Long-held Torch – Epilogue

The sun was brilliant against a cloudless, celestial sky. But the sun rays  were nothing compared to the brilliant smile that his wife flashed before she opened the passenger door and stepped out of the Toyota Land Cruiser. Maya was wearing a sleeveless one-piece cream lace dress that showed off her shapely legs. It had a back slit that afforded him a microsecond glimpse of her smooth thighs. Richard twisted his lips in silent self-mockery. He had just parked in front of the Catedral de San Nicolás and about to enter its hallowed grounds while he was harbouring the most unholy thoughts about his wife.

Richard got out of the vehicle and stood behind Maya who was stooping to check on baby Robbie who was still sleeping in his baby capsule. At six weeks old, their son had grown hale and hearty with strong lungs that he exercises whenever he howls for delayed feeds. While Richard helps in changing diapers and bathing, Maya had been getting up every three hours to breastfeed him. The last five very early mornings, he had been getting up to get their son the minute he started fretting. It took Richard awhile but he has mastered positioning their baby so that his son could properly latch onto Maya’s breast even when she was half asleep. It certainly made a world of difference for his wife to get that much needed sleep. And Richard had enough fatherhood experience in the last six weeks to savour moments of quietude.

“Let him sleep,” Richard whispered as he anchored his left hand on Maya’s waist. “We still have time.”

“But I need to change him.” Maya protested as she eyed the delicate christening outfit made of piña cloth hanging on behind the driver’s side. It was last worn by her niece Abby, like her siblings before her. It was also the same clothing Maya, Kute and her Kuya Ryan wore during their own christening. Tatay Arturo and his siblings also wore the very same outfit in their his own ceremony.

“Hmmmmnnn…” Richard responded, distracted by the physical changes in Maya with her stretchy lace dress moulded to her fuller breasts and more rounded hips. She still has a small post-baby bump but her overall form can only be described as voluptuous. “Have I told you how beautiful and sexy you look this morning?”

“Ang laki pa rin ng puson ko.” Maya wrinkled her nose up at him.

“You look very sexy to me, Mrs. Lim,” Richard said in a low voice to reassure his young wife.

“At bakit ganyan ang tingin mo sa ‘kin, Mr. Lim?” Maya pivoted to properly face him, placing her hands on his solid chest while his hands possessively settled themselves on her hips. While Richard was wearing formal pants and leather Florsheim shoes, he was just clad in his white V-neck T-shirt while his Barong Tagalog hangs unwrinkled behind Robbie’s outfit.

They were partially hidden by the open door of the vehicle while the bustle of activity in the town plaza went on. If anyone saw the couple cuddling by the black Toyota Land Cruiser, they pretended not to notice. Besides, Maya and Richard’s affectionate   public displays were already a common sight among the town folks.

While his chinito eyes glinted, Richard wordlessly responded by pulling her closer, slowly lowering his head towards hers. The kiss began lightly, a featherlight caress across her slightly parted lips. And he was just content to keep it light but Maya had other ideas. He felt her angle her head to deepen the kiss and he was helplessly lost. His senses surged at her flagrant response and would have probably have gone a bit further until he heard a gurgling sound in the background.

It was Maya who first snapped out of the sensual haze. Maya turned her head towards baby Robbie who had already woken up and was eyeing them not too happily for ignoring him. He was already starting to fret. Maya bent over to release him from his capsule confines.

Richard’s lips twisted as his wife quickly ‘recovered’ while it took effort for him to curb his libido. The weeks of necessary celibacy was taking its toll on his self-control. He just stood quietly while Maya fussed over their son.

“Maya,” a female voice from a short distance hailed them. It was Nanay Teresita, Tatay Arturo following her, coming to join them. Kute was not too far behind. Ryan, together with his family, was just parking the old Mitsubishi sedan on the opposite side of the road.

After the usual round of greetings, Maya handed baby Robbie to her mother who volunteered to garb the baby in christening clothes. Richard took advantage of everyone’s preoccupation to pull his wife to the side for another cuddle. Within the circle of his arms, Maya carefully rubbed off her pink lipstick from Richard’s lips. A squeal of protest made Maya turn towards baby Robbie who was now squirming as his grandmother was trying to tie the bonnet under his chin to complete the ensemble. Richard gave her a quick peck on her neck which brought on goosepimples along Maya’s bare arms.

“Ricky!” Maya protested.

“Lagot ka sa ‘kin mamaya,” he mock threatened his wife.

“Behave, Mr. Lim!” Maya giggled, her doe-shaped eyes.crinkling at the corners.

When the baby was ready, Nanay Teresita held him and quickly brought him inside the cathedral where Doña Esmeralda and Don Roberto were already waiting. The rest of the Dela Rosas followed closely at her heels. Simon, Edzelyn, and Emman, who just arrived, waved to Maya before briskly walking to join the christening party. Maya waved back as she buttoned up her husband’s Barong.

In contrast, Richard and Maya, who were holding hands, followed in a more leisurely pace. Standing at the massive arched entrance, Richard scanned the large cathedral which was bathed in colourful light streaming through the stained glass arched windows. Like the Spanish villa, the old church also evokes memories for Richard. He used to join the Dela Rosas for Sunday church service whenever he stays for the summer school breaks. He fondly remembers another christening day wherein he was at pains to suppress the attraction he has been feeling for a particular seventeener. The same female who was trying to act so maturely in her first pair of heels but readily sheds any mantle of maturity to poke her tongue at him to express her annoyance.

When he turned towards his wife, his lips curved in a tender smile. Maya’s eyes had misted as she remembered walking down the very same aisle for her altar date with him. In tune with what she was feeling, Richard gently squeezed her hand.

“Sweetheart, bawal ang umiyak ngayon,” he gently teased. “Baka sabihin nila inaaway kita.”

Maya winkled her nose up at him.

Richard softly chuckled as he kissed her nose. When he straightened, he guided her towards the side of the altar where everyone had assembled for the christening ceremony. Their baby was christened Robert Arthur, named after both grandfathers. His namesakes were beaming throughout the special service while their respective spouses smiled indulgently. It was a joyous occasion for both the Dela Rosa and Lim families.

Later in the small reception held at the villa, the topic of conversation among family members centered around the latest uncovered secret. Richard found a hidden drawer in the fireplace mantle when they converted the master suite’s sitting room into Robbie’s nursery. Inside the drawer was a locked wooden box with ornate metal joinery and hinges. When they managed to open the box, it contained a signet ring that featured a shield background with a sword  intertwined  with the two roses.  There were also several folded parchments fragile with age which appeared to be letters written in archaic Spanish.  Richard sent them to an antiquities expert to be properly handled for analysis and translations.

When the report came back, it was confirmed that the sheets were correspondences from DE La Rosa’s family. Most came from Desmundo Ezequiel’s mother while one came from his father, Don Miguel, Vizconde de Rosaleda, expressing his very negative sentiments regarding Desmundo Ezequiel’s plans to marry an indio.

Still, the most intriguing of all was the letter of apology and regret penned by Diego Alejandro, Desmundo Ezequiel’s older brother. It revealed that it was Diego who had a dalliance with Desmundo’s fiancée which resulted in pregnancy. Despite being blamed for his fiancée’s disgrace, Desmundo chose to keep quiet about the whole sordid affair. He was disowned and exhiled for his silence.

“That certainly puts Señor La Rosa in a very different light,” Richard declared much later when he gathered all the report documents  and placed them all back in the manila folder on the coffee table.

“Mmmmm,” Maya nodded while she carefully placed a sleeping Robbie back in his bassinet. The baby was exhausted from trying to keep awake to see what the fuss was all about. Now, that the villa was quiet once more, he can catch up on his sleep.

“Is that all you have to say?” Richard was perplexed that his wife was not showing much excitement to the news. His in-laws expressed more animated sentiments earlier.

“Well, the letter just confirmed what I already knew. I have always known that Señor La Rosa was not the cad the stories painted him to be,” Maya stated calmly while she walked barefoot towards him.

“Really?”

“Uhhmmmnn,” Maya nodded again as she leaned against his wide chest while his arm automatically went round her shoulders. “Consider what you already know of him. He came to the colony, the scion of a noble house but from all accounts, he had dealt well and lived with the locals, indicating that he treated others with respect. He even fell in love with a local girl. He even followed her to the island and married her which means he was not uppity like his father Don Miguel. In his stay here, he lent his expertise to design and build the Catedral de San Nicolás which made him a contributing member of the community. Before that, he even accepted sculpting commissions to help raise funds in building the church, endearing him to the people. That smacks of selflessness. All these qualities does not fit with him callously abandoning his pregnant fiancée. It’s just not—”

“Not in character” Richard finished the sentence for Maya who struggled to find the right descriptive words.

“Exactly!” Maya’s eyes sparkled up at her husband who now had both his arms around her .

“Just imagine sweetheart. If it weren’t for Señor and Señora La Rosa’s untimely death, they could have ended up as the Viscount and Viscountess of Rosaleda.”

Maya was shaking her head.

“You don’t think so?” Richard smiled lopsidely.

“I don’t think Señor La Rosa considered leaving the island. He built this huge villa for his wife and he planned to fill it with children. He was happy and content here with his wife.”

“You are looking at this from a woman’s perspective, sweetheart,” Richard gently argued. “Señor La Rosa was first and foremost a father, and a noble man to boot. He would have considered bringing his family back to Spain so that his firstborn son can inherit the title and lands. He would have considered giving the best lifestyle and education for his children.”

Maya considered her husband. She remembered that even before Robbie was born, Richard had the nursery in the Ayala Alabang mansion equipped with cameras so that the future occupant can be monitored 24 hours a day. Her husband even has an app so he can get live video feeds of his son on his iPhone5 whenever and wherever he wants it. Financially, Richard had already set up a trust fund for their child. A few months before she gave birth, Richard was also trying to convince her to hire a governess so that their child can get high educational stimulation as well as being properly cared for.

Maya had to put her foot down on the last suggestion, though. Nothing can replace the bonding and attachment between mother and child during the formative years. A child needs to feel secure within the circle of love that a mother constantly provides so that the child can confidently explore and learn. Maya will just have to learn to provide the educational stimulation that Robbie needed.

Still, Richard raised a valid point.

“Hmmmnnn, you may be right, sweetheart,” Maya agreed with a nod.

“Of course, it’s merely speculation which we have no way of verifying. But I am glad that decision was taken out of his hands.” Richard’s fingers were now twirling with her hair tied up with a scrunchie.

“Bakit naman?”

“Well, if he had been able to bring his family back to Spain, how on earth would we meet? You would be an aristocrat, moving in entirely different circles.”

Maya smiled at the idea but shook her head again.

“No?” Richard asked.

“I think we were destined to meet regardless of our personal circumstances. Kasi diba taga-Manila ka? Napadpad ka lang naman sa Mindoro dahil kay Kuya, diba?”

“Yes, we met through your brother. My godfather also lives on the island. So, the chances of us meeting would be high because we both live in the same country whereas if you were born and bred in Spain, the chances would be very slim.”

“But you said you travelled all over Europe while working for that British conglomerate. Did you not go to Spain?”

“Yes, I did but—”

“So, it is not impossible at all, Mr. Lim!” Maya declared emphatically.

Richard laughed while shaking his head. “This is one weird conversation we are having.”

Maya giggled at that.

“Ikaw kasi masyado kang cynical, eh! Basta ako ang alam ko, ikaw ang destiny ko.” Maya looked up at him with adoring doe-shaped eyes.

“And I should not argue with that.” Richard kissed her nose as he deftly took the scrunchie off her hair, making her shoulder length tresses tumble down her back. It had grown past shoulder length these past few months and Richard just loves looking at his wife with her glorious hair down.

Maya’s eyes rounded like saucers when she realised what her husband did.

Again!

Maya pursed her lips and instinctively reached for the scrunchie which Richard was dangling out of her reach. With narrowed eyes, Maya twisted herself as she anchored one knee on the sofa and braced one hand on his shoulder before reaching for the scrunchie again. Richard moved his hand but was distracted with Maya’s fuller bosom further exposed with her stretchy lace dress front pulled down when her body twisted. When Maya almost fell off the sofa, his free hand instinctively went round Maya’s waist.  The move overbalanced Maya and toppled over  him, rendering him on his back with Maya on top of him.

“Ha! I got it!” Maya triumphantly grabbed the scrunchie off his fingers.

Richard’s hands sensuously  skimmed over his wife’s back, loving the feel of her body against his.

“No,” Richard said when Maya would have tied her hair up again. He reached and took the scrunchie off her and then lovingly twined his fingers in her tresses.

Maya stilled when she realised that her husband’s eyes had taken on that sensual glint as he looked up at her.

“You are right sweetheart. I would have definitely pursued you even if I met you elsewhere,” he admitted in a  whisper.

Maya’s eyes likewise became sultry as she continued to look down at her handsome husband. Slowly, she took his glasses off and then she lowered her face until her lips almost touched his.

“And I would have definitely let myself be caught…” her voice trailed, her warm breath mingling with his.

Maya’s lids fluttered close as their lips melded. Richard’s hands held her head, angling her better to receive his kiss while the scrunchie and specs fell to the floor. These were followed by Maya’s lace dress and then her silky white bra. Laboured breathing competed with stifled moans and whimpers.  Then Richard’s discarded white shirt joined the pile. His pair of pants  with leather belt still in the waist loop dropped  with a thud followed by very soft swishes of undergarments being peeled away from their heated bodies…

The end

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s note:

To my dear readers
Again, thank you for your support and comments. Since July 2013,  I have enjoyed interacting with you, initially  through the Excess Baggage site, then in my own  wordpress blogsite and via facebook. In the next few months, I shall be tied up with many things so this blogsite will be quiet for a spell.

To my invaluable critical reviewers and proofreaders
I am truly indebted to Ms Alpha Grace, Ms Liza, and Ms Dianne. And I hope to continue working with you ladies in future projects.

God bless :)

Very truly yours
Cyndi Resti

Long-held Torch – Part 18

Author’s Note: Just when you thought that this series has ended, another chapter gets posted. Seriously,  this chapter was just supposed to be an epilogue but my Richard had other ideas. Before I realised it,  I was again typing up not just one but TWO erotic encounters!  He’s insatiable!

Again, thank you to Ms. Alpha Grace, Ms. Liza and Ms. Dianne for critiquing and proofreading this chapter!  Huwag po sana kayong magsawa :)

 

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The newlyweds honeymooned in an exclusive  island  resort in Palawan.  It was  a picturesque  tropical paradise  with pristine white sands and  a clear blue lagoon  that was protected by  a natural coral reef.  The island  had  large  two and three bedroom  family  accommodations, as well as private tropical cottages for couples. Theirs was located at the far end  of the resort, beside a small cascading waterfall that  gathers into a small rock pool attracting  a variety of   birds with bright plumage.  The complex offers guided hiking trips  wherein  visitors can appreciate the indigenous flora and fauna.  Guests  can also enjoy a variety of water sports including  scuba-diving and snorkelling  along the reef  to marvel at the underwater beauty that Palawaneros have been fighting to preserve.

 

On their first day, they took advantage of the  onsite spa service wherein massage tables  were set up  right on their  private veranda, which was facing  the small waterfall.  White  muslin  curtains were drawn across  both sides  to protect their privacy from prying eyes.  Richard and Maya had been treated to a traditional hilot using virgin coconut oil and chamomile extracts.  Falling asleep during the therapeutic massage, Maya was woken up by Richard’s feather-light  kisses on her derrière trailing towards the base of her spine.  When she protested, her husband throatily reassured her that the two mature lady masseuses have left and that they were completely alone.

 

Maya tried to evade his advances but Richard had her trapped underneath him while he explored her naked back. After being soothed by kneading hands to sleep, Richard’s touch was searingly hot in contrast.  She could only gasp as his lips trekked up her spine, moaning as his hands cupped her breasts from behind.  Maya closed her eyes while Richard nibbled at the back of her neck while his fingers teased her nipples turgid.

 

“You have other muscles requiring a  massage,” he informed her in his deep throaty voice while his right fingers slid down her back to caress her between her legs.

 

She gasped when  he unerringly found her hidden nubbin. Panting, Maya’s fingers dug into the cotton-lined mattress as sensory  waves of delight  crested and ebbed within her.  When his finger invaded her entrance, Maya released a guttural moan as she reached her orgasm, convulsing around his finger which continued to thrust to and fro.

 

“Spread your legs, sweetheart,” Richard huskily instructed after awhile.

 

In an erotic haze, Maya complied with his command. She could feel his erection sliding between her bottom globes before poising himself at her moist entrance.  Richard groaned behind her as her soft flesh snugly clung to his hard phallus, slowly  penetrating her from behind.

 

Biting her lower lip in an effort to stop herself from moaning loudly, Maya  lifted her head to turn and see her husband concentrating on his task as he started to rhythmically thrust in and out of her.  Feeling her eyes on him,  Richard gazed  hotly  at her while he undulated his hips making Maya squeeze her eyes  shut with the incredible pleasurable  feeling.

 

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh…!” was her helpless response to the new heightened sensations that she was being introduced to by her husband.  She could only moan as she could feel herself  climbing to reach another peak.  Chest heaving, Maya surrendered to her husband’s hedonistic  ministrations  and  felt something shatter within her quivering core.

 

After a moment, she could feel Richard halting his movements and detaching himself from her. Bemused, Maya lifted her head  and  saw that her husband was now standing by her side. He felt his arms around her, nudging her.   Maya thought that Richard wanted her off the massage table but he stopped her from stepping down. Instead,  he sat her down at the edge and positioned himself between her legs which he  hitched up and bent over his forearms on  either side. With her body wide open and well-angled, his male shaft re-invaded her very  slick core.

 

Maya’s arms automatically went round him as his  head lowered to capture her lips in another thought-obliterating  kiss.  When his lips lowered to nibble at her neck, Maya could only hold on to his well-muscled broad shoulders while his hard rod moved in and out of her like a piston.  Within the mist of  desire, part of  her brain registered that she can now take his entire length and  that she was greedily welcoming his every plunge.   Feeling  her husband’s hands grab her bottom while his pace  went faster and faster, Maya could feel herself reaching another orgasm.  Richard grunted as he undulated deeply into her as they climaxed together.  With her energy spent, Maya went limp against her husband’s heaving chest as she tried to catch her breath.  Releasing her legs, Richard’s arms went round her in a tight embrace.

 

“Maya?”

 

“Hmmmnnn?”

 

“Are you okay?”  Richard put a small space between them so he could look at her flushed face. “I’m sorry. ”

 

Maya blinked and tried to focus on Richard who had a worried frown across his sweaty brow.  Both of them were covered in fine dewy sheen due partly to the  hot  and humid environment.

 

“Sorry? Para saan?” she asked breathlessly, still trying to recover from the  ‘erotic massage’.

 

“I think I was a bit rough just now. I lost control,” he admitted sheepishly while his thumb  traced her kiss-bruised lips as he gently framed her face.

 

“Oh, don’t worry. I actually enjoy it when you lose control,” Maya admitted shyly, cheeks getting redder as she bit her lower lip.

 

Richard adoringly smiled down at her before rewarding her honesty with another torrid melding of lips.  After breaking the kiss, her husband scooped her up and Maya’s arms automatically went around his neck.  He carried her into the inner sanctum of their  cottage  where they remained for most of the day.

 

Their idyllic island sojourn would have been perfect until Richard took exception to an Italian  guest who was initially  trying to chat up his wife up in the resort’s souvenir shop.  Maya politely excused herself,  hinting  that her husband was waiting for her.  She thought that was the end of that pick-up attempt.  When the same guy turned up the next day beside her on the breakfast buffet and started following her  to their  table, Maya did not know what to do. That was when Richard saw her predicament and took over the situation. He took her plate off her and just wordlessly ushered her out of the dining hall. They ended up on the beach where Richard just shrugged off his polo shirt and dove into the sea to do several laps to cool his temper.

 

Maya merely watched him, admiring his free-style technique. Feeling his temper waning down,  he  made his way back to shallow water.  As his feet hit the sandy bottom, Richard hauled himself up to slowly walk towards Maya.  With cheeks flushing, Maya’s mouth went dry as she  watched the rivulets of water running down his rippling muscles.  While throwing her a lopsided smile, Richard  guessed what was running through her head.  He swooped down to capture her lips in another searingly hot kiss. Bemusedly, Maya can only respond while Richard pulled her up against his length to seduce her once more with kisses and caresses.

 

Inevitably, they ended up going back to their private cottage making love with abandon.  Maya could not believe Richard’s stamina.  They made love so many times a day that they rarely ventured  out of their room.  They hardly did anything else during their entire stay.

 

When they came back to Manila, Richard was once again tied up with his challenging role as CEO of  Lim Infrastructure, Inc.  Maya, on the other hand,  has been familiarising herself with Richard’s Ayala Alabang home and the immediate affluent community.  She would venture further to scour the nearby malls and  public market  to see what’s available.  To her delight, she found the nearby supermarket selling a good range of spices and ingredients. Hence, she  has been preparing different mouth-watering dishes for her husband who had started complaining of weight gain.

 

From midweek to Sundays or when Maya’s erratic schedule permits, they would usually stay in San Nicholas where  Richard had set up another office so he could work from home.  Then, they would unwind by walking on the beach  or  just lazing on the  loungers to catch up on reading. Frequently, they would just walk up to the dela Rosa home and invite themselves for lunch or dinner.  Sometimes, Richard and Maya would join Tata Igme’s  children when they go for deep sea fishing.  During harvest time,  they would also help out   in the fruit orchard where they indulged on  fruits in season.

 

Six months after  the  church wedding,  Richard  transferred  his corporate  headquarters  to  the  newly erected building  in the Ayala Alabang business district.  He told Maya that he did not have to waste time driving to work and can spend more leisurely breakfasts with his wife.   Same was the case in the afternoon, he did not have to contend with the afternoon rush hour. He would just drive out of the business district, turn into the gated residential area and be home in less than ten minutes.

 

However, he confessed to Maya that he had an ulterior motive. He said that what he really liked about the new building was that it had good road frontage where thousands of cars pass each day.  He deliberately  kept  the ground floor space vacant even though many  have been enquiring and asking for its lease conditions.  He had shown it to Maya and told her that it was the perfect location for her new travel agency.

 

With much encouragement from her husband, Maya finally took the risk  and  decided to  set up on her own, with Richard’s  help of course. So,  Maya  filed her resignation from Time Airways and was leaving the HR office after her exit interview when she was waylaid by James Ventura on the wide corridor of the ground floor level of  TA building.

 

“Maya!”

 

Maya turned on her wedged heel to see James, garbed in a business suit and tie,  quickly making his way towards her.

 

“Good thing, I caught you.” James exclaimed  as he reached out to hold her arm. “I was told you were resigning?”

 

“Yes, James. I am setting up a little business and I need time to concentrate on that.” Maya confirmed.

 

“I see.” James had disappointment on his face but there was acceptance there, too.

 

“Thank you for everything, James. Time Airways has been very good to me through the years.”  Maya held up her hand but James smilingly shook his head and enveloped her in a tight hug instead.

 

“Richard is a very lucky guy to have you,” James muttered as he released Maya to look down at her.

 

“James, you are a very nice guy, really.  There is someone out there for you. You just have to look for her.” Maya smiled up at him in earnest.

 

“That is easier said than done. But I have a better idea.”

 

Maya’s brows lifted in wordless query.

 

“I will just have you cloned,” James quipped with a chuckle.

 

Maya laughed at his far-fetched solution.

 

“Sige na, Maya. Mukhang naiinip na yung sundo mo,”  James said while he nodded his head in the direction of the front automatic glass doors. Beyond was a navy blue BMW  parked at the bottom of the concrete steps.

 

With a grin, Maya nodded and said her final farewell.  Then she pivoted to the direction of the waiting navy blue BMW.  Maya’s passenger door was opened by the doorman and she quickly climbed into the passenger seat.

 

“How was it?” Richard posed the question while he maneuvered the car to rejoin the  post-morning rush hour.  Even though  Richard had a very bland expression,  Maya knew that her husband  had seen what transpired inside.

 

“It was okay. I have nothing but favourable comments for my immediate managers and TA as a whole.  I know my last assessment was great. So, I think they will re-hire me if ever I do apply for a job again.”  She slightly turned  in her seat to look at Richard’s expression closely. “And you? Are you okay?”

 

She heard Richard expel his breath harshly.  “If you must know, then no.  I am not okay.”

 

Maya  saw the hot angry  blaze in Richard’s eyes before he looked away. His knuckle bones were showing as he gripped the steering wheel.

 

“What are you thinking?” Maya asked curiously.

 

“I am thinking of murdering  Ventura.”  Richard retorted  with a mirthless laugh. “Hence, I have been counting each second and driving away until my temper subsides.”

 

“Is it working?” Maya asked  with her head angled towards her husband.

 

Having attended anger management sessions with a counsellor, Richard has learnt some strategies on how to control his temper and recognise his triggers.

 

Richard wrinkled his nose.  “I prefer using humour.”

 

“Humour?” Maya blinked, unsure what Richard meant.

 

“Hmmmmnn. I am imagining him as an old condemned building that I have to knock down with a wrecking ball.  He was screaming like a girl  while I  crushed him bit by bit.  That was more satisfying,” he replied with feeling.

 

“Grabe ka!” Maya couldn’t help but laugh at his wicked expression. Then when her laughter subsided, she asked, ““Nagdududa ka ba sakin?”.

 

“Hell, no!” Richard immediately denied. “I just want Ventura living on the other side of the planet. That’s all.”

 

Maya giggled anew.

 

“Pinagtatawanan mo na naman ako” Richard complained, slightly shaking his head.

 

“Ang cute mo kasing magselos. Lalong naniningkit yung mga mata mo.” Maya’s eyes sparkled.

 

“I know.”  Richard winked at her.

 

“Conceited!”  Maya rebuked  him, her nose wrinkling at him.

 

“I am not conceited,” Richard corrected. “The right term is confident. I am simply confident of my attributes.”

 

Maya burst out laughing again. She was loving married life with Richard.  He had  little bouts of jealousy but he now has a better handle on them.

 

Life was wonderful.

 

There was only one snag.

 

Children.

 

Maya wants a child or two.  But Richard has been so scared to get her pregnant again that he has been vigilantly monitoring her ‘unsafe’ period since they got back together.  She had tried to discuss this with Richard but he was adamant that he will not risk her life again.  The last time she broached the subject with him, he just clammed up and ignored her for several hours.

