Maya arrived at the Italian restaurant near Central Park, where she was supposed to meet Richard, at exactly seven o’clock in the evening. It took her a while to find a taxi from her place. She is familiar with the restaurant as she had dinner here with her family just after she arrived back in the States. Her mom and Daddy Mark insisted that they celebrate her graduation from university since they were not able to make it to the Philippines for the ceremony. Only Mamang went with her. Mamang turned emotional when she saw her in her toga. She was very proud of her achievement too, having received the highest honor from her college. After the ceremony, they went to dinner with her Tito Jose, Tita Pilar, Cristina Rose and Simon. Her parents, brother and sister did a video call and congratulated her.
The maitre d’ greeted Maya as soon as she entered the elegant restaurant’s main dining room after depositing her coat. She took an instant liking to this place. It is very relaxing and very welcoming. “Maya, bella, nice to see you here again! Are you with your parents?” The burly and jolly man greeted Maya effusively.
“Uncle Bobby! Hello! How are you? Good to see you! I was not so sure you will be here this evening.” Maya happily hugged Roberto Antonini, ‘Bobby’ to friends and family. He is a close friend of her parents, and their neighbor in New Jersey. He is like an uncle to her also as she grew up with two of his children. “I’m meeting someone here.”
“Today is my rest day, yes. But we are understaffed so the Signora asked me if I could work this evening.” Bobby told Maya as he looked at her closely and her nice dress. “You are very beautiful this evening, my dear Maya. Are you meeting your special someone here? Your boyfriend?”
Maya laughed. She is used to Uncle Bobby asking personal questions. He has been trying to fix her with one of his many nephews. “No, Uncle Bobby, not a boyfriend, just a friend. His name is Richard Lim. Is he here?”
“How’s your job at the hotel? Any news on your job applications at the UN?” Bobby asked as he checked in their register for the reservation under the name of Maya’s friend. He is good with faces, so he had an inkling who among the guests he seated earlier is Maya’s ‘beau’. A handsome young man politely requested earlier if he could give him one of the best tables in the place as he wanted to make his first date with the lady he likes a lot a very memorable one. Bobby’s romantic bent kicked, and led the guy to a secluded, and the nicest table, in the restaurant.
“It’s okay. I like my colleagues and it’s not difficult. I know the experience will help me in the long run, especially if I will make it to the UN.” Maya replied. “No news yet about the applications. But I just sent them out so it may take time before someone replied. If not, I will just go to graduate school next semester.”
“I’m sure you will get hired, with your qualifications, top honors from your school, and you being multilingual.” Bobby said confidently.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Uncle Bobby. For always believing in me.” Maya told the old guy affectionately. “If I get accepted, I will come back here and treat everyone, my family and yours.”
“If you get hired, Maya, the treat is on me.” Bobby said generously and patted Maya’s arm and said happily, “I’m right, that was your young man whom I gave best table in the restaurant earlier. Come, I will bring you to him.”
Richard, looked at his watch for the nth time. He knew he was early. But he can’t concentrate anymore with what he was doing so he dressed up, took his car out, bought something for Maya, parked it back. Then, he walked from the hotel to the restaurant 20 minutes early than his agreed time with Maya. He had called the restaurant earlier and made a reservation. He likes this elegant place which he discovered during one of his previous trips to New York. The food is superb and the ambiance is very relaxing and inviting.
He saw Maya walking towards him, chatting with the maitre d’ who gave him this very nice table. When Maya got nearer, she took his breath away, If she was beautiful in her plain uniform, she was very, very lovely in her evening clothes. She was wearing a classic cut white dress that hugged all her curves, her hair down, and from what he could see, wearing minimal make-up. She walked gracefully and elegantly towards him, unaware of his admiring look, and the equally admiring glances of all the males within the vicinity.
“Here you go, Maya. Hello, again Mr. Lim .” Bobby said as they reached the table, and Richard stood up.
“Uncle Bobby, this is my friend Richard Lim, from the Philippines too.” Maya said, smiling, trying to still her galloping heart. Richard looked dashing and very handsome in his evening clothes. ”Richard, this is my Uncle Bobby, Roberto Antonini, the best maitre d’ in Manhattan, a friend of my family and like a dad to me too since I am friends with his youngest daughters Carolina and Isabela.”
“Good evening Sir, please to meet a friend of Maya’s.” Richard shook the old man’s hand.
Bobby likes Maya’s ‘young man’. “I’m glad to meet a special friend of Maya too. ”Then, he can’t help it, he teased Richard, “I hope the table is special enough for a very special night, Mr. Lim.”
Richard smiled broadly at the maitre d’, remembering his request to him earlier. “I hope so too, Mr. Antonini. Call me Richard please.”
“Call me Uncle Bobby too, like Maya here.” Bobby said. “Maya, I will leave the two of you. I will just send Cesar, to attend to you. I will just tell your parents that we saw each other when I see them tomorrow. Have a wonderful evening and nice meeting you, Richard.”
