This Time Around-Till the End

Yahooo!! Finished at last!!! Pasensya na kung natagalan ang pag-post. I know it’s just a simple plot but after chapter 6,  I had major writer’s block, hehe. Di ko alam kung paano ko dudugtungan. I’ll stick to one-shots muna after this. I borrowed a line or two from the show.

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

Richard was leaning on the balustrade of the veranda, staring out to the night. He was thinking about what happened just a while ago, a smile on his lips as he remembered the way she laughed, how her face lit up when she told him a funny anecdote, their easy camaraderie. He was missing her again. Sighing, he turned in time to find Manang Fe placing a cup of coffee on the table. “Thank you, Manang,” he said as he went towards her and sat down.

Manang Fe stayed a moment, looking at him. “Parang masaya ka ngayon. May nangyari ba?”

He hesitated. “Nagkita ulit kami ni Maya, Manang…purely by chance.”

“Talaga? Anong ginawa niyo? Nag-usap ba kayo?”

“Yes…but not about what happened before. We just talked…iba-iba,” he shrugged. “We ate street food…it was almost like a date,” he could not help smiling again.

Manang Fe smiled back. “Mabuti at nag-uusap kayo ulit. Ano ngayon balak mo?”

“I don’t know, Manang,” he shook his head, “It’s just…she’s happy with everything that’s going on in her life right now. It scares me to make a move again. There’s still a lot she wants to do. I don’t want to get in her way,” he said, remembering some of the things she told him before.

“Ikaw talagang bata ka,” she chastised, taking a seat, “malay natin kung nag-iba ang isip niya? Bakit hindi ka sumubok ulit?”

Richard smiled sadly. Unbidden, her words came back to him, tearing his heart; kung ano man ang nararamdaman ko para sa’yo, hindi ito sapat para piliin kong makasama ka. He tightened his hold on the cup. “Maybe it’s still not the right time, Manang.”

She heaved a sigh. “Kung mahal mo siya, isusugal mo ulit ang puso mo. Minsan kasi, hindi natin talagang malalaman kung tamang panahon na nga ba. Hintay tayo ng hintay, nalagpasan na pala tayo ng pagkakataon.” She stood up. “Naniniwala pa rin ako na kayong dalawa ni Maya ang para sa isa’t-isa.”

He laughed softly. “Talagang botong-boto kayo kay Maya, Manang, a.”

“Oo naman, dahil nakikita kong napapa-saya ka niya; at siya lang ang babaeng naka-tiis sa pagiging masungit mo,” she replied, emphatically, “at kahit ano pa ang sinabi niya sa’yo dati, alam kong mahal ka rin nun.”

He sobered. “What if you’re wrong? What if what she feels for me is not love?”

“Paano kung tama ako, at sinabi lang niya yun dahil mali ang inisip niyang mas makakabuti para sa inyo?”

“Do you know anything, Manang?” he wondered.

She shrugged. “Wala ka namang sinasabi, e. Paano ko malalaman? Sinasabi ko lang kung ano ang opinyon ko,” she smiled. She waited a moment, and when he did not say anything more, sighed, saying, “O, sya, matutulog na ako. Kung ano man ang isipin mong gawin, desisyon mo yun. Ayaw kong sabihin mong nanghihimasok ako sa mga bagay-bagay na nangyayari sa buhay mo.”

“Manang naman, you know I value your opinion.”

She smiled again “Salamat, Ricardo.” She turned away, leaving him to think about what she said.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

“She’s here?” was Richard’s first words when he entered the house. Manang Fe was waiting for him. She inclined her head.

“Nasa kwarto ni Abby.”

He hurried up the stairs, eager to see her. When Manang Fe called to tell him that Maya was there, he had his last meeting cancelled just so he could go home earlier. Ever since Valentine’s day, he had been so undecided about making a move. Although he was glad that they were again friends, he was still wary of doing something that might scare her away again. That was the reason he did not make any attempt to contact her. He wanted a very good excuse, but the reason never came. And now this. He paused outside Abby’s door, hearing laughter. Slowly, he opened it. They were all on the bed, Maya and the children. Maya was narrating an amusing incident that happened on one of her flights. The scene warmed his heart. He missed this. Take the chance, Richard. Manang Fe was right. He loved her. Period. She was worth gambling his heart for, again, and again, and again.

Luke saw him first. “Dad!”

“Daddy!” Abby moved to kiss him while still on the bed. Maya and Nikki both stood up, the latter kissing him too.

“How are you, Baby?” He touched Abby’s forehead, relieved to find that it felt normal. She had contracted a classmate’s cough and cold and was feeling a little feverish this morning that he told her to stay at home so as not to make it worse.

“I’m ok, naman, daddy. Daddy, Ate Maya’s here,” she stated the obvious.

“I can see that, Baby,” he replied, smiling. He turned to her.

“Umm, Sir Chief, sorry, hindi na ako nakapag-paalam na darating ako.”

He held up his hand. “Didn’t I tell you that you’re always welcome here? I’m glad you came. Abby missed you,” adding softly, “we all do.”

“Na-miss ko rin kayo. Sobra-sobra,” she said, shyly, but forced herself to meet his eyes. Ever since that memorable chance encounter on Valentine’s day, there had been a secret hope in her heart; but as the days turned into weeks and he had not bothered to keep in touch, the hope died again. Then Abby called, saying she was sick, and asking her to come, and this time, she could not say no. She longed to see him.

“I’m glad,” he answered with a smile. There was a small silence as they gazed at one another. The children were amused as they watched the two.  Luke grinned, Abby giggled, and Nikki rolled her eyes. Maya was the first to look away, belatedly remembering that they had an audience. Thankfully, Manang Fe looked in on them to tell them that dinner was ready.

“Maya, dito ka na kumain,” she made it a command.

Richard, not wanting to make her more uncomfortable, said gently, “Please stay, Maya. We really want you to. Don’t worry, ipapahatid kita kay Joma mamaya.”

Maya was still shy, but she agreed easily, “sige, Sir Chief.”

“Yaaay!” The children cheered together, making her laugh. As they went ahead outside, she looked wistfully after them. She really did miss them. And this. And him. She glanced at him, blushing when he caught her.

“Tayo na?” He said lightly. She nodded, and they went out together.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Richard was at the veranda as usual, leaning on the balustrade. She was here. He could not help the wide smile that covered his face. He was just. so. happy.

At the doorway Maya paused, looking at him. Sir Chief ko…He turned suddenly. “Ay!” She blurted, surprised, her hand over her heart.  Kalma, Maya…His smile made her breathless. He raised his eyebrows questioningly as he walked towards her.

“How’s Abby?”

“Ok naman. Hindi na bumalik ang lagnat,” she assured him.

“Akala ko hindi ka na pakakawalan ng mga bata, e. Mukhang gusto pa yata eh buong gabi pa kayo mag-kwentuhan.”

She laughed. “Grabe ka naman, Sir Chief.”

He hesitated. “I was hoping we could have coffee first before you leave? Na-miss ko na kasi yung timpla mo,” he said, bracing for her refusal.

Maya’s heart beat faster. Sir Chief… She gave him her sweetest smile.

Maya…He raised a finger to her lips, touching them lightly, “I missed this too,” he said softly. Her eyes widened. Realizing what he just did, he stammered, “uh, I-I’m so sorry…” He did not know where to look.

She shook her head. “Para saan?”

“F-for…for making you uncomfortable,” he stammered again, frowning. He thought she would pull away.

Maya knew what he meant. It was like the time he started courting her. He was so unsure; so afraid to make the wrong move. Kasalanan ko ito, she thought, sadly, and it showed in her face and her voice, “hindi mo naman kailangang mag-sorry, e. Ako nga dapat ang mag-sorry sa yo.”

His brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

She bit back a sigh. “Wala, Sir Chief. Ipagtitimpla ko na tayo ng kape,”she said, turning and heading towards the kitchen.

