“Perhaps you know someone whose heart clutches onto the bittersweet memory of the one who got away.” ― Sebastian Cole
Author’s Note. I feel so blessed that three special ladies, despite their very busy schedules, can still find the time to critique and proofread my work. My profuse thanks to Ms Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and Ms Dianne. To my dear readers, please don’t be shy to comment or hit the like button.
Year 1993. Mid-winter month of August. Auckland.
Eduard frowned as the clatter of ceramic plates and stainless steel cutlery impinged on his consciousness. Then he winced as someone slammed the dishwasher door shut. He was slowly waking up to a massive hangover. Opening his bloodshot eyes, he could feel the strong rays of the sun on his wide chest. He was lying on the long maroon-coloured worn-out suede sofa in the lounge. He was so drunk last night, he never made it to his bedroom, collapsing instead on the three-seater that cramped his length.
Aching in so many places, he groaned as he tried to get up. Last night, like most nights in the last year, he happily got pissed with his Filipino drinking buddies. Someone was celebrating one’s birthday and he tagged along. If truth be told, he really did not need any excuse to get roaring drunk. He usually manages alone. It was just less lonely when he has company.
When he got back from almost a year-long Californian stint a few months ago, his Pinoy friends seemed glad to see him again. To welcome him back, they celebrated the occasion with booze. There seemed to be an occasion to celebrate most days of the week. And each time, the favourite topic of conversation were the Pinay burikaks or ‘loose Filipina women’ living in Auckland. They would regale each other of the conquests they made through the years and compare notes. These shared stories of sexcapades would become subjects of ribald jokes. Amidst the boisterous laughter, Eduard merely smiled as he continued to drink, content to let others talk, unwilling to contribute.
Personally, he really did not like it when this particular topic comes up during their drinking sessions. Despite being a womaniser, he does not discuss his sex life with anyone. His obvious reticence, however, did not stop these guys from trying to coax him to ‘spill the beans’. Eduard frequently got teased because he was known as ‘the Aucklander Stud’ with conquests rumoured to include Filipinas, Thai and New Zealand European girls. Like previous nights, he merely laughed off their teasing, never confirming anything.
Despite the fact that Eduard was never the ‘kiss and tell’ type, identities of his sexual conquests have made the rounds in the local grapevine, particularly, the female counterpart of the grapevine. His landlady who hails from Cebu would take note of the girls who would come and spend the night in his room. During mah-jong sessions she attends, she would gossip about his colourful personal life to her amigas, many of whom would lasciviously regard him. These cougar-type women were the ones responsible for dubbing him with the notorious title.
The Aucklander Stud. He hated that title. It made him feel like a four-legged animal being advertised for sexual services. It was funny the first time he heard it but after a time the humour began to pall. Last night, he was grimacing inwardly each time someone mentions it. But then again, there were many other things that were making him grimace lately. As his drinking buddies were griping about last night, Pinoy expatriates had to adjust in so many levels to cope with living in New Zealand.
Except for the number of months he lived in California with his maternal aunt, he has been living in Auckland for six years total, having arrived in 1987. Despite turning 28 years last July, Eduard somehow feels old and jaded. His feeling was a huge contrast from when he first set foot on foreign soil. He was only twenty-two summers then—young, eager, and dreaming of carving a much better life in the very green landscape of New Zealand, which has always been referred to by the indigenous Māori population as ‘Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud’.
Indeed, his first glimpse of New Zealand was very picturesque as his plane started to descend. It was a veritable postcard view of shimmering blue waters surrounding large land masses of lush vegetation. Further inland, the expansive greenery can be seen speckled with creamy white balls of fluff and spotty brown shapes. It was a subtropical paradise offering crisp, clean air and cooler weather conditions.
Nevertheless, after a few months of getting acclimatised, his enthusiasm for New Zealand also cooled down. He found realities fell short of his expectations. Firstly, the creamy white balls of fluff turned out to be sheep while the spotted brown shapes were milking cows. And the sheep and cow population were higher than the human population which was just a drop in comparison to a densely-populated Philippines. In the 1980s, home entertainment were two television stations which aired programs in that strong English-like accent. All the malls were closed at 5pm and were not open on weekends. For someone who grew up in Manila, Auckland was just too damned quiet!
Secondly, he was not armed with a university degree so he was unable to get a good paying job. It was his own fault for he did not pay much attention to his studies. Despite having excelled academically, especially in math, Eduard was not able to finish his industrial engineering degree.
Eduard’s younger years were tumultuous, to put it mildly. He had done well in primary school but lacked the focus to maintain his grades. He was easily distracted by video games and would usually cut classes to go to the mall arcade. He loved being in the company of same-aged boys until he hit puberty. Then, his attention was mainly fixated on the fairer sex. That period was like an uphill battle against his own raging sexual hormones.
He started very innocently enough, noticing girls and asking out very attractive teens of the same age. To his own detriment, however, his testosterone levels would hit the roof and turn him into a fresh teenager. Hence, he often had disastrous social encounters with the opposite sex.
At first, his dad was amused at his antics. When he could see that his son was getting socially inept due to sexual frustration, he rectified the matter by bringing his teenaged son to a night club where GROs could be ‘taken out’. His virginity was taken at age 14 by a very pretty and very experienced 19-year old femme fatale. Needless to say, Eduard was a very enthusiastic learner.
