Long-held Torch – Part 7
Author’s Note: My SPECIAL THANKS go to Ms. Chuchy who checks my work prior to submission.
“Can’t get enough of her can you?”
Richard ignored his inner jeering voice as he drove back to the Dela Rosa household hours earlier than what he originally intended.
So here he was, appearing very much like the overeager beau bearing gifts. He mentally shook his head for he had also made a detour to the town market in search for a specific item but came out with both hands full. He had bought a bouquet of three dozens of yellow roses that were just starting to bloom. He also made arrangements with the florist to have a different flower arrangement delivered to Maya every day. He passed by the fruit section of the marketplace to purchase a variety of fruits which the fruit vendor happily arranged in a basket for him. Noticing an odd looking bunch of bananas which peaked his interest and warped sense of humour, he also asked the vendor to place that at the top of the basket. For good measure, he likewise requested for different fruit varieties to be delivered daily to Maya.
Mamang beamed as she received him when he ascended the stairs leading to the living area. “Richaaard, tamang-tama dito ka na mananghalian” she invited while she eyed the flowers and fruit basket.
“Salamat po, Mamang. Pero hindi po ako pwedeng magtagal. Kailangan ko pong bumalik ng Manila.”
“Me problema ba?” probed Mamang who knew that he was on vacation for at least a couple of weeks.
“Sa trabaho po,” confirmed Richard while trying to look beyond the empty family room.
“Ayy, teka tawagin ko si Maya. Upo ka muna.”
Richard felt ill at ease as he hovered by the Cleopatra-style narra lounge, the same seat that he had sat on numerous times before as Ryan’s bestfriend and regular Dela Rosa household guest. He inwardly shook his head again as he never envisaged himself sitting down on the same intricately carved wooden seat as Maya’s suitor.
No, your fertile imagination never delved into the more mundane details.
He grimaced inwardly at that.
With Cristina Rose’s assistance, Maya approached him slowly as she tried to walk without putting too much pressure on her left foot. Her shoulder length hair was still damp and she was wearing a pink printed sundress-style top and matching shorts. Bare of any make-up, Maya’s natural beauty was enough to erase all worries from his head. He barely noticed Cristina Rose as she left muttering that her presence was superfluous.
“For you” Richard handed her the flowers and placed the basket on the centrepiece table.
“Salamat, dapat sana hindi ka na nag-abala” Maya said as she sat down on the single seater and motioned for him to do likewise. “Pero bakit andito ka na? Diba sabi mo mamayang gabi ka pa babalik?”
Richard lifted his eyebrows as he made himself comfortable on one end of the three-seater which was nearest to Maya.
“Your eagerness to see me again is so good for my ego” Richard retorted dryly.
Maya’s eyes rounded, aghast at her verbal faux pas. “Hindi ko naman— akala ko nga kasi—’
Richard’s hand came up. “Stop, I was just teasing.”
“Minsan kasi kahit nagbibiro ka seryoso pa rin ang mukha mo. Ang hirap mo tuloy tantiyahin kung seryoso ka o nagbibiro.”
Richard expelled a soft mirthless short laugh.
“Believe me, hindi biro itong ginagawa ko.” Richard expressed sombrely as he tried to search her face for an indication of what she’s feeling.
Maya got tongue-tied as she blankly looked back at him before turning her head to study the yellow roses and baby’s breath on her lap.
“Got something else for you,” Richard opened the brown package that contained Velcro strapped beige sandals. “This would protect your bandaged foot.”
He went down on his haunches and pried open the Velcro straps and adjusted it around the thick bandages wrapped around Maya’s left foot. He also replaced Maya’s right slipper with the other sandal.
“The design is a bit chunky but it will serve the purpose…” his voice trailed, distracted by Maya’s smooth and shapely ankles.
“Oo naman, salamat.” Maya agreed and smiled in gratitude.
Richard looked at her. “Masakit pa ba?”
