Then and Now

 

Maya sighed contentedly as she sat before the fireplace of the master suite she and Richard were staying at for their get-away anniversary celebration. They were supposed to go to San Nicholas again, but due to inclement weather, changed plans and instead left early this morning for the drive to Taal Basilica in Batangas where they attended mass, and afterwards had a hearty brunch before checking-in to this lovely bed and breakfast in Tagaytay. He had the fire turned on and had fallen asleep while she explored the room, and knowing how tired he was, having arrived home late last night, she settled beside him and fell asleep as well.

Beside her, Richard stirred, and she smiled as he opened his eyes. “Sweetheart,” she said softly.

His return smile was wide and lazy, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Mag-ga-gabi na pala. Bakit hindi mo ako ginising?”

She chuckled. “Umuulan, makulimlim, kaya akala mo gabi na.”

He glanced at his watch. “Mag-a-alas kwatro palang-pala.” He yawned then stretched, looking towards the balcony. “Let’s go outside?” He invited, and at her nod, stood and helped her up.The air smelled fresh, the rain brought a cold breeze, and Taal volcano, though covered by a light mist, looked spectacular.

“Ang sarap dito, sweetheart,” Maya sighed.

“It is,” he agreed as he slipped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“Hm? Para saan?”

“I wanted this time for us to enjoy, kaso tinulugan kita.”

She gave a soft snort. “Sus, Ok lang yun. Pagod ka kagabi, tapos maaga pa tayong umalis kanina; tsaka, nakatulog din naman ako, e. Nauna lang akong gumising.” She felt him smile.

“I love you so much, Mrs. Lim.”

“At mas mahal kita ng higit pa, Mr. Lim.”

He snickered. “Uumpisahan ba natin yan?”

She gave his arm a playful swat, sighing as she touched their heads together. “Alam mo ba, may binigay sila kaninang USB na may mga lumang palabas, kung feel daw nating mag-movie marathon kasi nga, ma-bagyo, tapos hindi tayo maka-alis…hulaan mo kung anong nakita ko.”

“Ano?” He leaned back, eyebrows raised, as she turned her head to look at him.

“My Girlfriend’s Engagement!”

“Really?”

“Oo. Mapapanood na natin ng buo…at,” she paused for emphasis, wiggling her eyebrows, “magbibigay sila ng popcorn na hindi sunog!”

He chuckled. “Ganon!”

She wagged a finger at him. “Wala ka nang takas, sweetheart, dahil nakatulog ka na. Hindi na tayo aantukin.” The look on his face made her laugh. Turning back to the view, they went quiet for a while. Maya loved their moments like this. Not talking, just feeling. A gust of wind made her shiver.

“Are you cold?” He held her tighter.

She moved so they were hugging each other, and closed her eyes. “Hmm…Ang sarap mong ka-akap.”

“Ganitong-ganito din tayo dati. Do you remember?” He asked softly.

“Hmmm?”

“Malamig din yung panahon…We were standing in front of a lake…a volcano…”

She giggled, remembering. “Oo nga no…Nawala ako, tapos hinanap mo ako…”

“Ka-ka-picture mo kasi…I was so worried…”

“Napagod na ako kaya umupo na lang…”

“And then when I found you, we held each other, just like this.”

“Na para bang ayaw na natin pakawalan ang isa’t-isa?”

“Eh, hindi naman talaga kita pakakawalan na.”

She sighed. “Akala ko talaga nasira ko na yung honeymoon natin.”

He loosened his hold so he could see her face. “But you didn’t; and it turned out to be the best night of our honeymoon. Alam mo kung bakit?”

She gazed lovingly at him. “Bakit?”

“Because it was the night I finally claimed my wife,” he answered, smiling, but his eyes were solemn.

“Awww, sweetheart,” she said softly, reaching up to caress his cheek. He lowered his head.

Richard’s kisses never failed to evoke sweet and kilig feelings, but now they were magnified ten-fold; maybe it was the mood, or the setting, or because they had just reminisced a significant event in their lives, Maya did not know. She could only, helplessly, respond.

“Sweetheart…” Richard whispered. She opened her eyes. “Ok ka lang?” He teased, but she could see that he too was just as affected by the kiss they just shared.

“Mmm…isa pa,” she purred, and he laughed softly.

“I think I know something better that we can do right now.”

“Hm?”

He winked. “This.” He stooped to lift her up. Giggling, she hung on to him as he carried her over the threshold. To her surprise, instead of the bed, he went and knelt before the fireplace, lowering her gently on the carpeted floor. Her eyebrows rose.

“I just thought this was more romantic” he said, shrugging shyly, “maiba naman.”

She smiled. Come to think of it, they have always made love on a bed.

“Four years of happiness,” he breathed, looking at her with so much love. “Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.”

“Happy anniversary.” She started to reach for him.

“Wait!”

She stopped. Standing up, he comically raised a knee and knocked her bag off the low table beside him, making her laugh.

Sweetheart, hindi naman ganyan ang nangyari,e.”

He grinned wickedly, then shrugged again. Getting down on all fours, he brought his face close to hers. “Now, what was it you wanted, Mrs. Lim?”

She brought her face even closer to his. “Isa pa…”

“Aahhh…marami pa…” For a few seconds, they just gazed at each other; and then, “I love you.” Richard claimed her lips.

