“Coffee, Maya?” Richard asked as he led Maya to the big sofa by the window at the other side of the private dining room of LHI after their very nice dinner. This section was designed like a living room, with comfortable sofas and low tables, perfect for having coffee, chatting informally in the case of LHI clients and business partners, or for just enjoying a quiet evening.
“Yes, please.” Maya said as she sat on the sofa facing the big window. Richard sat beside her, signalling to Mario to come to where they were.
“Mario, coffee please and some of that strawberry cheese cake that Chef John makes, if it is available.” Richard requested, and then thanked Mario.
“Sige po, Sir. We have it today. Chef knew it is your favorite.” Mario said, smiling at his boss. Ibang-iba talaga itong si Sir Richard kay Sir Roberto, he thought. “Sandali lang po, kunin ko. Excuse me, Sir, Ma’am.”
“I really, really like this place, Ricky. Mabuti dito mo naisipan na mag-dinner tayo. I’m not much into crowded places nga.” Maya said, filling the silence between them all of a sudden.
“I’m also very glad that I made the right choice.” Richard looked at Maya. She looked relax and happy, while his stomach is starting to churn. “I know you don’t like noisy places. I still remember that. Like my preference for quiet dinners, I think like me, yours had not changed either in all the years we have been apart.”
Maya’s heart started beating fast. It felt like this is the opening they both needed to revisit the past. She took a deep breath. However, before she can say anything anymore, Mario returned with their coffee, water, and cheese cake.
“Thank you, Mario. Please tell Chef John, thank you very much for a wonderful dinner. You and him can take a break na. Maya and I will not be needing anything for now.”
“Sige po, Sir Richard. Nasa kitchen lang po kami kung may kailangan kayo ni Ma’am.” Mario said.
“Thank you po, Mang Mario.” Maya added.
“Walang anuman po, Ma’am. Sige po, Sir, Ma’am.” Mario walked back towards the kitchen and Maya and Richard were left alone again.
Like what she used to do before, Maya automatically started putting sugar on Richard’s coffee and stirring it well before giving it to him.
“Thank you, Maya!” Richard said, gazing at Maya warmly before taking a sip of his coffee. “This feels like old times. Pati iyong coffee mo tasted the same. Masarap ang timpla and lasa. Nothing beats this.”
Maya stopped putting sugar in her coffee, midway, with that statement. She was suddenly hit by a strong recollection of the past, the good and the bad. She took a deep breath to calm herself and steady her hand that started to shake a bit. She put sugar in her coffee, sttirred it slowly, took a sip, looked at Ricky with stricken face. She just can’t help the strong emotion pulling at her.
“What happened to us, Ricky?” Maya asked with a voice not so steady, despite her best effort to control her emotion and to be rational about this talk.
Richard’s hand stilled with that question! He can hear the quiver in Maya’s voice when she asked that. He flinched a bit as he knew he was the cause of that. He put down his coffee cup, looked at her intently, seriously and with an expression that seemed to ask for understanding.
“I want to know, please, Ricky, everything. Don’t leave out anything, even if it will hurt me. Just like what I have read recently, ‘harsh reality is better than false hope’ . True, di ba? Maybe after this, you and I will be both in peace and can move on finally and completely.” Maya pleaded. “Don’t sugarcoat things for my sake. I think, one thing I realized through the years, is that it was what you did in the past. I may not knew your motivations then and what exactly happened, but I knew that you were not a cruel person and that our love was real. I would have been able to take everything in then, no matter how bitter the pill was. I can surely take it now.”
Richard took a deep breath. He wished he was drinking something stronger than coffee at that moment.
“Okay, I will tell you everything, Maya. At the end of this, even if you can’t forgive me, I will just ask for your understanding.” Richard said, gazing at Maya sadly, expecting the worst. He didn’t dare hope. He felt he had no right to do so.
Maya just nodded. She can’t speak. It felt like something was stuck in her throat.
“When you left that evening, I felt like running after you, and begging you not to leave as I felt it would be the last time we will see each other. I had that strong feeling all of a sudden. But there was Alexandra and the baby. She was already a bit unstable, even before knowing about you. If it was just her, I can manage, but there was the baby to think of.
