Wallet

Maya didn’t realize she was not blinking an eye as she memorized Richard’s face, his full, dense, and neat eyebrows that towered his almond-shaped eyes that as of the moment closed, his straight and smooth nose, his flawless lips… His cheeks… His skin… He was perfect.

She smiled to herself, aware that he was imperfect as any man could ever be. But she wouldn’t trade him for the world.

Carefully, she lifted his eyeglasses off him and put it in the table across the couch. He fell asleep in the flat, exhaustion marring his handsome facial features. She got her cellphone and took a picture of him, another photo of sleeping Richard added to her gallery.

He was in his power suit when he arrived at the unit, looking astonishingly dashing as that time she met him at the bridge. He asked if he could take off his coat. She failed to hide her embarrassment as she stuttered her agreement. She could not take her eyes off him as he took his coat off and draped it over the couch and loosened his gray tie. He sat tiredly on the couch and pinched the tip of his nose, leaning his head back.

“Mukhang pagod na pagod ka, Ser Chief…” she said as she sat beside him.

“Oh yes… Engr. Yamaguchi and Engr. Gutierrez were fighting like third graders in front of me as they were blaming each other about the failure to fix two or three aircraft within the given deadline. Apparently, umasa si Gutierrez sa ipapadalang tao at equipment ni Yamaguchi kasi nadelay ang supplies sa Clark Site. They had a misunderstanding hanggang sa nalate na rin ang baseline maintenance nung aircraft sa Clark.  At the last minute, napilitan si Yamaguchi na magpadala ng tao sa Clark but then it’s too late. Pati yung mga technicians sa Clark at Manila site, nagsisisihan din.”

Maya was tapping Richard’s knee in an attempt to appease him. “Cool ka lang Ser Chief, magiging okay din yun. Anong gusto mong pagkain? Ipagluluto kita…”

Richard sighed and held her hand. “Ikaw na bahala, Maya… ayoko munang mag-isip.”

“Sige Ser Chief. Relax ka lang dyan. Ako bahala sa ‘yo,” Maya assured him as she stood up.

When she came back to tell him that dinner was ready, she found him sleeping soundly across the couch, his cellphone, wallet, and keys on the small table. He also took off his shoes and tie and the first two buttons of his polo were undone.

With bated breath, she watched him helplessly.

“Ang pogi nyaaaa!” She expressed in gritted teeth, wanting badly to pinch both of his cheeks.

“Kailan ba ko masasanay sa kagwapuhan mo Ser Chief? Hindi na ko na-immune. Hanggang ngayon, kinikilig pa rin ako sa ‘yooo. Nakakainis! Pa’no ba ‘to mawawala?” She pressed her hands against her cheeks, totally aggravated in herself.

She sighed in defeat. She would never get used to his charms. She loved the feeling anyway and so she wouldn’t mind. She figured she would let him sleep for ten more minutes.

His wallet caught her attention. It looked like it had been used for a long time already. An idea lit in her head. She could buy him a new wallet for their next monthsary and accompany it with her picture. Would he mind to decorate his wallet with her picture though? She suddenly became unsure of the idea. Perhaps wallet would be enough. Minus the picture.

Out of curiousity, she reached out for his wallet and tried to scan its brand.

“Paul Smith?”

She had not heard it before but she was certain it was of a plush, not to mention ridiculously expensive kind.

“Ano kayang itsura ng loob?”

She stopped her scrutiny when she saw the medium close up shot of a beautiful lady framed inside the transparent wallet’s pocket. The picture looked like it was taken just recently. The wallet might have been frayed but the picture was definitely well-kept.

Ang photogenic lang ni Ma’am Alex. Ay hindi! Sadyang maganda lang siya. She complimented silently, trying to ignore a tug of bitterness in her mental tone.

Her hands moved like they had a mind of their own. She looked for other pictures in the wallet and she found recent pictures of Luke, Nikki, and Abby. She found one family picture where Abby was still a baby. Then she found the last of the pictures, a very small part of her wishing it was a picture of hers but that wish was quickly forgotten when she saw their wedding picture, him smiling like he was the happiest man alive.