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Then and Now

Updated

“…then the King married the beautiful Princess and so she became the Queen…”

Richard  looked down and smiled. The twins were asleep at last. Carefully, he bent to give Sunshine a kiss, pulled the blanket up over her shoulders, then stood to transfer Sky to his bed, tuck him in, and also give him a kiss. Finally! He glanced at the stack of books on the side table. Quietly, he padded over and reached for the one on top. It was Abby’s old slam book. He found it earlier while choosing a book to read to the twins. She must’ve accidentally included it when she gave some of her old stuff to her siblings. His wife had written her answers there when she was still Abby’s nanny and he wanted to read them again. Slowly, he opened it, carefully flipping the pages.

Richard Lim. His eyebrows rose in surprise and he smiled widely. Maya had written his name to the questions Who is your first kiss and Who is your first love. She had been too embarassed to add his name before. Scanning the page, he noted changes in her other answers as well.  Tay Arturo’s, his, Luke’s, Nikki’s and the twins’ names were now included on her list of favorite people. She had also added anything my husband cooks for me, kahit sunog to her favorite food, making him chuckle; what made him proud, however, was her name. It was now Maya dela Rosa-Lim.

His phone rang and he hurried out the room as he answered it. “Sweetheart!”

“Sweetheart, sorry, ngayon lang ako nakatawag. Tulog na ba yung kambal?”

“Yes. Medyo late na ngang nakatulog kasi hindi pa inaantok.”

“Sayang, hindi ko naabutan.”

“Oo nga, eh. Naglambing pa nga. They wanted me to read them a story.”

“Ha? Naku, sweetheart, ilang beses ko nang inulit basahin yung mga libro dyan.”

“Kaya nga, kinwentuhan ko na lang sila.”

“Hm? Talaga?” Maya sounded dubious. Making up stories was not one of her husband’s strongest points. “Tungkol saan?”

“About the king who had forgotten how to smile.”

She giggled. “At saan mo naman nahugot yung kwento mong yan?”

“Well,” Richard glanced at the slam book in his hand, “I had inspiration.”

She heard the smile in his voice and raised an eyebrow. “Hmmm, teka lang, Mr. Lim, at sino naman ang  inspirasyon mo dyan? Parang ang saya-saya mo, a. Hindi mo yata ako na-mi-miss katabi ngayong gabi.”

“Silly! You know I always miss you kapag hindi kita nakikita. You were my inspiration for my story, you know. You always find a way to make me smile, kahit wala ka dito.”

There was a little silence. Maya had a big grin on her face. Something about the way he spoke made her kilig and touched at the same time. “Asuus…sige na nga, gabing-gabi na. Bukas na lang tayo mag-bolahan.”

Richard laughed softly, picturing her reaction. “Anong oras ka nga pala darating bukas?”

“Two o’clock ETA, sweetheart.”

“Hindi pala kita masusundo.”

“Oo nga, e, pero ok lang din yun, para makauwi ako ng maaga. Matulungan ko si Sabel…O, sige na, sweetheart, matulog ka na, alam kong pagod ka. Goodnight! I love you!”

“I love you too. Ingat ka.”

 

Maya sat on the bed with a sigh. As she took off her shoes, she saw a book on Richard’s side table and curiously reached for it. Slam book ni Abby? A thought occurred to her, and she smiled. Ito pala yon. She realized what he was referring to last night. She opened it, turning the pages slowly,  reading the names. She saw it right away. It was so untypical, so unexpected, yet so endearingly him.  Just two words, but the sweetness brought a tear to her eye. On his page, below the question, who is your first love, Richard had written in capital letters, LAST LOVE, then her name, Maya Lim.

 

Richard smiled when he saw who was calling. He raised the the phone to his ear and waited.

I Love You.

Updated

Valentine’s Day

“What?! No way!” Richard’s eyes widened in horror.

“Sweetheart, sige na. For once, gawin natin. Andito na tayo, e. Please?”

He shook his head. They were only supposed to go on a date. Of all the cheesiest, corniest, most embarrassing…

“Gusto ko lang talaga siyang subukan. Una’t huling beses na ito, sweetheart.”

He took a deep breath. Darn it, he was going to give in, again! “Maya…”

Soft, pleading eyes looked up at him. “Please?”

He pursed his lips. “Fine!”

Yes! Thank you, sweetheart,” Maya pumped a fist before squeezing his arm and getting off the car. He let out a sigh as he watched her. This evening was not how he envisioned it. For the first time since getting married, they had gone out for a Valentine’s day date. He was surprised when she asked him. She knew he found  the occasion too commercialized and cliche; but wanting to please her, he asked his secretary to book them a table at one of the poshest restaurants in the metro, and waited as she got off from work with a bouquet of roses and token box of chocolates. He was heartened to see the glow on her face. He realized she had wanted them to do this all those times when they had just been celebrating at home with the family.

Bilisan mo, sweetheart, she mouthed, an eager look on her face. Resigned, he shook his head again as he opened his door.

“Let’s just do it here,” he said, looking ill-at-ease, sticking close to the car.

She took his hand. “Mas maganda sa harap, sweetheart.”

He refused to budge. “Mas lalo lang tayong mapapansin nyan.”

“Sweetheart,” she smiled patiently,  “mas lalo ngang hinde kasi lahat tayo, pare-pareho lang ang gagawin. Dito mas maraming nanonood, O.” She pointed  her lips towards the crowd who had gathered to watch.

She was right. He rolled his eyes. “Fine!” He let her lead him to the front near the stage. Maya turned to look at him, eyes shining with excitement. They were just in time. The program’s highlight was about to commence.

“I-enjoy na natin ito, sweetheart,” she told him, suddenly shy.

He raised an eyebrow. She was blushing.

We’ll be starting the countdown, couples…

“Heto na, sweetheart,” she giggled a little nervously.

“Lagot ka sa’kin mamaya,” he told her, as she wrapped her arms around his neck. His hands went to her waist.