What I said to you was true. We broke up in September, a month or so before I left for the States. That was the nth break-up we had, but it was the final one in my book. I just can’t take the relationship we had anymore. We were mismatched and I realized whatever affection or attraction I felt for her in the beginning was erased by her actuations. What I didn’t know was that she had stopped taking pills months before in an effort to have a baby, something she can hold on to, and something she can hold over me, which she did. Maya, when she came to the apartment, one evening, she threatened to have the baby aborted if I don’t marry her!”
Maya gasped at that. “Ricky, oh my God….” For her such action was unthinkable. Why would a woman deliberately set out to harm her unborn child!
“I was not so sure she will not push through with it. She even sent me her schedule at a clinic. I was really at my wits end then. I love you very much. It was a feeling I didn’t feel with Alexandra or any other woman before you. I was buying time, trying to reason out with her. At the same time, I deliberately kept you out of it. I didn’t want to burden you, or for you to get hurt if Alex found out that I am very much in love with you. My friend Tim, when I told him about the situation when it got too much and I was just walking aimlessly around, trying to find a solution, advised me to tell you. He said you will be burdened but it was better than not knowing. I finally decided to follow his advice and saw and opportunity to do so when you come into my apartment to cook kare-kare. However, all hell broke loose even before I was able to do that.
Things went from bad to worse after you left. Alexandra threatened to kill not only the baby, but herself too! I had to pacify her. She was uncontrollable. She didn’t want to leave my apartment. She thought the first instance she does, I will come running after you. I called Tita Cecille, her mom. She and Tito Martin arrived two days after. I had to call Rafi too, and asked her to bring clothes for Alexandra, also to talk her into eating something for her and the baby as she refused to do so.” Richard paused, then took a sip of his cooling coffee. Remembering the harrowing days.
“Your families know each other well, then?” Maya asked Richard while he was gathering his thoughts. She didn’t have an idea who Alexandra is. While living in Manila, her focus was her in her studies and didn’t pay much to other things, especially the going ons in the Manila social scene. Her main focus was to study hard and get the highest grades so she can get into her dream job with the United Nations.
“Yes. Her father and my father were business partners. The Coronels, at that time it happened, was in the process of pouring more capital into one of LHI’s business ventures. I met her in one of the parties thrown by my parents for their business associates. I was initially attracted to her. I thought she was what I wanted. We started okay, but everything changed after I proposed to her. She partied more frequently, wanted me to be at her beck and call. I can’t do that. I was just starting my career at LHI. I had a lot to prove to people, especially because I am the son of the CEO! The relationship turned tumultuous and volatile, until our final break-up.
When Tito Martin and Tita Cecille arrived, I thought everything would be okay, that they would reason out with Alex. However, they too, insisted I marry their daughter. They insisted that they can’t have her pregnant with no husband, and appear in Manila society. They didn’t want to be fodder to society gossip. Image was apparently very important to them. Alexandra told them about you. I told them to leave you out of it. The problem was compounded by my father’s arrival two days later. Tito Martin called him to force my hand.
My father was a hard man and he could be ruthless. He also insisted that I marry Alexandra for the sake of our families, our businesses, and the life of the unborn child. He was told about you. He subtly threatened me that you will get drag into the mess. I don’t know how he was planning to to that, but knowing him, nothing was impossible. He said love is an overrated thing and a commodity I can’t afford. He needed the Coronels. I didn’t want him to go after you Maya. He can be very ruthless when there is something standing in his way. I told him to give me time. I felt so closed in, Maya, with no solution in sight and time was running out, as you were leaving. I was also thinking what kind of thoughts you have of me already when days passed and I didn’t get in touch with you like I have promised to do!
I thought of calling you several times during those hellish period. But what can I say. What can I offer you! You were just starting your life. You were so happy. I didn’t want to drag you into that ugliness. I was actually outside your apartment the night before you left for Kabul. I just didn’t have the courage to see you. I left thinking that it was for the best we didn’t see each other and that even if it was very painful, to make an incisive break like that. I was prepared for you to think the worst of me.