 

Knowing that  Richard has been utilising the most unreliable contraceptive method, Maya just let things be. She was convinced she will get  pregnant sooner or later. It was really just a matter time.

 

When she did finally become pregnant, Maya was unsure how to break the news to Richard.  All day she tried discussing the subject with her husband but Richard always changed the topic.  In the end, she took out the pregnancy test  cartridge and wordlessly presented it to Richard when they were getting ready for bed.

 

“Since when have you known?” Richard asked quietly while gripping the cartridge between his fingers.

 

“Mga ilang araw na ‘kong nahihilo pero kanina lang ako nag-pregnancy test.” Maya answered truthfully as she eyed the nerve ticking at his temple.

 

“I-I  need a drink,”  Richard declared through gritted teeth as he hauled himself out of bed and out of the bedroom.

 

Maya tried to stay in bed so that Richard can have the time and space to get his head around the fact that they have created another baby. Half an hour passed  and Maya could not settle down.  With a huff, Maya got up and looked for her husband.

 

When she found him, Richard was at the bar off the main lounge. He was sitting on one of the chrome bar stools  in his pyjamas and plain white V-neck t-shirt.  His hair was slightly tousled, evidence that he had been agitatedly raking his fingers through them. In between his hands was a rock glass with a neat double-shot of Ardberg Galileo Scotch whisky. Maya has no idea how many drinks he has had but Maya wants Richard  sober if they were to talk sensibly about the baby.

 

Clad in a cotton night shirt that reached mid-thigh, Maya hugged him from behind and rested her head against his back. She just stayed in that position for a few minutes until Richard turned around and hugged her back so very tightly.

 

“Galit ka ba?”  Maya asked against his skin with her head tucked into his neck.

 

Maya felt Richard shake his head in negative, wordless response.

 

“Hindi ka ba natutuwa na magkaka-baby na tayo?” Maya asked as she eased slightly from his hold.

 

“You know very well that I have been trying to avoid this from happening.” Richard muttered unhappily.   “You almost died the last time. I don’t  think I can go through that ordeal again.”

 

Maya held his face between her palms so that they can look each other eye to eye.

 

“But we can minimise the risks. Dr. de Guzman said that miscarriage can be prevented  by  a  simple surgical procedure.”

 

“When did he say this?” Richard frowned down at her, his chinito eyes mere slits.

 

“Well, I have been in constant communication with him. I have been researching my condition and—”

 

“You have been talking to him behind my back?” Richard’s voice was slightly raised.

 

“Hindi, Mr. Lim,” Maya was tapping his right cheek lightly while she shook her head in denial of his accusation. “Ilang beses ko kayang sinubukan na  sabihin sayo pero dine-dedma mo ako! Nung huling beses nga, hindi mo ako kinausap ng ilang oras!”

 

Richard’s face became fierce with that reminder but Maya merely glared up at him, unwilling to give an inch. Then, Richard sighed and kissed her nose.

 

“You’re right, sweetheart.  I was being bull-headed about this.” His arms went round her again.

 

“Dr. de Guzman said that my cervix needed to be sutured as soon as pregnancy is confirmed. This will prevent it from opening before my due date. Then in the very early stages of labour, the sutures will be removed so I can give birth to our baby.”

 

Richard merely looked down at her with a lot of misgivings, fear evident in his eyes.

 

“Richard, we were blindsided when I first became pregnant.  This time it’s different, ” Maya said  coaxingly.  “We now know my condition and we know Dr. de Guzman can help us.”

 

“I don’t know, Maya…”

 

Maya pulled a deep sigh.

 

“Well, the other alternative is to abort the baby. Is that what you want Richard?” Maya  frowned up at him. She knew Richard was avoiding pregnancy but surely he would not seriously consider a termination, would he?

 

“What? Hell, no!” Richard quickly answered, horrified at the idea.

 

Maya’s face cleared with relief that termination did not even cross her husband’s mind.  She beamed at her husband and cradled his head between her hands.   Tiptoeing, she gave him a loud smack on the lips,  triumphant that  she was getting what she wants.

 

Nevertheless, the following months after the surgical procedure were not easy for Maya since her pregnancy proved to be a difficult one.  Firstly, her morning sickness did not lessen until the fifth month.  And she found certain smells that she liked previously would currently cause  nausea. Even Richard had to stop using his after shave cologne for it gives Maya a headache.

 

However, giving up the cologne was nothing compared to Richard moving out of their bedroom.  Dr. de Guzman had cautioned them to ease up on their  bedroom activities for Maya’s genetic condition makes every pregnancy a delicate one. He felt the need to give up his ‘husbandly rights’ to avoid endangering Maya and the baby.  Maya was initially upset at this ‘separation’ but she knew it was the wisest thing to do.

 

In all other aspects, Richard was very much present and supportive with her pregnancy.  He always cleared his calendar so he can accompany Maya for her prenatal check-ups  and ultrasound scans. Richard already had a collection of  black and white  print outs of their unborn baby gracing his home  office wall.  They have made countless  trips to the baby section of different department stores to purchase   furniture and  bed linens for the nursery.   Richard also made sure Maya’s cravings for different  dishes  be catered by Sabel and Manang Fe.  When she started hankering for fruits, Richard had different varieties airfreighted directly from far-flung provinces so that Maya can also eat the ones which  are out of season.

 

On her 39th week, Maya  had been feeling a dull ache  on her lower back. She was putting  back a file  into the filing drawer when she almost doubled-over  in pain from her lower abdomen.   At first she thought it was just another false contraction until she realised that she was feeling the sharp pain more frequently.  When she noted the time, she realised that she has been having contractions  every 20  minutes.

 

Even before Maya had a chance to call Richard,  her assistant  Minerva  took  it upon herself to notify Richard who was in the middle of  a  progress update meeting.   He had hastily excused himself,   muttering a family emergency before zooming down the elevator  to  where his wife was sitting down on a cushioned swivel chair and gripping the armrest as she gritted her teeth while another wave of contraction racked her swollen form.

 

“Sweetheart?”  Richard was peering down at her.

 

Maya wrinkled her nose  at Richard when the pain subsided. She smiled ruefully at Minerva who was openly watching her.   “Sabi ko na nga ba kaya mo pinagpilitang magtrabaho si Minerva sakin para bantayan ako. Huwag ka nang

mag-deny, Mr. Lim!”

 

Minerva has been working  for  the corporation for almost a year when she was assigned to assist Maya to set up  her travel agency.  At first, Maya argued that her business has just started and that she can not afford high overhead expenses. But her husband was adamant  that  she needed an office administrator to set up filing systems properly. So, she relented knowing she will not win when her husband was being bull-headed about  something.  Maya actually appreciated Minerva’s help and company.

 

“Guilty as charged, Mrs. Lim,” Richard readily admitted as he kissed her temple. “How are you feeling now?”

 

“Masakit pa rin ang likod ko. I think I am having labour pains.”

 

“Right,” Richard nodded. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

 

Richard did not wait for any verbal or nonverbal agreement from her.  The next second, Richard was scooping her out of the chair and carrying her out of the door while firing a series of instructions to Minerva including informing Dr. de Guzman of their pending arrival at the hospital.

 

One of the security staff at the ground floor level scrambled to press the lift button for the boss.  Maya smiled at the security guard named  Bugoy  who was constantly assisting her and Minerva, especially when shifting heavy furniture.  This  particular  security guard  was always  on duty during her business hours and does not seem to be on rotating shifts unlike the others.  Maya won’t be surprised to learn if he was specifically assigned to look after her as well.  Currently, he was accompanying them all the way to Richard’s BMW.

 

Due to the hospital’s proximity to Ayala Alabang, Maya was wheeled into the operating room very quickly.  Dr. de Guzman and his daughter,  another practicing obstetrician took out the sutures from Maya’s  cervix.  Then, they waited for her subsequent contractions and dilation. They waited and waited and waited.

 

Ironically, Maya’s contraction stopped.  When  the younger Dr. de Guzman checked her an hour later, she even joked that the baby changed his mind and decided to stay put.  Confused, Richard was frowning behind the mask he was wearing.

 

“Richard, I suggest you get out of that blue gown coz we will be taking Maya back to her private room,”  the  younger Dr. de Guzman addressed Richard.

 

“What’s happening?” Richard asked.

 

“Your wife’s contraction stopped, Richard. She won’t be giving birth just yet. Unless, you want her to be induced?” the older specialist responded.

 

“Is that advisable?”  Richard asked again.

 

The older specialist considered them both before answering. “Well, it is not yet necessary at this stage.  There is no sign for any foetal distress. Maya’s not yet overdue.  We can wait until she starts contractions again and then we will look at our options.”

 

With the baby safe and no sign of pushing out just yet, Maya insisted on going home.  Her specialist tandem advised that she stay overnight at the hospital just in case but Maya refused. She argued that she would be more comfortable going home and that she can easily return if  circumstances called for it.

 

Richard was very  quiet  when they got home.  They supped and got ready for bed and still,  he remained quiet.  Richard turned the bed covers for her and she slipped in. Richard gave her a peck on the temple and was turning away when Maya called him back.

 

“What is it?” Richard asked in concern.

 

“Can you not stay with me tonight?” Maya invited, missing her husband’s presence during bedtime.

 

“You know what will happen if I stay tonight, don’t you?” Richard’s deep voice went deeper.

 

Recognising his amorous regard, Maya’s cheeks went crimson in colour.

 

“I want you to hold me, Richard” Maya confessed her need.

 

Richard heard the plea in her voice and responded.  Without further prodding,  he slipped under the covers beside her and held her. Maya sighed with pleasure as she rested her head against his broad shoulder.

 

“I missed this,” Maya murmured against his chest that was starting to heave irregularly.

 

Richard groaned in response as he looked down at her. “I think I should go now.”

 

“Why?”

 

“You know why, sweetheart.  I can’t stay with you and not want to make love with you,”  Richard explained as if to a child.

 

“Then, why don’t  you?” she invited with a sultry voice.

 

“What?”  Richard looked down at her askance.

 

“Richard, the baby would have been considered full term if I had delivered a couple of weeks ago. Medyo naiinip na nga ako sa pagdating ng baby natin.” Maya’s voice lessened to a mere whisper. “Saka maraming reliable websites na nagsasabi na ‘lovemaking  naturally induces labour’.”

 

“Really?” Richard’s brow lifted.

 

“Yes, the mother is said to release oxytocin which causes the uterus to contract while the male partner releases prostaglandins which are substances similar to the medications used to soften the cervix when inducing labour,” Maya lectured in a no non-sense tone which belied the mischievous sparkle in her doe-shaped eyes.  She also remembered the argument against these claims but she chose not to mention them.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Positive,” Maya answered while seductively draping her arms around her husband who needed no further encouragement.  “Turn off the light, sweetheart.”

 

“No, I want to see you,”  Richard refused to turn off the lampshade that was illuminating them with an intimate low-key glow.  He started unbuttoning the front of her cotton night gown to release her breasts which had become fuller in the last few months. “Very soon, I will have to share these with our son, so I will just have to take my fill while they are still exclusively mine.”

 

With their eyes not breaking contact, Richard lowered his head to her breasts and captured one enlarged  nipple which he gently laved and suckled before ravenously taking it into his mouth.

 

“Ooooh…” Maya panted as she felt herself getting wet at the juncture between her thighs.  Dazedly, she could only tug at his white  shirt which was preventing her from caressing his skin.

 

When he had thoroughly paid attention to her twin globes, Richard took pity on her and removed his white cotton V-neck shirt. Maya eagerly let her fingers roam over his muscled chest, kissing and nibbling his warm skin as she explored.  When she started tugging at the waistband of his pyjamas, Richard captured her hands.

 

“Not this time, sweetheart. Or I will be spent before we reach the main event.” Richard laughed at her disappointed expression before bestowing  another searing hot kiss. His lips lowered to her shoulder while he peeled off her nightgown.   Maya protested when her stomach was getting exposed. “What’s the matter?”

 

“Huwag mo n’akong  tingnan,” was Maya’s embarrassed whisper.

 

“Maya, you invited this…”

 

“Oo nga pero…”

 

“Walang pero-pero,” Richard declared. “I want to see my wife.”

 

“Baka ma-turn off ka…” Maya frowned as her husband fully peeled off her nightgown, leaving her smooth rotund stomach bare.

 

Reverently, Richard’s hands gently explored her naked belly, kissing her by her largest girth at midline as he had done countless times before.

 

“Do you have any idea what it does to me seeing you like this, pregnant with my child?” he whispered as he looked up at her. “The feeling is indescribable.”

 

“Hindi ka turned-off?” Maya asked again. In all her years, she had always seen men admiring sexy or svelte  women. But here was her husband confessing to the contrary.

 

Richard straightened to smile sexily down at her. In response, he took her hands to feel his raging hard-on.

 

“Oh!” Maya’s eyes rounded in wonder.

 

“I think that adequately answers your question, Mrs. Lim.  I am definitely lusting over my pregnant wife.”

 

Maya giggled at his leering expression.

 

“Pinagtatawanan mo na naman ako, hmmmm? Lagot ka sakin!” he declared before kissing her senseless that left her gasping for breath when he finally released her full lips.  Richard reacquainted himself once more with her naked body, exploring and kissing her every inch until he reached the junction between her thighs. Maya gasped as he felt his  lips ‘tasting’ her once more, evoking waves of pleasure cresting within her within minutes.

 

“Ohhhh, Richaaaaaaaard!” Maya screamed, unable to stop herself as she  reached the peak of sexual ecstasy.

 

Pleased with himself, Richard slowly removed his pyjama bottoms while he surveyed his effect on his wife. Slowly, he slid behind Maya who was still experiencing the aftermath of her first climax. Sweeping aside her shoulder-length tresses to expose the  back arch of her neck, Richard started nuzzling and nibbling her nape  and shoulders. From behind, his hands reclaimed her full breasts and played with her nipples.

 

Half-lying on her left side, Maya could feel her husband’s hard shaft  grazing between her bottom globes. While one of his legs slid and wedged  between hers, his hard body heat seared her back. Then,  Richard lifted her right leg and was slipping his erection  into her feminine core.

 

“Guide me in,” he commanded in dulcet tones.

 

Maya’s hands automatically went to his hard shaft to correct his angle so that his blunt head would rest at her moist entrance.  With a moan,  she felt him thrusting and penetrating her soft heat. Maya felt tears at the corners of her eyes at the sheer pleasure of finally joining with him after several months. She had missed this physical side of their marriage. She did not realise how much until that very moment of  blissful union.

 

Richard, for his part, was gritting his teeth as he fought for control.  Beads of perspiration gathered at his temples as he tried to concentrate on rhythmically thrusting to bring Maya into another climax.  His teeth grazed her dewy  skin as he buried his head into her neck. Deliberately, he removed his right  hand from  her leg  to travel up her front to caress her slick center, invading her  labia to tease her already swollen nubbin.

 

“Ooooooooh, Richard!” Maya  gasped  at this double stimulation with Richard stroking within and outside her feminine core. Arching her neck against Richard, her husband hotly licked behind her ear.  Groaning, Maya’s hand  reached for his jaw so that she could kiss him with all the passion that she was feeling at that very moment.

 

Maya could feel herself moving back and forth  to meet his thrusts halfway while feeling the pleasure cresting once more.  Maya licked her lips as sensations gripped her entire being. From her perspective, the physical side of marriage was only heightening at each encounter as Richard peeled away her inhibitions layer by layer.

 

Maya closed her eyes while she could feel herself reaching higher and higher into the heavens until she burst into a million blazing stars. Unaware, Maya’s core gripped  Richard who helplessly convulsed  and spilled his seed  within her.  Behind her,  Richard’s muted harsh grunt barely impinged on her consciousness as she slowly came down to earth.

 

“I love you, Maya.” her husband whispered as he gave her another searingly hot kiss before collapsing  beside her in a tangle of legs and arms.

 

“I love you, Richard,”  she responded drowsily as exhaustion took over their sated bodies.

 

Early next morning, Maya woke up wanting to go to the toilet.  She smiled as she recognised the heavy weight of her husband’s arm on her swollen abdomen  while his left leg was draped over both of hers. When she tried to dislodge him, Richard sleepily groaned in protest and refused to let go. Maya almost giggled at this unconscious display of  possessiveness. Unfortunately, her bladder was so full making it  a major effort to stop herself from voiding.

 

“Richard, I need to get up,” Maya shook his upper arm.

 

Richard sleepily released Maya and then resettled back beside her. Maya slid out of the blanket to realise that she was still naked.  She tried to look for her night gown but it was nowhere in sight.  Sighing, she silently crossed the carpeted floor to the ensuite bathroom. After emptying her bladder, she reached for her waffle robe hanging behind the door.   She was firmly tying the belt around her when she gasped at the intense pain radiating from her lower abdomen. When the pain subsided she slowly walked back to bed and noted the time. Ten minutes later, another contraction racked her form as she sat at the edge of the bed. Less than ten minutes passed, pain gripped her once more.

 

Catching her breath, Maya reached over to nudge Richard awake. Her husband merely groaned in protest and shifted to sleeping on his back. Since Richard rarely sleeps  without a shirt, seeing his bare wide chest and broad shoulders was enough to distract her despite her condition. Maya laughed self-deprecatingly for having ‘the hots’ for her sleeping husband just as she was about to give birth.

 

“Sweetheart?” Richard asked sleepily.

 

“Richard, get up please,” Maya muttered “we need to go back to the hospital.”

 

“Huh?”  His eyes clouded with sleep, Richard tried to focus on Maya. When Maya suddenly gasped in pain, Richard’s eyes finally became alert. Throwing the blanket off him, he jacknifed out of bed  and proceeded to scoop Maya with the intention of carrying her out of the bedroom.

 

“Sweetheart,” Maya shook his shoulders urgently. “You’re  butt-naked!”

 

“Bloody  hell!” Richard groaned realising that he was not wearing a stitch of clothing for he just spent the night making love to his wife. He paused by the bedroom door and put Maya on her feet. “Just hang in there for a sec, sweetheart.”

 

Maya could not help but giggle at the farcical situation, especially when Richard could only find his pyjama bottoms.  Giving up on finding his boxer shorts and white shirt, Richard just shoved his long legs into his pyjamas before pivoting back to where she was standing trying to contain her mirth.

 

Feeling the need to hold and comfort Maya, Richard woke up Joma to drive them to the hospital. With the periodic contractions intensifying, Maya barely noticed that they caused a stir when they came through the hospital doors. The female staff on graveyard shift certainly appreciated seeing a half-naked wide-chested good looking chinito briskly walking along the corridors at four in the  morning. Richard was raising female pulse rates without even realising it.

 

Maya was quickly assessed and transferred to one of the  operating rooms  of the  birthing centre  where she was dressed in a light blue hospital gown and attached to different monitors.  When Richard rejoined her, she noticed that he was dressed in asimilar hospital gown.

 

“That’s more like it, Mr. Lim.  Much as I like eyecandies, I can’t have you hovering around half-naked and causing palpitations among my nurses.  Not a safe way to practice!” the senior female middle-aged nurse joked while  eyeing the  younger nurses who were attaching a fetal monitor to  their baby.  Laughter rang in the room, including Maya’s.

 

“Pinagtatawanan mo na naman ako,” Richard chided Maya in an undertone.

 

“Sabihin ko kaya sa kanila na muntik ka nang makarating dito ng hubo’t hubad?” Maya whispered her mock threat.

 

“Then I will tell them that you seduced and took advantage of me.”

 

With eyes widening like saucers, Maya gasped at his retaliating remark and then broke again into giggles.  However, her giggle was cut short when another contraction gripped her very intensely.

 

“Sobrang sakit nun, ha!” Maya complained. “Nurse, nagbabago na yata ako ng isip. Gusto ko na ng epidural.”

 

Maya had actually wanted  an all-natural birth and intimated this to her specialist tandem who  verbalised to accommodate her wants as long as everything went well. Now, she is changing her mind.  Each painful contraction was draining her strength. She was afraid that she may get too weak when it was time to push.

 

The senior nurse went to stand by her bedside and considered her readings. “Hmmnnn, I don’t think that will be possible at this late stage, Mrs. Lim. But I will inform Dr. de Guzman of your request.”

 

Later, Maya groaned when told by her specialists that epidural can not be administered as she was already having strong contractions frequently. It was explained to her that it was no longer safe for the anaesthetist to administer the drug to the base of her spine.  However, the younger Dr. de Guzman offered to give a local pain killer via intramuscular injection when required.

 

“But we shall see how we go, hmnn?” the younger Dr. de Guzman said.

 

In the meantime, she was given a nitrous oxide mask, commonly called laughing gas, for pain relief as they waited for Maya’s cervix to fully dilate.  When full dilation was reached,  Maya threw away the plastic mask as it was just irritating her and providing no comfort whatsoever.

 

“Sweetheart, you need to put this back on…” Richard suggested after picking up the mask.

 

“It’s useless!” Maya growled at Richard who quickly set aside the offending contraption.

 

Maya gasped again and gnashed her teeth as another intense  painful wave swept through her. While the elder Dr. de Guzman  took a back seat in the procedure, the younger specialist  acted as lead doctor.  Positioned between Maya’s braced legs, she took charge of the delivery,  coaching Maya to push at each contraction.  Maya was almost passing out with the pain especially when she was crowning.  For pain relief, one of the assisting nurses injected  Pethidine  into her thigh but she did not even feel the 1.5 inch  needle due to the agonising pain which now concentrated on her birth canal.

 

Gripping Richard’s arm at each contraction, Maya was literally cutting the blood flow to her husband’s extremities.  Red and blue blood vessels were showing at her throat as she pushed with all her might.  At the back of her head, Maya was worried that their baby might get stuck in her birth canal and be deprived of oxygen.  But try as she might,  she could not push  hard enough.

 

Muttering a silent prayer, Maya pleaded to the  Lord Almighty to protect her baby.  With a shrill grunt, she gathered  her strength and bore down. She felt the baby’s head coming through with the rest of the body coming a second later. Maya anxiously waited until she heard their baby’s lusty cry before she closed her eyes in exhaustion.

 

“Sweetheart, he’s here.”  Richard whispered a few minutes later.

 

Maya reopened her eyes to focus on the bundle he was carrying. With his chinito eyes, pink lips and very fair complexion, their son was like a little replica of his father.   And judging from his father’s beaming expression, he was very well aware of that fact.

 

In the next few minutes, Maya and their baby was prepared for transfer to their private room.  Richard could only marvel at the little miracle swaddled in a  blue wrap and tucked neatly in a little transparent rectangular  bassinet.

 

“You did very well, sweetheart,”  her husband complimented, admiration in his voice as his eyes glinted down at his wife.

 

In response, Maya smiled tiredly but her eyes rounded when her husband’s head kept on coming down until his lips captured her in a  light  lingering kiss. In the background, someone started coughing and muttering that husbands need to leave their wives alone after giving birth.

 

However, Richard and Maya were oblivious to the teasing remark. They were wordlessly communicating their love for each other.  Each secure that the feeling is reciprocated.  For years, they have been bonded with invisible strings that have stretched and lengthened when they led lives physically separate from the other.  Yet the invisible strings were never severed for they found themselves pulled together with memories that won’t fade and feelings that refused to die.

 

Happiness and contentment finally came when they purposely wove one’s life with the other. Blessed with this  newest family member, their  union  is  filled with hope for the future. With their mutual love and devotion,  their interwoven lives promise a journey that has been destined to go the distance.

 

Epilogue (na talaga) to follow…

Long-held Torch – Part 17

Author’s note:  Thank you very much to Ms. Alpha Grace, Ms. Liza and Ms. Dianne for their time and patience in going over my drafts prior to publishing.   To my dear patient and impatient avid readers, thank you for accompanying me in this journey which is now ending. Sad to say, this will be the final chapter to my LHT series. But don’t fret, I can still see an epilogue or two for my protagonists.

________________________

 

Richard tipped the last gulp of  the tan-coloured liquid to the back of his throat. He was sitting on the ground,  his back propped against the round daybed. He was surrounded by several dozens of empty bottles of  scotch, gin, and palm wine or tuba.

 

Richard had brought a dozen of his favourite single-malt scotch whiskey  with him when he arrived in San Nicholas over a week ago.  He also gave strict instructions to Tata Igme  not  to  tell anyone who would  be enquiring that he was in the villa.  He also told Tata Igme  that he wanted to be alone  and that interference from  him, Nana Benita, or any of his offsprings,  would  definitely earn his ire. He had  planned to drink himself to oblivion without interruption.  Quickly, he  went  through the  bottles he brought   including the existing variety of liquor he already had at the villa.  When those ran out, he tried to climb back into his BMW so he could drive to the nearest liquor shop to buy more alcohol.

 

However, Tata Igme intercepted his progress and insisted that he make the trip in his stead. Richard suspected that the old caretaker just did not want him to drive roaring drunk. The old man probably thought he might have an accident on the road and hurt somebody or himself.

 

Richard smirked at the thought. The idea had merit. Who knows?  He just might have a car accident and end up dying in a ditch somewhere.   That would put a sudden end to his agony of losing Maya and their baby…

 

Their baby.

 

He never  even had the chance to savour the news that he was going to be  a father.  All he could remember was Maya writhing in pain while miscarrying their baby!  There was so much blood! It was no wonder she almost died!

 

If that had happened, then he would have a death wish for himself.

 

Richard smirked again. He still had a death wish.  Tata Igme’s trying to prevent any harm  by not allowing him to drive.  Richard reckoned that the old man likely never heard of the fact that  one can actually die of excessive  drinking.  And he was not thinking of  the slow kind of death due to alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis either.

 

Definitely not!

 

With overwhelming self-hatred, he had been drinking hard and fast, downing one bottle after another. And he was definitely roaring drunk! He had been for days.

 

At first, Richard looked dubiously at the bottles of liquor  that Tata Igme bought from the local market.   Half of them were the Dutch-type gin  more popularly known as ‘Markang Demonyo’  due to  its  trademark  label designed by Amorsolo,  depicting   the devil being vanquished by St. Michael.   The other half were tan-coloured tuba produced locally in San Nicholas.  Richard did not bother to count  how many the old man bought.  He did not care.  All he cared about was that he can continue drinking.

 

When Richard started dinking the gin and the tuba, he could not properly taste them.  He may have been too drunk for his gustatory sense to work but he could certainly appreciate being kept in an inebriated state.  For only then could  he  cope with the pain.

