This Time Around

Since it’s a new year, I wanted to level up and try to write something longer. I couldn’t finish it in time for the end of January, so I tried to finish it by today, pero di pa rin kinaya. I sooo wanted a Valentine post so I just wrote a Valentine chapter, which was not in my original plan. I really admire writers who can do multiple stories and just add to any of them whenever they feel like it. I can only concentrate on one at a time. That said, here’s what I’ve written so far. Don’t worry, I WILL finish this, hindi ko na patatagalin. 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Maya entered the condo unit she shared with her good friend, Emman, in a daze. She made her way to her room, then sat slowly on her bed. She had done it! She had hurt the man she loved! Her tears fell and she buried her face on her pillow. Emman, who had just arrived, felt something was amiss. He noticed the door to her room was ajar and  he entered cautiously, not bothering to knock.

“Roomie?! Anong nangyari?! Bakit ka umiiyak?” He stood there, gaping.

Maya lifted her tear-streaked face to him. “S-s-sinaktan ko siya, E-Emman. M-mahal ko siya pero, s-sinaktan ko.”

“Ha?! Sino?” Maya just cried harder. “Roomie…,” Emman sat beside her and put his arms around her, rubbing her back comfortingly. “Roomie, shhh….,” he soothed, gently pushing her head to lean against the crook of his neck. As Maya continued to sob, her conversation with Nikki, his daughter, played over again in her mind.

 

“Ate Maya, did you know that dad is dating?”

 “Dati pa, di ba?” Si Atty. Gie, si Stephanie…”

 Nikki shook her head. “No, I think this time he’s really serious.”

 “Hindi ba Ok sa’yo? Ayaw mo bang manligaw sa iba daddy mo?” She had asked carefully, observing the girl’s face. Nikki shrugged, but her face was serious.

 “I want dad to be happy. I know he took it hard when mom died. He loved her very much, but I also know that mom would want us to move on. He’s not that old pa naman, e. I just wish he wouldn’t find a girlfriend muna. We are just starting to enjoy being a family again, tapos biglang may bagong girl na papasok who might replace mom. I have to get used to the thought that he’s starting to find another person to love pa. Maybe in a year or two…and hindi lang dapat siya basta-basta. That woman better be worthy to be with dad.”

 

“T-tama naman ang g-g-ginawa ko, di ba? K-kailangan ko l-lang na g-gawin yon. M-mali kasi k-kung itutuloy pa n-namin, e. M-mali,”  she buried her face against Emman’s chest, wetting his shirt with her tears.

Helpless, Emman could only listen. He already had an inkling of what she was talking about, but did not want to force her to tell him. He continued to rub her back. “Roomie, kung ano mang malaking desisyon ang pinili mo, I’m sure pinag-isipan mong mabuti. You’ll get over this, Roomie, don’t worry,” he said, not knowing what else to say. Gradually, her crying stopped. She raised her head, determined to be strong.

“Tama ka, Emman, I’ll get over this. Desisyon ko ‘to, dapat kong panagutan,” she turned to give him a sad smile. “Salamat, Emman.”

 

——————————————————————————————————

 

Richard wobbled a little as he got out of the car from the backseat. He smiled reassuringly at his driver, Joma, who had hurried over, ready to assist, but stayed respectfully back when he held up his hand. “I’m OK, Joma, sige na, puede ka nang magpahinga,” he said, and turned tiredly away. He was not drunk. He just had a few drinks with his good friend, Ryan, but his head was already throbbing, and the heavy feeling he had in his chest since the event that happened earlier did not go away. When he opened the front door, Manang Fe, his former nanny and now mayordoma, was waiting for him with a worried frown on her face.

“Ricardo, saan ka ba nanggaling? Gabing-gabi na, a!” she scolded him like he was still a child.

“Nakipag-inuman lang ng konti, Manang,” he said, sighing, “pagbigyan mo na ako. Minsan lang naman, at si Joma naman ang pinag-drive ko.”

“Aah, ganoon ba?” She said, pacified. She realized she had been talking to him like a little boy again. “Hinanap ka kasi ng mga anak mo. Hindi ka man lang nagsabi kung saan ka pupunta. Nagkita ba kayo ni Maya?” She asked with a smile.

