Wish I May
2015 – Bataan, Philippines (Present time)
Kreek… Kreek… I heard the sound of floorboards as I went up the loft. I x-rayed carefully every step of the stairs. This wooden stairs may be old, but still each step could withstand another ten to twenty years. I sighed as I put my hands inside the pockets of my worn-out jeans. My barn. My silent sanctuary. It was still the same, I might have traveled all over the world, but this place of mine… it always provided me the comfort and peace I needed, beyond the busy and noisy city surroundings. Here in Bataan, inside my old loft, I could always be myself… just me, Richard Faulkerson, Jr.
Along with my high school books, basketball, and other timeless memorabilia, there was one thing that stood out among the rest. I opened my old treasure chest and there it was as I remembered under the pile of my old high school newspaper articles. I touched its circular form; the varnish was faded out but the string was still attached on the center of two rounded wooden chips. I put the end of the string on my middle finger, let it fall and pulled it back even before it touched the floor. I smiled, yes it was still working. Staring at it, I compared its movement with my life. Letting go… Moving on… Holding on… Getting back.
Did you believe that if you let go of someone you love, they would come back when the right time comes? How about first love never dies? Another old saying. I could say yes to both of those questions. Though some of you would probably contradict what I believed in, that was the story of my life.
Yo-yo. The word kept repeating on my mind. Technology might have changed the things children play with, but yo-yo would never be erased of childhood. It was the one of the enjoyable past times for children whose parents couldn't afford expensive toy cars, robots or even play stations.
Either way, I believed on both sayings as true. I had lost and found. But I learned throughout the years that what we don't always have… is the right time. I stood beside the loft's window watching the afternoon sun and the birds flying in the clear sky. It was another perfect day, here in Bataan.
1990 – Bataan, Philippines
I was in a hurry. I heard the bell ringing. It was the first day of school and now I was in fifth grade. The best reason above it all was the possibility that Louise Delos Reyes would be my seatmate for the fifth time since first grade. How I wish this teacher would arrange us alphabetically, the same way the others did before – that way Delos Reyes would be followed by Faulkerson and we would sit side by side.
I stood in front of our classroom's door. It was my turn to enter, but then, out of the blue there was this girl who bumped into me. She never bothered to stop and say sorry, what kind of manners were those? I snorted. She just walked towards the teacher and asked her where she would sit. Who cares where she would be seated, it wasn't my problem anyway.
I looked around the room and saw Louise. I waved at her and she waved back at me. You know, since I was six, I had the biggest crush on her. I could say I was in love with her, whatever the definition of love would be for a ten-year old kid. She was so pretty in pink. That was all I knew. That was all I cared about.
My mind and heart got a sudden blow when I found out that Louise's seatmate was Enzo Pineda instead of me. I scratched my head. This was totally wrong. What was happening? How could that be? Unless… Then reality bit me as hard as it was, my new seatmate was that one particular weird girl who bumped into me earlier and, by the way, didn't know how to say sorry. Hopefully our teacher would shuffle up us when she followed the attendance list.
With slumped shoulders, I sat down by her left side. I didn't know how to approach her; I didn't know how to approach any girl besides Louise. So I decided to play it cool and say, 'Hi, I'm Richard Faulkerson, Jr.', but she neither answered nor paid me attention. 'What a snob', I thought. I looked away and longed on Louise, my 'not-seatmate' this year.
A few minutes later, the teacher called her to go up front and she was introduced as our new classmate from Bulacan, Nicomaine Dei Mendoza or Maine for short. Nicomaine Dei Mendoza, not that I didn't like her name, but I was not used to meet stuck-up girls who happened to have braces and whose smiles never reached her eyes. 'Not in Bataan anyways', I justified.
It was just my luck. The teacher didn’t arrange us alphabetically. I didn’t know, if it was about the height where the petite ones were in front and the tall ones were at the back. Louise was couple of desks away from me. She was at the front while me and Maine was at the middle of row one. I snorted. I could spell Maine’s last name all right, M for mute, E for egocentric, N for neglected, D for deaf, O for odd, Z for zombie and A for antisocial. Just who did she think she was? I knew it was irrational behavior, but she could move back to Bulacan for all I cared.
If you asked me, she wasn't a girl like Louise in every sense of the word. Louise had the cutest and sweetest smile I had ever seen, not a metal one like hers. Louise's eyes could dig a hole into your heart, not look intently at the ground like hers did. In a way, I concluded they were total opposites and I didn't even cross a look with her yet –not that I wanted to.
The whole day passed and this girl, Maine, never said a word to me. Maybe she was adjusting to her new environment. Maybe Tomas Del Rosario College was too different from her old school. How many things could bother and alienate a kid? I certainly didn't know that. I had my own problems to focus on… having the girl of my dreams ripped of my side for a whole school year. Talk about hassle?
It was kind of weird; I felt that she wanted to be alone, although for the fifth time that day, I caught Maine looking back at me. This time, she glanced at me while she rode her bicycle. Apparently, she preferred to ride a bike instead of taking the van as our school service. Well, I didn't know if she was just too shy to get along with other kids. Or maybe her home was just so near to Tdel. Who cares anyway where did she live? She wasn't my friend –'But she is your classmate, technically your seatmate. Show her some hospitality the Bataeño way'– That was what the other part of my brain told me, I just shrugged. When she discovered me looking at her as she ogled me, she simply shifted her attention. Something about that intrigued me, but what was I supposed to do? Ask her? No way.
Maine wasn't that attractive to me, maybe it was because she wore T-shirts and jeans instead of blouses and skirts like the other girls did, girls like Louise. She didn't carry a ribbon on her hair. She wore a baseball cap and her hair was tied up into a pony with a plain rubber band. I also wondered if her Mom knew how to iron clothes, they looked as taken off directly from the laundry basket. I was not being picky, if you must know. I was just pointing the facts as I saw them.
