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Swimsuit Edition

The commercial jetliner took off as scheduled from sunny San Francisco to Washington D.C. which was being buried in a snowstorm.

He was thinking back to when he was only seventeen—a high school senior, living in Antonio Village near Manila...Even then, he liked the comfort of routine and the assurance of a set schedule.

Hubert flipped through the pages of the flight safety instruction manual, but he was thinking back to when he was only seventeen—a high school senior, living in Antonio Village near Manila.

Even then, he liked the comfort of routine and the assurance of a set schedule. He was always on time. No detours. Even with his one quirky habit, he was punctual. At 7:05 a.m. on the dot, Hubert would slip on his Timex, as he got ready for school. He would go to the kitchen, sip a cup of Nescafe his mother set on the table, then proceed to put his nose to the window and peer deeply through the blinds to espy the object of his teenage fascination. At 7:09 a.m. without fail, there would be Rosey, the girl-next-door, tiny of waist and bursting of bosom, bouncing down Araneta Avenue to catch a jeepney by the corner. When she was out of sight—exactly 7:15, Hubert would get his bag and start out the door.

But Hector, his squirmy ten-year-old brother, was never so accepting of routine. One morning, as Hubert was happily engaged in his Rosey-watch, Hector pounced out of a corner and suddenly jerked open the blinds, revealing to Rosey‘s surprise Hubert’s fawning, open-mouthed face pressed against the glass. Rosey walked off frowning, as Hubert snapped the blinds shut, pledging never to open them again.

But that was ten years ago. Now he was sitting in economy class, flying over Utah in an American Airlines jet, making good time toward the east, with Rosey waiting at the other end.

"Whatever. She'll be there. I can see it now—you and her—frolicking in the snow-covered meadow, making snow angels!" Hector chuckled...

"You haven’t said a word." It was Hector by the window seat. "You’ve been staring at the airline instruction manual forever, man. You haven’t touched your lunch."

"Can’t you see I’m thinking," said Hubert, rubbing his eyes like he had not blinked for an hour.

"Stop it, stop thinking," said Hector in a high-pitched whine. "It’s gonna work out—I know it is—you’ll find true love on this trip—you know—la-la-la -Springtime in December! She’ll be there. I can see it now—you and her—frolicking in the snow-covered meadow, making snow angels! " Hector chuckled, popped airline peanuts into his mouth, then reached over to grab Hubert’s packet of peanuts and lunch tray. "You don’t want these, right?"

"Why did you have to come along?"

"Because I’m your kid brother, and brothers are meant to help each other out in times of need."

"You do still act like a little kid. But now, instead of bumming a candy bar from me, it’s a plane ticket. Why did I let Ma sweet-talk me into bringing you along. Furlough. You know, we’ve never actually seen you at the base. So how do we know you’re not just bumming around."

"You’ll have to trust me. Uhm, could you pass me the Sports Illustrated. I used some of my own money on that—well okay—money I borrowed from you that I turned into my own money. So I take first ogle."

Hubert yanked the Swimsuit Edition Sports Illustrated wedged in the pocket of his black carry-on. "Don’t get grease over the write-up on the NFL playoffs—I want to read that."

"Fine. Do that. First I’ll look at the pictures. I think they did a photo essay on the top five best-looking cheerleaders of the NFL. "

"Photo essay. Right. Here. Pervert."

It was the first impulsive act he had ever done—except when he tried to propose to Rosey
for the first time five years before. .

"Thanks. Resume your daydreaming if you want." Hector began leafing through the glossy pages with purpose. "I suggest you stare at the vomit bag instructions this time."

"Go to hell."

Hubert wondered if he was doing the right thing. It was the first impulsive act he had ever done—except when he tried to propose to Rosey for the first time five years before.

"That first time was pretty awkward, huh." It was Hector again. "Mom said you screwed up her name—called her by the wrong name or something."

"I wasn’t thinking straight."

"Yeah, but can’t you tell ‘Rosey’ from ‘you whore’?"

"I was upset. She’d been seeing that jerk she met in the police station --"

"Well, yeah—that jerk was her husband, the desk sergeant. What’s his name?"

