I kissed mom’s wrinkled cheeks. No matter how much effort she put in going to the beauty salon and trying to ease the saggy skin it was hopeless. We all have to age one day.
“Bye mom, take care of yourself,” I instructed.
“I will… wish you’d stay for my special lunch… it’s Christmas.”
“Aww mom, I’m deeply sorry… maybe next year?” I countered.
She nodded, pasting a fake smile on her face just for my sake.
“Merry Christmas,” She handed a silver box in my hands.
“Cookies,” She mouthed.
“Thanks mom,” We embraced, “I’ll come soon… should take about a week.”
I got in my red Volvo, a present from my dad last year for Christmas actually. My parents had divorced when I was ten, dad moved to NY. Working at Apple, he would have to make a ton of money to afford my expensive gift.
I edged to my seat, zooming off to the highway… taking the fastest route possible to make it at the airport in time. My dance instructor Justin had apparently given me a late warning last night about the upcoming tour.
People stared at me… I felt their sharp glances coming from every direction. I walked straight, trying not to attract attention as much as possible. But as usual people crowded over me… demanding signatures and taking a quick selfie.
I pasted a fake smile, tried to do several things at once before telling my ‘fans’ that I was getting late.
They promised to see me during the tour.
“I can’t wait,” I sarcastically added.
Finally able to breathe normal I proceeded to the check out.
“Vanessa, glad to see you… again,” I felt the tone of Justin a bit… off. I nodded, showing the security my ID and passports.
“Same here,” I told him.
“I’ll meet you in the plane.”
I gave him a thumbs-up. Justin must still be having a hard time over my refusal yesterday. He’d proposed to me but I’d denied it. He must still have not gotten over the fact that he doesn’t amuse me.
The flight was a bumpy ride. I felt sick to my stomach as we landed. Justin helped me off, Katy on my other side. Katy was my partner, we’d perform together often. I enjoyed working with her.
“I’m gonna set up… see what the others are up to, why don’t you girls explore a bit,” Justin suggested.
“We’d love to,” Katy intervened before I’d have a chance to say anything.
I shrugged, exploring sounded nice. Especially with hundreds of strangers following you.
“Wow… isn’t New York beautiful.”
“Ya… hey maybe I should give a visit to my dad.”
“Ohh, we could surprise him… or call him, hmm, now I’m lost.”
I laughed as Katy and I checked out the latest trends at the clothing stores.
By the end of our shopping trip we were pooped, bags from multiple stories lined up in our hands.
“How will we ever manage to pack all these in our suitcases?”
“Should have thought of that before,” I answered.
“We’d have to split them… maybe Lexi can stuff a few things in her suitcase.”
“Can’t hurt to ask,” Lexi was another dancer, she was also the youngest dancer, she was still in her last year of high school. Somehow she managed to find time in dancing and attending tours while juggling school and studying for upcoming exams at the same time.
We talked all the way through the hotel doors, people gathered around much to my dislike.
“Ah, right on time girls… why don’t you… get settled,” Justin eyed our bags with a sigh… Girls.
“Alrighty… we have so much to do,” Katy grabbed my hand and practically dragged me to the flight of stairs.
“Oh and I’ve arranged an assistant for you,” He pointed at me.
“I don’t…” I started but Katy heaved me out of the room before I could finish.
“Let’s go shopping,” She exclaimed, her blue eyes lit up in excitement at the sight of our room.
“I’m tired, maybe later,” But Katy didn’t stop to listen to my complaints, she settled in perfectly into the room.
I rolled my eyes, grabbing our belongings and towing them inside.
The second I closed the door someone knocked.
“Oh hi, you must be…” He reached out for a paper tucked into his pocket, “Vanessa?”
“I’m Jordan, a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Alm,” He smiled, I felt butterflies in my stomach. A queasy feeling when I get perplexed.
“Just call me Vanessa please.”
“Of course Mrs… I mean Vanessa.”
I nodded in satisfaction.
“So… can I help you with anything?”
“Not yet, I’ll let you know if I need assistance.”
He nodded, his hazel brown eyes met mine and turned around.
I closed the door, breathing heavily.
“Who was it?” Katy inquired.
“‘My assistant’,” I quoted, showing the quotation sign with my hands.
“He’s cute,” She giggled under her breath. I was flabbergasted, unable to speak. I blushed, turning on the TV for a distraction.
“Katy, I’m gonna buy my dad a gift before I go meet him, wanna come?” It was late in the afternoon, the show was at 10 tonight.
“Um, I’d love to but I have to paint my nails, plus Mark asked me out for coffee.”
“Have fun,” Mark was Katy’s boyfriend, they wouldn’t last a day without each other.
“You too,” She absentmindedly said.
I searched for the mall that seemed to be popular here. The city was bustling with people of all ages, gender and color. Occasionally some would recognize me and ask for my signature.