On the second day, I wasn't as thrilled as the day before to get to school. I knew for sure Louise would sit next to Enzo, not me, and, well, I would have to sit next to Maine. But I managed to get through the day focusing only on my classes. When art class was up, thankfully, Maine decided to move to the back and concentrate on her creation. Of course, Louise took all my attention right after I entered the classroom. She asked me to help her color her butterflies and I did gladly. It felt so good to be close to someone you have always dreamed of.
I was so excited assisting Louise with her drawing that I almost forgot to finish my own project. When the teacher reached up to my desk, she glared at me and ordered me to return to my seat and work my assignment. Needless to say, my face burned in crimson red as the girls, including Louise, giggled on my behalf. Louise looked at me, with the sweetest little smile and the warmest eyes, it was all forgiven. So, I sat down and finish my drawing.
The class was about to finish when I felt a bump on my elbow. It made me loose the line of coloring, which kind of made me mad as well. When I looked up, the clumsy new girl in school, walked towards the teacher to turn up her work. She glanced at me once again, but she didn't say sorry… again. I squinted annoyingly and looked down my paper. My perfect blue sky had now a swirling red line across it.
She returned to her seat, holding the piece of paper on her hands and in a slightly awkward manner pressing it to her chest. 'As if I ever wanted to know her grade', I thought. She didn't wear baseball cap that day, but a funny looking snow hat that covered all of her head. Talk about appropriate clothing for Philippine weather, hot and humid, but thanks to air conditioning units. There I was diverting my thoughts again but to what? Her clothing? Her appearance? She was driving me crazy and she didn't even know about it!
After the third day of school, everybody hurried to go home. It was raining very hard; maybe karma just smacked me on the face. I walked quickly wearing my yellow raincoat and rubber boots. My friends Jose, Paolo, Allan and Wally ran along with me, jumping over the rain puddles and avoiding getting mud on our clothes. I hadn't seen Maine for most of the day. Somehow she managed to be called to the principal's office already. That could tell you something about her character.
"Hey Richard, you know what?" Jose said as we passed down the corridor.
Paolo, who had just flipped his brand new umbrella, interrupted and spoke immediately, "The weird girl of our class has a crush on you."
"Who?" I asked genuinely unaware of their line of questioning. Though to be honest, a little part of me hoped they would say Louise –or maybe a not so little part of me after all. But wait; didn't Paolo just mention the word 'weird'? It wasn't a good idea – not a very good one. How could they possibly refer at Louise as weird?
"You don't know that?" Wally interjected and Allan continued, "Oh yes, we do."
They laughed altogether, all except for me. Clearly they were not referring to Louise or otherwise they would have pointed my attraction to her. I smelled something devious about their remarks so I let them speak not without letting them know my lack of amusement to their comments.
"The girl with braces," Wally said between snorts.
"Put glasses on her and she would be nerdy on top of being weird." Jose added without pity to what Allan nodded convincingly.
"Maine!" I replied, not sure if I was asking a question or stating the answer they wanted to hear. "I don't think so." I shook my head and glared at my friends. 'The nerve of some people', I thought. And these were my friends? Great!
My so-called friends' laughs stopped abruptly and I was taken aback when they ran before me saying, "Good luck! She's right behind you." I got paralyzed, but didn't really know why. Was this part of their little prank? Were they just turning my wheels?
I shook my head again, this time to myself, and realized that what they said was in fact the truth. Maine walked, soaking wet, just behind me. So I stopped and waited for her. After all, I thought that was the best thing to do at that moment. What would you have me do? Ran across the muddy trail? Besides, something urged me to remain still.
Her clothes were wet and dirty. Her bag was literally dripping, as well as the books on her hand. She looked disoriented, sad even. I looked around and saw no one on the parking lot. There was no car waiting on the driveway, not even a bicycle on the rack.
"Where's your bike?" I asked nonchalantly trying to ignore the fact that she looked pale and cold. She never spoke to me before, but in the gist of the situation, I thought she might break her silence code -whatever that meant for her or for me.
She didn't answer, just as I expected so I proceed. "Here, at least wear my coat. You will get sick if you walk down the rain like that." Truthfully, I didn't believe the coat would do much of a difference at the moment, but my parents taught me good manners, you know? As evidently her parents did not teach her. I sighed, this sounded cruel, but again it was nothing but what I could see from her.
I took off my raincoat, shook it a little so it wouldn't be so wet and placed it over her shoulders. She was trembling and never looked up to me while I put the coat on her. I wondered why the floor was so interesting to her. She spent more of her time staring at the cemented floor, so I figured there must be something exceptional about it. I sighed; there was that unkind side of me again.
Again, she didn't say a word, not even thank you, not even a grateful nod. But she did look at me and her eyes told me a story. I wasn't sure if she was crying or just plain cold from the windy rain because her eyes were a little bit red. Even after my inner anger burst, I felt guilty. Who was I to tell who a person was or was not judging by their exterior? I, of all people, should have known better than that.
I heard my Dad calling as he approached in his red truck to us. "Come on RJ, Mom's waiting at home." My Dad’s nickname for me was RJ, obviously, it was Richard, Jr. Since he was the senior. I usually took the school service back home, but Dad had told me that if the rain persisted during the day, he would pick me up. I didn't mind taking the school service, but I loved when he came down to pick me up from school. Our rides home were always accompanied by the most interesting stories about Bataan and the occasional stop at the candy store.
For a moment, I forgot all about the rain, the coat, and Maine. When reality downed on me, I looked around and called her, but she had run away as fast as she could. I sighed again, this time out of frustration. Most of the kids would run and play under the rain, even if they are not wearing proper clothing, but she didn't look like she was enjoying the downpour. She was in a hurry, almost as if she was scared or something.
Within a few seconds, I climbed inside the truck. It was warm and smelled of my father's cologne. There was that comfort feeling unlike any other. I was wet too, but I didn't mind, I didn't get sick that often. My father looked at me, somewhat disappointed for not wearing my raincoat, but he didn't say anything on the matter.
"Who's that girl RJ?" He said instead, "She seems so shy." My Dad, the one and only Richard Faulkerson, Sr., asked me after I settled myself on the passenger seat. I don't want to say something to my father about Maine because I didn't know much about her. Instead, I rolled my eyes on him, but he stared down at me and I couldn't refuse any longer.