 

————————————————————————————————-

 

Something was different. Richard could not tell how, he just knew. An awkward silence hung between them as they both sipped their drinks. He glanced at her, and she met his eyes. He sighed silently. Make a move, Richard. Ask her what she meant. “Maya…”

“Sir Chief.”

They spoke at the same time. “You first,” he told her.

“Itatanong ko lang kung tapos ka nang uminom. Dadalhin ko na rin sa loob yung tasa mo.”

Surprised, he glanced at his cup. It was empty. They had not been talking all that time. “Thank you,” he said, frustrated at himself. He took out his mobile phone, “paaakyatin ko na si Joma.”

Maya stood and took their empty cups inside. She felt like crying. Paano ko ba ipapaalam na nagsisisi ako? Na mahal ko siya at handa na ako? Mahal pa ba niya ako? These thoughts were running through her head as she rinsed their cups.

“You shouldn’t be doing that.” Richard was standing just behind her. She jumped, startled.

“Ok lang, ito lang naman,” It was an effort to keep her tone light. She wanted their easy camaraderie back. She placed the cups on the rack.

“Maya,” he said, softly. His nearness disconcerted her. Side-stepping him, she grabbed a towel to wipe the teaspoons and he opened the drawer for her. “Sir Chief, kaya ko na ‘to,” she told him, suddenly unable to look at him.

“Let me help,” he said, taking the teaspoons from her.

“Wag na, Sir Chief,” she grabbed them back and hurriedly placed them inside, closing it quickly and accidentally trapping his fingers.

“Aray!” He grimaced..

“Sir Chief!” The tears she had been keeping at bay spilled over as she took his hand and started to rub his fingers, “s-sorry, hindi ko sinasadya. Sorry, sorry…”

“It’s ok, Maya,” he tried to reassure her. Her tears continued to fall. “Why are you crying?” He wondered.

“Eh kasi, nasaktan kita. Hindi ko ginustong saktan ka,” she answered as she raised her eyes to his. He could see the regret. Understanding dawned. He  realized that she was not talking about what just happened now. “Sorry,” she said again.

“There is nothing to apologize for, Maya.” His voice was still soft. He lifted his free hand to gently wipe her tears. She flinched, but did not pull away. “You didn’t have to, but thank you.”

“Masakit pa ba?” She whispered, as she continued to rub his fingers, and he wondered if she was still talking about before. Slowly, he moved his hand so his was holding hers. She blushed.

“Medyo,” he said, raising an eyebrow, “ano ngayon ang gagawin mo?” There was a challenge to his tone.

For a moment, she looked nonplussed, then with a shy smile, told him, “eh, di, magic,” and she bent her head and pressed her lips to his fingers, giving them a kiss.

“Maya…,” Richard sounded breathless. The move surprised him.

She bravely looked up and met his eyes. “Masakit pa rin ba?” she asked again, softly.

He shook his head. Before he could say anything else, the back door opened, and voices were heard. He slowly let go of her hand and both of them stepped back just as Manang Fe and Joma entered.

“Ser, pasensya na po. Nagpatawag pa po kasi si Manang Fe kung aalis na si Maya,” Joma explained.

“It’s ok, Joma.”

“Sige, po. Maya, hintayin kita sa labas,” he addressed Maya who just smiled and nodded.

“Manang Fe,” Maya hugged the old woman, “salamat po sa hapunan at sa lahat-lahat na,” she said laughingly.

“Ikaw talagang bata ka,” she cupped Maya’s cheek, “bumalik ka ulit, ha? Masaya kaming lahat pag nandito ka.”

“Makaka-asa po kayo.” She turned to Richard. “Sir Chief, aalis na ako,”she said, shyly.

“I’ll walk you to the door.” Once they were past Manang Fe’s sight, he wordlessly took her hand again, making her blush. They reached the front door.

“Sir Chief,” she tugged at her hand. He looked at her, his expression solemn.

“Kung yun lagi ang gamot mo sa mga sakit, gusto kong bumili. Effective kasi, e.” His words and the way he said them were so unexpected, Maya laughed. He smiled.

“Thank you, Maya, for everything,” he said softly. She nodded. He let go and opened the door for her. “Ingat ka.”

She paused. “Sir Chief…,” he raised an eyebrow. The smile she gave him was so radiant his heart skipped. “Wala lang. Thank you din.” They gazed at each other for a moment. “Bye, Sir Chief.”

“Goodbye, Maya.”

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

Maya sighed for the nth time as she rinsed the last of the plates and placed them on the rack. It’s been three days. He had not called nor sent a text. She was again wondering if what happened at the mansion had any special meaning at all. Parang panaginip lang lahat, she thought sadly. Maybe that was their closure. Talagang magkaibigan na lang kami.

Nay Teresita, coming from the dining area of their little chibugan, caught her daughter sighing yet again and smiled. She had noticed Maya had been like this since she arrived for an unexpected visit yesterday, and had guessed the reason why. To shake her off  her mood, she decided to tease her. “Ang buntong-hininga ba na yan ay dahil sa sobrang saya o sa sobrang lungkot?”

Startled, Maya turned quickly around. “Nay! Wag naman po kayong manggulat.”

“Hmmm, at siguradong si Sir Chief nanaman ang iniisip niya.”

“Nay naman, e,” she pouted, but her eyes were still sad. Her mother, grandmother, and nephew all knew about her visit to the Lims, but there were parts she left out that she told only to her older sister, Christina Rose, whom she fondly calls Kute. “Nahugasan ko na po lahat, Nay, tutulong na po ako sa harap,” she tried to escape.

“Nak,” Nay Teresita held her by the shoulders, “ok na sila dun. Andyan naman sina Lino at Bugoy. Kaya na nila yun. Ang gawin mo, maligo ka’t magbihis ka. Lalabas kayo ni Kute.”

“Po?”

“Dali na,” Nay Teresita turned her towards the stairs. “Matagal-tagal na din kayong hindi lumalabas ng kapatid mo na kayo lang. Nagpa-alam na siya. Sige na,” she pushed Maya towards the stairs.

“Oo na po. Heto na po. Bakit po ba nagmamadali si Kute?” She asked as she tramped up the stairs.

“Ewan ko ba dyan sa kapatid mo. Basta, bilisan mo na,” Nay Teresita smirked.

Half an hour later, Maya descended the stairs, freshly showered, her slightly damp hair falling over her shoulders, and made her way to the chibugan to find Kute still not ready. “Kute!” She was dismayed. “Hindi ka pa handa? Akala ko ba aalis tayo?”

Christina Rose pretended surprise. “Aaaahh, ganun ba? Pasensya na bunso. Hindi kami nagkaintindihan ni nanay. Ang sabi ko, aalis kayo.”

“Ha? Nino?”

Christina Rose just smiled. She pointed with her lips behind her, and Maya turned. Richard was standing a few steps away, a shy smile on his face.

“Hello, Maya.”

Sir Chief! Maya could only stare, her heart beating so fast and loud she could hear it. Nay Teresita and her grandmother, Mamang, appeared, apparently aware that he was already there.

“O, ayan, Richard, handa na pala ang apo ko. Ingatan mo siya ha?” Mamang said in a flirtatious way, touching his shoulder. She had a schoolgirl crush on him that everyone was aware of, including Richard. He smiled indulgently at the old woman.

“Anak, nagpa-alam na si Richard,” Nay Teresita told her with a knowing look.

Richard approached, his expression serious. “I was hoping you would come with me? I have things I want to say.”

She nodded, blushing, aware of the smiles of their audience. Lagot kayo sa akin mamaya. To her utter surprise and kilig, he reached for her hand.

“Aling Teresita, Mamang, Christina Rose, huwag po kayong mag-alala, iingatan ko po si Maya. Salamat po at pumayag kayo na samahan niya ako.”

“Sige, Richard,” Aling Teresita smiled at both of them.

He led her to the car and opened the door.

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

She had been staring at the view of the lake for a while, Richard standing quietly beside her. They were here, at the Most Romantic Place in San Nicolas, where her father pledged undying love to her mother but left them anyway. Nevertheless, she still loved it there. It was beautiful and peaceful. She gave a silent sigh. “Bakit dito mo ako dinala?” She turned to face him.