Maya shook her head “Tuloy pa yung inom ko ng gamot.”
“Good, ” Richard said “dumaan din ako para magpaalam.”
“Ha?” Maya blinked back at him in surprise.
Richard sat down again and explained.
“I got a call from my project manager in Batangas mid-morning. They hit a gas pipeline that was not indicated on the land information memorandum report and the company is threatening to sue us.” Richard sighed, then went on “I would normally let your Kuya Ryan handle this but he left for Hong Kong early morning to finalise a contract with one of our suppliers.”
Richard omitted the fact that Ryan was standing in for him as he was officially on vacation.
Maya nodded mutely.
“Hopefully, I can be back after a few days.” He heard the whirring sound of chopper blades passing overhead. He did not have much time left. “Look, I now realise that I dropped a bombshell on your lap. But surely, you had ‘some’ inkling on how I have always felt about you?”
Specially after that unforgettable kiss on the beach all those years ago?
With her head still bent, Maya just mutely shook her head. Richard inwardly smiled, his warped sense of humour appreciating the fact that he had rendered her speechless again. Such incidents were rare occasions.
“Anyway, my absence can give you a breather.”
A breather, Richard? But you’ve barely just begun courting her!
Ignoring his mocking inner voice, Richard came forward to reach the lock of hair that had fallen over her eyes to tuck it back behind her left ear. “It will give you the time to think and maybe… miss me a little?”
Richard sighed again. His male instinct had been cognizant of the physical attraction between them for a long time. But he never assumed for a minute that she would quickly drop on his lap. He knew he needed to allay whatever fears or misgivings that was in her beautiful head before they can move forward. Still, he was hoping for some sign of encouragement.
“Anong oras ang alis mo?” Maya smiled, still not looking directly at him.
“Can’t wait to get rid of me, hmnnn?”
“Hindi naman ganun ang ibig kong—”
Richard raised both his hands in surrender stance. “Teasing. I was just teasing.”
Richard saw Maya finally looking directly at him. This time, her lips were pursed in annoyance. He promised himself he would thoroughly enjoy turning that pouting expression into something else…
Richard abruptly got up but motioned Maya to stay seated. “Magpapaalam lang ako kanila Nanay.”
Richard went to the kitchen area and said his farewells. Mamang even gave him a container of his favourite oxtail and tripe kare-kare to bring with him. Richard felt the acceptance from the older Dela Rosa women and was grateful for it. If only Maya would be just as easy to convince.
Returning to the lounge, Richard found Maya already standing by the hall table by the front door. She was already arranging the bouquet of yellow roses in a large brass vase. He stood behind her and breathed in her freshly-showered scent.
When Maya sensed his presence, she turned her head sideways to look up at him.
“Try not to get into more accidents while I’m away, hmmmn?” he said affectionately down at her. Maya was about to retort but stopped short when he added in a whisper “I will miss you.”
With that he quickly went downstairs. Richard glanced back before he got into the Toyota Land Cruiser. Maya was standing at the top of the stairs looking at him. She waved and he nodded back before driving off.
Richard returned to the villa to park his vehicle under the carport. He notified the caretaker elderly couple of his departure and intended return. He gave them the go-signal to hire people to properly clear the weeds that had overran the outer grounds. He also left last minute instructions to the renovating team who would continue with the work in his absence. By the time he got back, a glass conservatory enclosing the garden alcove would have been installed.
Then, he briskly strided to the front lawn where the MD520N helicopter had been waiting to bring him back to Manila. It was one of many corporate transport that Richard uses to do his project site visits all over the Philippines. Today, he needed to be in his Makati City Head Office as soon as possible. After giving the thumbs-up sign to Capt. Lem, they were airborne.
The next 24 hours were hectic with the legal team. Pouring over documents and retracing steps undertaken had shown that they had followed the proper lawful processes. Atty. Ryan confirmed as much during their teleconference call. Despite the good news, he was hating every minute that he had to stay in the metropolis.