Whether this was a wise move on his dad’s part was highly debatable. But the fact remained that at age 15, Eduard got Helene, his high school sweetheart, pregnant. It was a huge scandal in the school campus for his mother was part of the faculty team. Together with his father’s support, Eduard actually approached the girl’s father with the intention of doing the right thing and offered marriage. His dad, feeling partially responsible, was willing to support Eduard and his young family until Eduard finishes his tertiary studies. Due to false sense of pride, Helene’s father disdainfully declined stating they will continue to take care of their daughter and unborn grandchild. Eduard’s father felt slighted for their offer of marriage was thrown back at their faces.
“Lalake ang anak ko. Hindi ko hawak ang bukas,” his father uttered cryptically in a very calm voice during that visit.
Despite this, they were able to negotiate for Eduard to regularly see Helene and their newborn son at the beginning. But his ‘hilaw na biyenan’ viewed him as an incompetent and unfit parent. They forbade him to touch his baby. Frustrated, he and Helene would be constantly fighting over this issue. No one else was caring for the baby except for Helene’s parents. One afternoon after classes, he visited Helene and the baby. But was forbidden to kiss his own son. Not known for having a cool temperament, Eduard exploded and all hell broke loose. As a result, he walked out of Helene’s house vowing never to set foot inside their house ever again.
And he never did.
Less than a year later, he received the news that Helene gave birth to their second child. Another boy. He saw his few-days old son in the hospital but left after a few minutes. He had no wish to see Helene or her parents. Eduard’s dad, while not liking the situation, remained quietly supportive in the background.
His dad. He sorely missed him. It was Eduard’s father’s death anniversary yesterday. All day yesterday, he was waiting for a phone call from his mother and his younger brothers anticipating a small get-together. No one called. In their very busy lives it seemed no one in his family even spared a thought for Eduard’s father.
While his drinking buddies were boisterously laughing around him, he was missing his father and was trying to drown the emotion each time he threw the amber coloured Jim Beam down his throat. Growing up, Eduard had always been close to his father while he always clashed with his mother. To his sorrow, his father died in year 1982 when he was just 17. And without his father’s guiding hand, Eduard’s life was like a boat drifting on a swiftly flowing river without a paddle.
His mother, grieving the very sudden death of her husband sought comfort elsewhere, particularly in the arms of another man who would be Eduard’s stepfather not long after. This was another tragedy. While there was already pre-existing wide gap between Eduard and his mother, her marriage less than a year after her first husband’s death made matters much worse. Eduard felt betrayed and was very bitter. It came to a point where he almost hated his mother and could not even manage a civil conversation with her . In his young mind, he had also lost his mother to an unscrupulous man who only had his eye on the main chance.
His stepfather. The man was a sore subject. Someone had mentioned the man’s name last night but his friends quickly changed the topic. It was common knowledge that Eduard and his stepfather do not see eye to eye, to put it mildly.
Allan, his stepfather, was good-looking in a different way from his dad. And from what he could gather, this Allan character neither had any degree nor high-paying job. When Allan married his mother, he started to live in their home! The same home that Eduard’s recently deceased father built for his family!
In his young mind, that move was adding insult to injury! And he made his opinion clear on the matter every waking moment. He had challenged his stepfather’s presence and authority over himself and his younger brothers. Afterwards, he would usually bear the brunt of his mother’s beating with hatred in his eyes. His life was hell so he made his mother’s married life to the ‘usurper’ a living hell as well. In the end, his mother opted to go overseas to work. Her new husband, who had often boasted that he does not need to go overseas to earn good money, quickly followed his wife to New Zealand.
How bloody ironic!
At the time of his father’s death, his three younger brothers were still in high school and elementary. Practically abandoned by his mother, Eduard, as the eldest child, was suddenly feeling the pressure of looking after his younger siblings. He had managed to finish high school but his degree studies was a different matter. They were in financial straits despite the fact that their maternal grandfather has been helping them at that time. Their budget simply wasn’t enough to put enough food on the table, let alone fund for his tuition fees.
Eduard shook his head at the flood of memories, wincing as he felt jolts of pain inside his heavy head. He recalled those very difficult years before he left the Philippines. Untrained for anything, he was doing odd jobs earning him a small stipend. Besides his siblings, he also had his own young family to look after.
His young family.
While he was mainly burdened with financial problems, they were nothing compared to the bitterness he felt whenever he remembers the circumstances wherein he lost his own young family. He misses his two young sons. Not long after breaking off with Helene, he travelled to the provinces on a business errand for his mother. That was when he met a very voluptuous dusky female who returned the strong attraction.
Rich, very liberated, and experienced way beyond her 18 years, Tiffany quickly turned their brief introduction into a full-blown sexual relationship in less than 24 hours. When his mother found out, she tried to warn him but Eduard was past caring. Here was someone who was giving him all the attention and care he was craving. For that, he was not willing to break it off with Tiffany. She eventually got pregnant and they decided to elope, much to his mother’s chagrin. They lived as a de facto couple until he went overseas. Tiffany was to follow him to New Zealand as soon as he gets settled and earning enough to be able to support her and their two boys.
Well, she did follow him after over a year but her reasons for following him was so different from what he imagined. When she arrived in Auckland, he could detect a difference in their relationship. He and Tiffany already had two sons and he got blindsided with what she admitted. When he learnt of the full sordid story, he could not take it in. For a spell, he went a bit crazy and had to put a great distance between himself and Tiffany. That was when he went home to the Philippines in year 1990 for a break. He needed breathing space and time to think. Needless to say, it was the beginning of the end of their relationship.
Still, the end of the relationship should not stop a father from seeing his sons. It is deplorable that New Zealand laws seem to favour only women’s rights in general. The mother almost automatically gets custody of the children regardless of the root cause of the separation of the couple.
