Long-held Torch – Part 4

Author’s note:  Special thanks to Chuchy who proofread my work before submission. 

“Ikaw talaga kung makabiro, Kute. Mabuti hindi napikon sayo si Singkit”   chided Maya of her older sister when they were alone in the dining area. They were putting away the remnants of breakfast while Luke and Nikki Grace were running around playing tag in the adjoining family room which connects to the al-fresco veranda.

Among the siblings,  Maya and Cristina Rose were  the closest for they only have four  years age gap between them whereas her Kuya Ryan is older than Maya by ten years.  And for as long as she can remember, she had always addressed Cristina Rose as KUTE which was the compound term for kuya and  ate.  Even as a child, Maya had sensed  that her supposed Ate Cristina Rose  had a lot of masculine inclinations like her Kuya Ryan.

“Hindi naman pikon si Kuya Richard”  negated Cristina Rose.  “Saka ang lakas din kaya mang-asar nun. Weather-weather lang. He He He ”

Maya can see Tatay Arturo and Richard deeply engrossed in conversation on the  veranda.  Her Tatay Arturo had also glanced  in her direction twice which made her heart skip several heartbeats.  Maya had an uneasy feeling that they were talking about her.  However, she  could not hear what they were actually talking about.

“Ano kayang pinag-uusapan nila?”  asked Maya absently, her gaze following Nanay Teresita who went to the veranda carrying a tray with two cups of coffee.  Her brows lifted when Nanay Teresita was invited to join in the private conversation. “Kasama na rin si nanay?”

Maya was intending to go near the veranda when Cristina Rose stopped her progress.

“Hep! Hep! Hep! Saan ka pupunta, Maya dela Rosa? Baka mapagalitan ka ni Tatay” warned Kute.

“Sabi ko nga. Dito lang ako.”  She scooped Nikki Grace as she darted in front of her.  Her niece did an eardrum -piercing squeal as  Maya sniffed the child’s armpits. “And bigat mo na at ang asim na ng kili-kili mo, pwedeng pang-sinigang.”

Nikki Grace kept on squealing as she wriggled within her Tita Maya’s hold.

“Paliguan mo na yang mga bata.” instructed Cristina Rose of her younger sister.

“Tama, hihiluran ko kayong magkapatid at meron nang mga banil yang mga leeg ninyo” Nikki Grace giggled as Maya tickled her neck. Maya also quickly grabbed Luke as he tried to evade  both his aunt and the threat of being scrubbed by a pumice stone.

“Anong oras ba yung binyag?” Maya directed her question back to Kute.

“Alas onse. Kaya maligo na kayo’t gumayak.” announced  Mamang who rejoined them in the dining area. Her grandmother already had a shower with her wet hair still wrapped up in a towel and already dressed in Sunday clothes.

Maya chose a pastel yellow pant suit  and matching peep-toe wedged heels.  As it was Sunday, she managed to catch up with many of her former classmates from San Nicholas High School.  Standing beside Simon, she was chatting with a bevy of  female friends, who were eyeing  the  clean-cut chinito  hovering in the background.  Maya had been ignoring Richard all throughout the service. Although, she was  mindful that Richard looked good in pin-striped light gray long-sleeved polo shirt and charcoal grey pants.  Heck, he looked good whatever he wore.

Maya frowned  for she did not realise that he actually left the house while she was in the shower.   Richard normally stays at the Dela Rosa residence when he’s in Mindoro and she was expecting the same set-up.  Then again, Richard used to stay in her Kuya Ryan’s room but that is now also occupied by his wife and three children. With a cot in there, there was not even room to swing a cat.  But there’s always  the spare room that Mamang uses as a sewing room. So, the obvious reason was that he opted not to stay this time.   He had looked freshly showered when he  arrived at Church and seated himself beside her  on the pew.  So, obviously he had been lodging in the vicinity.  The question was WHERE?

The ride home was  a convoluted  event.  Initially,   Maya had intended to ride back the same way she came to town—with Simon.   Out of the blue,  he was drafted by Tatay Arturo and Nanay Teresita to accompany them to pick up the pre-ordered  lechon from the other side of town.  Mamang had grabbed her cousin Lino to get the cake from the town centre bakeshop.  Kuya Ryan herded his wife  and brood  into the  old  Mitsubishi Lancer that serves as the family car.  His wife Celine was already looking flustered as baby Abigail was due for breastfeeding and was already crying her lungs out.  Maya was about to follow them when Cristina Rose  halted  her progress by handing  her a few hundred peso bills.

