CHARM heaved a deep sigh as she walked down the staircase. Congresswoman Helen Barcelona was throwing a birthday celebration. It was her duty as her daughter to mingle and entertain the guests, or else her mother will nag her non-stop.
“There you are, sis!” Czarina met her half-way on the staircase. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“I was in my room, having a battle with myself if I should join the party or not,” she said lazily.
Czarina beamed widely. It seemed that she has some good news.
“You… should… join… the party,” her sister said. Czarina stood beside her and clutched on her arm. “My professor in Humanities wanted to meet you.”
“Really? Why?” Charm wondered.
Czarina tugged her down and headed to the garden where the party was being held. She brought her to the pool area. Her sister waved to a middle-aged couple.
Charm and Czarina sauntered toward them.
“Is she your sister?” the woman asked.
“Yep, this is my sister Charmaine, the one I’ve been talking about. Sis, this is Prof. Violetta Gonzaga, she’s teaching Humanities in our university. And Prof. Siegfred here is her husband, who teaches Socio-Anthropology,” said Czarina, introducing them to one another.
Charm extended her hand for a handshake that they immediately accepted.
“Hello, Charmaine. Your sister has been talking a lot about you and your works. I am thrilled to finally meet you,” said Prof. Violetta.
“Oh… really?” She gave her sister a side-way glance. “My pleasure.”
“Yeah. And you know what, I am so impressed with your paintings. Ah, well… I’ve seen some pictures of it. Your sister showed them to me.” The professor smiled.
“Oh…” Charm smiled shyly. “I… I don’t know how I should react,” she said honestly. “I only showed my paintings to my friends and siblings. This is so heartwarming, Prof. Violetta. Thank you so much.” She smiled.
“Have you tried joining an exhibit?”
“Ah… not yet. I—”
“Would you like to join one?”
“If I will be given a chance, why not?”
“Great!” Prof. Violetta smiled widely. “Actually, I am organizing an art exhibit for my students, and I am inviting you to join.”
Charm’s eyes widened. She didn’t expect that.
“Y-you want me to join?” she asked as if what Prof. Violetta said a while ago wasn’t enough. She covered her mouth with her hands.
“Oh, Czarina. You were never wrong when you told me that your sister will give me this kind of reaction.”
The couple laughed at her.
“See, Prof. I told you.” Czarina turned to her and wagged her brows.
“Have you told her that I won’t take no for an answer?”
“Now that you mention that, I bet she knows.” Her sister laughed.
Prof. Violetta turned her gaze on her. “So, Charmaine, it means yes.”
Charm was already teary-eyed when she spoke again. “Of course, it’s a yes.”
They shook hands once again.
“I’ll let you know the details through your sister, okay?”
“Okay…” She gave the professor a quick nod.
Prof. Violetta tapped her arm. “If you’ll excuse us, we’ll see our way to your mother. I wanted to greet her a happy birthday before we leave.”
“Oh, sure.” Charm motioned them the way. “Thank you so much, Prof. Violetta.”
“You’re welcome, Charmaine.”
Charm let the couple leave before she squealed.
“Hey, pull yourself together,” Czarina said, laughing.
“I think this is the best day of my life.”
The fact that she could join an exhibit, whether it was a small-time one, was enough for Charm to feel happy. At last, she was able to show her works to other people.
“But you should be discreet about this, sis,” said Czarina. “You know what mother is capable of. If she knew about this, my efforts will all go to waste.”
Charm nodded agreeably. “You’re right, Cza.”
She got two glasses of wine from the roaming waiter who passed by them. She handed one to her sister.
“A toss for a great step forward,” Charm said as she raised her glass.
They clinked their glasses and sipped their wine.
JOAQUIN fixed his suit when he got off his car, while his other hand held his gift for the birthday celebrant. It was unplanned, but he has to go as his father’s representative. He couldn’t say no to him.
He halted when he reached the guard post.
“Sir, security check,” the guard said.
“Oh.” He put down his gift on the X-ray machine. He raised his hands as the guard made a thorough check on him.
“You’re good to go, sir. Enjoy the party,” the guard said afterward.
Joaquin walked through the crowd as his eyes wandered around the garden, looking for Congresswoman Helen Barcelona. But his eyes caught a familiar face instead. Someone he did not expect he would see there. He was about to follow her when someone blocked his view, and just like that, she was gone. He didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt frustrated.
“Jackson or Joaquin?”
Joaquin turned to the direction of the voice and saw the birthday celebrant walking toward him. He flashed a smile.
“Happy birthday, Auntie Helen.” He handed her the gift.
“O, thank you. Uhm, I’m really sorry, Hijo. I really don’t know how to address you. I am always mistaken if Joaquin or Jackson was the one in front of me.” She laughed.
“Auntie, it’s me, Joaquin. Jackson’s still inside the seminary,” he told her.
“Oh… yeah, I almost forgot.” She tapped his arm. “Wait, where is your father, anyway?”
“Forgive him, Auntie. He’s not feeling well since afternoon.”
“His vertigo again?”
“I think so. My father could not leave the bed, so he sent me here.”
“Tell your father that he is getting old and weak.”
He laughed. “While you, on the other hand, seemed to get younger.”
“Tsk! Where did you learn that, Joaquin?” She chuckled and cupped her cheek. “I almost fell for that. You know what, I think I aged twice this year. Our work in congress is getting harder and harder.”
“I guess you should retire.”
“You know what… yes, it was really exhausting. But as long as you love what you’re doing, it’s fine.”
“Well… I must agree with that.” Joaquin beamed.
“Anyway, grab some food,” she told him. “I’ll just see the other guests.”
“Thanks, Auntie. I can manage,” he said.
His eyes roamed again, looking for that familiar face that he saw earlier. But he could not find her now. Or maybe she already left.
Joaquin didn’t know why, but when he saw her earlier, he kinda felt excited. Now he could not help but think when will he see her again.