Eduard had to admit that he was partially to blame. When drunk, he had manhandled and slapped Tiffany on several occasions because he could not forget what she did. He thought he could forgive her to keep his family intact. But he thought wrong. As he quickly realised, there were some wounds that go so deep that they fester within one’s soul. Wounds that hurt unbearably that only alcohol can numb it. And when the alcohol effects wear off, the pain unbearably throbs anew.
Eduard finally dragged himself away from the lounge into his own bedroom where he stripped before going to his ensuite toilet and shower. He winced as his 172-centimetre tall naked frame stepped into the cubicle underneath the hot shower. The running water felt good against his skin. He worked up a lather over his brawny arms which were still deeply tanned despite the fact that they are still officially in winter. Working outdoors in recent years has given him a darker complexion than his naturally very fair skin which can still be spied on his torso and pelvic areas.
Strong rivulets of water ran soothingly over very wide shoulders and muscular hairy chest. While his torso normally tapers down to a flat stomach, these days he sports around an almost undetectable paunch which he has acquired recently due to frequent heavy drinking. He realised he needed to buckle down and do sit-ups and push-ups again if he wanted to get rid of the ‘excess baggage’ around his middle.
After drying himself, he put a comb through his thick wavy dark brown hair, interspersed with gray which started to appear since his teens. Indented with an almost indistinguishable cleft, his strong square jaw would always acquire that five-o clock shadow that many women find very sexy. This morning, he considered the dark stubble reflected in the mirror but could not be bothered to shave.
His great, great grandfather was a full-blooded Spaniard which accounts for his features particularly, his eyes – thick curly-lashed and Spanish light brown. His paternal uncles and father’s close friends often exclaim that he looks so much like his deceased father. When one looks at their pictures taken at the same ages, one would indeed say that they are photographs of the same person.
To those who never met his father, they would say that say his face was a cross between the Filipino actors Christopher de Leon and Rudy Fernandez. Normally sporting a trimmed moustache and a lopsided smile, Eduard was considered a looker, like most males in his family. And like most males in his family, he has been breaking female hearts since he was fifteen.
At the moment, however, the heartbreaker had more practical concerns on his mind. With his taxi’s vehicle registration due for renewal, he needed to book his Ford Falcon for an appointment with his mechanic. The vehicle needed to be checked for safety and compliance before it can be issued with a COF or certificate of fitness prior to registration.
Unfortunately for him, after a night’s binge drinking, he was still nursing a massive headache while suffering from a worsening heartburn. He rummaged through the medicine cabinet for antacids but could not find any. With much disgust, he found that he was also out of paracetamol as he threw the empty box into the trash bin. He needed to sort himself out before he is able to attend to his car’s requirements.
Eduard gritted his teeth as he pulled on his faded 501 jeans and black Hanes V-neck T-shirt. Shrugging on a leather bomber-style jacket, he grabbed his car keys with the intention of driving to the grocery to buy the non-prescription medication he needed. A blast of cold air welcomed him as he stepped outside, prompting him to zip up his jacket up to his neck. On his way out, his Cebuana landlady hollered out to him from the elevated front porch. He was already down the steps beside his Ford Falcon taxi which was parked on the paved driveway.
Violet, his landlady, was a petite very fair-skinned woman in her late 30s who has been divorced from her New Zealand European husband. Arriving in Auckland about the same time as him, she quickly hooked up with a local in order to legalise her stay. Despite having two children together, she quickly booted her ageing husband out the door after a few years. She had a string of lovers since then. And was probably on the lookout for another one.
“Edu!” she leaned over the baluster, her body only scantily wrapped in a bath towel.
“O, bakit?” Eduard asked with a frown between his bushy brows. His landlady has been giving him come-hither looks ever since he started boarding under her roof. He thought it would be alright for him to stay in her house since she has another boarder and two of her half-cast children staying with her. However, she seems to keep on finding alone times with him when the other boarder was at work and her kids were at school during daytime. He was starting to feel uneasy.
“Si Roxanne dumaan dito kahapon . Hinahanap ka. May date daw kayo kahapon pero hindi mo siya sinipot,” she recounted.
Roxanne was a beautiful commercial model born to a Filipina mother and German father. They have been introduced years ago but Eduard could not remember her. They only hooked up together when he arrived back from the States a few months prior.
The night they got reacquainted, Eduard had been driving his taxi cab for almost ten hours for it was a typical busy Friday night. New Zealanders, or more commonly referred to as ‘Kiwis’ have a pub culture wherein people of legal drinking age, would go to bars at sundown and drink until they are retching or barely standing. Regrettably, there have been so many drink-related road accidents that resulted with high death tolls in the last decade. To address this, the New Zealand police has been cracking down and going heavy on people driving under the influence of alcohol.
Besides the usual television and newsprint ads, Eduard would normally see very large billboards of graphically depicted road accidents with the sign “IF YOU DRINK AND THEN DRIVE, YOU’RE A BLOODY IDIOT’. Hence, party groups were encouraged to nominate designated drivers who are served complimentary non-alcoholic drinks at bars. But with everyone wanting to drink, taxi cabs were the common solution and were therefore in high demand during Friday and Saturday nights.