"She's my classmate." I informed simply as I looked out the misty window glass. "She just transferred from Bulacan."
My father nodded and started the engine. I thought that would be the end of the conversation, but as soon as he moved the truck, he smirked. "That was your coat, wasn't it?"
I rolled my eyes again, not in disrespect of my father, but in pure annoyance with the whole ordeal. My friends had made fun of me. I had helped a girl in need. And what did I get in return? Nothing, absolutely nothing not even a thank you or even a smile. As we drove home, crossing the drenched ricefields, I straightened out my thoughts. Maybe I was mad because I wanted to offer a ride and I didn't have the chance to ask. Could that be it?
Next day, the sun shined and kids played around as it had never rained the day before. A few tiny mud puddles remained, but the yard was mostly dry and, to be honest, unexciting as always. Though I had always loved the sun, and I really couldn't explain why, rainy days were so interesting to me. Maybe because they were so scarce in Bataan during El Niño and I loved how everything changed with just a few drops of water.
My friends kept on telling me about Maine having a crush on me. They insisted on bugging me and annoying me with the subject, which in fact made me mad. But I never said anything against it out loud, in part because it would only fuel their eagerness to irritate me. I loved my friends, but sometimes they were just too immature for my liking. Yes, we were all kids, but, as my Mom always said, 'You are a young person with an old soul'. Maybe that is why I struggled to fit in, to find someone who could understand me. I walked away to find some peace.
I sat alone on a bench watching Louise with her friends. They talked and played in the middle of the playground. Louise sat on the swing and smiled at me. She was the only one that understood me, at least in my dreams.
Then there she was again, Maine. Surprisingly, she sat beside me on the bench and gave me one of her sandwiches, a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich to be exact. I accepted it mostly for humanitarian reasons. The sandwich looked like it wasn't edible, but I guessed that she was trying to say thank you for the raincoat. At least she was being civil, wasn't she?
My raincoat, my beloved raincoat which I lent to her… Talking about lending and giving, they did have different meaning – right? So Maine should have returned it to me, but she didn't. It was yellow and comfy and thought it wasn't new, it was my favorite raincoat. Still I didn't have the heart to ask her about it. She could give it back to me whenever she wanted, right? We still had the rest of the school year to get to the 'returning' part. Besides, it didn't rain very often in Bataan. I might not need it for a while.
In any case, Mom bought me another one, a new raincoat, at the beginning of this school year. So I dismissed my fixation on the old one and smiled nervously at her trying to decide if I should eat the thing or not. Then again, Maine left me… without saying anything. She ran across the playground, pass Louise and the other girls; pass my friends who stared at her jokingly. What I was thinking? Why would this time be different than the others? I looked around with the sandwich in my hand and a knot in my stomach.
The boys witnessed the sandwich exchange and I knew I was doomed. They shouted out loud that Maine and I were more than friends. Actually, they started singing at the top of their lungs: "Richard and Maine sitting in the tree K-i-s-s-i-n-g!" I felt like dying and, for the second time that week, my face turned crimson red… fact that only provoked Jose, Paolo, Wally and Allan to make fun of me even more.
I was too embarrassed. Louise watched me and Maine a moment ago and, of course, she heard what my friends had just said. She stopped smiling at me and turned to chat indistinctively with her friends. This wasn't that good. It wasn't good at all. I practically faded into the background for the rest of the day and went home still flushed to my dismay. Apparently, Maine did have a crush on me. 'Unbelievable', I thought, 'her of all people.'
Friday, finally the last day of school, the last day of the week had come. I would spend the weekend on the farm helping my Mom and Dad. On Saturday, I would finish all my chores and maybe on Sunday I would be able to find some time for myself, watch a movie, read a good book or simply play basketball with my Dad. The day couldn't go fast enough, especially after the dreadful week I had had.
Imagine my surprise when I heard that voice, it sounded familiar, so I looked back. I found myself disappointed to see it was Maine calling me. I had sworn it was Louise. I hadn't heard Maine say much during the week, at least not to me, but she sure talked to the teachers and the sporadic talk to herself. Yes, she was weird that way. Although not having many friends at school, or none for that matter, didn't give her much of a choice.
Instead of stopping, this time I walked a little faster and I could sense that she ran towards me trying to keep up. So I sped up thinking about what my friends had said before and how Louise reacted after hearing my friends' comments. I needed to do something so she wouldn't bother me again, in a way I had to get rid of her. I didn't want to give any more reason to my friends to continue teasing me.
After a rather tiring while, I stopped and turned around. "Maine, what do you want?" It came out a little harsh. I didn't intend it that way, though I could tell she was shocked based on her facial expression. In my defense, I was exhausted and a bit confused. Why all of the sudden she wanted to speak to me? Wasn't enough humiliation to be willingly ignored for the past few days? And not to mention, scorned in front of the whole school? And besides, where was my raincoat?
"Stop following me, okay? If my friends see us, they will mock me endlessly." I spoke unkindly and direct to the point. It was not like me to do that, but on the other hand, there was nobody that made me feel so flustered. Maybe because I didn't know anything about her, maybe because I didn't want to admit that I found her a little bit intriguing. I dismissed my last thought and continued. "And if you are to give me another sandwich, don't bother, PB and J is not my favorite." I started to move forward, but she held my arm with her cold right hand.
"I'm sorry if you're friends are making fun of you because of me." She said and I couldn't believe it, an apology? I stared down to her, more compelled than willingly and she continued nervously. "I- I just wanted to give you this." Maine opened the palm of my hand and placed something on it. Then she tiptoed and kissed me on my lips. It was so quick, like a flash and my mind didn't process the situation until she ran away and left me standing in the middle of the ricefield. How did we get this far? She was my first kiss and I couldn't believe that it was Maine. I opened my palm and saw the rounded thing. There was a yo-yo. Just like my raincoat, the yo-yo wasn't new. My best bet was that it was hers for quite a long time before she gave it up.
