The evening was slowly creeping its way towards twelve in the evening when Luke doubled checked the doors at the main floor. He just finished with the veranda’s sliding when, upon turning to face the dining hall, a familiar figure entered the kitchen.
“Oh Niks, buti naman bumaba ka na,” he said as he made his way to the marble counter. His eyes followed his sister’s every move of taking a glass and a pitcher of water. “Alam mo, may tinira sila Ate Doris para sa’yo, gusto mo initin ko?” he asked.
“No kuya, I’m not hungry,” the young lady answered before taking a small sip. “Where’s dad?”
“Uhm, hinatid lang si Ate Maya,” Luke replied, watching her sister who sharply narrowed her eyes somewhere.
“Hinatid o doon na matutulog?” came an accusing answer as she turned her heels and was walking to leave to area.
“What?” his sister turned to face him again.
“Pwede ba?” he was really beginning to lose patience.
“You’re checking the doors Kuya. Hindi mo naman ginagawa yan before which made me think, Dad told you to do so kasi he won’t be home tonight kasi he’ll be spending it with Maya,” Nikki answered.
Luke could only shook his head as he watch his sister completely leave. He wanted to defend their Ate Maya, their dad and to reprimanded and remind Nikki about who she was talking about. He wanted her to understand everything but how could he when his sister seemed to close any negotiations about the matter.
Meanwhile at Emman’s condo, Richard had his lower back against the edge of the kitchen counter while Maya was busy washing the plates they just used. “Did the cake made you feel better?” he asked, landing his stares on her.
“Huh? Oo naman Sir Chief,” Maya answered returning the look, “Pero syempre, hindi pa rin one hundred percent na masaya kasi… hindi naman si Nikki masaya.”
Richard shook his head. “We just need to give Nikki some time,” he reminded, looking at his girlfriend again.
“Kahit isang milyong time Sir Chief, ibibigay ko,” the lady answered that made him chuckle. “Alam mo, sana hindi mo na lang ako hinatid,” she added.
“You know I won’t let you go home alone, Maya. Besides, why not? They know you’re already my girlfriend, why stop now?” Richard asked.
“Yun na nga Sir Chief eh, alam na nila kaya kahit anong ng gawin natin, makakasira o makaka-buo ng pag-tingin nila sa’tin,” the flight attendant explained.
“No,” the man opposed, “and besides, dapat masanay na sila about us and whether they like it or not, masasanay sila,” Richard said with a smile earning Maya’s attention.
“Uhmmm, Sir Chief naman eh, nagpapa-kilig na naman.”
Playfully, the man raised both his arms in mock surrender and said, “Fine, sue me.” In time, the kettle beside him whistled.
“Oh tama na yan baka sa pahingi mo ng sue, ma-SUE-nog mo pa ang takore,” the lady teased.
“Ito na nga, pinatay na,” the man returned as he turn the stove off and poured the water into two cups, looking at Maya from time to time as he did.
As to what time her father came home – or if he even come home, she added in her thoughts – last night, that, Nikki doesn’t know. All she know that when she reached the dining hall, her brother and sister were already at the dining hall, ready for breakfast, and that her father’s seat was still empty.
“Good morning Ate Nikki!” Abby cheerfully greeted.
“Good morning baby,” she returned before planting a kiss on her sister’s head.
“Oh Niks, ‘sensya ha, hindi kita kinatok, ‘kala ko kasi tulog ka pa,” Luke said as if nothing had happened last night. His sister on the other hand only looked at him in return.
“Good morning daddy!” they heard Abby greeted and sure enough it was their father, making their way towards them with a smile plastered on his face.
“Good morning kids!” Richard happily said, “good morning baby,” he especially added before kissing his youngest and watching Luke stand from his seat to make way for Nikki.
“Dad, mukhang masaya ka ha,” his eldest observed as soon as they were settled on their seats.
Richard shrugged and said nothing. With his middle child’s current emotion, he couldn’t put himself into a storyteller position. The evening he had with Maya was special. Well, it’s always is but last night was different because now they can freely talk about the kids more than they could before. They even planned outings with them and with their busy schedules ahead of them, they will only have to wait a few months to tell them about it and listen to their insights.
Suddenly, last night felt… naturally domestic.
“Dad…” Luke called out. Richard didn’t notice that he was already curving up a smile.
“Hmmm,” his son happily groaned.
“What?” Richard asked.
“Daddy are you thinking of Ate Maya?” Abby asked.
“Well,” her father began as his eyes landed on Nikki before eyeing his youngest again, “yes baby.” Abby giggled and said it was sweet of him. She’s happy that there are now two of them who kept on thinking about her Ate Maya. Nikki on the other hand landed on her feet, her food, halfly untouched.
“Nikki…” her father softly called out.
“Busog na ako,” she plainly answered as she made her way away from the table.
As her footsteps echoed through the hall, her father, brother and sister were left staring each other in silence. “Don’t worry dad, Nikki will get used to it. You’ll be okay,” Luke softly cheered him up.
