Long-held Torch – Part 17
Author’s note: Thank you very much to Ms. Alpha Grace, Ms. Liza and Ms. Dianne for their time and patience in going over my drafts prior to publishing. To my dear patient and impatient avid readers, thank you for accompanying me in this journey which is now ending. Sad to say, this will be the final chapter to my LHT series. But don’t fret, I can still see an epilogue or two for my protagonists.
Richard tipped the last gulp of the tan-coloured liquid to the back of his throat. He was sitting on the ground, his back propped against the round daybed. He was surrounded by several dozens of empty bottles of scotch, gin, and palm wine or tuba.
Richard had brought a dozen of his favourite single-malt scotch whiskey with him when he arrived in San Nicholas over a week ago. He also gave strict instructions to Tata Igme not to tell anyone who would be enquiring that he was in the villa. He also told Tata Igme that he wanted to be alone and that interference from him, Nana Benita, or any of his offsprings, would definitely earn his ire. He had planned to drink himself to oblivion without interruption. Quickly, he went through the bottles he brought including the existing variety of liquor he already had at the villa. When those ran out, he tried to climb back into his BMW so he could drive to the nearest liquor shop to buy more alcohol.
However, Tata Igme intercepted his progress and insisted that he make the trip in his stead. Richard suspected that the old caretaker just did not want him to drive roaring drunk. The old man probably thought he might have an accident on the road and hurt somebody or himself.
Richard smirked at the thought. The idea had merit. Who knows? He just might have a car accident and end up dying in a ditch somewhere. That would put a sudden end to his agony of losing Maya and their baby…
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…