“I told you I wanted to change your memory of this place, di ba?” He said, still looking out. “If I could, I would make it that everytime you come here, you would remember only the happy times.” He paused, then finally turned to her. “Maya,” he said, very softly, his eyes intent on hers. Maya’s heart beat faster. “I said I would wait…and I will still wait…but… after seeing you again, I can’t stay away.”

Maya gazed mutely back at him, happiness welling inside her. She felt tears pricking her eyes.

“I hope I’m doing the right thing this time around,” he said, giving a short, rueful laugh. “I already talked to your mother, Mamang and Christina Rose. I told them I was planning to court you again. Hindi ko nagawang magpa-alam dati. I wanted to, but the opportunity never came.” He paused again. “I also already talked to the kids, and they’re ok with it. The only one left who hasn’t approved is you. Maya…,” his brows furrowed. She had started to cry. His face fell. Ayaw niya. She’s ging to turn me down again. His heart ached. “Puede bang patapusin mo muna ako bago mo ako bastedin ulet?” he smiled sadly.

Maya shook her head. “Mahal kita, Sir Chief,” she told him. He just looked at her. “Sir Chief,” she said louder, sobbing, “ang sabi ko, mahal kita. Mahal kita, Sir Chief. Mahal kita. Mahal kita. Ma-,” he moved quickly to gather her in his arms, holding her tightly. She returned the hug, burying her face in his chest, wetting his shirt with her tears.

“Maya…,” he sighed her name. He kissed her hair, then rested his cheek on top of her head. Happiness made him incapable of speech so he just held her. After a while, she loosened her hold and he pushed her gently away so he could see her face. Teasingly, he asked, “ano nga ulit yung mga sinabi mo kanina?”

“Eeehh, nakaka-inis ka,” she giggled. Tenderly, he wiped her tears with his fingers. She looked away.

“Maya?”

“Dati,  nung sinabi mo na mahal mo ako, gusto ko rin agad ibalik sa’yo yun. Nadaigan lang ako ng takot. Hindi ako nagtiwala sa’yo. Sorry.”

“Hey,” he took her chin to make her face him again, “I told you, there is nothing to apologize for. Ganun talaga, e. Pag nanligaw ang isang lalaki, they risk getting rejected.” He smoothed her hair. “I should be the one saying sorry, for not paying attention to your fears. Dapat tinanong kita. Dapat naisip ko na mag-aalala ka sa mga bata. It’s just, when I’m with you, gusto ko, tayo lang muna. Saka na yung tayo, kasama sila. Do you get what I’m trying to say?”

She nodded. “Naiintindihan ko.”

“I love you,” he smiled, making her tears flow again. He took out his handkerchief  to dab her eyes. “I have a feeling mapapadalas na ang gawain ko na to, now that you’re my girlfriend,” he joked, a little shyly, looking into her eyes. He wanted confirmation of their status. She already said she loved him, didn’t she?

“Asuus, at nagdududa ka pa…Ricky.”

Surprised pleasure lit his face. “Ricky?”

“Eh, kasi,” she gave an embarrassed laugh, “napag-usapan namin ni Kute kung ano ang magiging tawagan natin kung sakaling ligawan mo ako ulit, tapos sagutin kita. Actually, marami akong naisip kaso, sinabihan niya ako na ibagay ko daw sa edad at katayuan mo, kaya, Ricky na lang. Narinig kong yan ang tawag sa’yo ng mama mo, e. Ayaw mo ba?” She asked sheepishly.

He placed his arms around her waist. “Of course I like it. Ricky it is then,” he approved. There was a small silence, then he sighed, holding her tighter. “You’re really my girlfriend now.”

She linked her arms around his neck. “At boyfriend na kita,” she blushed as she smiled sweetly at him.

Suddenly, the atmosphere around them changed. It became so quiet, the only thing Maya could hear was her heart. Just like before, he touched her lips. “For me,” he said softly. He was smiling at her too, the smile that took her breath away, “I love you, Maya.”

Maya gazed at him with all the love she had, knowing what was coming, had wanted it for a very long time; and as Richard slowly lowered his head, she closed her eyes to savor her very first, real kiss.

 

EPILOGUE

 

Three months later…

 

“Pasukan na next week. Mabuti naman at nakapagbakasyon pa kayo ng mga bata dito,” Maya sighed contentedly as she  leaned her head on Richard’s shoulder, clinging to his arm while they strolled around the beautifully lighted garden of La Esperanza hotel. For this last evening, he told her to dress up, and treated her to the fanciest restaurant in San Nicholas, which also happened to be at the hotel they were staying at. This was their only alone time together since they arrived. After dinner, he led her here for some fresh air and to have some quiet time away from the rest of the crowd. “Sa susunod, isama mo na sina Tito at Tita,”she added,  referring to Richard’s parent’s whom she had met a few weeks after  they became a couple, “alam kong magugustuhan din nila dito.”

“I’m glad in the end, everything worked out between you and my parents. Thank you for being patient and never giving up on us.”

She smiled. She had sensed Richard’s parent’s misgivings about their relationship at the start. In time though, she had gradually gained their trust, and by the end of their stay, they had wholly accepted her as part of the family.

“I love you,” he said, quietly, seriously.

Maya raised her head, surprised at his sudden declaration. “I love you too.” They stopped and she tipped her face up to meet his kiss. She was blushing when they parted. He smoothed her hair.

“I cannot tell you how happy you have made me the first time you told me that,” he said with a wistful smile. Touched, tears started to pool in her eyes. “And you have made me happy everyday that I see you, laugh with you, or just simply hear your voice.” He paused. “ I-I want to do the same for you,” he said, stammering a little, “and I want to be able to do it for the rest of our lives, if you’ll allow me. Maya,” Richard got down on one knee. Maya was crying . She could not believe what was happening. He got a little velvet box from his pocket and opened it, revealing a beautiful, round cut diamond ring. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes!”

Richard looked stunned. As if he was afraid he would hear a different answer, he asked “did you say yes?

“Yes! Ricky naman, e!” Maya was laughing through her tears.

Oh God, she said yes,” he said, as if he could still not believe it, before standing up and gathering her in his arms. They were both laughing now. He lifted her up and twirled her around. Setting her down again, he admitted sheepishly, “natakot akong iba ang magiging sagot mo.”

She linked her arms around his neck. “Hindi na ako magkakamaling palagpasin pa ang pagkakataong makasama ka habang-buhay,” she said, her eyes glowing with happiness.

“Ay!” He exclaimed, remembering, “the ring.” He had replaced it in his pocket when he stood up. They laughed again, and he slipped it on to her finger, then raised her hand to kiss it. “I love you.”

“At mahal na mahal din kita,” she replied. “Alam na ba ito nina nanay?”

He laughed. “Yes. Kaya nga kami nagbakasyon dito. I was already planning to propose. Alam na din ng mga bata. In fact, they’re waiting for us to tell them. They’re all waiting for us to tell them, including Mama and Papa. Babalik kasi sila dito on my birthday. Binalak naming isabay na ang pamamanhikan, if you said yes,” he informed her, shyly.

“Ganon? Paano pala kung no ang sagot ko?” she teased.

Seriously, he replied, “I would have waited until you were ready, then asked you again.”

“Ricky…,” she murmured, tearing up.

“Here we go,” he laughed, taking out his handkerchief.

“Ikaw kasi, eh,” she pouted, “tigilan mo na ang kakapa-kilig sa akin para di na ako umiyak.” He grinned as he dabbed her eyes. “Tara na, sabihin na natin sa mga bata,” she said, excited, already turning around.

“Mamaya na,” he said, pulling her back.

“Pero Ricky-”

“Mamaya na,” he said firmly, and she stopped protesting because she was already in his arms and he was kissing her again.

