Down the road
The rain has stopped. Most of Cristina’s guests have left for the night. Maya and Richard were the only ones left as Luke texted more than an hour ago to say that he will just bring Richard’s car at Cristina’s house. Richard asked Maya to wait with him as he insisted that he will take her home. When Maya initially refused, he pointed out that like him, she commuted to go there. He also said that it is not safe for her to take a cab at that time of the night. What if she encounters a bad cab driver, unlike the one they found earlier.
Maya agreed that Richard has a point and it was one of her mom’s conditions when she finally allowed her to live on her own – that she will always take good care of herself, be safe, especially here in the metro. Besides, indeed, it was already late and she feared that it would be doubly harder to find a cab now, as the case is, every time it rained in the city.
“Uh, oh, Maya, prepare for interrogation. Here comes, Cris.” Richard warned Maya teasingly. They were able to avoid this earlier as Cris was waylaid by one of her friends when she was approaching them.
“Kaya nga, maghanda ka na Mr. Lim. Ikaw kaya ang mahaba-haba ang ipapaliwanag.” Maya elbowed Richard and whispered, “Sino kaya ang nadulas sa ‘Honeybun’ na iyan. Mabuti pala umuwi na si Celeste. Safe ka na.”
“Yeah, nakahinga na ako ng maluwag.” Richard acknowledged. Though he is thinking that if he sees Celeste again and she still acts the same way, it would be better if he just let her down gently, politely, and directly, if that is possible. But the way Celeste was acting so far, it will be a tall order.
“Cousin, success ang party mo ah. I think your colleagues had a lot of fun at the impromptu video session.” He said by way of greeting his cousin again after she came back from accompanying the last group of guests to the gate.
“Oo nga. Mahilig kasi talaga ang mga iyan sa kantahan at laman ng paborito naming sing-along bar diyan sa Timog halos every Friday.” Cris said. “Pero, pati kayo nitong si Maya, enjoy ah. I thought you hate singing in public, Kuya Ricky? Kamuntik na akong mag-faint when I saw you grabbed the mic and sing, ha.”
“Hahahaha, Yes, I still do. Kasi itong si Maya, sabi baka raw boses palaka ako kaya ayaw kong kumanta. Hayun, I got challenged, napakanta tuloy.” Richard said with a smile, gazing at Maya meaningfully. “Sabagay, okay lang namang maging palaka, para the princess can kiss me and turn me into a prince.”
“Ha, ha, ha, Kuya Ricky! Iyan na yata ang corniest joke mo so far.” Cris laughed. “Fairy tale lang ang peg mo?”
“Oo nga, Ricky, wala na yatang mas corny pa diyan sa punchline na iyan. Eh sino naman ang princess?” Maya asked.
“Sino pa ba, eh di ikaw.” He jested, trying to get a rise out of Maya. He was not wrong, she started turning red in the face. “Please turn me into a prince, Ms. Maya Dela Rosa.”
Maya slapped his arm gently, pretending to be mad. “Ikaw ha, nakakarami ka na. Tinulungan na nga kita. Heto pa ang napala ko.”
“Maya, sorry, I can’t resist it. Huwag ka nang magalit. Biro lang. I’m thankful for your help.” Richard said, trying to appease Maya, baka nga napikon na. “Sorry na. Cross my heart, stop na ako sa biro.”
“Hay naku, ikaw kasi, may pa-honey, Honeybun ka pa diyan, Babe!” Maya said, still pretending to be mad at Richard. She does find him funny and easy to get along with. Baka kung ibang guy siya, nasupladahan na niya or napagkamalang malakas ang dating. She likes Richard’s sense of humor and she enjoys their repartee.
They looked at each other and laughed, remembering how that ‘terms of endearment’ started and the fun they had, trying to out-tease each other with that.
