Maya happily walked back to where she had left Ricky earlier. She liked what she had sketched and the pictures she snapped. She was looking forward to transferring the images to a canvas, as well Ricky’s photos that she had taken while they were at the Sta. Maria Church two days ago! Just two days ago, amazing! It felt like it was longer than that, with all the things that she and Ricky did and share, as well as the unnamed and unlabeled emotions he was eliciting from her. Maya saw Ricky sitting comfortably on the bench under a beautiful trellis covered in vines with colorful flowers that they have found when they entered that beautiful garden hours ago.
When she got closer, she saw Ricky looking at her with an intense expression on his face, a look that made her heart beat faster. He was looking at her somewhat differently. Parang may iba! She was intuitive like that, sensing something more than the eyes can see, feelings, gut feel, the works, but she tends to curve it as she feels like she can’t trust it kahit ilang beses na siyang proven right. Saka not like this naman, especially with her feelings involved, in a romantic kind! She blocked it fast as she does not want to end up assuming. She is not exactly thinking straight at that moment.
Ricky’s gaze made her self-conscious with his meaningful gaze. He was looking at her, with something love in his eyes, but she could be wrong. She has never been in love before so how would she know and how would she be sure of what she is seeing! Para lang may iba kasi sa tingin ni Ricky! Ngayon pa lang siya na-in love! Yes, she admitted it to herself for the first time. She had fallen in love with the guy who was looking at her like, like she was the center of his world. Maya naman kasi, baka nasosobrahan ka na ng kababasa ng romance novels at kapapanood ng rom-com or naalala mo na naman ang love story ng lola at lolo ninyo ni Ricky! What does she know of the center-of-my-world look except what she reads and watches, the products of the imagination of the authors of those stories!
“Hi! Sorry it took me so long to finish my sketch and to take pictures.” Maya said, smiling, and a bit breathless. She felt heady, actually, and her heart was beating so fast, trying hard to calm down.
“It’s okay, Maya. Like I have said take your time. I’m glad that you are finding inspirations in the places we have been.” Ricky assured her with a smile. “I also made a phone call while waiting for you.”
“Thanks again, Ricky. Yes, I saw you on the phone nga earlier.” Maya replied. The first time she looked up from her sketch pad, Ricky had a serious expression while scrolling down his phone, but just before she went back to him, he was smiling, especially just before he pocketed his phone. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, things couldn’t be better. That was one of my best friends, Miguel, on the phone.” Ricky started, than explained. “He was the one I was talking to yesterday. Tungkol sana sa surprise ko sa iyo.”
So, it was not that Lorraine Tan, Maya thought! “Oh okay! I was wondering nga about that. Hindi mo na kasi nabanggit ulit. Ayaw ko namang mangulit. The truth is, I’m trying hard not to. I’m not good with waiting for surprises, gaya ng sa mga gift din. Gusto ko makita ko agad ang laman, hahahaha!”
“I understand that, Maya.” Ricky said with a smile.”May cousin ako na ganyan din.”
“So, bakit mo pala tinawagan ang friend mo. Something to do with the surprise?”
“Yes, going back to that! We need to modify our plans.” Ricky said. “I borrowed sana Miguel’s family vacation home in Pagudpud which I thought you might like a lot. Based on Mig’s description, it was built on a slope and offers an incredible view of the sea and beyond. Ramdam mo talaga na para kang nasa may bandang tuktok ka ng mapa ng Pilipinas! Kaya lang walang kuryente sa house at the moment, and Miguel said it would be better if we go there in two days pa. I told him we are on the road na. Kahapon niya pa pala ako tinatawagan! He found out from the caretaker na may problema doon sa house after our phone call kahapon ng umaga! I told him na next time na lang tayo pupunta roon.”
“Mabuti you managed to find out na hindi pala available before we arrive there.” Maya remarked. “But if ever naman na walang kuryente sa lugar, okay lang naman sa akin. I had a vacation naman sa lugar na walang kuryente before. As in, wala pa talagang instila ng kuryente. It was kind of a different experience. Hindi mo na rin maiisip iyong walang kuryente dahil sa ganda noong lugar. Saka, doon mo mare-realize na maganda rin pala paminsan-minsan iyon na sobrang tahimik lang. Parang nasa ibang panahon ka.”
“Really? Saan iyon?” Ricky asked, very much interested to know.