“Thank you, Uncle Bobby.” Maya said.
“Thank you, Uncle Bobby.” Richard added as he pulled the chair for Maya and seated her.
Soon after, Cesar arrived, and after exchanging some pleasantries with Maya, took their order. Richard ordered one of their best wine vintage to go with their dinner.
“Parang kilala mo ang buong restaurant, Maya.” Richard remarked, teasing, when they were alone and waiting for their food and drinks. “Madalas ka ba rito?”
Maya laughed. “Not really. This is actually my second time here. Cesar is Uncle Bobby’s nephew. The first time I was here was several weeks ago, when my parents, that is my mom, stepdad and my siblings had a wonderful dinner here. Graduation treat daw nila sa akin.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” Richard asked, wanting to know Maya’s family too.
“One brother and a sister, both years younger than I am since they are my mom’s kids with my Daddy Mark, my stepdad, pero we are close naman. Makukulit nga lang ang mga iyon.” Maya said fondly. “Ikaw?”
“I’m an only child. Kaya heto, I’m 27 years old na pero my mom calls me pa rin regularly to check on me.” Richard said, smiling. “When I was a kid, I wished I had siblings too. Parang mas masaya. I do have cousins, though, na almost the same age as me, kaya not so bad naman not having a sibling.”
“Masaya naman ang may mga kapatid. Iyon nga lang, minsan, I don’t see them often. I also have cousins in the Philippines na parang mga kapatid ko na rin. They are in Oriental Mindoro.” Maya added.
“Oh, so your family was from there!” Richard remarked. “Marami ka pang relatives doon or nandito na rin sila sa States?”
“Marami, including my Mamang, that is, my maternal grandmother. Kami lang ng mom ko ang nandito, though may mga iba siyang medyo malayo nang kamag-anak here. Mas gusto ko nga roon.” Maya said. “Iyon nga lang, this is home na rin since my mother migrated here after she married Daddy Mark. My dad died when I was a kid.”
“I agree. Me, too, I prefer the Philippines.” Richard said. “Nandoon rin ang parents ko and immediate family. Meron din dito, and the closest would be my cousin Rafi who is currently staying in my apartment with her family. Inaayos kasi ang bahay nila. So, in the meantime, dito ka muna sa New York and New Jersey?”
“Yes, depende pa rin. I promised kasi my parents I will return to the States after college so heto.” Maya said as she made a sweeping gesture and shrugged. “Then, I’m also applying for a job sa UN. Hopefully, and I’m really praying, that I will get in, kahit saan pa nila ako ipadala.” Maya told Richard as Cesar approached their table with the wine Richard ordered, and some antipasti.
Cesar showed Richard the wine for inspection. Richard nodded in acknowledgement that he had read the label and that it was the wine he ordered. The waiter then went through the ritual of wine tasting. Richard swirled the wine, tasted it, then nodded to the waiter, that everything is okay. Cesar, then poured wine in both Maya and Richard’s glasses. Then, he left them again to attend to other customers and check on their main course being prepared by the restaurant’s talented chef.
Richard lifted his wine glass, and offered Maya a toast. “Here’s to meetings and beginnings. Here’s to us, Maya. I’m glad to have met you.” He finished gazing at Maya warmly.
Maya smiled, felt herself blushing a bit, for some reason. “Here’s to us, Ricky. I’m glad to have met you too.”
They toasted, drank and then smiled intently at each other, hearts beating faster. Both felt that they are on the precipice, that something wonderful is starting, and it is just a matter of whether when they will take a leap for it.
“So, you plan to work for the UN? That’s good. In line also with your course.” Richard said, picking up the thread of their previous conversation.
“Yes, it’s a dream. It is one of the reasons why I took this course, and also why I learned all the languages I could learn in between, para mas may advantage ako when I apply.” Maya told Richard in between sipping her wine. Then she proceeded to talk animatedly about her adventures in language learning, that sometimes, she dreamed in whatever language she was studying.
Richard listened intently, talking passionately about her ideals and dreams, and what she would like to do to help make a better world. In the warm glow of the night, she looked so beautiful and full of life. He can listen to her for hours. In that instant, Richard had a realization, he is falling in love for the first time, despite his previous relationships, Alex included! His heart galloped and he felt breathless with the sudden rush of feelings for the wonderful woman before him. He needed to slow down, though, he just met her.
Maya, after a while, noticed that Richard was silent, and was just staring at her, while she was talking.
“Oh, sorry, Ricky. I got carried away. You should have stopped me.” Maya said sheepishly. “My mother said I have a tendency to talk a mile long when really feel strongly about something.”
“No, no, no, don’t be sorry Maya. I enjoyed listening to you. I admire your idealism and your dreams.” Richard assured Maya, at the same time, he was also thinking that if Maya directs the same passion for the man she loves or would love, then that person would be the luckiest guy in the world. “In fact, I can listen to you the whole night and I don’t think I will get bored.”