10…9…

“Asuus, aminin mo, sweetheart, gusto mo rin naman talagang subukan to, e.”

8…7…

He snorted. “Hindi kaya! I’m just doing this for you.”

6…5…

“Alam ko,” she said softly, “thank you, sweetheart….”

4…3…

“I love you.”

2…

He smiled at last. “I love you more.”

1

 

******

Sweeetheeaart, nakakahiya! Hindi ako makapaniwalang ginawa natin yun!” Maya covered her face in embarrassment. “Fourteen seconds lang pala tayo dapat nag-kiss. Inabot tayo ng mahigit isang minuto.” They had been the center of attention, still lip-locked long after the alloted time was up.”

Richard chuckled. “Ikaw kasi, sasali-sali ng biglaan. May rules pala.”

She groaned. “Eh malay ko ba? Ano ba kasing pumasok sa utak ko?”

“Aba ewan! Mukhang malalagay pa yata tayo sa dyaryo,” he added with a grin. A local tabloid covered the event and had their picture taken.

“Nakuu, buti na lang, wala akong kilala na nagbabasa nun.”

“Me too, but we’ll never know for sure.”

She looked at him in amazement, expecting a different reaction from him. “Hindi ka galit?”

“I don’t think kaya kong magalit, even if I tried,” he sighed. “I was as much an active participant as you.” Cupping her face, he turned serious. “I know I said that Valentine’s day is best spent at home. It was selfish of me not to think about your feelings. I’m sorry. If you want us to go on a date, it’s ok. Wag lang every year; besides, I did enjoy myself today.

“Talaga?”

“Well, yes,” he admitted. “Nung nag-umpisa na yung countdown, I decided to follow your advice. Kaya siguro humaba yung kiss natin,” he smirked.

“Ha?! Sabi ko na nga ba, e.” She gave him an I-told-you-so-look.

“Let’s go home.” He straightened to fasten his seatbelt but Maya stayed his arm.

“Not so fast, Mr. Lim.”

“May gagawin pa tayong iba?” He looked alarmed.

She shook her head. “May surprise ako para sa’yo.” He raised an eyebrow. Using her fist as an imaginary microphone, she announced in her best imitation of a game-show host, “Congratulations, Mr. Lim! You have just won an overnight stay for two at… she whispered the name of a motel popular for its themed rooms, making Richard’s chinky eyes grow big and round.

“Really?!”

She nodded shyly.

“Well, then, if that’s the case, hindi mo na kailangang pang sabihan ako, sweetheart, kasi alam kong mag-e-enjoy talaga ako.”

Maya laughed as he started the car.

 

Valentine’s Day

Their Giving Hearts

A local Christmas carol played as Richard wandered around the mall looking for a gift for his wife. It was almost Christmas and he still had not gotten her anything. They had promised not to give each other gifts, but knew she knows he always breaks that promise. He stepped inside a jewelry store, admiring a simple pearl and gold chain necklace. Maya would love it, just as much as she would love the cheapest pair of fancy earrings. It would not matter what he gave. She would cherish it because he gave it. Sighing, he left, still empty-handed. What do i give her? Someone handed him a flyer, and he accepted it distractedly. A quick read and a smile formed on his lips. He had an idea.

 

It was an hour before midnight and Misa de Gallo had just been concluded. People were crowding at the door, eager to go home and prepare their Noche Buena feast. Richard grabbed Maya’s arm just as she was about to follow the children filing out of the church. “Don’t go yet, sweetheart.”

“Ha? Pero, sweetheart, yung mga bata,” she said, concerned that they might look for them.

“They already know, tsaka, sandali lang naman ito,” he said, taking her hand and heading to another exit that lead to the back of the church.

“Eh saan ba tayo pupunta?”

He grinned at her. “To see your gift.” They turned the corner. “TADA!” Maya gasped in wonderment and surprise. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart!”

A huge tree stood at the center, gaily lighted and heavily decorated with little ornaments that covered all the branches. There was another, bigger tree at the front but this looked different and was more beautiful.

She laughed softly. “Sa akin yang puno na yan?”

“Well, yes, in a way,” he said, smiling tenderly at the expression on her face. “I bought that tree from the charity that makes and sells them every Christmas and donated it to this church. The decorations, pinakyaw ko na yung sa simbahan. I had to order more pa nga para matakpan yung puno.”

She giggled. The church ministry had a little fund-raising project where they sold Christmas decorations, also made by their chosen charity, and those who bought could either keep it or have it hung at the bigger tree at the front. It was also already full of the little ornaments. She turned to him, puzzled.

“I was thinking of a gift for you, pero nahirapan ako,” he explained, “I tried to think of what you would want, but all I could think about is you. Who you are as a person.” He paused then cupped her face, looking solemnly into her eyes, “we are so blessed, sweetheart. I can give you almost everything, materially, and I know that whatever you want, you can have now….so I chose to do this, instead of buying you a gift.”

“Ha?” She responded softly.

He smiled again. “Di ba, nung birthday ko dati, you organized a birthday party for me sa orphanage? The party was for me, but you were also thinking of how it would make the children happy.” He took a deep breath then continued, “I did this because giving back and making others happy would make you happy. This was all done under the name of Maya Lim. I wanted to honor my wife, who is the most generous person I know.”

“Sweetheart!”  

Chuckling, he told her, “but if you want a different gift, I could still give you that.”

She shook her head, reaching up to give him a tight hug. “Thank you,” she said, touched.

He hugged her back. “Do you like it?”

“I love it!” She loosened her hold so she could see his face. “Tama ka na wala na akong mahihiling pa, because I have the best husband in the world, who is the most generous person I know.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Bola!” They laughed. She snaked an arm round his waist as she admired the tree once more.

