A Short Story
By Rob Moore
Chapter 1 Author’s Note and Preface
Originally written for Summer Breeze Writing Contest on Wattpad in 2016
Slightly edited and updated
Let me preface this piece with the following notes and disclaimers:
- I do not claim to be a fiction writer of any ability or renown; rather my usual outlet for creative expression is poetry. I utilize this form since it lends best to the idea of this particular story. Fair warning to all readers 😊.
- Also, while this story focuses on teenagers/young adults, be assured that I am not a teenager and have not been for quite a while. Thus, I will undoubtedly make mistakes in presenting scenes for this backdrop. Forgiveness is the better part of valor.
- I am also a romantic at heart, so fair warning about that as well.
- I am a minimalist author for the most part. The likelihood that I will ever write an extensive novel, or work of non-fiction for that matter, is infinitesimal. My motto re written creative works is generally, the fewer words the better.
- I do not use a lot of dialogue. Minimal here too. Rather, I tend to write in the first person/third person narrative. I convey mostly the thoughts of the characters. It is what it is…
- Some of this story takes place in the Philippines, a country that has fascinated me for many years, and which God has laid on my heart to pray for. However, fair disclosure – I have never visited this group of islands in the Pacific and thus have no first-hand knowledge of its people, culture, etc. (I have been blessed with many friendships since I wrote this, with Filipinos I have met via social media.) I developed this story based on what little I gleaned from the web at the time. Ergo, I likely made many mistakes about this location in my story.
- This story involves two people who meet via the internet. This author strongly urges all users of social media to take every reasonable precaution to protect their identity and safety. Internet predation is a real threat!
- If you made it this far without a sense of dizziness and nausea, congratulations! Please move on to the story!
Chapter 2 Western Beginnings
Summer was late. It had been forced to wait as the Western North Carolina Mountains endured more than their usual share of winter weather. Weather that was at times laced with double-digit inch snow accumulation – during January and February – but also cold snaps that endured all the way into May. But at last, with a very compressed Spring, Summer had kicked into high gear. Temperatures and humidity soared. Now it would boil down to only a few frenetic weeks before Summer Vacation was over, and a new school year was ushered in. To most of the kids, it seemed as if it started earlier every year.
Having lived in the Asheville, North Carolina area all of her short life, Emily was used to the drill. She viewed the seasons as a reminder of the beauty, but unpredictability of life.
Emily was perhaps a typical American teenager. But then again – in some ways – perhaps not. She was the highly-doted-on only child of a hospital administrator [her father Noel] and stay-at-home Mom [Angela] who met in high school, fell in love, and never parted. She drove a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier [with manual transmission ~ she liked the idea of being in control of the gear shifter], which she washed and pampered regularly. A car which, by the way, Emily paid for herself, having saved as much of her earnings over the past three years from her job of serving customers at the Dairy Hut. Who cares if the car is over ten years old and has 113,000 miles on its odometer? It was hers. She even paid regularly for gas from her bank account.
At seventeen, she would enter her senior year of high school in the Fall. She attended a local Church of God where she worshiped with her family, attended youth group, and worked in the nursery with the babies and toddlers. She hoped to attend a nearby university and major in sports medicine. After all, Emily excelled in basketball, volleyball, and track and field. Well, “excelled” might be a stretch, since she was not the prototypical physically gifted athlete. But Emily overcame this by sheer hard work and determination. She would not be denied.
As to the opposite sex, Emily had experienced her share of crushes, minor affections, short-term relationships, and the like… But she was currently single in every sense of the word. Her friends spent no little time picking out future boyfriends, but Emily rebuffed all of these efforts. Emily had been “that short girl” through much of her adolescence, only to grow four inches after her sixteenth birthday. Now she surpassed most of her peers at five feet, seven inches tall. She was, in her own opinion, a little “pudgy around the middle,” but was nevertheless highly sought after by several high school would-be Romeos. Her hair, silky smooth and auburn brown, was typically worn in a ponytail.
Interestingly, Emily had not paid much attention to the weather this past winter. After enduring her share of chores [“wait a minute ~ since I am an only child ~ who is there to share them with?!?”], and dutifully completing her homework assignments, Emily retreated into her inner sanctum and grabbed her tablet or smartphone [usually the tablet] and was soon transported…
Chapter 3 Eastern Beginnings
Paulo never got tired of the Manila skyline. The hustle and bustle of the city that never seemed to sleep. It was a change of sorts from his roots. His family moved to the Philippine capital city, known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” from the Bataan Peninsula (West of Manila across the Manila Bay) before he was born. As a young child, Paulo’s grandfather, Manny had been a first-hand observer of the Japanese occupation, beginning in 1942, and of the infamous Bataan death march in which so many American and Filipino soldiers had died. His grandfather survived those awful years and built a family.
