Long-held Torch – Part 15
Author’s Note: Again, I would like to extend my thanks to Ms. Alpha Grace, Ms Liza and to Ms. Dianne for generously giving their time to critique and proofread this chapter. Please feel free to give your honest feedback, whether good or bad.
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…