Maya felt her heart jumped, and for a moment, she can’t seemed to breathe, as she and the chinito guy, standing by the entrance leading to the azotea of her family home, gazed at each other intently. He was dressed in a white polo shirt and khaki shorts, wearing glasses, looking so handsome and neat. It took a supreme effort for Maya to appear calm and collected, especially after he bestowed her a lopsided smile, which also seemed to convey an apology for intruding into her private space and private time.
Maya knew who he was. She had stared enough times at his photos pinned on the cork board in her brother’s room. She was curious about him and every time she imagined how the hero of the romance book she was reading at that time would look like, his image was the one she conjured up. Weird, that his photos had made that much of an impact on her psyche!
Standing just off the steps, he looked like the handsome earl from the pages of the period romance novel she was engrossed with before he shattered her peaceful existence by his mere presence.
“You must be Kuya Richard, Tita Esmeralda’s son, and Kuya Seth’s friend in the States!”
Maya stood up, good thing her knees didn’t buckle! She walked towards him, clutching her book like a lifeline. She gave him a smile, which she was unaware of, had lit up her whole face, making her look more beautiful to Richard. “I’m Maya. So glad to finally met you, Kuya Richard.”
“Y-you know who I am?” Richard stuttered a bit, which surprised him a lot, as he never ever had done that or appeared not confident in the presence of a beautiful woman. She was actually more of a girl, come to think of it, as she was just about to celebrate her 18th birthday, Richard thought. He collected himself.
“Hello, Maya, nice to finally meet you. Please call me Ricky! Family and friends do. Mama only called me Richard when she is mad at me, and when I have done something bad.” Richard said with a smile.
“Yes, Kuya Seth has some photos of the two of you in his room.” Maya said, smiling back. “Please come in. Kanina ka pa ba kumakatok? Sorry I didn’t hear you. Nalibang ako rito sa binabasa ko. Wala rin kasing nabanggit si Mama or si Manang na may darating kaming bisita. May usapan ba kayo ni Kuya Seth?” Maya asked as she gestured for him to go with her to where she was sitting when he arrived. “Kailan pala kayo dumating ni Tita Esmeralda?”
“Wala naman. I just thought of checking if he is still here. Alam ko na may office siya today. I just wanted to ask sana if I can ride with him to Bacolod since I am at a loose end.” Richard looked where he would sit as there was only the day bed where Maya was sitting earlier. He decided to sit beside Maya, keeping a bit of a distance, because at it was, he was already very much aware of her. “We arrived yesterday. I’m going to check on our office in the city, but that can wait until next week. I’m on vacation the next couple of days.”
“Oh, he left early today. Sayang! Papa asked him to go with him to Victorias. Bibisita sila sa milling doon. Ako lang ang nandito kasi Mama went to Silay. She will meet one of her amigas for lunch.” Maya informed Richard. “Would you like something to drink, Kuya Ricky?”
Maya was about to stand to go inside the house to get Richard something to drink as their kasambahay was in the market, when Richard stopped her instinctively, with his hand touching her arm lightly. He felt his heart jump at the contact, not realizing that a simple unintended touch would cause a strong reaction in him.
“Thanks a lot Maya. Katatapos lang din namin ni Mama na mag-almusal. I think I will go ahead na, baka may gagawin ka pa. I will just go around town na lang siguro.” Richard managed to say. He started to move towards the direction he came from. “Pasensya na for disturbing your rest.”
“Oh, di ba matagal ka nang hindi nauuwi rito?” Maya asked, still feeling somehow branded by Richard’s touch, because as far as she knows, and remembers, Richard has not been to Talisay in the past 18 years. “Would you be okay? And okay lang that you drop by. Really, I was just passing the time.”
“I think so. I know matagal na akong di napupunta rito, pero I think I can find my way around.” Richard said, smiling. “Saka kung maligaw ako, I can just call Manang or Mama.”
“Hmmmm…” Maya said, thinking, then impulsively and before she can stop herself, she heard herself saying, “Ganito na lang Kuya Ricky, I’ll tour you around na lang. I can drive you around Talisay and also Bacolod if we have time pa. I don’t have school today.”
“Thank you, Maya, pero baka may iba kang plan. Saka parang this is your day to relax. Really, you looked so serene earlier sitting there and reading your book. Ayaw na nga kita sanang i-disturb. I can manage on my own. I remember na mababait naman ang mga tao rito. I’ll just walk around town and familiarize myself again with everything. Also, I’m thinking of seeing some of the sights. I can just take the motorcycle I saw in the garage.”
“Wala rin naman akong gagawin, Kuya Ricky, and besides, pa-thank you ko na ito sa iyo since Mama said you agreed, kahit last minute, to be a part of my debut tomorrow.” She said. “I’m sure, like Kuya Seth you protested, di ba?” She said, teasing him.