She found it difficult to breathe as something heavy loomed over her heart.

Baka naman may picture ako sa likod nung kay Ma’am Alex. The logical side of her was shaking her head at her desperation. She stuck out Alex’s picture from its place and she found no other picture in the wallet’s compartment. Just as she was about to rest her case, she unintentionally flipped over the picture. On its back, she saw his very familiar handwriting that said,

“I love you, Alex. Always and forever…

Yours always,

Richard”

Stinging tears made way to her eyes as she swiftly put the picture back. With controlled rage at herself, she wiped her tears with unnecessary force and put the wallet on the table.

“Maya?” For a brief moment, he saw a tear slid down her cheek as she released his wallet from what he deemed as tight grip.

She stood up from her kneeling position. With her back on him and a mask of lightness wrapping her voice, she said, “Ser Chief, tara, kain na tayo?” She stormed out to the dining table and sat herself on one of the chairs.

Richard opened his wallet and noticed that the top of Alex’s picture was sticking out of its compartment. He sighed and looked at Maya, an apologetic expression on his face. He followed her to the dining table and sat across from her. She automatically served him the food, knowing well enough the quantity he would be able to consume. She offered him a tad smile as she said, “Kain na, Ser Chief.”

They ate in silence. Maya was not in the mood to talk while Richard did not know what to say. He could feel the weight of Maya’s feelings, he was not sure of what exactly they were but he was absolute they were not positive. He did not want to make Maya unhappy. What could he do then?

When they finished their food, Maya stood up to clear the table, dismissing him from helping her wash the dishes. He could not argue and let her cool down a bit before talking to her.

She came back to the living room where he sat, a cup of coffee in her hand.

“Kape ka muna, Ser Chief,” she said casually but he could read her between the slight furrow of her eyebrows.

“Thank you,” he tried to catch her gaze but she did not look at him.

An uncomfortable silence filled the room. He put the cup on the small table and faced her. “Look, I know you saw Alex’s picture—“

She looked up at him with wide eyes.

“—and you’re upset because of it.”

Maya shook her head violently. “Hindi ako upset, Ser Chief! Hindi ah! Hindi…”

“Really? Then… Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not.”

When Maya made no move, Richard held her chin gently. “Maya?”

She leaned back and turned her head away.

“See? You’re upset.”

“Hindi nga… Naiinis ako kasi pinipilit mo eh hindi naman talaga,” she reasoned grudgingly.

He sighed. “I don’t want to fight over this. And I think I don’t need to explain why I still have her picture. I trust that you understand…”

Her annoyance at herself was suddenly directed at him. “Ano bang tingin mo? Na upset ako dahil may picture ang asawa mo sa wallet mo? Yun lang ba yun?”

She knew that finding his late wife’s picture bothered her firstly but it was more than that. She didn’t even want to dwell on it but she just couldn’t help herself.

“Then what else?” he asked, a hint of irritation in his tone. He did nothing wrong to be put off this way.

“Naiintindihan ko Ser Chief… Pero mukhang ikaw ang hindi makakaintindi sa ‘kin.”

“Maya. I asked you if you’re upset. You said no. Then I told you the reason why I thought you’re upset and all of a sudden, you proved me that you are indeed upset. And now this? You’re telling me di kita naiintindihan when you’re not even telling me what’s wrong with me still having Alex’s picture?”

“Ser Chief, di ka ba nakikinig? Sinabi ko ba na it’s wrong?” She adopted a lower tone, not wanting their conversation to erupt into a full blown fight.

“E ano nga?” He asked exasperatedly, his tone also lowering a bit.

“Alam mo Ser Chief, umuwi ka na. Pareho lang naman tayong pagod eh… Tsaka, ayokong mag-away tayo.”

Richard stood up and gathered his things in his pocket. He draped his coat over his arm before turning to her, “We really have no reason to fight, Maya. You don’t have to appear all upset because of Alex’s picture. You looked like you found out I was womanizing.”