Paulo’s father, Pedro, moved to the capital city after the end of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. Having a lifelong interest in helping others learn, he landed a job with the Department of Education. He and his wife, Catherine were loving parents to four children including Paulo, the youngest. Having been trained as a nurse, Catherine left the health care field to raise her children, but later returned to work for a local hospital.
Paulo loved his life in Manila. A gifted artist, he often sketched caricatures and drawings to sell to tourists and others visiting the city. When he could, he would steal away to visit local art galleries such as the Metropolitan Museum. But truthfully, he found endless inspiration from all corners of Manila. He dreamed of designing buildings, creating sculpture, or famous paintings to match the fine art he stared at on display. Paulo also liked to hang out with street artists whose masterpieces have become part of the local architecture.
Paulo had attracted the interest of several local young Filipinas, and had actually dated a few for a while. He was after all, good-looking by any measure. Tall enough, at nearly six feet and weighing just over 160 lbs – he stayed on the go constantly and maintained his appearance. But his disdain for the single-minded attraction to pop culture – Filipino, Korean, American – you name it, that most of them followed feverishly (almost religiously in some cases) was a turn-off to him. You couldn’t talk art or history to them, so…
Paulo was known in his circle of friends as an extreme basketball aficionado, playing and watching and reading about the game whenever he could. Like many of his age, he admired and followed stars such as LeBron James and Steph Curry from the NBA; but he also just as fanatically followed Filipino basketball, including the National Team. One could fairly say that he had basketball on the brain. Paulo’s family had also long attended a Roman Catholic Church in the city, and his belief in God was unshakable. God, art, and basketball; not a bad combination!
Paulo also appreciated the technological side of living in a modern city. He craved wi-fi like a pusa [Tagalog/Filipino for cat] craves gatas [milk]. Having saved enough money from selling art, occasionally helping his cousin drive a Jeepney/taxi, and doing other jobs – Paulo was able to acquire a tablet. He already had a cellphone, thanks to his parents, but the tablet was way better. Once connected, Paulo was transported…
Chapter 4 Breakthrough
Peter and his former college classmate, Robert, had been working on their idea for months now. Like any true product of inspiration, their journey from light bulb to development was a rocky one. And like the developers of most truly innovative ideas in history, they’d endured an endless parade of scoffers and critics. Never mind.
“Let’s get out of Paris,” said Robert one Friday afternoon. And by Sunday they had transplanted their work to the seaside city of Marseille. After all, most of the work was securely stored electronically, and everything easily transportable via their van. “This suits me well,” murmured Peter, his voice as rhapsodic as the waves cascading along the nearby beach.
It’s truly funny – the little ironies of life. The two friends, and now deep-in debt business partners, made no appreciable progress for several weeks, despite the much-improved change in scenery [“No offense, my dear Paris!” Robert mused]. That all changed, thanks to a visit from Peter’s fourteen-year-old niece, Babette. Babs, as she was affectionately called, was not the typical modern teenager. She eschewed modernity, preferring instead the feel of old books, the personal connection of handwritten letters, and the solitude of long walks or bicycle rides. She had, however taken a train from her home in Limoges, a trip of many hours. She passed the time as she always did, buried in books.
One of her favorite books happened to be the Bible. She liked the historical parts of the Old Testament, the Psalms for their passion and heart-cry, and even the prophetic parts such as Daniel and Revelation. At the time of her visit, she happened to be perusing the Book of Genesis, exploring the early origins of man. Rubbing his eyes and needing a break, Robert headed to the beach where Babs lay curled into a lounge chair.
“What are you reading, my dear Babs?!”
“The Book of Genesis.”
Robert grabbed the open book from the outstretched hands of the tender sweet girl he had seen blossom into a young lady. He had known Babette for over seven years. His eyes scanned the open page as his palms rested comfortably on the worn but smooth leather binding.
Suddenly, a new light bulb poured life into his brain. Actually, at the level he was currently processing neural activity, it could be better described as a strobe light. After months, nay years of contemplation, here lay the answer.
“You know, my dear Babs, I’m going to have to name it after you,” he happily intoned as he handed the Bible back to her and ran quickly back to his room. Babette gave him the short but dramatic look of inconvenience and incomprehension that she usually reserved for the immature boys in her school, shook her head once, and then resumed reading.
Chapter 5 The Consistent One
“Have you seen it!!”
That could only be the voice of Emily’s BFF, Joy – buzzing through the school hallway, somehow finding a way to overcome and subdue the thousand other conversations taking place in a milieu of students clamoring along the large and lengthy hallway of the second floor.