I felt like a part of me, died when I went home that night. I thought it was better for you to suffer one big time, instead of putting your life on hold, live with uncertainties with me. At that time, when everyone except my mother was sort of ganging on me, I saw no other recourse but to marry Alexandra for the baby. I insisted on the marriage taking place in New York so it would be easier to dissolve. My plan was to wait out until the baby was born, then ask her for a divorce and fight her for custody of our child. Privately, I also stressed to Alexandra that the marriage will be in name only. My plan was to look you up after everything settled down, and see if you will still have me.
Having made that decision, I felt like I was a walking dead. I found myself in your home in New Jersey, talking to your mother. I just missed you so much that day. She was surprised to see me. I poured everything to her. I just felt comfortable talking to her. Your mother listened intently to me all the while I was talking. Then afterwards, she was silent for a while, and then told me she knew something was not right since you looked so sad prior to you leaving for Kabul. She didn’t want to pry into your affairs and she knew that if you want to unburden yourself, she will just be there.
Tita Tessie, yes, she asked me to call her that, said, she can’t exactly advise me on the best course of action as it seems there was really no win-win solution in the situation. But one thing she stressed to me is that she does not want you to be hurt more than you already were. You were young, just starting out your life and does not deserve all the heartache. She also pointed out that I have an obligation to my unborn child as she or he can’t fight for himself/herself in this situation. She also mentioned that I was the first person, aside from friends that you have brought home to meet them. Your mom also said, when things are meant to be, it will be.
I married Alexandra in a simple civil ceremony in New York in January, 2007. It felt like a prison sentence, no matter how temporary it was in my head. We returned to Manila and stayed at the house bought by our parents for us as a wedding gift. The marriage was as volatile as our relationship. Alexandra continued to party in the early months of the pregnancy, until she started showing. She had mood swings, big time. I was not really helping by being moody and morose, pining for you, wondering how you were faring, missing you so much.
I buried myself in work, in an effort to forget you, and all the hurt I have caused you, also forgot the hostile home situation I was in. I just made sure that Alexandra does not harm our baby, in a fit, to get back at me. By then, I was praying for the baby to be okay despite the circumstances of her/his conception and the situation we were in.
But everything was not meant to be. The baby was stillborn. I grieved and grieved, seeing my beautiful angel, yes she was a girl, so pretty, so still, not given a chance to live, unable to even utter a cry when she came out of her mother’s womb. We named her Gabrielle.” Richard’s voice broke at this, unable to continue. He took a sip of water that Mario brought with their coffee.
Maya touched his hand, to comfort him, tears flowing from her very expressive eyes. “Ricky, oh God! I’m so sorry for you, the baby, and even Alexandra. You don’t have to tell me everything if it is still so painful to you.”
“No, Maya, I want to tell you everything. I’m okay.” Richard assured her, then continued.
“I went through some sort of a crisis, in my grief, I thought that maybe Gabrielle didn’t want to be born anymore because of her parents’ situation. Alexandra, sort of, ‘woke up’ and ‘grew up’ after that. She also grieved for the baby that she took for granted and used as a commodity. She was inconsolable, kept saying everything was her fault, that she was being punished with all the bad things she did. I guess she realized when she saw our beautiful dead daughter, that there was really another very innocent human being in all she had done. Her parents took her quietly to a facility in Europe to help her heal and process everything. She wouldn’t allow me to visit her. She returned more than six months after, then asked for a divorce. She said, she is setting me free, said that was the least she could do to atone for all the wrongs she had done. She moved back to her family home. We divorced quietly and it became final in late 2008, and we had been on our separate ways since then. She went to live somewhere in Europe after the divorce and is now married to a minor nobility there, according to my mother.