"Jenkins—EX-husband Jerome Jenkins. EX!"

"Okay ... EX. "

"Rosey Jenkins—that just never had that right ring to it. I was just frustrated. I flew clear across America to get her, only to have her tell me that she decided to not to quit her dispatcher job at the police station and that she started seeing that bum again. I wasted time, money, threw off my schedule—just to hear say she still loved that desk jockey."

"Mr. EX."

"Yeah, that pencil pusher. I bet he has no idea how to lock and load his service revolver."

"Which turned out good for you, actually, that he didn’t have a gun. He kicked you out of the house, didn’t he?"

"It was her house, not his. He didn’t kick me out. You know me better than that. I walked out—kinda."

"Did she ever send you the bill for the screen door?"

"I couldn’t see the screen door—couldn’t see it."

"...That's the whole point of this trip. I'm going to her. Again.
To get her once and for all. She said it was time."

"I guess that’s how it is when you try to leave in a huff, except you lose the dramatic effect when you stamp a permanent impression of your face on the wire mesh."

"Her house was too dark, she was yelling so loud, and he was yelling too. And I didn’t notice—not watching where I was going."

"Do you know where you’re going now?"

"What?"

"Do you know where you’re headed now?"

"Well, of course. What kind of question is that? That’s the whole point of this trip. I’m going to her. Again. To get her once and for all. She said it was time."

"Take it easy, you’re beginning to hyperventilate. Use that vomit bag."

"Shut up."

"Why are you so obsessed with this woman?"

My life has been
one complete disappointment,
and my entire existence depends
on what happens. If I don't do this now, I'll regret not doing it until the day I die."

"She’s my only shot. I’ll be twenty-eight tomorrow and she’s the only woman I’ve known. No one will ever like me. My life has been one complete disappointment, and my entire existence depends on what happens. If I don’t do this now, I’ll regret not doing it until the day I die."

"I wonder who’s winning that Oakland game. I think Houston has a great defense. This might be the last year they’ll have their franchise you know." Hector winked at the flight attendant as she walked past them. "Now, that’s a looker. Do you have a picture of Rosey? How does she look now, anyway. I bet she’s gotten fat."

"I doubt it."

"She’s gotten fat and ugly and you’re in for a shock when you see her."

"Shut up."

"Oh, I’m sure she has a nice personality. Or maybe, I should take that back. I’m not really so sure even of that. I remember that time—you know—those two weeks before we left for the States."

"How could you remember anything back then. You were a little snot-nosed pest of a brother."

"That was the first time I saw you going out of the house."

Hubert smiled and closed his eyes. "Somehow, we hit it off. Two weeks of being together and then I had to leave for the States."

"You mean you had to come along with the rest of us to the States, kicking and screaming."

"Two weeks. It was amazing. It was like—you know—magic."

"Oh, give me a break."

"I remember—there was this little place in Cubao- "

"What’s Cubao?"

"It’s a district in Manila. This place had the best mami and siopao you ever tasted."

"What’s mami and siopao?"

One time we walked in the park at the Kapitolyo late at night, and we took off our shoes and waded in the fountain...She talked about being a travel writer—of going places, of taking her shoes off in Spain, Rio, Venice."

"A kind of a soup and bun, moron. Anyway, we went to Greenhills to go bowling, and then we watched a movie. I remember going to these music clubs—you know—with live musicians and singers. Man, it was great. One time we walked in the park at the Kapitolyo late at night, and we took off our shoes and waded in the fountain. No one saw us. She talked about being a travel writer—of going places, of taking her shoes off in Spain, Rio, Venice. "

"Does she wash her feet?"

"Before she came into my life, what was I? Who was I? Just someone who got up in the morning and took his cup of coffee and went off to the day."

"That sounds familiar. Don’t you do that now?"

"That’s the point. She brought magic to my life. Manila was magic. I mean, without her, what’s my life been in the States? Nothing."

"True. But sometimes, a lifestyle starts inside your mind."

"Well, Rosey changed my life—if even just for two weeks."

"Two weeks of magic and memories, huh."

"You better believe it. It all started in that graduation dance. Rosey and I danced all night...our feet were sore the next day. "

"Mom set you up, right?