“This, crazy!” Joy held up the screen of her smartphone, somewhat surreptitiously, since these were supposed to be out of sight during school except to call parents for emergencies, etc.
Emily took a quick look before Joy had to stash the phone quickly in her backpack, as she caught in her peripheral vision the form of Mrs. Gray striding toward her. Can’t mistake that hairdo. Especially for any student.
“What the heck was – “
“We’ll talk later. Gotta run!”
Emily would definitely need a better look…
Emily worked harder than usual to clear any lingering homework off her plate, and she usually didn’t procrastinate. She got up from her desk and headed toward the kitchen in her family’s mountain top home. As she opened the fridge door –
[via text – Hey Em, I’m sending you the link to that website…have fun! btw I found lots of guys from the Philippines! –Joy]
Joy’s family had immigrated to the States from the Philippines when she was three. Her father, Emilio was an internal medicine physician at a local hospital. The same hospital, as it happens, that Emily’s father served as an administrator. Thus, the families had known each other for years. And since Emily had rejected all of Joy’s hand-picked love interests for her, she had sworn to find Emily a boy – “even if I have to go to the Philippines!” Emily read the text, sighed softly, shook her head, and then snorted a giggle. At least she’s consistent, Emily thought. Consistently persistent!
Emily pulled her notebook/tablet out of its case and powered on…
Chapter 6 Connectivity
Paulo had been on Le Bab for about a month, although he had spent more time on other sites – researching art history, texting friends, posting some of his drawings, or occasionally an expressive poem under his pseudonym Dantellos on Wattpad. But this particular evening he was more intentional in browsing, so to speak.
Le Bab had been created by two ingenious young men in France, and quickly rushed to market. As with any application in the digital age, the time to strike was yesterday. Its genius was a special form of artificial intelligence that enabled people from different languages to communicate real time. Each user was able to read and comprehend the text transmissions of a foreign language in their own native language, as the parties interacted concurrently. It was even rumored that the French guys were working on a speech-to-speech conversion for certain languages, using headsets and vid-cams that would allow for a face to face conversation. Oh-la-la!
Paulo navigated to the section which highlighted new users, and began to scan the new members of Le Bab. One particular entry caught his eye. As he was reading the snippets of a young lady’s profile, he was reading the Tagalog translation that the program generated. He could read English with some proficiency, as can many in the Philippines. But he preferred the dominant dialect in his native land.
Em400…North Carolina…USA. Hmm.
Paulo knew of course that the likelihood of the photo actually being her was remote, since people used avatars for safety. But the picture she chose had to say something about her, right? He was drawn, and thus…click
[I did it! I created my profile on Le Bab! –Em]
[That’s great! No go meet somebody. That is all. –Joy]
Emily checked her phone; probably Joy wanting a status report already. But no, quelle surprise – her first notification from Le Bab! Emily excitedly scanned the notification and clicked the link in her email to jump to the app. Definitely a boy…someone named Dantellos…from the – Philippines. Of course…
Chapter 7 Blossoms
Thus Emily did meet a boy…from the Philippines…on Le Bab. Emily looked back over these past two months with astonishment. Astonishment at the accelerated pace at which she and Paulo [nee Dantellos] had become close. A closer relationship, she admitted to herself, than with any other person of the opposite sex in her short history of dating. She thought about him constantly. It took effort to focus on Trigonometry, U. S. History, and Chemistry, when your thoughts gravitated across the vast Pacific, to a chain of seven-thousand islands –
“Emily – aren’t you coming to dinner dear?”
Her mind was jolted back abruptly to her own continent. “Oh yeah, of course Mom.”
Emily – lying prone on her bed – simultaneously swiveled her body toward the door of her bedroom where mother’s voice emanated, while closing the case of her laptop in one fluid motion with her knee. Paulo would have to wait till later.
And it wouldn’t do to tell her parents about Paulo. They had warned her many times about the real threat of internet predators. She had even read about a few cases in North Carolina and the southern U.S. involving abductions and even worse – usually of young teenage girls deceived by the worst kind of evil. But she was confident that Paulo was genuine. Wasn’t he?
She hadn’t even confided to Joy the full extent of her relationship with Paulo. They could have named the site after her, Emily reflected – she was a bab. She couldn’t help herself and loved to talk. Too dangerous to spill all of the beans, so she had minimized the whole thing. But still, Joy had been responsible for bringing them together.
1:43am Asheville, NC USA
1:43pm Manila, PH
“I’m keeping you awake. You need to sign off.”
