Through the years, from time to time, when Maya allowed herself to dwell on the past, especially around the holiday season, which was not her favorite time of the year since that heartbreak she suffered eight years ago, she envisioned seeing Richard again somewhere, but it was always in a nebulous way. Their lives have diverged so much that she can’t imagine where their paths would cross again. Besides, she switched her thoughts to other topics when she started doing this as lingering on it was painful, especially during the first couple of years after it happened. But as the adage goes, time heals all wounds and she sort of, accepted that their love was not meant to be.
Ever since she met Mrs. Lim, and since she had read the online article about Richard, Maya knew that they would definitely meet but she never imagined it would be this soon! Maya stared at the one and only man who made her heart beat faster, who still make her heart skips a beat with his mere presence, with his intense gaze, that seem to look into her soul. Richard is as handsome as ever and his looks, unchanged through the years, except that there seemed to be a sadness in him.
“How are you, Maya? Are you based in Manila now! Since when?” Richard threw the questions rapidly as he gazed at Maya intently. She is more beautiful now, with her shoulder-length hair, erect and confident posture. She used to wear it longer when they were together. She is more poised too and carries herself very well. It was evident when they were together, but the years had turned the lovely girl into a very beautiful, confident woman. He missed those doe-shaped eyes, shining with intelligence and love for him when they were together. “It’s so great to see you again.” He almost went to her to hug her and kiss her on the cheek like he used to, but he stopped himself at the last minute. He does not have the right to do that anymore.
Maya strived to find her equilibrium, regain her composure after seeing him again, so sudden, and so unexpectedly. “Yes, for now I’m based here. I came back to the Philippines late 2009, but sometimes I traveled to other Southeast Asian countries in between.” She explained after she took a deep breath. Her palm suddenly felt sweaty. How come he still have the same effect on her, after all that had happened!
“That’s good to know. Late 2009? That was after I moved back to New York.” Richard said, trying to see if Maya will react to his mention of New York, the place where he experienced the happiest and the saddest chapter of his life. It took him a while to go around the city again and all the places he had been with Maya after he returned to NYC early 2009 to manage LHI’s international operations from there.
Maya’s heart skipped a beat when she heard Richard said New York. The memories started coming flooding back in a rush. She looked at Richard meaningfully. Oh, how she had loved this man. Seeing him again, she had the answer to one of her questions after she read that article. Nothing has changed despite the heartaches, the time, the distance and the passing of years.
New York! Thankfully for her broken heart, she was not required by UN to live in the city again. She just went there to report for several days and then she was off to various part of the world where her services was needed. She also sold her apartment to Emman, and during the times she needed to be in the States, she stayed with her parents. Her mom didn’t ask after Richard. Sometimes she wondered why, finding it strange, but most times, she just shrugged it off and think that her mom just wanted to spare her feelings, having an inkling that they had broken up. Maybe, she was just waiting for her to say something. But in those instances, it was just too painful for her to tell her mother about what happened. She bottled it all in, spilling it one evening to Rafael, after they had a bit of a drink.
“Oh, that was where you have been!” Maya remarked. She actually had a lot of questions for Richard. The answers to them, she believes, will finally laid the past to rest and then she can move on completely. But that moment was not the time and the place for it as she suddenly remember Mrs. Lim and their meeting.
Donya Esmeralda was observing intently the interplay between her son and Maya. She noticed the looks they have exchanged earlier and the seemingly unsaid words and emotions between them as they seemed to have forgotten her presence. Maya and Richard obviously knew each other in the past and by the looked of it, the relationship was much more than friendship. Her motherly intuition said that Maya was someone important to Richard at some point in his life. At the same time, she remembered her husband Roberto’s dying words which didn’t make complete sense at that time. He was asking for his son’s forgiveness for what he did eight years ago and his role in his son’s unhappiness. She never gotten around to telling it to Richard as it sounded unintelligible to her. In her grief, she had forgotten about that.
“So Maya, you know my son Richard?” Donya Esmeralda asked Maya as she remembered mentioning Richard to Maya before in an attempt to matchmake between the two. But it looks like she does not need to do that anymore.“Since when kayo magkakilala, Ricky? Small world, di ba son?” She looked at her son intently.