“Akala ko ba, tigil na? Bakit tuloy-tuloy ka pa rin?” She stood up, facing him.

“Eh ikaw eh…” he murmured, looking away from her.

“Ako? Bakit parang ang defensive mo?”

He glared at her. “What? Me? Defensive? What about you? Checking on my wallet? Wala ka bang tiwala sa ‘kin? Baka pati phone ko gusto mo ring i-check?” he asked her, sarcasm biting his tone.

“Pinapalabas mo bang nagdududa ako sa ‘yo?”

“Anong gusto mong isipin ko? I also have my privacy, Maya. Why do you have to look inside my wallet?”

They were now face to face, staring down at each other.

“Ay. Sorry ha kung na-invade ko yung privacy mo at di ko sinasadyang makita yung picture ni Ma’am Alex sa wallet mo.”

“Now, we’re back on Alex. I wouldn’t want her, ever, to be a reason we fight, Maya. Leave her out of this.”

She was struck speechless. She felt like she was slapped by Richard. Hard. He glowered at her fiercely, his eyes cold like they were never filled with his love for her.

Had he ever truly loved her? Just as he loved Alex?

She took in a breath, her shoulders rising as she suppressed the sobs threatening to escape.

The quivering of Maya’s chin, the trembling of her cheeks, and the rolling of tears were all like cold water splashed on Richard’s face. He was taken aback by his own words, remorse suddenly taking him over.

“Maya, I’m sorry. I mean…”

“Sobra ka naman, Ser Chief. Kung magsalita ka, parang nilapastangan ko yung memory ni Ma’am Alex. Wala na ba kong karapatang magselos kahit konti sa kanya? Kahit konti lang! Kasi hanggang ngayon mas mahal mo sya?  Na ni isang picture ko wala ka man lang sa wallet mo? Sorry kung ang babaw ko. Sorry kung nadamay si Ma’am Alex dito. Hindi ko naman sinasadya…”

“Maya, listen—“ He took hold of her shoulders but she broke away.

“Hindi ko sinasadyang idamay si Ma’am Alex… Hindi Ser Chief… Kahit kailan hindi ko sya aawayin kasi sya naman talaga di ba? Nagkataon lang na wala na sya kaya…” she sobbed before continuing, “… kaya nagkaroon ako ng chance. Tsaka alam ko mabuti syang tao. Kaya hindi kita masisisi kung hindi mo sya makalimutan at hindi ko naman inaasahan na gagawin mo yun. Pasensya ka na kung naging issue ‘to. Hindi ko sinasadya… Sorry…”

“Stop crying, Maya… Maya…” He reached out to embrace her but Emman suddenly burst through the door, calling out his roommate.

“Roomie! I’m home!” Emman stopped dead in his tracks as the couple stepped away from each other, Maya brushing off the wetness in her face.

“Emman, uwi na ko,” Richard bid before looking at Maya who refused to meet his gaze.

“Sige po Sir Richard… Ingat po kayo…” He could only watch Richard as he walked out of the unit dejectedly.

As he turned back his attention to his roommate, “déjà vu” was screaming in his head as he was reminded of her tear-stained face during the Summit they both attended last year.

“Maya…”

“Sige Emman, punta na ko sa kwarto ko.”

“Okay…”

He followed her with his eyes and as Maya closed the door, he slapped both of his cheeks and said, “Oh my pink walls, Emman! Wrong timing na naman ang grand entrance mo…”

~~~~

The next day, she turned on her phone when she got home after work. His text messages came one after another.

“I’m sorry…”

“Maya, what time is your flight?”

“Maya, tell me when you board. Susunduin kita.”

“Maya, I can’t contact you. Siguro may flight ka na…”

“Maya, andito na ko sa waiting area.”

“I still have a meeting to catch. See you later…”

“I’m sorry, Maya. Please talk to me.”

Her phone rang. She set it aside on the bedside table and went out of the room. After ten minutes, she could still hear it ringing.

Another ring from the telephone startled her. “Ano ba yun? Andito na kaya sya? Naku… Ayoko pa syang kausapin… Pa’no ba ‘to?”

She paced back and forth and decided that she would just tell the receptionist to tell him she didn’t want to talk to him. That would serve him right.

“Hello?”

“Hello Ma’am Maya? May mga bisita po kayo. Mga anak po sila ni Mr. Lim.”

“Ha? Sino sa kanila?”

“Ma’am, sina Luke Lim, Nikki Lim, at Abby Lim daw po.”

“Ha? Ba-bakit daw?”

The receptionist had no answer to that. “Papaakyatin ko na po sila, Ma’am?”

“O… O sige. Paakyatin mo na. Thank you…”

