“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“Sweetheart!” Maya was shopping for some last minute pasalubong at Korea’s Incheon International Airport.
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.”
Softly, “ano ba dapat?”
“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.
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.”
“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.