“Merry Christmas, Daddy, Mommy!” The children greeted loudly behind them. A round of kisses followed.

“How do you like your gift, mommy?” Abby asked.

“Siempre, gustong-gusto, Abby!” Maya exclaimed.

Behind her, Richard whispered, “lahat sila tumulong sa pagsabit ng decorations. Pati yung kambal, marunong na.”

“Talaga? Ang galing naman. Thank you, Sky! Thank you, Sunshine!” She said,bending to kiss them both. “Thank you!” She spread her arms wide to give her older children a big hug.

Laughing, Luke spoke up. “You’re welcome, mommy. Puede na ba tayong umuwi? Ginugutom na ako.”

“Haay, Kuya, you’re always thinking of your stomach,” Nikki complained good-naturedly.

“Ay, oo, sige, mag-ha-hating-gabi na nga pala,” Maya said, ushering them forward. She hung back, intertwining her hand with her husband’s. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” she smiled into his eyes.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, and their lips met for a sweet kiss, interrupted by the children who had turned back and were teasing them loudly. Laughing, they joined them and the family celebrated another beautiful and meaningful Christmas.

Their Giving Hearts

Confrontation and Confession

 

Maiba ulit. Wala kasi akong matapos-tapos sa mga inumpisahan kong post bcwmh series na short stories, e, hehe.

The muted sounds of laughter and music drifted from downstairs as Maya made her way out to the wide balcony overlooking the garden, glad to find the area deserted. He was here, the person she wanted, but dreaded to see at the same time; her former boss, Richard Lim. She had been avoiding him, but knew that sooner or later, they should meet.There were things between them that needed to cleared but she did not know how to start. She willed herself to be calm. Kaya mo to, Maya. After taking a deep breath, she counted to ten, then let it all out in a whoosh. Kaya ko to.

“I knew you’d be here.” She jumped at the familiar voice, turning around as Richard stepped out of the shadowed doorway. “Hey,” he said softly. She gave a small smile. He stood beside her and they admired the view quietly for a few minutes. “Iniiwasan mo nanaman ba ako?” He asked at last.

“Bakit mo naman naisip yan?”

“Nothing…It’s just, I haven’t seen you for a week.”

She gave a little laugh. “Kailangan ba talaga natin magkita araw-araw? May mga ginagawa din naman akong iba.”

“I know,” he said, looking at her, “but I want to see you just the same.”

She pursed her lips to suppress a sigh, but could not contain the sudden rush of kilig. Ayan nanaman siya, she thought, her eyebrows meeting in a frown, not knowing how to respond. A familiar melody began to play; it was the song at Luke’s prom.

He held out his hand. “Shall we?”

She hesitated, then stepped into his arms, pressing her cheek against his shoulder as he pulled her near. She closed her eyes as he swayed her gently.

“Are you free tomorrow? There’s a new restaurant I want to try,” he began.

“Kasama mga bata?”

“No, just the two of us.”

“Bakit hindi natin kasama ang mga bata?”

“I just want to spend time with you na tayong dalawa lang.” He paused. “Naiilang ka nanaman ba? I thought we’ve been over this.”

“Eh, kasi, puede namang sumama ang mga bata.”

He leaned back to see her face, his expression confused. “Maya…”

“Ricky, ano ba ito? Parte ba ito ng pagiging friends natin na iba? Hindi ko na kasi maintindihan kung anong patutunguhan nito, e. Bakit hindi na lang tayo maging ordinary friends, period. Nakakalito na kasi,” Maya averted her head, horrified that her voice had cracked. She pushed away from him and he dropped his arms. The silence stretched between them.

Richard bit his lip. “I’m sorry,’ he said quietly, “I should have made my intentions clear from the start. Matagal ko na kasing hindi ginagawa.” She remained silent. He gave a rueful smile, “I’m not really confident when courting a girl.” Taking a deep breath, he began; “how i feel…Maya, I wanted to give you time to get used to our situation first. For a long time, I was your boss. You were my employee. Ikaw pa nga yung naiilang sa pagkakaibigan natin, di ba? I had to convince you to call me by my first name. Gusto kitang ligawan ng tama but I wasn’t sure how. I was so afraid of making a wrong move and give you a reason para iwasan ako.” He sighed then lifted a hand to cup her cheek, gently forcing her to look at him, “but believe me, everything i did, I did because I wanted to show you how I felt. Kaya nga iba kasi, mahal na kita,” he said, looking straight into her eyes, “I love you, Maya,” he said earnestly.

Maya bowed her head, suddenly overwhelmed.

“Please say something.”

She looked up with a tremulous smile. “Wala akong maisip na sabihin. Nakakabigla naman kasi.”

He smiled back. “Hindi pa ba ako masyadong obvious?

“Ayoko lang kasing mag-assume.”

“I’m sorry. I was just waiting for the right time. I know you have a lot on your mind right now. Ka-ka-graduate mo lang and just starting your career. I don’t want to pressure you. I’m willing to wait until you’re ready.”

“Hindi ako makapaniwalang mahal mo nga ako.”

“Well I do,” he said gently, “and I’m glad you know now.”

“Pero Ricky-.”

He held up a hand. “Don’t think too much, Maya. I already said i’m willing to wait, di ba? Whatever your worries, we will face them one by one, but only when you’re ready. I don’t want you troubling yourself over this, Ok?”

She nodded. “Ok….Salamat, Ricky, ha?” She gazed shyly up at him. Another familiar song played and they both laughed as they recognized it. It was an instrumental version of Be Careful With My Heart. “Sinasadya ba ito ni Rafi?” She wondered.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he smirked, “she had been nagging me to confess to you already.”