~~~~

The ringing of her phone stopped. She entered the room fast and put her phone in silent mode. He had another text message for her: Let’s talk about this, Maya. I’ll drop by later. By the way, nagpaalam ang mga bata if they can visit you. They’ll be there in a short while.

Then another text: How many times do I have to say sorry, Maya? I love you.

A rap on the door was heard and she put on a happy smile.

~~~~

The three girls were sitting on the couch, Maya in between Nikki and Abby. Luke was sitting Indian style on the floor, watching his sisters and his would-be stepmom, a look of incomprehension in his face. Meanwhile, the three girls were glued to the movie they were watching, Nikki and Maya’s eyes tearing up.

Lara, Bea Alonzo’s character, tearfully held Chris’ face in the person of Sam Milby in their movie as she delivered the lines that Maya thought Richard could also tell her.

“Gusto kitang bigyan ng puwang sa puso ko na sayong-sayo lang, pero ayokong maging tayo dahil… Dahil lang nabibigay mo yung kaligayahan na kailangan ko ngayon. Gusto ko pag naging tayo, dahil lang mahal talaga kita, at yun lang ang tanging dahilan kung bakit kailangan kita sa buhay ko. Ayokong isipin mo na hindi kita kayang mahalin, dahil akala ko hindi ko na kayang magmahal uli.  Mas mahirap pala magpigil na magmahal, lalo na kung ikaw yung mamahalin. Pero gusto kitang mahalin kung pa’no ko minahal si Oliver. Gusto kong mahalin ka nang buong-buo, but my heart is broken right now. And I need to fix it. I need time to do that.”

Maya sniffed louder than Nikki and excused herself.

The kids continued on watching, unmindful that Maya did not return. When the credits rolled down the TV screen, Abby called for Maya.

“Ate Maya?”

“Hi baby. Hinanda ko pa kasi yung kakainin natin. Hanggang what time pala ang paalam nyo?” Maya carried a tray of ref cake and suman and put it on the table.

“Thanks Ate Maya. Dad said Kuya Joma would fetch us. Hindi ba pupunta si dad dito?” Nikki asked, taking a bite of suman.

Luke answered on her behalf. “Tinext ko na si Dad na andito na tayo. Sabi nya pupunta rin daw sya dito after work. Dito na daw tayo magdidinner together.”

Maya sighed quietly.

Nikki nodded. “So, he would be the one to bring us home na and not Kuya Joma.”

“Maybe dad would stay here after we go. Baka gusto po nya solohin ka ate Maya,” little Abby quirked, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Bumanat na naman si baby,” Luke said.

“Oh my gee, baby, ikaw ah… Where do you learn those things ba?” Nikki questioned.

“Hay naku, Niks… Nagtanong ka pa. Edi sa ‘yo. Kanino pa ba?”

Nikki appeared offended.

“Excuse me, kuya. Why do you always have to be so G-R-R-R?”

Abby tilted her head to the side and observed the dismal look on her Ate Maya’s face. “Ate Maya? Do you have a problem?”

Nikki and Luke stopped their banter and looked questioningly at Maya.

“Ha? Ah hindi, wala. Wala baby. Wala Nikki at Luke. Ano lang… Pagod lang sa trabaho. Kayo? Kamusta yung pag-aaral nyo? Hindi nyo naman ako kailangang dalawin dito kasi ako naman yung dumadalaw sa inyo di ba?”

“Yun na nga ate Maya. Ikaw na lang lagi yung dumadalaw sa ‘min pero hindi ka pa namin dinadalaw. Kamusta ate Maya? Kamusta kayo ni dad?” Luke asked with a playful raise of his eyebrows.

“Oh my gee, kuya! You’re one who’s always telling me to respect dad and ate Maya’s privacy tapos you’re the one who’s asking her now?”

Luke just rolled his eyes at Nikki.

“But…” Nikki turned to look at Maya. “So… ate Maya? Do you ever celebrate monthsary? Does dad ever give you gifts? Or what kinds of gifts do you give him?” she asked excitedly.

“Niks!” Luke reproached with an amused expression.

“Di ba po ate Maya, malapit na ulit kayong magcelebrate ng monthsary? Ano po yung ibibigay nyong gift kay daddy? Do you need help?” Abby asked sweetly.

“Ha? Baby…”

