Extremely exhausted, so bone-tired, due to the grueling day he had, compounded by his skipping lunch, not eating a proper dinner, and developing a splitting headache afterwards, Richard staggered to his feet, towards his place that evening. He just wanted to plop down on his bed, go into deep sleep, or better, zonk out for two straight days! Proper sleep and rest seem like precious commodities these days, he muttered tiredly! Ah, he was looking forward to some peace and quiet.
However, as soon as Richard stepped into his flat, he felt like he got lost somewhere, and ended up in someone else’s place. Loud music assaulted his ears. Then, something else assaulted his nostrils. He sniffed, just to be sure, and yes, definitely, there was a distinct smell wafting from his kitchen, a smell he dislikes very much! It was the smell of newly-fried dried fish!
“What the…????” Richard exclaimed, as he rushed to turn off the electronic dance music blaring out from a music player he saw on his coffee table. Luckily, that thing was not pass code protected. He heaved a sigh of relief as soon as the last beat faded from the player. He put it back where he found it, and was about to check on who messed up his kitchen, when he felt a presence behind him. He turned, and was about to speak sharply to whoever it was, but lost the stinging rebuke he was about to utter when he saw who emerged from his kitchen. He caught his breath, and felt like his heart literally stopped for several precious seconds.
Richard saw a girl wearing ripped denim shorts, sleeveless, loose white blouse, hair cascading down her back, and upon his quick, cursory inspection, barefooted. It also registered on his poor, tired, brain that she was a vision of loveliness even if she was not wearing any make-up. He was stunned when he finally connected the person before him to a name!
Whoa! This is Maya Dela Rosa now?
The girl he knew years ago has grown into a beautiful woman! Richard gulped and didn’t even realize he had been staring intently, without saying anything for several long seconds. He wished then, that, he had at least had checked online, so that he would at least have an inkling that she would look like this now. But at the back of his mind, he knew too that no photos will do justice to the vision before him.
“Kuya Richard, Kuya Richard, Hello, Kuya Richard….!!!” Maya said several times as she waved her right hand in front of a seemingly shell-shocked Richard Lim, trying to call his attention. She was waiting for him, and knew that it was him when she heard the door opening, but still, there was a part of her that was unprepared to seeing him again like this after all the years that had passed since that momentous summer.
Richard snapped out of the state he found himself in. He was confused for a moment and unable to explain what had just happened to him. Then, he suddenly remembered why he wanted to rush to the kitchen. Richard frowned, his eyes turning into tiny slits. Instead of saying a cordial hello to Maya, he snapped at her before he can stop himself. She so unsettled him in such a short time they were sharing space again.
“What have you done to my kitchen? Ano iyang niluto mo? Gabing-gabi na. My whole place will reek of that terrible smell!”
“Kumain ka na ba, Kuya? I cooked us dinner. I brought danggit for you. Niluto ko na rin. I also brought dried pusit. Would you like that instead?” Maya asked Richard with a mischievous grin, ignoring his outburst. She knew that he hated the most the smell of dried fish and the likes. He reacted like she expected him to react. Her plan is, indeed, into motion.
“I did. Besides, I don’t like dried fish and pusit, di ba?” Richard told Maya even if he can feel his stomach starting to grumble. He only had a clubhouse sandwich before he left the office. He thought also that maybe, Maya forgot about his dislike of fried dried fish and squid. It was a long time ago after all. He tried to calm done and deal with the situation the best he could.
Richard took a deep breath and summoned whatever little patience he still had after his killer day. Hearing her calling him “Kuya’” to his face somehow irritated him, yes, he admitted, more than the smell he dislikes. “Please go ahead and have your dinner and after you’ve eaten, put away those things, please. Just give away the rest of the fish and squid you brought to Manang tomorrow. Somewhere in one of the cupboards, there should be a room spray or something to mask that awful smell,” he added distractedly.
“Yes, Kuya Richard,” Maya replied, a bit subdued, seeing that Richard was trying to be calm about the whole thing. She felt a bit guilty with what she have done, seeing that he did look very tired. But still, sigh, very handsome. He took her breath away and she barely managed to hold it. “I’ll clean your kitchen, top to bottom, as if nothing happens, promise. Cross my heart, hope to die!”
“No need for that, please. Just make sure to put away everything after you have eaten and follow my instructions, especially regarding that awful smell. Manang will come tomorrow to clean,” Richard said as he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.
“Yes, Kuya Richard, I will, promise talaga,” Maya assured him as she sat down to eat her late dinner. She was not really hungry, and the food was more to irk Richard but now, she had to eat some of it now.
“Errr, do you need anything else?” Richard asked Maya, deciding to let things slide. She must have forgotten, after all, tt has been years. “Are you settling in, okay? Did you call your mother?”