 

When Maya told him to stay away,  the pain  he felt matched a physical blow.  Mentally and emotionally staggering, he went behind the wheel and just drove his car without a destination in mind.  The BMW’s odometre  was just clocking kilometre after kilometre after kilometre until he ended up at the Batangas port.  He looked over the wavy horizon to see the island in the distance and decided to cross.

 

However, it was a mistake to come to the villa for visions of Maya constantly plagued his drunken consciousness. All he could see was Maya everywhere. He  could see her  checking the kitchen  pantry,  tracing the hand-sculpted mural of the dining room, lying half-clothed on the daybed in the alcove,  relaxing in the spa bath in the ensuite,  lying asleep on his four-poster  bed…

 

He had slumped on his four-poster bed and could smell Maya’s faint scent on his pillow which he hugged as he fell asleep. When he woke up the next day, he spied a piece of cloth wedged between the mattress and the headboard. He pulled the cloth and realised that it was Maya’s beige singlet.

 

His fingers  reverently traced the small white bow at the laced neckline. He lifted  the singlet and  rubbed it against his cheek. The piece of clothing  was very soft and feminine.

 

Like its owner.

 

And like a lovesick fool, he carried it around the house 24/7.  It was a poor alternative for he really wanted to see and hold its owner.  But he knew  that Maya did  not want to see him anymore. Not after what he had done.

 

Can you blame her?

 

No. Maya has all the right in the world to hate him.   Even Richard hated himself at that very moment.  While Maya has the option to not see him, he had no choice but to live with himself and what he did to her.

 

But you are now taking comfort  from  alcohol.

 

Richard ignored the silent rebuke and reached for the bottle of tuba. He tipped its very last drop to the back of his throat before placing it on the ground where it joined the other empty bottles. He tried to get up but failed miserably. He ended up falling and jarring his right elbow in the process as it took the impact of his weight. After a minute of trying to catch his breath, he managed to flip himself so he was lying on his back.

 

He lifted his lids and saw that he ended by the foot of the statue. Even Señora La Rosa’s shy smile was gone. Instead, she was looking disapprovingly down at him.

 

“Pati ba naman kayo galit din sa  ‘kin?”  he asked the inanimate object. Then he started laughing at himself for trying to make conversation with the sculpture.  He lost Maya. He lost their baby. Now, he is in danger of losing his mind as well!

 

When his laughter died, he just stayed where he was. Richard was too drunk to care that he will likely spend the night on the cobbled ground of the alcove.  Who knows? The night time temperature  may drop low enough  to give him hypothermia.  It was a long shot but his death wish may be granted this way.

 

Then suddenly a very bright light was blazing down at him. It momentarily blinded him  while  excruciating pain shot  through his head.  Someone opened the spotlight in the alcove.

 

“Arrgggh!  Shit! Turn off the bloody lights!” Richard let out a string of profanities      from where he was lying.

 

Involuntarily, he lifted his hand and covered his eyes with Maya’s singlet. He smiled for he could smell her body scent from the piece of clothing. He was fine where he was and wished the busybody who  had the temerity to disturb him be gone.

 

Instead, the busybody was shaking his shoulder!

 

A frown appeared between his closed lids. The busybody was forcefully pulling the singlet from his hand! Then he was being shaken again and it was causing the tiny little hammers to bang in his head! Richard pried his bloodshot eyes open to glare up at whoever had the audacity to disturb him!

 

“Not again! Can you not leave me alone?” he groaned as he saw Maya peering down at him. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing for the vision to vanish. Then he was being shaken again and he automatically grabbed the cause. He tugged the singlet off the offending hand and opened his eyes once more.

 

Richard could still see Maya hovering above him. Slowly, Richard extended his arm so that his fingers can lightly stroke her smooth cheek. Richard could feel the warm skin and knew that Maya was indeed physically with him.

 

Dumbstruck, all he could do was follow her with his eyes as she stood up and started walking away from him. He wanted to quickly get up to follow her but he was suddenly suffering from vertigo. So he had to move painstakingly slow.  He could hear her instructing him to clean up while he just looked on. She was also  calling his name repeatedly.

 

“Richard?”

 

“Yeah, I will. Just give me a second. Everything’s spinning.”

 

Richard groaned in pain as he got up. Nursing his head between his hands, he made very slow progress towards the ensuite bathroom, groping along furniture and walls as he went.  With slightly shaking hand, he picked up his electric razor to shave several days of facial hair.  He let loose a stream of obscene epithet as he stepped naked underneath the very cold shower. He quickly adjusted the temperature and just stood under the cascading lukewarm  water for several minutes.  He could feel the alcohol effect slowly dissipating while his brain grappled with  Maya’s presence in his villa.

 

Maya’s here!

 

Richard could not believe it.  He does not know why she came but he can’t  help but feel hopeful that all is not lost.

 

With pain shooting through his head at every slight movement, he took amuch longer time  to make himself presentable.  As he combed his hair, Richard noted that he needed a haircut. Despite his splitting headache, Richard determinedly went out of the bedroom to look for Maya.

 

A deep frown  wrinkled his brow when  he saw that Maya was not in the kitchen.  He recalled Maya stating  that she was going to prepare a meal. But where was she?

 

With unhurried steps, Richard walked into the family room area and surveyed that everything was untouched.  Still unsteady on his feet, he went from one room to another until he found himself back in the alcove.  Confused, he sat down on the round daybed.

 

Did he just imagine her?  But his vision of her was so vividly real! And he touched her face and felt her warmth!

 

Yet the fact remained that she was not here. If this was a joke, it was a very cruel joke. Richard’s shoulders started to shake as he laughed because the  joke was certainly  on him.

 

Now, you have definitely lost your mind!

 

With that silent taunt, self-pity gradually took over while his eyes smarted with tears that gathered and fell down his cheeks. Then his self-jeering laughter turned to subdued sobs  as the enormity of all that  he has done came flooding back.

 

He  lost Maya!  He killed their baby!

 

Then he went very still when he felt arms going round him.  His breath caught as he  heard her voice. Maya’s voice!  Maya’s here for real!

 

Richard lifted his head and saw Maya’s face so close to his own.  He tried to focus until he could clearly see the golden flecks of her light brown eyes.

 

“Richard, what’s wrong?”  she asked.

 

In response, Richard’s hand reached to touch her smooth warm cheek. Maya was sitting beside him on the daybed. He did not imagine her afterall! He wanted to enfold her in his arms but he dared not. Richard knew very well that he has forfeited that right.

 

“Richard?”

 

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he replied quietly as he withdrew his hand. Then, he frowned at her “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in the hospital?”

 

Maya smiled wryly at him while she wiped his tears with her fingers. “Nagpa-discharge ako.”

 

“You what!??!” Richard agitatedly combed his fingers through his hair. “Well, you will just have to be re-admitted! What  on earth was Dr. de Guzman thinking?  He shouldn’t  have—”

 

“Richard—!”

 

“—let you go!” he continued as if Maya never spoke. “You could bleed again!  You could—!

 

“Kalma, Richard, kalma!” Maya’s voice was raised to be heard.

 

“die…” Richard finished lamely. His eyes closed as he recalled  the horrible days he spent helplessly watching Maya  remain in critical health, not knowing whether she will survive or not.

 

“Richard, magaling na  ‘ko. Dapat nga nagpa-discharge ako nung isang araw pa. Pwede naman akong magpagaling sa bahay.”

 

Richard was very still while watching  the different play of  emotions on Maya’s face.

 

“Kaya ka ba nandito sa San Nicholas?” Richard probed.

 

“Nandito ako dahil nag-aalala na sa  ‘yo ang Mama mo dahil hindi mo sinasagot ang phone mo.  Kahit yung sekretarya mo hindi ka rin ma-contact. Meron kang problema sa tunnel site,” Maya lengthily informed.

 

“I see,” Richard frowned as his hopes were dashed. In agitation,  he stood up so that he could put a distance between himself and Maya before he breaks down again.

 

“Richard…I—”

 

After a couple of unsteady steps, he stopped in his tracks  to hear her very soft voice.

 

“I’m sorry…” Maya whispered.

 

His breathing constricted with pain while he pivoted jerkily to face her. “What did you say ?” he asked incredulously.

 

“I said I’m sorry,” Maya reiterated softly as she stood up.

 

“What on earth for? You have nothing to apologise for! It was I who screwed everything up! I killed  our baby! I almost killed you!” Richard cried brokenly, the emotional surge draining all the strength in his legs as he slowly sank down to his knees while he gave in to the tears. He would have totally collapsed on the floor had he not held out his arms and hands to stop his total fall.

 

“Oh, Richard!” Maya’s voice broke as she hurriedly closed the gap between them to touch his shoulder.

 

Like a drowning man who suddenly finds something  to cling to, Richard’s  upper body heaved while his arms went round Maya’s middle, his face pressed against her upper torso. His body was shaking like a leaf  while tears continuously streamed down his cheeks.

 

“I killed our baby…I almost killed you…” he repeated in between sobs.

 

Richard felt Maya’s arms go round him and he tightened his embrace in response.

 

“I killed our baby…” Richard chanted  the self-condemning  words.

 

“No Richard…”

 

For several long minutes, nothing could be heard but their combined sobs of grief for their ill-fated baby.   In comfort, Maya held him until his loud sobs subsided to silent streams of tears.

 

“Richard, listen to me—” Maya began when she got some semblance of control.

 

“I killed our baby…” Richard repeated while he continued to drown in grief.

 

“Richard—”

 

“I killed our baby…”

 

Richard heard Maya pull a deep sigh. Then, he felt her sliding down against him until she was also down on her knees.

 

“Richard, look at me,” Maya raised her voice an octave higher as she captured his face in her hands. “I know I blamed you for our baby’s death—”

 

“But I am to blame—”

 

“No, you are not!” Maya argued  “Dr. de Guzman explained that I have this genetic  condition—”

 

“I have been told of the medical reason, Maya.” Richard said in unsteady voice “but the fact remains that I raped—”

 

Richard was unable to say the rest of his sentence for Maya had quickly placed her fingers over his lips.

 

“Don’t say that word!” Maya was shaking her head at him. “I refuse to call what happened as that!”

 

With eyes hazy with tears, Richard looked down at her upturned face. He noticed that she still appeared a bit pale. And she was much thinner than before.

 

“You rejected my advances but I still went ahead and—Oh, God!”  Richard cried in shame. “I am so sorry, Maya.”

 

Richard squeezed his eyes shut as he recalled what he has done to Maya in a fit of jealousy. His hands went to viciously run his fingers through his hair.

 

“I was not rejecting you, ” Maya denied swiftly while angling his face to get his attention once more. “Sobrang sama na kasi ng pakiramdam ko nung  nasa trabaho pa lang ako. I was already having very painful cramps before you arrived.  Dr. de Guzman said that I was already in the early stages of miscarriage that afternoon which I did not realise at the time. Dapat sinabi ko kaagad sa  ‘yo kung ano yung nararamdaman ko.”

 

Richard just peered  down at her, searching her doe-shaped eyes. He was trying to gauge her emotional disposition. More importantly, he was looking for signs of her anger. He found none.

 

“I know I blamed you, Richard. And that was not fair! Because  I would have miscarried our baby regardless of what happened that afternoon.”

 

Silence stretched between them until Richard finally spoke again.

 

“Do you really believe that, Maya?” Richard’s breathing was constricted while he suppressed the feeling of hope that was beginning to spring within him.

 

“I don’t just believe it, I know it.” Maya replied with quiet conviction as they looked each other eye to eye.

 

Richard pressed his lips together while tears flowed again, speechless for a moment. He was overwhelmed with the strength of the woman holding him. It was now Maya who was trying to protect his emotional well-being by trying to exonerate him of his sins.

 

“I wish I could believe that as well…” Richard’s voice trailed.

 

“But you should. The facts speak for themselves, Richard.” Maya’s fingers lightly caressed his jaw.

 

“Facts. I know for a fact that I behaved like a lunatic that day.” Richard pulled another shaky breath while his hands went to her shoulders. “For what it’s worth, I deeply regret what I did to you.  My only excuse was that I could not see  your predicament. What I saw was that you were rejecting me in favour of Ventura.  Sa sobrang selos hindi na ako nakapag-isip ng matino.”

 

Maya lifted her eyebrows in surprise. “Nagselos ka kay James? Pero bakit?”

 

“You know why.” Richard bit out.

 

Maya slowly shook her head. “You tell me.”

 

Richard sighed and tried to express his viewpoint. It was the least he could do.

 

“Alam ko magkaibigan kayo,” Richard’s left land gesticulated. “But  it really gets to me the way you talk to him on the phone, the way you smile or laugh at things that he say.”

 

Maya was slightly frowning as she just kept quiet while she tried to comprehend what he was saying.

 

“He wants you to be more than friends. I know,” Richard paused for emphasis. “I have seen him visit you in San Nicholas.  And given a chance, he will try to take you away from me.”

 

“But that’s crazy,” Maya interjected in disbelief.

 

“Maya, lalake din ako.”  Richard’s lips tightened as he recalled the other man’s measuring look as they sized each other up  when he took Maya to work one very late afternoon. “Ventura knew we were in a relationship but he still took you home.  He knew very well it will cause problems. That’s why he did it.  And stupid fool that I was, I reacted very badly.”

 

“I am not sure if James is still interested but I am definitely not interested in him. I don’t know how you can think that I want James when I am with you.”  Maya frowned as she stood up to put  a small distance between them. “Ganun ba talaga ang tingin mo sa ‘kin?”

 

Richard closed his eyes for a moment, recognizing the pain in her last statement.  the last thing  he wanted was to cause her  more pain. Gritting his teeth, he stood up with renewed determination.  He took a few unsteady steps towards her so that he could see her eyes as he bared his soul once more.

 

“Wala sa  ‘yo ang problema, Maya. Nasa akin” Richard admitted  while taking her right hand in both of his. “For a very long time, I carried a torch for you. And  I have long-held that torch  as I waited on the sidelines.  I told myself that someday you will ‘see’ me other than just your older brother’s bestfriend.  When it finally happened and you said that you felt the same way, I was ecstatic. But at the same time, part of me could not believe it.”

 

Richard took another small step so that his face was about an inch from hers.

 

“Do you know why I kept on making love to you?” he whispered throatily as he looked into her doe-shaped eyes.

 

With a light widening of her eyes, Maya blushed so becomingly, unable to verbally respond.

 

“Aside from the obvious reasons,” Richard smiled lopsidedly down at her. “I get reassured that we are together, when we are physically joined. In those intimate moments, I feel secure.”

 

“Secure?”

 

Richard nodded  as he read the bewilderment written all over Maya’s face. Her full lips were slightly parted and Richard wanted to claim them once more.

 

“Because I have this fear that I will lose you,” he confessed instead. “I know it’s crazy. I can’t explain it. But the fear is real.  And  it held me in its grip while you were inside the ICU.  When you pulled through, I could breathe again.  I told myself  that I will accept whatever the consequences knowing that you are alive.”

 

Richard paused while he squeezed his lids shut to keep the tears at bay as he relived the nightmare.  “And then you told me to stay away.  I knew I deserved it but found your rejection very painful like a punch in the gut.   I accepted your decision.   But I also knew that my worst fear became reality. I have lost you.”

 

“But you haven’t lost me. I am right here with you, Richard.” Her hands were once more holding his face.

 

Richard was speechless for a moment, seeing the truth in her eyes.

 

“Hindi mo ba narinig ‘yung sinabi ko?”  Maya questioned.

 

“Are you sure?” Richard was trying to suppress the elation that he was feeling. “Are you not freaked out about how I feel?”

 

Biting her lower inner lip, Maya digested his revelations for a moment.

 

“I think I’ve always known you were intense. That kiss on the beach many years ago told me many things which I did not fully understand at that time. I think you ‘did’ freak me out but I was very young then.” Maya admitted with a short laugh. “Well, I’m no longer that naïve 17-year-old, Richard.”

 

Richard merely listened and watched her expressive features brighten with her smile. He saw her lick her lips which made him want to kiss her more.

 

“I’ve seen so many people go in and out of relationships so fast, they make my head spin. And I know that is not for me.” Maya  stated. “Ang gusto ko yung taong kayang suklian ang pagmamahal at katapatan ko.  Alam ko ikaw yun.”

 

“Are you saying that you still want to be with me? After what I have done?” Richard’s voice was getting throatier with increasing hope.

 

“Richard, I have known you all my life. Hindi ka masamang tao. Minsan naman talaga nakakagawa tayo ng hindi maganda pero hindi ibig sabihin nuon napakasama mo nang tao.”

 

“I behaved very badly, ”  Richard insisted while he shook his head. “I know I have a terrible temper.   I’m infamous for it, after all.”

 

“And this acknowledgement  is very important because acceptance  starts the road for change.”  Maya countered.

 

“Why are you so understanding?” Richard slightly frowned at her, clearly seeing  the maturity and  wisdom in the young woman in front of him.

 

“Naiintindihan ko kasi. Kahit man ako siguro, magwawala kapag nakita kitang may kasamang ibang babae.  Ay teka,” Maya smiled sheepishly up at him.  “Nagwala na nga pala ako minsan! So, pareho lang talaga tayo.”

 

“No, it’s not the same. I was  furious and going insane with jealousy and insecurity,” Richard muttered wryly. “ But I should never have taken it out on ‘you’,  the person that I should be protecting the most.  I really need to learn how to control this temper.”

 

Maya nodded in agreement.

 

“If I have to get professional help, then I will.” Richard’s lips tightened in serious  determination.

 

“Talaga?” Maya’s expression was getting mischievous. “Kahit  magpa-psychotherapy ka?”

 

“Heck, if the shoe fits,” Richard quipped self-deprecatingly  “I am crazy about you.  I think we have already established that fact.”

 

Maya smiled despite  tears pooling  in the corners of  her eyes.

 

“I don’t know how you can forgive me…” Richard’s voice trailed as his fingers traced Maya’s lower lip.

 

“Richard, nung tanungin ako ng Mama mo kung mahal pa rin kita, hindi ko siya masagot.  Ang sama-sama kasi ng loob ko nung mawala yung baby natin. Wala akong maramdamang iba kundi yung sakit.” Maya pulled a calming breath.

 

“Tapos hindi  ka na nagpakita sa ospital.  Kahit sa sarili ko hindi ko maamin na hinahanap kita.  Pero nung hindi ka nila ma-locate, nag-alala na talaga ko. Hindi ko rin pala kaya na pati ikaw mawala.”

 

“And how do you feel about me now?” Richard was searching her eyes.

 

“Mahal na mahal pa rin kita.”

 

Richard finally gathered Maya in her arms to envelope her in a bear hug. They just held each other for several long minutes. Then, his head lifted  from the crook of her neck to look into her eyes.

 

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness  but  I  am grateful  you are giving me a second chance, Maya.” Richard was smiling down at her. “I can change. As long as you are with me, I can do anything.”

 

Then he lowered his face to hers to meld his lips with hers in a kiss that was very gentle at first, almost like he was asking for permission. Then he felt her response, and Richard was floored  with overwhelming joy that Maya still loves him. He savoured her lips reverently, afraid that he might hurt her.  He gathered her in his arms and felt her thinner frame, wishing he could undo  the ordeal she has just been through.

 

However, his suppressed passion may have resonated within Maya as well. He felt her arms going round his neck to bury her fingers in his slightly longer  hair.  Maya deepened the kiss as she boldly plastered herself against him.

 

It was like being in a tropical storm after a season of drought.  Richard was helpless as  he got caught in the sensual cyclone. He could only hold on to Maya as he got carried away with the swirling  heat of desire.

 

Almost.

 

When Richard finally broke off the kiss, they were both gasping for breath. He could only bury his head against her neck as he fought for control.

 

“Richard?” Maya asked as she kissed Richard’s neck which made him shudder.

 

“Please don’t!”  he begged as he held Maya a few inches away from him.

 

Maya was looking dreamily up at him which made him groan.

 

“Sweetheart, we can’t.” Richard sighed. He longed  to  unleash  his hunger for her but there were Maya’s health implications to consider. He knew he can not make love to her.

 

Not yet.

 

Aware of his arousal, Maya smiled impishly up at him but she refrained from teasing Richard.  Instead,  Maya suggested that they have supper.   And he was more than willing to comply.  In his haste, Richard  groaned involuntarily  when he felt the small hammers banging in his head while everything spun around him.

 

“Are you okey?” Maya questioned in concern while her arms went round his waist to stop him from toppling over.

 

“Now that you are with me, I am.” Richard responded while enfolding Maya in another bear hug. He gave her a kiss on her forehead before releasing her so that they can walk side by side slowly.

 

In the kitchen, Richard requested for an Alka-Seltzer to neutralise some of the effects of  binge drinking.  When he felt nauseous at the thought of  eating heavy,  Maya quickly made soup from a packet which Richard gratefully consumed unhurriedly.  Afterwards, Maya insisted he take a few half-spoonfuls of rice without the adobo.

 

“Nasaan na sila Tata Igme? Hindi ka ba nila pinupuntahan dito para ipagluto o  dalhan ng pagkain?” Maya asked in between feeding him.

 

While chewing Richard merely shrugged his shoulders in non-committal response.

 

Maya looked at him speculatively. “Tinakot mo siguro.”

 

Richard vaguely remembered shouting at the old man when he kept on harping about missing his meals. He has a hazy recollection of  threatening to fire him as well.

 

“Ang alinsangan.” Richard complained, his response way off-tangent. “Dun tayo sa veranda.”

 

“Teka, ililigpit ko muna itong pinagkainan natin,” Maya protested as Richard tugged at her hands to drag her behind him.

 

“Mamaya na yan.” Richard dismissed the chore.

 

In the veranda, they settled down on a wide wicker lounger.  Lying down, he gathered Maya between his legs so he could  embrace her. Maya was leaning on his upper body while her head was resting on his chest.   Richard needed the physical contact to fully convince himself  that  they are still together.  He would constantly kiss her hair while squeezing her from time to time.

 

Richard was quite content to just hold her while the countless of stars slowly revealed themselves as the night grew darker. From their slightly elevated vantage point, they have a wide expansive view of the calm  horizon. Soft sea breeze was moving the water in small waves as well as rustling the surrounding vegetation. Swaying with the wind were branches of bougainvillaea  that clung to the clump of rocks that was on the end of the cobbled footpath that leads to the private beach.

 

“Sayang,”  Maya mused against his collar bone.

 

“Hmmmnnnn?” Richard lifted his head to look down at her dreamy expression. “Alin ang sayang?”

 

“Wedding day dapat natin ngayon,” Maya sighed.

 

Richard’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. He lost track of the dates weeks ago when Maya went into hospital.  But perhaps he can rectify this.

 

“We can still get married today. We  will just have to travel to the capital where a provincial court judge can perform a civil wedding for us.”

 

“Haaa?” Maya slightly lifted herself from his chest to frown at him.

 

“Sinabi ko na ito sa ‘yo dati.  This judge is my godfather.  Actually, he is listed as one of the principal sponsors of our church wedding.”

 

“Pero teka, papaano si Mamang?”

 

“I don’t see why we have to choose. We can have a civil wedding and a church wedding afterwards. Unless, you are having second thoughts about marrying me?” Richard worriedly  frowned down at Maya.

 

“No, Richard,” Maya beamed  at him.  “I want to be your wife as soon as you can arrange it.”

 

Richard hugged Maya once more. He was so incredibly lucky to find this woman. He lifted his head  towards the starry heavens  and silently prayed.

 

Dear Lord, thank you for giving her back to me.

 

After a few minutes of convincing Maya that he was well enough to travel, Richard went to the bedroom with Maya in tow.  They rummaged around the bedroom  to locate his phone which proved to be a mission.  In his drunken state, he must have dropped it. He could not even remember when he last saw his i-Phone-5. When they finally located it among the crumpled bed sheets, the battery was dead.  Richard quickly searched for the charger and made several phone calls in the next few minutes.

 

Tata Igme’s eldest son chauffeured them to the capital where  Richard’s godfather resides and presides as a provincial regional trial court  judge.  When they reached their destination, the front gates were wide open to receive them.  At the end of  the driveway, Richard’s godfather opened the front door himself.   He expressed his pleasant surprise when he got the call from Richard hours earlier.  He admitted looking forward to attending Richard’s wedding but did not expect to officiate it himself.

 

Richard introduced Maya as his intended to his Ninong Ramon and Ninang Mercedes,  who both welcomed Maya with very warm hugs. His godparents  were glad that the wedding will take place on the same intended date.

 

“Finally, na-meet ka rin namin, iha!”  Ninang Merecedes said.

 

“Na-ospital po kasi ako,” Maya started to explain.

 

“Sinabi ni Esmeralda and dahilan ng postponement pero hindi yun ang ibig kong sabihin,” Ninang Mercedes shook her head and thoughtfully looked at Richard before continuining. “Summer of 2005, dumating yan dito lasing na lasing. Pinagalitan nang husto yan ng Ninong Ramon niya. Kahit nasa probinsiya siya, meron pa ring mga salbahe dito. Mabuti na lang hindi siya natiyempuhan.”

 

“Aba!  Habang pinapainom ni Chedeng ng kape yan, talagang sinesermunan ko!  Sabi ko kung babae ang problema niya at mahal niya, pakasalan na niya. Nag-volunteer pa nga ako na mag-officiate ng civil wedding. Sabi ko kahit kelan, magpasabi lang siya.”

 

Ninong Ramon was telling the story with sweeping hand gesticulations that was rather engaging.  Richard, however, only had eyes for Maya for he was closely watching how she would react to the anecdote.

 

“Aba’y tinawanan ba naman ako. Sagot sakin ‘she’s only seventeen’. Siyempre, biglang bawi naman ako.  Sabi ko huwag na huwag siyang magkakamali dahil kahit merong consent,  statutory rape ang pwedeng maging  kaso niya.”

 

“Tapos nakipag-inuman ka na rin kay Richard,” Ninang Mercedes recounted in a very dry tone.

 

“That was not intentional.  Nag-worry kasi ako at baka makagawa ng hindi maganda ang inaanak ko. Dinamayan ko lang.” Ninong Ramon retorted defensively.

 

Ninang Mercedes simply shook her head in exasperation at her husband.

 

“Anyway,” Ninong Ramon dismissed the little detail with a wave of his hand. “Ilang oras ko ding pinapayuhan hanggang mahimasmasan.”

 

“Habang inuubos nila yung Hennessy.” Ninang Mercedes whispered to Maya while eyeing her husband with a slight frown.

 

Richard could see that Maya was quite fascinated with the story.

