Richard led Maya to an office with an open, airy floor area in the top floor of the four-storey building housing the executive offices of LAS. Some of the employees looked up when they saw their boss coming and especially so, since he was escorting a pretty lady in a business suit. They greeted Richard politely but kept the curiosity to themselves. Richard returned their greetings politely. Something that the employees have been used too since they started working here. Richard Lim is a fair boss and the compensation he offered them is above the industry standards, however, he rarely smiles. They haven’t seen him smile spontaneously, one that lit up ones face.
Richard stopped at the table in front of a big office with glass walls, his office, Maya presumed.
“Good morning, Sir Richard!” The tall lady, dressed in a business suit, seated at the table greeted Richard with a friendly smile that also included Maya. “Good morning Ma’am!”
“Good morning Liza! This is Atty. Maya Dela Rosa from RRMA. Dito muna siya mag-office sa atin on certain days, starting today. Can you give her an office where she can work? May bakante pa sa tabi ng office ko, di ba?” Richard said, taking a look at the smaller office besides his. “Maya, this is my executive assistant/secretary, Liza Romero.”
“Hello, Ms. Romero.” Maya said with a warm smile. Then she looked at Richard. “Thank you, Ricky.” She didn’t realize that she had used his nickname. But it didn’t escape Liza’s notice. Nor the fact that her boss call her by her first name too, which he didn’t do with the other associate that was sent to them. Liza had never heard of the beautiful lawyer before, from Richard nor from Attorney Molina whom they have been dealing with the past months. Hmmmm, this is interesting! Her aloof boss getting friendly with someone on a short notice. Maybe, it will make him less serious. Sayang naman ang kaguwapuhan, Liza thought!
“Hello, Atty. Dela Rosa. Liza na lang po.” Liza said with a big smile, responding to the lawyer’s warm smile. She likes her already. Magaan ang pakiramdam niya with Atty. Dela Rosa. Then addressing Richard, she said, “Sige Sir, ako na po ang bahala kay Atty. Dela Rosa. Naka-ready na naman ang office na iyon. I-double check ko lang.”
“Thanks a lot, Liza.” Richard said. Then to Maya, “Maya si Liza na ang bahala sa iyo. If you need me for anything , I will just be next door. I will just send you the contracts for review and the other stuffs you need to work in this morning.”
“Okay, Ric-…err, Mr. Lim.” Maya corrected herself. She realised her earlier slip up. “Thank you.”
“Call me Richard please, since ayaw mo ng Ricky sa office. Di ba, we agreed na.” Richard gave her a lopsided smile. Like before, it made her heart beat faster, and she turned self-conscious. She then looked at Richard’s secretary and caught her giving them an interested, surprised look, before she schooled her expression to a neutral one.
“Sige, Richard. Let me know if there are other legal matters I need to attend to. I can manage. Thank you again.” Maya gave him a smile that lit up her whole face. Then turned to Liza. “Lead on, Liza.”
“This way po, Atty. Dela Rosa.” Liza said, now more curious than ever with the interplay between her very handsome boss and the beautiful and young lady lawyer. In all the months she had known Richard Lim, she hasn’t seen him smile like that. She led Maya to the corner office with big windows beside Richard’s.
“Wow, this is a very nice office! I like the view.” Maya remarked, admiring everything – from the subdued decor, big table, comfortable chair, a small bookshelf and the stunning view of the distant mountains from the office. “Sure ka ba, Liza, na walang gagamit nito. All I need naman is a chair and a table, and a computer with an internet connection, for today, as I have yet to received my company issued laptop.”
“Sure na sure po ako, Attorney Dela Rosa! It was originally intended for our corporate legal counsel. However, Sir Richard said that he would rather use the services of RRMA than hire our own. Here’s the password for the computer. You can use this while working here. Palitan mo na lang ng password para hindi mo na rin dadalhin ang laptop mo if you want.” Liza suggested, handing out a piece of paper to Maya. “That computer pala is connected to my printer so if you need a print out of anything, just send it and I will retrieve it for you.”
“Thank you very much, Liza, and please call me Maya, and no more ‘po’.” Maya said, as she walked towards the desk.
“You’re welcome Atty. Maya. Okay.” Like Lindsay at RRMA, Liza opted to use her title with her first name. “Basta if you need anything please let me know. Sandali pala, kukunin ko iyong contracts na gagawin and other legal stuffs you need to review. I have both soft and hard copies for you.”
With that Richard’s executive assistant was out of the room. Liza returned several minutes after with a ream of documents for Maya, and also a cup of coffee and pastries. Maya was touched.
“I thought you might want something to fortify you, Atty. Maya.” Liza said with a smile. “I hope coffee is okay, or would you rather have tea?”