“Oh kumusta si Nikki?” Maya asked as she closed her luggage bag.
At the other end of the line, Richard heavily sighed. His girlfriend was at Legazpi City and the last thing he wanted was to leave her worrying about them while being away from him. “Sir Chief…” she heard her vocally nudged.
“Sorry, you were saying?” he asked.
“Sabi ko, kumusta na si Nikki? Nagka-usap na ba kayo?” Maya asked, her eyes landing on Mount Mayon through her airport hotel window.
“Well, we’re not exactly on the right track but we’ll be fine,” the man honestly answered.
“Ganun ba. Ah Sir Chief siguro mas makakabuti kung kausapin ko na lang si Nikki baka maintindihan nya ang… sitwasyon, ganun,” the lady suggested only to cause Richard to shook his head.
“Maya, I am with them right now at the house. Kung alam kong makakabuti ang pakikipag-usap kay Nikki about us, I would do it now but Manang Fe’s right, it’s not yet the ripe time to further open up,” he reasoned.
There was a silence beat on the line. “Nag-aalala lang naman ako sa kalagayan niyong mag-ama eh,” she confessed.
“Don’t. We’ll be fine. For the meantime, take care of yourself while in Legazpi. I’ll see you when you get back,” Richard said.
“Sige Sir Chief.”
“I love you,” he said and for some reason saying it made him feel that everything’s going to be okay and with Maya’s return of her own declaration of love, he knew they’re going to make it through.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Doris and Sabel were busy putting everything in order while, apparently, chatting as well. Minding not that their boss’ was at home, they continued to praise each others’ ability of lucky guessing. All these time, they have observed their Sir Richard and Maya and despite the former’s denial they insisted, even to themselves alone, that they were right about their secret relationship.
“Naku Doris, sinasabi ko sa’yo, dapat sana nag-spin the bottle tayo para noon pa, alam na nating sila pala talaga ni Sir Richard,” Sabel said.
“Spin the bottle? Bakit hindi na lang natin pina-inom si Maya, mas madami tayong malalaman tungkol sa kanila ni Ser kung sakali! The drank-er, the better!” Doris added that made both of them laughed.
“Edi na-jumbag tayo ni Sir Richard nyan. Alam mo naman yun, strict,” Sabel disagreed a few laughter after.
“Ay Oo nga no,” her best friend agreed. “Pero alam mo, si Maya na talaga ang pinaka-maswerteng babae sa balat ng lupa. Akalain mo ha, ang gwapong-gwapo nating amo ang kanyang naging nobyo! Ako nga ni hindi ako magawang pansinin ng mga drayber ng kapitbahay tapos heto ang dakilang si Maya na halos walang muwang sa mundo, napa-ibig si Ser!” Doris added.
“Kakalungkot nga lang kasi oh, hindi masyadong tangap ni Ma’am Nikki. Si Ser Luke nga kamuntikan pang sumali sa grupo pero nabawi naman.” Sabel said, “Si Abby, syempre super tanggap n’ya mahal na mahal kaya niya si Maya na parang ina.”
“Eh pa’no, lahat naman sila minahal naman nitong si Maya na parang mga anak niya. Aba lahat gagawin kahit buwis buhay wala lang silang isiping problema.”
“Would you please stop?!” Fully focused on their chatting, Doris and Sabel failed to notice that Nikki had already been in the area for half the time that they were talking. She heard it all even the tone of regret that came with their voice and honestly, it was that one that pummeled her teenage heart for a reason she still couldn’t figure out what.
“Ay Ma’am Nikki… pasensya na ho kayo kasi…” Doris began already to stop when Nikki narrowed her eyes on her.
“Next time, be considerate. Hindi lahat masaya sa akala niyo magandang love story!” the young lady spat. Her statement shocked the two ladies in front of her. They never expected Nikki to say those words but knowing better than to speak and defend Maya, Sabel and Doris took the safer route and said nothing.
“What’s happening here?” Richard walked in getting the trios attention. “Doris? Sabel?” he asked when no one dared to say nothing.
“Eh ser…” Sabel softly said but stopped when Nikki raised her left brows with her eyes landing on her. Eventually, the younger Lim turned and left the group, again, without saying a word.
“Pasensya na ho kayo Ser kasi…” Doris said but Richard held up his hand and signaled them to stop. “I’m sorry. Kayo pa napag-buntungan ng galit ni Nikki,” he said, “but next time learn also how to tip toe especially when it comes to Maya and the kids.”
Both of the ladies nodded before watching him walked away. “Oh see? May knight in shining armor na si Maya!” Doris commented.
“Doris! Sabel!” they heard their boss called out, giving them the idea that he heard them.
Two days later, nothing changed in the Lim household. The air was still tensed and Nikki still wouldn’t put her guard down. Luke even gave up wooing her sister for a talk while Abby’s praising of Maya wasn’t clearly doing any help at all.
Ball’s in Richard’s court now. It’s his time to make a move on Nikki but he doesn’t know where to start let alone know where to start. For the first time in years, as they sat and eat their breakfast in silence that morning, he wished Alex could just come out and tell him what to do.