“Para saan to?”  asked a bewildered Maya, raising her right hand that was holding the paper bills.

“Pakihawakan  mo at wala akong bulsa. Nagbilin si Nanay na bumili tayo ng softdrinks.”

“Samahan ko na kayo” volunteered Richard cheerfully as he spoke behind Maya.

“Ay,  nandito nga pala si Kuya Richard. Teka, kayong dalawa na lang ni Maya ang bumili kasi dadaanan  pa namin ni Jeff  yung gitara sa bahay niya, eh. Okey?”  Without waiting for a response, Cristina Rose jumped behind Jeff’s motorbike and the two sped away.

“Ha?” Maya’s  jaw dropped as everyone left.  She slowly turned to see Richard  smiling so charmingly down at her as he placed his forefinger  under her chin to close her mouth.

“I guess you’re stuck with me.”  Richard murmured as his forefinger continued to caress her chin ever so lightly.

At his touch, the butterflies in her stomach came back to life with a vengeance.  She tried to breathe in deeply to oxygenate her brain that had gone sluggish. Unfortunately,  Richard was standing at such close quarters that she also breathed in a tangy lemony soap smell that blended with a   masculine musk  that was purely Richard.  And Maya could not control the effect it was having on her.

In that bemused state,  Maya felt Richard’s hand at the base of her spine as she let  herself  be led  into his Toyota Land Cruiser.  Maya’s sense of presence slowly returned as Richard  drove to the nearest grocery. She frowned as he navigated  without getting any directions from her.  He certainly seemed to know his way around town like he has been living  locally  for years.  This brings back the question—-where was he  staying?

“Saan ka natutulog?”  Maya asked without preamble.

Richard just flashed his bedimpled lop-sided grin. “Is that a hint? Are you trying to invite yourself to where I sleep?”

“Nagtataka lang ako. Kasi diba palagi ka namang naglalagi sa bahay kapag nandito ka?”  Maya ignored his flirty tone.

“I bought a place of my own.”

Now, THAT was certainly news to her. Why has no one bothered to tell her?

“Really? Saan? Kelan pa?”  Maya asked before she could stop herself. She was not sure if she liked the idea of Richard living in her home turf.  The idea was making her uneasy.

“Whoa!  So many questions, Miss Dela Rosa.” Richard laughed.

However, he would not give anything away which annoyed Maya very much.  No matter how much she badgered him inside the grocery, he would not even give her a hint.  She smiled, she cajoled, she pouted and almost stamped her foot in frustration—all  to no avail. Then, it occurred to her as Richard was placing the bags of bottled drinks in the boot   that he might be wanting to keep his privacy. He may have a girlfriend in residence.  The thought visibly darkened her mood.  She turned quiet and then looked away, pretending to be interested in the passing scenery when the vehicle moved.

“Maya?”  Richard  called her name softly.

“Yes?”

“Look, the only reason why I have not told you,  nor your family,  is because I  am still  in the process of renovation.   I wanted to get everything in order before inviting you over.”

“I see.” Maya mumbled disbelievingly.

Richard sighed deeply.  Then, Maya felt the vehicle decelerating to a stop as Richard parked on the road shoulder. Maya turned towards Richard which was a mistake for he has shifted to peer closely at her face. She felt his fingers lifting the strands of hair that went over her eyes to tuck them  behind her right ear.

“Now, what’s going on in that beautiful head of yours?”

Beautiful?  Did he just describe her as beautiful? Was he flirting with her again?

“The place is still a mess. The electricians are still  re-wiring coz we had to tear out the old electrical  system.  The plumbers are working on the bathrooms at the moment. Next week,  the plasterers and then the painters are coming in.”

“You don’t have to explain. It is your place and of course it’s your prerogative who to invite.” Maya concluded.  “Tara na, hinhintay na nila yung mga softdrinks.”

Richard continued to consider her until he shook his head. He shifted in his seat and switched on the ignition. When they got back to the house, their place was jam-packed with family and friends.  Maya became busy refilling the buffet table. Even Richard took turns manning the barbecue to chargrill the marinated steak, tomato-relish stuffed  milkfish  and  bamboo stick-skewered hotdogs for the kids. Somebody even got him to wear  a white apron emblazoned with the cheeky statement in black bold letters. It read ‘I’M TOO SEXY FOR THIS APRON’ which he got ribbed for endlessly, mainly by her Kuya Ryan and his cronies.