“This is very nice of you, Liza. Thank you very much.” Maya said with a big, grateful smile to Liza. She needed a cup of coffee nga. “Coffee is fine.”
“No worries, Atty. Maya. Iginawa ko rin si Sir Richard. By the way, favourite pastries din niya ang mga iyan.” Liza said with a big smile. Then she waved at her and was out of the office in a flash.
Maya buckled down to work and didn’t notice the passing of the hours. She was so engrossed at what she was doing, that she jumped from her seat when there was a knock on the door. She looked up from the documents she was reading with her glasses perched on her nose. She saw Richard, minus his coat leaning against the door. He looked he was posing for GQ, with the pale blue shirt and dress pants he was wearing.
“Maya, how about some lunch?” Richard asked, smiling warmly at Maya. He was surprised to see Maya wearing eyeglasses. But maybe, it was not surprising with the amount of books she was devouring then, added to that, were all those thick law books. She looks lovely with it. The whole morning, he was unable to concentrate, thinking of her and the past, even if he was not consciously doing so. He also wondered when and where they could talk so they can move from there. Richard thought they needed it as there was ten years they needed to bridge, aside from the fact that he just disappeared from her life abruptly.
“Oh, is it lunch time! I didn’t notice the time.” Maya looked at her watch and notice that it was 15 minutes past 12NN! “I think I will just grab something on the way to RRMA then, Richard.” Maya stood up and started gathering her things. “I will submit Ryan the draft copies of the contracts for his review. Is there anything else you want me to do or relay to him?”
“Maya, wait, wait. Let’s have lunch first. I guess Ryan hadn’t manage to give you a call yet on the change of plans or adjustment in your work schedule this afternoon. Coastal Airlines requested a meeting kasi. It was a bit on a short notice pero I agreed na rin since wala naman ako naka-schedule. Ryan also said he can come.” Richard said. ” I called Ryan to sit in kasi this is our major contract negotiation. He suggested that you should sit in as well.”
While he was saying this, Maya’s phone rang. She checked who was calling and saw that it was her immediate superior. “Richard, excused me, please, si Attorney Molina.”
“Okay, go ahead, Maya.” Richard said, then moved to sit at one of Maya’’s visitors chair.
Maya picked up the call, conscious of Richard’s presence. The office felt smaller with him in it too. Her boss told her basically what Richard had started telling her before her phone rang. He also asked her if she can stay put at LAS and sit with him in the meeting which will be held at 3PM. Maya, of course, said yes and told her immediate superior that she will wait for him in LAS.
“So, Ryan told you the same thing?” Richard asked after Maya ended her conversation with Ryan Molina.
“Errr, yes, Richard! The meeting is at 3PM, right?” Maya asked.
“Yes, so we have time to eat lunch.” Richard said. “Let’s go.”
“Lunch with you?” Maya asked. She needed to be sure that, indeed, Richard is inviting her to lunch.
“Yes, we, Maya! Join me for lunch please. Ayaw mo ba iyon, we can catch up. It has been ten long years since I last saw you!” Richard cajoled Maya. “ I was actually hoping we will have free time soon, this week, to catch up. Please, Maya. Pagkakataon na natin ito.”
Maya looked at Richard. He said, ten long years. Ah, Richard, you don’t know how long it really was for me, especially the first years you just disappeared into thin air. Maya thought to herself. She sighed inwardly. They didn’t make promises naman to each other, that’s true. He was not even her boyfriend when he disappeared! But even friends merit a proper goodbye, di ba, especially if you felt that you were more than friends. But maybe, it was just her who felt like that. Water under the bridge, Maya Dela Rosa!
“Maya, lunch!” Richard called Maya’s attention, smiling, as she seemed to just went off somewhere in her head. “Im here, inviting you to lunch.”
“Oh, okay! Lunch! Sorry, Ricky! My mind veered off somewhere. Let’s go.” Maya said, grabbing her bag and getting up.
Like what he did that morning, Richard escorted Maya by putting his hand on her elbow. Most of the cubicles including Liza’s were empty. Maya can hear some people chatting from the direction of one of the rooms at the left, which she presumed, is the office pantry.
They went to where Richard’s car was park and soon, they were on their way to a nearby Spanish restaurant. Richard asked Maya which she would prefer, that one or a Filipino restaurant. She said the Spanish one and Richard agreed as he wanted to try that one too. While in the car, they chatted about Abby and Lance. Maya asked Richard who will pick up Abby. Richard told her that he had asked Joma, the Lim family driver to pick her up, with Manang Fe, of course. He also mentioned that the Lim’s other household helper at the time they have known each other, Sabel, is working for him now. Soon after, they have arrived at the restaurant. The waiter escorted Richard and Maya to one of the booth tables by the window marked ‘Reserved’. Maya looked at Richard with a raised eyebrow and he admitted that he had Liza reserved it an hour before lunch.