“Mrs. Lim……” Maya started, but Richard beat her in replying.
“Ma, Maya was my girlfriend in New York in 2006.” Richard said, surprising Maya and his mother with his statement. “She is the love of my life.”
“Ricky……!” Maya blurted out. She never thought that Richard would say that and he spoke in the present tense. Does that mean….? She refused to speculate, but her heart somersaulted hearing that bold declaration.
“Really, son!” Donya Esmeralda, with that confirmation managed to connect another set of dots from the past. She remembered her husband muttering about Richard’s stubbornness in refusing to marry Alexandra despite the fact that she was carrying their child, according to her parents, Martin and Cecilia. Roberto even said that there was another girl involved in the equation. She did tell Roberto that there must more to the situation than what they knew, and maybe he shouldn’t meddle. But he didn’t listen to her, apparently. It looked like her son was indeed in love with someone else then, and that person was Maya. Her heart went out to her son, and also to Maya, as it seems they are still both in love with each other judging by their initial expressions earlier, before they were able to mask their feelings. But with that statement of her son, it looks like he still loves Maya and is planning to do something about it this time. It does seem like these two have a lot to talk about.
“Yes, Mama.” Richard replied. “But please, leave it at that.” He simply said. He wanted to have a heart to heart talk with Maya the soonest time possible. He hopes she will be able to forgive him and that they can still pick up the pieces, no matter how fragmented they are, so to speak. He is prepare to do everything to get her back. He knew before this that he made a gargantuan mistake in the past when he just gave up. He had wasted eight years of their lives together. He is praying that it is not yet too late for everything.
“Okay, I’m with you on that. You two can catch up later.” Donya Esmeralda said. “Maya, what would you like to have, hija? Let’s have lunch first and do the discussions afterwards. Ricky, you can pass the time inside the Mind Museum or at the park there after lunch if you want while Maya and I discuss our project.”
“No, Ma. I will stay with you and Maya. Let’s have lunch first. Then I will leave you too with your projects. I brought and iPad with me.” Richard said. “What would you like Maya? I can see some of your favorites in the menu.” He chatted on, as if they were just having one of their dinners.
Maya got flustered a bit. “Ah errr, I would have the pasta marinara please and mango juice.” She managed to say. “Kayo po, Mrs. Lim?”
“I’ll have pasta Alfredo. And you Ricky?” Donya Esmeralda asked her son, still marveling at the scene that had unfolded before her.
“I’ll have the same as what Maya is having.” He simply said, hoping that it will trigger another good memory of their time together for her, instead of all the heartache he caused.
Maya remembered that that they had the same food the first dinner they had. Uncle Bobby was not as subtle as her mother. He asked about Richard the first she was back in New York after her posting in Kabul, and was having dinner at La Signora with Emman.
Donya Esmeralda called the waiter and they told him of their orders. Maya and Donya Esmeralda opted to chat about their literacy campaign for a community of children in a remote community in Mindoro while waiting for their lunch. Since the area is so far from the town, and the families so poor, the children were unable to go to school. It was not just a priority if one was barely making a living. Donya Esmeralda and LHI Foundation will sponsor a six-month education program in the area to be handled by UNICEF. They are also planning to set up a livelihood program for the residents. Maya will set up everything. In fact, she was traveling to Mindoro the following week to talk to the officials there about the project.
“Is the place close to where your Mamang lives, Maya?” Richard asked when there was a break in the discussion between her and his mother. So, he was listening to everything, hmmm! The iPad forgotten.
“Your family is from there, Maya? Who are still there? You told me your family are now base in New Jersey.” Donya Esmeralda remarked.
“Yes po, my family is from there Mrs. Lim. But only my Mamang, my grandmother, still lives there.” Maya replied, then looked at Ricky. “It is an hour away I think fromm Mamang’s home.”
“Oh, not so far then. You can also combined a visit. Di ba, you liked staying there when you were a kid. Kumusta na pala ang mga cousin mo, sina Cristina Rose and Simon.” Richard asked, not realizing, his mother was not privy to what he was saying, and that he had taken over the conversation.