This had worked very well for Eduard who bought a taxi franchise and a late model Ford Falcon when he returned from the United States. He was doing well which prompted him to buy another taxi franchise which he had been leasing out to another Pacific islander. Eduard did not work every night but would choose busy nights to work long hours. He would still be on the road if not for the last passenger he picked up from Stamford Plaza. When he saw that his client could barely stand on his feet, he was already mentally debating whether to refuse him. In the end, he brought him home but not before the drunk passenger vomited in his taxi cab. The client paid him extra for soiling the backseat but Eduard was no longer in the mood to work after the incident. Trying vainly to hold his breath, he quickly brought his taxi cab to a car wash where he paid the attendant a hundred dollars just to clean his taxi cab.
Still disgusted with what happened, he went home afterwards to Violet’s place and saw that her cronies were still playing mah-jong in the lounge. He was tired and hungry and Roxanne, one of Violet’s friends, kindly offered him her homecooking. Roxanne sinuously got up from the table and joined him in the kitchen. They chatted while Eduard quickly recognised that the beautiful woman was openly flirting with him, even blatantly admitting that she has had a crush on him for years. Single and lonely, he lapped up the undivided attention she was showering him.
Undivided! What a bunch of baloney!
They were dating for almost a month and have been visiting her at home when he happened to overhear Violet and her cronies discussing his ‘affair’ with Roxanne. At first, he could not understand the sly looks that he was getting from her friends until he realised that Roxanne has a New Zealand European live-in boyfriend! Roxanne has been living with her white boyfriend for a couple of years before hooking up with Eduard! And she continued living with said boyfriend while seeing him! Eduard even met the poor guy one time and Roxanne had the temerity to introduce them. Eduard assumed that the guy was just one of Roxanne’s flatmates.
Labelling that as a misassumption was such a gross understatement! He felt like a jackass for poaching on another male’s territory! But what did that make of Roxanne?
When he confronted the woman with his discovery, Roxanne merely laughed. She said that he has no cause for complaints for they were just having ‘fun’. Due to the clandestine nature of their relationship, Roxanne said that she found it more exciting. Reluctantly, he continued on with the affair even as his conscience was bothering him big time. Hence, his repeated attempts to break it off with Roxanne who was not taking the hint at all. When he stopped going to her place, she would visit him and go straight to his room. As a warm-blooded male, he would naturally succumb to her feminine wiles.
“Wala kaming usapan ng kaibigan mo,” he denied wryly.
“Manonood daw kayo ng sine kahapon. Umoo ka daw sa kanya.” Violet informed him.
Eduard vaguely remembered the last conversation he had with Roxanne. He probably agreed to whatever she was saying just to get rid of her. Regardless of whatever he said or promised, he is staying away from her. He does not want to be confronted by an outraged, cuckolded boyfriend and be forced to defend himself. Getting battered and bruised over a horny bitch like Roxanne was definitely not worth it.
“Sabihin mo sa kanya, manood siyang mag-isa niya. Break na kami,” he informed his landlady.
“Alam ba niya na break na kayo?” Violet retorted with a flirty tone.
“Sinabihan ko na siya. Dense lang ‘yang kaibigan mo.” Eduard said before sliding behind the wheel of his car and starting the engine, effectively ending the conversation.
Roxanne was not really dense. In actuality, she was just very vain. She has been spoilt rotten by men who eagerly did her bidding and was unused to someone she could not manipulate. She probably just could not believe that Eduard would initiate the end of their ‘relationship’, if it can be called that. The half German beauty , in all likelihood, was not used to being dumped for she has been doing the callous dumping all her beautiful young life. Roxanne was simply not liking the taste of her own medicine.
Dismissing the woman from his mind, Eduard reversed his navy blue Ford Falcon. He could still see Violet leaning over the baluster rail, regarding him speculatively. And the uneasy feeling was back in his gut. He really needed to find an alternative accommodation.
Eduard navigated the streets of South Auckland, passing houses that have been steadily deteriorating through the years. He could still remember when the community was slowly being filled with brand new weather-board and tile-roofed houses. Most of his neighbours were always busy landscaping their front garden. That did not last long for when Asian and Pacific immigrants started flocking to the area, most New Zealand Europeans started selling their house to move outside South Auckland. Currently, his neighbourhood was like a Pacific-Asian ghetto.
Personally, Eduard had no problem living in the area. His mother and stepfather built their first house in South Auckland and have been residing there since. Eduard lived his first few years with them before moving around Auckland. He stayed near the Business District for a couple of years but decided to come back to the area. Most of his Filipino friends were still scattered around South Auckland. Fresh produce can be bought cheaply from the Otara flea market every Saturday morning. House rent is still relatively cheap in comparison to the rest of Auckland. And practically right on his doorstep was the Auckland International Airport where he picks up many passengers who travel to Auckland on short business trips. Besides, he finds the people living in the area very down to earth, if a little rough around the edges.
As Eduard drove towards the village shops, he noticed that the plant nursery where he first worked was being bulldozed to make way for another subdivision. He remembered his initial difficulty finding a suitable job when he first arrived in Auckland and was pleased when he got a casual position at the plant nursery. There he grew baby plants from seeds, grafted fruit bearing trees and did topiary work on leafy shrubs. He was paid youth rates for he did not have any corresponding work background nor training.
Nonetheless, he was thankful for that job allowed him to send money home to Tiffany and their kids. Besides, he liked the nature of the job but he was getting sick often due to the fact that he worked mainly outdoors or in a greenhouse. In both places, working temperatures can go really cold, especially in winter. To make matters worse, he did not have a car and could not afford to buy one at the onset. He cut a lonely figure walking several kilometres to and fro work. And for someone not fully acclimatised yet, it was asking for trouble. It was no wonder he went down with bronchopneumonia. So, despite the offer of apprenticeship and a full time job, Eduard declined.