At the mention of her name, his heart ached. He bit his lip, looking at Manang Fe, his eyes filled with hurt. “Binasted niya ako, Manang,” he told her quietly.

“Ha?! Binasted ka?” Manang Fe was shocked. Richard moved to wrap her in an embrace.

“I  don’t understand, Manang” he said softly, a hint of bewilderment in his voice, “I could feel that she loves me too. Why did this happen?”

Manang Fe was distressed. She was so sure na sasagutin siya ni Maya. She could see how much she loved him. “Anong dahilan ang binigay niya?”

Richard just shook his head. Manang Fe raised her arms to hug him back. Confidently, she told him, “Kung ano mang dahilan ang binigay niya, alam kong may mas malalim pa doon na hindi niya sinasabi  sa’yo. Alam kong mahal ka din ni Maya.” She loosened herself from his arms so she could lean back to look at him. “Maaayos din ang lahat. Magtiwala ka.” Caressing his cheek, she admonished him, “Wag mong pababayaan ang sarili mo at ang mga bata.”

He smiled sadly. “Don’t worry, Manang, I wont allow myself to be the person I was before.”

“Mabuti naman. May tamang oras para sa lahat ng bagay, baka hindi pa ngayon ang para sa inyo ni Maya. Hayaan mo na muna siyang gawin ang gusto no niya.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do, Manang. I can’t un-love her. The only thing I can do is wait for her, even if she tells me not to. I-I’m going to be Ok.”

She smiled in her motherly way, “Alam ko, Ricardo. Matatag kang tao. Malalagpasan mo ito.”

“Thank you, Manang.”

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Maya stood looking at a display of  jewelry on sale, wondering what would be suitable as gifts for her mother and grandmother. She was doing some last minute shopping before her flight home to San Nicholas later. She wanted to give something a little more special, para makabawi, since she was not able to take a leave from her job as flight attendant for the Christmas holidays. It was only now, three weeks after  the New Year’s celebration, that she could. She was about to go inside the shop when she heard someone call her.

“Ate Maya?”

She stopped, then turned towards the direction of the voice. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Nikki?!”

“Ate Maya!” Nikki stepped forward to give her a hug which she returned warmly. They let go, and she took the younger girl’s hands.

“Nikki, kamusta ka na?” Her smile was wide. It felt good to see her again. It’s been several months since she saw her last.

Nikki gave a little squeal in her excitement. “I’m good, Ate Maya. Oooh, I’m so glad we met-,” before she could continue, another voice called her name.

“Ate Maya!” It was Luke, Nikki’s older brother, who was eagerly going to her. Beside him was his dad, Richard, looking steadily at her as they approached. Maya’s breath caught. She no longer noticed Luke, who, like Nikki, had pulled her in for a hug. All she saw was him. Her eyes drank in the sight of his dear, handsome face; his chinky eyes, and his thin stern lips. Remembering the last time they saw each other, she met his gaze and gave a tentative smile.

“Sir Chief,” she said softly.

Richard, for his part, had trouble breathing. Since the moment Nikki had uttered OMG, is that Ate Maya, his heartbeat accelerated. Happiness and uncertainty contrasted within him. Almost a year of not seeing her was a very long time. He heard her call him by the unique name she had for him and a smile formed on his lips, whatever sad event that happened between them the last time they saw each other temporarily forgotten. “Maya,” he said, just as softly.

Luke released Maya then turned back to look at his dad. He looked from him to her. They both have not taken their eyes off each other and seemed lost in their own world. He looked at his sister with raised eyebrows. Nikki shrugged, pursing her lips. She suspected something but would tell her brother later. She cleared her throat, and both Richard and Maya looked startled.

“Aaahhh, Luke, kamusta ka na? Kayo?” Maya asked quickly, including Richard in the question but no longer looking at him. She could feel herself blushing.

“Ok lang kami, ‘di ba, dad?”  Luke glanced at his dad again, grinning. He too began to suspect what Nikki was thinking.

“Yes,” Richard answered, still looking at her.