“Maya, paki-abot mo nga ito kay Richard. Hindi pa nakain yun, eh”  instructed Mamang.

“Opo” Maya placed the refilled bowl of kare-kare on the buffet table and then took the plate of food downstairs.

Her Kuya Ryan was about to hand  Richard a bottle of beer when she was a couple of feet from him.  “Kuya, pakainin mo muna itong bestfriend mo bago mo lasingin.”

Ryan’s brows raised in  sudden realisation. “Naku, sorry pare. Iwanan mo na  yan. Kumain ka muna.”

“Masusunog itong nakasalang”  reminded  Richard.

“Hindi, akong bahala diyan” reassured Ryan as he took the long barbecue tongs off him. Richard removed the apron and handed it to his friend to take  the plate of food from Maya.

“Saan ka pupunta?  Di mo ba ako sasamahang kumain?” Richard asked as Maya was about to leave.

“Kukuha lang ako ng sakin”  with that she went back upstairs, with Richard dogging  her steps.  Maya saw Richard grab a glass of  chilled water.

They found an empty spot just vacated  by her cousin Lino and his female friend. It was the best seat by the veranda with the beach as backdrop.  Richard quickly pulled the wrought iron chair for her.  He placed the glass of water in front of her. Then remembering something, he went back to grab a glass of Diet Coke for himself and  a banana from the huge fruit bowl from the dessert table. He seated himself beside her then peeled the fruit and dropped the inside part onto her plate.

“What are you doing?”  She was unsure if she should feel flattered with the attention or annoyed because he did not even think of asking what drink she wanted or whether she wanted a banana in the first place.

“Having lunch?” Richard answered the obtusely.

“I mean…” her hands gestured towards the glass of water and the peeled fruit.

“You don’t like softdrinks  and only drink chilled water, right?”

“Oo nga—”

“And you always eat meals with a banana, right?”  It was actually like a family quirk among the Dela Rosa’s.  Every member must have a banana with lunch and dinner, regardless of what viand was accompanying the rice.  Maya, in recent years,  had even gone further and regularly eat bananas on toast for breakfast, a habit she picked up from her English friends.

“Oo, pero—”

“So what’s the problem?”

Ano nga bang problema, Maya?  Hindi mo dapat bigyan ng kahulugan ang mga ginagawa ni singkit.  Afterall, you just gave him a plate of food. He was just returning the gesture.

 

“Maya…”  Her head lifted. It was Simon  approaching them with a small plate of lechon.

“Thank you.” Maya smiled sweetly at Simon as she directly picked up a piece of crunchy pork skin off the plate offering with her fingers.

“Join us Simon.” Richard invited the younger man politely albeit unsmilingly.  This  had Maya frowning.  Did Richard not like Simon?

“Hindi na po, Kuya Richard. Tapos na po akong kumain, eh. Magpapaalam lang ako kay Maya.”

“Aalis ka na kaagad?” Maya questioned her childhood friend.

“May inuutos pa kasi sakin si Tito.  Meron kaming delivery bukas pa-Maynila. So kailangan maikarga na lahat sa truck yung mga paninda” explained Simon. “pero babalik ako mamaya, ha?  Dalawin kita.”

“Ah, okey.” Maya said slowly, not really knowing how to answer that without being rude especially with Richard looking on.   Maya deeply sighed as Simon walked away.

“Why don’t you put him out of his misery?” was her companion’s quiet suggestion.

“I beg your pardon?”  Maya blinked in astonishment.

“You don’t want him.  Bakit pina-paasa mo pa?” he said in an undertone.

“FYI lang Mr. Lim,” Maya tried to calm herself. “first of all, hindi ko pinaasa si Simon. Sinabihan ko na siyang hanggang magkaibigan lang talaga kami nuon pa…ilang beses na…bago pako natanggap sa Time Airways.”

“Maybe, you were not convincing enough?  Maybe he’s getting mixed signals from you?”

“Maybe you should not be meddling in my affairs?” Maya pointed out.

“Maybe you should date someone seriously so that Simon can finally get the message.”  Richard continued ignoring what she said.

Maya was amused at the ludicrous suggestion.  In essence, he was suggesting that she hooks up with a guy to get rid of another.  “And who do you suggest  I date, Mr Lim?”

Richard  turned to directly look into her eyes that she saw something she could not fathom.  Then he smiled enigmatically.

“Me.”

to be continued…

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