“Ricky, OMG! Sandali, stop, stop please!” Maya blurted out, touching Ricky’s arm and pressing it unconsciously in her excitement. “Wow!”
Ricky looked at Maya in surprise, and with a big smile, hearing the excitement in her voice, at the same time very curious at what set her off like that. Several seconds before that, they were just both humming a love song from the radio. He slowed down and parked the car by the side of the road. “Bakit, Maya? What is it?”
Maya grinned at him, very happy, and excitedly pointed to her right. “Look at that! It’s so beautiful! I never thought there is something like this here! Can we stop by for a while, please? Parang sayang naman kung hindi natin explore!”
Ricky looked closely at what Maya was pointing at. He grinned! Now, he understands why she got very excited. The lake is really beautiful, especially that afternoon as it shimmered under the intense afternoon sun! Oo nga pala, Paoay Lake is here, along this road! He quite forgot that in his excitement for his plan for that evening. He had been meaning to stop here and show the lake to Maya. “Sure, Maya! Let me just park the car properly!”
Ricky did that and several minutes after, they were at the open native hut overlooking the beautiful lake. There is an exposed wooden platform below that, then some steps leading to the white sandy shore with clumps of plants and grass on it. There were several boats with foot paddles that can sit two people, by the shoreline.
“So, beautiful! I can stare at it for hours!” Maya murmured, looking at the shimmering lake, seemingly mesmerized at its beauty. “Pwede pa yatang mag-boat! Nasaan kaya ang mga nagpapa-rent? Pero on the other hand, wala na tayong time for that, I think.”
“I agree, so very beautiful!” Ricky said softly, but instead of looking at the lake, he was looking at Maya. He was obviously not paying attention to the rest of what she had said. She glowed with excitement and happiness and she looked lovelier in his eyes.
Hearing the catch in his voice, Maya looked at Ricky. Instead of the lake she was admiring he was gazing at her intently. She blushed. “Ricky naman eh!” She managed to say.
“Maya, don’t be shy, you are beautiful and as serene as the lake before us. If the lake shimmer as it basks under the sun’s heat, you look so lovely and you glow, especially when you are happy and excited about something. Katulad na lang kanina sa Paoay Church. I like that about you, the way you joyfully embrace life and look at things with fresh eyes. It is infectious.” Ricky said gently. “And I’m just stating a fact ha.”
“Thank you, Ricky!” Maya said simply, unsure on how to take Ricky’s compliment. For a businessman, ha, he has a way with words, she mused. Sometimes, she feels everything is happening so fast, since she crossed path with Richard Lim III, just several days ago! She feels giddy and breathless most of the time, and somehow she needs a breather, like at that moment! Salvation came in the form of the board by the side of the hut that she spotted.
“Oh there is something there about the birds that has been sighted in the lake.” She blurted out, then moved towards it. “I’ll just check it out, pati na rin iyong nakasulat sa tabi noon na parang tungkol sa legend nitong lake yata.”
Ricky let her. He does not want Maya to feel uncomfortable. He followed her and read over her shoulder the legend of Paoay Lake. They stayed like that for several minutes, reading the tale. When Maya was finished, she smiled at Ricky. “Well, that was very interesting, and very biblical!”
“Yes, it is. But it makes for an interesting read talaga, and a lesson is in there.” Ricky said. “Would you like to go and sit by those benches there? It must be quite nice to just sit there for a while and enjoy the breeze coming from lake. Then kapag medyo malamig na, we can walk below, near the water’s edge. Don’t worry, we are not in a hurry. We have time. Malapit na lang naman dito ang Fort Ilocandia, ang last stop for the day natin. I have to make a phone call also. Bibili na rin ako ng water natin.”
“Okay. If you want to make that phone call now, I’ll buy the water and wait for you by the bench. That way, we can save time din. Baka kahapon ka pa rin hinihintay ng tatawagan mo.” She blurted out without meaning to, alluding to the calls he didn’t return or answer, then she tried to salvage her blunder, but made it worse! “I mean, errr, you did have missed calls yesterday, from Lorraine Tan ba iyon, baka importante rin katulad ng call ni Miguel! Oh sorry, Ricky didn’t mean to be such a busybody, but her name got stuck in my head kasi….” Maya stopped digging a grave for yourself, her rational self told her!