“Si Rafi talaga,” Maya shook her head. “Tayo na nga,” she said briskly, “baka ano pa isipin nun, tuksuhin pa tayo,” unwittingly taking his hand, surprising him.

“Maya?” He tightened his hold, making her stop. She looked questioningly at him. He waited for her to notice. “Nothing,” he said after a few seconds, his smile wide. She shook her head; then hand in hand, they went back inside.

Confrontation and Confession

A Dash of Spice

 

“Richard!… Chard!… Chaard!”

The whole family stopped and turned towards the woman calling him. Maya had a glimpse of a beautiful older woman before she launched herself into her husband’s arms. Richard was surprised. For a moment, he did not react; then he smiled and returned the hug warmly.

“Anj!”

“Kamusta ka na?” The woman asked when she let go. “Ang tagal na nating di nagkikita. Last time ay nung kay Alex pa.”

Maya noticed the slight hesitancy when mentioning Richard’s late wife. Sino ba ito? There was something vaguely familiar about her.

“Ang tagal na nga,” he agreed. She turned to look at Luke, who was carrying Sky.

“Luke, ikaw ba yan?”

“Tita, kamusta po?” Luke gave her a kiss on the cheek. He remembered her. She came often to visit the family when his mother was still alive.

“Nakuuu, binatang-binata ka na. Nikki?” she turned to look at Nikki who was standing beside Luke.

“Hi, Tita,” Nikki also gave her a kiss.

“Ang ganda naman ng pamangkin ko. Manang-mana sa mommy.”

Nikki smiled. “Thank you, po.”

“And you must be Abby,” she said, holding her by the shoulders.

“Hello, po,” Abby said politely, reaching up so she too could kiss her. She was the only one who did not remember her. She was just a little child when their mother died.

“Wow!” The woman shook her head as she gazed at them. “Ang lalaki nyo na! Richard, you and the children look well…Masaya ako,” she added softly, and something about the way she was looking at him disconcerted Maya. The woman then turned to Sky. “And who is this? Ang cute,” she pinched Sky’s cheek, making the little boy shrink back and bury his face in his brother’s neck.

“Kapatid po namin, si Sky.”

“Ha?” The woman looked nonplussed.

“He’s my son, Anj,” Richard said quietly. He grasped Maya’s hand and gently pulled her forward. “Meet my wife, Maya, and this is Sky’s twin, Sunshine. Sweetheart, this is Angela, second cousin ni Alex. She came from the States. I mentioned before na yung mga kamag-anak ni Alex nandun na halos lahat.”

Aaaah, Angela pala ang buong pangalan niya. May hawig sila ni Alex. She was a little bothered that he introduced her only by her full name. “Hi, Angela,” Maya greeted with her usual exuberance. She was looking closely at Angela’s face. She could sense an aloofness in her even as she returned her greeting with a smile.

“Hello, Maya,” she gave a small nod. “Nag-asawa ka na pala ulit,” she again looked at Richard. There was something in her tone Maya did not like.

“Yes,” Richard replied shortly. “Kailan ka pa dumating?”

“Mag-iisang linggo na. May inasikaso lang, tapos bakasyon na din. Magkita-kita naman tayo minsan para mag-catch-up. Isama mo ang mga bata, ha? Gusto kong makilala at makipag-bonding sa mga pamangkin ko.”

“Of course. Let’s plan it. Busy kasi ako palagi. Alam mo naman, I’m handling both LAS and LAI now…”

As he continued to chat with her, Maya wondered if anyone noticed that the invitation did not include her. She felt a little hurt. Angela was laughing at something Richard said and placed her hand on his arm. The familiarity of the gesture again disconcerted her.

“Sweetheart?” Richard and the children were looking at her. She had been so deep in thought.

“Ay, ano yun? Sorry, malalim lang iniisip,” she smiled automatically.

“Si Anj, nagpapa-alam na.”

“Aaahh…bye, Angela,” she gave a small wave.

“Hihiramin ko minsan yung mga bata, ok lang ba, Maya?”

Ano bang meron sa tono niya? “Oo, naman, naiintindihan ko,” she answered with a small smile.

“Bye, you all. I’ll be seeing you,” Angela waved and grinned at Luke and his siblings and winked at Richard before turning away. Aba’t! Her eyebrows met in a frown. Sunshine was squirming in her arms, wanting to be put down. The children were heading off to the play area.

“Mommy, ako na po ang maghahawak kay Sunshine,” Abby offered.

“Thank you, Ate Abby,” she replied, putting the little girl down. Abby took her sister’s hand and they hurried to follow their other siblings. She watched them go.

“Sweetheart?” She turned to find Richard looking intently at her. “Are you ok?” He reached up to tenderly smooth her hair. “Kanina ka pang tahimik.” She just looked back at him. “Pasensya ka na. Ganyan talaga siya. I’m sorry you felt left out,” he began, making her smile. Kilalang-kilala talaga ako nitong asawa ko. “She and Alex were very close, like sisters. Palagi siyang dumadalaw sa bahay dati. I guess, nagulat lang siya na  nakapag-asawa ako ulit. She knew how devastated I was when Alex died.”

“Hm-mmm,” she nodded like it was nothing, pursing her lips.

He raised his eyebrows. “What is it?”

She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head. “Ang gwapo mo kasi,” she reached up to  pinch his cheeks.

“Aray naman, sweetheart!”

She laughed. “Tayo na nga!” She walked ahead of him. He sighed, moving to follow her.

 

*****

 

“Mommy?”