“Sa Batad! Lampas pa ng Banaue. Noong time na iyon, wala pang kuryente sa lugar na iyon. I don’t know lang ngayon kung meron na, kasi hindi ako nakabalik ulit doon. Emman and I went there on a lark, para raw sa photography niya. Ang layo pala! He fancied himself as a backpacker, katulad noong mga foreigner na pumupunta rito.” Maya said. “We had to hike more than two hours through a path in the mountain just to get there. Pero super worth it naman. Breathtaking talaga and sobrang amazing. Noong dumating kami roon, hindi pa harvest season so parang golden iyong rice terraces, saka parang giant amphitheater, carved from the side of this huge mountain. We stayed in a small place na may plumbing naman and such, faucet, and shower sa banyo, pero grabe ang lamig ng tubig kasi galing sa bundok. Sa gabi, sleeping by candlelight kami! Tahimik na tahimik ang lugar basta dumilim na.”
“Sounds like a very nice adventure, Maya.” Ricky said, then asked what he had been meaning to ask Maya. “Emman is your friend and business partner, di ba? College pa kayo nagkakilala?”
“Yes, since college pa! First year pa. Magkatabi kami ng seat sa classroom. Castro kasi ang last name niya. We just clicked! Honorary sister ko iyon kasi wala akong kapatid. Ganoon din naman siya, only kid din siya kasi.”
“Pare-pareho pala tayo na only child! Pero bakit sister?” Ricky asked curiously.
“Hmmm, kasi Emman is gay, which he does not hide naman.” Maya explained, matter of fact. “Anyway, you’ll get to meet him when you make it to our cafe. Most of the time, siya ang nasa labas, suits his personality. Ako mostly ang nasa background, attending to the little details of running the place. Talagang we complement each other when it comes to the business. Tapos magkasundo pa kami beyond that kahit opposites ang personality namin.”
With that, Ricky heaved a sigh of relief. He had been meaning to find out subtly who is Emman in Maya’s life, and now he knows. She may not have a boyfriend yet, but he would like to know who will be his ‘competitions’ in Maya’s heart. “Glad to know that you have someone like that in your life, Maya. Ako, I have Miguel, and a couple of other college friends. He is looking forward to meeting you rin!”
Maya looked at Ricky in surprise. She never thought that he would mention her name to his friend, considering how he seemed to be quite close-guarded about his personal life. And why would his friend looked forward to meeting her? Bago lang naman silang magkakilala ni Ricky? Ano na kaya ang sinabi niya kay Miguel tungkol sa akin? She felt giddy and breathless na naman all of a sudden. Ano ba naman itong si Ricky, malapit na siyang maubusan ng hininga sa pinaggagawa nito na hindi niya alam kung paano na talaga i-interpret. “You told him about me, really? What did you tell?” She asked curiously and very interestingly. She very much wanted to know!
Ricky then realized his slip! He felt his face reddening. Then he took hold of Maya’s hand, played with it a bit, gathering his thoughts, his heart hammering against his chest. This is it! He had meant to do this later, but maybe his slip is a sign he needed to come clean with Maya. “Errrr, he heard you in the background yesterday, when I was talking to him, so he knew I was not alone, then he….”
The loud grumbling of Maya’s stomach interrupted what else Ricky was about to say. “Sorry, about that, please continue….” She said sheepishly.
“Oh, gutom ka na! Let’s eat first. Kanina pa nga tayo huling kumain. One o’clock na pala!” Ricky stood up and held out his hand for Maya to take. He lost his courage. Maybe, that was not the right moment! “We can talk later. What I would like to say can wait.”
Despite the grumbling of her stomach, Maya very much wanted to hear the rest of what he was going to say. She had a feeling that he would tell her something momentous, but her grumbling stomach broke the moment. Oh well, she just need to live with it the next couple of hours kahit mahirap mag-concentrate. By the look of Ricky’s expression and his enigmatic look earlier, he had resolved on doing something! Hopefully, he will tell her about it soon, as the suspense will kill her!
The two of them walked with interwtined fingers towards the direction of Herencia Restaurant, in front of the Paoay Church, through the church grounds. The restaurant has a beautiful, homey decor, and aside from the interesting menu, offers mouth-watering pasalubong delicacies. Their waiter seated them in one of the table by the big glass windows of the restaurant that has the best view of the church.
Maya and Ricky decided to share a pinakbet pizza aside from the other lunch dishes that Ricky ordered, despite Maya’s protest that it was too much, like bagnet with KBL, and ashrimp dish for Maya. Their tummy felt so full, more than an hour later. Too much rich food in their system!
“Maya, as I was also about to say earlier….” Ricky started while taking his first sip of coffee that they ordered after they heavy lunch.
Maya took a big gulp of her coffee, in nervousness and in anticipation, and it scalded her a bit. She winced in pain. Ricky saw it. “Maya are you okay. Mainit pa masyado yata ang kape! Water!” Ricky said solicitously, offering Maya a glass of water.
“I’m okay, Ricky. Nabigla lang ako ng inom!” Maya assured him hastily. Hindi lang siya nabigla ng inom, nabigla rin siya sa opening statement ni Ricky. She thought he would bring it up again when they are on the road or later! “Please go ahead, you were saying?”