“Wait ate Maya. Abby knows kung kailan yung monthsary nyo ni dad? That’s so unfair!” Nikki said, her voice taking an octave higher.

“Oo nga ate Maya… Si Abby lang ang may alam tapos kami ni Niks…”

Maya laughed halfheartedly. “E kasi Nikki at Luke…”

“Why don’t you give him a wallet, ate Maya? Kasi parang luma na yung wallet ni dad… I think it was mom’s gift to him pa eh. What do you think, guys?” Nikki asked her siblings.

“Pwede rin ate Maya. Or… Maganda rin bigyan mo sya ng picture nyo, yung kayong dalwa tapos nakaframe. Yung pwede nyang i-display sa office nya sa bahay o kahit sa Lim Aviation,” Luke suggested.

“Oh my gee, kuya! That is so sweet! You are so bright rin pala kuya when it comes to gifts. But I still think wallet is better,” Nikki piped, a teasing look on her face.

Maya could only bow her head as she was reminded by their latest fight over a “wallet” and a “picture”.

“Hay naku, Niks! Si Abby na lang ang tanungin natin,” Luke decided, looking at his youngest sibling. “What do you think, baby? Anong mas magandang iregalo ni ate Maya kay dad for their monthsary? Wallet or picture of them together?”

Abby appeared to be thinking. “What if… Both na lang po? Yung wallet, sa loob, may picture nila together!”

Nikki squealed. “That is soooooo clever, baby! Oh my gee!”

“Yun! Ang galing ng baby namin!” Luke also praised while Abby bobbed her head proudly at them.

“So… Does our suggestion help, ate Maya? If you want, I can accompany you in shopping for the wallet. I know of some men’s stores that have cool leather ones. Kailan ka pwede, ate Maya?” Nikki asked, sheer excitement written in her face.

“Uh… Nikki… Kasi…”

“Teka lang, Niks. Ang daya naman ata nun… Kayong dalwa lang? Pa’no naman kami ni Abby?”

“Oo nga po ate Nikki,” Abby agreed.

Nikki sighed. “Edi, fine. You can come with us. So ate Maya, when are you free?”

The kids saw Maya’s uncertain expression and figured she did not like their idea.

“You don’t want it, ate Maya?” Nikki asked, quite disappointed.

Maya shook her head. “Hindi naman sa ganun. Kaso di ba sabi mo… Yung wallet ni daddy nyo, galing pa yun sa mommy nyo. Ibig sabihin malaki yung sentimental value nun kaya siguro hindi mapalitan ng daddy nyo. Tsaka… Okay lang ba yun sa inyo? Yung wallet na bigay ng mommy nyo sa daddy nyo, papalitan ko lang?”

The kids looked at each other and then at Maya.

“Ate Maya…” they said in unison.

Abby intertwined her arm with Maya’s and Nikki put her head on Maya’s shoulder.

“If you’re asking for our permission na palitan yung wallet na bigay ni mom kay dad, then, we all say it’s okay. Dad has moved on and so are we. It doesn’t mean naman that dad would throw mom’s wallet na, right? He can keep it and use the one that you would give him,” Nikki assured her.

“Gusto mo ate Maya, kay mommy pa tayo magpaalam eh. Papayag yun, for sure,” Luke ribbed, trying to steer the conversation to a happier note.

“It’s really okay, ate Maya. Dad would be happy sa kahit po anong ibibigay nyo sa kanya,” Abby looked up to her, poking her cheek with her small finger.

“Kayo naman… Pinapaiyak nyo ko eh…” Maya laughed despite the tears.

“Hala kayo, Niks at baby. Isusumbong ko kayo kay dad, pinapaiyak nyo si ate Maya…” Luke warned, waving his forefinger at them.

“Kasama ka po kaya, Kuya Luke. Isusumbong ka rin namin kay daddy,” Abby mimicked the threatening tone of her older brother.

“Ah ganun ah… Eh isusumbong nyo pa kaya ako kung gawin ko ‘to…” Luke crouched over and poked Abby in her side, his other hand poking Nikki’s armpit.

“Oh my gee, kuya! Stop it!” Nikki stood up and started to run around the house with Abby in tow.

Maya watched the three curled up in the couch, playfully tickling one another.

The telephone rang.

“Hello Ma’am Maya. Andito na po si Mr. Lim.”

“Sige po, paakyatin nyo na sya.”

In a matter of minutes, her future family would be complete.