“Ate Maya, what about you? You haven’t been keeping in touch. Are you an international flight attendant na?” Nikki was curious.

“Regional flight attendants ang tawag sa amin, Nikki, pero ganun na rin. Asian countries muna. Nung December nag-start ang training ng batch namin, kaya nga medyo busy. Ngayon pa nga lang ako makaka-uwi sa San Nicholas.” She hesitated. “Hindi ninyo kasama si Abby?”

“We’re about to pick her up from a birthday party of one of her classmates, tapos mag-di-dinner kami later. Dad’s so busy, ngayon lang ulit kami makakalabas as a family.” Nikki brightened up, “you should join us. Abby would be so happy to see you. She can come with us, can’t she dad?” She looked at Richard.

Maya was already shaking her head. “Naku, Nikki, pasensya na, hindi ako puede. Mamaya na kasi ang flight ko. Naghanap lang talaga ako ng ire-regalo kina Nanay at Mamang tapos babalik na ako sa condo. Kailangan ko pa magligpit ng gamit. Medyo gahol na nga ako sa oras, e,” she explained apologetically.

“Is that so? Sayang naman, hindi kayo nagkita ni Abby. Well, we shouldn’t keep you. Bye, Ate Maya,” Nikki hugged her again.

“Ate Maya, dapat dumalaw ka ulit sa bahay, ha? Hihintayin ka namin,” Luke also gave her an embrace.

“Tingnan na lang natin, Luke,” she smiled gently, careful not to promise anything. Turning to Richard, she shyly gave a small nod. “Sir Chief…”

Richard moved to hold her hand. She looked at him, surprised, feeling the familiar rush of kilig. Sir Chief

Realizing what he had just done, Richard loosened his grip, but did not let go. “You will always be welcome in our home, Maya,” his voice was low.

“Salamat, Sir Chief,” she turned away before she started crying. She no longer cared to go inside the jewelry store. She just needed to get far away from them. She hurried her steps, losing herself in the crowd.

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Richard sat on the swivel chair of his home office, deep in thought. He had seen her again! He wanted to whoop with joy! He missed her, so much, and seeing her just brought back all the emotions from before in full force…Suddenly tired, he leaned his elbows on his desk, covering his eyes. Who was he kidding? Nothing has changed, except how he felt. She looked happy. Life went on. He was still waiting. For what? Maybe there really was no future with them.

Unknown to him, his children were observing him from afar. They had noticed he had been very quiet since the chance meeting with Maya today. Nikki tossed he head at her brother, signalling him to be the first to approach their dad.

“Bakit ako?” Luke whispered.

“Eh, kasi, you’re the eldest,” Nikki replied, also whispering. Abby looked from one to another. Sighing, she left her two older siblings and cautiously called out to their dad.

“Daaad…daddy….DADDY…,” she had to raise her voice.

Richard looked up. Seeing her, he tried to smile. “What is it, Baby?” He raised his eyebrows.

She approached slowly. “Daddy, there’s something we want to ask you, po,” she turned and motioned to her Ate and Kuya. They went to her and all three stood before  him. He waited.

“Uhmm, dad, kasi, napansin naming tahimik ka kanina pa. Does this have something to do with Ate Maya?” Luke began.

Richard pursed his lips. “Dad, she’s the one, isn’t she? The woman you were dating?” Nikki asked. When he still did not answer, she asked again, “why couldn’t you tell us, dad?”

He sighed. Looking at all three, he admitted, “yes, she’s the one.”

Nikki folded her arms. “I knew it!” She did not look too happy. Abby smiled delightedly. “Ibig ba sabihin daddy, you love Ate Maya kaya nililigawan mo siya?”

“Yes, I love her…but…she turned me down,” he could not keep the sadness from his voice.

“What?! Anong nangyari dad?” Luke was surprised.

“What does that mean, Kuya?” Abby asked.

“Ibig sabihin, Baby, hindi tinanggap ni Ate Maya yung pagmamahal ni daddy,” he tried to explain. He did not want to use the word basted in front of his dad. Abby looked solemn.

“So hindi na siya nanliligaw kay Ate Maya?”