Maya was surprised that Richard remembers her cousins! “Well, Simon is still single. Ate Cris naman is married. She got married to her childhood sweetheart, Jeff and they have a son, Cho.”
“Good to know that. How’s Emman naman? Is he still in New York?” He asked.
“Wait, son, this is my meeting.” Donya Esmeralda told her son, smiling, teasing him, and then also Maya. “Naku, Maya, sagutin mo na nga itong anak ko nang tumigil na.”
“P-po, sagutin?” Maya stuttered.
“I mean, sagutin mo na ang tanong niya, hija at di ito titigil. Sobra ka yatang na-miss. Ewan ko ba naman, bakit pinakawalan ka!” Donya Esmeralda said bluntly. “Oh, sorry for being nosy. I will stop na.” She smiled, though, unrepentant.
Maya and Richard both turned red. They gazed at each other, then looked down.
“Errrr, Emman is actually here. He returned last year. He is now working at a public relations firm.” Maya said after she had regained a bit of her composure again.
“Maybe, we can all get together one evening.” Richard suggested, hoping that this way, Maya will not shy away from meeting him again.
“I will tell him.” Maya said simply, noncommittally.
“So son, my turn na ha.” Donya Esmeralda said, smiling. Then said, “Maya, can you e-mail me the documents for this project. I think everything is a go. Please let me know how your trip to Mindoro turns out. Then you and I can be there at the start of the project. If we are successful in this one, we can duplicate this in other parts of the country. I’m also looking into building a school in our target area, long term.”
“Talaga po, Mrs. Lim! That would be great po.” Maya smiled brilliantly at Donya Esmeralda, a smile that lit up her whole face and made Richard’s heart beat faster. He was captivated, just like the first time, he had seen it. She was like that when she was about to start her career at the UN. She lit up like a neon sky.
“Can you and your team make a projection for this additional project. Tell me about it in our next meeting. Now, enough of work, let’s relax na. Tamang-tama, here’s our lunch na.” Donya Esmeralda said as she saw the approaching waiter.
The three of them had good lunch. In between bites and sip of her drink, Maya was conscious of Richard’s gaze. She was not so sure that this went unnoticed with Richard’s mother. They talk about general stuffs, with Maya contributing a bit about her life living in areas where the UN has its presence. They were having coffee when someone called Donya Esmeralda.
“Esmeralda Lim, nice to see you here!” The newcomer said brightly. She was about the same age as Donya Esmeralda.
“Hello Norma! Kumusta? Where’s Probo?” She said as she airkissed one of her longtime friends.
“Hayun, busy. Kaya heto, I decided to drop by here and have a cup of coffee and some pastries before my appointment. Oh, hello, Richard! Good to see you. Welcome back!” She also greeted and kissed Richard, then noticed the beautiful young lady sitting on Richard’r right. “Oh hello, you must be Richard’s girlfriend!”
“Oh, Norma, this is Maya dela Rosa, the Communications Officer of the UNICEF office here. Remember the project I told you about? We are doing with with UNICEF. ” Donya Esmeralda hastily answered, freeing Richard and Maya from explaining their complicated relationship to Norma who could be a bit of a society gossip. She felt her son and Maya should have ample time to sort out their relationship before it became news in the society circle they move in.
“Hello, hija.” Norma’s attention, sucessfully diverted. “I heard you are doing a lot of good work. I’m friends with Sylvia Delgado, the head of Abaya Foundation. I like the project you two did. “I’m Norma Melendrez.”
“Please to meet you po, Mrs. Melendrez. Thank you for that.” Maya smiled at the old lady, then she accepted her beso.
“Esmeralda, where are you going afterwards? That is if you are done with your meeting with this very capable young lady!” She asked Donya Esmeralda.
“Wala naman. Babalik sa bahay. Ricky drove me here, actually.” Donya Esmeralda replied.
“Why don’t you join me. I will go to my favorite spa. I’m sure, they can also pencil you in. I will call. Sige na, kailangan mo namang lumabas ng bahay. Ayaw naman ni Roberto iyang malungkot ka.” Mrs. Melendrez cajoled Richard’s mom. “My driver and I will take you home.”