 

“Sabi ko na lang. Baka infatuation lang yan. Pero kung mahal mo talaga, kailangang hintayin mong mag-mayor-de-edad para walang problema.”  Ninong Ramon paused and smiled at Maya. “And I guess, sinunod niya ang payo ko.”

 

Richard and Maya were married in the judge’s  small home office. He could not describe his happiness when he finally placed the plain platinum wedding band  on Maya’s finger.

 

“Wait!”  Maya said while she pulled her hand out of his.

 

“What?”  Richard frowned as she fiddled with something around her neck. Has Maya changed her mind?

 

Then Maya took off the long chain  which revealed the pendant. It was the  intertwined roses-designed  engagement ring.  Taking it off the chain, Maya gave it to Richard and then held out her hand again.

 

“The engagement ring goes after the wedding ring which I will never remove from my ring finger.”  Maya whispered the solemn promise while Richard slid the  engagement ring until it rested against her wedding band.

 

Richard just had to kiss Maya at that point, unmindful of his godfather’s instructions, much to the delight of his godfather’s wife and Tata Igme’s son. When the marriage  certificates were signed and sealed,  Ninong Ramon opened the bottle of champagne that he has been saving  to celebrate the occasion. After a round of drinks,  Richard quickly bid  his farewells. He also warned his godfather that the wedding ceremony will be rescheduled  and that the couple’s  presence was still very much required.

 

When they finally arrived back at the villa, Maya wanted  to walk on the  beach.  Richard was just content to walk hand in hand with  his new wife as they leisurely trekked on the fine sand.  It was another beautiful star-spangled night that was perfect for star gazing.

 

“What was that sigh for?” he asked after hearing Maya release a wistful sigh.

 

“Masarap sanang maligo sa dagat.”

 

Richard’s left eyebrows lifted. “Pwede naman.  Halika samahan kita.”

 

“Teka, kukuha ako ng mga tuwalya.”

 

Quickly, Maya went inside the house and reappeared with a couple of thick white towels which she dropped on a rock. They went hand in hand towards the water’s edge.  Richard removed his shirt and watched as Maya shed off her top to reveal her white singlet. Then her jeans joined her top. Then, the singlet went. Richard’s breath caught when Maya also removed her lacy skin-coloured bra and undies  before  wading into the  gently lapping water.

 

“Maya—” he called her name in strangled voice.

 

Maya paused in thigh-deep water for a second to turn her head at him. She threw him a flirtatious smile before diving into the sea. Richard just looked on helplessly as he glimpsed her curvy bottom and thighs bob  for  a second and then disappear into the salty water with a small splash.

 

Richard stood still when the sea water was lapping at his abdominal area.  Looking around, he couldn’t  see Maya. He couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious for she was recently hospitalised and may not be up to the physical strain  despite  being a good swimmer.

 

Feeling her hand on his back, Richard quickly twisted to grab her.  Maya came out of the water, slightly spluttering. Richard’s arms quickly went round her naked body and Richard felt the anxiety ebbing away. Holding her was reassuring.

 

“Maya?”

 

“Yes, Richard?” she murmured against his neck, the length of her wet naked body seductively  brushing against his.

 

“Do you still do this skinny-dipping often?” he asked in a strained voice.

 

Maya shook her head and looked impishly up at him. “Hindi ko na ginagawa to. Meron kasing mamang singkit na nagalit sakin nuon. Tinuruan niya ko ng leksiyon kaya hindi ko na inulit.”

 

“Pero inulit mo na naman,” Richard pointed out. “So, I think you need another  ‘lesson’.”

 

Maya’s eyes sparkled as she laughed up at him.  Her  arms went round his neck that brought her soft length pressed against his much harder one. Richard could feel  the blood rushing behind his ears as his body responded and recognised its mate.  Richard lowered his head to capture her lips in a hot searing kiss.

 

Richard’s chest was heaving when he finally released Maya.  Maya was likewise breathless when Richard wordlessly offered his hand. When Maya put her hand in his, Richard guided her back towards the shore where he picked up the towel to quickly wrap it around Maya’s naked body.  Rivulets of sea water were running down his body as his slacks wetly clung to his limbs. Yet he ignored the other towel. Instead, he walked towards the direction of the villa with Maya in tow.

 

At the veranda entrance, Richard paused and turned to pick up Maya to carry her over the threshold.  Maya giggled at this.

 

“Pinagtatawanan mo ba ako Mrs. Lim?” He raised one eyebrow at her.

 

Maya merely bit her lip to stop her laughter.  However, her eyes were still laughing at him.

 

“Hindi bale, mamaya lang hindi ka na matatawa…” his voice trailed seductively.

 

“Is that a threat, Mr. Lim?” Maya’s eyes rounded at him.

 

Richard shook his head and looked heatedly  into her eyes. “Definitely not. It’s a promise, Mrs. Lim.”

 

“Pero diba sabi mo hindi pa pwede?”

 

“Maya, you should know by now that there are dozens of different ways to make love other than actually making love…”

 

Humour faded as the answering heat of desire flared in her  eyes. Richard kept on walking until he reached the master suite of rooms.  With one foot, he nudged the door closed behind them.

 

—————–

 

Richard and Maya were married in church two months later,  with all family and friends present. Baby Abigail with a headband of red rosebuds, probably one of the youngest flower girl on record,  was sitting up in a rose and lace decorated open pram which was being pushed down the aisle by her older sister Nikki Grace, who threw rose petals along the way. Luke Andrew was ring bearer.

 

Richard’s parents were beaming as they walked down the aisle, glad that the wedding was finally taking place.  Ryan was in a unique position of being part of the bride’s family while acting as best man for the groom.  Cristina Rose, acting as one of the secondary female sponsor, was the only female of the entourage who was wearing a very masculine pant suit.  Mamang got her wish and wore a beaded designer gown that was similar in design with the bride’s.

 

Richard looked dashing in dark gray vest and tailed coat.  His high neckline was adorned with an intricately tried cravat that nestled against his ruffled shirt front.  While he didn’t  really like the ruffled shirt, he was willing to wear anything if it means granting Maya’s wish for an 1800’s-themed wedding.

 

Thoughts of everything else were obliterated in his head as Maya finally came into view. Maya was flanked  by her parents. Appearing ill at ease with his 1800s-styled coat, Tatay Arturo was walking a bit stiffly. His wife, on the other side of Maya,  looked radiant in her cream outfit.

 

However, Richard could not see all those details for he suddenly developed tunnel-vision which honed on his altar date.  Maya was wearing a  square-necklined Regency-style  silk taffeta gown with high Empire waistline and  trumpet long sleeves.  Underneath her veil, tiny rosebuds were in her  hair that was up in romantic Jane Austen nautilus bun and braids.

 

After pressing his forehead against his parents-laws hands, Richard took his bride’s hand and kissed her hand. He straightened and looked into her smiling eyes.

 

Richard and Maya have already committed themselves to each other with the civil wedding.  This church wedding bestows the sacred blessing as well as reconfirms their mutual commitment with their friends and family as witness.

 

“I love you, Mrs. Lim,” he whispered to her, promising forever with the declaration.

 

“I love you, too, Mr. Lim,” Maya whispered back, acknowledging  the unspoken  promise.

 

 

Epilogue to follow…

 

Long-held Torch – Part 16

Author’s Note: This was a rather difficult chapter to write which was why this update took a long while.  As it is, I have only skimmed over Maya’s strength of character and I guess I still need to delve deeper.

Thank you very much to  Ms Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and Ms Dianne for generously giving their time to critique and proofread this chapter.  Thank you to my dear readers for patiently (or impatiently) waiting for the next installment of my series.  Please don’t be shy to leave a comment or to hit the like button. God bless :)

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With Maya’s condition remaining critical for days, she was slipping in and out of consciousness while her uterine haemorrhage continued.  Her elevated body temperature caused by infection  was also making Maya delirious at some point.  With glazed eyes, she  would try to say something but her words were coming out incoherently. Agitation was getting the better of her when no one could understand what she was saying.

Intuitively, Richard knew she was asking about their baby.

“Everything is okay, Maya”  his tone was soothing  as he held her hand “Everything  will be alright.  Just rest, sweetheart.”

Maya’s deep frown cleared  as she settled down. After a few minutes, she  closed her eyes after Richard’s  reassurance.  Her bleeding had significantly lessened on the third day,  effectively taking her out of immediate danger.   Her fever had also abated on the fourth day.  However, Dr de Guzman was still monitoring Maya very closely. Since the human body has a tendency to overcompensate for trauma, the ICU team were on high alert for signs of hypercoagulation, another life-threatening  condition.

However, when Maya finally woke up,  tears filmed over her eyes.  Without anyone telling her,  she knew that she had lost the baby. She did not have to see Richard’s sombre expression to know. Her hand went to her flat abdomen and felt nothing.  Tears started falling  silently at first and then  she was sobbing. It was so heart-wrenching for anyone within earshot.  Even the very  experienced  ICU nurses’ eyes  were getting watery.

Dr. de Guzman was notified that the patient was conscious. The elderly doctor tried to do some tests but could not do so with Maya’s state of mind.   She was inconsolable as sobs racked her supine form.  In the end, Maya was sedated again so that she can continue to heal within a state of  induced sleep.

As Maya’s lids became heavy,  the last thing she heard was Richard saying he was sorry.  The next time she regained consciousness,  Maya could still feel Richard’s presence even though  he was not by her bedside.  Maya  could hear a variety of monitors beeping monotonously. She turned her head and she could see  that she was last in a row of beds.

A nurse in light blue scrubs approached and was smiling at her.  Maya underwent a series of tests in the next hour and was kept in the ICU for the next three days.  Her family had been alternately staying with her for long periods and they would normally wave at her through the partition glass. Maya never saw Richard  until  the very early  morning of the next  day.

Maya had woken up when  her  IV  monitor alarmed.  Her assigned nurse had quickly silenced the beep but she was already awake  despite keeping her eyes closed.  This was when she felt his presence again.  She could feel him by her bedside standing quietly while she continued to feign sleep.  With eyes kept closed, Maya waited anxiously for what he would do next. Maya did not wish to speak to him.

Then, she felt his fingers lightly sweeping the strands of hair from her face. A small frown  creased between Maya’s closed lids at this unwelcome caress. Involuntarily, she turned her head away to avoid his touch.

Maya heard Richard pull a deep sigh. Then her senses felt him come much closer.  So close that she could smell his clean musky scent.  Maya’s airways felt constricted  when she felt his warm breath fanning the side of her face.

“Pagaling ka,” Richard murmured  before lightly kissing her temple and then moving away. And as quietly he came, he also left just as quietly.

Maya’s  lips wobbled.  She squeezed her lids in a vain effort to keep the tears at bay but they still came.   Maya wished that she could also shed the pain. But even after the tears subsided, the pain remained.

The day came when she was transferred to a private room. Maya had glimpsed Richard speaking with Dr. de Guzman when she was wheeled out of the inner sanctum of the ICU but he did not follow.  It was Nanay Teresita who  was with her during  the transfer and helped her settle in. Mamang,  Tatay Arturo and Kute arrived a few hours later. Her Kuya Ryan promised to pass by later.   Everyone was very thankful that she had pulled through.

Maya tried to smile at them but she just couldn’t.

“Pasensiya na po.  Medyo pagod na po ako,” she apologised as she closed her eyes.  She could hear their muted conversation but she did not have the energy nor the inclination to join in.  She feigned sleep until sleep truly reclaimed her.

When she lifted her lids again, the room was in darkness except for the singular subdued  wall light. Her eyes adjusted and her gaze scanned the private room that was resembling a  hotel room  and was just as impersonal.  There  was a big bowl of fruits  and a couple of magazines on her bedside table. On her other bedside table was a huge bouquet of red roses which made her frown. She was still connected to an IV drip  but  she was blessedly alone.

Maya  wanted  to be alone.

Her hand went to her flat stomach and felt  deep sadness and regret for she will never have the opportunity to see her first baby.  Tears welled in her eyes as she wondered if it was a boy or a girl. She will never know anymore.

Her gaze started to go blurry with tears again.  She bit her lip, vainly trying to control herself. But the pain  was reverberating  through her soul.  Then, she felt a movement in the dark and knew that he was with her.  Straining her eyes, Maya tried  to see the whole room. When she could not, she braced her elbows to sit up.

“Please don’t get up!” his familiar deep throaty  voice pleaded anxiously.

“Anong ginagawa mo dito?”  Maya asked, anger in her tone.

From the darkest corner of the room, the lazy boy springs and hinges creaked as Richard unfolded the leg rest to get up. “You are not supposed to sit up on your own yet.  It might re-trigger  your bleeding.”

“I don’t really care!  I have lost my baby! And nothing matters anymore!” Maya shouted in a shrill voice.

“Maya, you need to lie down again,”  Richard gently instructed as he approached Maya to  place his hands on her shoulders.

However, this seemed to further anger Maya  as she slapped his hands away.

“Huwag mo kong hawakan!”  Maya hissed  at him as Richard’s hands  lowered  to her upper arms in his attempt to lie her down the bed.

“Calm down, Maya—”

“Sabi kong bitiwan mo ko!!!” Maya yelled at the top of her lungs as she started beating his chest.  Each close-fisted punch conveying the pain that was tearing at her heart. And Richard just took all her punishing blows.

“Maya—”

“Hindi mo ba ko narinig? Ayaw kitang makita!!!” Maya was getting hysterical as she kept on hitting him.

“Maya, please!  You really need to lie down—!”  Richard was getting more worried for Maya was moving jerkily.  In frustration, he reached for the bell and pressed  for a nurse who came immediately.

“Sir?” asked a third voice from the door.

Distracted, Maya turned her head. “Please, paalisin mo siya!!!”  she half-pleaded and half-demanded from the uniformed nurse who was standing uncertainly by the door.

The nurse took the scene at a glance and  requested for Richard to leave.   Richard took a few steps from the bed but remained  in the room, beyond Maya’s line of vision.  With Maya’s agitation escalating, she was sedated again. Tears were still streaming down her cheeks when she felt the calmative effect of the drug course through her bloodstream once more.

“I-I am very sorry for what happened, Maya—” Richard whispered almost inaudibly.

Unfortunately, Maya heard the words.

“Umalis ka na. Ayaw na kitang makita…”  was her dull response while silent tears kept on flowing.

“Maya—”

Then, sleep claimed her once more.

The next several days  went by slowly.  While Maya  was constantly in the company of her parents, siblings  or her grandmother, she was feeling restless. She was on edge, half-expecting Richard to arrive anytime. Digging her own nails into her palms, Maya clenched her fists at the memory of their last encounter.  Maya’s anger was boiling over.

However, ever since she found out about her ‘insufficient cervix’ condition,  she realised she can not entirely heap the blame on Richard’s head.  Dr. de Guzman had patiently explained that the condition was likely genetic as evidenced by her family history.  With such condition, it was said that when a woman gets pregnant, the cervix weakens, opens and expels the fetus. This occurs from the very early stages of pregnancy wherein  the fetus  will likely have no  chance for  survival.  Hence, a miscarriage occurs.  Dr. de Guzman offered that  the same may have happened to many of her paternal female relatives.

Maya would have lost her baby regardless of what Richard did.

This was echoing in her head when Richard’s parents arrived.  Maya’s smile was strained while her mind was at loggerheads with herself. Part of her wanted to ask where Richard was while another part wanted nothing more to do with him.   Instead, they exchanged the usual pleasantries.

“Nag-usap na ba kayo ni Richard, Maya?”  Esmeralda Lim asked  when  Roberto Lim excused himself to leave the room to answer an overseas  phone call.

Maya shook her head wordlessly, unwilling to discuss the matter.

Esmeralda Lim sighed deeply.

“Look, Maya. I know you two were fighting before you were rushed to the hospital—-”

Maya’s eyes rounded as she refocused her attention back to the older woman.

“Sinabi niya sa inyo?” Maya asked incredulously.   Maya has not breathed a word to anyone what events transpired before she got rushed to the hospital. Maya could not believe that Richard actually owned up to what he did to her.

“Well, actually Ricky did not tell me much. He did not even tell me what you were fighting about.  But all relationships go through rough patches, Maya.”

Maya closed her eyes.  She thought it was best that she should not enlighten Esmeralda Lim what her son did.

“Richard told me that there won’t be a wedding anymore. Of course, with you being very sick and getting hospitalised, a postponement is understandable. But to cancel the wedding altogether—?” the older lady’s voice was questioning.

Silence stretched for several minutes. The older lady pulled another deep sigh.

“Maya, hindi mo na ba mahal si Richard?” Esmeralda Lim asked point blank.

Maya asked herself that same question. In all honesty, she did not know how to answer the older lady.

“Maya—?”

“Tita Esme, naguguluhan po ako. Hindi ko na po alam…” she replied uncertainly while tears silently rolled down her cheeks.

“I see.”  Esmeralda Lim’s face went very serious. “Well, I know for a fact that my son loves you very much. He was beside himself when you became critically ill. He never left the ICU and stayed awake for days while you were in there.”

Maya bent her head as more tears fell.

“I know you are still grieving, Maya.  Believe me, I know how you feel.” The older lady reached out and covered Maya’s right hand with her slightly gnarled hands.

Maya looked up,  the unspoken question in her eyes.

“Yes, Maya.  I have lost a child as well.” Informed the older lady with sad eyes.  “I miscarried a baby girl when Richard was just about two years old. It was a very traumatic experience for me.”

“D-does  the pain ever go away?” Maya almost choked on the question.

“I can not speak for every mother, of course. But I have never really gotten over it.  The pain lessens through the years until it just becomes a dull ache. But  with each year, I acquired the maturity to consciously choose to be happy and to count my blessings.”

Count my blessings.

A simple enough task but difficult to do while grieving.  Esmeralda Lim recognised this and did not press Maya further.   Maya silently  cried herself to sleep hours after the older lady left.

Days passed and Maya’s mood  became silently despondent. Her flatmate Emman has visited twice. Her fellow TA flight attendant Edzelyn and Capt James  Ventura  arrived one afternoon to deliver flowers from Time Airways  but  Maya could not even  muster a smile.  Even  when her nephew Luke  and nieces Nikki Grace and baby Abby  visited,  Maya  remained  a forlorn figure with a faraway look on her face.

“Maya,  kumain ka muna,”  her Ate Celine, her  Kuya Ryan’s wife encouraged.

Silence.

“Nangayayat ka na ng  husto.  Baka hindi na magkasya ang wedding dress mo.”

It does not matter anymore for there won’t be a wedding anyway.  

 

Maya was responding in her head but remained outwardly  incommunicative. Maya’s mood slightly altered when her Kuya Ryan arrived that afternoon. She was in the shower cubicle but could hear the muffled conversation beyond the door.

“Nay, asan si Maya?” asked Kuya Ryan.

“Nasa banyo naliligo.”

“Nagpunta  ho ba si Richard dito?”

“Hinde. Simula ng malipat dito sa private room ang kapatid mo, hindi ko na nakita si Richard.  Nag-away yata silang dalawa dahil umiiwas ang kapatid mo kapag si Richard na ang pinag-uusapan.”

“Malamang nga nag-away sila kung hindi nagagawi si Richard dito.”  Ryan mused almost to himself.

“Bakit?  Ano bang problema? At pwede bang maupo ka at nahihilo ako sa kalalakad mo.”  Nanay Teresita ordered her older child “Bakit ba hindi ka mapakali, Ryan?”

Maya turned off the shower so that she could better hear the conversation outside the door. She grabbed her towel to quickly dry herself. Rivulets of water were still streaming down from her hair as she pressed her ear against the wooden panel.

“Tumawag sakin si Tita Esmeralda kanina. Umiiyak sa pag-aalala. Halos dalawang linggo nang hindi nauwi sa kanila si Richard.   Hindi rin sumasagot sa phone. Ang buong akala namin dito siya naglalagi sa ospital—”

“Gaya ng sabi ko sayo, nandito si Richard nung unang lingo, nung nasa ICU si Maya pero nung naging maayos yung kalagayan niya, umuwi  na si Richard.” reiterated the older woman.

“Pero, Nay, hindi pa ho nauwi si Richard sa kanila. Hindi rin pumapasok sa opisina. Tumawag din ako kay Lino para tingnan kung nasa lumang bahay si Richard pero sabi daw ni Tata Igme  wala daw duon si Richard.”

“Naku, baka napaano na si Richard. Sana naman walang masamang nangyari sa batang yun,”  Nanay Teresita commented, worry in her voice. “Susubukan kong tawagan. Nagbilin kasi yun na tawagan siya kung magkakaproblema sa lagay ni Maya.”

Maya’s elbow accidentally nudged the bottle of lotion that was on the tiny vanity shelf. It clattered on the small ceramic basin  as she moved away from the door.  She sat down on the closed toilet seat to retrieve and replace  the bottle back on the vanity.

“Maya, anak? Anong nangyari?”  Nanay Teresita asked through the door.

“Wala ho, Nay. May natabig lang po ako.”  Maya replied.

“Sigurado ka anak? Baka kailangan mo ng tulong?”

“Hindi po, Nay. Okey lang po ako.”

What Maya  said may have been true physically but her emotional state was another matter.   Her feelings for Richard were ambiguous at the moment but the fact remained that she was getting worried.  She could not help but feel worried.

Where could Richard be?

That night, Maya had a different visitor.  She glided through the room and touched her hand. Maya languorously opened her eyes to look at a face that was very much her own. It was like looking at her own reflection in the mirror.  The lady had an ethereal quality about her as she moved with a very refined feminine grace. She was smiling serenely while her hand was beckoning for Maya to get up.

As if in a trance, Maya followed the lady whose centrally parted long hair went beyond her waist.  She was wearing a traditional kimona top and a long black and white full skirt that brushes the ground as the wearer walked. Maya smiled when she glimpsed that the lady was barefoot.

After awhile,  Maya looked around her and saw that she was on the private beach in front of the Spanish villa. Tiny grains of warm sand was squeezing between her toes. She frowned in confusion. How did she get back to San Nicholas?

Then, the lady turned to see if she was still following her. Despite her confusion, Maya crossed the distance between them.  She went through the door like she has done countless of times before. It was the same Spanish villa that she loved  yet it was not the same at all.  The shiny wooden floorboards were lighter in shade. Everything was gleaming like new. Even the furniture was different.

They were going through the hallway towards  the master suite. With each step, the sound of women wailing were getting louder.   There were a few people in the alcove. Maya could see a couple of women huddled together crying while trying to comfort one another. One was carrying a bundle in her arms.

The lady with her features  finally stopped just behind the man who was crouched down.  The profile that Maya saw was that of an elderly gentleman with a full beard, dressed in a grey suit. To get a better look,  Maya had to sidestep to avoid stepping on bottles. And there were countless of  bottles of  liquor   scattered around. Her nose crinkled as the place was reeking of alcohol.

Then she saw that the crouching man was actually trying to wake up an individual who was lying on the ground. Maya could not properly see the face of the sleeping man.  All she could see that he was wearing a pair of dark grey baggy pants  and a long sleeved white muslin shirt. And judging from the colour of his hand, the man lying motionless was very fair.

“Lo siento. Soy demasiado tarde,”  the elderly gentleman declared as he sighed deeply.

Lo siento. Soy demasiado tarde. I am sorry. I am too late.

Then the elderly gentleman straightened to remove his hat, a gesture indicating that he was paying his respects. Then it hit her. The man lying on the ground was dead.  And she was afraid to  look at his face, fearing it was someone she knew.

In the background, the women’s wailing went louder, almost drowning the sound of a newborn baby’s very faint  mewling.  Distracted, Maya  looked up to see that the bundle in the woman’s arm was actually a  baby aged a few days at the most, judging from its tiny scrawny fist that escaped from its swaddling.

Involuntarily, her gaze returned to the man on the ground. Her gaze travelled over his length and then  stopped at the ruffled front of his muslin white shirt. Unhurriedly,  her gaze went over his unshaven jaw and hawkish  nose. Then finally, Maya saw his closed deep set eyes and Maya shuddered with  relief. It was the face of a stranger, yet his features were familiarly dear.  He was a very fair version of her paternal grandfather.  Maya was just a toddler when her paternal grandfather passed away but she still remembered his face each time she looked through the old family photo albums.

Then, right before her eyes, the features changed. Slowly the features morphed into another face.  Lips became thinner, nose acquired a finer straight bridge, his lids took on the epicanthic fold and his eyes became mere slits as they remained closed. His entire body remained motionless on the ground.

Maya’s breathing hitched. She almost doubled over in pain. Maya can clearly see Richard lying lifeless by her feet  but refused to accept what her senses were perceiving. Then she heard someone sobbing as the vision turned hazy.

Sea breeze drifted in through the rose bushes enclosing the alcove. It teased her long hair causing a lock of hair  to fall over her face. She brushed it aside and felt that her cheeks were wet.  Her chest shuddered and realised that the sobbing she heard was her own.

“Maya…”

Maya bit her lip to control her sobs.

“Maya…”

She felt someone tapping her cheeks and she frowned.

“Maya, gising anak,” her mother urged “binabangungot ka.”

Then she opened her eyes.  She was back in her private hospital room. And her Nanay Teresita was worriedly looking down at her.

Maya gulped down her sobs as she sat up.  Her mother raised the upper portion of the bed so that Maya can comfortably lean back in a semi-sitting position. Nanay Teresita gave her a glass of water which she gratefully took. Maya felt much calmer as she gave the half-empty tumbler back to Nanay Teresita.

“Okey ka na ba, anak?”

Maya nodded. But she really wasn’t feeling right.

“Gusto mong pag-usapan natin yung panaginip mo?”

Maya shook her head. Nanay sighed but refrained from pressing her youngest daughter who was still reeling from the shocking vision. Remembering Richard lying deathly still on the ground was enough to let another  shiver run through her core.  It left her with a feeling of dread.

“Nay, dumaan na po ba si…”  Maya was unable to finish her question. She felt silly worrying about him because of a bad dream.

Nanay Teresita smiled understandingly at her daughter. In turn, Maya was turning pink with embarrassment.

“Hindi pa anak,” her mother replied “Gusto mo tawagan ko si Richard?”

Maya wanted to know whether Richard was fine but declined her mother’s offer. “Huwag na po.”

“Sigurado ka?” her mother probed “Sinasagot niya ang tawag ko.”

Maya tried to avoid her mother’s observant gaze. She was not ready to answer questions. The important thing was that Richard was okey.