I felt so sorry for what I had done; it wasn't my nature to do such things and my parents would never be proud of it or me for doing so. I watched her disappeared from my sight while I held the yo-yo in my hand. I thought about throwing it away, but then I just put it inside my pocket and waited for the van. On the way home, the other kids played on the seats, threw paper balls and chatted about their planned weekend activities. I sat on the last row staring through the window. Why did Maine give me her yo-yo? Why did she kiss me?
Monday came and her seat was vacant. Maybe she was late or sick, I reasoned out. Then got my mind around it, why was I so worried about it? Even bothered? The kiss might have gotten into my system but hey, we were kids. Maybe, I was Maine's puppy love. Wasn't that what my parents said about my feelings for Louise? I sighed and looked around the room. Louise was there with her little sweet smile and bright eyes, but somehow my eyes kept going back to Maine’s empty seat. Was I out of my mind?
Before the first lesson started, the teacher announced that Maine’s wouldn't be attending Tomas Del Rosario College anymore. She said that Maine had been transferred to Batangas with her father and her little sister and soon to United States. 'Batangas? United States?' It felt odd. I felt odd, that much I knew. I should have been happy; no one would be giving me more PB and J sandwiches. I should have been relieved; no one would be staring at me for some unknown reason. My friends would stop joking about me and her. I should have been thankful; Louise would be my seatmate again. I should have been… but I wasn't.
Something inside of me stirred and I walked towards the teacher. "Ma'am… Can I talk to you about Maine?" I asked the old woman as she settled on her chair. My classmates had been gone for a group activity. I excused myself and took the chance to ask the teacher a little more about Maine. There was a risk of being heard by my friends, yes, but honestly I didn't care that much. After all, if she wasn't going to attend class anymore, I saw little point in not knowing why.
"Isn't it a bit sudden for Maine to be transferred to another school just after five days?" I started.
"Richard," the teacher reassured me. "This is not the first time for her. I bet she is used to this moving around," she continued with almost a scoffing tone. Then she softened her voice and finished. "Poor kid, living a life like that cannot be easy."
"What's his father's job?" I asked or better yet demanded to know. The teacher looked at me as if I was inquiring about confession, but she answered anyways.
"He's an engineer and her mother died about three years ago." She answered sympathetically. I couldn't say anything about her reply so I nodded.
Maybe that was the reason why Maine was so gloomy and preferred to be alone all the time. I couldn't imagine the pain of losing a parent. I couldn't bear the thought of losing any of mine. Suddenly I felt so guilty about what I did to her, what I said to her. Instead of befriending her, I sent her away. It was an awful feeling, something I never experienced before in my short life.
If that wasn't enough, imagine the pain of being the new kid in school every week. She had to be distant; she had to avoid having friends. If she didn't, she would find herself saying 'goodbye' more often than 'how do you do'. First impressions could be deceiving, huh? I didn't think twice about hurting others only to protect my own little world. I was just a kid, yes, but there was no excuse for being rude.
At the end of the day and with my backpack on, I walked alone, still hearing the voice of my teacher. "Maine is a good kid, she's very clever too." I stared at that thing she brought me as a gift, it wasn't that expensive but since that day it was my most treasured and priceless possession. I made a promise to myself that when I grew up, I would do anything to find her again. Somehow I wanted to apologize, to make it up to her, to be her friend. I also promise to never judge or mistreat people based on a first impression; maybe they could be, just as Maine was, a diamond in the rough.
By the end of the second grading period, I felt bored and exhausted. It was kind of hard to describe the turmoil of emotion inside of me. I tried to go on with my classes, to move on with my life, but somehow I couldn't. I kept thinking about her, about Maine. I sought comfort on the things I liked, playing basketball or simply staring at Louise from afar. But after all was said and done, after comparing the intensity of Maine's spirit with my surroundings, everything was plain and dull. Everything else seemed so painfully ordinary.
Were five days enough to make such an impression on me? Was she to be my first love? I couldn't imagine so. I always believed that place was Louise's and up to that day at the playground I would have bet my life on it. Now, I was not so sure. Why couldn't I just shake it off? Shake Maine off my mind? There was that feeling on the pit of my stomach again, a feeling I really didn't like, but it was there, fluttering and all. I sighed. I knew for sure it was that kiss, my first kiss. I wondered if I was her first kiss too, but somehow I knew I was.
I looked back at the hall and wished Maine was there. I wanted her to be there, with her clumsy walk, with her sad eyes, with her anxious smile. I wondered if that was love felt like. One thing I knew for sure, my life was never going to be the same.
Early 2005 – Bataan, Philippines
The pages of my life turned over each day so quickly. I graduated from elementary school and got into high school. My friends remained the same, fortunes of living in a small town, though I never stopped thinking about Maine. Maybe someday she would be transferred back to Bataan, but it never happened. Years went by; I went to high school and, as expected, I got into a relationship with my beloved Louise. We graduated top of our class and she was supportive of my decision to go to college.
By the time I got into college, I had decided to put my nature to good use. I still felt guilty for judging people too quickly, one person in particular, and regardless what I saw I helped people in need. I volunteered myself for charity works. A few years later, I got my Journalism Degree, but still felt something lacking in my life.
One night, while I was reading my journal on my loft, after a nice dinner with my parents and Louise, I decided that I wanted to see the world to pursue my dream of seeing the Unites States of America – where my grandfather lived, to discover what I really wanted in my life and to help my parents of having at least an agricultural land of our own and a beautiful home.
I travelled USA, got freelance jobs, photographer, reporter, gasoline boy, waiter, name it. I saw fantastic places and met extraordinary people along the way, but my heart longed for only one. In every city and every street I visited, I hoped to run into Maine again, but it never happened. Was it too wistful of hoping that she was still in America? I guessed it was my own fault for being so blind to her pain. Although I was a little kid, I should have known better and, at the very least, given her a chance to be my friend. It wouldn't have lasted long anyways, only five days. Regardless, I finish my journey and returned to Bataan, to my parents, to my old friends and to Louise.