Ricky smiled and nodded. He just got confirmation that Maya is curious about his missed calls, but does not want to pry. He doesn’t know what made Maya blurt it out like that. But that is the opening he needed. Maybe, when they were resting at those inviting benches under the tree, he will finally be able to her about Lorraine.
“It is okay, Maya. No need to apologize. I’ll be along shortly.” Ricky said with smile, then moved to the side of the hut to make his phone call.
Maya, on the other hand, felt like wishing the earth will swallow her whole with her blunder. Maya naman kasi, baka akala ni Ricky tsismosa ka! She muttered. Ah, basta dedma na lang. This guy naman kasi, he is causing havoc to her equilibrium! Maya, kalma ka lang. Pero may kakaiba talaga kasi eh. What do I do? Bahala na nga si Batman, she muttered, then proceeded to the kiosk beside the hut to buy water. The lady manning the shop also told her they have halo-halo. Thinking that it would be a nice dessert to their big lunch earlier, she ordered two.
Ricky, still smiling, remembering a very flustered Maya, a couple of minutes ago, scrolled down on his phone directory and dialled his executive assistant’s number.
“Sir, so nice to hear from you! Akala ko ba incommunicado ka!” Liza greeted her boss with familiarity, as she had been his secretary, when he was the COO of the company. Sir Ricky brought her with him to the Office of the CEO when he was appointed to the position, and promoted her as his executive assistant. “Okay naman dito sa LC, Sir.”
“I know Liza, and I’m glad. I talked to Ryan the other day. Besides, I know I have left the office in his, and your, capable hands.” Ricky said. “The reason I called is I want to get the number of our contact at Fort Ilocandia. The one you coordinated with when you and Papa’s EA arranged our last planning session there.”
“Oh, si Cristina Romero, Sir.” Liza said, at the same time she was a bit puzzled, and yes, mighty curious why her boss is asking for the number after disappearing to parts unknown! He is in Ilocos, hmmmm. “Sandali lang Sir, I will check my phone directory. I’ll call you back in a minute.”
Liza hung up, looked for the number then sent the business card to her boss. “Natanggap mo Sir?” She asked when Ricky answered the phone again. “Nasa Ilocos ka pala, Sir?”
“Yes, got it. Thanks a lot, Liza.” Ricky said. “Oo, I’m in Ilocos. But not a word of my whereabouts to anyone, especially to Lorraine!” Ricky knows he can rely on Liza’s discretion and he does not want any confusion like what happened with Miguel.
“Sure, Sir, no worries!” Liza managed to say. So, all is not well in paradise! Kaya pala that spoiled princess, that’s what she calls Lorraine in her head, has been a pest lately, looking for her boss! She sometimes wonder what her boss sees in that spoiled princess, aside from her sexy body and beautiful face, but it is not for her to say anything about it. It is his life. And she will really be the last person to tell Lorraine where her boss is. “By the way, Sir, if you are going to Fort Ilocandia, I can handle the arrangement for you.” She offered last minute. It didn’t occur to her earlier.
“Oh, errrr, I will just do it myself.” Ricky managed to say. He was caught off guard with Liza’s offer. “I can handle it. Could you just tell Ms. Romero that I will be calling her in several minutes. Give my number also so she knows that it is me. Thanks a lot, Liza. I’ll let you know when I will be back.”
“Surely, Sir! I will do that.” Liza assured her boss, getting curious and more curious, but kept her counsel. She called her contact and aside from telling her that her boss will give her a call, she requested for her discretion in not disclosing to anyone where Ricky Lim is, as he would like some peace and quiet. Cris said, Liza does not have to request, but consider it done.
Several minutes after, Ricky called up Cristina Romero, and after some pleasantries, he requested two separate rooms for the evening, and a special request, which had Cristina smiling. Her romantic heart aflutter! Thinking that whoever the girl is, she is one very lucky lady. She had met the younger Lim before and found him very handsome.