Hubert did not answer.

"You moped alone for weeks when we got here. You stayed in your room most of the time, listening to James Taylor music and writing her everyday. Been writing her ever since."

"Mom set you up because you were too timid to ask Rosey yourself —to ask her to come with you to the dance. Mom had to do it—had to call Rosey’s mom and set it up."

"After that bumbling window blinds incident—thanks to you— I didn’t have the nerve. Besides, I was just young."

"A young know-nothing bumble head."

"But things are different now."

"Yeah. You’re an older bumble head."

"So anyway, the rest is history: When our family had to leave for America—of course, I wanted to stay behind—finish my last year of high school. But Papa would not let me."

"I know. You moped alone for weeks when we got here. You stayed in your room most of the time, listening to James Taylor music and writing her everyday. Been writing her ever since. Ain’t that so?"

"We stopped writing each other after a while. Later, she did that student visa thing and ended up staying in the D.C. area. That’s when we started again. Even when she got married to that jerk, we continued writing."

"That’s weird."

"Finally, when she got that divorce, I jumped at it—took the first plane to D.C."

"Well, that didn’t work out for you, for her and for the screen door."

"This is my second chance, Hector. Nothing is going to stop me."

Hubert noticed that the plane seemed to be taking a turn to the right. The voice on the intercom explained. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We will need to take a detour to Houston."

"What?" Hubert heard himself the loudest above the murmurs. "Diverting to Houston!"

"Take it easy, something’s going on," said Hector.

"You bet something’s going on!" Hubert checked his Timex. "We’re going to be delayed indefinitely."

"No, we’re not," said Hector.

The brothers slouched on a crowded bench next to each other in front of a pile of hand-carries, not all theirs, and watched the word "delayed" pop out on the flight schedule board over and over again.

"This is your captain again. We are landing in Houston and will have to be laid over indefinitely. The blizzard has caused airport authorities to close Dulles Airport for the time being."

In a few minutes, they were sitting inside the Houston terminal, near a large window that showed the sunlight splash on a tarmac full of bright, shiny planes—ready, willing, and utterly useless. The brothers slouched on a crowded bench next to each other in front of a pile of hand-carries, not all theirs, and watched the word "delayed" pop out on the flight schedule board over and over again. Hector buried his face in the Sports Illustrated, and Hubert began to fiddle with the strap of his camera that had gotten caught in his wristwatch band.

"So how come she’s giving you a second chance?" Hector asked from behind the magazine.

"They split again. She sent me a letter. Said it was over for them, that it was me all along. Just that I was so far away, and she was lonely."

"You are hopelessly naive," Hector said, as he rolled up the magazine and used it to slap Hubert’s shoe. "I hate to say this but... she’s using you."

"Watch your mouth."

"This woman is jerking you around—to and fro, up and down like a yoyo."

Hubert sat up straight. "You have no idea what you’re talking about.
We shared so much in our letters all these years. We grew up together in a sense—here in the States—she, living her own life—I, getting by with mine. But we remember Manila together. Remember siopao and mami late at night after the basketball games, the Greenhills Shopping complex, the bowling, the movies, the park at Kapitolyo, Luneta..."

"Where’s my violin?"

"Nothing's become of those hopes and dreams and your Manila memories are stale as week-old sushi."

" ... the folk houses and jazz clubs—and the graduation dance —you know. We had so many memories of the best time of our lives, and of the hopes we had back then."

"Yeah, but what’s become of all these hopes and memories? They’re just stuff inside your heads."

Hubert slouched back. Hector continued.

"Nothing’s become of those hopes and dreams, and your Manila memories are stale as week-old sushi. She never did become that travel writer, did she?"

"She wanted to be one but ..."

"But what?"

"She ended up with a couple of poems in some religious Unitarian magazine or something. That was it."

"And you never did become the Philippine arnis champion. Just a sorry-no-account bookkeeper in an obscure shoe store in Oakland."

Hubert shrugged. "Doesn’t matter."

"You know what your problem has always been, Bert? "You’re stuck in one time—in a freeze frame—you’re stuck in the Philippines —in Manila—in the two weeks before we left for the States, when you were just seventeen. You never left. You never left that time and that place. And you’ve been on this nostalgia thing ever since we moved to America."