In the middle of another meeting the following day, he stepped out of his office to the balcony behind his massive desk. With the Makati City traffic muted in the background, he called her mobile phone which Cristina Rose provided for him when he fetched Maya at the airport. He rang once. No answer. He rang again after five minutes. Still no answer. He kept on calling until she finally answered on the nth try. He had actually lost count after his 23rd unanswered call!
“Hello, Maya” he managed to greet in an even tone while keeping his frustration and temper in check “why are you not answering your mobile?”
“Hello, who’s this?” Maya asked uncertainly.
Richard removed his specs and massaged the bridge of his nose as he shook his head. “As I have said, you are so good for my ego.”
“Tulog ka pa ba?” Richard checked his Omega wristwatch. It was almost 11am.
“Hindi. Galing ako ng banyo. Naligo ako ulit.”
“You just had a shower?”
“Uhhmmm.” Maya confirmed “Ang init kasi. Nakakailang paligo ako sa maghapon.”
Feeling suddenly very hot under his collar, Richard loosened his tie. The very high possibility of Maya talking to him in her birthday suit almost undid him.
“How’s your foot?” he asked, mentally counting to ten to calm down.
“Uhmmn…okey na. ‘Healing well’ daw sabi ng homecare nurse na dumating kanina” replied Maya “I’m also getting good at using the forearm crutch you sent. Nakakakilos na akong mag-isa. Saka dun sa flowers na dumating kanina, thank you ulit…thank you sa lahat pero sana…”
“Hindi ba pwedeng simpleng ‘thank you’ na lang? Yung walang ‘pero’?” Richard cut off whatever protest she was going to voice. “That is if you are indeed grateful?”
Richard had directed Lisa to arrange for on-going care so that the healing process will be faster. Since he remembered her propensity for walking on the beach, the care also included mobility equipment so that Maya won’t be cooped up inside the house longer than necessary.
“Prove it. Come out to dinner with me.” Richard knew fully well that he was taking advantage of the situation but all is fair in love.
“I…I can’t.” she replied.
Richard frowned, hurt at the rejection. Did he misread the signs?
“Coz I don’t have any pair of shoes that would fit these thick bandages. But when they come off…” her voice trailed softly.
“Deal. We’ll go the minute the bandages go off.” Richard readily settled the matter before she changed her mind. His eyes were gleaming at the prospect of dating Maya. “You won’t be going anywhere tonight, right?”
“Sa bahay lang ako. Magluluto daw kami ng suman sa lihiya. Nagre-request si Tatay, eh.”
He saw his PA Lisa gesturing for his attention through the tinted glass sliding doors.
“I have to go, Maya. I will see you soon.”
When Richard rang off, he was grinning as he walked back inside his office. His smile was even broader hours later when he was parking his Toyota Land Cruiser in front of the Dela Rosa residence.
“Good evening po, Tatay Arturo,” he greeted Maya’s father who likely just came home from work himself.
Taking advantage of the last rays of the sun, the older man was currently inspecting one of the house pillars by the Souvenir Shop which Mamang and Nanay Teresita manage.
“Good evening, iho. Tamang-tama ang dating mo. Pakitingnan mo nga itong halige. Papaano ba ito papalitan?”
The next hour was spent on discussing structural reinforcements. Richard was just glad he can lend his professional expertise on this occasion. It was only when Nanay Teresita peered over the window above them to call them for dinner that Tatay Arturo stopped asking questions.
They went upstairs together like bosom buddies with Tatay Arturo’s left arm over Richard’s shoulders.
“Dito maghahapunan si Richard, ” declared Tatay Arturo.
“Good evening everyone.” He greeted Mamang and Nanay Teresita and then nodded to Cristina Rose.
“Nakabalik ka na pala” Nanay Teresita gestured him to sit down again on the other end of the table, opposite Tatay Arturo.