“Sure, you are okay?” Ricky asked again, and when Maya nodded, he continued, “Well, I was just going to say that since Miguel told me that hindi available iyong place, i-modify natin iyung itinerary natin, kung okay lang sa iyo? We can still continue pero hindi na hanggang Pagudpud, or if hanggang Pagudpud, we need to find another place to stay.”
“Hmmm, okay lang naman ako if we change our plans. As we have agreed on, laid back lang naman itong trip natin, kung saan makarating! So far, we are having a wonderful adventure sa strike anywhere nating trip.” Maya assured Ricky, with a big smile. “So, what do you think we should do? What do you have in mind?”
“I was thinking, we can give Pagudpud a miss muna hanggang maging available iyong bahay nina Miguel. I really want us to experience Pagudpud through that house. Ewan ko ba, hindi maalis sa isip! In the meantime, since we are on the road na, we continue na lang, we can stay at Fort Ilocandia for the rest of our road trip, then just explore the areas around it. We can go to the Paoay sand dunes, Malacanang of the North, then also go around Laoag, and other interesting places we can see along the way.
“Sounds like a plan, Ricky.” Maya said, agreeing, then suggested, “Afterwards, we can just return to our beach places. You know what, okay na rin na bumalik muna tayo roon, I would like to paint din, and for some reason, I’m kinda missing the place din and walking by the beach. That way, nasa beach place pa rin tayo. Hindi naman nating kailangang i-cover ng isang trip ang lahat ng places dito sa Ilocos. Para rin may babalikan pa tayo, di ba? We can stay at the beach places for several days, then after, we can travel again. Matagal-tagal pa naman ako rito. I don’t plan to go back to Manila yet. How about you? How many days pa you can spare?”
“That’s a good idea rin, Maya. Tama ka naman. We can always take another trip farther north. Hindi naman ganoon kalayo pala. I will talk to Miguel again in several days and kung okay na lahat and you would still like to, we can travel straight further north. Daanan na rin natin ang iba pang sights na banda roon like the Burgos lighthouse, Kapurpurawan rock formation, the wind mills, and of course, the Patapat viaduct!”. Ricky said, then gazing at Maya, he added, “I have decided to extend my stay here in Ilocos, until when I don’t know, depende.”
Maya looked at Ricky and felt again that breathlessness and anticipation, she had been feeling since that morning, when the first thing she caught sight of when she woke up from a very nice dream, dream of her and him, actually, in a beach, walking hand in hand, was his handsome face. She smiled at him, and the same time, the thought that his is the face she can never get tired of looking every morning, for the rest of her life. She almost blurted it out, and just stopped herself last-minute. She noticed his bemused expression too, and called his attention several times. Good thing, it looked like Ricky was also thinking about something that morning and didn’t notice her gaze.
She managed to say, “Okay, that sounds great!” Then waited for him to continue.
“That’s about it!” Ricky said, calling their server’s attention. “Shall we get going?”
“Okay. Shall we.” Maya was a bit disappointed that Ricky didn’t say anything more. But, she thought, that was all there is to it! Sabi nang huwag masyadong assuming Maya Dela Rosa!
They asked for their bill when the server reached them, and despite Maya’s insistence again that they share with the expenses for that travel, Ricky insisted on picking the tab. He just teased Maya about giving him free coffee and snack when he goes to Cafe Arts.
On their way to Fort Ilocandia, both of them were lost in thoughts the first several minutes of the trip, just listening to the music on the car’s radio. Maya was still wondering what was it that Ricky was suppoed to tell her earlier, the one he was about to say when her grumbling tummy ruined the moment! She really felt that he was supposed to tell her something more.
Ricky on the other hand, was formulating in his head, how he will set up the mood when he tells Maya everything, everything that he wanted to tell her earlier. He was really planning to, even if he was not sure on how to go about it, really. But Maya’s grumbling tummy interfered, and in hindsight, maybe that was a blessing in disguise, as he would like to do it, proper, in a night to remember, and he knows the perfect setting for it.
With the plan, worked out in his head, Ricky smiled, then as if he can’t help himself and the extreme happiness coupled with anticipation he was feeling at that moment, he told hold of Maya’s hand, and wrapped it in his, squeezed it gently. Maya, initially looked at him in surprised. Then seeing his intent gaze, she flushed, then squeezed Ricky’s hand back. Their hands stayed like that, as they journey on, and while they were not chatting much, they felt very much attuned to each other. Both of them have happy, dreamy smiles on their faces, their hearts and mind, not really into the beautiful scenery they passed by, but into their intense awareness of each other and what they are feeling!