“Maya, kahit hindi mo sabihin sakin, alam ko meron kayong problema ni Richard…”

“Nay—”

“Anak,  hindi ko alam kung ano ang pinag-awayan ninyong dalawa. Pero dapat mag-usap muna kayo ng maayos. Diba nga kahit kriminal binibigyan ng pagkakataon na i-depensa ang sarili nila sa husgado bago parusahan?”

Maya merely nodded her head, choosing not to speak at all.  She chose to let the matter be. Richard is a grown man. He should be able to take care of himself. Her bad dream was just that — a bad dream.

Later that same day, however, she could no longer  suppress her concern when Richard’s mother  called and spoke to Nanay Teresita.  Richard’s mother was beside herself with worry. Richard was still incommunicado. He was not answering his phone nor answering his emails.  Esmeralda Lim also said that Lisa, Richard’s secretary, was also  in a panic because there was a major accident at the tunnel site.  And the respective families of the affected employees were threatening  a class action against Lim Infrastructure Inc.  It was imperative that they get hold of Richard.

“Hayaan nyo po susubukan ko pong tawagan si Richard. Baka sakaling sagutin nya ulit yung tawag ko.” Nanay Teresita promised before ending the call.

Maya watched her mother ring Richard’s number but the call was no longer connecting.  Nanay Teresita tried for almost twenty minutes before finally giving up.  A worried frown was etched into the older lady’s features when she broached the subject with her youngest daughter.

“Naku, Maya” Nanay Teresita fretted “hindi na sinasagot ni Richard yung phone niya.”

The feeling of dread has been multiplying the last twenty minutes.  Each time her mother’s call failed to connect, the vision of Richard lying deathly still on the ground became more and more of a possibility. Maya hugged her middle in the effort to calm her nerves.

Richard has to be alright!  For all they know, he could be in an exotic location where wireless communication was difficult.

What if he wasn’t?  What if he ends up like Senor La Rosa?  He was found lifeless on the ground, dead at the prime of his life…

Nooooooo!

Maya took a minute to normalise her breathing pattern. She looked up to check the time from the wall clock.  It was already mid-afternoon. She made a mental calculation  and finally made a decision.  She  sat up and took the cotton blanket off  to put on her slippers.  She got up and opened the bedside cabinet to bring out her bag of clothes. She was fishing out a pair of jeans when her mother questioned her movements.

“Anong balak mo, Maya?”

“Hahanapin ko ho si Richard.” Maya needed to know that Richard was okey. Maya was unsure if she still loves him but she knows that she cares for him. She still cares a lot.

“Pero hindi ka pa discharged dito sa ospital. Di ba meron ka pang mga tests na naka-schedule bukas?”

“Pakitawagan po yung nurse. Magpapa-discharge na ako, Nay. Pwede naman po akong bumalik para sa mga tests.” Maya  replied  “kailangan na ho naming mag-usap ni Richard.”

“Mainam  naman,” her Nanay Teresita smiled at her daughter’s bent head “Sige kakausapin ko yung nurse mo.”

The nurse had to refer the matter to the duty medical officer who did not want to discharge Maya.  But Maya was insistent that she was feeling fine. In the end, Dr. de Guzman also had to be consulted in the process.  Maya was then released on the proviso that she returns as an outpatient the  next day for various tests. Nanay Teresita also found that they do not have any bill to settle  since Richard already made payments and left strict instructions that any outstanding bill will be sent to him.

When the doctor left her room,  Maya took her phone out to ring Lisa. She needed a big favour from Richard’s secretary. In any case, what she intends to do is in the interest of both Lim Infrastructure Inc and herself. Lisa needed to speak with her boss while Maya’s private conversation  with Richard was long overdue.

Despite not liking helicopter rides, she needed the quick transport this time. Still, her nerves were thoroughly rattled by the time she reached San Nicholas.  Her mother was insisting to accompany her but Maya adamantly refused. She really needed to do this alone.

When they touched down on the expansive green lawn of the Spanish villa, it was almost twilight with the horizon taking on orange and purple hues.  Maya thanked Capt. Lem profusely before disboarding.  She waited for the helicopter to lift-off before turning her attention to the villa.  There were  no visible movements inside. And everything was in darkness.

Maya went round the house to check the beachfront side. There was no one about. It certainly looked as if no one was home.

“He must be here…” Maya said to herself.

Walking up the steps, Maya crossed the veranda to try the lever-type door handle of the front engraved wooden door. It was locked. She went back to the side  to see if she can have access through the kitchen door.  The door was closed but when she tried the door knob, it readily turned and opened the heavy panel door.

Maya stepped inside and waited a minute before her pupils adjusted to the darkness inside. Her hand groped along the walls until she found the light switch. It illuminated the kitchen area and the family room. No one was about.

As she went through, she opened wall lights on the hallway.  She saw that all renovations have finished.  The family room was carpeted with a gleaming new billiard table and a plush L-shaped couch already installed.   Even the dining room had a 10-seater glass-topped oval mahogany dining table with hand-carved chairs.  Her fingers traced the entwined roses detail  on the back rest.  It was the perfect match for the mural wall of the room. Maya peered into the huge ballroom and saw that except for the gleaming baby grand piano in one corner, it was empty.  The same was the case of the three bedrooms  that remained unfurnished.

Maya knows she was just delaying the moment as she took her time noting all the changes since she last visited.   Maya sighed as she walked towards the master suite of rooms.  The sun has properly set as she went through the villa so everything was in darkness when she finally reached the sitting room. She flicked the lights on. Richard was nowhere in sight.  She crossed  the sitting room to search his bedroom. His bed was in disarray but the room was likewise empty.  For good measure, she checked the ensuite bathroom which was also unoccupied.

Maya sighed as she sat on the four-poster bed.  She was so sure he was here. It seems she was mistaken.

Where could Richard be?

After a few minutes, Maya got up and left the master suite.  She went out of the house again and was making her way back to her parents’ house when she decided to retrace her steps and check the carport.  She wanted to check if the Land Cruiser was where it was normally parked. If it wasn’t, then Richard may have gone out.

The Land Cruiser was there. And right beside it was Richard’s navy blue BMW!

So, she was right! Richard has been holed-up  in the Spanish villa. He must have taken his car on the RORO or the roll-on/roll-off ferry.  And judging from the film of dust on the navy blue paintwork, it has been parked there for several days.

Richard must be inside the house.  But she has searched every room.

Except for the alcove. You never checked the alcove for some reason. Afraid?

Petrified!  Maya was scared of what she would find in the alcove.

With a feeling of impending doom, Maya slowly retraced her steps back into the house. She crossed the sitting room to open the bi-fold doors. As she stepped on the cobbled pavement, Maya’s foot nudged a bottle of alcohol. With a feeling of déjà vu, she picked it up and saw that it was a bottle of Scotch. She picked up another and then another.

Then, she caught a glimpse of Richard lying motionless on the ground. Maya froze in dread. She waited for him to move but he didn’t. With her breathing uneven, she placed the bottles against the wall. Then, her unsteady hand searched  the wall nearest the bi-fold doors until she found  the switch of  the spotlights.

“Arrgggh!  Shit! Turn off the bloody lights!” Richard moaned from the ground.

Maya closed her eyes as she released a shaky breath of relief  that her bad dream did not become reality.  She never thought she would gladly hear him yell profanity. But in this rare instance, she did.

Maya saw that Richard was actually lying by the foot of the statue. He was wearing black jeans with a half-buttoned shirt. And he had crossed his arm across his eyes to protect himself from the spotlight’s glare.  He also had  a beige-coloured cloth  spread over his face to cover  his eyes.

Now that Maya has found him. She was unsure what to do next. For several minutes, she just stood there looking down at him. Slowly, Maya went down to kneel beside him and got a good whiff of alcohol mixed with sweat.  Her hand shook his shoulder tentatively.

“Richard, get up!”

When he wouldn’t budge, she pried the beige cloth off his face. It took a couple of tugs  for he was clutching it between his fingers.  Maya frowned for the beige cloth had a little white bow that looked very familiar. She held it up to unfold it. It was her beige singlet,   the same piece of clothing she could not find the last time she was at the villa!  He must have found it in his bedroom.

And Richard had been grasping it. He even had it spread across his face. The significance of his actions tugged at her heartstrings. Maya dampened down the feeling and shook him again by the shoulders. Harder this time.

Then, Richard opened his blood shot eyes and looked up at her. Groaning, he shut his eyes once more. “Not again! Can you not leave me alone?”

Well, that was not exactly a warm reception!

With firm resolve, Maya leaned over again and strongly shook his arm with both her hands. Richard groaned but captured one hand that was shaking him. He took the beige singlet off her hand and looked up at her. His arm reached out and slowly touched her face.

“You are really here…” he said in wonder.

“Uhmmmnn” Maya confirmed  while she quickly straightened to put some distance between the two of them. To say that she was ill-at-ease was putting it mildly.

Richard slowly shook his head as if to clear it.  He continued to stare at her, following her movements with his bleary eyes. Richard slowly sat up while Maya stood up to collect more alcohol bottles to avoid tripping over them. She was already regretting coming over to find him. She was unsure if she was ready for this post mortem.

“Siguro dapat maligo ka muna. Magluluto lang ako ng makakain.” Maya went towards the sitting room but had to look back to see Richard remaining sitting on the ground staring at her with a dazed look on his face. “Richard?”

As response, he just continued to stare at her.  This made Maya very uncomfortable, making her  shift her weight from one foot to another.

“Richard?” she prompted again.

“Yeah, I will. Just give me a second. Everything’s spinning.”

Maya heard him stifle a groan of pain as she turned her back to walk towards the hallway. She reckoned  he must have a monster of a headache with all the amount of alcohol he has been imbibing. Serves him right, she thought unsympathetically.

Maya retraced her steps back to the kitchen area where she looked into the pantry. There were frozen meat in the freezer but she was hoping to cook something fast like scrambled eggs.  There weren’t any. There was also no bread either.

In the end, she decided to fetch some supplies from her parent’s house.  Thinking that Richard was still in the shower, she left the villa without letting him know.  She should be back before he even becomes aware that she had been gone.

At her parents’ home,   Kute was very surprised to see her back in San Nicholas.  She quickly explained  the situation before going into the kitchen. There was pork adobo and rice kept warm in the rice cooker. She decided that taking cooked  food would be a much faster option instead of cooking from scratch.  Her sister offered to walk her back to the villa but she declined, needing the quiet time to gather her chaotic thoughts.

Maya admitted to herself that she was very much troubled by how Richard looked. He looked very pale and thin. He was obviously neglecting himself.

When she got back to the villa, she set the plates and cutlery on the breakfast bar.  She heated up the pork adobo in the microwave and set off to fetch Richard from the bedroom.

Maya peered  into the sitting room and heard sounds from the alcove.

Damn Richard for being difficult!  She has been gone awhile and he still did not make a move. She crossed the distance and  would have told off Richard for not taking a shower  but she saw that he was no longer on the ground.  She also noticed that Richard’s hair was damp and was wearing a  different shirt and pair of slacks. He was sitting on the round daybed with his bent head in his hands. His shoulders were shaking and he was  sobbing!

This was a sight she never envisaged to see. And Maya’s heart went out to him.  She quickly went to his side and her arms went round his very thin frame. Maya was now very sure of one thing.  Despite everything that has happened, Maya still cares very deeply for Richard.

“Richard, what’s wrong?”

to be continued…

Long-held Torch – Part 15

Author’s Note: Again, I would like to extend my thanks to Ms. Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and to Ms. Dianne for generously giving their time to critique and proofread this chapter.  Please feel free to give your honest feedback, whether good or bad.   

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After several weeks on leave, Richard was back behind his massive office desk,  reading the latest progress report on his underwater tunnel project.  There have been delays due to  very bad weather conditions and heavy equipment breakdown.   A few minutes prior, Lisa had also nervously handed him a  price increase notification from one of their main suppliers.  On top of that,  there have been a couple of reporters lurking in the premises who tried to do an ambush interview him when he walked through office reception that  late afternoon.   While business concerns and the security breach irritated him, Richard remained in high spirits.  This did not escape Lisa and his employees’ notice

“Sir?” Lisa tried to get his attention after placing various documents on Richard’s desk for  him  to sign.

“Yes, Lisa?”  Richard lifted his gaze from the file he was reading and looked at his long-time secretary.

“Sir, I just wanted to know if congratulations are in order?” Lisa asked.

Lowering the report he was reading,  he responded with a bedimpled grin, “Maya said yes. “We’re  getting married in a few weeks.  We’re  just waiting for the invitation from the printers and then we will be giving them out soon as.  So,  please mark the date.”

“That’s wonderful news, sir!” Lisa gushed. “Would you like me to place an official notification in the papers?”

Since Richard never really considered  himself a celebrity,  he did not even think of having his engagement publicly announced.  His impending marriage should  only  concern him, his family and his circle of friends.   He still can not wrap his head around the idea of his personal life being fodder for local news.

“Do you really think that’s necessary?” he consulted Lisa.

“Well,  first of all,”  Lisa began  “if you place an official notice, the press will stop speculating.”

“And second?” Richard prompted.

“Your employees will also stop gossiping about you and Maya,”  Lisa muttered.

“I am not paying them to gossip about me,” Richard answered sternly.

“Nevertheless, it is happening, sir.  Worse, some people are betting on how long your relationship with Maya will actually last,” Lisa explained  unhappily.

“What!???!” Richard bit out.

“That was how Atty. Ryan got wind that you have been seeing Maya. He overheard people betting and speculating about you and Maya in the cafeteria.”

Richard gritted his teeth and his whole body stiffened  as his infamous tiger-temper rose.  His  first instinct was to find the people responsible for starting the gossip and then fire them. Then, the voice of reason pricked him, diffusing the anger that had quickly built up.

People have been  discussing only  what they see. So far, they have seen you dating a string of women through the years. You never made secret of the fact that they were all just casual relationships.  Can you really blame them if they expect Maya to join their ranks?

“Sir, I have already dealt with the people betting over your relationship with Maya. I made sure it will hurt their pockets so that they will not do it again. But I cannot stop people from talking,” Lisa lamented.   “So, I would really recommend making an official announcement.”

“How did Atty. Ryan take it?”  Richard quietly asked as he  leaned back in his leather swivel chair.

“He was furious when he overheard. At first I thought he was going to punch the guys. But then he just walked out.”

“How has he been since?” Richard’s queried with a slight frown between his lifted brows.

“Actually, he has not been back at the office since.  He has mainly been communicating only with me or through his secretary. Apparently, he has been working from home.”

Richard pulled a deep sigh as he slightly slumped in his swivel chair.  Since the last time he saw Ryan in San Nicholas, he has tried to ring, text and even email his best friend – all to no avail.  He is assuming Ryan is still very angry about his relationship with Maya.  Richard cannot really blame him. If he had a sister of his own, he would likely react the same way, if not worse. If their roles were reversed, Richard would probably succeed in murdering Ryan if he messed with his supposed sister.

He absent-mindedly fingered his healed lower lip and smiled self-deprecatingly. He really needed to personally see his best friend. And by the way the land lies, that would entail visiting him at home.  He was trying to avoid this for he did not want Ryan’s children to witness any possible  unpleasant exchanges between Ryan and himself.

While he was instructing Lisa to proceed  with the public announcement of his engagement, his phone rang twice while the third ring was cut off midway.  When he checked the incoming call log, his phone registered Maya’s mobile number.  He returned her call but his calls were not going through.

Richard was a little concerned for he had dropped off Maya at the airport about two hours prior.  She actually looked a little pale this morning and he had advised  her to call in sick. Of course, Maya argued and insisted that she was fine.

He decided to call Time Airways’  airport office  to check on her but was informed that Maya did not board the plane and was marked off as sick.  With that information, he decided to return to the airport to pick her up so he can bring her to the doctor immediately.  Upon reaching  TA’s  staff entrance driveway, he saw Maya being escorted into a sports car by  the same man  he saw a few weeks ago when he dropped off Maya at work the first time.

Richard had noted  the other man’s dismay when he released a thoroughly-kissed Maya  that late afternoon.   Afterwards, he saw  the same man ‘sizing’ him up  which Richard returned with a  measuring look.  Although they have never been introduced, Richard recognised him as the same man who visited Maya in San Nicholas. With simple deductive reasoning, Richard identified the individual  as Capt. James Ventura and recognised him for what he was—his rival.

And Maya chose to ride in that man’s car!

“What the hell?”  Richard swore  in disbelief  that  Maya was naïve enough to go with that man!

Despite his attempt to manoeuvre his BMW quickly out of the driveway,  Richard had to step hard on the brakes to avoid hitting the other car that pulled out in front of him without any warning.  Out of frustration, he pressed down on the horn and let loose a string of  epithet describing  idiotic drivers who do not know how to use indicator lights.

When he finally merged into the afternoon rush hour traffic, the sports car was nowhere in sight. All he could do was drive into the general direction where the other car went.  He drove and got stuck in traffic for almost two hours  before deciding that guessing where Maya went was a futile exercise.  Hence, he was in a very foul temper when he finally parked his BMW in the visitors’ carpark space before going up to Maya’s condo unit.  He almost broke his key as he viciously  unlocked  the front door.  He malevolently eyed Maya’s black heels, purse and small suitcase – all of which were in the middle of the tiny lounge, like they were  hastily left there.

While Richard’s imagination was running wild,  Maya casually came out of the bedroom wearing a short towelling robe. She was obviously naked underneath.

“Andiyan ka na pala,” Maya  greeted in surprise.

“Nasaan siya?”  Richard bit out, advancing menacingly towards Maya, his hard gaze travelling up and down her shapely  fetching  form. He stopped in front of her but refrained from touching  her as he tried to keep a tight rein on his temper.

Anger can be a strong aphrodisiac.

“Siya? Sinong siya?” Maya questioned, bewilderment written all over her face as she followed Richard back into the bedroom where he stood  glaring at the crumpled bedsheets.

“I saw you with him!”  Richard bit out through gritted teeth while his hands moved to remove his tie with a vicious tug, followed by his suit. Buttons came flying as he carelessly parted his shirt before kicking his pants off.

“Si James ba ang pinag-uusapan natin? Hinatid lang niya ko—” Maya tried to explain, getting wary at the way Richard was behaving.  Something was wrong.

Then he menacingly pivoted towards Maya who instinctively  stepped back when she saw Richard’s thunderous expression.  Richard grabbed Maya by her upper arms when he saw that she was trying to evade him, as if in rejection.  Her movement was  like a red flag  waving to an already enraged bull.  Something snapped inside Richard  that moved him to imprison Maya in his arms while his lips  sealed hers in a  kiss that intended to hurt.  Richard felt Maya’s protest but he was past caring as he picked her up to drop her on the bed.   He prevented Maya’s escape by  immediately pinning her with his weight.

“Richard, stop this!”  Maya yelled.

“What’s the matter, Maya?  Do you now prefer his touch over mine?”  Richard asked while he untied her robe to tug her only clothing down her legs, tearing the silky undie  in his haste.

“You’re insane!”  Maya cried breathlessly as she tried to push him away.

Richard responded by clasping both of her hands in his to hold them high above her head. Swiftly,  he  took off  his last piece of clothing and pried Maya’s legs apart with his left knee.  He felt her resistance but she was no match against his male strength.

“It doesn’t really matter if you do, ”  Richard answered his own question  tersely. “Because you are mine!!! Mine!!!”

With that declaration,  Richard thrusted into Maya’s feminine core, subjugating  her in a way that was almost as old as time. Richard could hear Maya’s gasps of pain but his anger made him oblivious to her distress. He was handling her roughly,  the enraged green- eyed monstrous tiger  past caring.

Lowering his lids,  Richard could  still see how James Ventura held Maya as she climbed into his sports car.  In his mind’s eye, he remembers Maya hugging  the same man in San Nicholas.  And at another time,  Maya forgot about him while she was animatedly conversing with James Ventura on her mobile phone.

Richard squeezed his eyes tight as he felt the physical pleasure slowly obliterating  the images in his head.  His lips unerringly sought hers in another soul-searing kiss as his movements became frenzied.   Once again, he reached sexual ecstasy while Maya relaxed underneath him.  Grunting,  he emptied his seed  within her as he buried his head against her neck.  It was all over too quickly.

Richard  groaned while  he  hastily got up,  as if he could not bear being  intimate with Maya for a second longer.   He was sitting on the edge of the bed, slipping on his boxer briefs when he flinched from Maya’s touch on his bare back. Despite the physical release, Richard could still feel the tension borne out of anger at Maya and himself.  He is disgusted at the way he behaved.

“Richard—?”

Ignoring the plea in her tone, Richard went to pick up his trousers from the floor and put them on. He kept his back to her as he tried to  calm himself. He could feel a migraine coming as he scraped his nails through his scalp.

“I need a stiff drink!” he muttered to himself.

The bed springs creaked when  Maya slowly got up.   His steely gaze  followed her as she gathered  her robe lapels on her way to the ensuite bathroom.  Richard sighed deeply and put on his shirt which had a few missing buttons.  With his car keys in his pocket, he walked out of the bedroom  and crossed the lounge towards the front door. He would have quietly left the condo unit when Maya’s soulful cry reached out to him.

“Nooooooooooo!!!”

Richard quickly sprinted back to Maya’s bedroom then into the bathroom.  He saw Maya propping herself  by the vanity basin, one hand on her lower abdomen as blood streamed  down her legs.

Maya’s stricken eyes lifted towards his questioning look.  “The baby…I’m losing the baby—!”

Shocked, Richard calmly picked up Maya who was crying pitifully.    He held her tight on the way to his BMW, trying to calm her with soothing words.  The afternoon traffic congestion was still in full swing but Richard managed to weave  through somehow.     While outwardly appearing in control, inwardly he was in sheer panic  seeing  that Maya already lost a lot of blood while sitting on the passenger seat.   However, he could not afford to give in to the emotion.  At the moment, his internal locus of control   has been dictating that seeking  medical assistance for Maya was of paramount importance.  Everything else will have to wait.

At the hospital, Maya was  immediately taken  into the operating  room  once all important  details were noted  with  the triage nurse and  the resident  medical officer concurring  that Maya was having a miscarriage.  Richard had been pacing the corridor for a while when he remembered to inform Maya’s parents. Afterwards, he arranged for them to be transported to Manila immediately.

Ryan, being Manila-based,  was the first to arrive at the medical facility..  Richard  nodded to his bestfriend in a wordless greeting before refocusing his stare at the double doors leading to the operating room  where Maya was wheeled in  almost three  hours  earlier.

“Any word from the doctor?” Ryan asked quietly.

“None.”  Richard answered with a frown “I haven’t heard anything since she went in.”

“What exactly happened?”

“The doctor said she was having a miscarriage. From the amount of bleeding that she had…” Richard could not verbalise his fear that Maya may have already lost the baby.

Our baby.

“I see.”

“What exactly do you see, Ryan?” Richard snapped sarcastically wanting to vent his guilt and  anger at someone.  “That our relationship was a big mistake?     Are you glad now  that we  may  have lost  our first child?”

Ryan had both hands up, palms facing his bestfriend. “Richard, hindi ako nagpunta rito para makipag-away sa yo.”

Richard squeezed his eyes and raked his fingers again through his hair.  All the worry was worsening his migraine as well as his mood.  Richard knew he was spoiling for a fight.  It would be better to feel the physical pain  from Ryan’s punches than to feel helpless while Maya suffers.  He could still remember how Maya cried in pain as abdominal cramps racked her body on their way to the hospital.

“Look, brod. I’m sorry. That was uncalled for,” Richard sighed very deeply. “I am sorry I was not able to forewarn you that I was courting Maya. I am also sorry that  you found out the way you did.”

Ryan sighed as well. “The last bit was not really your fault.  However, hearing my youngest sister being referred to as one of your sl—-err—women  was enough to drive me a bit crazy.”

Richard smiled sadly.

Their conversation halted when they saw the scrub-garbed  OB-GYNE come out of the operating  room.  The lady  doctor acknowledged both Richard and Ryan before confirming that the spontaneous abortion was already  in its advanced stage when Maya entered the operating  room.

“We were unable to save the baby…” the doctor said.

Maya lost our baby. 

“Initially,  I had to induce Maya to complete the spontaneous abortion which was not successful…”

The lady doctor went on to explain that she performed a D&C  or dilation and curettage  procedure because some tissues were still retained in Maya’s uterus. Richard was only half listening.  It was when the doctor mentioned  ‘continued  haemorrhage’  that he had to refocus on what she was saying.

“I don’t understand.  What is happening to Maya?” Richard asked with fear overcoming the grief that was  building up in him.

“Richard, there is profuse uterine bleeding because Maya’s uterus is not clamping down,” the doctor reiterated patiently.  “I have already  charted drugs to address this.”

Pitocin  was administered in stronger doses via IV infusion. So far, Maya has not responded and continues to bleed.  The doctor  tried to explain Maya’s condition in layman’s terms but all  Richard could understand was that Maya remained in a very bad state.   He  could  not afford to grieve for the baby. Not yet.  He needed to have his wits about him so he can do what he can for Maya.

Haven’t you done enough? Maya lost the baby as a consequence of your rash actions.  Maya would surely despise  you when she comes round.

“But how is Maya?” Richard asked again refusing to accept his interpretation despite the doctor’s thorough explanation.

“Maya’s condition is  stable at  the moment.  But her condition remains critical so I will be closely monitoring her.”

“But Maya will recover, right?”  Richard wanted  some form of reassurance  while  he mentally struggled, his brain categorically  rejecting  the possibility of losing Maya.

“As I have said, her condition is stable  at the moment.  How she responds to the drugs in the next 24 hours will give us a better indication.  At this stage, she will require more blood.”

Ryan hastily offered to become a blood donor.

“I will ask one of the nurses to accompany you to the lab so we can do a blood type test?” she said to Ryan.

“May  I see her, doc?”  Richard  asked.

“Of course,”  the specialist doctor smiled. “she will be transferred to the ICU shortly.  Excuse me I need to brief the ICU ward charge nurse before they accept the patient.  This will take a few minutes and then you can see her in the ICU.”

Richard nodded distractedly.  His migraine was now full-blown, his head  throbbing  as he raked his fingers across his scalp viciously.  A million and one thoughts were rioting through his head, aggravating his migraine..

When Richard finally saw Maya, he  visibly paled.   Dressed in a light blue hospital gown, Maya looked deathly  pale with dark rings around her closed eyes and a  bluish tinge around her mouth. His shoulders slumped,  the burden of guilt weighing him down.

