Richard Lim scanned the area where he was supposed to meet Seth Dela Rosa for a drink, looking for a parking space. It was difficult enough driving in the city after being away for several years. It turned out, looking for a parking space was more challenging, especially on a Friday night, at the current ‘in’ watering hole of yuppies and the idle rich kids.
He was about to call Seth to suggest a new place, when suddenly someone left, and a parking space right in front of the bar got freed up. He parked his father’s BMW carefully. He knew he would not like it if even make a tiny dent on his beloved car. He still have not gotten around to getting his own car even after several months back in the country. Anyway, his father has several cars so Richard didn’t see any need to immediately acquire one of his own.
Richard was really planning on making a life in America after his studies, and he had started to, when his father asked him to return. He wanted to groom him as his successor. He told him he is the future of the company. Richard thought it was exciting. It was a challenge he wanted to sink his teeth into, so he packed his bags and left a promising career in Wall Street to return to the land of his birth.
However, his expectations and ideals were turning to be different from reality. He had discovered that his father’s management style and business practices were completely opposite of his. But since, it has just been several months, he still would like to give his father the benefit of the doubt, so to speak. He hoped that he and his father will find a common ground soon. Otherwise, he would be left with only one option – go back to America and forge his way into the business world on his own.
Deafening music and loud conversation assaulted Richard when he entered the popular bar. It was his first time there. He rarely went out since his return as he got busy with Lim Corporation. He only goes out when Seth persuades him. He had already declined him twice in the week. But since that night was a Friday, and he sensed a desperation in Seth, he had said yes.
Seth Dela Rosa is a childhood friend. His best buddy! Their mothers were childhood friends in Negros. They went to the same boys high school and both of them went to a university in California for their business degrees, and Harvard for their post-graduate studies. While Richard stayed in the States after their studies, Seth returned to the Philippines to manage his family’s business. He would have liked to have stayed in America like Richard, but his father would not have it. As an only boy – though he has a sister who is ten years younger than him, and which Richard hasn’t met yet – his father, like Richard’s would like him to take over the family business when he retires.
Richard scanned the huge, dimly lit bar, unaware of the interested stares he was getting from the ladies. He found his friend sitting at the bar, with his arm slung over the shoulders of a skimpily clad girl. He thought his friend would be alone. He said he wanted to sound him off on something.
“Seth bro, I’m here.” Richard said tapping his friend’s shoulder to call his attention over the din of the current rave music shaking the place.
Seth looked at Richard with glassy eyes. “Ricky, bro! I’m glad you are here. Have a seat. By the way, this is….” Then he stopped, lost for words. “What is your name again, honey?”
The girl who looked like she had a bit of a drink too, pouted. “Awww, Seth, sweetie, you forgot already. It’s Giselle!”
“G-giselle….Beautiful name, honey, meet my friend Ricky, my best buddy, my bro.” He slurred. “Ricky, this is Giselle. She is a dancer, right darling, on TV? On that popular show, can’t remember the name, sorry sweetie!”
Giselle looked at Richard, noticed how extremely good-looking he is, and his uninterested gaze. She deemed it a challenge to make him react to him like most males she met. Instead of accepting his proffered hand, she hugged him tight and gave him a smack on the lips. “Nice to meet you, Ricky, so very nice.” She said in her kittenish voice, but there was no reaction from him.
“Giselle, baby girl, I thought I am the love of your life this evening.” Seth complained, kissing Giselle on the neck, which made her giggled, in what Richard would describe as a grating manner!
“Of course, darling boy, you are. Just want to be friendly, also with your handsome friend. In fact…” Giselle gestured for Seth to lowered his head. She whispered something to him which had him smiling naughtily. He nodded.
“What?” Richard asked his friend, his brows knitted. He had taken an instant dislike on that flirty girl with Seth. He had his share of conquest and one night stands when he was into clubbing in New York, but he lost the taste for it when he returned to the Philippines. He had read her type right away.