His next job was as an upholsterer in a furniture manufacturing company. He tried to learn and has already shown marked improvement when he got laid off. New Zealand was going into recession and poor sales have forced many small businesses to fold up. Eventually, that furniture factory also closed down.
Meanwhile, Eduard was already working in a rest home as a caregiver. The money was better and there were plenty of opportunities for overtime. He helped in the kitchen and was mainly assisting the elderly with activities of daily living. It was there he met and befriended a Tongan part-timer named Viliami. This friend was a jolly, same-aged chap who worked full-time at a printing and packaging plant.
When a job opening came up, his friend referred him. It was a multi-million dollar corporation which handled packaging products to many local and international factories based in New Zealand. There, he got assigned to the printing department working directly under a Pacific islander. Pallets of flat corrugated board boxes would come to them for mass label printing before they get bundled ready for shipping.
It was sheer hard work. He would be alertly standing by the large printing press feeding the cardboards at one end. These freshly printed boxes would get automatically stacked at the other end, ready for bundling. Then, when the ink would be running out, he would run to the supply room and be back carrying two heavy buckets of ink weighing 20 kilos each. Even in the middle of the winter season, he would be perspiring all throughout his shift. No wonder he was getting so buffed and brawny!
Eduard actually did not mind the work. He sort of enjoyed it even. Where else can you get a complete workout while getting paid? But he was working under another Pacific islander who sat on his ass when operating the printing press while barking orders at him all the time.
Perhaps cultural differences had a lot to answer for in this instance. In any case, Eduard hated the way his supervisor would crook his finger when calling him or the way he spoke which was always peppered with f-words. Eduard had already made his objections verbally clear on two occasions but his supervisor dismissed what he said. Clearly, the 6-feet-4-inch-tall hulking Pacific islander did not feel threatened with Eduard’s smaller physique. Eduard’s nostrils would flare at the condescending tone but would bite his tongue and carry on with the job. He did until the day he found out about Tiffany’s betrayal while they were physically separated. He was very upset and in no mental state to work but went anyway. He was positioned at his usual work station when his supervisor barked another order with profanity.
Eduard responded by wordlessly closing the gap between them. The next second, he heard bone cracking as his closed right fist connected with his supervisor’s left jaw. He was throwing a second punch but his opponent was no longer upright. The big guy had crumpled down from his elevated seat and was unconscious at Eduard’s feet. With heaving breaths, Eduard slowly calmed down from the rage and realised the enormity of what he had done. There were two other people who witnessed what happened, gawking at him from a safe distance. He remembered slowly turning and going towards the locker area. He slipped off his white canvass overalls and non-slip boots, shrugged on his jacket and crosstrainers before walking out. He left his ID card at the security-manned exit gate before tersely declaring his intention of going home.
For two weeks, he brooded at home and waited for the police to pick him up. He was half-expecting, half-anticipating to be deported back to the Philippines. They never came. Eduard assumed that his supervisor was just too ashamed to admit what had happened. If likened to a boxing fight, it would be a gross mismatch between a heavyweight fighter versus a middleweight fighter. To think that an Asian, particularly a Filipino, had put him to sleep with just one punch. But then again, that was not boxing. It was street fighting which Eduard just knows too well.
Eduard shook his head at himself. Things could have easily turned nasty for him. At that time, he was on self-destruct mode. His mother recognised this and encouraged him to go home to the Philippines and have a break. He followed her advice and that was when he met another morena beauty with a feisty personality.
Sighing, he tried to dismiss her features from his head. It was no use dwelling again on the ‘might-have-beens’. Besides, she would have found out about his personal circumstances by now. And would undoubtedly be hating his guts.
Eduard parked his taxi cab in front of the New World Supermarket in Clendon Shopping Centre. As he entered the automatic doors, he noticed an elderly Caucasian gentleman in front of the flower section located on the right side of the stainless steel turnstile. Precariously propped on a cane, he was trying to bend down to pick up a bunch of red roses from a bucket situated on the lowest level of a three-tiered dais.
“Would you like me to get a bunch of roses for you, sir?” Eduard offered to the elder who was obviously having difficulty bending down.
“Oh, would you please?” the gentleman smiled up at him gratefully. “I need the reddest bunch of roses. They are my wife’s favourite.”
“You have one lucky wife, sir” he quipped handing the gentleman the red rose bunch.
“Ahhh, you have to ask her if she feels lucky to have me. But I am certainly lucky to have her beside me for the last 47 years,” exclaimed the elderly gentleman, who despite his advanced years still has that twinkle in his blue eyes.
“Wow, 47 years, huh? Your girl must be something else. I am interested to meet her” Eduard grinned at the elderly gentleman.
“I don’t know if I should introduce her to a handsome young buck like you,” the leathery freckled-face of the old man wrinkled in a mock frown. “You just might steal her away from me!”
One gnarled finger was waving in front of Eduard’s face, a gesture to warn him off in jest. Eduard laughingly denied the accusation.
“Better to be safe than sorry, young man,” the elderly man laughed at him. “Why do you think she stayed with me all these years? I simply did not let her have any opportunity to have other options!”
Eduard was still chuckling when he separated from the old gentleman inside the grocery.
The elderly gentleman was a typical New Zealander in terms of temperament. The locals were generally very friendly and would happily chat with complete strangers at the drop of a hat. If someone was in dire straits, they would gladly lend a hand or call for help. New Zealanders were also very honest. In one instance, he dropped his wallet inside a video store. He never realised his wallet was missing until he got a phone call from one of the staff requesting him to pick up his personal belonging. How often do you hear that happening in Manila?