Once I was home, that feeling of emptiness invaded my mind and soul again. I tried to live a normal life, but it was not fulfilling. You could say I experienced the ups and downs of a normal adult existence. I lost my mother; it was the saddest day of my life. I became the sole supporter of my home and ultimately broke up with Louise, moved to Manila and made new friends. I was at the edge of a new life, but most especially Metro Manila.
I got jobs as a reporter at a local newspaper, as a model for few television commercials and as an extra for TV show or movie. Who knew after fifteen years, after almost giving up hope, I would find her again. Searching thru the internet, I accidentally read a blog whose writer’s name was Maine Mendoza. I traced the letters of her name on the printed blog entry about the places she visited. Maine Mendoza…. For sure there were so many Maine Mendozas in the world – but there was only one who made me fall this deep - the weird girl with braces. I needed to be sure that it was her. I felt something inside of me. Was it excitement?
Standing in the middle of the farm, I held on to my yo-yo. I carried it anywhere I went. I brought it with my because it served as inspiration to always do the best I could, a reminder that I must look inside the heart of a person despite the appearances or my prejudices. It gave me hope that someday our paths would cross again. Since that day I exerted all my efforts to see Maine in person. I just wanted to see her again. It wasn't that difficult to find her though, with the power of technology thru social media, but I didn't want to impose. Maybe she had forgotten all about me... or maybe not.
2005 – Quezon City and Manila, Philippines
I did see Maine again, before I even planned on it, at the most unexpected place and time. I had the chance to meet her again on a party. It was not just an ordinary party. I was one of the fortunate reporters who happened to cover the most awaited event in Quezon City, that kind of party. I did everything I could just to be there because I knew she would be there too. Luckily, my editor had put on such a good word for me in the media and for that reason I made a small number of friends in high places, just a few ones –but enough to get what I needed, a job at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
My world nearly stopped when I saw one particular woman in a lavender gown walking downstairs on the red carpet. Yes, I knew that she was dating the billionaire son of Sy, but it didn't stop me from looking at her. Was she Nicomaine Dei Mendoza? Finally I was able to see her, not only from a distance, but up-close-and-personal. Her dress hugged every detail of her body perfectly, her face lit up every time she smiled, she was so sophisticated and poised – the total opposite of her previous self. Maine Mendoza, the intrepid reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the blogger. Yes, the emcee announced that she was Maine Mendoza. After all this time, it was really her in front of my eyes. She was not just a photo I printed from the internet.
She turned into a beautiful swan, just like we read in fairy tales. It felt like we were alone in the midst of the party, but I was just imagining things. I longed for so long that I didn't know how to react, what to do or say to her. I had planned my speech so many times: 'Hi, Maine, remember me? I wanted to apologize for the way I treated you back in Bataan. My comments were very insensitive and I know they must have hurt you. I hope you will forgive me and we could be friends.' Those words scrambled in my head, but my mouth was sealed, my body was immobilized. I felt powerless.
As I danced with the idea of approaching her, my jaw dropped when somebody else announced that Maine Mendoza was engaged to be married… to no other than Clark Joseph Sy. That was the big surprise for the evening. Everybody rejoiced and cheered. Everybody clapped and raised their glasses to the happy couple, everybody except me. It was really hard after years of waiting and hoping that someday I would see her again and tell her how sorry I was, then the hands of fate slapped me on the face, 'stop right here.' My heart ached for her and I couldn't understand why at the moment. I only wanted to be her friend, or did I?
There was that fluttering feeling again. Somehow I was back in fifth grade, what-ifing about my life, about Maine's, about us? What was wrong with me? Honestly, nothing, nothing at all. Maybe I was just being a coward, hiding behind a childish crush, trying to re-do what I didn't do right the first time or what I didn't do –at all. Thinking back, I should have say sorry, I should have given her a ride, I should have done something more than to stare at her in disgust. Boys are truly a mess dealing with the heart matters. How could I ever walk away from a girl like her? Adding insult to injury, there I was – all grown up- and yet I couldn't addressed her. I let her walk away one more time.
What was I doing here? What was I thinking? I had never been a stalker. I didn't ever in my whole life thought I would do this. But I did it tonight – just this once. I hid somewhere as I saw Maine step out of the limousine.
"Goodnight Ms. Mendoza." I heard his voice. It was not Clark, but his butler?
"Rogelio, it's Maine." Rogelio? I had heard his story. He was always been in the family. Was he Clark Joseph Sy's right hand? He was surely more than that. He was the person who raised him when his parents died while he was young.
"Master Clark wants to apologize for not bringing you home tonight. He had to deal with an emergency at Sy Industries."
I kept listening. What could stop a man from being with her?
"Don't worry Rogelio I understand." Those words just reaffirmed that she is the one. How could she understand? How could she trust without questioning? My heart longed for her even more.
"Goodnight Ms. Mendoza. I mean Maine… and congratulations are in order." They looked like family. I felt out of place, but I didn't leave. Instead I stayed, I lingered and my mind craved her even more.
"Goodnight Rogelio and thank you." Her sweet voice was like a lullaby. I tried to control myself, but it was hard. I needed to feel her close to me… at least once more.
I knew she did see me in front of the crowd while she stood beside Clark on their engagement celebration. I also wondered if she recognized me because everything had changed so much between us. Fifteen years was such a long time. I didn't look like that ten-year old kid whom she sat side by side in elementary school. I had changed, we both had. Behind the eyeglasses, did she identify the same old Richard Faulkerson, Jr. in me?
A minute had gone by; I decided to go to her veranda, careful not to wake her up. I didn’t care if there were closed circuit TV cameras all around the place. It was my luck that I was able to get through the door, thanks to my co-reporter who taught me how to use this special key. I sighed once. The way the moonlight passed by the open window, it shone beautifully on her face. was really gorgeous – like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince charming to come. I felt little pinches on my heart after that thought – I wasn't her prince. I only got to steal this moment so I shouldn't waste it. It, her. Staring at her, it was a breathtaking scene as I gently touched her lovely face. I shouldn't do that, I knew that, but I couldn't help it. She stirred a little thus I moved quickly, went out from where I entered and stayed for a moment on a place where I hid just minutes before.
