The place resembled a magical garden that balmy evening. Sunflowers, tulips and roses adorned the open-air pavilion, which is like a work of art itself due to its very distinct and beautiful architecture. Strings of tiny blinking lights were wrapped around, and dropped from, the big branches of century-old trees that dotted the club house where the party was being held. Seeing the place from a distance, it looked like hundreds of fireflies were fluttering by inside a magical place. Music and conversation flowed freely. Everyone was having a wonderful time, dancing, chatting, touching base, eating the sumptuous dinner prepared by a famous Negros chef, celebrating Maya Dela Rosa’s coming of age.
Taking a breather, when the party was winding down bit, from the bench placed under one of the huge trees, Maya looked around and thought to herself that what her mother planned for her 18th birthday wasn’t so bad at all, wasn’t so bad at all. She admitted to herself that she was having a wonderful time. She felt very happy. She saw some of her friends still dancing and just having a merry time, not tiring at all, as well as some of her cousins who came all the way from Spain to celebrate with her, and the older generation were in groups chatting. Her mother was right, you only get to experience this once in a lifetime, so enjoy and embrace it! She did and she was glad to do so. She also admitted to herself that the celebration was made extra special by someone.
Maya’s gaze zeroed in on that ‘someone’, the guy holding a glass of wine and chatting with her brother and some of his friends. Richard Lim looked so handsome in his evening clothes. He tilted his head and smiled as he gestured with his left hand. Suddenly, she remembered their kiss the day before. She unconsciously touched her lips. She blushed and covered her face, feeling giddy remembering the kiss. The heady feeling she was experiencing at that moment was completely alien to her. It was the first time her heart beat like this!
When Maya looked up, she blushed crimson as she saw Richard gazing back at her. It felt like they were in their own world again, much like when they did the 18 roses ceremony earlier. Richard ended up as Maya’s last dance. The moment he gave her the rose, then held her, and led her around the room, she felt like she was transported to a place where the only ones present were her and Richard.
Maya smiled. Richard smiled warmly back, his eyes disappearing almost, into tiny slits. She felt a shortness of breath, a seemingly common occurrence in the presence of this guy! She lowered her gaze, suddenly feeling very shy, and in doing so, in her peripheral vision, she saw her brother looking intently, first at Richard and then at her. Her Kuya Seth frowned. She got nervous all of a sudden. Not that her brother meddled much into her life, but he was very protective of her when it comes to boys. Since she was about to turn 18, he had been lecturing her on being careful with boys and would give some guys who had shown interests in her the third degree.
Oh no! Did Kuya Seth notice something between me and Ricky?
Maya felt that her brother was suspicious of her and Richard’s closeness so soon after they met! Her Kuya Seth was waiting for them when she and Richard returned from their wonderful sightseeing trip. They were laughing about a favorite scene in a movie they both liked very much while climbing up the stairs, with Richard holding on her elbow to guide her, when Seth spoke from above, asking them where they have been. Her brother has always been very observant and that evening was no exception. He looked at them closely. But then, he seemed to have change his mind, and greeted Richard warmly and dragged him to his room to catch up. That was the last she saw of Richard the night before, until she caught a glimpse of him sitting with his mother at the start of the party, looking so dashing and so handsome, making her heart all fluttery all over again.
Maya really felt an instant connection to Richard, like one soul recognizing the other. Ah maybe, she was overdoing the description because of all the romance novels she was into, or that reading those voraciously affected her perception and judgment, but it was the best she could describe the feeling she was having. Yes, after the kiss, they kind of got shy with each other. She was flustered naturally, as it was not only because she was not expecting it to happen, but that it was also because it was her first kiss. They just stared at each other after their lips parted, until they were interrupted by another group of tourists, wanting to check the beautiful garden too.
Both of them were initially silent while navigating the road back to town. It was Richard who broke the silence. He started saying something about the kiss. The blood, sort of, went to her head all of a sudden, and her heart beat so fast. As a knee-jerk reaction, she had cut him off and told him, that they shouldn’t dwell on it. She didn’t know how to act, really. Richard looked at her for a long time, seemingly wanting to say something, then nodded to himself as if coming to a decision. He changed the topic. It was like he was trying to put her at ease, seeing her reaction. Before long, they were back to conversing naturally. She and Richard spent the rest of the day chatting at a beautiful and artsy cafe in town, getting to know each other more. The feeling generated by the kiss hovered in the background. She was aware of him in a different level. They headed home when it started to get dark.