Living in New Zealand also showed him that if he works hard, he could get ahead in life. He had seen his mother and stepfather’s financial progress, having been able to buy a family home and cars in the space of one year. His mother was also able to sponsor all her children’s residency in a matter of months. For that, despite their differences, he would be eternally grateful.
Eduard briskly walked towards the vitamins and over-the-counter medication section to pick up a packet of antacids. He always had a heartburn after binge drinking sessions. For his headache, he grabbed paracetamol and a fast acting ibuprofen. En route, he passed through the confectionery aisle when he noticed new flavours of Cadbury chocolate bars. He was partial to chocolates, particularly this brand.
This is her favourite brand of chocolates, too. But you know that.
Eduard smiled as he remembered giving her a huge block-size chocolate together with a box of three long-stemmed roses. Her dark brown eyes had rounded with delight and then her expression fell before declaring that she cannot accept gifts from him, reminding him that he was not allowed to court her. He ignored what she said and left the roses and chocolates with her. After that day, he kept on bringing boxed three long-stemmed roses and a huge Cadbury chocolate block everyday until they parted ways.
Bending down, he picked up a ‘fruit and nut’ flavour which was her favourite. There were dozens of other variations which were not available in the Philippines. He wondered how she would react if he brings all the other flavours for her. But of course, he would not have that opportunity again.
Of all the women he had met, it was just ironic that he vividly remembers the one that he never bedded. He smiled at the thought of the last time he saw her standing at the airport, wearing her beige and brown corporate uniform waving him off. Before he said their good-byes, he dared ask for a farewell kiss. He had been looking at her lips when he uttered his request.
Confused, her morena features became flushed. She tried to say something at first and then pressed her lips together. Wordlessly, she raised her right hand for a handshake instead while her dark brown eyes expressed the non-verbal apology. With a sad smile, he took her soft hand and kissed the knuckles of her right hand. Then he lifted his head to look at her beautiful features, taking his fill. Then he noticed that her eyes had gone misty. It was then that he felt a resonating heaviness weighing down his heart. Within an amazingly short period of time, she had meant a damned lot to him than all the other women he had relationships with. But he had no right to want her. He had no right to ruin her life. Circumstances dictated that she just remain in his memory.
A sweet memory to make him smile and regret that he met her at the wrong time.
Eduard was still smiling sadly as he got through the automatic glass doors. He sauntered up to his car and slid behind the wheel. He maneuvered the Ford Falcon out of the parking space. As he passed by the front of the supermarket, he noticed the elderly man with a cane, sitting on a wooden bench. Beside him was an elderly lady, breathing in the scent of a bunch of red roses.
Some people were just lucky to find a lasting relationship, he thought.
Eduard mentally admonished himself for getting maudlin. He was no longer drunk so he has no more excuse. It was all water under the bridge. He needed to move on.
As he approached the lights, he noticed his oil gauge’s needle was inching towards the red zone, indicating low level of oil. He had the same problem a few days ago and rectified the matter by topping up with a litre of engine oil. He pulled a very deep sigh, silently anticipating engine problems.
With his taxi as his bread and butter, Eduard has no choice but look into the matter right away. He turned left at the fork and headed towards Manukau City Central and proceeded to the industrial part of town. He was bringing his car to his mechanic so that the problem can be diagnosed and estimated for parts and labour.
Whatever mechanical or electrical problem his Ford Falcon has, it can be fixed. If only matters of the heart can be as easily fixed, then he would not feel like he was living in limbo.
Author’s Note: I am currently having a mental block on the book project :( For some reason, I can not rewrite LHT which is frustrating the heck out of me. So, I thought I better work on SECOND CHANCES so that I can be productive. Once again, my heartfelt thanks to Ms Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and Ms Dianne for continuing to collaborate with me. Please do not be shy to leave a comment or hit the LIKE button.
Year 1990. End of June. Las Piňas, Metro Manila.
For most of the day, the sun had been hiding behind gray clouds causing on and off drizzle over the municipality. But that was not enough to dampen his jubilant mood. He woke up that particular morning looking forward to dinner. Eduard started the day early going to the Zapote public market to buy the freshest meat and necessary spices. He thought of preparing adobo sa gata but changed his mind since not everyone likes this version. Hence, a huge wok of the plain pork adobo had been slowly cooking for a couple of hours. The dish was his specialty and has been frequently requested from him by his friends in Auckland. He tried teaching his non-Filipino friends how to cook the savoury dish but they don’t seem to get the fact that the cooking method was just as crucial as having all the right ingredients to come up with the iconic Filipino viand.
Eduard comes from a family where the males are the better cooks. Although his father and paternal uncles hailed from Pasay City, the Ferrers originally came from the Bicol region and were very fussy with food. Each one zealously guarded age-old family recipes, which are passed on from one generation to the next.
His maternal aunt smiled as she watched her nephew whistling while moving about in her kitchen. Her bakasyonista nephew was hardly smiling when he arrived on her doorstep a few weeks ago. For such a young man of mere 25 years, he looked as if he had the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. Noticing the huge difference in his demeanour, she could not resist teasing him about his jovial mood. Eduard merely threw a lopsided grin at his aunt who knew his complicated circumstances and was sympathetic with his predicament. She even encouraged him to bring home the lady who has been putting a smile to his lips lately.
“Girlfriend mo na ba, Edu?” Aunt Lani asked smilingly.
“Hindi po, Auntie!” he denied laughing. “Ayaw ngang magpaligaw, eh!”