 

This Time Around-Till the End

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

The Gift that Matters

 

Richard stood beside his wife, an arm around her shoulders, watching his family. The Lims and Dela Rosas were together for the first time as they celebrated Christmas in the new house.  They attended midnight mass, enjoyed  the noche Buena feast, and had just finished giving gifts. They were now having fun opening and showing each other what they received. He pulled his wife closer and turned to look at her.There was a time when he did not think a Christmas like this was possible.They had weathered the toughest storms this year. He was elected president of  Pilipinas Aviation Society, only to be voted off as CEO of Lim Aviation Services. After winning MRO company of the year, LAS was put in a bad light because of the crash. Lim Aviation Institute was struggling. Despite everything, he still felt blessed. His family was with him every step of the way.  They were everything that mattered. Maya looked back at him, and he could see the same contentment in her eyes. They smiled at each other.

When everyone was settled in for the rest of the night, or morning, Maya drew Richard aside for some you-and-me time.  They were going to use the new coffee table with matching chairs that the children had specially decorated and had given as a gift just a little while ago.

“Inaantok ka na ba?” Maya asked as she placed two coffee cups on the table. Richard smiled as he took one and stirred it.

“No, hindi pa naman,” he said, starting to reach for her hand but Maya held it up. He raised an eyebrow.

“Wait lang, sweetheart, may kukunin pa ako,” she went back inside. She was holding a gift when she went out. She smiled widely as she gave it. “Para sa’yo.”

“I thought we promised not to give gifts to each other?” He stared at the gift.

“Eh, sweetheart, lagi ka namang nag-b-break ng promise. Alam ko na may ibibigay ka nanaman, kaya heto. For the first time, I’m breaking our promise,” she shook the gift at him. “Ayaw mo ba?” She asked hesitantly. Silently, he took the gift and opened it. It was a small glass trophy,  with Best Husband and Daddy in the World written on it, the date today and Maya’s and the children’s signatures. The twins’ thumbmarks were also there. “Para may ma-display ka na sa office mo,” she said gently, watching the changing emotions on his face. In stark contrast to his lush office at LAS where he had a lot of awards on display, his place at LAI was bare and impersonal.

Richard looked at her, his eyes misty. “Thank you, sweetheart,” he took her hand and pressed it between his, kissing it. “This means so much, thank you,” he said in a choked voice, as he  leaned his forehead on their joined hands, elbows bent. Anything that reminded him of LAS still made him emotional.

“Ricky…,” Maya stood up and went to him. He hid his face against her waist and wrapped his arms around her as she rubbed his back comfortingly, standing by his chair. After a while, he raised his head and hastily wiped his tears with his hands. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking up at her, trying to smile, “nahawa mo na ako sa pagiging iyakin mo, sweetheart.”

“Ok lang yan. Masusubukan ko din sa wakas na gawin ito,” Maya took her own handkerchief, lifted his glasses, and dabbed gently at his eyes. They both chuckled.

“I couldn’t find you a gift…,” he started to say, but Maya shushed him with a finger on his lips.

She grinned at him. “Wow! Another first! Ako naman ang gumawa sa’yo nito. Dati, ginawa mo na din sa akin to, e,” she said, turning wistful as she remembered.

Richard raised an eyebrow when she remained silent. “Kilig moment ba?” His smirked.

“Ano sa tingin mo, Mr. Lim?” She wrinkled her nose at him. He stood up.

“Wait here,” he told her, and he too went inside. He had his hands behind his back when he went back out. She was sitting on her chair again. He stopped before her. “This time, I’m keeping our promise,” he said, a little shyly, and presented an extra big Christmas card. Maya looked surprised. “I wanted to give you something else…,” he was going to explain again, but she shook her head.

“Ricky, gusto ko siya,” she assured him, opening it and admiring the simple Christmas design of a  parol. “Thank you, sweetheart,”  she smiled softly as she handed it back to him. “Gusto kong ikaw ang mag-basa,” she told him, bringing her chair close to his as he took it. She hugged him from the side, as close as the arm rests will allow, and placed her chin on his shoulder. Richard started reading.

“Maya, sweetheart…,” he felt her head move to peek at the card, her eyebrows lifted dubiously. He gave a little laugh as he tilted the card towards her so she could see what he was reading, then continued, “for all the times you have been there for me, giving me hope, cheering me on, and never giving up on me when I almost lost faith in myself, I am grateful. I wanted to give you something that would show you how much, but no material thing in the world can do that. Besides, even if there was, it would probably be very expensive, at pagagalitan mo pa ako instead of appreciating it,” he paused as Maya giggled.

“Tama ka dyan, sweetheart,” she wagged her finger at him.

He shook his head, smiling, then heaved a sigh as he read the next word, “so, I bought this card, thinking I could at least try to express it in words, though I know that this, too, is not enough. Sweetheart, we have been through a lot this year, and we have grown stronger as a family and as a couple. You have been my rock, as I have been yours, and I continually pray that we always will be for each other. You are an integral part of me, and I am a better person because of  you. Thank you. I love you more, sweetheart. Merry Christmas!” He said the last line softly, turning to look at her, their faces close to each other.

“Merry Christmas!” she said back, and their lips met for a sweet gentle kiss. They grinned tenderly at each other.

“I love you,” she glanced at the card, taking it from him, “and I love this,” she held it up to him. “Salamat, sweetheart, ha.”

He laughed softly. “You’re welcome; and you didn’t have to give me anything, although I really appreciate your gift. It’s beautiful,” he touched it lovingly, reading what was written on it again. Suddenly, Maya tugged at his arm.

“Sweetheart, shooting star! Bilis, mag-wish ka!” And she closed her eyes to make a wish. When she opened them, she found Richard just looking at her. “Sweetheart, hindi ka ba nag-wish?” she wondered.

He shook his head. “There is nothing to wish. I have you and the children. You are everything I could ever want,” he said simply.

“Sweetheart…,” she started to tear up.

“O, ako na ba ang magpapahid ng luha?” he asked teasingly.

Eyes glowing with love, she locked her hands behind his neck. “Hindi na, sweetheart. Kailangan ko lang na gawin ito,” and she pulled him in for another kiss.

A sweet warmth spread through him, and he slowly slid his arms around her as he deepened the kiss. The arm rests of their chairs prevented him from pulling her closer and he groaned in frustration. “Mas gusto ko yata yung bench,” he murmured as Maya giggled. “Let’s go to bed?” he nuzzled her neck.

“Umm, Ricky, ang mga bata…” He had forgotten that they were sleeping in their room. The look on his face made her laugh out loud. He sighed.

“Dapat pala nag-wish nalang ako. Paano pa kita masosolo nyan?” he looked so forlorn that she took pity on him, wanting the intimacy as much as he did. She touched his arm.

“I want to make the best husband and daddy in the world happy.” He raised an eyebrow. She could not look at him. “Alam mo, walang tao sa kwarto ng kambal…,” she whispered conspiratorially.

Richard’s chinky eyes rounded with incredulity as he realized what she meant. “You’re serious?” At her shy nod, he laughed softly, standing up, then scooping her effortlessly in his arms. “You already make me so happy,” he told her quietly. “I want to make you happy.”

Blushing as she wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck, she told him saucily, “So, ano pa ang hinihintay mo, Mr. Lim? Pagkakataon mo na. Mamaya nyan gigising na sila.””

“Heto na nga. Sinabi mo, eh,” he grinned as he mimicked her, and carried her to the twins’ bedroom where they shared the best gift they have for each other, love.

 

The Gift that Matters

Remembering

Richard and the children hurried quickly into the mausoleum as the first few drops started to fall. They had not thought to bring an umbrella, and judging by the sunny weather, they knew that this was just one of those freak showers that would last only a few minutes, enough to steam the pavement and make the weather more humid. He used to hate the rain. It was raining when she died. Nowadays, the rain only brought happy memories. He looked at the inscription at the top of her name. In Loving Memory Of …and he smiled. There was no bitterness in his heart now.

The children brought their own small bouquets that they placed under the altar at the head of the grave. Even three-year-old twins, Sky and Sunshine, whom they brought with them for the first time, had flowers to put. They were too young to understand, but they mimicked their older siblings grave faces as Luke, Nikki and Abby each took turns telling her what was going on with their lives. Afterwards, they left him alone.