“Abby, napatawag ka. May problema ka ba dyan sa school?” Maya asked worriedly. She was at Time Airway’s FA lounge waiting for their flight.

“No, mommy, Tita Angela is here po. Susunduin din po namin sina Kuya Luke at Ate Nikki. Gusto po niya kaming ilabas.”

“Aaahhh…” She frowned, wondering why she chose to take them out today. It was the middle of the week. “Alam na ba ito ng daddy nyo?”

“Opo, mommy. He said ipapa-alam po muna niya sa inyo.”

“Ganun ba? O, sige, Abby, tatawagan ko muna ang daddy niyo, ha?”

“Ok, po. Bye, mommy.”

“Bye, Abby.” She had just disconnected the call when her phone rang again.

“Sweetheart? I was trying to call you.”

“Si Abby ang kausap ko, sweetheart.”

“So, you know already?”

“Sweetheart, hindi ba puedeng sa weekend na lang? May pasok pa bukas. Si Abby baka mapuyat.”

“Kaya nga ako sasama, to make sure na maka-uwi kami ng maaga.”

“Sasama ka?” She was surprised.

“Yes. Hindi ba binanggit ni Abby?”

“Hindi, e.” She fell silent.

“Sweetheart?” Richard called hesitantly when she continued to remain quiet.

“Aaahh, sige, mag-enjoy kayo ha? Naiintindihan ko naman na gusto niyang masolo yung mga bata. Alam kong marami siyang makwento tungkol kay Alex. Maganda din yung maging close sila sa kamag-anak sa side niya…anyway, kailangan ko nang umalis at mag-b-briefing na kami. Sige na, sweetheart.” She was about to disconnect the call when he called out.

“Sweetheart?”

“O, ano yun?”

“I love you.”

She paused, a smile forming on her lips. “I love you too.”

 

*****

 

“Good morning, Mrs. Lim!”

“Good Morning!” Maya smiled as she returned the greetings of Richard’s LAS staff. She had asked Time Airways’ service to drop her off  here, instead of at the house, intending to surprise him. They missed their you-and-me time yesterday, and she wanted to make up for it today. She had another evening flight and they might not see each other again till tomorrow. Besides, she was curious to hear about their get-together with Angela last night. She has not had the chance to speak with the children yet, knowing that they were already in school. As she neared his office, she saw Minerva, his secretary, about to enter with a tray bearing two cups of coffee. “Good morning, Minerva. Si Ricky may bisita?”

Minerva stopped and looked up. “Ay, good morning, Mrs. Lim. Opo, may bisita siya. Si Ms. Angela Ortiz, po.”

She frowned. Nagkita lang sila kagabi. “Matagal na ba siyang andyan?”

“Mga ten minutes pa lang, po.”

“Aaaahhh…” Maya smiled at her. “Wag mo munang dalhin yan sa loob. Ako na yung magtitimpla nung kape niya.”

“Ay, o sige po.”

 

Richard smiled as he thanked Minerva for the coffee, glad for the interruption. Angela’s unexpected visit, while not really unwelcome, disrupted his very busy schedule. She was doing a repeat of last night, going on and on about how they were when Alex was still alive. While he was happy to reminisce with her and his children, now was not the right time nor place. He bit back a sigh as he picked up his cup. There was a little note under it.

Miss na kita.

Swiftly, he excused himself. “Minerva,” he spoke softly to his secretary as soon as he was out the door, “ matagal na ba siyang nakaalis?”

“Baka mahabol niyo pa, Sir.”

He hurried to the elevators, clenching his fist in frustration when he reached it just as the doors had closed. With a sigh, he went back. Before re-entering his office, he instructed Minerva to make up an excuse to have him attend to an emergency within the next five minutes. He felt a little guilty for the lie, but he really was very busy…and he really misses his wife.

“Excuse me again, Anj,” he said, as he picked up his cell phone and sent a reply.

Thanks for the coffee, sweetheart. I miss you too. Humanda ka bukas. Babawi ako.

 

*****

 

“Hello, sweetheart?”

“Sweetheart!” Maya was shopping for some last minute pasalubong at Korea’s Incheon International Airport.

“Umm, sweetheart…”

Maya noticed the hesitation. She stopped her inspection of a dress she wanted to buy for Nikki as she waited for him to continue, instinctively knowing what he was about to say

“Si Anj pala, aalis na bukas; babalik na siya sa Amerika. Gusto niyang sunduin ulit ang mga bata after school.”

“O, wala namang problema. Friday na naman. Puede silang magtagal.”

“They want me to go with them.”

 Sabi ko na nga ba. Disappointment, and something else she could not define, filled her. “Sweetheart, may date tayo mamaya, di ba? Matagal na naman bago mangyari yun sa busy nating dalawa. Magta-tatlong araw na din tayong hindi nagkikita. Hind ba puedeng hindi ka na lang sumama?” She could not keep her voice from sounding how she felt.

“I know, pero pinilit nila ako. Gusto din ng mga bata na sumama ako, eh. I can’t say no.”

 She pursed her lips.  Oo nga naman. Ano pa ngang magagawa kung sila na ang maki-usap?

“Babawi na lang talaga ako next time, I promise.”

“Ok.”

“Ok lang?”

Softly, “ano ba dapat?”

“Wala…Sweetheart…”

“Sweetheart, kailangan ko nang umalis. Tinatawag na ako ni Connie. Baka ma-late na kami. Sige na. Bye!”

“Ok. I lo-….ve you.” Richard sighed. Maya had already disconnected the call.

 

*****

 

Maya felt something soft land on her face; another; then another. She opened her eyes.

“Mommy, nakarating na po kami,” Abby whispered.