Richard smiled sheepishly, feeling guilty for protesting too much to being a part of her 18 roses ceremony, and the bad thoughts he had earlier. “Errrr, I’m happy to do it for you, Maya.” He managed to say, saying a silent sorry to her, and promising that he will make it up to her to atone for the bad thoughts he had earlier.
“See, you didn’t deny it. Tama ang hula ko, di ba?” Maya teased. “ Basta, I’ll show you around, it is the least I could do. I can drive you around. Let’s just take the car, para kapag umulan, hindi tayo mabasa. Medyo unpredictable ang weather recently. Saka tingnan mo, morning palang ang init na!”
“Okay. Thank you Maya.” Richard said, acquiescing to Maya, after she gave him one of her beautiful smiles again.
Richard, on hindsight, didn’t know why he readily accepted. All he thought at that moment was that he likes to know her better, regardless of the fact that she was his best friend’s younger sister and she was too young for him. He was unable to help himself, but to go with the current that pulled him towards this beautiful, poised, vibrant girl. So different from the way he thought he would be since his mother twisted his arm to be part of her debut. He wanted to spend time with her and get to know her more.
Like Richard, Maya didn’t know what also made her offer to show him around. He was really someone she just met even if he was a family friend and the best friend of her brother. She was just planning on staying at home and doing nothing. She even declined her mother’s invitation to go with her to Silay and have lunch at their favourite restaurant there with her Tita Susan. When she woke up that morning, she just wanted to laze around the house!
Maya just knew then that she wanted to spend more time with her brother’s handsome friend. She was drawn to him, in a way she can’t explain. Sure, she had met handsome guys in Negros, they courted her, but they didn’t move her the way he moved her, by just standing there, by just giving that bone-melting lopsided smile, by the way he talked and his gentlemanly manners.
She never thought that she would react that way when she finally see him in person. She was very, very curious of course, as he was always mentioned by her older brother, aside from being drawn to his photos. He seemed to be full of life, and as crazy as her kuya, in those photos. But she has not had the chance to meet him as her parents decided to base themselves in Negros while her elder brother studied in Manila, then in the States, a thing she found unfair as she also wanted to spread her wings like her Kuya Seth did! But being the only girl, and the youngest, her mother said no to her studying in Manila.
“Let me just change get my car key, Kuya Ricky and we can be on our way.” Maya said, standing up and gathering her things. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
‘Take your time, Maya.” Richard said, smiling, feeling very happy all of a sudden.
Maya was gone inside in a flash. Richard felt his breath returning to normal and the feeling of exhilaration he felt since he arrived at that place, ebbing a bit. It was really strange to feel an instant affinity with a girl, a girl so much younger than him and one that he just met! He who had been pursued by much beautiful and more sophisticated women in Manila and in the States, and he didn’t react this way with them.
Maya returned several minutes after, a sling bag strapped around her upper body. From the azotea, she led him to a parking garage by the side of the house. She told him that they will just take Martha, gesturing to a red sedan parked at the side of the four-car garage.
Richard smiled at that. Her car has a name! He went to the driver’s side with her and opened the door for her. She thanked him giving him a sweet smile before she went in. Richard felt so happy at that moment.
“So, you will turn 18 tomorrow?” Richard said by way of conversation as he settled into the passenger seat, an unusual place for him as well. “How does it feel to finally enter adulthood?”
“Well, actually I’m 18 na.” Maya corrected Richard, smiling, as she buckled up also.
Richard looked at Maya with a confused expression. “But isn’t your debut tomorrow?” he asked, brows knitted.
“I turned 18 two days ago, actually, Kuya Ricky. We had a small celebration. It would have just been enough for me, but Mama insisted on having this party. Sabi niya, minsan ko lang mararanasan to have a debut. Siya kasi wala siyang debut before. Namatay ang Lola ko one week bago iyong birthday niya. I’m not much for ceremonies, mas gusto ko pa ngang mag-Asian trip na lang with my friends o kahit go to Ilocos siguro, or sa Manila! But for her I will endure this debut and its trappings.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Belated Happy Birthday, Maya!”
“Thank you, Kuya Ricky.”
“Well, your mother has a point, you know.” Richard said, settling into his seat. “And yes, while it is nice to travel the world as you would like to do, it can wait. Bata ka pa naman.”
“Yes, I can’t wait to finish school Kuya Ricky, so I can spread my wings, you know, what I mean, I’m sure. I love Mama and Papa but they are kind of very protective of me. See, only Kuya Seth was allowed to study in Manila! He was even allowed to study in America. One day, I’ll roam around New York too, on my own, for one!”
“Just give your parents time, Maya. Maybe, while you are finishing your studies. After you graduated, then you can do the things you want to do. Plenty of time for that, you are still young.” Richard said, somehow, feeling protective of this beautiful girl. “Believe me, sometimes the only way to stop parents from directing our lives is to try it their way first.