“Every year na pumupunta kami dito, may mga pagbabago,” Richard spoke to her softly as he placed his own elaborate basket of flowers beside the other one that was already there; it was a different arrangement, but was equal in size, and just as beautiful. “Our children have already given you their yearly update,” he smiled, looking back for a glance, feeling blessed and grateful. After the first time he visited with them, it was easier to come back. Luke was keeping a watchful eye on his two youngest siblings as they ran about. Abby was chasing after Sky, while Nikki was busy talking to someone on her phone. He sighed as he turned to face her again. “Ang lilikot ng kambal. Don’t worry, as they grow older, i-ku-kwento ka rin namin sa kanila. I’ll make sure that they’ll know who you are.” He paused, then squatted to caress the ground where she lay. “You know we’ll never forget you even if we have moved on; and I know you’re happy for me…because I really am, truly and happy again.” He stood up. “We have to go now.” He smiled like she was really there. “Goodbye…Alex.”

 

Richard stood at the place where he always waited for his wife, missing her so much. In his hands he was clutching a bouquet of sunflowers, her favorite. There was an occasion for her to  travel to London to observe and assess Time Airways’ newly opened route to better manage flight and staff schedules, part of her job as line administrator. She had been away for three days.

“Sweetheart!” Maya was surprised. Before she could say anything else, he had already engulfed her in his arms. She smiled gently as she returned the hug. They stayed that way for a little while until he sighed and finally loosened his hold, enough for her to lean back and gaze lovingly at his face. “Bakit ikaw ang sumundo? Di ba usapan natin, si Kuya Joma na lang? Walang kasama ang mga bata.”

He wrinkled his nose a little. “Pinaki-usapan ko si Luke. Kaya na naman niyang bantayan ang mga kapatid niya. I just missed you so much,” he said, looking back at her with a smile that said it all.

“Mmm, mukha nga,” she said, reaching up to caress his cheek, and he leaned forward to kiss her, lingering over her lips. Maya was blushing when he released her. “Sweetheart!”

He laughed and presented the bouquet.

“Thank you,” she said, using it to hide her face as they walked to the car. She clung on to his arm. “Sweetheart, kamusta ang dalaw niyo? Behaved ba ang kambal?”

“Behaved naman sila nung nasa loob pa kami. Naglikot lang sila nung nasa labas na. Nanibago sa dami ng mga tao sa sementeryo. Nagpunta ka pala?” He knew the flowers were from her.

“Oo. Pinadaan ko muna si Kuya Joma bago kami dumiretso dito. Marami akong  na-ipong kwento para sa kanya. Ang tipid mo kasi mag-kwento, e.”

He looked at her. It never ceases to amaze him how generous she was. She was never jealous of his late first wife, and even spoke like they were truly friends. They reached the car, and he opened the door for her, stowed her luggage at the back, and slipped in to the driver’s seat. He hesitated. “Nag-uumpisa na silang magtanong tungkol kay Alex. Luke, Nikki and Abby were trying to explain that she was their mommy in heaven; that Alex was their mommy na naging angel na, kaya ikaw na ang mommy nila dito. Is that Ok?”

She smiled as she nodded. She reached out to take his hand. He entwined their fingers. “Dapat pag-usapan natin kung paano natin maipapaliwanag sa kambal ang tungkol kay Alex. Dapat makilala din nila siya. Wag kang mag-alinlangan na sabihin sa kanila kung sino siya.”

He lifted her hand to kiss it. “I was thinking the same thing. Thank you,” he said, his voice grateful.

“Ano ka ba?” She chided gently. “Ok lang sa akin yun. Kung naging pangalawang ina ako nina Luke, Nikki, at Abby, bakit ko naman ipagkakait na magkaroon sina Sky at Sunshine ng pangalawang ina sa langit?…Ay, pangatlo pala, kasama si Mama Mary…hmm, parang hindi tama…”

Richard chuckled. “Ganito na lang. You are their mother here on earth. In heaven, they have Mama Mary and Mommy Alex.”

“Parang mas gusto ko yung ganyang explenasyon. Ang galing mo talaga, sweetheart. The best!” She gushed as she giggled.

He raised an eyebrow. “Nambola ka nanaman.”

“Naku, nahalata mo?” She asked sheepinshly, and they both laughed. He cupped her cheek.

“I really, really missed you,” he said softly.

“Alam ko, sweetheart, na-miss din kita,”she answered back in the same soft tone, as they looked into each other’s eyes for a moment; then in a normal voice she said, “miss ko na rin yung mga bata kaya bilisan na nating umuwi.”

Richard’s face registered surprise but he turned to start the car. “Pagkatapos mong puntahan ang mga bata, sa akin ka na. Show me how much you miss me,” he demanded.

“Abaaa, ganun ka din dapat, Mr. Lim. Show me how much you miss me,” Maya said, blushing again.

He grinned at her. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I will.”

Maya settled back, eager to see her children, and later, to have some you-and-me time with her husband. It was good to be home.

A/N I am not a flight attendant. I tried looking for a job description for line administrators sa airline companies but couldn’t find any.I just followed the job description of the closest position That could match it.

Remembering

One Special Day

Hello! Thank you for liking my previous posts, and an extra thank you to those who took the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it, kahit hindi na ako naka-reply. Ni-like ko na lang lahat, hehe! I started this a long time ago, ngayon ko lang naisipang tapusin. This should be around the time after they sang at the comedy bar when they were fast-forwarding Maya’s pregnancy.

PART ONE

Maya waited for Joma, their driver, to open the car, hoping she was not too late to surprise her  husband with a lunch date. She would have arrived sooner, but got held up by traffic. She had called his secretary earlier to confirm that he did not have any meetings until mid-afternoon, so maybe they could linger over lunch as well. Richard had been so busy lately, they were taking in more clients, and he had been lending a hand at their Clark hangar, one of his chief engineers was sick. Though his men were well trained, they still needed a senior to oversee their work, so he had been doing overtime, coming home late. She smiled as Joma solicitously held the door for her and held her elbow. She slowly got off, supporting her belly as she did. She smoothed the new maternity dress she had bought on the weekend, blue, their favorite color. She also sprayed on a little of the perfume he liked, just a little, as she was still a bit sensitive to strong scents. She was determined to spend even just a little time with him today, as this was a special day, and they had agreed to celebrate it only once.

“Salamat, Kuya Joma.”

“Walang anuman, Mrs. Chief. Siguradong matutuwa si Ser na si-nurprise nyo siya,” Joma smiled back. It always warms his heart to see this couple do unexpected sweet things for each other.

“Text na lang kita pag susunduin mo na ako.”

“Walang problema, Mrs. Chief.”

As Maya rode the elevator to the floor housing the offices of Lim Aviation Services, she smiled to herself. Siguradong nakalimutan na niya, she thought. She knew he did. They were already married, why celebrate this? Still, she wanted to. Everything happened so fast, becoming a couple, getting married, now they were going to have children, all in a space of one year. Besides, they haven’t been spending quality time together lately.

“Sweetheart!?” Richard was surprised. He had just stepped out from his office.

“Sweetheart!” Maya launched herself into her husband’s arms and gave him a big hug. His arms automatically went around her.

“Bakit nandito ka? Shouldn’t you be at work?” He wondered.

She pulled back a little. “Nagpalit kami ng restday ni Lynn. Tumawag ako kay Minerva. Mamaya pa naman ang meeting mo kaya inisip ko na ayain kang mag-lunch. Puede ba?” She asked sweetly.

“Ummm…,” Richard hesitated. Then Maya noticed his secretary, Minerva, behind him, who looked nervous, and also Lisa, who was smiling at her.

“Hi, Lisa! Hi, Minerva!” She greeted before turning back to him, “hindi puede?” She tried to keep the disappointment from her voice.