They were gathered around Sunshine’s bed where she had fallen asleep, a twin on each side of her. She smiled sleepily. “Anong oras na?”

“Mag-t-twelve na po, mee,” Luke replied, also in a whisper. They did not want to wake the twins up.

“Sorry, mom, ngayon lang kami nakabalik. Ang daldal kasi ni Tita Angela, e; pero we enjoyed her company naman, and this time, hindi na kami nabitin. We wanted to go home na nga kasi we were so antok na rin,” Nikki explained.

“Mabuti naman at nag-enjoy kayo.” She looked at both twins, wondering how to get up without waking either one.

Richard stepped forward. “Kids, bukas na lang kayo mag-kwentuhan. It’s late. Sweetheart, lipat ka na sa kwarto,” he said, as he carefully lifted Sky to lay him on his bed. Maya moved her arm slowly and settled Sunshine on her pillow. The three older children bid them goodnight. She was quiet as they returned to their room.

“Don’t I get a welcome kiss from my wife?” Richard asked when she went straight for their bed.

She turned to him, arms crossed. After hesitating a moment, she went and touched her cheek to his. “Goodnight,” she said, flatly; before she could move, however, he had already engulfed her in his arms. He held her tight, not speaking, and she did not have the heart to push him away.

“I missed you,” he murmured.

She raised an eyebrow. “Eh sino ba ang may kasalanan kung bakit na-miss mo ako ngayon?”

He groaned, “let’s not fight, please? I’m tired and I just want to hold you.”

Maya’s eyes filled with tears. She was spoiling for a fight, but she also pitied him because she knew he was really tired. She stepped back as soon as he loosened his hold on her.

“Where are you going?”

“Inuuhaw ako,” she said, not looking at him. It was a very long drink. She stayed away until she was sure he would be asleep when she returned. He lay with his back to the door. Carefully, she settled on her side of the bed, her back to him. After a minute, she felt him move. He pressed his body against her, spooning her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, softly.

“Akala ko tulog ka na,” her tone was equally soft.

“Paano ako makakatulog, eh alam kong galit ka.” She gave a little sniff, and he knew she had been crying. “Sorry na, sweetheart,” he repeated contritely.

“Puede ka naman kasing tumangging sumama. Bakit ang hirap mong magsabi ng no?”

“I did it for the children. I don’t want them to think na binabale-wala ko na ang side ni Alex. Anj is family.”

“Eh family din naman ako, a. Bakit parang ayaw niyo akong makasama sa mga lakad niyo?”

“You had flights, di ba?”

“Wala naman akong flight ngayon. Puede naman akong sumunod sa inyo.”

He bit his lip. “I’m sorry. I thought you would’ve preferred to rest and stay with the twins. I also didn’t want you to feel left out. Puro kasi tungkol kay Alex yung pinag-uusapan namin, and Anj…well, she can be a little tactless sometimes.”

Maya sniffed again. “Buti pa siya, binigyan mo ng time nung dumalaw siya sa office mo.”

“Sweetheart, alangan namang hindi ko siya asikasuhin. Ikaw nga yung umalis. Hinabol pa nga kita pero nagsara na yung elevator; and for your information, sandali lang siya kasi I asked Minerva to pretend I had an emergency para di na siya magtagal,” Richard explained patiently. He waited for a response. When none came, he raised his head to peek at her face. “Are you still mad?” He asked tentatively.

She turned to look at him. “Oo, pero sa sarili ko. Ayaw ko na nagkakaganito ako. Naiintindihan ko naman na importante ito sa mga bata, at tama lang naman na sumama ka sa kanila, pero pag na-aalala ko na yung kakaunting oras na pang you-and-me time sana natin, inangkin pa niya, eh naiinis ako.”

“So this is about our you-and-me time, kaya ka pa rin galit?” He looked surprised.

“Ano pa nga ba? Tayo yung mag-asawa pero tayo pa yung hindi nagkikita; samantalang kayo, magkasama na nung gabi, tapos biglang susunod na umaga, ,magkasama nanaman? Ano ba ang pag-uusapan niyo na sobrang importante? Tapos masyado pa siyang nagiging pamilyar sa mga kilos niya na akala mo close kami at ginagawa pa niya sa harapan ko. Pahawak-hawak sa braso mo, at pakindat-kindat pa! Tama ba yon? Nakalimutan yata niya na iba na ang asawa mo!” Maya’s voice had risen slightly.

Richard’s eyes widened as he listened to her tirade. He stared at her, incredulous, then started to laugh.

“O, bakit ka natatawa?” she glared.

He cupped her cheek, grinning. “Kasi, nagseselos ka.”

“Oy, hinde, a,” She averted her eyes.

“Yes, you are,” he teased.

Annoyed, she pried his hand from her face. “Alam mo, ganito na nga ako, nang-aasar ka pa lalo.” She turned away from him.

Sweeetheeart,” he said in a cajoling manner, rubbing her shoulders.

“Hmp!”

Richard chuckled. Seeing his wife like this was refreshing. The only other time she was like this was before they were married, when she saw him at a café with the woman who designed her engagement ring. Realizing that his wife was really piqued, he bit his lip to stop grinning. Smoothing her hair, he whispered in her ear, “I love you, you know.”

Maya’s cheeks flushed. Even when he tells her that everyday, it never fails in the kilig department. Aaaat bumigay ka nanaman agad, Maya dela Rosa-Lim, she thought to herself. She moved so she was lying flat on her back. He leaned on his elbow and smiled sweetly at her. “Ayan ka pa rin, ha!” She said sulkily, but he knew she was no longer mad.

“Eh, ikaw, e. Ang cute mo.”