“Oh!” It was all Maya managed to say, not wanting to read too much into that lunch invitation.
“I was really hoping you would have lunch with me.” Richard admitted sheepishly, as their waiter approached them. “Tamang-tama kasi since you will stay at LAS the whole day.
The waiter told them of their options for lunch, ordering from the menu or they can try the restaurant’s buffet. Richard and Maya looked at the mouth-watering food arrangement at one corner of the restaurant, then looked at each other, smiled and they said simultaneously to each other, “Buffet it is!” It sounded like old times. Both of them thought, remembering their many food trips.
The waiter smiled at them, liking the couple. Mukha silang mag-boyfriend, he thought. He guided them towards the buffet station after asking what they would like to drink. They both ordered mango shakes.
Maya and Richard opted to try have most of the appetizers that appeal to their palates – from gambas al ajillo, champignon al ajillo, croquetas de pollo, pate and others, then the sopa de calabaza to the main course – mainly Paella Valenciana, to a host of other delicious dishes that had their tummies groaning in protest after. But still, they found a space for desserts, and a cup of coffee each, in their tummies.
In between courses, they chatted about food they like very much, and restaurants in the city that offers the best food. Richard remarked that a lot has changed since the last time he was home.
“Really, how long have you been away?” Maya asked while eating her dessert. “The last time I saw you was the end of the first semester, when you took me and Doris to the Batangas Port, remember.”
“Maya, yes I remember that. How can I forget! That was my last image of you.” Richard said, gazing at Maya meaningfully. “I left the Philippines several days after I took you to Batangas, and that was not by choice, Maya. I haven’t been in the Philippines these past ten years. I only moved back here more three months ago, mainly because of Abby and also because I want to settle here for good.”
Maya was surprised at the same time, her heart started beating faster, realising that her moment of truth is coming. Her questions will finally be answered!
“Why? What happened, Ricky? Why did you leave abruptly? Hindi mo nga natapos ang course me sa PUS. Graduating ka pa naman noon?” Maya asked softly, looking at him with so many questions in her eyes. “Tell me, please.” She half-pleaded, not being able to stop herself from doing so.
“Maya, I know that it was bad that I didn’t even let you know. That I left without saying goodbye. I really, really, really wanted to. If I had a choice, I would have. But I felt at that time that the only option left for me was to disappear without a trace or without letting people know where I went. Not even Ryan knew, initially. I only contacted him last year. You see, my father insisted that I shouldn’t let anyone know, including you, that we were leaving the country and where we were going. After what had happened to my mother and Grace, I didn’t question his order. On hindsight, I should have questioned why he specifically mentioned you. I never knew why.
You see, Maya”….Richard started telling her, when his phone rang. He checked and saw that it is from Manang Fe. “Maya, please excuse me. Si Manang Fe, tumatawag. Baka may emergency kay Abby.”
Maya inclined her head to indicate that Richard should answer his phone first. She heard him asked Manang Fe what’s wrong, then he asked his old nanny to give the phone to Abby. Maya heard him assuring Abby that they will go out together that coming Saturday. He was smiling indulgently and Maya can see how much he loves his daughter.
Richard was still smiling when he ended the call. “That was Abby in the end, reminding me that I promised to take her to an amusement park this Saturday. Ewan ko ba kung anong naisipan, nangulit kay Manang na tawagan ako! Ito kasi ang first time na hindi ko siya nasundo. I thought it would be a good time also na masanay na siya na si Joma ang sumusundo sa kanya. She is comfortable now with Joma and kasama naman si Manang Fe.”
Maya smiled at that as Lance is also like that with Doris. Once Doris had promised something to Lance, she better make good of it as he never forgets. Maya told Richard about it and Richard said, Abby is like that too.
“So, where were we?” Richard asked Maya as he took a sip of his coffee. He took a deep breath and continued, “We left for Beijing in the middle of the night – Mama, Papa, Grace and I, midway through our semestral vacation, abruptly, and in secret because Papa was already paranoid and so shook up with what happened by then. You see Maya, Mama and Grace were kidnapped the day after I took you to the Pier.”
“Oh my God, Ricky!” Maya exclaimed. She never thought that something terrible might have happened to Richard also when he just left.
“Yes, it was a very difficult time for our family. As it has been with yours, di ba, since it was also around this time that your sister died.” Richard said.
“Yes, it was.” Maya said, suddenly feeling very emotional. She can’t just imagine what Richard and his father went through a that time, their loved ones at the mercy of a kidnap for ransom group.