"You’re out of your mind."

"And Rosey with you—she’s your way of never leaving the Philippines, never leaving Manila."

"Crazy amateur psycho-babble."

"You should let it go. She’s past tense, man. You should have applied yourself to the here and now. Ever since you met this Rosey, you have never really applied yourself."

"I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"Case in point: You were a really, really good martial arts guy. Not the schmuck you are today. And you could have won that national arnis tournament—the one that was held right before we were to leave for the States—you could have won the whole thing—everyone knew that. Who knows what would have happened after that."

"You fool. You let her lead you around town like a dog. Rosey this. Rosey that...You've been stuck in a rut. You need someone to encourage you to be more than you are, not someone who'll keep you tied to a tether."

"Shut up."

"But you didn‘t show up. Remember? You didn’t show up at the tournament. Our whole family was there at the tournament waiting for you because you said you’d be there but you never showed."

"Well, Rosey didn’t think it was important, she wanted to go somewhere else. She felt that it was more important that we spend the time together. After all, we were not going to see each other for a long time—maybe forever."

"You fool. You let her lead you around town like a dog. Rosey this. Rosey that. Rosey wants this. Wants to go here. Wants to go there. She’s still doing it to you. After all these years, she’s still doing it to you. And all you did for the past ten years was pine away inside of you for this Rosey. Each day you go to your shoe store, sit in the back room with your accounting ledgers and balance sheets, sneakily writing those letters. You go straight home. Go straight to the store. Go straight home. Watch your stupid Oakland Raiders. Go straight to the store. Wait for her letters. That’s been your life. You never followed up on that idea of starting your own martial arts studio. You’ve been stuck in a rut. You need someone to encourage you to be more than you are, not someone who’ll keep you tied to a tether."

Hubert looked at his Timex, then up at the flight schedule screens covered all over by slots of the word "delayed." Then he noticed the word "canceled" next to their flight number to Dulles.

"Canceled! I don’t believe this is happening! I need to call her somehow, tell her where I am. Need to use the phone!"

"Don’t look at me, Huberto. It’s not the end of the world."

"Do you have a phone card? Let me borrow your phone card."

"You got to listen to me."

"Shush!

"There’s a whole different world out there—"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"But you gotta let go of old ways, old paths—"

"Will you shut up already!"

"Can’t—I’m on a roll here."

Hubert checked his Timex. It seemed to have stopped. He took it off his wrist and shook it a little. "Now what!"

"Hey, alright! That museum piece finally croaked!"

"I told her I'd be there today no matter what, and a snowstorm is a 'no matter what.' She said if I don't show up, I can forget it."

"She’s waiting for me, planes are grounded, flight is canceled, my watch stopped, and I’m sitting here listening to your crazy talk. I told her I’d be there today no matter what, and a snowstorm is a ‘no matter what.’ She said if I don’t show up, I can forget it."

"What kind of crap is that? Love by ultimatum? You’re excused —this could have been a hijacking, a mechanical malfunction, whatever —can’t account for circumstances. The question is where do you go from here."

"Where do I go from here? To her!"

"All you know is one direction—to Rosey—to that snowstorm where disaster is waiting to happen. My suggestion is that you take the long way home, man." Hector placed his arms over Hubert’s shoulders. "Take the long way home and maybe in some sense, you’ll find your way to Manila again—only better."

Hubert slapped Hector’s arms off. "Spare me the stupid metaphors, Dalai Lama. She’s not a snowstorm. She is the only woman who ever liked me! Loved me! Look at me—what do you see?"

"A poor little unappreciated flower?"

"I’m Filipino through and through! I got small eyes, brown skin, I’m not that tall, I’m never going to be seen any other way by other women here. I’m not six feet tall with blue eyes."

"I know, I know. In other words, you’re not good looking like I am."

"I loathe you."

"I remember the homecoming—your freshman year at State, you asked that red head to go with you. She said no. She ended up with that blonde blue-eyed quarterback. You’ve had an inferiority complex ever since."

"What inferiority complex."

"Don’t deny it."