“Hindi na, Baby.”

“Kaya pala hindi na pumupunta si Ate Maya dito. Everytime I ask her to come, lagi niyang sinasabi na may flight siya or pagod siya,” she said sadly.

Richard looked pityingly at her. It was true that after that day, Maya never visited again, but he also knew that she still kept in touch with her former ward. He knew he could always ask about her, but chose not to. It would only hurt more. As Manang Fe said, just let her do what she wants, for now. There’s a right time for everything. He took a deep breath. “Listen, kids, you know I loved your mom very much, right?” All three nodded. “But you also know she would want us to move on, right?” They nodded again. “When we first had Maya, I haven’t moved on. I was still angry that I couldn’t do anything to save your mom. I blamed myself. I neglected to be a father to you because of that,” he paused; “but Maya…she just changed everything…she made me smile again…,” he shook his head, as if he could not believe it, “she made us whole again…” He became silent, forgetting his children were there.

“Dad?” Luke called him back.

He looked blankly at his son for a moment, then sighed. “I never intended to keep my dating Maya a secret. I was just waiting for the right time to tell you.”

“So, now that you’ve seen each other again, are you planning to court her again?” Nikki asked.

“No,” he shook his head, declining to tell why, “but if I do, will it be ok with you? Will you allow me this second chance to love someone other than your mom?”

“Oo naman, dad, you deserve to be happy,” Luke gave his approval.

“If it’s Ate Maya, then it’s ok, daddy,” Abby said in her sweet voice, giving a thumbs up.

Nikki remained silent. “Nikki?” he looked at her.

She pursed her lips but nodded slowly, “It’s ok, dad.”

“Thank you, kids,” he said softly, gratefully, “I love you.” He opened his arms and they went to him to share a family hug.

 

————————————————————————-

 

There was a light under Nikki’s door. Richard knocked then entered. She was still not asleep.

“Dad?”

He went and sat carefully on her bed. “Nikki, I know you still have reservations about this. Will you tell me why?”

Nikki sighed, “it’s just…why her dad? She’s Abby’s former nanny. Don’t you care what other people would think if they find out?”

Richard felt a little disappointed at his daughter’s way of thinking. “I wouldn’t care, Nikki. She may have been a nanny but look where she is now. She worked hard and now she’s living her dream. I’m very, very proud of her,” he said the last line with quiet emphasis.

Nikki felt remorse. Moving closer to her dad, she hugged him from the side, placing her chin on his shoulder. “I’m sorry for thinking this way, dad. I’m really trying not to be selfish and I do want you to be happy.”

“I know, Nikki,” he smiled, rubbing his daughter’s arm.

“I guess, it is time to share you with someone else. I told Ate Maya once that it would be nice if we had you all to ourselves muna, like for a year or two, before you have a girlfriend. We haven’t been a family for a long time after mom died, kasi. Also, I didn’t want to think that you could love someone other than mom. I even told her that that woman better be worthy of you. There, I was being selfish nanaman, dad.”

Richard went still. “When was this, Nikki?”

“Hm?” Nikki lifted her heard. “It was during her graduation, dad. Kasi, you were talking to someone on your phone, and I noticed she was staring at you, so I asked her if she knew you were dating; then she asked me if it was ok with me if you made ligaw someone new…O-M-G..,” she covered her mouth, “was that the reason why she made you basted, dad?”

He looked at her. “ It could be the reason she was trying to make me see,” he said slowly, thoughtfully.

“Aaaaah! I’m really sorry, dad!” Nikki hugged him again, “but the time I told her that, I really meant it.  Now I realize why you always looked so lonely sometime after that day. That’s what happened… Dad, sorry…”

He sighed. “Things happen for a reason, Nikki, it’s not your fault. She was just starting to fulfill her dreams. She may have been scared too. Look at me, I’m a middle-aged widower with three kids. Anong mapapala niya sa akin?”

“You’re also rich and handsome and the best dad in the world,” she said, making him smile. “I saw the way she looked at you, dad. Ate Maya loves you. Puede namang ligawan mo siya ulit.”