Seeing that there was an IV drip that was cannulated into a vein on her right hand, he lightly touched her other hand which was very cold.  Instinctively,  he enveloped her hand in his to warm her.

“I am so very sorry, Maya…” he whispered as he bent to kiss the hand clasped within  his. With creased forehead, he closely looked at her face,  searching for any sign that she could hear him. There was none.

Richard did not know what to do except to stare at her immobile form .  He remained that way until the ICU nurse reminded him that he needed to return to the  waiting area so that she can check Maya.  Richard wordlessly complied.

“Anong nangyari sa anak ko, Richard?” a female voice asked as he left the inner sanctum of the ICU.

It was Nanay Teresita accompanied by Tatay Arturo and Mamang.

“Nakunan ho si Maya.  Naghe -haemorrhage pa rin siya…”

“Huwag naman sana siyang matulad sa  pinsan mo,  Arturo”  Nanay Teresita started crying.

“Ang kawawa kong apo, mukhang namana rin niya ang sumpa…” Mamang muttered before bursting into tears.

A curse?  What on earth was Mamang talking about?

“Nanay! Kung anu-ano ang pinagsasasabi ninyo” chided Nanay Teresita despite her tears. “Mabuti pa pakiusapan natin yung nurse kung pwede tayong lumapit kay Maya.”

The two ladies went ahead while Richard was left with Tatay Arturo who has been sadly looking at his youngest daughter through the glass window.  The old man sighed and  threw a troubled look at Richard.

“Ito ang ikinatatakot ko…” the older man began.

“Hindi ko maintindihan. Ano hong sumpa ang sinasabi ni Mamang?” Richard frowned in confusion.

“Marahil naikwento na sayo ni Maya ang tungkol sa orihinal na may-ari ng villa?”

“Si Señor La Rosa, ” Richard nodded.

“Hindi siya ordinaryong tao lamang…” Tatay Arturo murmured as if to himself. “Siya ang ikalawang anak na lalaki ni   Don Miguel La Rosa, Vizconde de Rosaleda. Isang aristokrata.”

Richard remained quiet, trying to digest what the older man was saying.

“Sinuway niya ang kagustuhan ng kanyang mga magulang na makasal  sa isang aristokrata ring kanyang kalahi.  Dahil sumira siya sa kasunduan, isinumpa siya ng  mga magulang ng kanyang iniwang  mapapangasawa.”

“Ano ho ang binitiwang sumpa?”  Richard asked despite his disbelief.

“Na mangyayari sa kanyang magiging may-bahay  at sa lahat ng mga  babae sa lahi niya ang nangyari sa kanyang iniwang kasintahan.”

“Bakit ho? Anong nangyari?” Richard was almost afraid to ask.

“Ayon sa kwento, namatay siya sa panganganak sa isang sanggol na kulang sa buwan.”  Tatay Arturo shook his head “Ayaw kong maniwala pero – simula kay Lola Maria La Rosa, si Lola Concepcion, si Lola Pacita,  Si Lola Amelia na nag-iisang kapatid na babae ni Lolo Hermenegildo,    si Tiya Corazon na kapatid  ni tatay – lahat sila  namatay dahil  hindi maampat ang pagdurugo at kumplikasyon nang makunan.   Ang pinakahuli – ang  pinsan kong si Milagros. Sa ikatlong  buwan ng kanyang pagbubuntis nakunan  siya’t namatay  sa ospital.”

“Ano raw po ang dahilan?”  Richard was trying to get some sense of what the older man was trying to tell him.

The older man pulled a very deep sigh again.

“Binatilyo nako nung mamatay ang pinsan kong si Milagros.  Ang natatandaan kong sabi ng duktor  humina raw ang matris ni Ate Mila nang magbuntis.  Sa ikatlong buwan, nakunan si Ate Mila at hindi maampat ang pagdurugo niya. Hindi mapigilan ng gamot.”

What Richard heard sounded eerily like Maya’s current condition.  He could not help but see the similarity. And the fear already seated in his heart multiplied tenfold. Richard returned his gaze to where Maya was lying very still.  He remained like that even after Maya’s parents and grandmother left several hours later. He saw the ICU nurse replace the empty  bag of plasma and administer  drugs into Maya’s  IV at  intervals.

Footsteps approached but Richard ignored them until a corrugated cup of long black espresso   was thrusted into his hands.

“I think you need to go home,” Ryan quietly suggested as he eyed his bestfriend.

It was the first time he has seen Richard like this. Gone was the dapper, self-assured   masculine hunk of a man who always  looked like he just stepped out of  a GQ magazine. The man before him was garbed in a crumpled  shirt with several buttons missing. His  eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and  the dark stubble on his upper lip indicated that he  needed a shave.  He looked terribly haggard and miserable.

Ryan can clearly see the frustration in his friend’s stance.  Whereas before Richard  was able to control and rectify situations  by giving instructions  to the people around him, he was now powerless like the rest of them lesser mortals.

How the mighty have fallen.

“I cannot.  I am waiting for an important call from Dr De Guzman.”  Richard went on to inform him that the doctor was one of  the top  OB/GYNE specialist  in the Philippines and was affiliated with a prestigious medical facility in  Boston, MA  for a couple of decades  before he was headhunted for  a high profile hospital in Alabang.

“Are we transferring Maya?” Ryan queried.

Richard scraped his fingers through his hair and bit his lower lip. “I don’t know.  I can better decide once I have spoken to  Dr De Guzman. I am sure the doctors here are competent but I  don’t want to risk—”

Ryan looked at his friend’s profile. It was a novelty to see a less than confident Richard Lim.  If it weren’t for the dire state of health of his youngest sister, Ryan would have verbally pointed this out and would have relished ribbing  Richard to no end.

“I don’t want to risk losing Maya…”

For quite some time now,  Richard had been making  long-term plans with Maya in mind.  A future without her  was unthinkable.

By midday, Maya was transferred to a state of the art medical centre in Alabang so that Dr. De Guzman can monitor and address her condition.  Maya’s temperature had been spiking indicating infection.  Her bleeding  had still not abated.

Richard was consumed  with worry and refused to leave Maya’s side.  He was still garbed in a blue hospital gown when he returned to his vigil spot by the glass partition.  Dr. De Guzman had just left after ordering more diagnostic lab tests with a view to using a revolutionary new drug that  was still in the testing stages.  Maya’s parents have given their consent and were praying that this new drug will resolve the problem.  Mamang and Nanay Teresita  discussed Maya’s state of health with Richard’s parents when they visited that evening.

In contrast, Richard was very withdrawn from everyone.  He was hardly talking, a fact which did not escape his mother’s notice.

“Son, I know you don’t want to leave the hospital. So I brought you clothes so you can shower and change.” Esmeralda Lim whispered to her only son.

Richard merely  gave his mother  a sad smile in response.

“You need to sleep,” his mother urged him, seeing the circles around his bloodshot eyes.

“I can’t. Not while Maya is like this…” Richard answered quietly.

“You also need to take care of yourself. So that when Maya wakes up—”

“This was my fault. I am the reason why she’s critically ill.” Richard  informed his mother cryptically.

“I don’t understand, Ricky” Esmeralda Lim frowned in confusion.

With a sigh, Richard started to relate, “We were fighting and I—” he could not verbalise what he did to Maya in his anger. “the next thing  I knew she was bleeding.”

Esmeralda Lim would have discussed the matter further  but they were both distracted  when a   commotion inside  the ICU  ensued.  Alarms started beeping and the nurses started rushing towards Maya. Richard saw Dr De Guzman quickly returning beside Maya and rapidly  firing instructions to the medical team.

“Oh, God…” Richard uttered while he raked all his fingers through his hair as tears fell  down his cheeks.  And for the first time in his life, he prayed.

Dear Lord, please forgive me. I know I have been ignoring you all these years. I have always depended on my own knowledge and strength. Please do not take Maya from me.  Lord,  I cannot bear the thought of losing her. She’s my reason for living.

Mi razon de vivir.  The words silently echoed in his head.

With his  wealth and vast network,  Richard could now properly empathise with Senor La Rosa.  Though Richard  preferred  having   a  child  later  in life,  he would have loved this baby nonetheless –  for the simple reason that it  was his and Maya’s.   Losing a child was excruciatingly painful but the thought of losing Maya  was  unbearable.   He tried to visualise his life without her but he  could not.   It was just not fathomable.

Mi razon de vivir.

Shaken with this possibility, Richard felt utterly helpless.   He realized now that  all worldly powers do not matter.  Maya’s life remained  in the hands of the Lord. Richard can only pray the He would take pity on him and grant his prayer.

Mi razon de vivir.

For without Maya, there was no point in living.

 

to be continued…

Long-held Torch – Part 14

Author’s Note: I would like to thank Ms Chuchy for all her input with LHT.  My special thanks go to Ms Flor who gave me very good grammar lessons recently :D.   And of course a BIG THANKIE to Ms Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and to Ms Dianne—who all generously gave their time to critique and proofread this chapter.   Please don’t be shy to press the ‘LIKE’ button and don’t forget to give your feedback after reading.  Enjoy reading, ladies!  :D

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Maya remained on cloud nine despite constantly feeling little twinges whenever she makes  sudden movements.  Her breasts felt heavy and there was tenderness in muscles she did not even realize she had.  Making love to Richard certainly made her ache in several places, but it was a delicious ache.  More than the physical sensation, Maya’s love for Richard deepened tenfold. This also made her feel very vulnerable.

Sighing deeply, she mulled over how things had happened so fast between the two of them – leaving her brain reeling and trying to catch up. In a matter of weeks, her relationship with Richard had progressed – from him being her Kuya Ryan’s best friend, to becoming her suitor, to winding up as her boyfriend. And now, he was her fiancé.  While she was mainly thrilled that she was marrying Richard, a part of her remained disbelieving of the reality of their current relationship status. To claim that she was  overwhelmed was rather  an understatement!

Maya couldn’t stop admiring the engagement ring that is now on her left ring finger. While the ring feels heavy on her hand, she has been ecstatic with her engagement. And she loved Richard all the more for making quite an elaborate effort in his proposal.

Richard had stopped the engine and they were now in front of her parents’ house.  Feeling a bit apprehensive, she heaved a sigh as she held hands with Richard while walking towards the house’s main entrance.  As they reached the partially hidden spot  just behind the fence, Richard stopped to frame her face with his hands.  She welcomed the kiss that Richard gave her, knowing they cannot be together once they have entered the house.

Her parents are still very old-fashioned and would certainly frown upon  what happened between her and Richard the last couple of days.  Come to think of it, Maya also thought that she was rather conservative herself.  But Richard had certainly shown her otherwise!

Enveloped in his warm embrace, Maya was again getting intoxicated as her lips melded with his. Then quite abruptly, Richard ended the kiss.  With a frown marring her features, Maya opened her eyes to see Richard staggering back from a side jab that landed on his right jaw.  Coming between her and Richard was the familiar figure of her eldest sibling.

“Kuyaaaaaa, huwaaaaag!”

Maya saw Richard stumbling back into Mamang’s flower bed before quickly regaining his balance. Blood was trickling down his cut lip.

“Hayuuuuup kaaaaa!!!” her Kuya Ryan swore at his best friend “sa dinami-dami ng babae sa Pilipinas, pati ba naman utol ko?”

“Look, brod” Richard started to explain, trying to placate Ryan “it’s not what you think…”

“Maliwanag pa sa sikat ng araw ang nakita ko! Kaya pala palagi kang wala sa Maynila. Nandito ka’t bunsong kapatid ko ang pinupuntirya mo!!!” Ryan threw another side jab but Richard swung his left arm  and blocked the punch, while his right arm pushed Ryan away.

“Kuyaaaa, stop this!!!” Maya screamed at her eldest sibling who was not paying attention to her.. Then, she finally noticed Cristina Rose who was now standing beside her. “Kute, awatin mo sila, please!”

“Oks  ka lang?” Kute looked at her in disbelief. “Gusto mong ako ang tamaan ng suntok ni Kuya?”

“Baka magkasakitan sila,” Maya fretted.

“Hayaan mo sila. Mapapagod din yan.” Kute smiled and folded her arms in front of her as she watched the testosterone-fuelled encounter between their eldest sibling and his best friend.

“Ryan, seryoso ako kay Maya,” Richard exclaimed as he kept his open palms firmly positioned defensively in front of him.

“Bullshit!!! This is me you are talking to!” Ryan yelled in disbelief at him.  “What do you know about being serious? You’ve never had a serious relationship in your life!”

“That’s because I have loved Maya for a very long time,” was Richard’s beseeching response to the accusation.

“What do you mean? Since when has this been going on?” Ryan’s voice boomed “Have you touched her before?”
 
“I-I…” Richard did not know how to answer her brother.

Maya could tell Richard was taken aback by the question. Maya reckoned he was probably thinking of the time he kissed her on the beach many years ago. While nothing really happened, that kiss was far from innocent. Unfortunately, guilt was written all over Richard’s face.

“Walanghiya kaaaaaaa!!!!”Ryan went berserk as he imagined the worst of his best friend.

“Maya, stay back please!” Richard shouted when she attempted to approach them.

Stopping in her tracks, Maya could see that Richard has been continuously deflecting her eldest sibling’s blows. Getting angrier by the minute, Ryan started striking haphazardly but wasn’t getting anywhere near Richard.  From where she was standing, she could see Richard’s rock-steady legs-apart stance while his open-palm sweeps kept on parrying oncoming punches. Clearly, Richard can defend himself but was also refraining from counter-attacking her brother.

“Kuya, tigilan mo na si Richard!” Maya yelled at her older brother who kept on aggressively advancing even after Richard had shoved him away several times.

“Mapapaos ka lang sa kasisigaw kay Kuya,” commented Kute beside her.

“Magagalit si Mamang nito, eh!” Maya muttered while she eyed the havoc they were causing in Mamang’s garden as Ryan kept on knocking over potted plants. Then, they made such a ruckus when Ryan tipped over the huge metal drum that Mamang uses to collect rain to water her plants.

At this point, her parents and Mamang finally heard the commotion that was happening and were now running down the stairs.

“Naku! Anong nangyayari sa dalawang ‘to?” Mamang worriedly looked on as Tatay Arturo pulled Ryan back.

“Bitiwan ninyo ako! Papatayin ko yang lalaking yan!” yelled Ryan through gritted teeth, the veins in his neck showing in anger.

“Kumalma ka, Ryan. Kung anuman ang problema mo kay Richard, pag-usapan ninyo nang maayos,” reprimanded Tatay Arturo.

“Papaano ako kakalma? Ginalaw niya si Maya.”

At this point, Maya quickly reached Richard’s side to check his face.  His lip was now very swollen and blood was still trickling down the cut.

“Anong ibig mong sabihin?” Tatay Arturo asked.

“Naka-leave si Maya pero ilang araw nang wala siya sa condo. Wala rin siya dito.  Bakit hindi ninyo tanungin ang magaling ninyong anak kung nasaan siya at kung sino ang kasama niya?” growled Ryan.

“Maya, anong sinasabi ng kuya mo?” her father questioned.

“Tay—” Maya was tongue-tied.  How do you own up to your father that you just spent the last couple of days and nights with your boyfriend?

“Magkasama nga po kami ni Maya,” Richard calmly answered while protectively stepping in front of Maya. With her hand within his, Richard gave her a little squeeze of reassurance.

However, Richard’s upfront reply gave Ryan another burst of manic energy as he liberated himself from Tatay Arturo’s hold and went for Richard’s throat.  It was like Ryan had gone temporarily insane as he lunged at Richard in a rush, knocking Maya off her feet in the process.

“Maya—!”  Richard worriedly called out as Maya went off-balance and landed on Mamang’s flower bed, crushing a few daisies under her tushy.

“Hayuuuuup kaaaaaaa!” Ryan swore again as he attacked his friend but with a few fluid maneuvers, Richard was able to twist Ryan off-balance. He had Ryan pinned down the ground with one knee on his chest and with a firm hand circled around his neck.

“Are you okey, Maya?” Richard hollered out to her while still holding down Ryan who was choking at this point.

“I’m fine,” Maya hastily reassured him, as Kute quickly came forward to help her to her feet.

Richard immediately released Ryan and went to give Maya a hand.  Richard quickly checked Maya’s back and dusted off the dirt that clung to her dress. Both were preoccupied  with each other  so they missed the knowing smile that passed between Nanay Teresita and Mamang.

“How can you be fine when you have become one of his sluts?” Ryan hoarsely addressed his youngest sister sarcastically as he nursed his hurting throat. “Now, you even dress like one!”

Maya looked stricken at the insult as she defensively gathered her gaping front. She was sorely regretting wearing this particular sundress.

“I strongly suggest that you don’t insult Maya or I will give you the thrashing that you have been asking for.”  Richard turned and growled at Ryan.

“Ang kapal din ng mukha mo!  What you have done is the worst insult. We trusted you and treated you like family.  Then, you turn around and do this to my youngest sister,” Ryan screamed as Tatay Arturo helped his son to his feet.

“Kuya, stop this please!” Maya placed herself in the middle of the two men. Tatay Arturo was again holding Ryan. “Richard is not to blame. I seduced him!”

Oooops! You were not supposed to say that, Maya!

There was a collective gasp among the older women. Cringing as the enormity of what she has revealed sunk in, Maya wished for a magnitude 10 earthquake which would crack the ground beneath her feet wide open to swallow  her whole.   She has declared in no uncertain terms how intimate her relationship with Richard had progressed in the last few days. With this bombshell, a period of loaded silence seemed to stretch for an aeon, though it was merely seconds in reality.

“Cristina Rose, tama ba ang intindi ko?  Naisuko na ni Maya ang Bataan?” Mamang checked for understanding.

Cristina Rose started chuckling as she recovered from Maya’s shocking revelation. “Mamang, hindi lang basta-bastang naisuko.  As in ‘isinuko ng bonggang-bongga’ na may kasamang tumbling pa!”

“Kuteeeeeee!” Maya groaned under her breath.  She could also see that Richard was compressing his lips to prevent himself from grinning.

Pinagtawanan pa ’ko ng Singkit!

“Susmaryosep!” Mamang exclaimed as her right hand went to her chest.

“Nanay, okey lang kayo?” fretted Nanay Teresita when she noticed that her mother looked as if she was having chest pains.

“Medyo naninikip ang dibdib ko,” admitted Mamang.

“Naku, Mamang!” Kute exclaimed as she went to her grandmother’s side.  “Huwag na huwag kayong hihimatayin! Walang may kayang bumuhat sa inyo dito!”

“Ikaw, Cristina Rose, sumosobra ka na!” hissed Mamang at her granddaughter’s irreverent remark, forgetting her angina altogether.

“Naku, Cristina Rose, huwag mo nang buskahin ang Nanay,” chided Nanay Teresita.

“Si Mamang kasi parang gustong mag-overreact! Eh, handa namang pakasalan ni Kuya Richard si bunso.”

“Hay, naku! Hayaan na nga lang nating si Tatay ang umayos nito. Duon na tayo sa taas, Nay. Para makainom ka na ng gamot mo,” Nanay Teresita prompted her mother who complied without her usual protests.

Maya could feel her cheeks going hot as her father stared sharply at her. Richard stepped sideways, almost fully shielding Maya from her father.

“I take full responsibility for what happened.  Kaya nga po ako humaharap sa inyo para po hingin ang kamay ni Maya.”

“Kasal!????!” Ryan almost choked on the word as he balefully eyed Richard. “Nababaliw ka na ba?”

Ignoring Ryan’s outburst, Tatay Arturo pulled a calming breath and succinctly declared “Pasalamat ka’t alam kong seryoso ka kay Maya. Kung hindi, kanina pa kita tinaga diyan sa kinatatayuan mo!”

“Tay!!!” Maya cried worriedly as she held on to Richard’s arm.

“Yun! Kukunin ko na ba yung gulok mo, Tay?” Ryan offered, still lusting for Richard’s blood.

“Manahimik ka Ryan!” Tatay Arturo told off his eldest child. “Richard, Maya, umakyat na kayo para makapag-usap tayo ng masinsinan!”

Richard nodded and wordlessly guided Maya upstairs.

“Teka, Tay” Ryan asked bewilderedly “huwag ninyong sabihing papayagan ninyong makasal si Maya sa mokong na yan?”

“Kuya, hayaan mo na sila,” Kute advised her elder sibling.

“Cristina Rose, hindi ko pwedeng pabayaan lang! Teenagers pa lang kami, babaero na yan si Richard!”

“Baka naman nagbago na nitong nagka-edad na siya.”

“Yan pa ang isa! Napakalaki ng agwat ng edad nila ni Maya! Ten years!” Ryan pointed out “Para siyang matandang kabayo na gustong kumain ng sariwang damo!”

“Tumahimik ka, Redentor Yehoram Arturo Narcisso Dela Rosa! Bago kita mabatukan!” growled Tatay Arturo before he followed Richard and Maya up the stairs, leaving a cringing Ryan behind.

Ryan hated his string of given names which were the combined names of their grandfathers, Tatay’s and the saint whose feast day also fell on his natal day.  This was why he just opted to use the acronyms of his names to avoid being bullied at school.

“Pambihira naman si Tatay binanggit na naman ang buo kong pangalan! Binabaon ko na nga sa limot yun!”

“Ang kulit mo kasi, Kuya!” Kute told off her older brother with a laugh.

“Bakit sa’kin pa nagalit si Tatay?” was Ryan’s indignant question.

“Kasi naman nagbanggit ka ng matandang kabayo. Diba yan ang pang-asar ni Mamang kay Tatay?  Kasi nga dieciocho pa lang si Nanay samantalang  treinta  años na si Tatay nung magtanan sila?”

Ryan grimaced. “Pero—”

“Naku, Kuya, huwag ka nang humirit. Wala ka rin namang magagawa.  Mahal ni Maya at Kuya Richard ang isa’t isa.”

“Ha!????! Kelan pa!????!” Ryan incredulously asked.

“Mga bata pa tayo, crush na ni Maya si Kuya Richard.  Si Nanay naman matagal na pala niyang napapansin na may gusto si Kuya Richard kay Maya. Pero nito lang binyag ni Baby Abby siya nag-umpisang manligaw kay bunso.”

“Bakit hindi ko namalayan?”

“Ang hina mo kasi. Pati nga sa sapakan, mahina ka rin,” Cristina Rose teased.  “Kaya hindi ka dapat umiiba ng genre, Kuya.  Pamilya tayo ng mga dramatic actors at actresses. Huwag ka nang mag-ambisyong mag-action star!”

“Nalimutan kong nagko-compete nga pala sa martial arts ang mokong na yan nuong araw.” Ryan frowned as he lightly massaged his forearms which took the impact each time his blows were blocked by his best friend. Even the knuckles of his right hand were starting to swell. “Ang tigas pa ng panga.”

“Kaya pala iba yung galaw ni Kuya Richard. Para siyang si Ip Man,” Kute chuckled. “Buti hindi ka binugbog.”

“Hmmmmp!” Ryan glared malevolently at Cristina Rose before sprinting upstairs to follow Tatay Arturo.

“Pikon,” Kute was softly chuckling as she picked up Richard’s specs from the ground before slowly following her brother.

After a tension-filled conversation in the veranda between Tatay Arturo and Richard, the older man sighed and stood up first.  From her vantage point, Maya saw Richard and her father shake hands. Before leaving the veranda, her father even patted Richard’s shoulder, a  reassuring gesture that made Maya smile.  Everything will be alright, she said to herself.

While the two men were talking, her Kuya Ryan had been quietly standing by the balusters. Then, she saw her Kuya Ryan move to approach Richard when her father left.

“Ops, ops, saan ka pupunta bunso?” asked Kute when Maya agitatedly stood up. They were both sitting at the dining table and were monitoring what was transpiring in the veranda. Her mother was in her grandmother’s bedroom ensuring that the latter was taking her medication.

“Baka magwala na naman si Kuya, eh!” Maya fretted.

“Hindi na yan. Maupo ka lang diyan at hayaan mo silang mag-usap.”

She could see that Richard was trying to account for the recent events to his best friend.  Unfortunately, Ryan’s back was towards them. Thus Maya could not gauge how he was reacting to Richard’s lengthy explanation. Then, Maya saw Ryan abruptly stand up to leave Richard alone in the veranda.

“Anong sabi ni Kuya?” Maya asked Richard when she finally joined him with the first aid kit and an ice bag. Using a gauze damp with saline solution, Maya started patting Richard’s chin to clear off the dried blood.

“Actually, he didn’t say much. All he said was that he was far from happy with the situation. I guess he felt betrayed.” Richard sighed deeply as he inspected his specs which were slightly askew when he tried it on.

“Betrayed?” Maya asked worriedly.

“Hmmmmn,” Richard nodded.  “I broke the unspoken cardinal rule. I dated my best friend’s younger sister.”

“Yang rule na yan ang hindi ko talaga maintindihan,” Maya shook her head as she applied cold compress to Richard’s swollen lip.

“I will try to talk to him again,” Richard sighed. “It was my fault. I did not try hard enough to forewarn him before I started courting you. Then, of course, when I started, I was very distracted ‘coz you had me following you in a merry chase.”

“Ganon? Kasalanan ko?” Maya’s eyes glared at Richard mockingly.

Richard took her left hand between his palms and whispered “How can I blame you when you have made the last couple of days the happiest days of my life?  I can’t wait to spend the rest of my days with you.”

Maya’s eyes started filming with tears. Maya was searching for appropriate words to say when a voice hesitantly called their names.

“Richard…Maya…”

“Nay Teresita,” Richard stood up when Maya’s mother joined them in the veranda.

“Sabi sa’kin ni Tatay mamamanhikan na raw kayo sa susunod na linggo?” Nanay Teresita began.

“Opo, Nay,” Richard answered.

The older lady smiled at Richard as she patted his cheek. “Matagal na kitang tinuring na anak ko. Masaya ako dahil talagang magiging anak na kita.”

“Salamat po, Nay,” Richard enveloped the older lady in a hug.

Maya tearfully smiled as she looked on. Then, she was getting embraced by her mother.

“Maya,” Nanay Teresita said with a hitch in her voice. “Anak, ang swerte-swerte mo dahil mahal na mahal ka ni Richard.”

Maya smiled at her fiancè over her mother’s shoulder. “Alam ko po yun, Nay.”

“Ang bunso ko—” Nanay Teresita’s voice broke.

“Nay naman, huwag muna kayong umiyak,” Maya pleaded.

