder what her life would be like if her parents had stayed together. Her Dad, Lito, who she has now named on her phone as MIA, was an architect based in New York. Though he was kind enough to pay for her tuition and extra-curricular lessons, he was primarily an absentee father who wrote the mandatory birthday, Christmas, and graduation cards.
So now, thanks to her parents, she was now a self-professed love skeptic at age 18.
“Hello Janella,” greeted Natasha as she opened their amazingly high, French-inspired, green gate that was outlined with filigree detail. “Thanks again for doing this. I know babysitting isn’t a typical thing for Filipino teenagers to do, but thanks for being cool about it.”
“No problem!” Janella said promptly, with a little bit too much enthusiasm. “I didn’t sound fake, did I?” she wondered. She definitely was not in any way insincere for doing the babysitting job. It’s just that as it turned out, she also needed money for a new Samsung S9 in time for college.
“Charlie! Tita Jan is here!” Natasha called.
Cute and adorable Charlie with fair skin, round blue eyes, and dark brown hair in a bob cut, popped out, and shyly mumbled hello with a little dimple showing on his right cheek as he smiled.
“Are you excited to go the Grand Bonanza?” she asked in high-pitched pre-school teacher-esque voice.
“Yes!” he exclaimed, clapping excitedly.
Since it was two weeks before Christmas, the village hosted a Bazaar-Carnival event called The Grand Bonanza. It was set up at the big, vacant lot and was visited by a ton of people. It was on its 5th year so Janella had actually spent a lot of her teenage years here with her family, friends, suitors and now…Charlie. Not that she was complaining, Charlie was a good kid. He rarely had tantrums and was cheerful and friendly most of the time. Janella imagined that if she’d ever gotten to having her own kid, she’ want someone like Charlie.
“Welcome to the Grand Bonanza!” the ticket lady greeted.
“One regular and one junior,” she requested.
She looked around, and it was just as she remembered—cheery and energetic—with loud pop music playing in the background and multicolored paper decorations everywhere. It wasn’t Disneyland, but they did have crowd favorites like the carousel, the bumper cars, and the roller coaster. Lots of children were there with their parents. Other faces in the crowd included barkadas (group of friends), lovers, and people doing their Christmas shopping.
“Just a minute!” the girl said as she processed the payment. “Here you go!” she continued, handing out the tickets.
“I wanna shoot the monsters!’ Charlie exclaimed as he pulled Janella towards the Bang Bang booth right after the carousel.
“Slow down,” she said, panting. They had just bought grape juices from the Giddy Grape! stall and she was afraid one of them might fall. Charlie paid no attention, and instead, started running even faster until he bumped into a guy standing by the carousel, spilling grape juice all over him.
“How embarrassing!” Janella thought, feeling her skin starting to turn crimson. “Next time, no running, okay?” she told Charlie pointedly.
“Okay,” Charlie agreed, who looked as embarrassed as she was.
”I’m so sorry!” she called out apologetically. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
A guy in white, of around 6 feet, dripping wet from head to toe, turned around and smiled. “It’s no problem. Really.” he replied calmly in a deep voice.
That smile. That face. That voice.
Janella had never been this taken on a guy.
That fast. At first glance.
For a few seconds, she forgot to breathe.
“Sorry, what?” she asked blankly, still staring at him.
“It’s okay,” he repeated laughing slightly, peering down at see if she was okay.
“He said it’s okay.” Charlie repeated, a-matter-of-factly.
“Thanks Charlie,” she acknowledged, suddenly realizing how stupid she must have sounded. Then again, how could she not?
Standing in front of her was a tan-skinned guy with an adorable pointed nose, semi-full lips, and thick black hair neatly cut into a crew cut.
He wasn’t buff, but she could tell he probably worked out at least twice a week. This, plus the fact that he was six feet tall and wearing a white polo shirt, was starting to get Janella mildly tensed inside. Okay, maybe not mildly.
“Excuse me, I have to go die now,” she muttered as she turned her back, making a run for it. Unfortunately, Charlie, who was holding with her left hand, was still staying put.