~~~~

As Richard promised, they ate dinner together in Maya or rather Emman’s abode, the latter still out for his group study at a friend’s house.

After dinner, Richard called Joma and told him to get ready for the kids were already on their way down to the parking lot.

Maya nudged him and whispered, “Hindi ka pa ba sasabay pauwi?”

Richard whispered back, “Didn’t I tell you that we will talk?”

“Daddy, I will not wait for you. I’ll sleep early kasi may school pa po tomorrow,” Abby said, her expression telling them she was rather delighted that dad would not be coming home yet.

“Sure, baby,” Richard replied with which Maya tried to disagree. “Baby, di ba sabi mo sa ‘kin gusto mo ulit kwentuhan ka ng story ng daddy mo bago ka matulog? Kaya di ba dapat sumabay na rin si daddy mo sa inyo pag-uwi.”

“Okay lang po ate Maya… Next time na lang po. Gusto ko rin po pakinggan muna yung story ni ate Doris tungkol po sa prinsesang may bangs eh.”

“Ah… Eh kayo, Nikki at Luke? Okay lang ba sa inyo na hindi nyo pa kasabay ang daddy nyo pag-uwi?”

“Oh please ate Maya. Dad is all grown up na. At least we now know where he is when he comes home late. Right, kuya?”

“Tama si Niks, ate Maya. We trust you with dad.”

A suggestive lift on his brows made Maya close her eyes with Luke’s next statement. “Be a good boy, dad ha.”

Richard’s face turned serious. “Luke.”

“Peace, dad,” he said as he made a peace sign. “Tara na Nikki. Baby, tara. Bye dad. Bye Ate Maya.”

After goodbyes were uttered and goodbye kisses were done, the three kids happily left their dad and ate Maya alone.

~~~~

Reaching his back pocket, Richard retrieved a black leather wallet different from the one he had the night before.

“Uh… I bought a new one.”

Maya frowned deeply. “Ha? Hindi mo naman kailangan gawin yan eh,” she voiced out her displeasure, raising her voice.

“Ssshhh. Maya. Makinig ka naman muna,” Richard begged using his soft voice, mollifying the aggravated Maya.

“Kaya ka ba nagstay para lang ipakita sa ‘kin na may bago ka ng wallet? Bilisan mo Ser Chief at baka dumating na rin si Emman,” she said, crossing her arms against her chest.

“I… I need to bring you somewhere,” Richard informed her calmly.

“Gabi na kaya.”

“Di ba, gabi pa naman ang flight mo bukas?”

“Kahit na, kailangan ko ng matulog kasi nga bukas di na ko makakatulog sa gabi.”

Richard let out a breath. “How many times do I have to say sorry, Maya?”

Maya looked at him indifferently as she responded, “Apology accepted. Okay na Ser Chief. So? Pwede mo na ba ko pagpahingahin?”

“You can rest dun sa pupuntahan natin,” he urged, his expression starting to turn hopeful.

“Ser Chief naman… Ang kulit! Ano bang meron dun sa pupuntahan natin?”

Richard smirked. “You have to see for yourself.”