Richard only smiled in response. He was only back for the evening for he will be returning directly to Manila since he’s got a scheduled 7am inspection at the project site under investigation. Richard stood up when Maya joined them. Richard saw that Maya had her hair up in a scrunchie, probably to keep cool. She also expertly moved with the forearm crutch. He quickly pulled the chair the one to his immediate right. She hesitated for a second before sitting down and smiling in gratitude at him.
Richard could not remember what he ate. All he remembered was Maya seated on his right and that she had been surreptitiously glancing at him when she thought he was not looking. He was just happy to be within her proximal personal space.
After dinner, everything was cleared to make way for the preparation of the suman sa lihiya which was another hilarious affair. It started with Cristina Rose overly toasting the first batch of banana leaves to a crisp that they could not fold-in the glutinous rice mix without the whole thing collapsing. Cristina Rose teased Mamang that she couldn’t fold the banana leaves because of her stiff fingers. Mamang counterclaimed that even without her arthritic fingers, she could not work with substandard materials that Cristina Rose provided. Mamang dramatically flounced off to make the latik in the kitchen instead. When Nanay Teresita prepared another batch of banana leaves, Cristina Rose retaliated by teasing Maya because she was not tying the suman together tight enough.
“I bet I could do a better job,” Richard quipped joining in teasing Maya.
“Sige, ikaw dito,” Maya retorted in challenge, gesturing for him to take her place.
Richard grinned and stood up. He noted Maya’s eyes widening and then taking on a speculative look as Richard took a pair of suman. He skilfully tied it together very tightly with Cristina Rose’s coaching. With flourish, he presented it to Maya for inspection.
“Sige na magaling ka ng magtali,” Maya commented when she critically looked at the perfectly tied pair of suman “kung magsawa ka ng maging engineer, meron ka ng pwedeng fall-back career…”
“…as magsu-suman” Maya fluttered her lashes at him impudently.
Richard’s eyes gleamed down at her. Maya was really lovely, even with wisps of hair escaping her scrunchie.
“Magsu-suman pala, ha!” Richard did what he had been tempted to do since she walked into the dining area. He deftly took the scrunchie off her hair and her long tresses came down.
Maya’s eyes and mouth formed big O’s as she realised that he had taken her scrunchie!
“Ibalik mo yan!” she demanded advancing on him.
Richard calmly stepped away, waving the scrunchie tauntingly at her. She hobbled towards his direction again and he adroitly moved back laughing. Maya kept following while Richard just kept retreating out of her reach until they did one revolution around the dining table. Cristina Rose merely chortled as she witnessed their antics.
“Bunso, huwag ka ng humabol at kahit kelan hindi ka naman umabot,” Cristina Rose alluded to similar instances in the past as she carried on with tying the suman “lalo na’t ikay pilantod.”
Richard noted the determined glint which entered Maya’s eyes at her sister’s remark. And he knew that Cristina Rose’s taunt merely goaded Maya into doing the exact opposite.
Distracted with evading Maya, Richard’s leather loafers were caught by something which caused him to go a little off-balance. He would have righted himself had not Maya launched herself at him to grab her scrunchie. And down they both went.
Borne of long-learnt martial arts training, Richard had automatically bent his knees, and rounded his back to protect his head but he could not slap his palms on the floor to spread his weight. Instead, he had instinctively wrapped Maya in his arms so that he could cushion her fall.
While winded, Richard felt Maya quickly stirring. With his eyes still closed, he whispered. “You didn’t have to resort to violence, you know.”
“Violence?” she asked cluelessly, looking down at him.
“You can have me horizontal and ‘willing’ anytime, you just have to ask.” he explained in sultry undertone as he looked up at her. After the initial shock at impact, having her warm softer curvy body against his harder form felt sensational. And her squirming against his hold was arousing him, to say the least.
Maya gasped in shock as the veiled innuendo sank in.
“Asa ka pa!” Maya hissed at him as she got up quickly, unmindful where her limbs went.