“At gustong-gusto mo naman.”

“Siempre. Ako na lang lagi ang nagseselos, e.”

“Nakakainis ka talaga,” she said, but her voice had changed.

“Can I get a proper kiss now?” he asked, his eyes full of longing.

She laughed as she reached up to place her arms around him. “Ok.” He immedietely swooped down to claim her lips with a kiss that was both sweet and intense. “Wow!” Was all she could say when he finally lifted his head. He grinned and lay back, pulling her to him as his eyes drifted close. She placed her head on his shoulder. “Sorry din, sweetheart, ha,” she said after a minute.

“For what?” he murmured.

“Dahil nagselos ako.”

“Don’t be. I liked it.”

“Eh, pero-”

“Sweetheart,” he groaned sleepily. “Bukas na lang, please?”

“Ok, pero may utang kang bawi sa akin.”

“Kahit ilang beses ko pang bayaran, sweetheart,” he said, so softly, she barely heard it.

She raised her head and saw that he was already asleep. Smiling, she leaned to kiss his cheek. “Mahal talaga kita, sobra-sobra,” she whispered, before settling back in his arms until she too fell asleep.

 

 

A Dash of Spice

Her Happiness

 

Maya opened her eyes easily. She had been sleeping lightly for the past couple of  hours and now she was wide awake. She sat up. Light from the full moon filtered through the curtains of the window above the bed and she could see the outlines of the children sleeping on the floor. They had insisted on staying the night here, at the Dela Rosa home in San Nicholas, just this once, instead of the hotel, so they could greet her first thing in the morning. Knowing that it would take a while before she could fall asleep again, she got off the bed, careful not to wake her husband, and made her way out to the sala.

She stood looking out from the big window, enjoying the slight evening breeze. She was here with her family to celebrate her birthday, her first time to do so since she went to Manila almost six years ago. Memories and milestones played in her mind and she sighed wistfully, thinking how fast the years went by. Strong arms encircled her waist from behind, making her jump. Almost immediately, she relaxed.

“Can’t sleep?” Richard placed his chin on her shoulder.

“Hindi, e. Ikaw, bakit ka bumangon?”

“Nagising akong wala ka sa tabi ko; of course I had to look for you. Alam mo namang ayaw kong matulog nang hindi ka katabi.” He felt her smile. He gave a sidelong glance, noticing that her eyes were wet. “Hey,” his brows furrowed. “Sweetheart?” He moved to cup her face. “Were you crying?”

She sniffed as she shook her head. “Wala ito. Masaya lang ako, sweetheart,” she gave a short laugh.

He raised his eyebrows. “Ano ba kase yang mga pinag-i-i-isip mo?” He gently wiped the streaks with his thumbs.

“Wala lang. Kung anu-ano.”

He studied her face for a moment. “Ahhhh, alam ko na,” he said teasingly.

“Alam ang ano?” she widened her eyes at him.

“Well,” he gave a knowing look, “Mag-bi-birthday ka na in a short while. I’m guessing you were reminiscing the past thirty-one years of your life; and knowing you, kapag pag-sume-senti ka, eh talagang umiiyak ka. Tama ako di ba?” He grinned smugly.

“Hmp! Ikaw talaga!” She pinched his nose. He chuckled. Smiling, she gazed at him.

“What?” Richard raised his eyebrows again. Slowly, she leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on his lips. He looked surprised but pleased. “What was that for?”

“Dahil sa loob ng thirty-one years nang nabubuhay ako sa mundo, yung huling anim na taon ang pinaka-masaya; at dahil yun sa’yo. Mahal na mahal kita, sweetheart. Thank you for letting me into your life,” she told him, her eyes glowing with gratitude and love.

Moved, he wrapped his arms around her. “I think… I should thank you for persisting in trying to enter it.” She giggled. Pulling her tight against him, he smiled tenderly at her upturned face. “You’re one amazing woman, Mrs. Lim. I love you more.”

She settled her head against his chest before whispering, “I love you most.” She felt his chest rumble with silent laughter. They stayed quiet, each just happily content to be where they are at the moment. After a long while, Richard broke the silence.

“I think, it’s just about past midnight now,” he said softly.

“Hmm?” Maya raised her head and he could see that her eyes were beginning to get heavy.

“Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!” He gave her a sweet, lingering kiss.

“Thank you,” she smiled drowsily when they parted and leaned on his chest again.

“I think, it’s time we went back to bed,” he whispered, scooping her up and cradling her in his arms.

“Sweetheart, hindi mo na kailangang gawin to. Kaya ko pa maglakad,” she protested, even as  she linked her arms around his neck, “baka maapakan mo ang mga bata.”

“Shhh, let me do this, ok? Wala ka na ngang hininging gift, e,” he said, sadly. Maya just let him, knowing that doing things for her makes him happy. She was crying again, and he felt it. “Sweetheart?” He stopped. Worried, he turned back to the sala and sat them on the wood sofa, her on his lap. “What’s wrong now?”

“Ang sobrang saya ko lang talaga. Sorry, hindi ko mapigilan.”

He nodded, understanding. “It’s ok, sweetheart,” he murmured, rubbing her back comfortingly. “I love you so much.”

Maya hugged him tighter in response. “I love you so much more.”

“Ayaw talaga magpatalo.”

“Birthday ko naman, pagbigyan mo na ako.”

He laughed softly. “Ok, sweetheart.” After a while, he carried her back to the bed to sleep comfortably in his arms.

…and that was how the children and the rest of the family found them in the morning. They were supposed to wake Maya up with a loud birthday greeting, but when they saw them, they could only…smile.

 

Her Happiness