“I-I don’t think it’s the right time for that. I might just get in her way,” he said, afraid to hope.

“When the opportunity comes, grab it, dad. You’ll never know, baka Ate Maya regrets her decision to make you basted. Sige ka, baka maunahan ka ng iba. ”

Richard smiled sadly as he stood up. “You better sleep. There are classes again tomorrow.” He left the room, leaving Nikki with a thoughtful look on her face.

 

CHAPTER  FOUR

 

But why, Maya? Did I do something wrong?” he asked.

“Hindi, Sir Chief, in fact, you did everything right,” she looked at him, wondering how to make him understand.

“Then why? I told you I would wait for you. Hindi kita mamadaliin. Whatever your fears, we will face them, one by one.”

She sighed. “Sir Chief, hindi pa ako handa. May mga anak ka, may hinahawakang malaking kumpanya. Sila na muna ang isipin mo. Marami pa akong gustong gawin, Sir Chief. Gusto kong maglakbay sa ibang bansa. Gusto kong makasalamuha ang iba’t-ibang tao, makipag-kaibigan sa kanila, makaranas ng bagong kultura…”

 “And you can’t see yourself doing them if you’re committed to me?” he asked, and she could see his pain. “I love you, Maya, hindi ko pipigilan ang gusto mong gawin.” 

“Sir Chief, marami pang puedeng mangyari sa buhay natin. Hayaan mong gawin ko ang gusto ko. Ayoko lang na pag-antayin ka dahil hindi ko masisiguro kung pagkatapos kong gawin ang mga yun ay masasagot pa kita.”

“I will wait for you, Maya.”

“Sir Chief…huwag. Unahin mo ang pamilya mo.”

He looked confused. “I always prioritize my  family, Maya, and we already consider you a part of it. What are you trying to say?” He was looking at her so intently that it took all her willpower not to break down. There was a silence. Quietly, he asked, “So…you really… don’t have any love for me at all?”

She looked at him, hating herself for doing this to him. “Siguro, Sir Chief, kung ano man ang nararamdaman ko para sa’yo, hindi ito sapat para piliin kong makasama ka.”

 

Maya opened her eyes slowly, confused. Her mother, Nay Teresita was hovering over her. She looked at her questioningly. “Nay, bakit po?”

Nay Teresita looked at her with a gentle smile. Tenderly, she brushed back her daughter’s hair with a hand as she sat beside her on the bed, “Maya, nak, umiiyak ka habang tulog.”

Maya touched her cheek and felt the tears. She had that dream again. Hastily, she sat up, wiping her tears, making a great show of arranging her pillows and folding her blanket. She could not look at her mother. “Naku, pasensya na po, Nay. Ayan, pati tuloy sa panaginip, nag-be-best actress na ako. Level-up na, ha, ha!” she gave a shallow laugh.

Nay Teresita sighed as she held her daughter by her shoulders. Maya stopped what she was doing and stared at her with haunted eyes. “Anak, dahil ba ito sa pagkikita ninyo ni Richard kahapon?”

Maya’s tears started to flow again, and she covered her face. “Hindi pala madali, Nay. Akala ko, Ok na ako. Hindi pa pala…bumalik lang lahat…” her voice broke and she could not continue. Her mother just waited. After a while, she raised her head. “Bakit ganon? Bakit ang bait pa rin niya? Pagkatapos ng mga sinabi ko sa kanya, nagawa pa rin niyang ngumiti at sabihin na I’m always welcome sa kanila? Mas lalo tuloy …” she bit her lip, dreading to say what was on her mind.

“Mas lalo ka tuloy napa-isip kung tama nga ang naging desisyon mo na tanggihan siya?” Nay Teresita asked gently.

Sighing, Maya looked away, then fiddled absently with the edges of her blanket. “Hindi naman kasi ganun ka-simple ang sitwasyon, Nay, e. Parte ng buhay niya ang mga anak niya. Kung hindi naman nila ako matanggap, hindi din naman kami magiging masaya.”