“Would you like to shoot monsters with us?” Charlie invited.
“John,” the guy offered extending his hand.
“John probably has some things he has to do,” Janella explained, trying to pull Charlie away. He wouldn’t budge.
“Please?” Charlie continued.
“Tell you what,” John replied. “Let me just go to bazaar to buy a shirt, and I’ll meet you guys there.”
“You don’t have to, ” she started, but John was already walking away.
“I’ll see you there!” he called, waving before walking away from site.
So now Janella was at the Bang Bang booth with Charlie and John. Charlie actually showed up after he got changed. He was now wearing a vintage Beatles shirt, which made him look even sexier. As if that was was even possible.
“Cool shirt!” Charlie greeted.
“Thank dude!” John countered, motioning for a high-five.
Janella could barely stand still, but she tried her best to look nonchalant about the fact that he was right next to her with his right forearm barely grazing against her left.
“Congratulations.” the shooting booth guy acknowledged in a jaded, monotone voice, obviously bored with his job. “You’ve won yourself Ted, the giant bear. Yay.”
“So even in the world of carnival shooting, John was perfect,” she thought.
Mustering the courage to actually have a decent conversation with him, she asked, “Are you here alone?”
“Um, no, not exactly ….” He pauses.
“ I’m actually waiting for my girlfriend.”
“I’m so stupid,” Janella thought, her heart slowly sinking.
“Really?” she answered, trying to seem casual about the fact that he was taken.
“Yeah, she’s actually in a meeting now.”
“Why, how old are you?” she blurted.
“I’m 25.” He answered facing down, looking a little embarrassed.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Nax, big time. Where’d you study?”
“St. Ignacio de Loyola University,” John said shyly. “Lucky to have passed the bar. Hehe. What about you? What do you do?” he continued, brushing the ground with his plain white Nike sneakers that have been obviously worn a lot.
For some reason, Janella wanted to lie and say that she was working at a bank or something, something that would impress him. Deciding against it and being all righteous, she replied, “I’m actually starting college at the International Asian University this August”
“Cool, what are you taking?”
“BA Communication with Specialization in Creative Writing”
“Thanks! I’m actually really looking forward to it. The problem is, I still don’t know what to do with it after I graduate.”
“It will come.” he said “I wish I were brave enough to take something as creative as that. I’ve always wanted to pursue music.”
“Who are you favorites?”
“Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, and then, don’t laugh, Michael Jackson.”
“Oh cool. I love Michael Jackson,” she interrupted.
“He is the king,” he agreed.
“And then, well obviously,” she continued, pointing to his shirt.
John started to pose like a model.
“Oh, is this you trying to be funny?” Janella teased. “You think you’re funny?”
“I know I’m funny,” he smiled at her and laughed. Janella started to laugh with him.
Suddenly, both of them were laughing like idiots.
“I haven’t laughed that much in a long time,” John confessed happily when their laughing streak ended.
He suddenly looked sad and wistful, as if he wasn’t happy with his life.
“Maybe he regretted pursuing law?” she thought to herself. “…or maybe he wasn’t happy with his girlfriend.”
“Shoot. I’m so bad. Erase. Erase. Erase.”
She wanted to hug him right there and then.
“It’s not too late,” she encouraged, suddenly finding herself touching his right shoulder in way friendly way. At least that’s what she hoped it came out as. “It’ll be okay.”
Janella suddenly turned quiet. She realized she might have crossed the line between acquaintances…or strangers.
Why didn’t it feel that way?
It was now Johns turn to stare. He was looking at her as if they had known each other their whole lives.
Janella started back, capturing and reciprocating the energy that came from John.
“Would you guys like to ride the Ferris Wheel?” Charlie suddenly interrupted. Janella, on the other hand, almost jumped in surprise.
John’s phone suddenly rings.
“Uh, I have to take this.” John apologized, walking away. “I’ll try to catch up with you guys!”
As it turned, out he didn’t.
It was as if Janella had dreamed the whole thing.
Oh well. Back to reality.
This isn’t the end though. *wink*