I couldn't hide the smile on my face whenever my thoughts drifted towards him - Mr. Number 22, not that I ever tried hiding it – there was just something about him that made me feel...alive. I would check and recheck the schedule that I got from Carmela wishing that I had enough courage to be present in even one of them.
But, I knew that it was pointless because my mother would never allow me to engage in activities outside of school. And even if I wanted to rebel, I couldn't because Dad's heart was already broken due to my sister leaving; I didn't want to add more to his pain.
"Did your sister call you?" Dad had asked me three days after Isabel left home.
"Is she okay? Is she eating well? Does she need money?"
"Wala pong sinabi, Dad."
"Your Mom and your sister are so alike, kaya parati silang hindi nagkakaintindihan. I am worried for her, Isolde, saan s'ya nakatira? Gusto ko s'yang dalawin."
"Hindi ko po alam kung saan s'ya nakatira. Pero, I am sure na alam po ni Mommy."
"Yes, your mother knows everything."
That night, my parents had a row that lasted for hours. Dad wanted to fetch my sister and bring her home but my Mom wouldn't let him.
"Let her learn her lesson! Kaya tumitigas ang ulo ng batang 'yun because you always coddle her!"
"Are you even not the least worried kung okay lang ba ang anak natin?! Paano kung wala na s'yang makain d'un?! What if she's sick?! What if she needs us?!"
"Then let her crawl back to us! Hayaan natin s'yang magutom at maghirap so we can purge that silly idea off her head that she can be independent! And don't you dare go againts my wishes or else you'll be sorry!"
I had been awake when my sister left home contrary to what everyone thought. In fact, I had even helped her pack her suitcase then tiptoed with her out of the house.
"Mag-iingat ka," I had tearfully bade goodbye. "Tawagan mo ako..."
"I will try..."
"No, Isabel, do it. I will wait. I want to know you're okay. I want to be reassured that you're fine."
My sister had nodded tearily before hugging me tight. "Thank you, Isolde and I'm so sorry..."
"I wanted to stop you but I know that you've made up your mind. I just want you to be happy..." I had replied before addressing her boyfriend. "You will take great care of her, right?"
"Yes, I promise."
"If you don't, if you hurt my sister or make her cry, I swear, I will hunt you down and kill everyone in your family," I had threatened. "I mean it."
He had nodded solemnly in reply. "Iingatan ko s'ya, h'wag kang mag-alala."
"Remember that she is this house's precious eldest daughter so you better treat her right. Do not ever forget what she chose to leave behind for you..."
Ireneo Samonte had nodded again.
"Isolde, did your sister try to contact you?" my mother's question brought me back to the present where we were having dinner.
"Tinawagan ka ba ng Achi mo?"
"N-no, Mom," I lied.
I didn't mind telling Dad the truth but with my Mom, it was different. I knew she'd go berserk and even think of something crazy like maybe changing our telephone number.