I kept an eye on her as she emerged from her room. Did she feel my presence? Did she feel me at all? Did she look for something -or someone- outside her comfort zone? I wanted to go back and showed myself to her – but it wasn't the right time. Right time. I sighed again. Maine, when are we going to have the perfect moment together? Considering all of the circumstances we were in, I didn't know how to have her back in my orbit? 'How much I miss you', I thought and closed my eyes in frustration.
Silently, I watched her walk away from my life… again. With slumped shoulders I went back to my place to write the story I had dreamed of since the day I realized I was falling for her. But I had to write it – it was my job. I had to write the article of the engagement of my first love… of my one true love. Today was my last day at a local newspaper and tomorrow I would start another phase of my career at the Philippine Daily Inquirer – that was what I wanted right? Now, I wasn't so sure. I didn't know which would hurt me the most – not seeing her for fifteen years or seeing her almost every day and knowing she was engaged to somebody else. And there I thought I had problems on my younger years.
It was all too difficult, when I looked up from my desk and she was just in front of me. She barely noticed my presence. After all I was only the nerdy farm boy from the country side of Bataan who recently transferred from a local newspaper to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Fate was really cruel letting me see her so close and yet so unreachable. I lost track of time thinking and longing for her, yearning her soft kiss. I became clumsy, bumbling and invisible.
"Faulkerson!" Maine said. Did she talk to me? "Earth to Richard!" Yes, yes she did and there I was miles away in my daydream. It was silly, really. I was a grown man, a reporter -or at least on my way to be- and yet one look at her made me want to be ten again.
I shook my head a little and straightened up in place. "Yes, Miss Mendoza." I replied softly but my heart beat faster and faster, almost jumping out of my chest. Her brown orbs struck me so hard; I couldn't even remember my own name. How could this be?
"Can you take a look at my article?" She handed me a bunch of recently printed papers. "Don't revise it. Just check the spelling." Maine looked at me, directly in the eyes and my mind went back fifteen years. I remembered looking into her eyes for the first time… she was vulnerable and almost scared, but now she was impervious and fearless… although I could sense a hint of uneasiness. I could get lost in her stunning beauty, in her sparkling intelligence, in her pleasing voice. Then the spell broke.
"I'll be right back." She said and took out her cell phone out of her purse. "Hello Clark." And just like that, she went away.
'There you go' I thought. How could I compete with that man? Compete? What was I thinking about? Maybe I had denied my feelings for so long, too long that the need of friendship evolved into something else, something greater and stronger... love? Maybe. He was a billionaire’s son, and I was just Richard Faulkerson, Jr. – a farmer’s son and a newspaper reporter.
For the time being, Maine and I maintained a professional relationship – nothing more than that. But my feelings for her were unquestionably getting deeper and deeper as days passed by… while Maine – well she was just Maine Mendoza, Clark Joseph Sy’s bride-to-be. How could I ever expect more? She was engaged to another man.
Time flew faster than I could recall and within a couple of months she was about to marry the man of her dreams, or so I thought. Maybe it was time for Maine to discern my feelings for her. Whatever she said or did, I would accept it wholeheartedly. I had learned to make the ones I loved happy, even at the expenses of my own happiness. The simple, yet hard, truth surfaced after all, after all this time. I loved her and I honestly thought I always did, at least for as long as I could remember.
She looked up from her computer screen. "Yes, Tisoy?" Tisoy… That was the nickname she gave to me since the first day I got my job on The Inquirer, because I have 25% White American blood. My skin was a little bit paler than usual pure-blooded Filipinos with brown skin. She joked about my childhood crush on Louise, though she didn't remember much of her name. Maine even mentioned Lori instead of Louise which I corrected with a huge grin on my face. After all, Maine could still recall her short stay on our town. That meant so much to me. Back to the pet name, Tisoy, I really didn't think that she gave me that nick name only to embarrass me, but I reasoned that it was part of her endearment to me. Not that we were very, very close. We were just friends-close, not the way I wanted us to be – but it was enough, or was it?
"I want to give something to you." I handed Maine a small package and stood beside her desk. I was so nervous while she opened it that I almost fainted. She stared at the package as she revealed its content.
I seized the moment to speak, because I couldn't hold on any longer and sincerely I still feared her reaction. "Did you remember that?" I said quickly, "You gave me that yo-yo before you and your family moved to Batangas."
At first, I couldn't fathom her feelings. She was stoic, but slowly her facial expression softened at me. "I do. I- I'm surprised that you still have this."
"Yeah, I kept it. I was really hoping to see you again because I wanted to say sorry for the things I said to you when we were young." I looked down, the scene replayed on my mind and I felt even guiltier. "I didn't mean them."
She punched me on the arm and stared at me. "That was in the past Tisoy, forget about it." She smiled. "We were just kids."
All of the sudden, my stomach knotted and I felt the uncontrollable impulse to open up to her, to tell her the truth about me, about my feelings. "Maine, there is something else…" I trailed, not because I didn't want to say the words or because I feared for her reaction, but because we were in a very public open space. But first things first, she needed to hear how I felt about her so I said it. "I need to be honest with you too."
She smirked at me. "Okay, let's hear it then."
This was it, the moment I had been waiting for a long time, longer than even I could recognize. "I wanted to say that… That I have feelings for you… I care for you… more than just a friend." I watched her closely, but Maine smiled bitterly at me.
"You're a good man, Richard. You have a big heart and I love you too Tisoy…" She held my hand making me feel that it was a positive sign, wasn't it? My heart grew larger and I couldn't breathe while hearing those words from her.
"…but as a dear friend." She smiled again. I stared down at her with saddened eyes as my world crashed down on me. I should have prepared myself for this kind of situation – but I didn't. I wasn't prepared at all.