“Owws? Friends lang kayo? Mukhang masisira yata ang bilis mo sa isang ito, ha?”
Eduard smiled as he shrugged his shoulders. He could not really care less about his so-called reputation with women. To date, he has been successful with 95% of all the women he took an interest in. They all fell. It was just a matter of time. When he did not pursue the attractive woman, the woman ran after him. He would succumb to their charms but would quickly lose interest due to the lack of challenge. He preferred to do the pursuing. He was a male after all.
With Candyce, he knew his boundaries. It was clearly defined for him by the lady herself. They can be no more than friends. And the funny thing was, he was quite content with what she could give him. He knew full well that if he overstepped the mark, she would likely lambast him verbally before severing any connection with him. At 21 years of age, she can be very stern and intimidating like the super strict spinster school principal he had during high school. She was that ‘mataray’.
Still, a guy can hope.
When early evening came, Eduard took a shower and changed into his favourite faded 501 jeans and dark blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt. He gladly carried her lunch box and frilled beige umbrella when he fetched Candyce from her boutique. Heck, he would gladly carry her shoulder tote if she allowed him. But she has already told him off twice for trying to carry her bag for her.
“Buti na lang tumigil na ang ulan” she murmured as they got down the passenger jeepney.
It was just a short five minute commute from the commercial complex where she works to their dinner venue. His hand was at her elbow, assisting her as they crossed the major arterial route of Las Piňas municipality. He was bringing her to his home turf, the residential subdivision where he grew up into a young adult. The municipality was his stomping ground until he emigrated three years prior, seeking greener pastures beyond Philippine shores.
Eduard indicated towards the tricycle but Candyce shook her head.
“Candy?” He was allowed to address her now by her nickname. “Ayaw mong sumakay?”
“Hindi naman naulan. Maglakad na lang tayo,” she suggested and then proceeded to walk briskly down the village main street.
Eduard quickly followed her, shaking his head. He led the way before she went a different direction. His aunt’s place was just two blocks from the main street. As they went past the local sarisari store, which was situated right beside a billiard hall, his expression became stern as he eyed a number of tambays congregated by the hall entrance . Cigarette smoke was billowing around their faces as they watched passers-by.
A few people still recognise him in the village. Eduard Ferrer was not easy to forget for he was quite notorious in the subdivision as he was growing up. A known hothead, Eduard was regularly involved in brawls. His ‘bad boy’ behaviour worsened when his father died and his mother frequently went amiss due to out-of-town trips with her new boyfriend and then later on to work overseas. Eduard and his three younger brothers were left to the care of their loyal but ageing household help who could not instill discipline to them. As a result, the Ferrer boys hung out with a wild, unruly bunch.
When drunk and furious with anyone, Eduard was known to throw huge rocks at people’s roofs to challenge particular individuals to come out for a mano a mano. Often, the barangay tanods would be called to intervene. That is why the village residents pulled a huge collective sigh of relief when he finally joined his mother and stepfather to live permanently in New Zealand.
Years of having to deal with diverse cultural presence in Auckland have made him much more amiable. He had matured after all. But if need be, he will not back down from a fight. His upper lip curled up in a silent snarl as he eyeballed two shirtless tambays who were salaciously eyeing an oblivious Candyce, dressed in her beige top and pants that did not hide her shapely figure.
Eduard’s right hand went to his jeans pocket to grab his Zippo lighter. He needed to grip something in his palm if he wanted to deliver solid punches should the situation turn into a brawl. His eyes scanned the group, which was mainly composed of very slim males ranging from late teens to late 20s. No one was solidly built which was not necessarily an advantage in a street fight. Then his attention was caught by two older residents whose eyes widened in recognition and greeted him with a warm smile.
“Good evening po, Ka Roming, Ka Turing.” he greeted back, his progress slowing down.
“Aru, kilala ko itong guwapong batang ire. Si ano—? Si—-? Kuuu! Ano nga bang pangalan ng batang ire, Turing?” the balding tooth-gapped sixtysomething nudged his same-aged crony.
“Si Eduard, yung pamangkin ni Mareng Lani,” the gray-haired gangly old man beside him responded.
“Pasensiya na po, baka ho bumagsak na naman ang ulan” he said addressing the two elders without actually halting in his tracks. “Bukas po babalik ako. Magkwentuhan po tayo.”
“Sige Eduard,” agreed Ka Roming. “Sumargo ka na rin bukas. Paandaran mo itong mga bugoy dito.”
“Kinakalawang na po ako,” he informed him while still eyeing the two tambays who were now returning his look. “Pero sige po. Bukas.”
Eduard’s teeth clenched as he stared them down. He relaxed a bit when they finally lowered their gaze. He could feel the tension slowly seeping out of him.
“Eduard?” the question in her tone was unmistakeable.
“May problema ba?” she asked as they walked away from the noise of the billiard hall.
“What made you think that?” he lopsidedly smiled down at her.
Her left brow rose speculatively. She bent her head to one side to study him. And then she shrugged.
“For a second there, you looked tense,” she observed. Then she looked ahead, carefully scanning the main village street that needed major repairs in places.
“Medyo,” he confirmed.
“Haaaaa? Bakit?” she frowned up at him, bewilderment all over her face.
“Tensiyonado ako kasi baka hindi mo magustuhan yung niluto ko,” he prevaricated, grinning down at her. He congratulated himself for diverting her attention to a lighter topic.
“Hayaan mo, magpapakabait ako,” she laughed and her chocolate brown eyes twinkled. “I will not be a cruel critic, I promise.”