“Well, my girl just offered to make us happy, together at my place.” Seth said, grinning. “You know….”
Richard stared at his friend and the girl with a coquettish grin besides Seth. “No, I’m not interested and I’m not into that. You had so much to drink, Seth. Come, I think it better to take you home.”
Richard got off the bar stool and was about to escort his friend out of the bar, when Giselle stopped him. “I’m going home with him. Di ba, darling boy?” She said in a determined manner, then kissing Seth on the lips.
“Yes, Ricky, she is going home with me. When did you enter the priesthood?” Seth taunted Richard. “You used to be so much fun. Now, you are prig and a prude.”
Richard let it passed. He knew that his friend was not in complete control of his faculties and this was not the first time this thing happened since he returned. He also had an idea on what set off his friend again. Not wanting to make a scene, he offered to drive Seth and his lady friend for the night to his place. It was the best he could do. At least, he will be safe home, to indulge in whatever he wanted to indulge with that evening.
Several minutes after, they have arrived at Seth’s building. It was a relief to be there as Seth and his lady friend had started to make out at the back seat of the car. The girl’s giggling was already giving Richard a headache. Seth drunkenly thanked him when he and Giselle got up. While Giselle on the other hand, tried again to persuade to go up with them. He looked at her with a stern face and told her an emphatic NO.
That was the last he saw of Seth for two weeks. Until one evening, when he received a frantic call from him, asking him if he could stay in his place. He agreed.
Several minutes after he got into his place in BGC, Seth spilled the beans. He was in trouble, big, big trouble. Giselle, in turned out, is the mistress of a powerful and notorious businessman who had entered politics in the last election. He told Richard the name, and even he agreed that Seth dug a big hole for himself by tangling with that guy. The guy found out that Giselle spent days with him and he was fuming mad. He dragged Giselle out of his apartment and threatened to kill Seth.
In the beginning, Seth told him, when nothing happened several days after that incident, he got confident and went on with his life until one evening when he got of the bar they have been to in BGC, a group of guys mauled him. They also told him it was just the beginning as their boss does not forget any insult or slight done to him. The evening he called Richard, he saw the same group of guys outside his building.
“Bro, maybe it is better if you lie low for a while. Why don’t you go to Negros? At least, that guy can’t touch you there. You can manage the business from there also, di ba?” Richard suggested to his friend as they drank beer at the balcony of his place.
“I don’t like to do that, bro even if I can do that easily. You know my father and all his impossible expectations. At least, when I’m in the Manila office, I can avoid him.” Seth muttered, sighing and drinking his beer fast. It was his fourth for the night to Richard’s second.
“But what do you prefer, end up in a ditch or lie low for a while?” Richard told his friend bluntly. “You know the reputation of that guy. I hope he will meet his match soon, but not at your expense.”
Seth nodded. He told Richard he would think about it. The following morning, he asked Richard to book a ticket to Bacolod for him. Richard also took him to the airport, just to make sure that nothing happens to him.
For a month, he didn’t hear from Seth. He would have love to talk to him over several bottles of beer also as his father was driving him nuts with his stubbornness. He wanted to get away from him, even for a while. He just needed some time to himself to think things through. He never thought that salvation would come from his mother.
“Son, why don’t you go with me to Negros?” Esmeralda Lim suggested one evening after he had dinner with his parents and he and his father ended up in an argument again. His father retreated to his study. He stayed with his mother and had coffee with her. “You haven’t been there since you were a kid. Come samahan mo na ang Mama.”
“Why are you going to Negros, Mama?” Richard asked. She hasn’t mentioned any plans of going there before. His mother also seldom go the family home there. She was busy playing hostess to Roberto Lim’s numerous parties and business luncheons.