“Masaya lang ako para sa inyo ni Richard.  Dininig ng Diyos yung panalangin ko na makatagpo kayong mga anak ko ng mga magmamahal talaga sa inyo. Si Kuya mo masaya sa buhay pamilya niya. Ngayon ikaw naman.”

“Ang kaso mukhang masama pa rin ang loob ng Kuya,”  Maya remembered.

“Naku, hayaan mo lang muna yang Kuya mo sa tamporurot niya. Pasasaan ba’t huhupa din ang galit niya. Nagulat lang yun,” reassured Nanay Teresita.

“Sana nga po Nay,” Richard murmured.

“Hayaan mo, Richard,” Nanay Teresita smiled at her future son-in-law. “Kakausapin ko para maintindihan niya.”

“Salamat po.”

Maya sighed.  She should be thankful that her parents and Kute had shown their approval. Mamang, when she gets over the initial shock, would also extend her congratulations.  She just needed to work on Kuya Ryan who would hopefully come round once he had time to digest all the facts.

A week later, Richard and his parents arrived at the Dela Rosa residence just before 7pm  for the pamanhikan.  There was a little awkward moment when the two sets of parents met for the first time. The ice was quickly broken when Esmeralda Lim light-heartedly apologized and confessed that they are in the dark as it is their first time to do a pamanhikan with Richard as their only child.

“Mabuti nga po kayo makakaranas kayo ng pamanhikan.  Ako po’y hindi dahil tinanan si Teresita ko.  Alam sigurong hindi ako papayag,” retorted Mamang with pursed lips.

“Nanay talaga!” Nanay Teresita protested. “Siningit na naman yun.”

“Hmmmp, tutuo naman ah!”  Mamang insisted as she looked sharply at her son-in-law.

Kute was chuckling softly while Maya placed her palm over her mouth to control her giggle.

“Mga balae, maupo po tayo. Pagpasensiyan ‘nyo na po si Mamang. Kahit ilang dekada na ang nakakaraan, hindi pa rin siya maka-move-on sa nangyari sa’min ni Teresita.” Tatay Arturo wryly quipped as he shook hands with Richard’s father who was grinning broadly in amusement.

“May dala akong Soya Chicken at pandan chiffon cake para sa dinner natin,” offered Dona Esmeralda to Nanay Teresita.

“Naku, nag-abala pa po kayo. Salamat, balae,” enthused Nanay Teresita.

When they were all seated in the sala, the pamanhikan proper commenced.  Richard formally asked for Maya’s hand in marriage. In turn, Tatay Arturo gave his blessing and extended his hand to Richard who pressed it against his forehead. Richard did the same to Nanay Teresita’s and then Mamang’s hand. Then he shook Cristina Rose’s while his eyes scanned the space beyond her.

Maya knew that Richard was hoping to see her Kuya Ryan at this momentous occasion but he was nowhere in sight. The best of friends have not yet spoken to each other since their last encounter.  When notified of the pamanhikan, Ryan had sent word that he will not be coming and was therefore not expected. Still, Richard and Maya hoped that her eldest sibling would change his mind.

The next day, Richard picked her up so that they can accompany his parents to look at churches and to go sightseeing around San Nicholas.  While Roberto Lim was sitting on the front passenger seat beside Richard, Maya was seated at the back with Richard’s mother who noticed her ring.  The older woman was holding Maya’s left hand closely so she could scrutinize the engagement ring’s solitaire diamond.

“D grade without any visible inclusions. Excellent choice, son.”

“Thanks, Ma” replied Richard who gave Maya a wink when he caught her eye in the rear view mirror.

Richard drove the Land Cruiser to the town plaza and parallel-parked the vehicle off-street.  Maya smiled at Richard as he opened the door for her.

“Bakit?” Maya asked when Richard held her back while the older couple went ahead and inspected the inside of Catedral de San Nicolás. The church was built in 1813 and was inaugurated by José Gardoqui Jaraveita, who was then the Governor-General of the Philippines during that period.

“May nakakalimutan ka,” Richard prompted.

“Huh?” Maya shook her head.

“You haven’t kissed me good morning yet.”

Maya grinned and quickly pressed her lips against his.

“That will do for the moment,” he declared as he took her hand and led her to follow the older couple. “This was the church built by Señor La Rosa, right?”

“Ito nga.  Kaya nga halos lahat ng mga kasalan at binyagan ng pamilya namin dito ginaganap.   Si Tatay at si Kuya nga lang ang sumira ng tradisyon. Pero dito kaming magkakapatid  bininyagan.”

“I like the outside structure,” Richard complimented as he took a photo with his iPhone-5 “Let’s check indoors.”

Before they left the old church, they passed by the Administration Office. After poring through the available booking schedules, they were able to reserve a wedding date which was in two months’ time.

“Richard, I think I need to ask around for a reputable wedding planner. We cannot possibly do this in two months without one! What do you think, Maya?” Tita Esme asked.

“Tama po kayo.” Maya agreed “Also, I am due back at work by the end of this week.  We may not have enough preparation time.  Can we re-set the date, Richard?”

“No!” Richard quickly dismissed the idea of a later wedding date.

“Pero—”

“We will get married in two months’ time,” Richard cut through whatever protest she was going to voice. “Even if you have to wear something ready- made.”

Fortunately, Maya did not have to resort to the prêt à porter option. When she returned to Manila, Richard’s mother accompanied her to one of the top fashion designers in the metropolis. Esmeralda Lim was a long-time valued client and personal friend of the award-winning fashion designer and he was more than excited to design Maya’s and the entire entourage’s wedding outfits.  He was even willing to send his staff to San Nicholas to take her family’s measurements to save them the hassle of travelling to Manila.

The gay designer asked her and Richard a lot of questions with regards to what type of wedding they would like. Maya wanted a vintage Fil-Hispanic wedding. When probed which particular period they liked, Maya admitted that she was partial to the 1800’s.  The designer’s eyes lit up and started discussing turned-up collar, long-tailed waistcoats, ruffled shirt fronts and intricately-tied cravats.  The designer gleefully announced that he will have fun designing both the bride’s and the groom’s wedding outfits.

“Ruffled shirt fronts? Are you serious?” Richard asked when they were finally alone in the car, speeding away.

Maya giggled at Richard’s horrified expression. “Ideas pa lang naman yun. He will present to us several designs and we will have to approve them before he starts to work on the outfits.”

“I hope so, otherwise I really won’t wear it!” Richard said adamantly.

“Nagba-back out ka na sa kasal natin?” Maya curiously asked.

“Hindi, itatanan na lang talaga kita,” Richard responded.

Maya smiled and would have reminded him again  of his promise to Mamang when her phone rang. It was Edzelyn, her friend and colleague from Time Airways.

“Hello Edz, kamusta?” she greeted her friend.

“Heto, nagtatampo ako sa’yo,” Edzelyn replied. “Hindi mo man lang kami sinabihan na engaged ka na.  Kundi ko pa accidentally nabuksan yung society pages, hindi ko malalaman.”

“Ha?  Naka-diyaryo ang engagement ko?” Maya raised her voice for Richard’s benefit. Maya could tell that information surprised Richard as well.

“Ask which newspaper,” Richard prodded.

“Saang diyaryo mo nabasa Edz?”  Maya heard her friend refer to one of the nationally syndicated papers. “Naku, sasabihin ko naman sa inyo mamaya bago tayo mag-briefing pero mukhang naunahan na’ko.”

“So, it’s true!  You are the girl in the photo! And you are engaged to the CEO of Lim Infrastructure Inc.! My God, Maya! How did you two meet?”

“I have known him all my life. He’s my Kuya’s best friend,” Maya informed.

“But you never breathed a word about him! You owe us a lot of ‘kwento’, ha!”

Maya chuckled and promised her friend that she will tell them about her fiancé later and rang off.  Meanwhile, Richard spotted  a newsstand and  stopped by to get a copy of the newspaper. He scanned the story content before handing over the paper to Maya.

It was an article by one gossip columnist who had long chronicled Engr. Richard Lim’s love life for over a decade. The story quoted that ‘reliable sources’ had spotted the elusive bachelor, together with his parents, accompanying a pretty young lady  named ‘Maya’ to a well-known wedding planner. The writer speculated that circumstantial evidence was pointing to the conclusion that the CEO of Lim Infrastructure Inc. was finally settling down. There was a photo insert taken the day before with Richard talking to his parents while holding Maya’s hand as they left the wedding planner’s business premises.  While she has not been properly identified in the article, anyone who knew Maya could easily identify her as the pretty young lady in the photo.

“I am sorry about this,” Richard murmured.

“Why are you apologizing? You had nothing to do with this.”

“That may be the case but it’s because of my notoriety that makes me a target of gossip. And now, you will be a target as well,” Richard sighed and suggested, “I think you need to tell your place of work that you may need to beef up your security.”

“Hindi naman siguro. Hindi naman ako celebrity.” Maya dismissed his worries which annoyed Richard who went on to argue his point.  They were still lightly debating on the matter as they went up Maya’s condo unit.

Maya went to the kitchen to drink a glass of water when she eyed Emman’s note in front of the fridge. Her friend was in Dakak vacationing with his family and would be returning by the end of the week.  Richard read the same note and was now grinning from ear to ear.

“So, we have the place all to ourselves…” Richard said huskily as he looked down at Maya.

“Naku, hindi pwede yang binabalak mo! Meron akong 6pm flight!” Maya laughed at Richard’s suggestive wag of his brows.

“It’s not even 5pm yet, Maya. Sabi nga ni Jawo, kahit nga sa ilang segundo lang, marami pang pwedeng mangyari,” Richard said in an undertone as he took the glass from Maya’s fingers and placed it on the bench before pulling Maya by the waist.

“Sabi nino?” Maya was lost, unable to fully comprehend what he was talking about.

“You are obviously not a basketball fan, hmmnn?”

Maya shook her head at the rhetorical question as their bodies came closer. She draped her arms around Richard as his head went down to claim her lips in a passionate kiss while his hands went to unzip the back of Maya’s dress. The simple one-piece sleeveless navy blue outfit dropped around her feet in the next few seconds as Maya felt herself being pulled towards her bedroom. Richard’s shirt fell as they passed the dining table. Maya’s lacy bra followed as they reached her bedroom door which Richard kicked firmly closed.

It was the first time they were completely alone after a rather full-on couple of weeks.  After finally reaching an understanding, they have faced her parents, Richard has been forced into a confrontation with her Kuya Ryan, his parents arriving for the pamanhikan, to delving into 101 tasks in preparing for their wedding. While Richard’s current timing was not the best, Maya welcomed the moment of intimacy to physically reaffirm what was most important of all—their love for each other.

As Maya feared, she had barely time to shower and change into her FA uniform. She had opted to hop into Richard’s car bare of make-up and with her hair still down.  She does not have the skill to apply cosmetics in a moving vehicle though she attempted to put her hair up in a sleek chignon but failed abysmally.  When Richard stopped his BMW in front of the airport personnel entrance, Maya was wanting to quickly get out of the car so that she can dive into the nearest ladies room to make herself presentable.

Despite her quick thanks and goodbye, Richard’s arms went round her waist and commanded Maya’s full and undivided attention.

“Richard, I have to go. I am already late,” Maya pleaded, aware that airport employees were passing by and looking curiously at them.

“I want a proper kiss first.”

Maya complied and had planned to give Richard a quick kiss but he was having none of that. He took his fill when his arms enveloped Maya, uncaring of people looking on.  Maya was breathless when Richard finally loosened his hold.

“I will pick you up afterwards, okay?” Richard whispered as his lips brushed against hers.

“But that will be around 2am,” Maya informed him. She was on short haul flights at the moment with Hong Kong as her destination tonight.  “Baka mapuyat ka ng husto.”

“I will be here waiting, Maya,” Richard said in a voice that brooked no argument.  “Now, go in. You’re already late, Mrs. Lim.”

Despite wanting to come up with a smart retort, Maya dropped the subject and waved to Richard as she pivoted towards Time Airway’s premises, conscious of airport staff eyes on her and Richard. Among them were Ms. Buenaventura and Capt. James whom she both greeted as she hurriedly passed by.  Her former instructor greeted her back but Capt. James, who was in a business suit, did not for his attention was preoccupied with something behind her.  As she rounded the corner, she saw that the ‘something’ was Richard who was likewise returning Capt. James’ stare with a serious demeanor.

On her return, Maya abruptly halted by the hallway outside the briefing room.  Richard was seated a few meters away and was obviously waiting for her.

“Oh, Maya,” Edzelyn noted that her friend was not following the rest of the flight crew. “Hindi ka ba sasabay sa service?”

“Meron akong sundo, eh.” Maya smiled, shaking her head as she looked across to Richard who was now making his way towards her.

“In fairness, ang gwapo ng sundo mo,” Edzelyn teased with a  cheeky gleam. “Sige, see you tomorrow. Enjoy!”

“Edzelyn!” Maya laughed, protesting the veiled sexual innuendo before she went to meet Richard halfway.

Despite just parting from him several hours ago, Maya was excited to see him again. Richard’s arms went round her and kissed her thoroughly, not caring about the people milling around them.

“Hungry?” Richard asked afterwards as he held her hand while he dragged her small suitcase behind.

Maya shook her head.

“Then, let’s go home.”

At the condo, Maya had barely time to kick off her black heels before Richard started removing her uniform.  In between clothes dropping to the floor, Maya was being thoroughly kissed and caressed.

“You’re insatiable,” Maya huskily told him.

“Where you are concerned, yes!” Richard unashamedly admitted as he took her to bed.

“Hindi ka ba hinahanap sa inyo? Di ba dapat kasama mo ang parents mo habang nandito sila sa Pilipinas?” Maya asked as she tried to calm her uneven breathing while she rested on his bare chest an hour later.

“Merong blessing ni Mama yung pag-stay ko dito,” Richard answered while he kept his eyes closed, his chest likewise still heaving slightly.

“Blessing?”

“Uhhhmm,” Richard grunted. “I need to be here so I can start on her request.”

“Request? Anong request?”

Richard opened his eyes and looked down at her. “Mama wants grandchildren right away.  So, she does not mind my absence.”

“Don’t I have a say in that?” Maya laughed, embarassed that her future mother-in-law knows exactly what they have been doing.

“Of course you do but so far,” he smiled wolfishly at her. “you have been a very enthusiastic participant in the process.”

Inevitably, they both woke up late and had a leisurely brunch before making love again. Much later, Richard brought her to work and then picked her up afterwards. Richard would also bring her to meet up with the wedding planner to choose the theme, look, colors, music and various other details.   At one time, his mother joined them for food tasting but they still eventually ended up at her condo with Richard always staying the night. Hence, Richard was practically living with her ever since they got back to Manila. Even when Emman returned from his vacation, Richard continued to stay with Maya, much to her embarrassment.

The weeks quickly went with a flurry of preparation for the wedding.  They even did a prenuptial shoot with a locally renowned photography/videography team.   It was probably due to the hectic schedule and the sleep-deprived passionate days and nights with Richard that was making Maya feel so tired and sleepy even during flights.  She has also lost her appetite lately, but it was her morning sickness the last few days  that alerted her to the possibility.

Maya washed her face by the sink and then stripped to look at herself in the mirror.  Except for the fact that she gained a bit of weight, there was no visible bump on her abdomen. She counted back and realized that it has been almost five weeks since Richard first made love to her and she has not had her menses in that span of time!

Her suspicions became stronger when she went dizzy and nearly fainted  while having the pre-flight briefing.  One look at Maya’s wan face and Ms. Callandra ordered her to go to the sick bay.  There she discussed her suspicions with the nurse who did a pregnancy test, which came out positive.

Ecstatic with the news, Maya tried to call Richard right away. Unfortunately, her phone was already blinking until it died midway at the third ring.  The news will have to wait until she sees him at home, she thought.

Maya checked if there was any available service van that could take her home but there was none.   So, she decided to catch a cab which was impossible during the rush hour. She was standing a few minutes outside the TA airport premises when she started feeling dizzy. Her hands flailed out to hold on to the chrome stair railing to avoid falling down.

“Maya, are you alright?” asked a familiar voice.

Maya slowly looked up as sudden movements were making her dizzier.

“James…” Maya tried to muster a smile.

“You don’t look well. Do you want me to take you to the sick bay?”  James offered.

“Kagagaling ko lang dun.”  Maya opted not to tell him of her pregnancy as she wanted to keep the secret to herself for the moment.  Besides,  Richard deserved to know first before anyone else.

“Gusto mong dalhin kita sa doctor?”

Maya would definitely like to see a doctor but she would like Richard to accompany her.
“Hindi na. Kailangan ko lang magpahinga kaya nga uuwi na’ko.”

“Sige, I will take you home na lang.” James declared.

“Naku, James! Huwag na! Nakakahiya. Isa pa, rush hour na. Maiipit ka sa traffic.”

“All the more reason that I should take you home so you can rest.”

“Pero—”

“Maya, I insist.”  James turned to thank the valet parking staff who brought his Porsche Carrera GT to the front driveway for him.   He firmly took her elbow and guided her to the passenger side.  Gratefully smiling up at James, Maya lowered herself into the seat.

If Maya had looked to her left, she would have seen the navy  blue BMW going into TA’s driveway to join the queue of cars. Had she done so, she  would have felt very worried with the thunderous expression from the BMW’s driver who gritted his  teeth  while he watched Maya  and her male companion join the afternoon traffic.

to be continued…

Long-held Torch – Part 13

Single long stem red rose laying on pillow. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

Author’s note: Muchas gracias Alpha Grace y Chuchy. Our collaboration has greatly improved my LHT series which has gained quite a number of eager followers.

To my dear readers, please feel free to comment for I love reading your feedback as much as I love writing the LHT series. Enjoy :D :D :D

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Part 13

Richard could not believe his ears when Maya said that she wanted to stay with him instead of going home. It was guaranteed to obliterate his self-control into oblivion. Despite his years of experience, he behaved like a teenager and eagerly took what Maya offered.

And how she offered!

Maya gave herself unreservedly and beautifully that he lost his head. It was a good thing Maya pleaded that he take her gently that he was able to temper his libido somehow. He had felt the undeniable proof of her innocence but it was not enough to stop him from possessing her. If anything, the knowledge that Maya had never known any other man just aroused him further.

Making love to Maya was incredible just as he imagined and more. He had often fantasized making love to her eversince that fateful night when he saw her walking up the beach, her naked body glistening with sea water. That beautiful teen had blossomed into an even more beautiful young lady.

The beautiful young lady who became a woman in his arms.

Oh, Maya” he said hoarsely as he moved in steady rhythm inside her very hot and very tight core that he felt himself being squeezed in a vice-like grip “you’re so incredibly tight, sweetheart.”

Richard kissed her palm when he felt her fingers on his face. Then he swooped down to bestow her yet another passionate kiss. Noting the creases around her eyes, Richard knew she was in pain but he just could not stop even if his life depended on it. He was gripped in intense pleasure as he involuntarily hastened his rhythm until he felt his groin constricting.

Maaayaaaaaaa!” he groaned through gritted teeth as he could feel one of the most powerful orgasm of his life racking his body as his seed spilled inside her. Despite not having fully recovered, he lifted himself off for he was loathe to crush her with his heavy weight. He immediately felt bereft of her very snug soft heat. He couldn’t resist giving a very sleepy Maya another deep lingering kiss before he went to lie beside her.

It was a mind-blowing experience that left him in a daze. He was so enthralled with her that he threw all caution to the winds and made love to her without sparing a thought to contraception. And he does not care! He wanted to be close to Maya without any barrier whatsoever.

As his tachypneic breathing slowly decelerated to a more normal rate, his bemused gaze went over Maya’s features that were serene in her sleep. Her lips were swollen from his kisses and her cheeks were still flushed pink. His gaze went over her smooth and shapely length until it arrested on the blood stain on her thighs. The same stain was likewise partially coating his still erect shaft.

So, he has not imagined it!

Maya was a virgin until a few minutes ago! He still could not fully take that in. Given her age and her past romantic relationships, somehow she has managed to stay virgo intacta. How on earth was that possible? Did she hook up with one milksoppy boyfriend after another? If she was his, he would not be able to keep his hands off her.

This clearly explains your current post coital state, of course.

I am not like one of her milksoppy ex-boyfriends.

Hang on a minute! Who told you she had boyfriends in the first place?

No one in particular really, he answered himself. Ryan, and then recently Emman, informed him that Maya dated a few guys.

But no one specifically told you that she had a boyfriend, eh? You made that grossly wrong assumption all by yourself, Richard Lim!

Priding himself as a man of the world, he had told Maya that he could not care less about her past boyfriends. But if truth be told, he has been torturing himself with thoughts of Maya being intimate with other men when they only existed in his head. This would explain her blushing discomfort and extreme shyness whenever they get hot and heavy. He even subjected himself to extreme sexual frustration while he ‘exorcised’ her alleged ex-boyfriends out of her system. Yet, all this time, she has always been tucked up in her chaste bed all by herself.

Richard felt like a bloody idiot!

Nevertheless, he was a very lucky idiot, not to mention a very jubilant idiot for Maya chose him to be her first lover. He wondered whether she has also been waiting for him all these years. Richard would like to think so. He is fervently hoping that this is the case.

Smiling inwardly, he gathered her in his arms and pulled the cotton sheet over the both of them. Maya nuzzled his shoulder before resettling back to sleep. The caress sent jolts of pleasure through his spine but he doubted if Maya would welcome being made love to all over again. Still aroused and far from satisfied, Richard absently thought that it would probably take making love with Maya for several weeks, probably months, before he could dampen down his desire for her into a more normal level.

Smiling wryly, Richard settled down beside her and listened to her even breathing. For the first time in years, he felt emotional contentment despite his physical dissatisfaction. Being with the woman you love makes all the difference in the world. In his heart and mind, what happened between them felt right.

So, how will you face Tatay Arturo and Nanay Teresita after this?

A frown marred his handsome chinito features as his conscience pricked him. Maya’s parents have trusted him and he turned around to bed their daughter almost right under their noses. He slowly got up so that he would not jolt Maya out of her rest. He needed to make a few phone calls.

After almost an hour, he came back to bed. He kissed Maya’s forehead and snuggled as close as possible to her. He smiled to himself as this would be the first time he would literally be sleeping with a woman. No, that was not right. He had first slept with Maya the night of the storm.

I love you, Maya” he whispered into her hair before he closed his lids.

Richard felt her initially stirring around daybreak before resettling back to sleep. He sleepily waited if she will wake up. When she didn’t, Richard kissed Maya’s forehead before he slowly got up to reach for the towel hanging on the gallinera seat’s backrest. Tucking it around his middle, he went to the alcove to carefully pick a red rose from the thick hedge to place it on the pillow by Maya’s head.

After having a shower, he didn’t bother putting on clothes. With a wrapped towel around his middle, he went to the kitchen. He came back with a huge oval platter of fluffy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, buttered wholemeal toast and a small pot of black coffee and a tiny jug of fresh milk. There were also slices of rockmelon, pineapple and a lakatan banana.

Richard saw that Maya was awake and was smelling the red rose. Her hair was spread across his pillow and there was a healthy glow on her skin. Richard thought she looked like a woman who had just been made love to. She smiled shyly as she sat up in bed while trying to tuck the bed sheet to cover herself as another enchanting blush was creeping up her cheeks.

Richard wolfishly smiled as he watched her movements. He mentally debated whether to remind her of his photographic memory or just let her be. Richard considered her hiding behind the sheet as rather futile for he had already memorized every inch of her.

Good morning, sweetheart” he greeted her with a deep lingering kiss as he placed the bed tray table across her legs.

Good morning” was her husky reply.

We forgot about dinner last night so I am sure you are very hungry,” he stated as he sat down on the bed beside her.

Mmmmmnnnn” Maya appreciatively breathed in the savoury aroma as she regarded the breakfast feast before her. Then she poured the coffee into two cups and spooned sugar into one. Maya’s eyes rounded as Richard offered a forkful of scrambled eggs by her lips. Richard smiled as Maya opened her mouth. Smiling sweetly as she munched, Maya picked up a crunchy bacon strip and fed it to him.

Marunong ka rin palang magluto,” Maya complimented as she peeled and sliced the banana to top it on a toast.

Of course,” Richard nodded while chewing as he placed another forkful of scrambled eggs into her mouth and then continued “I had no choice but to learn when I lived overseas.”

Nung nag-stay ka sa Dubai?” she asked after swallowing.

Richard nodded again and sipped his black coffee as he watched Maya eat. She mainly munched on her ‘banana on toast’ and then the sliced fruits.

Finish the eggs, sweetheart,” he instructed as he considered her shoulder frame. With his connoisseur eye, Richard evaluated that Maya could do with a bit more weight. She would be sexier, he mused as his eyes became mere slits as he recalled what happened the night before.

Ikaw?”

I usually just have coffee first.” Richard really can not eat first thing in the morning. He needed to work up an appetite before he could have breakfast. “I’ll be back.”

Richard disappeared into the bathroom where he had recently installed a huge corner spa bath that could easily fit three people. He turned on the tap to fill it up with very warm water. Then he picked up a bottle of bath oil and squirted some into the rising water level.

Approaching the bed, he smiled at Maya who was finishing her coffee when he came back. He put away the tray and scooped up Maya who insisted on holding onto the sheet. He glimpsed the palm-size patch of dried blood on the bed’s fitted sheet as he pivoted towards the bathroom.

Are you very sore?” he asked in concern.

Richard’s knowledge with virgins was limited. The last time he made love to one was during his college days for he avoided them like the plague. Still, he was aware that the ‘first time’ was not a pleasurable experience for most, if not all women. And the morning-after soreness was reputed to be even worse. Richard reckoned it would be akin to exercising for the first time after leading a sedentary lifestyle. Every aching muscle fibre would be protesting with every movement.

Richard noted Maya’s heightening blush as she nodded. Richard sighed as his hopes of making love to her again were clearly dashed. It can’t be helped, Richard thought. He needed to make more allowances for her inexperience. He was just glad they can spend a few days together.

Hmmmnn, well, this should ease some of the soreness off,” he told her as he gently lowered her into the middle of the filled spa bath. He grinned when Maya had quickly taken the sheet off and gave the bundle to him to avoid wetting it. He placed it on top of the clothes hamper before shedding his towel. He stepped naked into the bath and sat behind Maya, with his long limbs on either side of her. He picked up the flannel and proceeded to wash her smooth back. He leaned forward when he went to wash her nape which he just had to bestow a kiss.