Maya blushed and gave Ricky the sweetest smile, and simply said, “Thank you.” She felt very happy at that moment. Normally, she is not chatty with a guy she just met, but she felt very comfortable with Richard. His dinner invitation was the first one she has accepted from a guy since she returned to the States. Others have invited her before, but she declined, not really interested.
Soon after, the rest of the food they ordered arrived and they proceeded to have a wonderful dinner. They chatted in between courses and never ran out of things to say and find out from each other. Before they knew it, they finished everything, including the wine, and the restaurant was about to close. They just forgot about the time and everyone around them as they were focused on finding everything they could about each other.
Maya found out that Richard studied at Harvard Business School for his postgraduate degree, that he spent a lot of years living in Boston, and also in New York while doing so. Now, he is here to study their operations here, as when he returns to the Philippines, he will assume a higher management position than the one he had at that time. She was surprised to know that he belongs to the Lim family that owns quite a number of big companies in the Philippines. He is so down to earth, acts like a regular guy, and dresses simply, though very elegantly.
Richard and Maya also found out that they have similar taste in literature, differ in the movies they enjoy watching, and that they both like the theater a lot. They promise to see all the show in Broadway while they are both in New York, or while Richard is there, as Maya said, she may have to wait for those job applications a while and continue with her job at the hotel.
“Hindi pa mahirap ang job mo doon, Maya?” Richard asked, thinking about Maya’s welfare. “It is an honorable job, of course, don’t get me wrong please.”
“Okay lang Richard, I like the job. Hindi naman siya ganoon kahirap. Mostly naman madali lang linisin the rooms. It was also something that came up when I was getting restless, staying at my parents’ house.” Maya replied. “I know, I could probably find something related to my course. But I consider this naman as part of that. I get to practice my language skills. Iba-ibang nationalities kaya ang guests sa hotel. Tapos the work naman will be a useful skill and experience if I get a job in the UN, doing work in remote parts of the globe.” Maya finished with a smile.
Richard liked Maya’s attitude and positivism. She is not a spoiled, rich girl, unlike some he knew that the measure of their universe was whether they have the latest designer stuffs or not. They got into talking about housework. Richard told Maya that his old nanny, Manang Fe, also taught him some housework. It was a useful skill when he moved to the States to study. They were laughing at an anecdote that Richard was telling when they both noticed the time!
‘Wow, we have been talking for hours, Ricky!” Maya remarked, realizing how late it was already. “Magsasara na yata sina Uncle Bobby.”
“Ikaw kasi, I like chatting with you. I forgot about the time.” Richard teased Maya. He really had a wonderful time and was feeling a bit sad that his evening with her was about to end. He then signaled for Cesar to approach them, and when waiter did, he asked for the bill.
Several minutes after they got Maya’s coat, said their goodbyes to Uncle Bobby and thanked him, they were out in the street leading to the hotel.
“Maya, I will take you home please, and no arguments on it.” Richard insisted. “I have a car in the hotel. Let us just get it.”
Maya was about to, but seeng Richard’s determined expression, she said yes. While they were walking back, she told him where she lives with Emman. They asked the hotel valet to get Richard’s car, which turned out to be a BMW. Richard opened the door for Maya, after thanking and tipping the valet. Soon after, they were on their way. Several minutes later, they arrived infront of a brownstone, which Maya told Richard has been converted into several small apartments. The apartment was a gift from her parents also. She didn’t want to take it, but it was one of her mother’s conditions in allowing her to live on her own in New York.
“Here we are.” Maya said as they were standing near the steps. “Would you like to come in and have coffee?”
“Thank you, Maya. Maybe next time na lang. Late na rin. Kailangan mo na ring mag-rest.” Richard said, gazing at Maya. “Thank you for a wonderful evening, Maya. I hope we can do this again.”
Maya smiled at Richard. “I had a wonderful time too, Ricky. Sure, just let me know.”
“O, you go in na.” Richard said.
“No, I will wait for you to drive away. Ingat ha.” Maya insisted. “Huwag kang mag-aalala sa akin, teritoryo ko ito, kahit paano.”
Richard gave Maya a warm smile, then said softly, “Good night, Maya.” Then turned to his car, when he remembered something.
“Maya wait.” He said, as he grabbed something from the back seat of the car. Then went back to where Maya was standing, holding a beautiful bouquet. “For you, thank you again for taking care of me.”
Maya was surprised, touched and she admitted, felt kilig, when she saw the flowers. “Ricky, you don’t have to, but thank you. It’s lovely.”
“Thank you again for a lovely evening. Good night. Bye. I’ll see you.” Richard said softly, meaningfully, then gave Maya a kiss on the cheek, before getting in his car, and driving off into the night, leaving Maya looking at the departing car, her mouth agape, hand on the cheek he just kissed.