"Well, what the hell was I thinking, anyway? Of course, she’ll say no."

"Didn’t help your cause that Mr. Quarterback pushed you and called you a ‘chink’ and you just walked away, saying nothing. Why didn’t you stand up to him? You could have broken him in half."

"I don't know about you, man. But I'm American just as much as the next guy. I mean I'm in the military, for crying out loud. And this IS our place too. I just don't know about you."

"I think—well, I guess I was thinking back then—hey, I’m Filipino and I’m in this guy’s country. It wasn’t my place to do anything."

"I don’t know about you, man. But I’m American just as much as the next guy. I mean I’m in the military, for crying out loud. And this IS our place too. I just don’t know about you." Hector stretched, then held his stomach. "Uh-Oh! I need to go to the john. Too much airline food. You be cool, bro."

Hector dashed off toward the main hall, weaving past a motley parade of frowning, grumbling travelers, wearily lugging their possessions, their kids, their poodles in fancy cages, their coats, their cameras. Hector disappeared into the restrooms; while out of the disgruntled slow-moving morass of humanity sprang a young brunette with a small purse and the most beautiful eyes Hubert had ever seen. She spun around like a Barbie Doll on a spindle, fixed her gaze on the screen, and puckered her lips in dismay. She looked around again and spotted the empty seat next to Hubert, made her way toward him and stood right over him smiling.

"Is someone sitting here?" she asked.

Hubert took a side glance at the direction of the men’s room, and said,
"No. Not at all. It’s completely free." He noticed a tall man standing a few yards away, watching them.

"Are you sure—there’s stuff in here—this Sport Illustrated..."

"No, that’s mine. The seat’s free."

"Thanks," she said. Just then, the tall blonde man came forward, grabbed her arm and turned her around. "Not even a cup of coffee for old times’ sake?"

The girl blew upward at her bangs and sighed. "There are no ‘old times,‘ John, okay. Please don’t make a scene." She pulled her arm free, and turned back at Hubert, "I’m sorry for this," she said, smiling bravely.

The man was about to reach for her again, and Hubert knew better than to get involved, but something inside him let out, like a cork popped and good wine poured. He heard himself speak from his seat, "She doesn’t want to go with you."

The man seemed startled, then hesitated. "What did you say?"

"She’s made her wishes known. Be cool."

He nodded but said nothing, not wanting her to think he was going to milk his good deed. So they smiled at each other momentarily then disengaged. Their transaction was done. He felt at peace.

"Mind your own business, ‘Bruce Lee,’" the man said as he turned to the young lady and offered his hand; but she faced away and stood motionless like a manikin. Seconds passed. Finally, the man dropped his hand, shook his head slowly, shot a grim stare at Hubert and walked off, muttering to himself.

The girl swung her bag off her shoulder. "Whew! Some tense moments there," she said in a breath, as she plopped right down on the seat next to Hubert. She crossed her legs over her denim skirt, and pointed her boot upward. "Thanks so much for bailing me out. You didn’t have to do that."

He nodded but said nothing, not wanting her to think he was going to milk his good deed. So they smiled at each other momentarily then disengaged. Their transaction was done. He felt at peace. He began to pry open the sticky, grease-smeared pages of the Sports Illustrated, and found the article about NFL game-day predictions which was still readable under Hector’s food-prints. Houston over Oakland by 3! What do they know anyway, Hubert grumbled in his mind. He thought of turning to the swimsuit portion, then remembered his watch’s demise. He took it from his pocket and started shaking it again, tapping it on his sleeve, putting it next to his ear, listening for life. Then the girl spoke.

"Did it die on you?"

Hubert shifted his body in her general direction and managed to cough out something that sounded like an unfinished "Yes"—resembling "ye -" with the "s" trailing seconds later—not unlike a reptilian hiss.

"Too bad," the girl replied. "It’s a nice looking watch."

"Had it since high school," he heard himself say, this time in a low gurgle. You’re not sounding human, you idiot, he told himself. He took a deep breath and finally turned to her, caught her smiling blue eyes, then glanced at her in the entirety. He was beginning to regain his balance. In a normal human’s voice, he added, "It was a gift from my mother. Kept me on time all this while. It’s been good to me."