It took me about twenty minutes to reach the mall, I couldn’t find the correct shop where I’d find something for dad. He loved golf, maybe I’d buy him a golf-cart. If I managed to find one.
I laughed at the idea.
I wasn’t paying attention to where I walked when I crashed into someone else.
“Sorry,” We mumbled in unison.
I felt someone’s secure hand grab mine and hustle me up to my feet.
I stared into those deep brown eyes, his hair was a mess. His dimples reminded me of my brother. Drake… my little brother who died last year. I couldn’t shake off the feeling of missing my baby brother. Tears stinged my eyes.
“What's wrong, are you hurt?” His eyes were full of compassion, he didn’t ask if I was famous, he didn’t care if I was rich, he treated me like… a person.
“I… I’m fine,” I shuddered as he helped me to a nearby seat. Keeping his hands still in mine, he glanced at me wordlessly.
He nodded, “My pleasure.”
“So, what are you doing here?”
“I run a charity,” My eyes went wide in surprise.
He seemed to read my mind as he continued to explain, “It’s for kids who’s parents can’t afford to buy them gifts, we ask for donations and help fulfill their wish lists… after all they deserve a good Christmas.”
I nodded attentively. Feeling the pain those kids would feel if Jordan hadn’t stepped up to the job.
I never had to beg for anything in my life. I’d been born in a sustainable family. No need to save up money. Those kids… they aren’t like that. I didn’t even know if they get to have a full meal enough to satisfy their hunger.
“This is a wonderful thing you’re doing.”
“You think so? I just love to see those kids' faces brighten up when they see all those toys people donated,” He pointed behind him.
I felt the butterflies in my stomach erupt again. Something was going on whenever he was nearby. I never realized how I felt about Jordan until now. He was so caring, never mentioned how rich or famous I was. Treated me like anybody. Was he the one?
“You good?” I shook off the feeling.
“Yeah, just a mild headache.”
“Better get some sleep… oh right, the show… are you sure you're up for it?
“I hope so,” Justin would kill me if I dropped out now.
“Well… ‘cya around, good luck,” He grinned, showing me a thumbs up.
“Thanks… I’ll need it,” After what I’m about to do. What I should have done a long time ago.
“Justin, I need to talk.”
“Sorry Vanessa, I gotta help out backstage.”
“Fine, whats up?”
“I… I’m not going to participate.”
“I’m sorry, you have to do the show without me.”
“No, your kidding right,” His palms were sweating.
“I’m serious, you know I never joke around.”
“So you're just… quitting? In the middle of a show?” His teeth grinding.
“Like I said, I’m sorry… I changed my mind… being famous and all, it’s not… me.”
“Are you insane?” Some of the people in the building looked at us. Justin was practically shouting in my face.
“How… how, look missy… if you drop out then I’ll never accept you back.”
His words stung. Never able to dance. I didn’t like to think of that… but I wanted to devote my life to something greater than myself.
“I’m still not changing my mind.”
“Listen Vanessa, if you don’t stop being adamant then I’ll have your reputation destroyed.”
“I don’t care.”
“Fine, leave then,” He stormed out, leaving me baffled.
I sighed knowing ahead of time this was going to be my case. I packed up my stuff before Katy realized about the quarrel and checked off at the lobby.
The flight back home wasn’t until New year morning. We had another show tomorrow and New years eve. But of course I wasn’t going to participate.
I couldn’t let mom know of my dilemma. She’d kill me if she found out that I dropped out. Maybe… I knew someone who would love to have me home.
“Oh Vanessa, how long has it been since I saw you last,” His warm comforting voice helped soothe my pain.
“I was in high school last time, let's see 2… no 4 years… maybe not,” Math wasn’t my strong suit.
“Well kiddo, heard you're doing a show… can’t wait to see you perform,” I hated to break his excitement.
“Um… that's why I’m here… I kinda dropped off?”
“Why… I thought dancing was your thing?”
“Well, it is but I never intended to be famous… I wanted to be like a dance teacher… or something, the only reason I went to the tours was because of mom’s persistence.”
“Oh, well… you’re kinda reminding me… of me,” He laughed. “I was like that too, and wanted to do what I thought was right.”
“Guess it runs in the genes.”
“I’ll set up your bed,” Dad said, realizing I needed some ‘me time’.
I nodded absentmindedly. Justin’s words revolved around my head. I better not go out anytime soon and have an angry mob after me.
“We are here today live in town square, apparently Vanessa Alm who was the spotlight of the flor del crima dance show went missing. Locals say she ran off. We are live with Justin Menz who is the host of the show.”
*Switches to Justin talking*
Kevin: “Ya, she just… left, I tried to stop her but I guess all she cared about was fame and money. She just made a lottery here and now she’s on the run…”
“You heard it folks, live… we’ll inform you if we find Mrs. Alm or any clues that pinpoint her whereabouts… thank you and Merry Christmas.”