Maya’s reverie was interrupted by one of her closest friends in college, Emman. Both of them were taking a bachelor’s degree in a university in Bacolod.
“Maya Dela Rosa, baka matunaw na ha! Kanina ka pa tingin ng tingin diyan kay divine Mr. Richard Lim,” Emman quipped with a big, teasing smile as he approached Maya. “In fairness, bagay kayo, sa lahat ng mga nag-dance diyan sa 18 roses mo. Para nga kayong may sariling mundo. Grabe ang titigan ninyo, friend. Boyfriend mo na ano? Bakit hindi mo nababanggit iyan sa akin dati. Nagtatampo ako friend ha.”
“Uy Emman, ano ka ba? Hindi ah. Family friend lang namin is Richard and best friend nga ni Kuya Seth, di ba. Nabanggit ko na siya sa iyo dati. Kahapon ko nga lang siya na-meet in person.” Maya pinched Emman lightly, then she grinned mischievously. She is used to her gay friend’s way with words and straightforward talk. “Pero totoo nga? Ganoon rin ang tingin sa akin ni Ricky?” She asked giddily, unable to help herself.
“Sus, Maya Dela Rosa, pa-demure ka pa kunwari kanina. Kinikilig naman pala talaga ang beauty mo. Kung hindi mo nga lang crush na crush iyang si Richard Lim, and ah ah, huwag ng mag-deny, kilala kita, aangkinin ko iyan!” Emman teased, looking at Richard admiringly, and sighed exaggeratedly. “Sana may kapatid siya, pinsan pwede na rin. O kaya naman is brother dear mo na lang ang sa akin. Parang mas gusto ko yata ang mukhang bad boy ang image.”
“Ikaw talaga, Emman. Bad boy ba ang image ng brother ko? Hindi naman ah,” Maya remarked, looking at her older brother fondly. “Suplado lang nga minsan!”
“You got it right, sister, kanina pa nga ako no pansin niyang si brother dear, kaya balik na lang ako kay Richard Lim. Pero siya sige since best friend kita and birthday mo naman, iyong-iyo na siya,” Emman said, teasing.
Maya laughed and shook her head at her incorrigible friend.
“O bumalik ka na sa mga bisita mo. Baka hinahanap ka ng Mama mo. I’ll just go to my car to get a charger. Ito kasing si Belinda, na-drain ang phone. Alam mo naman iyan, can’t live without her phone!” Emman said, referring to one of their friends from school.
“Okay, five minutes pa here,” Maya replied. “Sakit na kasi ang mga paa ko rito sa shoes ko. Hindi talaga ako sanay ng naka-heels.”
“Talagang ganyan friend, tiis-ganda. Kung ganyan nga lang ka-dainty ang feet ko and ka-beautiful ang legs and built ko, di sana naka-heels din ako. Rampa kung rampa. Pang-Miss U lang ang peg!”
“Emman, ikaw talaga, walang kakupas-kupas sa mga punchline mo. Sige na, pumunta ka na sa car mo! Naghihintay si Belle!” Maya shooed Emman away playfully. He made an exaggerated beauty queen exit which had Maya grinning and shaking her head again.
Maya was still smiling minutes after Emman left. Remembering that her mother might be looking for her, she tried to stand, but sat down abruptly. Her shoes were pinching her feet. It really hurt. They were like on fire. She removed the dainty shoes with the deadly heels, and started to massage her feet.
“Hay, I should have not talked Emman into buying this monstrous thing!” Maya muttered to herself as she tried to move her aching feet.
“Maya are you okay?” Someone asked from behind her.
Maya looked up, and saw Richard approaching her from the direction of the parking lot, with concern on his face. He was carrying a bulky paper bag.
“What happened? Do you need help?” Richard sat down beside Maya, putting the paper bag on the bench, then looking at Maya’s feet. “They looked red,” he remarked.
“I’m okay, Ricky. I’m not just used to wearing shoes with this much heels nang matagal.” Maya assured Richard. “I can manage. Don’t worry. Pabalik na rin ako sa party. Baka hinahanap na ako ni Mama.”