“Ehemmm, ehemm, I’m here po. Baka nakakalimutan niyong dalawa.” Cris said smiling. “Sige, tutal nandiyan na rin lang ang usapan. What is this ‘Honeybun’ and ‘Babe’? Kayo na ba?”
“Ha, anong kami?” Maya asked, surprised.
“I mean, nagkaligawan ba kayo at nagkasagutan habang inaasikaso ko ang mga bisita kong iba? I’m happy of course, if that is the case. Single ka naman, Kuya Ricky, and single na single at no boyfriend since birth itong best friend ko. Though, di ba parang ang bilis naman?” Cris said, not realizing that she confirmed something that Richard wanted to know about Maya.
“Bes, binuko mo pa ako, ha. Saka, naku, hindi kami nitong cousin mo.” Maya protested. “Mr. Ricky Lim, magpaliwanag ka na nga rito sa pinsan mo.”
“Maya naman, kung maka-protesta, parang hindi ako attractive maging boyfriend.” Richard said, half-jesting. “Guwapo naman ako, sabi mo kanina, di ba? Saka tanungin mo itong si Cris, mabait naman ako.”
“Ricky Lim!!!! Paliwanag na, please.” Maya told Richard, blushing, remembering her slip.
Cristina looked on and smiled. Hahahaha, they maybe not boyfriend and girlfriend yet, but she thinks these two will end up being that. Ang cute nilang tingnan, she thought.
“Okay, okay fine, Honeybun!” He said, still smiling. “I asked for Maya’s help. Kasi I saw Celeste na papunta sa amin kanina. I want to let her down gently, so I thought na she will take the hint and stop na if she knows I’m taken. Pinakiusapan ko si Maya na magpanggap na girlriend ko. Tapos she started calling me “Babe’ just to get back at me for not giving her time to say yes for the favor. Sumakay nga, gumanti naman. So I called her ‘Honeybun’ naman, lalo na nung pinakuha pa niya ako ng drink ni Celeste.”
“Awwww, sweet naman.” Cris teased them. “Akalain ko bang magkakasundo kayo ng ganito kaagad-agad, hahahahaha!”
“Bes, stop that.” Maya said, blushing. “Tapos itong pinsan mo, madulas-dulas ba naman at tawagin akong ‘Honeybun’ in public. Eh paano kung makita ko ulit ang mga officemate mo kahit nakaalis ka na, also Celeste, at tanungin ako about Richard.”
“Hmmm, eh pwede naman kasi nating totohanin.” Richard suddenly said.
“Totohanin ang alin?” Maya asked, puzzled.
“The boyfriend and girlfriend thing.” Richard said, half-serious, testing the waters.
“Rickkkyyy Limmmm, stop your jokes na. I only agreed to be your ‘girlfriend’ for the night.” Maya pinched Richard on the side.
“Ouch, Maya, masakit ah. Kita mo naman Cris, hindi pa nga ako sinasagot, abused boyfriend na ako.”
“Sagot? Hindi ka pa nga nanliligaw!” Oh no, I did it again. Maya told herself. “Errrr, erase, erase that.”
Richard looked at Maya and then gave her his heart-melting lopsided smile. “Eh di manliligaw ako. May I court you, Ms. Maya Dela Rosa?”
Maya, thinking that Richard is still trying to egg her, agreed. “Sure, Mr. Richard Lim. Kailangan pagbutihin mo, ha, para sagutin kita.”
“Of course, I will. Promise.” He said, seriously.
“Ha, seryoso ka???!!!” Maya blurted out.
“Yes, I am.” He said simply.
“Ricky naman, stop the biro na.”
“Hindi nga ako nagbibiro. Cris, tell your friend kung nagbibiro ako.” He looked at Cris who was just observing her cousin and best friend in their exchange, liking their banter.
“Naku, Kuya Ricky, ewan ko nga sa iyo.” Cris teased her cousin, then turned serious, to Maya. “Maya, sa totoo lang, I haven’t seen Kuya Ricky like this. Kaya be ready, Bes. Bahala ka if you want to take a chance with my cousin.”