The charming indentions on both corners of her mouth appeared once more. They were too small to be called proper dimples yet they never failed to capture his attention. She has a very expressive face that reveals whatever she feels. She has that type of beauty that gets more striking the longer you study her features. Despite this, she was not vain at all.
He pulled his gaze from admiring her to focus on the direction they were heading. At the end of the block, he guided her to the right. A few more steps and they turned into a white wrought iron gated bungalow. His 19-year-old cousin Tara was sitting by the front veranda with a few open textbooks in front of her. They exchanged greetings and banter. The next minute, his Auntie Lani joined them and then ushered them all inside to have dinner.
Eduard presented his offering with much fanfare. He could tell Candyce liked his pork adobo judging from the fact that she had second helpings of both steamed rice and the tasty dish. She was savouring the flavours on her tongue with every spoonful, even licking her lips in appreciation.
However, that flick of her pink tongue conjured up erotic images that he has been keeping at bay. Without meaning to, his gaze was riveted to her nose and upper lips which was very finely beaded with sweat. She continually licked her lips which were glistening under the pendant light. He wished he could lick them himself. Somewhere in the background, a pedestal electric fan whirred the air that had gone very warm. Eduard had tuned out and was just watching the play of expressions on her face.
Eduard pulled himself out of her hypnotic spell and finally realised that they were still on the very mundane topic of cooking adobo. They discussed different ways of cooking the dish and other Pinoy favourites. Candyce wrinkled her nose and admitted that her knowledge was limited. This is because her mother’s specialty had always been local cuisine. With her own attempts usually falling below par, Candyce opted to learn other dishes instead so that she won’t suffer too much in comparison.
She was a great conversationalist, knowing many topics that ranged from cooking, business, work trends and politics. He would tease her by saying outrageous things like how the old regime was far better than the current female president. That brought her hackles up and she went to argue that freedom of speech has been restored.
“Before, if one dissident yells out against Marcos, one’s demise was guaranteed. These days, one can yell complaints against Madam President Cory until they are blue in the face but one won’t fear for one’s life.”
“Ang puso mo, relax ka lang,” he chided mockingly.
“Ikaw kasi, banggitin ba naman si Marcos,” Candyce laughed, shaking her head. “Sabagay hindi kita masisi pareho kayo ng former First Lady.”
“Hmmmmmmnnn,” she nodded. “Pareho kayong mahilig sa sapatos. Iba na naman yang suot mo, eh. Ilang daan ba ang sapatos mo?”
It was a lively dinner that lasted for hours. He was enjoying having innocent fun with her. Even his Auntie Lani was laughing and grinning at things she was saying. He was just content to sit at the dining table with her and trade banter like they were very old friends when they had just met a week ago. If it were not for the late hour, he would not take her home yet.
Then, it started to rain again. She prompted him to grab his own black umbrella. He responded wryly that it was broken.
“Talaga? Sira yung payong na dala-dala mo palagi?” she asked while biting on her lower lip to stop herself from laughing loudly at him.
“Hindi ko naman palaging dala ‘yun. Minsan lang,” he protested, a little sheepish.
“Whatever!” she retorted disbelievingly, her chocolate brown eyes twinkling in humour.
They waited by the canopied veranda until the torrential rain passed. Then Eduard opened her frilly beige umbrella and waited for her. She stepped beside him and carefully held on to the handle without touching him. Under the umbrella amidst a curtain of steady falling rain, the atmosphere became intimate. They walked slowly but they were hardly touching. Half of his body was getting wet for he was giving her ample room. He was careful that his body was not brushing against her. He was determined to behave like the perfect gentleman even if he contracted pneumonia in the process.
Candyce commented that his Aunt Lani and her husband were very blessed to be married for over 20 years. Despite the fact that his uncle has been working in Saudi Arabia, his presence was very much in the house with his uncle’s pictures and sports trophy in prominent display.
“They must love each other very much to still be together after all these years,” she whisphered wistfully as they slowly walked on very wet and uneven ground
Silently, he agreed with her. He yearned for a similar lasting relationship that could only be possible with the right woman. And his gut-feel was screaming at him that the right woman was currently walking beside him. He looked sideways at her innocent profile, the tiny almost-dimples present.
“I love you,” he whisphered unable to stop himself. And for the first time in his life, he was actually uttering the words in all honesty. He realised that the attraction he felt for her has gone beyond the physical. Quickly following his fascinating self-discovery was deep regret. He was silently ruing all the stupid decisions he had made in his youth.
Meanwhile, he could see her profile had turned serious. With her smile dying , her almost-dimples disappeared. Her lips compressed together tightly as she gritted her teeth.
“Candy?” he prompted for a response.
Any kind of response.
From a very distant horizon, lightning was sporadically zigzagging across the very dark night sky. Awashed with rain, the road was deserted except for the two of them slowly navigating their way around the water-filled potholes. The village main street was riddled with hollowed out spots as well as rubbish build-up along its ditches.
Then she pulled a deep sigh, a slight frown marring her smooth forehead. Her gaze remained focussed ahead but Candyce was looking with unseeing eyes.
“Bakit ba kayong mga lalaki napakabilis ninyong sabihin ang mga salitang ‘yan?” she responded with a rhetorical question, a distinctive catch in her voice. “Samantalang karamihan sa inyo, hindi naman marunong magmahal…”
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.
“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.
“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.
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…
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
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 :)
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.
“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 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.
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.”
“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…
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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—”
“—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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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…
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 :)
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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 bit her lip to control her sobs.
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…”
“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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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…