“Nak,” Nay Teresita took her daughter’s hands, “hindi ka nagkamali na isipin ang kapakanan ng mga anak niya. Tama ka, kung hindi ka nila matanggap, hindi kayo magiging masaya, pero, sana nagtiwala ka rin sa pagmamahal ni Richard.  Sa pagkakakilala ko sa kanya, mabuti siyang tao at ama. Nasisiguro kong hindi ka niya pababayaan; at mahal ka din naman ng mga bata. Di kalaunan, matatanggap ka rin nila.”

Maya moaned, covering her face again. “Nagkamali ba talaga ako, Nay?”

Nay Teresita shrugged, pursing her lips. “Kung nagkmali ka man, eh, di, gawin mong tama.”

Lowering her hands, she looked at her mother with hope-filled eyes. “Paano?”

Shrugging again, Nay Teresita just gave a soft laugh. “Kapag dumating ulit ang pagkakataon, wag mo nang palampasin. Kung tadhana niyo talaga ang magkatuluyan, darating at darating ulit yun.” She stood up and nodded, “kung gusto mong matulog pa, iiwan na kita, pero naghihintay sina Mamang mo at Cho sa labas. Excited ka nang maka-kwentuhan. Tulog na kase sila nung dumating ka.”

This time, Maya’s smile was genuine. She eagerly stood up. This was her vacation, she was determined to enjoy it. Affectionately, she linked her arm through her mother’s. “Tara na po, Nay,” she laughed, sadness forgotten, “tama po kayo. Kung kami po ni Sir Chief, eh di, kami. Sana nga lang, eh, dumating ulit ang pagkakataon na yun,” she ended softly. Her mother just smiled. They went outside together.

 

CHAPTER  FIVE

 

Richard fidgeted and sighed impatiently as he looked out the car window. He should have not taken this route. There was big stage being set-up in the middle of the road and cars were being diverted to an alternate route. He had forgotten it was Valentine’s Day and he had not anticipated this. As traffic moved at a snail’s pace, he pondered what to do. He did not want to be stuck for hours and decided to just find a place to park and while away the time, at least until the rush lets up. Luckily, as he was cruising around a nearby parking lot, a car was backing out and he immediately grabbed the space. He stayed a few minutes more inside the car, wondering if it was just coincidence that he was here, the place where he and Maya had their first date. He shook his head. What was he thinking? He got out, wondering where to go.

————————————————————————————————————-

 

“Emman, hindi talaga kakayanin. Nandito pa ako sa…,” she looked around, “sa may Roxas Boulevard. Sobrang traffic. Hindi gumagalaw,” Maya anxiously looked ahead as she listened to Emman’s response. “Sorry, talaga, pakisabi na lang. Salamat, Emman,” she ended the call, then sighed as she looked outside the window of the taxi. She could be stuck for hours. “Manong,” she called out to the driver, “dito na lang po ako bababa.”  She paid then got off. Momentarily standing by the pavement, she smiled. Was it just coincidence that she was here, where she and Sir Chief had their first date? Ano ka ba, Maya? She chastised herself. Suddenly, she felt happy. This would just be her second time at Baywalk and she wanted to savor the experience. The first time, she had been so nervous, siempre kasi kasama si Sir Chief, she grinned wistfully to herself at the memory. There was a stage somewhere at the back and a lot of people were going towards it. She began to walk in the opposite direction, stopping to watch the sky change colors after the sun set, people watching, and just enjoying herself. She reached the spot where she and Sir Chief had sat to eat balut and sat down, thinking about him again.

Richard wandered aimlessly at first, then he started to follow the throng going towards the stage. He was following the path he and Maya took on their first date when they were wondering what to do next after the cruise they were supposed to be on left. For some inexplicable reason, he wanted to go to that same spot where he and Maya sat down to eat balut. He was nearly there and there were a lot of people around. He just stood, thinking how it was, almost a year ago, when he saw a woman get up. His breath hitched. She looked like Maya. Then his heart beat faster. It was her!

Maya stood up, wanting to stop the memories, the regret. She dusted off the seat of her pants and looked up, her eyes locking onto a pair of chinky ones. Sir Chief?!

Once again, time stood still for both of them. They just stood there, looking at each other, smiles on both their faces. A child bumped into Richard, and he looked down, breaking the spell.