Maine stood up and moved her hands from my hands to the sides of my face. For that very first time, we were so near I could only think of kissing her. She could read my feelings behind my glasses. She felt my hesitation, my need to be even closer to her. Then she sighed and continued, "That's why I need to be honest with you. You can absolutely find someone better than me."
I nodded. Was this the feeling of getting hurt? My emotions were crushed, that was for sure. It was more painful than taking a bullet on the chest. I could feel the sting in my heart. It was really hard to breathe. I felt like I was dying, for real this time.
"Please, Richard," She begged "tell me that we're still friends." Maine almost pleaded for an answer and I couldn't bear to watch her like that.
"Yeah…" I swallowed the last of my pride. "Yes, of course." And there I thought it was the right time for telling her ALL about me. Although I still felt the need to, I gave her the space she silently asked for. 'If it's meant to be, it will be.' My Dad repeated that phrase every time I called him and wanting to give up. I didn't always believe that idea, but this time I did. I would wait a thousand years for her, a million if I might. She was worth it. Wish I might be the one for her.
"I still want you to have this yo-yo. It's yours. You took such good care of it for fifteen years; you're the rightful owner not me."
I accepted it halfheartedly. Maybe it was my job to keep it. After all, time would come and go and maybe I would be able forget about the heart ache someday.
"Good night, Richard."
"Good night, Maine."
As I turned my back on her, I held the yo-yo loosely on my hand and fresh tears fell from my eyes. Yes, I could cry… for someone I cared almost for a lifetime. Steel had its bending point and so did my heart.
For the first time in my life, I really put myself in her shoes. I was the 'new kid in school'. The kid no one wanted to befriend, the joke of the class. Only this time, there was no school, only life. There was no class, only her. The joke was on me and I didn't like the feeling, not one bit, not at all. Was this karma for what I did to her? I couldn't help but think again and again in my mind. So much suffering, so much longing… and it was all in vain. There was no happy ending. This is not a book or a movie. I got my bag and hung my head.
2015 – Bataan, Philippines (Present time)
"Hi Daddy, Mommy said you were here at the loft." She paused and giggled ever so sweetly. "She was right after all."
I thought about her, my wife. She was my family now; she and my daughter were the most precious things in the world for me. It was funny how life unfolded for me, you know. I thought I had a plan back when I was a kid. I had chosen my perfect love, but then fate changed that and introduced me to new horizons. I grew up, found that special someone I looked for and once again I fooled myself into thinking I had it all figured out. I thought for sure life flipped my way for the last time, but it didn't. Destiny had other plans for me, so my life turned over to be nothing of what I expected.
I stared back at my six-year-old daughter. "Hi, sweetie! I'm just looking at my old stuff."
"Daddy, is that a yo-yo?" Her eyes lighted and her smile widened. "I've never seen a real one until now. Can you teach me how to play it?"
"Sure sweetie! Put the string around your finger like this and then throw it down and pull it back up." Funny, after all those years, the yo-yo was still in good condition. Despite of the odds me and the yo-yo had, we surpassed them all.
"That's so cool Daddy."
"Yeah, it is. You know, most professional players can make different stunts using this."
"And now it's yours."
"Really?" Her eyes widened as we spoke. Those rounded eyes she inherited from me.
"Yes, but be careful with it because it's very special to me."
"Special?" She looked at its worn out paint and old string. "Why?"
"Someone special gave it to me when I was ten." Someone I would never be able to forget, no matter how deep the wounds were, no matter how things finally unraveled.
She nodded; even her young mind understood the word 'special' just as he had meant it.
I longed to be a father for so long. I really couldn't recall how many nights I stared at my wife while she was sleeping, wondering how could we grow a family together. We had difficulties in having a child of our own.But she never let my faith fall down completely. We could always adopt, that was not the issue. I knew I would love that child as if it was mine. I knew I shouldn't worry about that, but I did. I loved my other half and she loved me, we were happy. I was happy, happier than I ever was, but I just wanted to look into my baby girl's eyes and realize she was my flesh and blood.
'My baby girl', repeating those words made me smile even more. I always wanted a little girl. I often imagined she would have her mother's beauty and often dreamed I came to save the day. Maybe it was as silly thought, but it helped to keep hopeful. Now looking at our beautiful princess, I could confirm that dreams do come true. I remembered the first time I heard her heartbeat; the night I learned she was alive, the night my desire to be a father just materialized. I always knew she was a girl, my baby girl, my Leigh Anne. I rejoiced on the reflection of my daughter and to think that she meant the world to me, just like her mother did, built me in bliss even deeper. How could I not love the mother of my child?
I looked back at the holder of that voice and I wished I could disappear. She wasn't supposed to hear my conversation with Leigh Anne, with my dear baby girl.
"Mommy, look what I got…" My daughter, whose facial features were a perfect combination of mine and her mother's, showed her new play thing.
My wife stared at me with a teasing smile. "That's a yo-yo right?"
"Uh-huh. Daddy gave it to me. Do you know how to play it?"
Once again, my wife glanced at me as she put on a jacket on my little angel. She stretched out her arms, "I don't know. I don't know much about this boys' stuff. When I was at your age I loved dolls, especially pink ones." She smiled. "I just love the color pink."
Our daughter's eyes almost popped out from their sockets. "Really, Mommy?" And her smile went wider.
Honestly, I almost burst out laughing with their conversation. It was a girl-y talk, not my specialty. That was what mothers were for, right? To teach their daughters to be good girls, to be refine and sophisticated?
"Let me try it." Her mother said.
Leigh Anne giggled so much when her mommy's attempt didn't go quite right. "Mommy," She exhaled flustered. "Daddy said you have to put the string around your finger like this and then you throw it down." Her little hands followed her own instructions carefully. "See? And when it is all way down to the bottom you pull it back up." After such a skillful demonstration, Leigh gave the yo-yo to her mother and stared waiting for her to follow her actions to the letter.
"Like this?" My wife asked looking for the approval of the little one.
"Uh-huh. Just do it at the right time." And she smiled proudly at me.