"Hmm. Timex, huh. They’re supposed to last forever. In fact, my Dad has one and it’s still ticking."

"It figures that this would happen right when that happens," he said, pointing to the schedules.

She bit her lower lip. "Yeah. I’m not sure what to do now that my flight’s been canceled. I guess some sort of alternate flight or something."

What a hideous two-timing monster chauvinist pig he was! He couldn't believe that he was sizing her up: her dimensions, her looks, the way she brushed away her bangs from her eyes... She's probably a cold, devious bitch, he told himself.

"Guess so." He put the deceased watch in his pocket and pretended to study the flight schedules. But neither the watch nor the time mattered now. His quick scan of the girl yielded some compelling estimates: 107 pounds, five feet seven, face like a doll, a figure that needed no adjustments. Then he realized what he was doing and was horrified. What a hideous two-timing monster chauvinist pig he was! He couldn’t believe that he was sizing her up: her dimensions, her looks, the way she brushed away her bangs from her eyes—and those eyes, blue and warm, almost kind. She’s probably a cold, devious bitch, he told himself. A hussy. A femme fatale preying on dorky guys. He began a silent mantra in his mind. Rosey, Rosey. Rosey. Rosey is the love of my life. She’s the one. The one. The one."

"Are you traveling alone, too?" The Barbie Doll asked, in a sweet, loving tone.

"Uhh, well, actually I’m not alone... not traveling alone."

"Oh, my, you said this spot wasn’t taken. "

She began to rise, but Hubert found himself touching her arm and gently pulling her down. "It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s just my brother. He’s in the bathroom."

"Are you certain it’s alright?"

"Please. Sit, relax."

"Well, yeah, relax, I can use ‘relax’—that’s the magic word—It’s enough that I got hit on by that guy, but I just finished this incredible game."

"Finished a game?"

"My team lost. I feel so deflated -what’s the word -enervated. Whew." She fanned her face with her hand.

"Team? Game? What game?"

"I’m a cheerleader—Houston, you know. The playoffs"

"You’re a Houston cheerleader? What—what happened?"

"...Hmmm. A refugee from the diverted flights, huh. You must have been having a really bad day until I came along and spoiled it all by that news about Oakland winning..."

"Interception, last minute. End of the season for us. Those idiots from Oakland are still alive. Referee was blind. It was clearly defensive interference. Should have called it back."

Hubert was beaming. "Oakland won!" He could hardly keep his ears from flapping.

"My, are we happy. I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself from the get-go. I’m Jeanie." She offered her hand and Hubert shook it. "What’s your moniker, cowboy?"

"Uh...well, I’m not from here actually—from the San Francisco area-"

"Ah—explains why you’re practically levitating. Hmmm. A refugee from the diverted flights, huh. You must have been having a really bad day until I came along and spoiled it all by that news about Oakland winning. Drats. You owe me a cappuccino for brightening your weary existence." She laughed and Hubert laughed out loud too. "Just kidding. Actually, I owe you for rescuing me from pretty boy."

"Pretty boy?"

"Yeah, that blonde guy. He’s with the team’s practice squad."

"And you’re a cheerleader—like I see on t. v.?"

She laughed again. "Of course, cowboy. Whajathink? Houston cheerleaders—you know—we dance, we cheer, try to look reasonably attractive. Mindless, huh?"

"Yes. No. You’re not mindless and attractive at all .. I mean you’re attractive and mindless—not mindless at all."

"Don’t worry. I’ve had my fill of smooth-talkers."

"Anyway, so, this isn’t all you do, right? Cheerleading. What now? I mean, now that the season is over for your team."

"Well, they’re moving out of town—I don’t know— Tennessee or thereabouts. So they’re done. As for me, I’ll need to cheer for someone else, so I guess that’ll be me for now: I’m graduating with a masters in journalism this May. All primed for the big time, amigo. Translation: A menial clerical job somewhere in an obscure gas pipe factory in Baytown—that’s where I’ll end up unless ...."

"Unless?"

"Sports broadcasting—that’s what I’m shooting for."

"I hope you don’t take this the wrong way."

"What?"

"You ought to model."