Richard tried not to glance at his watch. “Well, I had the meeting moved earlier just now, I need to be at Clark again,” he felt his wife’s disappointment, although she hid it well in her expression. “I can only do lunch for 30 minutes. I had the meeting moved para mas maaga akong makapunta ng Clark at para mas maaga din akong makabalik. I know that I haven’t been spending much time with you lately but this will be the last. Engineer Gutierez can come to work tomorrow,” he smiled to appease her.

“Ah, ganun ba? Ganito na lang, gawin mo na lang kung ano ang dapat mong gawin. Wag na lang tayong mag-lunch, pero, maaga kang dadating mamaya ha?” She exaggerated her puppy-dog look. She knew he would insist on having lunch with her if he knew how she felt and she did not want to be a bother to him when it comes to work. Besides, 30 minutes was such a short time.

“I’ll make it by dinner,” he promised. They hugged again, and he kissed her softly on the lips, ignoring his amused audience. Maya blushed and gave a shy smile. “O, sige na, tatawagan ko pa si Kuya Joma. Kaaalis lang nun. Hindi pa siya nakakalayo.”

“Ihatid na kita. Pababa din kami.” As she made the call, he took her hand and held it all the way to the parking lot where Joma was waiting. He opened the car door for her. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said, his voice full of regret.

Maya could not look at him in the eye. She made light of the situation. “Ano ka ba? Ok lang ako. Basta, umuwi kang maaga ha?” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and hurriedly slipped inside. Richard closed the door and stood watching until the car turned the corner. He sighed. He wanted to forget about the meeting and Clark and just spend time with her. This lunch was important to her, he knew, he just couldn’t think why. He rubbed his temple, wishing that the day would be over so he could come home.

PART TWO

“Hey, Chard, what’s up? How are you? The kids? Maya?” Rafi greeted. Richard gave a sigh. He was on break. He decided to call her. “O, what’s the problem?” She could sense that he was bothered.

“Rafi, I think I forgot something. Maya came to surprise me for lunch,” he said.

She laughed. “What’s so unusual about that?”

He sighed again, wondering how to tell her. “Well, the only other time she surprised me like that was before we got married, but that time it was dinner, and she brought my favorite food. This time, she asked me for a date.”

“Really?!” Rafi was amazed. She had always thought that it was just natural for Maya to do those things, given her sweet nature. Richard quickly explained. “Don’t get me wrong. Maya is sweet, just not in that way.”

“Hala, Chard, baka naman may nagawa siyang kasalanan and she’s too embarrassed to tell you.”

“No, I don’t think it’s that. She would have told me. Actually, she’s been giving little hints since last week, I just can’t figure them out.”

“What hints?”

“Ummm, she was looking at the calendar last week, and she said na malapit na. When I asked her what it was, she just smiled. At first I thought it was her birthday, but now I’m sure it’s not.”

“What else?” Rafi was trying to think as well.

“I can’t explain the others, Rafi. Basta, they were hints.”

“O-o-k…well, you did ask what the occasion was, and we’ve already ruled out her birthday. Is there another occasion coming up? What else happened last year that was significant before her  birthday?”

Richard rubbed his forefinger on his lower lip as he tried to recall. March would be Luke and Abby’s graduation. May was Maya’s…he smiled. It was the day she told him she loved him, for real, on her own, no prompting…a few days later…Mother’s day…Mother’s Day…!

“That’s it! It’s the anniversary of being us…of being a couple, you know,” he added, feeling awkward and embarrassed, knowing Rafi would probably laugh.  He was no longer a teenager, for goodness sake, and they were already married, but if his wife still wishes to celebrate it, then he would do everything to fulfill it. But how? He no longer had the time!

“What?! Chard, you should fix this. You know how sentimental Maya is, and you told me that you agreed to celebrate only the firsts, weeksary, monthsary and anniversary.”

“I know. Any ideas?”  He was suddenly in a panic.

“Hmmm…this is too sudden.  Why not do a re-enactment of the time na sinagot ka niya? Take her back to that place, do what you did?”

“Rafi, sinagot niya ako dun sa most romantic place sa San Nicolas. I can’t just bring her there. Besides, she’s pregnant. Ayokong mapagod siya. I’m here at Clark. I don’t even know if I could make it home in time for dinner like I promised.”

“Naku, Chard…” Rafi’s voice was full of sympathy. There was a slight pause; suddenly she chuckled.

“Why are you laughing?” Richard sounded offended.

“Here’s a cheesy idea. Why not apologize big time to her. Call up a radio station and send her-,”

“Rafi, thank you!” He interrupted. An idea had formed in his mind.

“You’re really going to do it?” She asked, disbelievingly.

“Rafi, I gotta go. No Time!”

“Hey, Chard, wait-,” Rafi tried to ask some more but Richard had already hung up.

PART THREE

Dinner was over and Richard had not arrived. Only the children had eaten. She was here now, in their veranda, gazing mournfully down at the spot in the garden where she and Richard celebrated their monthsary as a couple last year. She had hinted about it to him, telling him that the garden was the most romantic place for her, more so than here, where they always have their coffee dates. He had been curious why, of course, but she let him figure it out. Apparently, he never did, as he was also clueless about the other little hints she’d been dropping the whole week. Sighing, she tried to think happier  thoughts as she made her way to one of the chairs, rubbing her belly. Negative vibes would not be good for the twins. As she sat, she heard Manang Fe’s radio playing nearby. At first, she paid no heed to it, but the songs gradually seeped into her consciousness, all of them significant. The Way You Look Tonight, Be Careful With my Heart, Ligaya, Chinito…Her eyes widened in disbelief. Pati yun?

After the last song, The Dj  read a short message,  “there’s a message from one of our callers, Richard, to the woman whom he calls his miracle. Yihee!” The female Dj could not contain her kilig:

To Maya, my miracle, I told you before that the day you said na tayo na and agreed to be my girlfriend was the happiest day of my life, and yet here I forgot to celebrate it again, just like the time I also forgot to celebrate our first wonderful week of being together. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I may have forgotten the date, but I will always remember its significance. Thank you for accepting me, for loving me, and for giving us a chance. I hope it’s not too late for this day to still be a happy anniversary. I love you.

“Awww, that was so sweet. Maya, here’s a song for you, and Happy Anniversary!” The Dj then played another one of  their songs, Sorry na Puede ba.

Maya could not help but laugh and cry at the same time. She was so touched that Richard did this for her, knowing him. This was levels up. He hardly even listens to the radio. She heard snickering from behind. Before she could turn around, her children were already in front of  her.

“Yun, O!” Luke was about to greet her when he stopped. Nikki and Abby had dismayed looks on their faces.

Abby approached her, taking her hands. “Tita mommy, why are you crying po? Ayaw nyo po ba dun sa message ni daddy?”

Maya gave a little laugh, tears streaming from her eyes. “Gustong-gusto ko ang message niya, baby. Tears of joy lang ito, promise,” She tried wiping her tears with her hands.

“Ayun naman pala, e. Happy Anniversary, Tita mommy,” Luke bent to give her a hug.

“Happy Anniversary, Tita mommy,” Nikki seconded, also giving her a hug.

Not to be left out, Abby hugged her too. “Happy Anniversary, Tita mommy.”

“Aaawww, ang su-sweet naman ng mga anak ko, mana sa daddy nila,” Maya spread her arms to encompass all three, while Abby gently lay her hand on her tummy. After a moment, Luke raised his head.

“Sya nga pala, Tita mommy, nag-text si dad. Malapit na pala siya. Magbihis daw kayo.”

“Ha? Pero, nagluto ako…,” she suddenly remembered that that was what he also told her to do the day after their weeksary, when he insisted on celebrating it again by taking her out.

“Sige na, Tita mommy, wear that blue dress daw that you wore kanina. He said he wasn’t able to appreciate it kasi nagmamadali kayo pareho,” Nikki encouraged her.

 Napansin din pala niya, Maya smiled. She was actually planning to wear it during dinner, if he had arrived. She did not notice the three exchange looks.

Abby pulled her hand, “sige na, Tita mommy, magbihis na  po kayo, para pagdating ni daddy, ready ka na.”

“Ha? Ah, O, sige,” she stood up.