“Thanks cousin, sabay laglag and build up sa akin ah.” Richard told her cousin. Then looked meaningfully at Maya. “I’m serious Maya, may I court you?”
Maya gulped. But before she could reply, Luke arrived.
“Kuya Ricky, sorry talaga for returning your car late.” He said very apologetic. “Sorry rin Ate Cris, hindi na ako umabot sa despedida party mo. Hello Ate Maya.”
“Hello Luke.” Maya said smiling. “Good to see you again.”
“Luke Andrew Lim!!! Pero sa lahat ng kasalanan mo sa akin, ngayon ako thankful sa ginawa mo kanina na hindi pagbabalik sa car.” Richard said. “Kaya lang wrong timing ka naman ngayon! Kaya 50-50 pa if I will forgive you.”
“Ha, bakit naman Kuya?” Luke said, surprised.
“Ricky, stop na.” Maya told Richard with matching pandidilat ng mata.
Richard smiled at her. “Okay, I will, for you Ms. Maya Dela Rosa. Pero may utang kang sagot sa akin.”
“Naku, Kuya Ricky. Enough na nga. Gagabihin na kayo nitong si Maya. Di ba may flight ka pa bukas, Maya?” Cris asked Maya. “Ikaw, Luke, stay here na lang. Bukas ka na umuwi. Bawi ka muna sa akin. I need you to edit some stuffs for me, for my wedding.”
“Yes, pero 3PM pa naman.” Maya replied. “Plenty of time. Nakaempake na rin naman ako. Ready to go na.”
“Where are you going, Maya, if I may ask?” Richard asked. “Work?”
“Oh, to Bangkok. For several days lang. It is not work. I wlll just visit my Thai friend.”
Richard nodded and at the same time wonder if the Thai friend is a guy. He wanted to ask, but he also thought it is too much to ask already since he just met Maya. Wala naman siyang right magtanong. “Oh, okay. Enjoy your vacation, Maya. Let’s get going. Cris, aalis na kami. Ikaw, Luke?”
“I will just stay here Kuya Ricky. Babawi ako kay Ate Cris. Saka baka makaistorbo pa ako sa inyo ni Ate Maya.” Luke said smiling.
“Luke Andrew Lim, pati ba naman ikaw.” Maya pinched Luke’s cheek. The younger Lim is like a brother to her also. Wala kasi siyang kapatid na lalaki.
“Why not, Ate Maya. Bagay naman kayo. Saka para mabawasan ang sungit ni Kuya Ricky , kapag nagka-girlfriend ulit.” Luke blurted out. Then realized what he said. “Oh, I mean, errr….”
“Hay naku, Luke Andrew, halika na nga. Kumain ka muna.” Cris intervened. “Ingat kayo, Kuya Ricky, Maya. Maya, we will see each other pa ha before I leave and after you return from Bangkok.”
“Yes, let’s have dinner at our favorite resto. Darating naman ako the day before you leave for good.” Maya hugged Cris. She let Luke’s slip passed, though, she is curious. It is not the time, nor proper place, to ask or tease about it.
Cris hugged her cousin.”Ingat sa pagmamaneho, Kuya Ricky. Ingatan mo itong si Maya, ha. I’ll see you at the family dinner, when Mom and Dad return from Davao, okay.”
“Of course, cousin. I will. See you.” Richard kissed his cousin on the cheek and tousled Luke’s hair affectionately, who whispered sorry to him for blurting out something that he thought he was not supposed to.
“See you, Luke. No worries. I’m planning to tell Maya about it if she asks, and also when she gets to know me better. I like her a lot.” He assured his younger cousin. Good thing Maya was still talking to Cris about some last minute plans, and she didn’t hear this.