“In the beginning, my father wanted to cooperate with the police, despite the fact that the kidnappers warned him not to. However, they seemed to have known his every move. When he talked to his general friend, they knew and they threatened to kill my mother and Grace. What broke my father and made him give in to the kidnappers was when he heard my mother and sister crying in the background. They didn’t know that the kidnappers were talking to Papa. He imagined all sorts things, what were they being subjected to. He bowed to their demand and paid the huge ransom they were asking. The same evening that Mama and Grace were released, we left for China. My father has started working on it as soon as he had learned that my mother and sister have been kidnapped. He only informed me when we were about to leave.”
“Ricky, I wish I was there for you.” Maya whispered, putting her hand on top of Richard’s to comfort him somehow. “Thank you for telling me this. I appreciate it. I did wonder what happened to you kasi bigla ka na lang nawala.”
“Maya, I wish I was there for you too. If there is one thing I wished I was able to do then, it was being able to say goodbye to you at least no matter how hard it was.” Richard replied, putting his hand on top of Maya’s. “Mama and Grace were not harm physically, but they suffered emotional abuse and mental torture in the hands of their kidnappers. But still they lived, and recovered from their ordeal, though in Mama’s case, it took a long time. She had nightmares and was depressed for more than a year. The first couple of years, she was afraid of crowds and people she does not know very well.”
“The same thing happened with Nanay, Ricky when Ate Cris died. She just went into a world of her own. Kaya nga hindi na ako nakabalik noong second semester. I had to take care of her, as well as handle the return of my sister’s body to the Philippines and the funeral services.” Maya said. “Noong gumaling na si Nanay, when she snapped out of her depression, noon pa lang ulit ako bumalik ng Maynila. Nakita ko nga na sarado na ang bahay niyo. Sinabi rin naman sa akin ni Doris.”
“Oh, Maya! You handled all of that alone!” Richard felt for Maya. It must have been very difficult for a 17-year-old girl to take. Tapos, added to that, she must have wondered why I just disappeared from her life, just like that. “Maya I’m so sorry for not saying goodbye. I wish I was there to share your burden.”
“Thank you Ricky, bayaan mo na iyon. It was in the past na. Di ba sabi nga, what does not kill you, makes you stronger. Minsan pala, kapag dumarating ang ganoon sa buhay natin, kapag nandoon na, nakakayanan. Sabi nga, God will not give you something which you cannot surpassed. It made me a stronger person. Kaya ko na lahat after what happened that semestral break.” Maya said eloquently. What she left out was that – that Richard’s disappearance also contributed to her sadness and the feeling of extreme loneliness at that difficult time in her life, but knowing what he went through that same period, she doesn’t want to burden him with it by telling him about it pa. Besides, it was already part of the past.
“Doris and her dad naman were there for me. Parang kapamilya na rin kasi ang turing nila sa akin. I can never thank them enough. I wish there was someone there for you, too Ricky. Kumusta na pala ang parents mo, si Grace?”
“Okay naman na sila. After a while, naging okay na rin si Mama. Si Grace naman medyo matatag kasi siya. Mas madali siyang nakarekober kaysa kay Mama. Though, noong una, she had nightmares too and would just wake up in the middle of the night, screaming. Sa China na niya tinapos ang pag-aaral niya. Papa was never the same, hirap pa rin siyang magtiwala hanggang ngayon. Pero parang ganoon na rin naman siya before we left. Iniintindi ko na lang.” Richard added, then he noticed the time. “Shall we get going? Almost 2PM na pala!”
“Errr, yes!” Maya literally forgot the present, as they talked about the past! “Naku, oo nga pala, we have a meeting pa.”
“No worries, Maya”, Richard smiled at Maya. “We have enough time. Baka lang ma-traffic tayo pabalik.”
While they were waiting for their bill, they would sometime gaze at each other in silent understanding, then smiling, as if they were both seeing the rainbow after experiencing the rains that touched both their young lives.
On the way back to LAS, they chatted about their college days. With Richard telling Maya how he managed to finish his studies in China and the work he did for his father’s company there. Though, he didn’t mention to her about how Abby came to be. But Maya does not mind. For sure, Richard will tell her about it when he is ready. The good thing is they managed to clear the past, sort of, and they are in the process of bridging it to the present. Where it would lead, she does not know yet.
“Maya, thank you for this very wonderful lunch.” Richard said softly after he had park the car at his usual spot in front of the LAS building. “Magaan na ang pakiramdam ko ngayon.”
“Me too, Ricky! I really appreciate you telling me what happened to you. For years, I would think about you from time to time.” Maya admitted candidly, getting what Richard was trying to convey, and at the same time, telling him that he was never out of her mind.
“I was the same, Maya. I never forgot you, you know, and what we had then.” With that statement that left Maya’s heart galloping like a pack of wild horses, he went out of the car to open the door for her.
Richard opened the passenger door to assist Maya out. He held out his hand for her to take. She did. He kept holding her hand as they entered the building. It surely felt like old times.