Millie looks out the window, her expression pensive, like she’s remembering something that happened long ago. “Never mind about that anyway,” she says. “I shouldn’t bother you with an old woman’s regrets. What about you? Tell me about yourself. You’re a senior, aren’t you? Where are you planning on going to college? Is there a boy you’re seeing? Good news? Bad news? Future plans?”
My stomach turns. Only a week ago, I would have been excited about these questions, maybe even telling her about Royce. Things have changed. Boy, have they changed.
“Oh, you don’t want to hear about my life,” I say. I recall my dad warning me to keep mum on our “problem.” But why couldn’t I tell Millie? It’s not like she would call immigration on us, would she? She’s my friend, and so is Kayla.
“Sure I do. I find most people interesting. You just have to dig a little to get to know someone. Come on. What’s bothering you?”
I decide to take a chance. I can’t keep it bottled up inside anymore, and who knows, maybe Millie can help. She’s a dynamo who owned her own company. Maybe she could help me figure out what to do. “I’ve been invited to go to Washington, D.C.,” I say. “But I probably shouldn’t.”
“What do you mean you shouldn’t? Why are you invited there in the first place? You’re a little too young for office. You’re not secretly planning to take over the world?”
Her words actually make me laugh a little. “It’s not that,” I say. “I just don’t know how I’ll get there.”
I take a deep breath and tell her about the National Scholarship Award and the president’s letter. I tell her how my dreams came true only to be shattered by the discovery that I’m here illegally. “I can’t believe it. My parents hid the truth from us, and my brothers still don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. What am I going to do next year?”
As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I get nervous. Can I really trust her? What does she think of me? Why would an elderly Beverly Hills socialite care about an undocumented Filipino girl like me?
Now I feel silly for even thinking about asking her for advice.
Millie wrinkles her forehead like she’s thinking really hard. “But you still want to go to Washington, D.C., for the reception?”
“Yes. But what’s the use? They’ll just laugh me out of the White House.”
“You really think in this day and age, with everything that the presidential administration stands for, that they would just kick you out? A beautiful young girl like you who’s so smart, she got accepted for such a high honor in the first place?”
I shake my head. “There are lots of people who live in detention centers until they’re deported, told to never come back to America. Mom told me a story about one woman who lived here her whole life but was born in Mexico. They deported her for not paying a traffic ticket. And she doesn’t even know Spanish. She got a job working at a telemarketing company because she’s a native English speaker, but her life completely changed. She lost all her friends. Her belongings. Everyone she knew. Now she can never come back to America. We can’t risk it. I can’t risk it.”
Millie considers this. “I suppose you’re right. This is a dangerous time to be an immigrant. Still, being brave, following through, and meeting the highest politicians in the land might not be a bad idea.”
“You really think so?”
“I know so. You should get on that plane. You won that award fair and square.”
I did. Millie’s right. I deserve to go. I worked so hard for it. “Okay.” I feel hopeful for the first time in days. I’m going to make this happen.
Millie smiles and holds up her hand. I’m about to slap her a high five when she looks over at the doorway. Concern passes over her face. I turn around in my seat to see Mom standing in the hallway, quietly sobbing.
Oh no! I run to my mom.
“Neneng,” she says, barely getting the words out. “We have to go.”
I put my arms around her. “Are you hurt? Do I need to call Daddy?”
“I’ve been fired. We have to leave before they call security.”
“Fired?” I say, frozen suddenly. “What happened?”
Mom glances at Millie. “I shouldn’t have even said that much. I’m so embarrassed.” She wipes mascara streaks from her cheeks.
“Please don’t worry, Pilar,” Millie says, sitting up in her bed. “You’re one of the best staff around here. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Is there anything I can do or say to help?”
“No, Ms. Millie. It’s already done. Thank you,” Mom says. She turns to leave and I’m following her, not knowing what I’m going to say, thinking all of my problems mean nothing in comparison to hers, when Millie calls to me.
Mom stops and looks back. “Jas, say goodbye to Millie—you can’t come back either,” she says.
“I can’t?” I ask, a pit forming in my stomach.
“But what about the project?”
“They’ll find someone else to interview the patients for the study.”
I’m stunned. “I really can’t come back here?” I guess I could still put the book together. I’d been meaning to gift it to the patients at the end of the year, but how will I get it to them if I can’t come back?
Mom shakes her head.
Millie is alarmed. “Oh my goodness, that is terrible news. Keep in touch, will you, Jasmine?” she says, writing her number on a napkin next to her bed. “I want to finish our...interview. I feel like we were just getting to the important part of our talk. I’ll be out of here next week, but you can always call me. And let me see what I can do. Maybe I can help you and your mother. I’ve been known to pull a few strings.”
“You would do that?” I say, taking her information, not quite believing I’ve been kicked out of the hospital as well.
“I can’t make promises. I’ll do my best. Call me, okay?”
* * *
In the car, Mom’s silence is deafening. She doesn’t start the engine. She’s no longer crying, but she’s shaking like she’ll lose it any second. I’m afraid to ask why she was fired, because I think I already know.
I’m scared and numb. Until now, I never worried about my family. We never had much money, but we’re better off than most. Happy. My parents love each other. Mom makes Dad a heart-shaped meat loaf every Valentine’s Day. I’m not worried there. But lately I keep thinking we’ll soon be living somewhere on the outskirts of Manila, and I’ll be stuck refereeing seven-legged spider fights between my brothers.
I won’t be a student anymore. I’ll probably end up working for some resort hotel, or become a waitress or underpaid secretary like many of my cousins. I’ll fade away in a country that I don’t really understand. Not like America, which is my home, my life. Though I’m also starting to think I don’t really understand America either.
“What happened?” I finally ask.
Mom sits for a long time before answering. “They found out I’m a liability.”
“A liability?” I say. “What do you mean? Did someone die or get hurt during one of your shifts? You’re always so safe, so thorough.”
“They found out I don’t have documentation,” she whispers.
We’re still sitting in the parking lot. A woman passes by the car and gives us a concerned look. “How? Why would they even check? You’ve been working at the hospital for years,” I say.
I grip my seat. This is exactly what I was scared of, and now it’s happened. How could my parents be so stupid?
“My supervisor called me into her office,” Mom says, taking a deep, heaving breath. “She told me I’m a good worker but that she can’t ignore the paperwork this time. Not in this ‘political climate.’ Something about one of their big donors asking to make sure all their workers are legal.”
It gets worse. It turns out my mom’s papers were flagged, and some so-called expert claimed they’re forgeries. They told my mother she could be legally deported and the hospital fined for hiring her.
“I’m sorry, Mommy.” I hug her, which makes her start crying again.