"Well, yeah, I’ve done a little bit of that. Catalogues, some ads, a couple of magazines, in fact I did one for.." Just then an unintelligible announcement came over the loud speaker. "It’s alright, but not really my cup of tea. . .not long term. I really want to be in media sports or journalism. Anyway, where you headed, tough guy?"

"The D.C. area."

"Boy! That’s a coincidence. That’s where I’m going—or was going. United Airlines?"

"I’m American."

"My Dad and Mom are in this place called Vienna, Virginia—near D.C. I mean we’re from here, but my Dad got transferred to the Pentagon. It’s a long story. What about you? "

Hubert looked over to Hector in the distance who seemed to be studying the flight schedule screens.

"Well, I was planning to visit a ...friend." Just then, he noticed Hector—emerging from the restrooms, wiping his brow with a paper towel, looking their way and cocking his head like a dog.

Jeanie nudged Hubert’s shoulder. "Hey, Oakland guy—you haven’t told me your name?"

"Hubert."

"Hmm. Hubert. Would you mind it a lot if I just call you Bert?"

"That’s fine."

Hector trotted sheepishly toward them.

"Hector, this is Jeanie, " said Hubert, getting up as Jeanie rose to shake hands. "She’s an Oakland cheerleader."

"Oakland?" Jeanie tapped Hubert on the arm, giving him a face.

"Oh—sorry—Houston. Houston cheerleader. Sorry."

Hector spoke: "Are you okay, bro. You seem—well—happy or something."

Jeanie chuckled, "Can’t believe you called me an OAKLAND cheerleader. Now you really owe me a cappuccino AND a small slice of cheesecake—you eat the rest of it if you want. It’ll take some doing before you make me cheer for Oakland, Bert, but I have an open mind."

"Hey,—uh—‘BERT’—didn’t you see—up there—" Hector pointed at the screens. "They’re letting us get back to our flight to D.C.—boarding pretty soon."

Hubert started thinking, wondering if Rosey was waiting for him at all...About why she never stopped writing about going places but ended up sitting in one spot sending people all over, dispatching them here, there and everywhere...

Jeanie, arms akimbo, blew up at her bangs again. "You got to go, Bert? I understand. You got to see your ...err... friend.."

Hubert started thinking, wondering if Rosey was waiting for him at all. About why she billed him for the screen door even though he had left her some money for it. About why she never stopped writing about going places but ended up sitting in one spot sending people all over, dispatching them here, there and everywhere, calling them, having them report their whereabouts. Just like she was doing to him. Wondered about Jenkins. Whether he'd be there again. Come get me, Rosey said. She was in the snow storm and the flight was ready to take him straight to her. To the siopao and mami, to the Greenhills Shopping Center, to the park at the Kapitolyo, to the high school dance, to Manila."

"He's in one of his patented trance-like states again," said Hector. "You'll have to excuse him."

Hubert's vision suddenly cleared and he saw Hector and Jeanie in front of his face.

"You okay?" Jeanie asked softly.

"I ‘m alright. I’m going. I’m going."

"Oh well, good to know you, tough guy," Jeanie said, with a wan smile.

"I’m going alright." He held Jeanie’s arm gently, "And I’m taking you with me. To the nearest cafe."

"Oh! That’s different. I’m game!’ Jeanie cheered. "You can tell me all about your Oakland Raiders, we can talk football or any other sport."

Hector massaged Hubert’s shoulders from behind.

"Jeanie, my brother was—is—a really good athlete himself."

Jeanie gave a thumbs up. "I’m intrigued. I can pretend I’m a sports journalist interviewing a new star. Let’s go. You lead the way, Bert. I’ll follow."

"That’s a change," said Hector, taking the magazine from Hubert and using it to point toward the east wing. "Over that way, gang. Restaurant row. My treat!"

"Not fair—your brother owes me. Not you."

"I owe him for this Sports Illustrated. I kinda got peanut grease and stuff all over it. In fact, I owe him for a lot of things. Hey, ah—Jeanie, you’re in this swimsuit edition, right?"

"Why don’t we see," she winked at the two with a knowing smile, and the trio headed for the long way home.

© Rodney Dakita Garcia

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