Ricky pocketed his phone happily. Everything is going according to his plan! Well, except for the Lorraine issue. But Maya already gave him the opening to tell her about it. He really wanted to as he does not want any misunderstanding between them, especially if Lorraine cause trouble. He looked for Maya and saw her serenely looking at the lake.
“Maya, sorry, it took me a while.” Ricky greeted her as he sat beside her, instead of the bench across hers. “Wow, halo-halo! Something nice in this hot weather.”
Maya does not want to make much of Ricky sitting so close to her as where she was sitting offered at much better view of the lake, though it made her heart beat a little faster than usual. The bench is on the narrow side. But this, she also attributed to the fact, that Ricky’s nearness does that to her, every time!
“I thought you might like one as well!” Maya offered Ricky a long teaspoon, and then handed him his halo-halo! “They also have empanada, mukhang masarap. Would you like one?”
“Thank you, Maya. I’m still full from our heavy lunch earlier. This is more than enough. Ikaw, baka nagugutom ka. Ako na lang ang bibili for you.” Ricky offered.
“I’m good also. Thank you.” Maya smiled at Ricky, not sure, what to say next, so just dug into her halo-halo and stared at the lake.
“I’ve arranged our accommodation for this evening and tomorrow evening at Fort Ilocandia, Maya.” Ricky said, breaking the silence. “Iyon ang mga phone call na ginawa ko a while ago, and not to Lorraine.”
“Sorry, for that, Ricky! I didn’t mean to pry.” Maya said apologetically, looking up suddenly when he brought up the name she wished she hadn’t blurted out. Nakakahiya talaga!
“Like I have said, Maya, it is okay.” Ricky took hold of Maya’s hand, started caressing it absent-mindedly, gathering his thoughts and looking her in the eye. Better start at the beginning, he mused. “Remember, earlier, when I started telling you something, when we were at the garden at Paoay Church? It was actually about Lorraine. She is my ex-fiancee!….”
“Ex-fiancee….” Maya managed to say, at the same time, wondering why she kept calling Ricky if they have broken up already. She was almost sure that Lorraine was also the one calling Ricky while they were at the Lims’ beach place. Of all the things that Ricky will tell her, she was not expecting this. But she guessed, the fact that he is opening up to her like this is very important. She nodded, encouraging him to continue.
“Yes, we broke up three weeks ago. She is the reason why I am at the beach house. I just wanted to avoid her. She can’t quite accept the fact that we are done. She thought it was just like one of our fights before. You see, our relationship was a turbulent one. I was wrong to think that it can still be salvaged by our engagement. It was what our families had been angling for, and I guessed we went with the flow.”
Ricky took a sip of his water and continued.
“Lorraine and I grew up together. Our parents have been business partners and neighbors since we were kids. She was friends with my cousin Bettina, who was a year younger than me, and the cousin I was closest to. Bettina was the younger sister I didn’t have. Lorraine and I gotten closer when Bettina died at a very young age of drug overdose. We didn’t know she was taking drugs. The whole family was devastated! Lorraine said she didn’t know either. She took comfort from me, and I from her, until gradually, we became a couple. The two families were very happy with this development. We were together for five years. But looking back, I also wonder how we lasted that long considering we didn’t have much in common, except our love for Bettina. Lorraine told me that she had been in love with me since we were in our late teens. I thought I love her too. She can be sweet and caring, though looking back, it was a bit stifling at times. But still, there were our families to contend with. I thought with that we can make a life together. However, there was something missing which I can’t define even then.”
“Wala na talagang pag-asang magkabalikan kayo, Ricky. Sayang naman ang relationship ninyo. Baka after this trip, mas okay na kayong dalawa.” Maya said, though when she said that, she felt a pain in her heart.
“No, Maya. I’m quite sure of that. Otherwise, I would have not gone on this trip with you.” Ricky said frankly. “I would like to make that clear and hope that you will believe me.”
“I do believe you, Ricky. Wala ka namang ipinakita sa akin na iba maliban sa pagiging sobrang gentleman mo, and I think instinctively, I would know if I sense something off in you. Mahirap i-explain.” Maya said with a shrug.