Richard, may kiliti ako diyan!” Maya protested giddily as she tried to move away.

He just grinned as he went to wash her shoulders and arms. Leaning forward, he paid a lavish and lengthy attention to her twin peaks which had Maya squirming. He lowered the flannel to her abdominal area and then went further to wash off the dried blood on her thighs which made Maya sit very still.

Maya…”

Hmmmnnn?”

How come I was your first?” he asked in a husky tone.

The ensuing silence was only disturbed by the gentle lap of water against their bodies.

Maya?”

Ahhh….eh…w-wala naman kasi akong naging boyfriend bukod sayo,” she explained hesitantly.

Elation surged in him as he confirmed that he was her first boyfriend as well. This could mean that she never felt any strong emotion towards any other man except him. He vowed he would be the last man in her life as well.

Pero bakit nga?” Richard persisted. “I mean, I am sure you had suitors and that you have dated…”

That’s right,” Maya agreed quickly “ Pero hindi naman ibig sabihin na nakipag-date ako sa guy na magiging boyfriend ko na siya. Hindi rin ibig sabihin na nakipagdate ako sa guy na maika-kama na niya ‘ko!”

Without meaning to, he was upsetting Maya whose head was bent. Tendrils have escaped her hastily chignoned hair and they were getting wet.

Look, I am sorry. I did not mean to question your morals. I would be the last person to do that given my very chequered past. What I have been wanting to ask was and have been botching so far—”

Maya turned her head and looked directly at him with her wary doe-eyes that he lost his train of thoughts for a few seconds.

Did you not feel strong attraction to the guys you have dated?”

Maya looked away, frowning slightly in silent contemplation.

I was attracted enough to date them…but I don’t know…” Maya replied almost lost in her own thoughts “something was preventing me to go into a relationship. And I have been baffled at how I felt for years. I have often asked myself why I never could take the next step. Then a few weeks ago, my question was finally answered…”

…I was still in love with you.” Maya turned her head to look seriously at him.

How long have you known?” he asked quietly.

Maya smiled sweetly. “Tulad ng sabi ko, matagal na.”

Since when?” Richard insisted when Maya looked away.

If you must know, I have always felt something for you. It was weird coz I really disliked you when I was a kid coz you teased me a lot.”

Richard grinned at her as he resumed washing her thighs.

You were such a cute smiley kid even without your front teeth, I could not resist making you pout. Ang haba kasi ng nguso mo kapag naka-irap.”

Ang sama mo! Iniiyakan ko na nga nung mawala yung front teeth ko tapos tawagin mo ba naman akong ‘Bungi’. Lakas mo kayang mang-asar!” Maya chided him “Anyway, I did not like you very much. Or so I thought. Then I finally realised that I feel strange whenever you are around.”

In what way strange?” Richard ‘s eyes were lifted in query.

It’s like having butterflies fluttering around in my stomach whenever you are near. Then I found myself missing you. Especially when you and Kuya graduated from your degree studies and you both became busy with your respective careers. I was twelve when it finally dawned on me that I have a crush on you. But you stayed away.” she finished accusingly.

But I still came back often.” Richard claimed defensively.

Only for short visits. You never stayed for the summer months anymore. So, I got even angrier at you. I know it was irrational and childish but I was angry at you.”

Kaya pala hindi ka ngumingiti sakin. Masayahin ka pero naka-irap ka pag ako na ang kaharap mo.”

Naging protective mechanism ko yata yung magalit para hindi mo mahalata na may crush ako sayo,” Maya explained with a giggle.

Hmmm…ang akala ko naman, ayaw mo talaga sakin.” Richard murmured against her nape. “Yet when I kissed you that night on the beach, I knew you were not kissing me back but I felt your response. I thought I imagined it coz afterwards your eyes were hating my guts. Then you ran from me crying.”

Kasi naman first kiss ko yun. It was so momentous for me. Then you said that it was just a demonstration of ‘the possible dangers’ that can happen to me.” Maya pouted.

And I still stand by that. You should not walk on the beach or anywhere else for that matter in the middle of the night, most especially when you are alone.” Richard declared and then sighed. “That night I told myself that I needed to stay away because I knew I will not be able to keep my distance if I keep on staying under your parents’ roof.”

Funny, that was also the night I realised that I was in love with you.” Maya smiled sweetly at him as she turned to to kneel facing him to drape her arms around his neck. “Although later, I tried to convince myself that I was over you. I was merely deluding myself all these years. Because I am still crazy about you.”

Richard welcomed and deepened the kiss that Maya gave him after her confession. His arms went round her, exulting in being able to see and hold her most intimately. However, he can also feel his control slipping fast.

Maya, we need to stop…” was his breathless warning when he broke off the kiss “unless, you want to make love again.”

Maya looked dreamily at him before a look of horror replaced her expression “Goodness, your shoulders are bleeding!”

Richard frowned and looked at his left and right shoulders where crescent-shaped marks were bleeding again. The high temperature of the steamy water must have loosened off the scabbed platelet plugs.

His grinned lop-sidedly as he informed her “You made those cuts last night, sweetheart.”

Maya was even more horrified as recognition entered her eyes. “Naku, sorry hindi ko sinasadya.”

Don’t worry about it, Maya. I did not even feel it…” he paused as his eyes gleamed “…coz we were making love at the time.”

His admission brought on another wave of colour to creep up Maya’s cheeks. He frowned when Maya shivered. “Are you getting cold?”

At her nod, he adjusted the thermostat to a higher setting and then turned on the jacuzzi. With eyes closed, Richard was just quite content on holding Maya as they allowed hydrotherapy to soothe their muscles.

Afterwards, he went into his closet to put on a singlet and cotton printed shorts. He picked up another pair of shorts and a T-shirt which Maya could wear but when he rejoined her in the bedroom, she was already wearing his pale pink long sleeved polo shirt which he had shed the night before. With the shirt tail reaching down her mid-thigh, she looked very sexy.

Don’t you want some fresh clothes on?”

Maya smilingly shook her head. “Mas gusto kong i-suot ito. Kung okey lang sayo?”

Why should I mind if you go walking around the house half-naked with just my shirt?” he teased “but just to be on the safe side, I think it’s best we stay mainly in the master suite. I don’t want Tata Igme getting over-excited and suffering a heart attack if he sees you in that get-up.”

Maya giggled. “Jealous, Richard?”

Most definitely jealous, Maya. I don’t want any other male seeing what should be for my eyes only.” Richard said mockingly but with a very serious undertone as he closed the gap between them and kissed her nose. “Now what do you want to do?”

Hmmmmmnnn” Maya looked around the bedroom and stated “I want to look at curtain designs.”

Richard’s brows lifted again.

The house needs curtains. I can check some websites to see the current trends for window furnishings.”

Okey, I will set up the laptops in the sitting room. I will also have to check my emails for anything that urgently needs my attention.”

Richard had actually turned off his phone since yesterday afternoon for he wanted this special time with Maya to be uninterrupted. He had only turned it on for an hour to talk to Lisa to organise a special delivery for him. Afterwhich, he spoke lengthily to his parents to inform them of his marriage plans and to solicit their support. His father was relieved to hear that he was finally settling down while his mother was ecstatic and already requesting grandchildren right away.

Children.

The idea of precocious little versions of Maya running around barefoot was making him grin from ear to ear. Ideally, he would love three or four kids. Of course, this would also depend on Maya. But hopefully not quite yet. He preferred to have Maya all to himself for the first two or three years before bringing in kids to the equation.

Some things just happen, Richard. Especially, how you lost control last night. Maya could already be pregnant.

That thought nagged him as they both worked in companionable silence with a laptop each until Maya got up stating she was tired and getting back to bed. Richard noticed Maya walking slowly and wincing with every step. He frowned at her retreating back, wanting to scold her for suffering in silence. Richard got up and went to the kitchen. He took and opened a small packet of Oreo biscuits and a milky Milo drink which he made Maya consume to line her stomach before giving her Ibuprofen tablets.

Why did you not tell me you were still sore?” Richard reprimanded her as he joined her in bed to hold her in his arms.

Okey naman ako kanina after the spa bath, eh. Ang kaso bumibigat yung pakiramdam ko. Para akong may sinat. Magkaka-flu yata ako.” Maya revealed.

Oh, Maya, you are so good for my ego! I usually get fantastic reviews for my bedroom performance.” Richard chuckled “But definitely not with you coz I actually made you sick. Priceless!”

Maya stuck out her tongue at him which made Richard laugh even harder. He gave her a squeeze and another peck on the nose. He was in bed again with Maya and was thoroughly enjoying this lazy day.

Later that evening, he stood up when he heard the familiar sound of the whirring blades of his helicopter hovering abovehead. Despite getting up from the bed carefully, Maya stirred and asked him where he was going.

I am just going outside for a few minutes. Stay here please.” He kissed her on the lips before he went outside to his expansive front lawn to wait for a very special delivery.

Lisa jumped out of the chopper, followed by a couple of burly men carrying a myriad of items. With his face split with a wide grin, Richard came forward to greet Lisa and her companions.

Thank you, Lisa, for doing this for me.” Richard expressed his gratitude as Lisa handed him a small package. He took the square box out of the bag and opened it. Smiling broadly, he inspected the exquisitely-made engagement ring for the first time. Though he never designed any jewellery before, he found himself drawing Maya’s engagement ring one night when he got inspired by Señor DE La Rosa’s wood carvings.

Naku, sir. It is a privilege to be able to assist you on this very special occasion. I have the the dress you ordered. I think I have the right size.” Lisa looked around then asked “Sir, saan po kami magse-set up?”

Richard snapped the box shut and smiled at Lisa. “We have to go to the beachfront. Please follow me.”

An hour almost passed when Richard returned to the master’s bedroom. He went to lie beside Maya to wake her up with kisses. She merely groaned and shifted away. He snuggled behind her again and started kissing her neck.

Nangingiliti ka naman, eh…” Maya moaned sleepily.

Wake up sleepy head. We’re going out,” he announced as he straightened by the side of the bed.

Saan tayo pupunta?” Maya finally opened her eyes and stretched on the bed, unknowingly enticing Richard who could only look on as the movement further exposed her shapely legs. He watched as she got up and smiled at him before giving him a hug and resting her head on his chest.

It’s a surprise.” Richard replied as he enfolded her in his arms. “Got a dress for you.”

Saan?” Maya lifted her head from him.

Richard nodded his head towards the direction of the turquoise printed maxi dress which he had laid out over the gallinera’s backrest. He had placed a canvass slingback sandal of the same shade by the chair’s feet.

Maya got up and measured the dress against her length. “Thank you for the surprise.”

Closing the gap between them, Richard held her round the waist and said “That wasn’t my surprise.”

Huh?” Maya frowned.

Richard shook his head. “Change into that so we can get out of the house.”

Maya grinned up at him and complied. Richard was buttoning up his short sleeved polo shirt when Maya approached to fix his collar.

Thanks, sweetheart,” he murmured before bestowing a quick kiss on her lips.

Richard then took her right hand in his left and guided her towards the main door to the cobbled path leading to the beach. Leisurely, they walked hand in hand under the star spangled night. A sweet fragrance was wafting from the clumps of jasmine bushes among the rocks.

They came upon a laid-out tartan blue picnic rug in front of a bonfire. There was a picnic basket and a bucket of ice with a bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne, a couple of wine flutes and a few large square cushions.

Do you remember this spot?” Richard asked.

Maya frowned and looked around. They were on the stretch of beach between the Spanish villa and her parent’s house. No one was about except the two of them.

It was a night like this when I kissed you eight years ago right on this spot.” Richard looked down at her.

Dito ba yun?”

Richard nodded wordlessly.

Maya looked at the spot with new eyes and caught the reflection of fire against a very smooth rounded surface that was on top of the wicker basket’s lid. Maya slowly approached it with Richard right behind her.

It’s a compass,” Maya exclaimed as she picked it up, to touch the smooth glass face.

Yes, it’s an antique brass compass on its top cover, and when you open the flap, it’s a pocket watch. It was one of Señor La Rosa’s treasures that I found with the statue. I think it was appropriate to bring it out for the occasion.”

Maya looked at him questioningly.

A compass guides voyagers because of its attraction to the magnetic north which is marked abovehead by Polaris. Both have guided Señor La Rosa in his journey from his land of birth from the far side of the globe to this particular island, to follow the woman he loves, and to ultimately make this place their home.”

Richard saw Maya’s eyes searching his and he smiled as he brought out the small square box out of his beige slack’s right pocket.

I am making the villa a very comfortable house but I need ‘you’ to make it a home. You already know of my desire to make you my wife. I would like to know if this is also what you want.” Richard paused to go down on one knee in front of Maya as he opened the box. “I am asking you to marry me, Maya.”

Oh, Richard…” Maya’s smiling eyes glistened with tears that gathered and was threatening to fall.

Make me the happiest man on earth, Maya. Say yes, sweetheart.” Richard prompted huskily.

Yes…yes!” Maya’s tears fell down her cheeks as she looked at the beautiful ring inside the box.

Richard pulled a sigh of relief, unaware that he was holding his breath the entire time. He got up and took the ring out of its cushion bed, placed it on Maya’s ring finger and kissed her knuckles. Then he wiped the tears off her cheeks with the pads of his fingers afterwhich he kissed her with a soul-searing kiss that conveyed all the emotion that he was feeling. They were both breathless when the liplock ended, with Maya resting her cheek against him. Richard held her around the waist, savouring the wonderful milestone in their relationship.

Under the stars, Richard and Maya celebrated their engagement with champagne. The picnic basket contained a square platter of clubhouse-style sandwiches, fruits and a variety of cheeses which became their supper. He hand-fed the sliced fruits to her while Maya kept on popping different cheeses into his mouth.

When they got back to the house, Maya sat on the four-poster bed as she scrutinised her ring under the bedside lamp. It was the intertwined rose design that pervaded the villa. The only addition was that a one-carat brilliant-cut  diamond was sitting on the fully bloomed rose and was with its accompanying rose bud with leaves attached to intertwined stems that formed the circle of the ring which had intricate tiny little nodules. It was made of precious platinum metal.

Do you like it?” Richard asked as he sat beside her on the four-poster bed.

Like it? I love it!” Maya’s arms went round his nape and kissed him again “who designed this?”

Señor La Rosa did,” Richard quipped “well, I merely applied his intertwined roses design into a ring.”

It’s so beautiful” Maya said in awe “how did you know my ring size?”

Richard smiled “I took Nanay’s ring finger size. Sabi niya pareho kayo ng mga daliri.”

Alam ni Nanay na magpo-propose ka sakin?” Maya’s head was angled at him in query.

Maya, I asked Tatay and Nanay’s permission to court you.”

Maya smiled at him, touched at his gesture of sincerity. Richard touched his forehead against hers.

I love you, Maya.”

I love you, too.” Maya angled her face and kissed him deeply as she removed his specs to put it on the bedside table. Richard revelled in this less inhibited Maya who instigates kisses. However, he was a bit worried when Maya started to remove his shirt and started to rain kisses down the column of his throat.

Ahhhmm, Maya?”

Hmmmmm?” she murmured as she punctuated his Adam’s apple with a moist kiss that had him grunting.

Aren’t you sore?”

I’m fine. I want to make love to you again” she admitted huskily.

Believe me, I want to make love to you over and over and over again.” he said with feeling  “But you were very sore earlier…”

Do I need to seduce you, Richard?” Maya asked in a sultry tone.

Sweetheart, you can effortlessly seduce me with just a look.” Richard smiled wolfishly.

Is that what happened yesterday?”

Uhhhmmmm.” Richard nodded with a grin.

Then I should be able to repeat the feat.” Maya declared as she proceeded to divest him of his polo shirt.

Richard’s tachycardiac heart rate went even higher as Maya’s fingers touched the skin that she has been exposing. She would nuzzle or kiss him. When she reached his pects, she bent her head to lave his nipple that made him gasp. Her head went further down to his flat abdomen to the waistband of his pants. This time she was able to manage his pants’ clasp and zip. Richard lifted his bottom to ease off his beige slacks as she watched Maya stand up to undress until she was just in her lacy bra and undies. Richard felt Maya pushing him down the bed and he very willingly complied.

Maya’s hands hesitated for a long time over his boxer-briefs so he took pity on her and peeled it off himself.

Maya’s fascination was very evident to Richard who was just waiting with bated breath for her next move. Then, as if in a trance, Maya’s fingers lightly went over his groin to the tuft of hair trailing a path to his hard shaft that seemed to grow harder with her caress. Richard closed his eyes as spine-tingling sensation shoot through him with her tactile caresses. Her feather-light fingers traced the ridges formed by a blood vessel network until she reached the rounded head where a clear drop of precome was glistening.

Richard gasped as incredible pleasure shot through his spine as he felt a very moist lightly abrasive warmth brushing over his tip. Dazedly, Richard opened his eyes and visually registered Maya’s head by his groin. And because he could not handle the extreme sensation, he pulled Maya who toppled over his chest.

Ayaw mo ba nung ginawa ko?” Maya asked anxiously as she propped herself up to look down at him.

On the contrary, sweetheart, I liked it just a bit way too much.” Richard muttered as he deftly took off her bra to free her perky breasts. He gently flipped her over so that he can access all her erogenous zones from her neck as he performed his meticulous downward kiss trail once more until he was ‘feasting’ on her once again. His lingual onslaught brought her to dizzying heights until Maya shuddered, reaching the peak of sexual ecstasy.

However, Richard heard her gasp of pain once more when he started to enter her. He retreated and moved over to sit with his back resting at the centre headboard of the four-poster bed. He pulled Maya so that he could hold her against his chest as he tried to get his libido under control.

Richard, ayaw mo na ba?”

I do but you are still in pain,” Richard said simply, his breathing still very uneven.

Hindi ba masakit sa puson yan?” Maya asked indicating his state of arousal as she knelt by his side to look at him worriedly.

Uhmmmmm,” Richard nodded “well, we can try something else…”

What?”

You can make love to me,” Richard suggested.

How?” Maya looked at him blankly.

Come on top of me sweetheart. This way you can control the movements and the pain.”

Richard patiently guided her as he instructed her to kneel astride him. With her hands gripping his forearms, Maya lowered herself as he guided his erect shaft into her feminine core. Richard gritted his teeth, almost delirious with pleasure at how hot and tight she was.

Maya was groaning in pain as she stilled after impaling herself on top of him. Richard kissed her while running his hands all over her flushed smooth length. He bent his head to suckle her pinkish peaks which had Maya panting. Then Maya started moving slowly, jerkily at first until Richard held her by the waist and guided her pace until she was moving rhythmically.

Maya had such a serious expression on her face as she concentrated on her sensual task that Richard could not resist kissing her torridly before paying attention to her twin peaked globes once more.

Richard, I can’t do this if you keep on kissing me there.” Maya complained raggedly.

Then, I will help you sweetheart.” Richard moved his pelvis upwards meeting Maya’s movements halfway.

Ohhhhh…” Maya moaned.

Are you still in pain?” Richard searched her features as he halted his upward thrusts.

Maya shook her head, her shoulder length tresses brushing against his face. “Not too much. It also feels so good.”

Richard could feel the tension from his groin rising as Maya moaned in pleasure as she moved. Then Maya was gripping his shoulders once more as she threw back her head to expose the swan-like column of her neck which was begging for his lip caress.

Richaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrd!!!!” screamed Maya as she reached her first sexual peak with him inside her.

In turn, Richard felt his shaft being gripped by her inner muscles in another mind-blowing climax that had him shuddering helplessly underneath her.

Richard embraced Maya as she collapsed on top of him in exhaustion. He loved the feel of her length on top of him as he continued to hold her. Before he closed his eyes, he pulled the bedclothes over them. The temperature lowers significantly in the very early hours of the morning and he did not want Maya getting cold.

I love you, Maya. You are my reason for living.” he whispered into her hair as he kissed her temple.

That night he dreamt of being present when the Spanish villa was being built. There were numerous skilled workers at the building site and he was supervising them. The walls were all up and the tile roofing was almost completed. From the corner of his eye, he saw a woman with long straight hair reaching past her waist. Traditionally attired, she was wearing a soft sleeved kimona with a very long striped skirt that covered her up to the soles of her feet. She was walking by the beach towards him when she paused to dip her bare feet into the water.

Then all of a sudden, it was evening and he was alone on the beach. He was looking at his brass pocket watch which indicated seven o’clock. He snapped it shut and returned it to his right pocket. The dark evening sky was well-lit with countless of stars. He could see Polaris shining brightly on the horizon. His gaze lowered as he saw a figure slowly rising from the water directly in front of him. Then, he was once more seeing Maya naked walking up the beach. Yet, she looked very different, with her hair centrally-parted and falling much longer at waist length. He saw her flicking her wet tresses with her right hand while her left hand hovered protectively over her softly rounded stomach. Then she looked up and smiled shyly at him as he held out a large towel which she ran into. He enfolded her in his embrace with his right hand covering her rounded stomach and murmured against her side temple “Mis razones de vivir”.

Mis razones de vivir.

My reasons for living.

Richard’s eyes opened after he said the words. Maya has since shifted and was now tucked by his left side. He slowly went to his side that caused Maya to lie on her back. Richard lightly kissed her on the lips. His gaze warmly caressed her, from her beautiful facial features to her neck, to her breasts until his eyes froze on her stomach that was a bit sunken when she lies on her back. It was too soon to tell, he thought. His gaze lowered to her hair-covered mound and her shapely legs.

Richard could feel himself getting aroused again. Actually, he has been aroused almost 24/7 since they arrived back in San Nicholas. He took another look at her length and then sighed before gently extricating his left arm underneath her head. He got up and padded to his walk-in wardrobe. He came out wearing a pair of cotton shorts sans shirt. His feet took him to the alcove in front of Señora La Rosa.

I believe you just visited me in my dream, he silently told her before his gaze lowered to the base of the statue. He read the engraving by her feet.

Mi razon de vivir.

Under the halogen lighting, more faint indentions after the first and second word were more visible to Richard. He went out of the alcove and went outside to the shelves beneath the carport to pick up different solutions, a small set of sculpting tools and rags. He returned to the alcove and knelt in front of the statue to rub out the varnish seal over the inscriptions. He carefully sprayed WD-40 to loosen the couple of century grime and left it for a few minutes to soak. Then, he picked up an Eckman plastic tool with a small rounded tip and started to slowly scrape off the dirt deposit to expose the remaining letters of the inscriptions.

Richard had been slowly scraping for almost an hour when Maya joined him in the alcove. Garbed in his cotton waffle robe, she padded to where he was crouching and hugged him from behind. He received a smack on his right cheek.

Anong ginagawa mo dito ng madaling araw?” Maya asked sleepily.

Just completing a task I started years ago,” he quipped “Are you able to read that?”

Maya peered over his shoulder and slowly read the inscription aloud “Mis razones de vivir

Richard got up and took off the statues tapis and then placed his arms round Maya’s waist as he said “Tell me, why do you think her left hand hovers over her stomach?”

Maya frowned and looked at how the statue’s left hand protectively spans over her stomach. Her eyes went down to read the inscription again. “Mis razones de vivir.”

My reasons for living,” Richard translated.

He knew she was pregnant when he started sculpting her!” Maya stated in wonder.

Richard looked at the softly rounded lower abdomen of the statue and confirmed “She was probably in the first couple of month’s pregnancy. That’s why she was hardly showing.”

Masaya siya dahil magkaka-anak na sila,” Maya guessed “So he sculpted this to celebrate the occasion. The statue was a celebration for the new life they created.”

Tayo kaya?”

Huh?” Maya looked blankly up at him.

Why do you look so surprised? After what already happened between us,” he smiled down at her.

Maya looked worried all of a sudden.

Ayaw mo bang magka-anak tayo?”

Hindi naman sa ganun. Kaya lang, baka magalit sina Tatay.”

Don’t worry, we’ll get married right away. My parents are actually both coming home next week.” he informed her. “Pagdating nila, pwede na kaming mamanhikan.”

Talaga?”

Kaya nga mamaya iuuwi na kita para makausap ko na sila Tatay at Nanay.”

Haaaa? Iuuwi mo nako?” Maya sounded so disappointed.

I don’t want to but I have to bring you home later.”

Richard noted her pouting full lips and he just had to kiss her again. It was a kiss that turned passionate that left them breathless when Richard lifted his lips from her a fraction, seeing mirroring passion in her eyes.

But we can go later…?”

Yes,” Maya agreed huskily “much, much later.”

It was already way past sundown when Richard and Maya finally emerged from the villa. He gave her a quick lipsmack as he reached for the safety belt to pull it across Maya to click it in place. Richard’s brows lifted when he glimpsed Maya’s cleavage shown by the dress’ neckline that was too plunging for Richard’s peace of mind.

Bakit?” Maya asked when Richard continued to look at her chest.

I don’t remember this dress as being this revealing,” Richard complained.

It was the same sleeveless avocado green sundress with wheat-print at the hem. Maya had laundered and drip-dried the dress in the alcove. It looked shapeless on the hanger but it looked very sexy on Maya.

Hindi ko kasi makita kung saan mo hinagis yung singlet ko, eh!” Maya giggled. “Medyo sexy talaga itong dress na ‘to. Ayaw mo ba?”

Ayaw,” Richard quickly quipped “Ayaw na kitang iuwi sa inyo. Mag-tanan na lang kaya tayo?”

Maya giggled anew.

Naku, magagalit si Tatay niyan. Saka si Mamang, magtatampo yun sayo! Nag-promise ka na magga-gown siya sa kasal natin. Sige ka!” Maya warned.

Oo nga pala ‘no?” Richard pursed his lips before he straightened in his seat to start the Land Cruiser’s engine.

When they reached the Dela Rosa residence, no one was about for the Souvenir Shop has been closed for several hours. Richard and Maya walked hand in hand from the vehicle to the house. But before they went upstairs, Richard stopped and faced Maya.

I just want to kiss you one more time before we face the music.” Richard muttered before his lips captured hers in another passionate clinch. With Maya enfolded in his arms, Richard’s senses leapt as he felt the curvy softness of her length. He was wishing he delayed bringing Maya home for a few more days.

Richard’s attention was so wrapped up with the woman in his arms that he ignored the slamming of car doors and the approaching footsteps. The next thing, he was being violently pulled from Maya by the shoulder and receiving a punch by his right jaw that had him staggering back.

Kuyaaaaaa, huwaaaaag!” Maya screamed as his vision blurred for he lost his specs.

to be continued…

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