Luke smiled. “Good luck, Kuya Ricky. Among Ate Cris’s friend, I like her a lot, too. Not the way I think you like her, but as a big sister. Sorry again for not returning your car on time.”
“Maya, let’s get going.” He held Maya’s elbow again as they walked to where Luke parked his car, after waving goodbye to Cris and Luke. He assisted Maya to his BMW. He opened the door for her before going to the driver’s side.
“Where do you live exactly pala, Maya? Around the area where we flagged the taxi?” Richard asked as he started the car.
“Yes, in one of the condominium buildings in Eastwood.” Maya told Richard the name of her place.
Richard smiled, surprised, and very, very glad. “Really, I live there also! In the West Tower.”
“Talaga? Kaya pala nagkaagawan tayo sa taxi kanina. I live in the East Tower naman.” Maya smiled at the coincidence again. “Pero bakit walang nabanggit sa akin si Cris na may cousin siya na nakatira doon or that you live there also?”
“I just moved there kasi. Nahihirapan na akong mag-drive from our house in Alabang to Ortigas, lalo na ngayong I work very long hours, Hindi kasi ako sanay ng may driver, having live without one for so long in the States.” Richard told Maya as he navigated the still busy road going to Eastwood.
“Hindi rin nabanggit ni Cris na doon ka nakatira. Though, I haven’t seen her in a while and lately ko rin lang nasabi sa kanya that I moved. I guess it slipped her mind since busy siya for her move to the US.”
“Oh, kaya pala. It is a good place naman to live. For me, quite accessible to everything.” Maya said. “Yes, she is quite busy these days. Kahit kami, hindi kami masyadong nagkikita lately. I was also out of town a lot rin naman kasi.”
“Work?” Richard asked.
“Yes, for one of your magazines, actually. The travel and leisure one. They asked me to write on the 10 Best Honeymoon Destinations in the Country, in time for the June issue. I usually checked out the places myself before I write about it, not just interview the owners and the management of those places, so off I went.” Maya said. “I just wanted to get the feel of those places. Di ba, mas authentic that way? Saka, it was an adventure for me as well, kasi. So hayun, I booked myself room in each of the places in the list on my own. I didn’t charge your company for that, ha.” She added.
“Well, I think you should have. Judging by your previous pieces, I think it is topnotch. Do you always do that? Just go where it leads you?” Richard asked curious at what drives Maya to travel and explore places a lot, as if she does not want to be tied to a single place. He glimpsed it from her blog posts.
“Yes, I want to see all the places I can see in my lifetime, experience life, you know, that sort of thing. You never know, suddenly we die tomorrow without being able to do what we want to do. I want to seize the moment. Sorry if I turned serious, all of a sudden.” Maya said and stared out into the night, starting to get lost in thought.
“Hmmm, there must be a reason why you are doing that.” Richard commented, probing gently.
“Yes, actually. But it’s a long story.” She said, sighed and smiled sadly at Richard. Then she stopped at that, and Richard didn’t pry anymore. Maybe, when Maya gets to know him a little better she will tell him. He meant what he said earlier, he wants to court Maya. She makes him feel alive again, happy. For now, he changed the topic.
They chatted about travel books and places prominently used in movies while navigating the ‘after-the-rain’ traffic.
“Maya, are you tired na? Want some coffee at the cafe in our building?” Richard asked after a while, as he does not want the night with her to end yet.
Like Richard, Maya was reluctant for the evening to end. “Sure. I-park na muna natin itong car mo para dire-diretso na tayo to our own places after.”
“Thank you Maya.” Then he can’t help it, he teased her again. “Para naman masabi ko na sa iyo ang intentions ko.” He said smiling at her.
Maya grinned, taking the light approach as well. “Ikaw talaga, balik pala tayo roon. Well, let’s go Mr. Lim so you can convince me of your intentions.“
They smiled at each other, then continued on their journey home, chatting, and at times, looked at each other, and smiled, just very happy in each other’s company.