Richard doubled-up in pain as Maya’s knees almost crushed his ‘crown jewels’. He gritted his teeth as he waited for the excruciating pain to subside. Hence, he was not able to get up.
Wonderful! She would emasculate you before you even got to first base! Serves you right for having a one-track mind, Richard Lim!!
“Okey ka lang ba?” Maya asked worriedly when he continued to lie on the floor silently.
“Kuya Richard?” Cristina Rose also went round the table and was now also peering down at his grimacing face.
When Richard finally recovered, he took Cristina Rose’s offered arm and hauled himself up.
“Your sister’s going to be the death of me,” he declared mock-seriously.
“Ano, suko ka na?” challenged Cristina Rose up at him when he finally straightened.
“Hindi pwede, mahal ko, eh.” Richard countered.
Now, that slipped out unintentionally!
Yet, it did not really matter who else hears or learns what was in his heart. He had been keeping a lid on his emotions for too long that it actually felt great being able to express what he felt for Maya…
Maya was looking back at him wordlessly as the atmosphere became palpable. Even Cristina Rose was not able to intrude on the non-verbal communication that she was witnessing. She can only transfer her eyes from Maya to Richard who both had only eyes for each other.
“Magkape ka muna, Richard” said Nanay Teresita as she walked through from the kitchen, unwittingly shattering the intimate moment that was transpiring.
“Luto na ba?” asked Tatay Arturo who also came out of the bedroom.
Richard saw Maya look away and then bend down to retrieve the forearm crutch that caused their fall.
“Hindi pa Tatay” replied Nanay Teresita who handed both her husband and Richard a cup of coffee each. She then ushered both Richard and Maya to the veranda stating “mas makakapag-usap kayo dun.”
“Salamat po, Nay” Richard smiled at the older lady then slowly walked with Maya to the veranda. He pulled the wrought iron chair for her but excused himself for a few minutes to get a couple of items from the Toyota Land Cruiser. He forgot them earlier in his eagerness to see Maya.
He handed Maya a long clear beribboned cylinder encasing three very long stemmed roses of the reddest shade. Before seating himself, he placed two boxes of Cadbury chocolates in front of her—one was Continental and the other was Milk Tray.
“Cadbury, my favourite!” Maya’s eyes lit up.
“And dami mo ngang alam, eh. Sinong source mo? Si Kute, no?” Maya questioned.
“Some information did come from Cristina Rose,” he also wordlessly acknowledged Ryan who had been inadvertently giving vital information about Maya through the years “but mostly from firsthand knowledge. I have a photographic memory.”
Almost immediately, Richard can tell that he said the wrong thing for Maya’s expression visibly changed. Likely, his comment reminded Maya that he had seen her skinny dipping years ago like it was now reminding him.
Great going, genius!
“Dumating din ba yung prutas?” he quickly steered the discussion to a less explosive topic.
“Hmmmnn. Thank you. ” Maya nodded, then looked at him sideways “meron na namang piling ng saging na di namin kilala.”
“I thought your family loves the fruit?” he teased.
“Oo nga. Pero ang madalas lang naming bilhin yung lakatan, latundan…saka saba kapag naggi-ginataang halu-halo si Nanay.”
“Ano bang itsura nung saging?” Richard took out his iPhone-5 and searched the internet for a matching image of the banana in question. They spent the next few minutes discussing different varieties of the fruit until the topic veered towards its dollar earning strength as an export product.
“Kaya lang bakit yung mga hindi matatamis yung ini-export ng Pilipinas?” questioned Maya.
Richard shrugged. “I guess perishability would be a great factor and maybe consumer palate. Many Europeans will find your favourite lakatan and latundan overly sweet for their taste.”
“Sabagay nga. Kahit nga yung sikat na resto na pinuntahan namin ni Eduard sa London, matabang talaga ang pagkain nila.”
“Hmmmnn. Friend kong violinist.”
Ahhhh, the British violinist!