I turned off the TV. Great now people believe that I’m the culprit, that I lied to them. I never cared about money, I just had a passion for dance.
It was Christmas morning and yet dad’s hot cocoa and gifts that he’d bought the night before weren’t enough to cheer me up. I needed to go outside, get some fresh air.
I looked over at the closet… bullseye. The same wig that I used to play dress up as a girl. It was blond but it’ll do. I also wore a heavy jacket, something I never envisioned wearing. And my dad’s sunglasses, they were old but durable.
“Dad, I’ll be back,” I closed the door behind me softly.
“Hm, oh sure,” I heard him murmur from his phone.
I walked down main street, keeping my head low in case anyone still recognized me apart from my get out.
My disguise must have been a success because no one paid attention at all to me. I was loving every moment of peace and quiet I got. Maybe I should do this more often.
The smell of coffee led me to a nearby Starbucks. I quickly slipped in. A young woman around my age didn’t seem to overlook me. Keeping her eyes focused on my specific order… Caramel mocha with chocolate and whipped cream.
I sat down on one of the tables, still keeping tabs on people who entered and left. So far so good.
“Hey, mind if I take a seat,” My attention wavered to the voice. His brown eyes, the messy brown hair I’d recognize anywhere. What was he doing here?
“Um... ok?” I tried to make my voice a pitch or two higher. Keeping my eyes wrapped around the drink.
“So… how’s your Christmas going?”
“Fine… how about yours?” I asked. Curious of what plans he had.
“It’s ok, I guess… I wish someone special to me was with me to celebrate,” He sighed, sipping his coffee.
“Oh, who would that be?” It wasn’t my business but I legibly wanted to know.
“You may have heard of her… Vanessa Alm?” My eyes went wide, I clutched my teeth tighter so I didn't say anything I wouldn’t say if I wasn’t me.
He really wanted to be with me? Didn’t he hear the news?
“Oh her… heard she’s a rip off,” I tried to sound like I really hated me but my voice cracked.
“What? No she’s not, she’s super sweet,” He countered.
“She’ll just break your heart,” I really didn’t want to give him any ideas. He should stay away from me.
“Like I said… she’s the most beautiful, sweetest person I’ve ever met,” For a second I thought he recognized me but he remained silent.
My heart melted hearing his thoughts about me. He was so different from all the others… he genuinely cared for me.
“Thank you,” I whispered, then closing my mouth. He didn’t seem to notice my slip up and continued to glance at the posters that surrounded us.
“I better go… oh one more thing, I heard you’re organizing a charity,” I reached into my jeans pocket, taking out a check and handing it to him.
“Um… thanks,” His eyes lit up at the sight of the amount I’d donated.
“Wow, this would really help a lot… thank you…?”
I realized he was waiting for my name, “Jessica.”
“Thank you Jessica,” He finished, grinning.
“My pleasure… I better go,” I turned around to leave.
“Wait… have we met before?” I froze.
“Hm, you remind me of someone... oh well, must be my imagination… thanks anyway.”
“No problem,” I rushed out of the cafe before he noticed something else.
“Hey kiddo, how’d your day go?”
“Ok, I’m gonna just read a book,” I settled in.
“Your mom called.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Oh that you’re doing great, don’t worry I didn’t mention the part where you dropped out.”
I sighed a sigh of relief. Dad chuckled.
Justin hasn't contacted me since yesterday’s outburst. I was worried, what is he up to?
The next day,
The doorbell rang, I masked my identity. No one apart from Katy knew that my dad lived here but she doesn’t know the address. I held my breath as I opened the door.
“Hey,” I almost fainted at the sight of him.
“What… are you doing here?” I forgot to make my voice sound distinguished.
“Ah, Jordan… do you know my daughter here?” My dad’s voice came from behind me.
“You know my dad?” I whispered.
“Yeah, he helps me organize the charity actually.”
“Really?” I looked at dad.
“Surprise!” He did his jazz-hands.
“Wait… that bracelet… I saw a similar one on… Vanessa?”
I gulped, handing my head shamelessly. I’d been caught.
“Ya, it's me.”
“Why… why’d you run away?” He laughed at my disguise. I rolled my eyes.
“Come in, I’ll tell you everything.”
I explained my problem, he understood.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page now,” He said.
“You don’t hate me?”
“Never,” He blushed, “Did I just spill my crush on you at the cafe?”
I looked down, blushing red, “Kinda?”
New Years day,
“Will you marry me, Vanessa?”
Tears glistering in my eyes.
“Yes,” I breathed. After all these years I’d found the right man for me. Someone who actually cared for me.
“It’s a fresh start,” He whispered in my ear.
“It sure is,” I agreed. I had made a perfect choice.