“I think tama ka naman diyan, Kuya Ricky.” Maya gave him a beautiful, mischievous smile. “Plenty of time to be on my own and find my place in the sun. It feels like a long time, though, Kuya Ricky. Hay…” She finished, sighing. Somehow, she found it so easy to open up to her brother’s best friend about her hopes and dreams.
Richard smiled. Then realizing that she had called him ‘Kuya’ several times again, he said, “Maya please just call me Ricky. I prefer that, please. Drop the ‘kuya’ please even if I’m the same age as your brother.” He finished, giving her a winsome smile.
Richard knew that being her brother’s friend and a family friend, it was perfectly okay for Maya to call him Kuya. But for some reason he does not want her doing that. To be honest with himself, he was not feeling brotherly towards her. He was attracted to her despite his brain saying to him that he shouldn’t and that it was too soon and unexpected. He also found it easy to talk to her. He forgot for a while that she is a girl of 18!
Maya looked at Richard and saw the way he was gazing at her. She felt herself blushing, her heart beating fast and erratically. Somehow, calling him by his first name, seems so familiar and so different. She felt like she needed the distance of ‘Kuya’ from him.
“E-rrr, yes of course, Ku…este Ricky.” She managed to say, getting self-conscious. She liked the sound of his name on her tongue.
They just gazed at each other until a sound brought her back to the present. She realized that she has not started the car.
“Oh, we should get going.” Maya said with a start, shaking her head to dispel the feeling she was experiencing at that moment.
The two of them went around Talisay first, explored an ancestral home there that has been turned into a lifestyle museum! That house never fails to fascinate Maya. Every time she goes there, it felt like she was seeing it for the first time. After taking photos of the house and themselves, they headed towards the direction of The Ruins, with Maya keeping a running commentary of the interesting places along the way. Ricky was content to listen to her. She has a very sweet and melodious voice. He could listen to her the whole day!
Several minutes after driving through a lot of sugarcane fields, they arrived at their destination. They entered the gate. Maya parked the car. Ricky paid for their entrance fees and walked towards the still magnificent shell of a house built-in the early 1900s with its immaculate gardens.
“Wow!…” Richard said, with reverence in his voice as he stared at the facade of what must have been a very beautiful mansion in its heyday.
Maya smiled, hearing the awe in Richard’s voice. “That was my reaction too, the first time I saw it the first time I saw it when I was a little girl. Come, let’s go inside before exploring the grounds.”
They walked towards the grand staircase of the mansion which was actually more of a skeleton, but still it evoked a feeling of romanticism. When they reached the stairs, Ricky cupped Maya’s elbow to guide her.
Maya was unable to hide her surprise at Richard’s gesture, but she recovered fast, blushing, she thanked Richard shyly.
They made a thorough tour of the house, with Maya explaining a bit about the house’s history to Richard. She had been there several times as sometimes when her father’s business partners’ wives go with their husbands to Bacolod, she and her mother usually take them around the sights while the men meet and hammer out business deals. She enjoyed doing that. However she has done it recently as she got busy with her studies.
Richard liked listening to the cadence of Maya’s voice. It sounded like music to his ears. He was also wondering what was happening to him at that moment. He felt like he was on the verge of something and was looking at everything happening around him with anticipation.
“Ricky, let’s go towards the back. That’s my favourite part of this place.” Maya said, breaking into Richard’s thoughts. She also unconsciously took hold of his hand to drag him towards the direction of the huge lawn of the mansion.
Richard, with laugh, allowed himself to be swept away by Maya’s exuberance. He half-walked and half-ran after her, conscious of her touch.
“Di ba, it’s worth it!” Maya asked with a brilliant smile, moving her right hand in an encompassing motion, towards the huge landscaped garden. Then she let go of his hand, and ran.
“Wow!” Richard managed to say as he looked around him. The view was incredible. The place lovely. But the girl twirling around with her hand outstretched, her face tilted towards the sky, unmindful of the intense sunshine, seemingly soaking in the beauty around her, was the image he would remember most of the place. She looked so happy and carefree as she did her dance. He was enthralled by the exuberance and seemingly, love for life of this beautiful girl. He smiled and started to move towards her.
“Maya…..!!!!” Richard shouted when he saw her tumbled and fell on the soft grass when he was just several steps away from her. He ran towards her.
Richard grasped Maya’s arms to help her stand. “Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?”
“Ricky, I’m okay.” Maya answered breathlessly, at the same time staring at Richard’s worried face. “I managed to break my fall, and beside the grass is soft.”
If you only knew. That you are the reason why I got off-balance. Catching you looking at me like that, smiling like that. It was enough to send this simple, and maybe just fanciful, girl’s heart to stratosphere!
“I’m glad you are okay, Maya.” Richard managed to say, still catching his breath. Somehow, the idea of this beautiful, vibrant girl getting hurt unsettled him a lot.
They gazed at each other. Then as if in a trance, or as if he was witnessing himself having an out-of-body experience, and because heaven help him, as he can’t really seemed to help himself, Richard cupped Maya’s chin, then lowered his head to her waiting lips.