To show him that she was really okay, she put her shoes back on. She stood up, and winced again.
“I don’t think you are okay. Stay here muna. I can just talk to Tita Tessie.” Richard stood up, moved to go back to the pavilion.
Maya grabbed his arm. “No Ricky, I am really okay. Kakayanin ko na. Patapos na naman itong party. I will just sit again when I get in the pavilion. I don’t want any fuss pa. Knowing Mama, she will when she finds out,” she pleaded.
“Okay, okay. If you say so. Ganito na lang, hold on to my arm para less pressure sa feet mo.” Then he added teasingly, “I don’t think you will agree to me carrying you like a princess o kayo naman, piggy back ride!.”
Maya grinned. “Nice, but no need, Mr. Lim. That would be more of a spectacle than me declaring my feet are hurting or walking barefooted inside!”
Richard grinned back, then offered his left for Maya to hold to. They made the short walk to the pavilion, chatting a bit.
“Ricky, I will just sit where I was sitting before,” Maya said when they were inside.
“Okay, then rest lang ha. I will just tell Tita Tessie where you are. I saw her talking to Mama earlier bago nagpunta sa parking lot.” Richard guided Maya to the seat she indicated. He made sure that she was comfortable. He was about to leave, when he stopped.
“Oh, and this is for you. Happy birthday Ms. Maya Dela Rosa. I hope you will like it,” Richard said, giving Maya the paper bag.
“Thank you, Ricky.” Maya said, smiling happily at Richard. Curious on what he got for her as the paper bag was quite heavy. Unable to help herself, she asked him, “Can I open it now?”
“Sure,” Richard said, smiling indulgently.
However, before she can do so, their moment was interrupted.
“There you are Maya. Mama was looking for you!” Seth said, looking curiously again at her and Richard. “Bro, nawala ka kanina. Halika may ipapakilala ako sa iyo. The lady has been asking for an introduction.”
Before Richard could say anything, Seth dragged him away from Maya. He waved at her apologetically, mouthing ‘Happy Birthday’ again, smiling warmly. She smiled back, feeling so happy and giddy. The last part of her brother’s statement didn’t register until days later.
That was the last glimpse she had of Richard that evening. Her brother really had a habit of dragging Richard, never to be seen again for the rest of the night. Soon after, her mother and some of her friends sat with her, and chatted. The party ended an hour after that.
Maya plopped down her bed as soon as she had entered her room, wanting to rest her poor, tired, sore feet. But before that, she needed to do something first – open Richard’s gift. She had been dying to do so.
Inside the bag was a beautifully-wrapped gift. She was loath to destroy the beautiful wrapper, but what can she do, she was too excited to see what he gave her. She closed her eyes, then ripped the wrapper. Inside the box, she saw a book. She inspected it and exclaimed her delight when she saw the title. Richard gave her a book detailing down the places one must see in one’s lifetime. She found a card tucked inside the book.
Happy birthday! Wishing you a lifetime of adventures! Enjoy life’s moments always! Live your life! Be happy.
Maya was touched. She never thought that Richard will give her such a thoughtful gift! He remembered all her prattling about traveling and the grand adventures in her head. She looked for her phone and not really realizing that it was late, she texted him to thank him, just wanting to connect to him at that moment.
Ricky, thank you so much for the travel book! I love it!
Putting the phone down, she realized how late it was and she might have disturbed Richard’s sleep. However, her phone beeped a minute after.
You’re welcome Maya. I’m glad you like it. I saw it in a bookstore in Bacolod this morning. Bakit gising ka pa? How’s your feet?
Maya quickly typed in a reply.
I can’t seem to sleep, Ricky. The body is tired but the mind is still active. Adrenalin rush, I guess! I’m okay now that I’m not wearing those heels.
I’ll say good night now so you can rest Maya!
Good night Ricky. Thank you for making my birthday a very memorable and happy one.
Happy to be a part of it Maya. Good night and sweet dreams!
Maya clutched her phone to her chest, feeling like she could fly! She stared at the ceiling and remembered again all the beautiful moments she had shared with Richard so far, and the wonderful feeling they evoked in her.
That night, Maya didn’t have an inkling that those treasured moments were the last happy ones she would share with Richard that bittersweet summer.