“Oh, wala na naman Kuya Richard. Ate Liza took care of that earlier. Thank you. Yes, I have called her and told her I’m doing fine here.” Maya replied as she looked closely at Richard and noticed him wincing, as if in pain. Before she can stop herself, she asked him, “Are you okay, Kuya Richard? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I’m okay,” Richard said, despite the fact that it was the opposite. He didn’t have the energy to explain things to her. “If you don’t need anything else, please excuse me, I will just go and rest. I had a long day.”
“Of course, Kuya Richard. Good night. Have a good sleep,” Maya said brightly. Then unable to help herself, she grinned charmingly at him, wanting to cheer him up somehow, or probably annoy him some more, she was not so sure which. She should really stop. “Are you sure you don’t like any of this yummy food?”
“Maya…..” Richard started, then smiled a bit as he saw some of the impishness of the old Maya into this grown-up version.
“Okay, okay….” Maya replied, raising her hands in mock surrender.
“Good night, Ms. Maya Dela Rosa!” Richard said with emphasis.
“Good night, Mr. Richard Lim!” Maya bantered back.
Thinking that he was out of earshot, she added softly while pulling a chair, “Sweet dreams, Ricky. Good to see you again, after all these years. In fairness, que quapo mo pa rin talaga ha!” Then, Maya giggled at her silliness.
Richard, who was about to go back to where she was to tell her to leave the hall light on, smiled at hearing that. Suddenly, he felt lighter and happy. So, he is ‘Ricky’ to her when she is alone ha. Hmmmm…
“Thank you, Maya,” he whispered to himself. Then, clearing his throat, he told her, “Errr, Maya, please don’t turn off the hall light, please.”
Maya looked at him in surprise. Her face heated up. Did he hear what she just said? “Oh, you are still there, Kuya Richard!” She said with emphasis. “Sure, I will leave it on. Good night,” she managed to say.
Richard smiled at her. Maya had an inkling that he heard the whole thing. But what can she do. She just acted clueless. As Richard climbed the stairs to the second level, Maya can hear him humming.
“Humming pa, ha!” Maya muttered to herself. This can’t be. He should stay mad at me and irritated and unhappy, not feeling chirpy all of a sudden. Better go back to your plan, Maya dela Rosa and no more feeling guilty.
She cleaned the kitchen after she had her dinner. At loose ends afterwards, she made herself a cup of coffee, got her stuffed toy cats from the room she was shown by Richard’s assistant, Ate Liza earlier. She noticed a light seeping out of the room besides her and only then she realized that she was given the room next to Richard! She felt a flutter in her belly knowing that, for reasons she can’t yet fathom. She tried to shrugged it off, went downstairs again and plopped on the sofa facing the floor to ceiling window, hugging her toys for comfort. Since she didn’t want to be lost in her thoughts, she thought of listening to some of the songs in her current playlist. She didn’t realize later on, that she was singing loudly, swaying to the music too! Suddenly, she felt a presence.
“Maya Dela Rosa, please, no more music at this time of the night.” Richard told Maya in a tired, resigned voice, seeing that she was lost in the music. He also removed one of her ear buds. “Rest, please!”
Maya jumped, surprised. She saw a Richard, clutching his forehead, as if in pain. She felt so guilty that she was doing this to him, especially when she knows that he had done nothing to deserve this. She reddened. She almost relented and offer to massage his forehead, like she does to her mother at times, when she has migraine attacks.
“I’m so sorry, Ricky.” Maya said contritely, really meaning it this time, and not noticing that she had called him ‘Ricky’ in her agitation. This last one, she wasn’t really deliberately annoying him. She just listened to music like that.
“I’ll go to bed.” Then muttered to herself to hide how ashamed she was feeling at the moment. “Nasaan na ba ang mga iyon?”
Richard saw Maya crouching on the floor, seemingly looking for something. “What are you looking for?”
“Errr, I’m looking for Whiskey and Brandy,” Maya explained distractedly.
“ You still brought them! I told you not to!” Richard said in a loud voice, barely holding on to his sanity, his head throbbing wildly. “Where are they? They will be going back to Talisay first thing tomorrow! I thought Liza will take care of them. She assured me.”
“Oh, there you are my babies,” Maya crooned happily, not realizing initially that Richard really thought she bought pets into his place. When she did, clutching her stuffed toys, she looked sheepishly at Richard, and admitted, “Errr, here are Whiskey and Brandy.”
“Toys, they are stuffed toys!!!” Richard said incredulously, and it looked like he wanted to wring Maya’s neck for deliberately misleading him. However, he didn’t really have the energy to do so. “Oh, never mind. Go to bed, Maya. I don’t have the energy for this now.”
With that, he left Maya standing in the middle of his living room, feeling extremely guilty. She wanted to go after him and apologize but she was rooted to the spot she was in.
Isn’ t this what you want Maya!
But why, oh why, she felt very guilty and ashamed at what she was trying to pull on Richard. Even if they had a bad history, he didn’t deserve this! Maya, shoulder slumped, trooped back to the room beside Richard.