I fixed my glasses, smiling all the way at their exchange. There was another precious mother-daughter bonding time. It was so calming to watch them together. Even when I wondered and 'what if-ed' about the crossroads in my life, I was content with the outcome.
My mind went miles away again or better yet years away. I recalled every detailed as if it was yesterday… the way her hair swayed, the sweetness of her perfume, the softness of her hands. I would never forget the day she came back to me.
2005 Bataan, Philippines
"Maine?" I asked though I knew it was her, maybe I didn't expect to see her here at the barn, so soon.
"Can I sit here beside you, just like in the old times?"
I nodded, but my breathing almost stopped. I just hoped I wasn't dreaming. Maine visited me; she was sitting here with me.
She took out something from her bag and offered to me. "PB and J, don't worry it's edible, I mastered preparing it after fifteen years." She smiled.
I accepted it and realized that my hands were trembling hard. I was so glad that she had come, though maybe that would be our last time together, alone. In few weeks' time she would be Mrs. Clark Joseph Sy and it would be the end of it, the end of me. That could only hurt my heart, hurt me, a lot. I touched my favorite thing inside my jacket's pocket and felt like my very life depended on it. "Thank you."
We sat in silence for a while. She spoke first because I really didn't know how to get started. "Where's the yo-yo?"
"It's here." I pointed my jacket.
"I really miss having that thing, you know? It was kind of comforting. I used to play with it after my mother passed away. She always believed that when you let go of someone, someday that someone would come back to you. And I believe it too, with my Mom being the exception, of course. Despite of that, she never left me because she will always here in my heart."
I still kept silent. I didn't trust my voice, or my heart, enough to express a rational sentence at the moment.
She looked at me and smiled again, "How about you? Do you believe it too?"
I couldn't figure how to answer her question because her gift was the closest thing I had of her and I wanted her, but she wasn't mine – she was just my friend and apparently always would be. And to be honest, I wouldn't trade it with anything in this world if that meant not having her at all in my life.
I didn't notice that I snorted upon hearing his name.
She looked at me and continued. "Clark is a very fine young man and I love him."
"I know, Maine." I interrupted in a low voice. She felt the uneasiness within my body.
"Ssshhh, Richard, hear me out first." She looked at me again, this time with a serious face. "I realized that I love him as a friend. He told me that I should set things straight because he also knew that it is you who I love." She paused for a second. "I love you, Richard Faulkerson, Jr."
I was speechless for a moment. My mind couldn't process the information until I looked at her, straight in the eyes and kissed her. That was one of the best moments of my life. Maine loved me too. Did you hear that? I kissed her! It was like my first kiss all over again, but this time it was the most perfect moment ever. I was never a sappy romantic up until that day. First love? First kiss? It all made sense to me.
Maine looked into my eyes and, for the first time since I saw her under the rain without a raincoat, I saw the story behind them. I felt lost at first, but then I tied it all together. I didn't take pity on her that day; we were made for one another. She smiled once again and continued. "When you told me about your feelings and I stared deep down beyond these glasses, I saw that little kid who gave me… I mean lent me his raincoat."
I couldn't believe it for a second, but Maine could see me behind the mask. She saw beyond what people saw everyday in me and I loved her even more for that.
"Tisoy is speechless? How can that be?" She teased as she spoke so near to my lips I could almost taste them.
"Thank you so much for holding on to me." She spoke from the heart, just as if it was the last time we would be able to be together. "I'm so sorry for hurting you. I was so confused at the time you blurted out your feelings for me." She smirked. "I never expected you had such strong feelings, even less for so long."
I rested my forehead on hers while I embraced her. One of my dreams had finally come true, one that I didn't even think I had in the first place, one that I kept hidden and guarded in my heart for longer than I could imagine.
"I will always love you Nicomaine Dei Mendoza." I whispered to her.
Maine giggled like a ten-year-old girl. I grinned like an idiot as I scratched my head – she didn't answer again, just like that weird girl I met fifteen years ago. Instead, Maine stared at me with a huge smile on her face, this time she didn't shift her attention as I looked at her lovingly.
"Thank you so much for loving me and for letting me love you too. Who would have thought I would be standing right here with my first crush?"
"I am your first crush."
"I won't tell it twice."
"So Paolo, Jose, Wally and Allan were right after all."
"You bet they were." And she kissed me once again.
Ten years later, we had our own family. I was genuinely happy that somehow I held on to her believing that one way or another she would come back… and she did. I watched the two most important women in my life, Maine and Leigh Anne walking towards me with huge smiles on their faces. I mirrored those smiles in my face and in my heart.
"Daddy," My little angel addressed me with a curious look on her face. "Is it true that Mommy loves the pink color? I don't see her wear pink clothes." Leigh whispered into my ear as I knelt down to her height.
I looked up at Maine and she winked at me. Then, I answered Leigh with the factual true "Mommy loves yellow."
"The color of the sun!" Leigh added.
I nodded in amusement and Maine shrugged faking unawareness. Sometimes she had such an ironic sense of humor, but I enjoyed every bit of it.
Finally, Maine giggled and spoke, "Leigh prepared something for us. Guess what it is?"
"No clue." I lied only to watch the twinkle of excitement on my baby girl's eyes.
"Mommy's favorite... mine and yours too."
"P B and J?" I said as I chuckled.
"That's right! Daddy can I have a piggyback ride?"
I smiled wholeheartedly. "Anything for my princess."
Maine's eyes rolled at us, it was so typical of her. "Leigh be careful, Daddy's just recover from a bullet wound."
"I will, Mommy."
"Tisoy, Clark called just a minute ago. He said something about marrying Lois in a private ceremony."
I laughed inwardly. 'Private?'
"He felt sorry for not telling us, it was a whirlwind romance, I guess. I'm so happy he already found his happiness."
"I am too."
"You know, honey, I'm so pleased that you and Clark are kind of best buddies now."
I smiled contentedly. "Not as much as best buddies, but Clark and I have so much in common despites what it seems." I winked as I ran towards the farmhouse making our daughter cheer in delight.
"Mommy, please keep up."
"I will, here I come!"