~~~~

“So, nakapili ka na?” Richard asked as he parked at the curb of the road by a small waiting shed that separated the concrete area of PUS from its grass-covered grounds.

Maya repeatedly looked through her numerous wallet-sized pictures; some of them taken from her Facebook while most of them she had not seen before. Richard explained that lately, he became fond of taking her pictures without her knowledge. He loved her candid shots as they showed the real her.

She looked up at him, eyes glistening with unshed tears.

“Ser Chief… Parang lahat maganda. Ang hirap mamili,” she said lightheartedly, a lone tear falling down her face that he quickly wiped with his handkerchief.

“You are photogenic, Maya. But of course, you are more beautiful in person.”

“Hindi mo naman kailangan gawin ‘to Ser Chief para makabawi eh.”

He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned to face her. “Maya, sweetheart?” He brought up her hand to his lips. “I was wrong. I hurt you with my words. Di ko dapat sinabi yun. Gusto kong alisin yun sa memory mo…

He shook his head slightly before he continued.

“I just want to… I… I had been true with what I said. Ayokong maging dahilan si Alex ng away natin, Maya. Because I would be unfair to you both. It just came out harshly. I’m really sorry.”

“Okay na Ser Chief… Naiintindihan kita. Ako man, ayokong madamay si Ma’am Alex pag—“

“Just Alex,” he corrected.

“Si Alex… pag mag-away tayo. At lalo ng ayokong mag-aaway tayo. Kaso… mukhang di maiiwasan yun no?”

“That’s part of any relationship, Maya. What’s important is you learn to value the person you love more than your mistakes… More than your pride. You will learn with that special someone. We… We will learn together, Maya.”

She smiled at him and gave him the picture she would like to be stored in his wallet.

“This?” Richard asked. “E wallpaper ko na ‘to sa phone ko eh.”

“Ha? Talaga?”

“Yes, look.” He showed her her stolen picture during Luke and Nikki’s prom.

“Ser Chief! Pa’no kung makita yan ng mga bata o ng mga tao sa opisina?”

“So? Sanay na ko sa pagbibiro sa ‘kin ng mga bata. At sa mga tao sa office, I’m sure they would all envy me for having this very beautiful girl as my wallpaper. You know what? Kung nakita mo ang phone ko kagabi, we would not argue kasi makikita mo ‘tong picture mo eh.”

“Ikaw talaga, Ser Chief…” At that moment, she could not help but remember Emman’s advice: O preno sa pagngiti. Baka mapunit ang labi.