Maya plopped on the bed, still hugging her stuffed toys. Seeing Richard again after all these years, evoked a lot of feelings in her. It was easy to think of ways to make him blow his fuse, that would hopefully means, him complaining about her to Tita Esme, and then Tita Esme calling her mother to tell her how a terrible houseguest she is. Simple logic in her head, though she also knew, it was childish, immature, and mean. But she was at the end of her rope when she thought of all of that.
However, deep in the night, after tossing and turning and being unable to sleep , she kept remembering how tired Richard was, and his extreme patience to her earlier. She felt very guilty and immature. She realized she didn’t have the heart to make him miserable just to get what she wanted. Before she finally succumbed to a fitful sleep, she made up her mind on what she will do come morning.
Unlike the night before, a wonderful, mouthwatering smell, wafted from the kitchen when Richard walked to it to make coffee the following morning.
“Good morning, Ricky,” Maya chirped happily, with a big smile on her face, as she took out the slices of bread from the toaster. She was quite determined to make amends. She still has a situation to deal with, but she realized that taking it on Richard is unfair and not the way to address it. Besides, maybe, she can do it another way. She needed Richard’s cooperation for her new plan.
“Have a seat, please. Breakfast is ready. I hope it is okay that I messed up your kitchen again.” Maya said as she busied herself with pouring coffee into two mugs she found in one of Richard’s very neat cupboards, after putting the bread on the table. She saw him dressed for work despite the fact that he got home quite late at night.
Richard, fighting of remnants of sleep, especially as he hasn’t had his first cup of coffee yet, looked at the beautifully set table and the mouthwatering array of dishes before him. She must have woken up early to do all of this, he thought to himself. He was a bit puzzled at Maya’s behavior the night before, but with his lack of sleep and extreme tiredness, his brain was unable to fully process it.
“Oh, you don’t have to make breakfast for me, Maya. I can eat in the office. I just need to have my cup of coffee before I go.” Richard managed to say, as he sat down on the chair she indicated.
“It is okay, Ricky. I don’t mind and I would like to make amends for all the ruckus I caused last night,” Maya said with a bright smile, looking sheepish.
“Oh, don’t think about it,” Richard assured her. He thought it was just part of the adjustments he and Maya had to do to live together for a while. Besides, she looks kinda cute contrite.
The two of them proceeded to eat their breakfast in companionable silence. Richard enjoyed the food as what Maya prepared were all quite delicious and his favorites. Maya felt happy that he was eating, enjoyed eating, most of the food she prepared.
When they were into their second cups of coffee, Maya took a deep breath, and asked, before she can change her mind. “Do you have time to talk, Ricky or are you in a hurry this morning?”
Richard looked at Maya closely, and saw that she was quite serious about something. Unfortunately, he was pressed for time that morning as Liza scheduled another long meeting. But still, it must be important and might explain a lot so he said, “Liza scheduled a meeting this morning and I need to be on the road the next half hour if I want to make it. I can also reschedule it a bit later if what you want to discuss is that urgent.”
“Oh no, no, it can wait until later.” Maya assured Richard, realizing that she should have waited anyway. Her and her being impatient, sometimes! He is a very busy person after all. “I have something to discuss lang sana. It can wait.”
“Sure?” Richard asked, curious on what Maya would like to discuss, at the same time, thinking of the important meeting he was supposed to preside on that morning.
“Yes, Ricky, just go to work. I know you are very busy. Tita Esme mentioned it.” Maya assured him, and it was only then that Richard noticed that Maya reverted to ‘Ricky’. Somehow, he felt happy hearing his name on her lips like that.
“Okay. We can have dinner later. What are your plans for the day?”
“I think I will just stay here for today. Pahinga muna. The enrollment for my class is tomorrow pa,” Maya replied. “Sige, let’s have dinner.”
“I’ll call you when I’m done and pick you up for dinner,” Richard said, then added teasingly, “No more messing up my kitchen na ha. Baka pati neighbors ko magreklamo na sa amoy.”
Maya laughed, feeling lighter. Richard felt happier and more alive with Maya in his house, sharing breakfast with her. They gazed at each other, and seemed to have reached an understanding.
“Good bye for now, Maya. Thank you for the breakfast,” Richard said a short while later, smiling at Maya warmly. “If you need anything, ask Manang or text me. There are books and DVDs you can borrow. Nandoon sa office ko. That’s the room beside the living room.”
“Thank you Ricky, I will check later.” Maya replied softly, giving Ricky a sweet smile, appreciating the fact that he seemed ti have adjusted already to her intruding on his private space like this, despite her shenanigans the night before. “Have a good day.”
“You too, Maya. Have a good rest,” Richard said, smiling at her warmly.
Richard was humming while driving to work that morning. Maya, on the other hand, felt like twirling around Richard’s huge living room. Both of them felt happier that particular morning!