“Ricardo…” Manang Fe called out getting the family’s attention as she made her way towards the dining hall. Her hand, holding one of the household’s wireless telephone. “Si… Maya,” the woman added, eyeing the children before doing so.
“Salamat Manang,” Richard returned after wiping his lips clean off. He took a few steps away from the table but he didn’t felt the need to go further than the divider. After all, the kids knew about them already and letting them hear about their conversation was not a big deal. He wanted transparency, the kids, he knows, wanted transparency though they none of them requested it out loud.
“Hi,” he greeted as soon as the phone touched his face.
“Sir Chief, pasensya na ha kung dito ako tumawag. Hindi kasi kita ma-contact sa phone mo eh,” Maya said as she checks her luggage for the second time at Time Airways’ office.
“I must have left it sa kwarto. Are you back in Manila?” Richard asked, feeling the stares of his children on his back.
“Ah hindi pa. Nasa Legazpi pa rin kami pero boarding na in two hours,” came the reply.
“Okay. Just text me before you take off. Usually it’ll only take 45-minute airtime from there.”
“Kasi susunduin kita,” Richard answered in an as-a-matter-of-fact voice and tone. He turned his heel a bit and a smiling with a right thumb up Abby was the one that greeted the view which made him smile.
“Sir Chief…” Maya was about to protest but his voice stopped her.
“Maya, I will be waiting outside the arrival area. There’s no space for negotiation on this,” he said before hearing her say and agreed on defeat. After their see-yah’s, he ended the call before handing the phone back to Manang.
“Daddy, susunduin mo po si Ate Maya?” Abby gleefully asked.
“Yes, baby,” he answered as he took his seat again. His seven year old couldn’t contained her excitement. Abby whispered a ‘yes!’ and even clapped her hands in happiness that made her father and brother chuckled on her action.
“Ah guys, I’d also like you to know that I’ll be taking Maya to Lim Aviation’s Hangar launch this weekend,” he announced, getting Nikki’s attention.
“Dad, pwedeng sumama?” Luke eagerly asked.
“Of course, you three will be there too,” Richard answered with a brief nod.
“Nice!” his son commented on which he smiled on.
For the second time since breakfast started, he eyed his eldest daughter again. Nikki loves gathering like this and he’s sure she won’t say NO. Oh he hoped she won’t say no. Who knows, this might be a good time for Nikki to accept Maya for the second time around. It happened during her school play and during the prom night before, didn’t it?
With his eldest daughter saying nothing. Richard heavily sighed and pulled all the courage to ask what entered his mind. It’s crazy and untimely but again, who knows…
“Niks,” he began bothering not to remove his eyes on his daughter, “I know you’re good at this,” he added only to stumble on his words. “She helped you before but this time I want your input in Maya’s dress for the launch.”
Now all eyes on Nikki. “Mind coming with us tonight?” came Richard’s invitation.
The airport was buzzling with people – foreign and fellow Filipinos – walking to and fro the corners of the building when Maya came out the arrival area; but in the sea of heads, she already knew what to look for. Finally, she spotted him and loud and proud she called him out, “Sir Chief!”
“Careful,” Richard advised as they drew near each other before he pulled her for a hug.
“I missed you,” he softly said as his arms locked her in their embrace.
“Miss you too,” came the reply.
A few beats after, they pulled back and both have smiles on their faces. “Oh kumusta ang mga bata?” Maya immediately asked.
“Well, they’re doing good,” Richard answered, earning a doubtful look from the woman before him. “Really Maya, they’re doing good, relax,” he pushed.
“Pati si Nikki?” she asked.
“Pati si Nikki kaya stop worrying, we better get you back sa condo kasi by six, punta tayong mall,” the man said, getting the trolley from her hand before turning around ready to move.
“Ha? Pupuntang mall? Bakit?” Maya asked, slowly following her Sir Chief who apparently started walking.
“Kasi diba, the launch will be this Saturday. So we need to get you a dress,” he said as if it’s the most obvious thing on the face of the planet.
“Teka, ano ba, Sir Chief,” the woman stopped, getting her former boss’ attention.
“Dress? Saturday? Mall, ngayon? Six PM?” Maya ran down.
“Kailangan ko ba ulitin sayo?” he asked.
“Hindi pero… okay, alam kong pumayag akong sumama sa Sabado pero mall? Mamaya? Tapos bibili pa ng damit? Sir Chief, alam mo namang hindi kagandahan ang taste ko sa damit diba, tsaka meron pa akong damit. Yung bigay ni Rafi,” Maya explained.
“Diba sabi ko relax?” the man softly urged. “You already wore that peach dress and I don’t like it. It’s too revealing and if you’re worrying about the taste, kalma, that’s somehow a boyfriend is for… Besides…” he smugly grinned, “Nikki’s coming with us.”
With that, Maya subconsciously dropped her bottom lip and uttered, “Ha?” as her Sir Chief replied with his heart-melting side smile.