“I don’t ever want to sign off! I want to see you, be with you!”
“Of course you know I want that too, but it’s difficult.” Now, I am signing off for your own good. We can talk tomorrow. Good night Emily.”
But she couldn’t sleep. She thought of the private electronic messages on Le Bab as real conversation. She could imagine the tone and pitch of Paulo’s voice as he spoke to her. She would often find herself scrolling back through them, re-living the moments they had shared. He had sent her pictures of himself; playing basketball with his friends and cousins, a school picture, and one by the ocean. She longed to put one on her phone or tablet background, but that was out of the question. She would get the same old lecture about the dangers of internet stalkers pretending to be someone they’re not. A danger she acknowledged, but could not fathom being present in the boy she had begun to love…
Paulo was reflecting on his life. Not an altogether common practice for those young and headstrong. But still, he thought of deeper things than most teenagers he knew. Where was this relationship heading? How could it have a chance at all? Too much time and distance… But was it really?
His parents had tried to encourage his interest in some of the young ladies that attended their church, or in daughters of the families that were close to his own within their part of the city. But he had not found the “one.” Now he was becoming more lovestruck with Emily than ever before. What if they could never meet in person? Can love survive such monumental geographical and cultural boundaries? That’s why he had not told any of his family or friends about his long-distance love interest. They wouldn’t understand anyway; only try and talk him out of this nonsense.
But it wasn’t nonsense…at least not to him. And he was sure that Emily felt the same way. There just had to be a way to see her!
Paulo strolled through the side streets of his neighborhood; a mixture of houses stacked next to each other, markets and shops, parks, and plenty of traffic. As he passed by a small flower shop, he stopped and remembered:
6:08am Asheville, NC USA
6:08pm Manila, PH
“I can’t believe I’m saying this…I’ve never said this to any boy before. I think I am falling in love with you.” I am amazed that I just typed that, but it’s true!”
“ I know, it’s crazy. I think I feel the same way. I have never met anyone like you. I can talk to you like I cannot talk to anyone here in my country. I really love our short bursts of time together, and I love you.”
“Our love has blossomed like a bulaklak [flower]!”
Now if he could only hold his precious bulaklak.
Chapter 8 Hidden Moments
Emily had kept the knowledge of her Le Bab romance secret for four months. Now as the Christmas break fast approached and the cold weather returned, Emily’s mood turned melancholy. How much longer could she continue her veil of secrecy? And it wasn’t lost on her that Le Bab spelled backwards was in fact Babel! In Genesis 11, God confused the common language of all the people of the earth, because they had become too clever, built a tower stretching to heaven, and aspired to be as God. So God named the place Babel, for confusion. And now this app essentially reversed that! God would surely send her to Hell for this! She truly was a mess…
Paulo was not faring much better. He became less interested in art, basketball or his friends. He felt as if his life was a tangle of cords; the more he wriggled to work himself loose, the tighter the knots became. His chest was heavy with anxiety. It had been 3 days since Emily’s request for a self-imposed break from Le Bab. It already seemed like an eternity to Paulo. Pedro and Catherine noticed their son’s miserable countenance immediately, but he would not talk to them about it. They were in the dark as much as Noel and Angela, two people they had no clue about. Paulo only got defensive if they pushed him too far. They could only worry and wait…
12:30am Asheville, NC USA
12:30pm Manila, PH
“Do you think we will ever get to touch – you know hold hands as we take walks together in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or on a Pacific Island beach? Or tenderly kiss as the sunset fades into the horizon.”
“If God wills it, we will.”
“How I want my will to be God’s will; but I know it doesn’t work that way.”
“I know what you mean! But surrendering to God means trusting that His plan is far better than ours. And if we are unable to physically meet in this life, we shall surely be together with Christ in Paradise! We must cling to that.”
“Am I so bad that I want paradise in this life too, like right now? Forgive me Lord!”
“Of course not! I want that more than anything. But not my will, but Thine be done O God.”
“This is killing me! If only you could see my tears, you would know…”
Paulo looked up from his memory, and silently wept himself…
Chapter 9 Mission
Arthur and Nancy had been in love with each other and in love with God as long as they could remember. They shared so many things in life. Their collective early backgrounds included abandonment, parents in jail for multiple drug offenses, various stops in the foster care system, and finally placement in a Children’s’ Home in East Tennessee run by a Christian Agency. Arthur was placed there at age seven and Nancy at age ten. Eventually their paths crossed at the stables. Both had a love for horses.
At the Children’s Home, they learned of a Savior who loved them unconditionally. The two were inseparable and neither one was ever placed with adoptive family. Never mind; they had a Heavenly Father and loving role models at the home.