“Oh, I will attend a birthday party. Maya will have her debut in several days! She is the daughter of your Tita Tessie and Tito Arthur, remember. She is like a daughter to me also. Di ba, Seth is there also? Tessie mentioned that he is working at their main headquarters there. You can catch up with him. Take a week off from work. Maybe things will be better between you and your Papa when you return.”
Richard looked at his mother in surprise.
“Son, why look so surprised? I know what has been going on with you and your Papa.” Esmeralda Lim told her son. “Come, it will do you good to relax a little bit.”
Staring at his mother’s beautiful garden, Richard continued sipping his coffee. His mother has a point. Besides, he hasn’t taken vacation or a break in months. He sometimes work weekends too just to keep up with the demands of his father and watch over his actions. Maybe he can also take this time to think, on whether he will continue working for LC or going back to the States.
“Okay, Ma. I will go with you. When do we leave? Where are we staying?”
“We will stay at the family home. I already asked Fe to call the caretakers to open the house. And we leave on Thursday. The party is on Saturday. I will ask my secretary to book us flights. Kasama natin si Fe! Pagkakataon na rin niyang makauwi ang mabisita ang pamilya niya!”
“When are you and Manang Fe planning to return, Mama?” Richard asked, thinking fast.
“Well, I was originally planning on staying a week. But I think I would like to stay longer, around two to three weeks. How about you son?”
“I think I will stay as long as you are, Mama. I can spend sometime with Seth and also check on our office there. I think that would be okay with Papa. That way, wala na rin kaming masyadong maging argument.”
“That’s great son! Meet your Papa halfway please. I know that he could be a difficult person, but just be patient with him. He had been under tremendous pressure from his board to deliver.” Esmeralda implored.
Richard sighed. “I’m trying, Mama. You know how hard I’m trying.”
“I know son. I know.” Esmeralda tousled her son’s head, like she used to do when he was a little boy. “You are a good son, Ricky.”
“Thanks Mama.” Richard placed his cup on the table. “ I should get going Mama since we are leaving in two days, I need to finish all my pending work, meet with Papa on this, and pack.”
“Okay, son. I’ll call you tomorrow for our flight details.”
Richard drove back to his place after saying goodbye to his mother and talking to his father about the trip. To his surprise, he readily agreed to it. He said, he will e-mail him a list of what he needs to do at their Bacolod office.
Early Thursday morning, mother and son, with Esmeralda Lim’s assistant Fe landed at the Bacolod Airport. They were picked up by a company driver and taken to the family home in Talisay. The caretakers where waiting for them by the driveway.
“Salome, Isidro, good to see you again. How are you? How’s everything here?” Esmeralda Lim greeted her family’s long-time caretakers warmly. They have been with the Valderama, her mother’s family since they were newly weds, decades ago. “It is really good to be back.”
“Magandang umaga po Donya Esmeralda, Senorito Richard. Natutuwa po kami at napasyal kayo ulit dito sa Talisay. Medyo matagal-tagal na rin mula ng naparito kayo.” Manang Salome said.
“Naku, oo nga, Salome, masyadong busy. Lalo naman itong si Ricky. Bata pa ng huling mapunta rito. Tingnan mo ngayon, binatang-binata na. Magte-trenta na, ayaw pa akong bigyan ng apo.”
“Mama, ikaw talaga. I’m still too young to get married. I’m just enjoying life muna.” Richard said, smiling. “Hello po Manang Salome, Manong Isidro. I remember you taking care of me when I was young, Manang. It’s good to be back po.”
“Hay naku, hijo, feeling ko may tungkod na ako bago ako magkaapo sa iyo.” Esmeralda Lim quipped. “Tara na nga sa loob at ng makapagpahinga.”
Richard chose the room towards the back of the house. As soon as he got settled, he called Seth, who was very happy to hear from him. They talked for a while. His friend seemed happier in Negros even if he was working alongside his father. They agreed to meet the following day, around dinnertime, in the Fernandez ancestral house, Tessie Dela Rosa’s family’s home for generations.