She could feel her mouth tearing up at the happiness Richard’s assurance was giving her.

~~~~

“Ano ‘to, Ser Chief? Dating sa PUS, part 2?” Maya asked as she followed Richard to the far end of the grounds.

“Here we are,” Richard announced, setting up a tent on the spot where he stopped.

Maya threw him a quizzical bordering suspicious look.

“Dinala mo ko dito para… Matulog?”

“This is the exact spot where Alex and I slept together. As in… sleep. Sleeping only,” he clarified, his eyes roaming around the dark surroundings.

“Aaaahhhhh… Dito? As in dito sa open field?”

“Well… Nakwento ko sa ‘yo when I first brought you here that there was a building here? Dito yun. Sabi nga nila, may multo daw. Alex was so scared, she always hugged me when we sleep and I teased her na it was just her excuse para mayakap nya ko,” he related, a nostalgic smile on his face.

Maya smiled, too. “Ikaw talaga Ser Chief… Noon pa lang talaga, mahangin ka na,” she said, giggling.

He yawned and reached out for her hand. “So, shall we sleep, sweetheart?”

“Seryoso?”

“Uh-huh.”

Maya’s goofy grin reached both of her ears as she let Richard pulled her inside the tent. They both lay down on their backs, both absorbed in their own thoughts.

“Matutulog talaga tayo, Ser Chief?” Maya asked after a moment of comfortable silence, turning her head to the right to look at him.

Richard turned his head to the left and smirked. “Ano pa bang gagawin natin aside from sleeping?”

“Ha? Ah… Mag… Aano… Ano…” She stammered.

“Mag-aano, Maya?” The teasing edge in his voice put a furious red tint on her cheeks.

“Magkukwentuhan! Ser Chief naman eh!”

“What?”

“Sabi ni Luke, maging good boy ka daw,” Maya reminded him.

Richard laughed. “What do you think I’m doing? I’m not even touching you. Maya, I’ve been a good boy ever since. You know that.”

She rolled to her side and put both of her hands beneath her face. “Oo alam ko. Ang swerte ko nga kasi good boy ang boyfriend ko.”

“I think every good boy deserves a reward,” he said, raising his eyebrows.

“Patingin muna ng bago mong wallet, Ser Chief…”

“Okay. Here,” he obliged, handing her his new wallet. “Wait. I’ll write something on your picture first.”

“Hindi na Ser Chief. Hindi na kailangan.” Maya sat up and kept his wallet behind her, determined not to give it back to him.

“But Maya…”
“Ser Chief… Itong mga ginagawa mo… Alam ko ginawa nyo na ‘to ni Alex dati. Siguro gusto mong ipakita sa’kin na you’ve really moved on… Na kaya mo ng i-share sa ‘kin at ulitin sa ‘kin yung mga happy memories nyong dalawa. Pero Ser Chief… Wala ka namang dapat patunayan sa ‘kin eh. Ang swerte-swerte ko lang na wagas kang magmahal. Kung swerte si Alex, aba, swerte rin ako kasi mahal mo rin ako… Maeexperince ko din yung wagas na pag-ibig. Hindi man kaparehong-kapareho nung pagmamahal mo kay Alex… Basta ang mahalaga, mahal mo rin ako. Hindi na kailangang sukatin, hindi kailangang ipag-kumpara. Kasi parehong maganda… Parehong wagas.

“Ser Chief… Sorry ha… Na… Insecure lang ako ng konting-konti kagabi. Pero di na mauulit yun. Promise,” she vowed, raising her right hand to reaffirm her words.

“Maya. I will forever love, Alex… But that doesn’t mean that I will love you any less, okay? Ikaw na lang ang kaya kong mahalin pagkatapos ni Alex. This will be the last time,” Richard declared, stroking her cheek with his thumb.

“Last na ‘to?” Maya reiterated, catching the hand that was caressing her cheek with hers.

“I promise,” he said, his voice rich with his sincere feelings.

“Pati yung wallet mo, last na rin?”

Richard chuckled. “I think so. Baka yung picture mo lang yung palitan ko. Ang dami kasi eh, pagpapali-palitin ko na lang. Okay lang ba yun?”

Maya nodded as she knelt and reached out to hug him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Tara, Ser Chief, tulog na tayo.”

Richard hugged her back and whispered on her ear, “Alright. How about my reward for being a good boy?”

“Ito,” Maya said before planting a quick kiss on his lips.

~~~~

 “Pa’no ba yan, Niks? Mukhang ako pa rin ang nanalo,” Luke told his younger sister as they stared at the newly added picture in his dad’s home office.

“Whatever, kuya! Parang daddy has a new wallet so baka yun talaga ang monthsary gift ni ate Maya sa kanya,” Nikki retorted, her nose turning up.

“Ate Nikki? Kuya Luke?” Abby entered the home office, looking for her elder siblings.

“Hi baby. Look at the new picture oh,” Nikki said, pointing to the said frame of their daddy and ate Maya together.

“Wow. Picture perfect,” Abby commented, breaking out into a smile, one that was identical with the smiles of her Kuya Luke and Ate Nikki.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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