“Hintayin nyo na lang po sa kwarto si daddy, Tita Mommy, wag na po kayong bumaba, para hindi kayo masyadong mapagod,” Abby sweetly told her.

“Hmmm, kayo talaga,” she chuckled, “sige iwan ko muna kayo, ha?”

“Ok, Tita mommy,” Nikki gave a cute wave. They watched as she made her way inside.

PART FOUR

She was asleep. Richard entered silently.  He stood by the bed, staring at her. A year ago, today, she agreed to become his girlfriend. He smiled wistfully. For a middle-aged widower and a father of three, having a girlfriend seemed so…unsuitable; but this woman, this miracle that God gave him, accepted everything that he is, and loved  him, completely and unconditionally. She bravely faced his children’s initial rejection and parent’s disapproval, and then turned them around by just being her true self. That is why a year  later, today, she is now his wife. He could never let her go. He bent to tenderly smooth her hair  then leaned in to give her a kiss. Maya stirred, waking up slowly, smiling against his lips. She opened her eyes.

“Happy Anniversary, sweetheart,” he said softly, unsure of his greeting. He presented her with a bouquet of her favorite, sunflowers. “I’m sorry I forgot,” he said, quietly. Tears started to pool in her eyes.

“Wala na yun. Ako lang naman itong maarte, e. Kasal na tayo, naiintindihan ko kung bakit hindi na naman siyang kailangang i-celebrate. Gusto ko lang naman na makasama ka ngayong araw. Na-miss kasi kita, e,” the tears fell as she tried to explain.

“I always miss you,” he said feelingly, sitting down and taking the bouquet, setting it aside to gather her in his arms. He kissed her hair. “Wag mong bale-walain ang araw na ito just to make me feel better. It’s my fault I forgot. We agreed to celebrate today because it is important. Even though you’re my wife now, kung hindi mo ako sinagot, walang tayo,” he hugged her  tighter, “I love you so much.”

“Mahal na mahal din kita, sweetheart. Happy Anniversary!” She sniffed as she returned the hug.

“Hey, baka makasama sa kambal ang pag-iyak mo,” he leaned back, concerned. He wiped her tears gently with the backs of his fingers. She smiled to reassure him. “Halika na?” He took her hand.

“Sweetheart, kailangan pa ba nating umalis? Nagluto kasi ako, tapos nag-bake sina Nikki at Abby…,”

“I know. I just told them na pagbihisin ka because you bought this dress especially for today, di ba? Akala mo hindi ko mapapansin?” He took her chin by by his fingers. “You will always be beautiful to me, no matter what you wear.”

“Hmm, ikaw talaga,” she gave a little pinch on his side. He laughed.  “Tayo na nga, ginugutom na ako,” she stood up as he assisted her, holding her elbows.

“Hindi ka dapat nag-papagutom, sweetheart,” he reproached.

“Huwag kang mag-alala, sweetheart, kumain naman ako ng merienda, at uminom ng gatas bago naghapunan ang mga bata.”

“Good!” He took her hand again, “let’s go!”

To her surprise, Richard skipped the car and led her all the way around to the back, taking the long way. The children were waiting. They had prepared a romantic table setting for them, at the same spot she was looking at a while ago. The table was covered in white, and they had spread the dishes she had cooked earlier. A small vase at the center held a single red rose. Beside their plates were wine glasses, filled with apple juice, to mimic wine. There was a stool at the side, also covered with a white cloth, where they placed a tray  with a pitcher of water, two glasses, and a bell. The candles were lit and they  had turned off the lights on this side of the house.

“Surprise!” They shouted. Richard was eyeing their efforts.

“Parang hindi naman masyadong romantic ‘to, Nikki,” he observed.

“I know, dad, paano kasi dapat individual plates lang, kaso kuya insisted na ilagay lahat ng ulam kasi  baka kulang kay Tita mommy ang isang plato.  Eh it’s so hirap to go all the way down ng paulit-ulit. Sinama na tuloy namin ang  tubig. Besides, makaka-istorbo pa yun sa date nyo kung pabalik-balik kami,” she explained.

Maya giggled. “Grabe naman kayo. Hindi naman siguro ako ganoon kalakas kumain.” Her eyes were misty. “Thank you, Luke, Nikki, Abby. Sobrang touched ako.”

Richard raised an eyebrow. “Sa kanila ka lang touched?”

“Thank you, sweetheart.” Her tears started again. “Pa-group hug nga.” They all gathered for the hug, Richard joining in.

When they broke apart, Abby told Maya, “Tita mommy, kung may kailangan pa po kayo, just ring the bell.”

“Thank you, Baby,” she smoothed Abby’s hair. As the children left, Richard pulled out her chair.

PART FIVE

He had his arm around her shoulders, she was leaning her head on his, their heads touching. The children, with the help of Joma, Doris, and Sabel, had already cleared all the remnants of their date. They were seated now at the bench where they had fallen asleep before, enjoying a comfortable silence.

“Happy, sweetheart?” Richard asked, pulling her closer.

“Very happy, sweetheart, salamat, ha,” she tilted her head upwards to smile at him, her expression turning wistful as she gazed at his face.

Richard, who was expecting a kiss, raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“Naalala mo pa ba? Kung hindi namatay si Mamang, dapat ngayon yung araw ng kasal natin.”

He was surprised. He had forgotten about it. When Nay Tereseita told them to go ahead with the wedding, he was happy to stick to their original plan until he saw her reciting the wedding vows at the wedding planner’s shop. He felt a sudden rush of emotions that time, and she looked so beautiful, that he could not wait any longer. He decided to move the date of their wedding earlier. He smiled ruefully. “Would you have changed anything?”

Maya shook her head as she leaned back to tenderly cup his face. “Alam mo ang sagot dyan, Mr. Lim,” she said, and this time, she did kiss him, pouring all the love she felt for him in the kiss. He moaned softly when she pulled away, his eyes still closed. He opened them slowly.

“Ang sarap naman,” he smiled, “I love you.”

She ducked her head, suddenly shy, “I love you, too.” When she looked up again, she met his eyes, and they both chuckled, feeling like teenagers and who just shared a kiss for the first time.

“Sweetheart…” Richard took one of her hands in his and intertwined their fingers. She was leaning her head on his shoulder again.

“Hmmm?”

“What made you decide na sagutin ako?”

She giggled. Although she had admitted to him that she had loved him even before, she had not told him what made her say yes. “Di ba nung graduation ko, sinundo mo si Kute para lang makarating siya on time? Hinanap din kaya kita. Nalungkot ako nung wala ka. Tapos nung sinabi ni Kute yung dahilan, at nung dumating ka tapos sinabi mo na you would do anything to make me happy, yun.”

“Anong yun?” He smirked.

“Yun na! Kaya nga sinabihan na kita ng I love you. Huuu, gusto mo lang marinig, e,” she poked his cheek gently. He was grinning.

“Siempre, akala mo ikaw lang ang may gustong kiligin?” They laughed together. When their laughter subsided, she sighed.

“O, bakit?”

“Sobrang saya ko lang. This is the best anniversary celebration, sweetheart. Akala ko talaga, hindi magiging memorable ang araw na ito.”

He too sighed loudly, pretending to be relieved. “Mabuti naman. Pagkatapos ng mga ginawa ko, wala na nga akong mukhang ipapakita sa opisina, it was worth it.”

Maya covered her mouth as she tried to suppress her giggles. During dinner, Richard had narrated to her  the lengths he went through just to find a radio station that would play the songs he wanted, and  to play them consecutively. The quest, much to his chagrin, involved a lot more people in the office than he intended. She caressed his cheek. “Awww, ang cute mo naman. Salamat ulit, sweetheart.”

He took the hand and brought it to his lips. “Anything to make you happy,” he said softly, his expression the same as when he first said it to her during her graduation, that she started to tear up.

“Sweetheart,” he said, exasperated and concerned at the same time, “yun lang ang sinabi ko, umiyak ka na?” He gently dabbed at her eyes with his handkerchief.