Richard spent the rest of the day relaxing. It was very nice to be not doing anything for a change. He just enjoyed the quiet. Mostly, he read a book in his room. He loves to read, but lately, due to the demands of his father on his time, he had neglected it. Manang Salome and Manang Fe prepared a feast for dinner with they enjoyed very much.
The following morning, he woke up early. He was having breakfast with his mother when she received a call. She excused herself and returned several minutes after.
“Ricky, that was your Tita Tessie…” Esmeralda Lim started, then forged on. She had an inkling that she needed all her persuasive powers with the favor she will ask of her son. “Errrr, she would like to ask you a favor, a very big favor and she would, and me also well, will be eternally grateful if you will say yes, hijo!”
“What favor, Mama? Of course, if there’s anything I can do for Tita Tessie.” Richard likes his Tita Tessie and he remembered her cooking lots of delicious Filipino food when she visited Seth and him in Boston. She is also his mother’s bestfriend.
“She is asking if you will be one of Maya’s 18 roses ceremony. Nagkasakit kasi iyong isang kaibigan na lalaki ni Maya.” Esmeralda Lim looked at her son beseechingly. “Do it for her na son, please, and also for Maya.”
“Mama, I’m too old na for that. Bakit kasi kailangan pa ng ganyang seremonya!” Richard protested. “Mama, ibang favor na lang please, hwag lang iyan.”
“Ricky son, kasama mo naman si Seth. Hindi lang ikaw ang older guy na nandoon. Kasama rin ang ibang older cousins and mga tito ni Maya. And of course, your Tito Arthur will be a part of it as well.”
“Mama, no….” Richard said stubbornly. “See, dapat tanggalin na lang that 18 roses, wala naman pala siyang makuhang magpa-participate in that.”
“Son, please, please….” Esmeralda said, touching her son’s face with both hands. “For me, please…”
“Okay, I will do it.” Richard admitted defeat. At the back of his mind he also thought, ang arte naman ng Maya na ito!
“Thank you, son. I’m sure your Tita Tessie, and Maya also will be happy.” Esmeralda Lim hugged her son.
He was annoyed but he didn’t have the heart to defy his mother and say no. Besides, it may not be as difficult as it could be if Seth will be there. At least, they were the same age. They can surely indulge his little sister. He resigned himself to dancing with Maya Dela Rosa.
“Mama, I will just go for a walk.” Richard told his mother. He just wanted to get out of the house for a while.
Richard left the house via the stairs in the back. However, when he got to the garden, he was at a lost on where to go. He looked around and saw a path that leads to a small gate in the back. He walked that way and realized that it connected to the ancestral house besides theirs. He remembered that this is the Fernandez’s ancestral house. He forgot that they were connected. When he was a kid, the other house seemed so far from theirs!
On impulse, he approached the house, thinking of checking if Seth has not left for work yet. Maybe, he can just ride with him to Bacolod as he was at a loose end. He knocked on the thick front door, but there was no one. He saw a bell and pressed it, but still no reply. He decided to go around the house as he knew from memory that like their house, there is an entrance there.
Richard ended up at the stairs going to the veranda or rather the azotea of the house. The place was beautiful and very inviting. It was full of plants. He called, but still no one reply. He climbed and when he reached the top, he saw a girl sitting on the day bed there, holding a book. She was wearing a simple blouse and a long skirt. She was engrossed in what she was reading and didn’t notice him so he had moments to observe her.
The first thing that struck Richard was that even in a profile she was a very beautiful girl. She had long, shiny hair, a pert nose, and a slender build. She suddenly looked up and his throat constricted. Suddenly, he can’t seemed to breathe as his heart galloped. Yes, he was right, she was beautiful with her heart-shaped face, long lashes, pouty lips and very expressive eyes. She gave him a gaze that touched his very soul. He hasn’t felt like that before.
It felt like time stood still. It was only them and that moment. Everything else faded in the background.