“Ay, sorry, po,” the mother approached, taking her child.

“It’s ok,” he assured her, then looked up again. Maya was walking towards him.

“Anong ginagawa mo dito?”

“What are you doing here?”

They spoke at the same time. She started to laugh, and he laughed with her. As their laughter faded, Maya felt herself blush. Richard was looking at her so intently. He spoke first, somehow knowing that she was uncomfortable again. “Sobrang traffic kasi, I didn’t want to sit in my car. I was in the area and decided to just park and while away the time until the rush is over. Eh, ikaw?”

“May flight ako kanina. Di-diretso na sana ako sa dinner, kasama mga parents ni Emman, nandito kasi sila galing States, nagbabakasyon. Eh, late na, traffic, kaya bumaba na lang ako. Magpapalipas din lang ako ng oras. Natuwa kasi ako sa sunset, eh.”

He smiled. “Kumain ka na ba?”

She shook her head. Just then, a balut vendor passed by, calling out, and they grinned at each other. He inclined his head. “Gusto mo ba?” She nodded, and just like that, everything seemed right between them again. After they both ate balut, they made their way back to the parking lot,  sampling every street food that they passed. They shared a small bag of boiled peanuts, ate kwek-kwek, fishball and kikiam, halved a corn on the cob, and even had dirty ice-cream. As they ate, they talked about their everyday lives, just like before. By the time they reached Harbor Square, they were both feeling full. They stopped by one of the chain linked concrete bollards at the far end where there were less people, to rest.

They were sitting close together, both of them quiet. From the distance, they heard a countdown, and suddenly, fireworks lit the sky. “Ang ganda!” Maya exclaimed, clapping her hands. Richard turned his head to look at her, admiring her profile.

“I think so too,” he said, very softly, but she heard it. “I’m glad I could spend this day with you…again,” he smiled, referring to their pseudo-valentine’s date last year. She laughed, remembering.

“Huuu, kunwari ka pa, alam ko namang ayaw mong mag-celebrate ng Valentine’s Day!”

“Well, pag ikaw kasama ko, I want to celebrate it.”

Suddenly, Maya’s heart beat faster. Remembering what her mother said about second chances, she turned to boldly meet his gaze. Sir Chief….her heart and mind was willing him to do something. Richard’s eyes fell to her lips. He badly wanted to kiss her! Doubts began to cloud his mind. Was she ready? Am I going too fast? Will she reject me again? Sighing inwardly, he looked away.

Disappointed, Maya bit her lip. So, ganito na lang ba? Hindi ba ito pagkakataon na? Ayaw na ba talaga niya sa akin?

“I think, it’s time we left. Tapos na yata yung event,” he stood. “Hatid na kita.”

“Umm, baka pagod ka na, wag na,” she tried to decline.

“Maya,” he said, slightly exasperated, “wag nang umangal, please? Gusto kong ihatid ka.” Just those simple words and the kilig feeling came back. She followed him quietly to the car, a poignant smile on her lips as he opened the door for her. She missed this; his gentlemanly gestures. “Can you wait here a moment? I’ll be back right away.” She sat down, but did not close the door. A few minutes later, he was back. “For you,” he held out a single rose, just like what he gave her last year, and a heart-shaped doughnut, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” She started laughing.

“Thank you,” she said softly, touched.

He shrugged, smiling, “wala kasing chocolates, kaya doughnut na lang.”

“Kahit ano, Sir Chief, basta galing sa ‘yo, tatanggapin ko,” she said, knowing that her words held a lot of meaning.

Richard paused, looking at her, an unreadable expression on his face. “Maya…,” he started to say. Suddenly, a lone firecracker exploded nearby, startling them both. He sighed, the moment gone. Again, Maya felt disappointed. They were quiet the rest of the way. At the condo, he again opened the door for her.

“Sir Chief, kape?” she invited. He shook his head.

“Maya, I…,”

“Sir Chief?” she prompted when he did not continue.

“Never mind. Good night!” He gave a small smile before he turned away. Maya watched until his car exited the gate before going inside, wondering what he was going to say.

 

This Time Around