1 The Summer I Met You

It was an exciting summer to be fifteen! There was a flurry of activities on the farm. The main house was humming with noise from the head housekeeper Auntie Anita. She kept barking orders to the intimidated cooks and helpers. She was scolding everyone for not working hard enough for the homecoming of Sir Anton Rodriquez and his two grandsons. Amidst the blur of preparation hang a certain sadness. Sir Anton lost his only son and his daughter-in-law to a fatal car accident in New York. Auntie Anita wanted to make sure that her boss and grandsons come home to a happier circumstance.

The house which everyone in the village called White House was a beautiful modern take of a Filipino native house that sat on a rolling hill in a hundred-hectare agro-industrial farm. The White House has floor-to-ceiling windows that framed the beautiful landscape. It had five big bedrooms. Each room had its own toilet and bath. It had an inviting living-room, an intimate dining hall, a bustling kitchen with a breakfast corner, a multipurpose room where laundry, ironing and other support to household management are done. It also had an entertainment room with cinema-like chairs, huge smart TV and gaming console. A beautiful patio littered with comfortable wood and fiberglass chairs and tables was wrapped around the house. Carefully picked furniture and charming decorations furnished the house. Portraits of the family members done by upcoming artists were proudly placed in important corners. The house was solar-powered. It also had a fast and reliable internet connection. It was a rich man's house but it was functional and most of the time fun.

There was a smaller but equally beautiful house nearby. It was where the household staff lived. It was complete with all the amenities one needed to live comfortably. Sir Anton was a generous employer. He treated his employees well. He even went beyond what was required by law. Most of the household staff had been with him since he got married.

South of the farm was home to several hectares of mango and citrus orchard. The hill and its surrounding was planted with forest trees. The east side was where you find modern poultry and piggery production and food processing buildings. The west side was where the administration building, staff houses, convenience store, motor pool, recreation center and organic vegetable farm are located. A river run on the farm. Like the entire property, the river was well-protected and very clean. It was the site of many family picnics and team-building activities. It was the favorite hang-out of the young people. The farm was like a mini-town with its size and the number of people that live in it. There was free WIFI in the recreation center and convenience store. In the afternoon and early evening, you'll find the young residents of the farm in these areas.

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Mr. Antonio Rodriquez who was fondly called Sir Anton, was the President and CEO of Healthy Foods and Smart Choices Corp, the corporation that manages the entire farm business. He became a widow in when his grandchildren were very young. He lost his wife to a congenital heart disease. He never married again. The household staff suspected that he never got over the death of the love of his life. Instead, he devoted his time to raising his family and his growing farm business.

My father, Amor Alejandro and I lived in one of the staff houses. He was the Farm Manager. He told me stories of how he started as a young apprentice to Sir Anton until he got qualified to be the Farm Manager. I was born on the farm. My mother died while giving birth to me. It was one of the many unspoken bonds between Sir Anton and my father. They were both widows and they loved the farm as fiercely as they loved their children.

I practically grew up in the White House. Being without a mother, Auntie Anita with Sir Anton's encouragement, volunteered to oversee my care. My father didn't know any better. The army of helpers in the White House took turns taking care of me during the day time. Sometimes even on nights when my father was busy with overseeing the livestock harvest. I couldn't be happier with this set-up. Auntie Anita spoiled me to bits and the other helpers adore me. I grew up calling Sir Anton Grandpa. He was kind and generous and doted on me.

Grandpa Anton's voice boomed with laughter as he greeted my father and Auntie Anita. Following him were two teenagers. The older boy was I think 17 to 18 years old. He was quite tall for his age. The younger one I guessed was 15 like me. Grandpa Anton introduced them: "This is Justine (lovingly touching the shoulder of the older one) and this is Alexis (lovingly kissing the younger one's forehead)."

"Say hello to everyone," prodded Grandpa Anton to the two boys. The boys made the traditional Filipino greeting of mano-po* to my father and Auntie Anita and nodded to the other helpers. Auntie Anita hugged the two boys tightly. They were polite not to protest and let her hug them. After some minutes, Auntie Anita let them go crying softly.

Grandpa Anton smiled with delight when he saw me. He gave me a bear hug and introduced me to the two boys: "This is the farm's princess Nina. She's also the farm bully so make sure you don't offend her lest you get her ire!"

"Grandpa!!!" I protested. "Don't scare them, please."

"I'm not scared of you," Alexis said and then hugged me. Caught unaware, I giggled and hugged him back.

My laughter was cut midway when I noticed a flash of anger on Justine's face. 'Or did I just imagine it?' I thought to myself. He gave a curt nod and stared at the wall blankly.

Alexis still holding my hand declared that he was hungry. All of us proceeded to the dining hall to have a late lunch.

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