“Sige na, Ma. Sumama ka na kay Tita Norma. Don’t mind me, babalik na rin ako sa condo. I just dropped everything when I went to visit you yesterday.” Richard pushed his mom. He thinks it will do her a world of good.
Donya Esmeralda looked at her son, then at that moment, an idea came into her head. She will go with Norma, and therefore gives her son the opportunity to talk to Maya.
“Okay, sige. Maya, okay lang ba hija na mauna na ako?” She asked Maya, who was quietly sipping her coffee. “You and Richard can finish your coffee. I will go with Norma. How will you get home pala? Did you drive?”
“Sige po. Don’t mind me. I will go back to Quezon City rin po after this. I’m okay po, don’t worry. I will just take a taxi back, same way I went here.” Maya said, then stood up to give the old lady a beso. “Enjoy po. It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Melendrez.”
“Naku, Ricky, son, you should take Maya, home. Medyo mahirap na ang taxi sa lugar na ito.” She told her son.
“Mrs. Lim, hindi na po. I can manage. Thank you. I’ll just e-mail you and then set another meeting with you after my trip to Mindoro.” Maya assured the old lady. She just barely recovered from seeing Richard again. Being cooped up in a car with him for an hour or so, maybe too much for her poor heart and mind to take in at that moment.
Donya Esmeralda, didn’t push it. She know her son, he would find a way to persuade Maya to be taken home. “Okay, up to you, hija. Bye. Ricky, I’ll go ahead. You too finish your coffee and pastries.” And just like that, Donya Esmeralda left the restaurant with Richard’s Tita Norma.
There was silence on the table as soon as the door of the restaurant closed, and Richard and Maya realized that there were just the two of them. Both took nervous sips of their coffee, looking at each other, trying to gauge on how to proceed. It was Richard who broke the silence after taking a deep breath to still his crazily beating heart.
“Maya, I know I’m lucky you are even talking to me after all that had happened and what I had done. Thank you.”
“I know, this is a lot to take in. I never expected I will see you this soon. I was so happy when I saw you earlier, when I just spent a big part of last night, thinking about you. I know I have a lot to explain and to make up to you with. I also know you have a lot of questions.” He said, as if wanting to let it out in one go. “I’m not sure if you can forgive me, but I need to try. Will you please give me a chance to redeem myself?”
Maya looked at Richard’s earnest expression. She feel that he genuinely want to set the past right. Besides, isn’t this what she wants to, a closure?
“Ricky, me too, never expected to see you this soon. Though, after reading the online article on you being appointed CEO of LHI, I know we would have met at some point. Yes, you are correct, I do have a lot of questions. I need to move on and you are the only one who holds the key to the big gaps in our shared past. So, yes I would like us to talk please.”
“Thank you Maya. Just me hear me out please. And then I wll let you decide from there.” Richard said earnestly, glad that Maya is not closing her doors to him despite what happened.
Maya smiled then looked at Richard regretfully. “It has to be another time, though. I have an appointment I can’t cancel. Would that be okay?”
Richard smiled back. “Of course. Here, let me know when are you free next.” He said, as he pressed into Maya’s hand his business card. “Oh wait, I will write my home number, private mobile number and my address.” He then beckoned the waiter and asked if he could borrow a pen.
Maya unexpectedly laughed at that. “Ricky, I only need one contact number, I think. Besides, I can always ask your mom.” She then handed him her business card. “O, pahiram ng pen, I will write there also my home number and address.”
Maya’s laugh was music to Richard’s ears. He missed that too. He missed everything about her. “Mabuti na ang sigurado. And thank you for this.”
They went out of the restaurant, reluctant to part, but trying hard not to show it. Richard asked Maya one more time if he can’t take her to her next appointment. She thanked him but insisted on taking a taxi. Richard sensed that Maya needed to do that, so he just flagged a taxi for her, took note of the name of the taxi and the plate number.
Richard completely understands Maya’s action. He, too, needs to process their wonderful unexpected meeting. She needs time and he will give her that, while he thinks of what he needs and can do to do to win her back, no matter how long it takes. He will not waste this rare chance given to him to make things right and be with the only woman he ever loved, still loves. He felt happier than he had been in years.