Maya was already in bed, waiting patiently for Richard to finish whatever he was doing in the bathroom. They were going to talk. She had noticed a subtle change in her husband the past few weeks, but she could not put her finger on it. She just knew that something was bothering him. In a few hours, it would be his birthday. She and the children had planned a big celebration, and she wanted him to be happy. They had to get out in the open whatever it was that was occupying his mind.
Her eyes followed him as he came out, walked over to his side of the bed, wordlessly pulled back the thick comforter and slipped in. He smiled as he looked over at his wife and held out his arm, inviting her to cuddle. She settled her head on his shoulder, tilting it up slightly so she could see his eyes. He began to rub his knuckles on her upper arm absent-mindedly, his gaze far away.
“Sweetheart, hindi ka pa inaantok?”
Richard turned his head to look at her, eyebrows raised, “may gusto ka pa bang gawing iba?” he asked, voice mildly teasing.
Maya giggled a little as she raised herself up to lean on her elbows, the better to see his face. She smiled gently. “Gusto kong sabihin mo sa akin kung ano ang bumabagabag sa’yo.”
He sighed. She always knew when something was bothering him, no matter how much he tried to hide it. It was the same for him with her. When it comes to these things, they could never keep anything from each other. He sucked on his lower lip, wondering how to start.
“Promise you wont laugh.”
Her eyes were solemn. “Promise.”
“It’s just…,” he began, then paused; “It’s my birthday again tomorrow…I feel old…,” he reached up to caress her face. “You just turned thirty. You’re at your prime, sweetheart. You’re doing what you love and you’re doing a great job balancing that and taking care of us. There’s still a lot of things you can accomplish…I just don’t know kung hanggang kailan kita masasabayan.”
“Sweetheart…,” Maya murmured. She took one of his hands and held it close to her heart.
“And also the twins…all these new technology, new fads…ayaw kong mahuli sila, but we need to keep up so we can understand them as they grow up, how to deal with them…Si Luke…he’s now really my heir…I’m grooming him so he could eventually take over the management of LAS…but I think he’s more inclined to choose LAI…tapos si Nikki, she’s already accepting suitors, baka nga sagutin na niya si Niccolo, e…si Abby, dalaga na, pagdadaanan din natin sa kanya yung mga pinag-daanan natin kay Nikki…everything’s happening all at once…,” he made a helpless gesture with his free hand.
“Ssshhh…sweetheart, kalma,” Maya said, as she briskly rubbed the back of the hand she was holding, brought it to her lips for a kiss, and placed it against her cheek.
His eyes were sad. “I know it’s irrational, but all of a sudden, parang naiinis ako na tumatanda na ako. I want to be the one who is always in charge, who takes care of you and the children, not the other way around. Soon, they’ll leave and have their own families, and I don’t want anything to change.”
“Awww, sweetheart,” she reached up to smooth his hair, “sume-senti nanaman ang asawa ko. ” She smiled tenderly, “ They will always need you, kahit lumaki na sila at magkaroon ng sari-sariling pamilya, dahil ama ka nila. Di ba ganyan ka rin kay papa? The only thing constant is change. Ganun talaga, kailangan nating tanggapin.”
“I know. I just can’t help what I feel. I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said quietly.
“Bakit ka nag-so-sorry? Wala namang mali sa nararamdaman mo. Natural lang na maisip natin yang mga yan sa isang punto ng buhay natin.”
Richard continued to gaze at her as she traced the lines on his forehead and the corners of his eyes with her fingers. He was still in a pensive mood and Maya could sense there was more.
“Sweetheart…,” he hesitated.
“Hmmm…?” Her fingers continued to caress his face.
“I…I know that our age difference was never an issue between us, but I have to say this…I can’t forever be like this… I can’t keep dyeing my hair to look younger…and sooner or later, I’ll really look old…and baka mapagkamalan na akong tatay mo…you might want to do things and I wont be able to do them with you anymore…and all I want is to be beside you, supporting you, not being a burden to you…,”
She knew what he was trying to say. She cupped his face, looking him in the eyes. “Sweetheart, you will never be a burden to me, at wala akong pakialam sa sasabihin ng iba. Dumami man ang wrinkles mo, at tubuan ng maramimg kulugo ang mukha mo, ikaw pa rin ang pinaka-pogi, pinaka-mabango, at pinaka-seksing lalaki para sa akin. Hinding-hindi yun magbabago; at mahal kita, kahit ano pa ang ibato sa atin ng buhay, ako, na asawa mo, katuwang mo, your windmill, your chief, your boss,” Richard was beginning to smile, “your sun, and your love, andito lang ako lagi sa tabi mo, karamay mo, at katulong mo. Kung sakaling bumagal ka, I will stop and wait for you, at kung hindi mo na kayang maglakad, i-pi-piggy-back kita, para lagi tayong sabay…,”
Richard suddenly pulled her in for a hug, touched by her words, and filled with gratitude for her understanding. He planted a soft kiss on her head and rested his cheek on top. “Thank you, sweetheart,” his arms tightened around her. She returned the hug, wishing she could do more to reassure him. After a while she heard him chuckle and raised her head.
“Piggy-back talaga, ha? Kaya mo ba ako?”
“Pag dating sa’yo, kaya ko ang lahat,” she looked at him adoringly.
“Hmmm, pinapa-kilig mo nanaman ako, e,” he turned away, pretending to be shy.
Maya giggled. “Hindi bagay, sweetheart.”
“Ah, ganon?” they grinned foolishly at each other. Her smile turned gentle.
“Ok ka na, sweetheart?”
“Yes…,” he smoothed her hair, serious again, “I love you.”
“I love you too.” She lay her head on his chest once more. There was silence.
“Sweetheart?” Richard spoke up.
“Parang may kulang,”
She frowned. “Anong kulang?” She tilted her head and found him looking down at her. His eyes held a mischievous glint. He winked.
“Sweetheart!” Her eyes widened, “kailangan na nating mag-pahinga kasi marami pa tayong gagawin bukas.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Bakit, ano ba sa tingin mo ang kulang?”
“Ano nga ba?” she asked, confused.
“Sweetheart, you still haven’t kissed me goodnight.”
“Aahh, ganun ba?” She blushed. He smirked. She always gets embarrassed when he teases her like this. She drew herself up and planted a light kiss on his lips. “Goodnight.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Kulang nga.”
“Haaay, tumigil ka na nga, Mr. Lim. Maaga pa tayo bukas. Kung makulit ka, hindi ko na ibibigay ang gift mo,” she threatened laughingly, settling beside him.
He turned his body to face her, “If I get to celebrate all my birthdays with you, that would be the best gift.”
“Hmmm, at ako naman ang pinapakilig mo,” she reached up to pass a hand over his eyes to close them, “kailangan na talaga natin matulog.”
With his eyes closed, he said, “Sige, pero may utang ka pa sa akin.”
“Ha? Anong utang?”
Still with his eyes closed, he wiggled his eyebrows.
Grinning, he opened his eyes, “Goodnight, sweetheart.” She grinned back. They both closed their eyes.