“Ikaw kasi, e, sobra-sobrang magpakilig,” she smiled as she sniffed.

“Eh palagi ka namang kinikilig sa akin, e, ano na lang ba ang puede kong sabihin?” he teased.

“Ewan ko sa’yo. Hindi naman ako nagrereklamo, a.”

He laughed as he gave her a hug. “Umakyat na nga tayo. It’s getting late. Baka mahamugan ka pa.” They held hands as they made their way inside and up the stairs to their bedroom. “Sweetheart…,” Richard murmured as soon as they entered.

“Hmmm?’ Maya stopped.

He slowly pulled her to him and placed his arms around her waist. “Happy Anniversary!”

She blushed as she felt his desire. They haven’t done it for quite a while. He was always tired from work, and she was having issues with her body. Suddenly, she could not look at him. She felt, rather than heard, his sigh.

“Mauuna na ako sa banyo, ha?” he said lightly. As he moved away, she grew alarmed. She did not want to disappoint him. She clung on to his arm. He raised an eyebrow.

“Ummm, sweetheart, puede pa ba? Hindi ba makakasama sa kambal? Ang taba ko na kasi, eh, baka mabigatan ka…,” she looked up and saw only love and understanding in his eyes.

“Puede…kung gusto mo. We can always get creative,” he winked. She was still blushing. He touched her cheek. “You’re beautiful, sweetheart, and I will always want you,” he said simply, and so sweetly that tears started to pool in her eyes again. She slid her hand down his arm and intertwined their fingers.

“Kung ganoon pala, e, di, tayo na,” she grinned shyly at him.

“Tayo na?” he grinned back, remembering. “Is that a yes, Maya?”

She pinched his cheek lightly. “Yes, Sir Chief ko, tayo na’t sabay maligo para matuloy na natin ang gusto nating matuloy.” She could not meet his eyes again. The blush never left her face.

“Kung ganoon pala, e, di, tayo na,” he tugged at her hand to make her look at him. When she did, his lips descended on hers for a long, passionate kiss.

It took some time before they made it to the bathroom.

One Special Day

With You Always

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.

“Bakit, sweetheart?”

“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.

“Hm?”

“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.

“Sweetheart!”

Grinning, he opened his eyes, “Goodnight, sweetheart.” She grinned back. They both closed their eyes.

With You Always

The Love Between Them

Maya woke up with a start. The dream she just had left her with an overwhelming sadness. She looked to the other side of the bed, wanting comfort, but found the space empty. Then she remembered. It was no dream. She and Richard had been arguing again tonight. It was amazing how neither one of them raised their voice; and then she said something that made him stop. She bit her lip, wishing she could forget the look in his eyes before he left the room.

Nasaktan ko siya, she realized, but pride kept her from going to him. She had gotten used to him apologizing first, regardless of who was at fault, so she waited for him and had fallen asleep. He had not returned. Worried, she got up. The whole house was dark, but they kept some of the outside lights on. He was there, seated on his chair, in the special corner of the house meant for their you-and-me time. There was a dejected air in the way he was leaning on his elbows, one hand covering his eyes. Seeing him like that, Maya was filled with remorse. She went to him, bending to hug him from behind. She leaned her cheek on his back.

“Sweetheart, sorry.”

He did not move. She hugged him tighter. “Sweetheart…,” she pleaded. Her tears started to flow.

Richard heard the regret in her voice and gave an inward sigh. Hurt still though he was, he could not bear to hear his wife like this. He lifted his hand to rub her arm but remained quiet. Maya moved to crouch before him, resting her hands on his knees for balance.

“Ang hirap mo naman suyuin,” she gave a watery smile. He just looked at her, his eyes still sad.

“I’m sorry…” he started to say, but Maya placed her fingers quickly on his lips to shush him, shaking her head.

“Hayaan mong ako naman ang mag-sorry. Nasaktan kita, hindi ko sinasadya. Hindi kaagad ako lumapit sa’yo. Sorry kung masyado akong ma-pride,” she started to blubber, “h-hindi ko naman k-kayang mag-r-r-rent ng h-h-helicopter o m-m-mangharana, e, pero s-sana tanggapin mo ang s-s-sorry ko…,” before she could say anything more, Richard had pulled her up and sat her on his lap.

“Shhh…It’s Ok, sweetheart, I’m not mad anymore. I was just so hurt. I’m sorry too. I’m sorry…,” he held her face and tried to wipe her tears with his thumbs.

Maya shook her head again. “Hindi mo k-kailangang mag-s-s-sorry dahil ako ang nagk-ka-m-mali.”

He gathered her in his arms, placing his chin on her shoulders, rocking her gently. “Pareho tayong mali, at pareho din tayong tama. In an argument, one just has to give in, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong… please stop crying,” he begged. He continued to rock her quietly. Gradually, her sobs subsided. They stayed silent for a while, each with their own thoughts, until she turned away, conscious of her puffy eyes and runny nose, wiping them with her hands just like a child. Amazingly, Richard had a handkerchief in his pocket that he offered to her.

“May panyo ka sa bulsa?”

“Nakasanayan ko na. Pag naiisip kita, lagi akong naglalagay.”

“Sweetheart…,” her tears started afresh.

“Hey, umiiyak ka nanaman,” and this time he smiled, his gaze warm and full of love.

“Ikaw kasi, eh,” she sniffed.

He raised a brow. “O, anong ako?”

She moved to snuggled against him, resting her head on his shoulder. She caressed his arm as she spoke. “Lagi mong sinasabi na you love me more. Pero ikaw, alam mo ba kung gaano kita kamahal? Minsan iniisip ko kung sapat na ba ang mga ginagawa ko para ipaalam sa’yo yun. Lagi na lang kasing ikaw yung nagbibigay, nagpapasensya, nauunang mag-sorry…kailangan minsan ako naman ang magpakumbaba…,” she could not continue. Richard leaned suddenly to capture her lips. The kiss was gentle, sweet…lingering. When they drew apart, Maya curled her arm around his neck to keep him close. He chuckled softly, holding her tighter.

“ When we got married, I vowed to apologize even if it wasn’t me who made the mistake…”

“Alam ko, pero hindi rin tama na kumakampante na ako na ikaw lagi ang nauunang mag-sorry…,”

“Well, madalas naman ikaw yung tama. I always let my temper get the better of me.”

She sat up, linking her hands behind his neck, squeezing it a little. “Pero minsan, kahit galit ka, tama naman ang mga pananaw mo. Pinipilit ko lang ang gusto ko kahit mali.”

He leaned back, eyebrows furrowed. “Are we starting another argument?”

“Ayaw ko lang maging unfair sa’yo.”

“You’re not. Why are you so insistent?”

They eyed each other for a moment, then both burst out laughing, all traces of their samaan ng loob earlier, gone. She tapped his nose.

“Am I forgiven Mr. Lim?”

“You are, Mrs. Lim.”

She touched their heads as she hugged his neck, both of them looking up at the night sky.

“Sweetheart?” It was Maya who spoke.

“Hmmm?”

“Tulog na tayo?”

He turned to look at her, their faces almost touching. “Tulog agad?’ he asked, eyes glinting mischievously.

She gaped at him. “Sweetheart, gabing-gabi na. Ano pa ba ang gusto mong gawin?” she asked, oblivious to the hint in her husband’s voice.

“Well,” he shrugged his shoulders, “we quarreled, we kissed…and now we have to make-up,” he wiggled his eyebrows.

She slapped his arm. “Ikaw talaga!”

“Ayaw mo ba?” he asked teasingly.

“Siempre gusto.” She blushed.

He scrambled to stand up, prompting a surprised Maya to do as well. He took her hand to pull her to go inside.

“Sweetheart, bakit tayo nagmamadali?”

“Eh baka mag-iba pa ang isip mo, mag-away nanaman tayo.”

She smothered a laugh. She was not going to change her mind and was already thinking of ways on how to really make it up to him tonight. Blushing again at the direction of her thoughts, she skipped ahead so she could pull her astonished husband to their bedroom.

The Love Between Them