“Thank you, Maya.” Ricky said gratefully. “You see, Maya, I’m sure now that I didn’t love her with a kind of love that we both deserve. It was not just because I caught her doing the unforgivable in my book. It was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak!”
“What happened?” Maya asked gently.
“I caught her taking drugs while staying in my condo.” Ricky finally said, what he has not told another person. He was even unable to tell it to Miguel earlier. Only to Maya! “Prior to that, someone sent me a grainy photo of her snorting cocaine at a party. But when I confronted her, she denied it as she insisted it was just a photoshopped image of her. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, considering we both went through hell when Bettina died, I let it passed, though the gnawing thoughts that she might be taking drugs, lingered.
The night I found out that she was into recreational drugs, and fooling on me, I was supposed to be in a business trip, but it got cancelled last-minute as the guy I was supposed to meet in Bacolod had a heart attack. I took the return flight to Manila instead of staying the night in the city, and found her with one of the actors from her last play, snorting cocaine on our bed, I mean my bed. We don’t really live together, but she has been staying there most nights so we might as well had been.”
“Oh, God! It must have been very devastating for you to find out!” Maya said, pressing Ricky’s hand to offer comfort.
“To be honest, Maya. I didn’t feel any rage, just felt very numbed. At that time, aside from seeing her in bed with another guy, one of the first thoughts that entered my head after the initial shock was the question. how long has she been doing this and hiding it from me. I mean the drugs and cheating on me. She insisted that it was a new thing, just since she met that guy, Matt. She said it was just to take the edge of things – her parents wanting her to be perfect, her words, and also pressuring her to leave the theatre, especially now that she is about to become Mrs. Ricardo Lim III. They never like her doing it, but Lorraine she always get her way. Yes, maybe it was recent as I think I would have noticed if it has been going on for quite a period of time, the drugs, I mean. As for seeing the other guy, I didn’t even want to hear how they ended up together!
I told her the engagement is off and that she and me, we needed to part ways for good. She pleaded and pleaded as she was afraid of what her parents reaction would be. But Maya, I felt nothing for her. Maybe pity, not love anymore if there was even that, and it is not a foundation for a happily ever after. So, I ended up here and luckily, I met you.”
“Ricky, thank you for telling it to me. I hope everything will be okay in the end.” Maya touched Ricky’s distressed face.
“I hope so, Maya. I know so, actually. I want you to know rin, among other things, because there might be trouble, knowing Lorraine. But maybe not, since we are not going to Miguel’s place. Parang blessing in disguise na rin siguro na hindi tayo natuloy. You see, Maya, when Miguel called he told me that he accidentally met Lorraine in a bar in BGC last night. He thought she was with me, that it was her voice he heard over the phone when I was talking to him yesterday morning, so he accidentally asked her where I was as he had been trying to reach me to tell me about the problem at his parents’ place. He also assumed that Lorraine and I went back to Manila, aborting our trip. Sensing that he knows where I am, she cornered Miguel and managed to have him admit that I am in Ilocos. She does not know Miguel’s place, but knowing her, she’ll find it out from one of our friends. She might have a suspicion that I’m with someone, reading between the lines, kasi nga nadulas si Miguel.”
“Oh, she might follow you here, then! Do you think she really will do that and cause trouble?” Maya asked.
“I’m not sure. But with her frame of mind, she might. I would like to say sorry in advance, Maya, if ever you will get drag into something you didn’t bargain with.” Ricky told Maya apologetically. He does not really want her to be dragged into something ugly. Hindi pa nga siya nanliligaw ng formal, tapos Maya will experience something like that agad.
“It is okay, Ricky. I can take care of myself. I just hope that everything will be okay for you.” Maya said, wanting to assure Ricky that she will really be okay and that she is a big girl. She would like to be there for him. “I’ll just be here for you, no matter what.”
“Thank you, very much, Maya for listening, for understanding, and for being here. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have met you.”
Maya and Ricky smiled at each other, a silent understanding between them, as they both gazed at the beautiful, serene lake, hands intertwined.