And they had God’s call. Both Arthur and Nancy sensed in their teen years that their future would be one of missions. An opportunity to participate in a mission trip to Costa Rica one summer away from college cemented this call. When God later joined them in Holy Matrimony, it was a covenant of mission as well as marriage. A month prior they both applied to an international mission board and were awaiting word as they set up house together. They jointly decided to forego any formal honeymoon trip to save funds for their missionary work.
On furlough from their current placement, the loving missionary couple was traveling back to Tennessee to stop in and see old friends and mentors at the Children’s Home. On the way, there would be stops at various churches that supported them with prayer and finances. One happened to be a Church of God in Asheville, North Carolina…
“Let’s go, Mom!”
“It’s great to finally see a smile on your face, Em! We usually have to drag you to church lately.”
Her mother was correct; Emily had avoided church over the past few weeks, as she suffered silently. But Joy was going to be there, and after all it was the Christmas season. Not only that, but Joy mentioned something about missionaries speaking. Thus, no boring sermon. My apologies, Reverend Tate, she thought, but couldn’t help giggling.
“Brother Arthur, Sister Nancy?”
“Sorry, I am Emily! It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“You too! We are so thankful for the prayers and support you have given us. It means so much to us!”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Do you ever minister in Manila?”
“Our calling is to a more remote area of the Philippine Islands, as we talked about in the service today. But of course we enter and leave the country through the airport in Manila. Why do you ask?”
“Oh no reason! Thank you for coming to our church to-“
“Emily – have you ever considered whether God is calling you to the mission field? I sense a deep calling of God on you.”
Emily tried hard not to look in the eyes of this sweet young woman. Eyes that had seen so much hurt, but also much joy. But she could not. Her own eyes began to well up with the pent-up tears of months holding in her secret. Seconds later, she was sobbing uncontrollably on Nancy’s shoulder, who quietly escorted her to a private room. Through her tears, Emily confessed to Nancy about Paulo, Le Bab, all of it. They both prayed to Jesus about it, with Emily asking God for forgiveness. Her burden was lifted.
Chapter 10 Letters
O’Hare Airport, IL, USA
Dearest Mom and Dad,
I cannot believe that as I sit and write this to you I am waiting to board an airplane bound for the Philippines! My joy and love for you and for God is indescribable but complete. I am so thankful for what you’ve done for me.
I can’t help but think back four-plus years ago, to that Sunday night when I confessed my hidden online relationship with a young man from that country. The tears we both shed. But you didn’t condemn me! You loved me, even as you disciplined me. Kinda like God Himself, if you ask me! I won’t lie – I hated you for making me pull the plug on Paulo, even though I had begun to see that it was necessary a few weeks before. I hope you will forgive me for the awful things I said. I was just in pain.
I see now that my relationship with Paulo is in God’s hands, just as every other facet of my life. I am, like the Apostle Paul content in whatever station of life God leads me to. And Paul wrote that while he languished in prison!
I am already missing you more than I ever imagined. You helped me discern that God was leading me to Bible College and a life of ministry instead of sports medicine as I had always planned. You have always been there for me, and I am forever grateful. It’s almost time for me to board, so I will say Paalam/Farewell, but only for a while. I promise to write and send lots of pictures!
I am officially in the air on my way to see you!
We just went wheels up from O’Hare and now there is now no turning back – not that I would ever want to! The adventure of a lifetime awaits. A God-ordained adventure. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There are not enough words in any language to thank you for what you did for me. God brought you to my church that night, to minister to me. You strengthened and encouraged me to confess my online relationship with Paulo to my parents that very night, even though I steadfastly didn’t want to. It was a gift that I am eternally grateful for. You have been my friend and confidante and shoulder to cry on [even long distance!] as I dealt with my emotions through it all. You are a gift!
And now I am headed to God’s mission field. After tenfold prayer for discernment of God’s will. After applying for positions in practically every other country except the Philippines to be sure that I wasn’t chasing a guy, instead of God. God said the Philippines, and I said “Here am I Lord, send me!”
Your prayers, your letters, texts, and emails have been precious to me. If I were you, I would have given up on a hopeless case like me long ago. But you stuck with me. You even looked up Paulo, checked on his background and family, got his photo – all without my asking you to do so! By the way, I keep that picture and email in my Bible ~ you know, so I can pray for Him, his family! The rest is up to God!
Something you once said got me though the dark times, and I have treasured it ever since. When my longing for Paulo was unbearable, you said “Emily, when it’s midnight in North Carolina, remember that it’s Noon in Manila. He’s only half a day away. You will catch up with him someday.
That day could be tomorrow!
All my love,