I moved back to New York in early 2009 for LHI and buried myself in work, to forget, to heal, and to stop myself from looking for you. After what happened, I thought I didn’t deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve you after what I have done. Maybe, my daughter just gave up. What kind of home she would grow up to! I thought by then, you must still be very hurt, and very angry, by what I did, just disappearing like that from your life. And besides, it has been almost two years since then. Ayaw na kitang guluhin. You had led a life away from me already.” He finished, looking at Maya. “Please forgive me, Maya for all the wrongs I have done, for all my past actions, for not believing enough in you. My only excuse then was I loved you too much. But in an attempt to spare you, I ended up hurting you a lot. Sometimes, when loneliness and sadness hit me, I asked myself if I could have done things diferently. Maya, if you can’t forgive me, all I ask is for your understanding.”
“Ricky, I was not mad at you. Yes I was very, very hurt. When I read about your marriage, I felt like I died, as if a giant hand squeezed my heart until nothing was left. It was the first time I cried and cried, grieving for our dead relationship.
But Ricky, I have forgiven you a long time ago. I accepted that things were not meant to be. I have seen too much of human suffering to dwell on my broken heart. Compared to what people experienced in where I have been, it was nothing, not that I was belittling what we had. It was the world to me. I needed to be strong too, to move on little by little, one day at at time. I still need full closure because I wanted to understand what had happened. I didn’t doubt your love for me, but why did you suddenly just disappeared from my life? Why did you not talk to me to explain things? Everything is clear now. Thank you.
Hearing you like this, I now know you suffered much worst than I did. My broken heart was nothing compared to what you went through, losing your child. I may not be a parent, but I think losing ones child is the ultimate grief a parent can suffer.
With the passing of years, I remember more of our good times than the sad ending of our relationship. I thought to myself, maybe I got lucky already, finding a love like that so early in my life, even if didn’t turn out the way I wanted it, the way I wished it to be. At least I was able to experience a love like that. Some people went through life, not being able to.” Maya said eloquently, emotionally. “Now I also understand why my mother didn’t ask after you anymore. Ricky, I also don’t want to live in bitterness. It may take me a while to love again or not all, but at least I am moving on.”
“Maya, you do have a heart of gold. Thank you.” Richard said, his emotions overcoming him. How he so love this beautiful woman, inside out. “After I have put you through, you still have this in you.”
“Ricky, we can’t change the past anymore. We acted in the way we thought was the best, but in hindsight, we wonder if things could have been different if we did another course of action. But no matter how we analyze things, we can’t do about it anymore except remember the lessons we learned and avoid the mistakes we did in getting repeated in the future. We are humans and to live, sometimes, we need to go through a whole gamut of emotions.
“I agree with you, Maya. I know that. I went through all that, but in the end it didn’t serve any purpose.” Richard said, then continued. “I don’t want to live in regret too, the way my father did until the end. He actually wrote me an e-mail a week before he passed away asking for my forgiveness for what he did, meddling in my life. I set aside replying to his e-mail as it opened the wound in my heart that I thought had healed already. But by the time I did, it was too late. He was gone the same day.
“I have accepted that I can’t change the past either and that I do need to live through and accept the consequence of my actions. But in all this, since I am being completely honest with you and baring all, I would like you to know that I have not forgotten you, Maya, no matter how hard I tried. You are still here, in my heart, the only one. I still love you. Sometimes, I would see a girl who looks like you in a crowd, my heart would beat faster, thinking it was you, but sadly she was not. The last incident was at the airport several days ago, when I arrived last Wednesday. I spent the night thinking about you and before I fell asleep, I was resolved to look for you, no matter long it takes and see if I can still correct what I did eight years ago.”
“Ricky….!” Maya’s heart galloped with that. Richard still loves her!
“Maya, you don’t have to say anything. I know this is a lot to take in. I told you because I would like another chance with you. If I can still. If I am not too late. Can you give me another chance to prove my love for you and prove that I’m really worthy of your love? ”
Maya looked at Richard, her heart full of undefined and unsorted feelings, heart beating so fast! She simply nodded. Richard smiled like he just hurdled Mount Everest.
“Thank you, Maya.” He looked at Maya with so much love in his eyes. “You will not regret giving me another chance.”
Maya smiled at the only man she ever love. A new beginning! It looks like the two of them are lucky to be given another chance at love.
Note: The ‘harsh reality’ quote is from Downton Abbey. Have a nice weekend everyone! 🙂