Richard went silent as he studied her profile. Then asked “Madalas ba kayong lumabas ni Eduard?”
“Dati. Kaso sa Moscow na siya based ngayon, eh. Wala naman akong route papuntang Moscow. Minsan nag-te-text lang siya or nag-e-email.”
Richard felt some relief at that.
“Eh, ikaw?” Maya countered.
“Anong ako?” Richard’s brows lifted.
Maya pursed her lips at him once more.
“Dates, we were talking about dates. Di ba palagi ka namang may dine-date?” Maya probed in a way that she made it sound like an accusation.
Or maybe you are just feeling guilty?
“I go out…err…casually” Richard explained lamely “But I have never committed myself to any woman, if that’s what you are trying to find out.”
“I am not sure if that’s a point in your favour,” Maya’s nose crinkled as her frown became more pronounced..
“Bakit naman?” Richard was perplexed at her way of thinking. Surely, a woman would want a man devoid of entanglements, whether that be legal or emotional?
“Eh, kasi naman. Sa edad mo, hanggang ngayon wala ka pang nagiging serious relationship.”
“That was by choice—” Richard tried to explain but Maya just went on like she did not hear him.
“I mean, sigurado ako maraming magagandang babae na edukada ang nagkakagusto sayo. So, anong problema sa kanila?”
“Wala namang prob—”
“Unless, your family follows traditional Chinese practices like arranged marriages …and your bride was already handpicked for you and was just waiting…” then she looked at him measuringly “no—palagay ko hindi ikaw yung tipo ng papayag na iba ang magde-desisyon para sayo…”
Richard frowned at the very idea but just merely shook his head.
“Ang ibig sabihin, pwedeng nasa iyo ang problema? Palagay ko, ikaw nga ang may problema…”
Richard just could not keep up with her monologue-chatter when she gets going. So, he just left her to it until her blood sugar goes really low.
“Uyy, tinatanong kita!” Maya nudged his foot under the table.
“Huh? Ano ba yung tanong mo?”
“Yung unang tanong ko, anong problema mo sa mga naging girlfriends mo?”
“Matagal nakong walang girlfriend” he denied flatly.
“Maniwala ako sayo!” Maya scoffed.
“My last girlfriend was during college days pa. Hindi ka nakikinig sa sinasabi ko, eh. I said I go on casual dates, nothing more.”
Casual dates, Richard? You mean casual sex which is hardly nothing, eh?
“Ahhh!” Maya said knowingly, looking at him speculatively.
“Now, what does that mean?” Richard was getting annoyed despite promising himself that he will be very patient with Maya. He really did not like how this conversation was progressing.
“Tama. Ikaw nga ang may problema, ” she nodded.
“I am no such thing!” Richard denied hotly.
Maya nodded sagely. “And still in the stage of denial. Ever thought of having psychotherapy for your unresolved issues?”
“Psycho—!” he bit the profanity that hovered on his lips “Hindi ako baliw!”
But she’s driving you so very close to it!
“Hindi naman para sa baliw lang ang psychotherapy, pwede rin sa mga na-trauma, sa may mga phobia—”
“Maya” Richard raised his voice slightly “I am not a commitment-phobe.”
“Yeah, right.” Maya’s eyes rolled up disbelievingly.
Richard could not believe it. He just said he loved her and now she’s brushing that aside by spouting psychoanalytical mumbo-jumbo at him. She would try the patience of a saint!
“I am not. And to prove this, I can call the provincial court judge right now. He’s my godfather and he would gladly officiate for us even at very short notice.”
“Judge?” Maya herself was now getting confused, he observed.
“Yes, depending on how fast you can change into something more suitable. We can get married within the hour.”
A clatter of dishes and cutlery sounded in the background. However, the sound was barely registered by his auditory sense as he was carefully regarding every nuance of expression on Maya’s face. It had ranged from slow realisation, to shock to downright anger.
Now, what have you done, Richard?
to be continued…