Piso Tales: BTW It's Love


CHAPTER 1

“Today is a good day.”

 

Hannah

“25…4…33…12…41…53! Okay, here, Ate. Sana manalo naman ako this time.”

“Sana nga po, Ma’am. Good luck po.”

          Who knows? Baka ako pa ang next na maging milyonaryo sa Pinas. Naglakad ako pabalik sa kinatatayuan ni Jenna, my friend since highschool. Obviously, her expression cannot be painted once again. Alam ko naman na ayaw niyang gumagawa ako ng ganito. Sayang lang daw sa effort.

          “Ano? Tapos ka na mag-aksaya ng huling pera mo?”

          Inakbayan ko siya. “Girl, kapag ako tumama sa lotto – aambunan kita kaya ‘wag ka ng harsh sa ‘kin. Okay?”

          “Whatever. Tara na at kanina pa nagte-text sa ‘kin si Ma’am Carmi.”

          Yes, as usual – back to my real world again. One year and a half na since maka-graduate ako at makakuha ng junior position bilang Communication Coordinator sa isang kilalang advertising company dito sa Pinas. Everything’s going my way not until ang mayabang na ako ay magpaalam sa ‘king mga parents to let me experience being independent. Tipong, I’ll have my own space for myself like a grown up should be. Kaso lang… It’s not easy as I imagined.

          I didn’t expect na life would be so hard to live. Paying your own bills at pati ang kakainin mo daily? No one told me that it would be a disaster. Nangako pa naman ako kay Papa na ibibili ko siya nung limited edition home theatre for his birthday – four months from now.

          “Alam mo wala kang kadala-dala. Naloko ka na nga sa online paluwagan scam na ‘yan tapos ngayon e itataya mo ‘yang pera mo?” Ngabuntong-hininga siya. “You’re a lost case.”

          “Wala na ‘kong ibang way para mabili ‘yung birthday gift ko.”

          “Ewan ko sa ‘yo.”

          “Okay lang ‘yan. Sweldo naman bukas.”

          Nakarating na kami sa office at hindi pa man ako nakakaupo sa  pwesto ko eh pinatawag na ‘ko ng superior ko. Lately, sunod-sunod ang pinapatawag dahil mukhang apple of the eye ng owner ng kumpanya ang department namin ngayon simula nang dumating siya from London.

          “Sorry po. Aayusin ko na lang po.”

          “You should dahil ang owner ng company ang nakakita ng mali na ’yan, and he’s not happy. Pati ako mapapagalitan sa incompetence n’yo.”

          After kong masermonan, lumabas na rin ako para ituloy ang trabaho ko. I checked again those materials na kailangan ng mga boss ko para sa presentation nila. Apat na beses ko na rin binasa ‘yung mga sinulat ko para wala ng masabi ‘yung may ga-benteng mata na owner ng company namin. Lahat ng mali, kita niya!

          Pababa kami ng cafeteria para mag-meryenda ng mga office mates ko habang topic na naman nila ang owner ng company. Minsanan lang kasi dumating ‘yun at puro may mga higher position lang ang nakakakita sa kaniya. In disguise mode siya palagi. Sabi nila, style niya raw ‘yun to observe company’s performance.

          “Tingin n’yo? Ilan taon na siya?”

          “40!”

          “Tingin ko 47 ganyan…”

          “Mali kayo, guys. Nakausap ko si Kuyang janitor at ang sabi niya, mas bata siya sa inaakala ng lahat. I bet 35.”

          “Ikaw, Hannah? Ano’ng hula mo?”

          I snorted. “I don’t care about his age. Ang balita ko nga, he’s sixty-eight years old dahil para siyang menopause sa araw-araw niyang reklamo sa department natin.” Nakatingin lang sila sa ‘kin. “Nakakainis, ‘di ba? For this company to work, you should know how to praise and reward your subordinates! Lagi na  lang mali nakikita.”

          “Asus… Pagpasensyahan n’yo na ‘to, guys.” Jenna exclaimed. “She’s too bitter to admit na trabaho niya ang laging nakikitaan ng mali ng owner.”

          “Pag nakita ko siya, ililibre ko siya ng cake para tumamis ang life niya.”

          “Magbayad ka muna sa in-order mo sa ‘kin bago ka manlibre.”

Nagtawanan naman silang lahat saka lumabas ng elevator pagkabukas nito. Ah, ewan! Di na nga ‘ko makaipon-ipon para sa regalo kay Papa, pinag-iinitan pa trabaho ko rito.


EDWARD

          Did that girl just insult me?

          I smirked. Ako? Sixty-eight years old? She’s got to be kidding me. Lumabas ako ng elevator pagkarating sa penthouse ko. I was welcomed by a big bear hug ng kaibigan kong President naman ng company na ‘to.

          “Welcome back, man,” he said.

          “I’m the one who should tell you that. How’s the deal?”

          Nakapasok na kami sa loob and I just literally collapsed in my couch.

          “Trabaho agad? ‘Di ba pwedeng how’s the California women na na-meet ko? Akala ko, vacation ang pinunta mo rito and not work.”

          “That’s what I had in mind BEFORE I came here.” I looked at him. “Pero pa’no ko maiiwan ‘to kung may nakikita pa rin akong mali?”

          He sat beside me and said, “Alam mo, Pre, hindi naman mawawala ang mali sa mundo. Learn to breathe, man. Give the employees a break.”

          “Break my foot…” I whispered.

          Maiisip ko pa ‘yan if I didn’t hear that lady insult me. Tsk! I should have seen her face kung hindi ako nakatalikod sa kanila. Well, it doesn’t matter ‘cause I know her insulting voice very well.

 

HANNAH

          Ang aga ko nagising para asikasuhin itong baon kong sandwich for this day. Yes, I know that it’s pay check day pero kailangan kong magtiis. Promise! Mag-iipon na ‘ko—

MAMA: Nakikinig ka ba sa ‘kin, Hannah? ‘Wag kang hindi pupunta sa birthday ng Papa mo.

          HANNAH: Opo. ‘Di ba, may regalo pa ‘ko?

MAMA: Nako, kahit hindi mo na bilhin ‘yun at gagastos ka pa ng malaking pera. Pumunta ka lang.

HANNAH: Aww… Sweet ni Mama.

MAMA: Nambola pa. ‘Wag ka puro trabaho diyan, ah? Baka stress ka na. Wala kang maging boyfriend sa pangit mo.

HANNAH: Grabe, Ma. Marinig ka ni Papa diyan. At isa pa…hindi naman ako nagmamadali. Sweldo ko nga nahihintay ko – lovelife pa kaya? Darating din tayo diyan, Ma.

May narinig akong tumatawag sa pangalan ko sa labas.

          HANNAH: Ma, wait lang. Tawagan kita ulit.

Pagbukas ko ng pintuan, si Aling Mila pala.

          “Aling Mila! Tamang-tama ang dating n’yo.”

          “Sabi ko na magbabayad ka na eh—.”

          “Naggawa po ako ng sandwich teka—.”

          “Ikaw talaga, palabiro. Bayad sa renta muna. Dalawang buwan na ‘yun, Hannah.”

          “Oo nga po e. Pwede po bang mag-tatlo? Hahaha! Joke lang po. Isang buwan po muna babayaran ko, pwede?”

          Umalis na rin si Aling Mila pagkabigay ko ng bayad ko. Grabe, hindi pa nga ‘ko nakakalabas ng bahay – bawas na agad ang sweldo ko.

 I just arrived sa office after paying all my remaining bills. Pakiramdam ko, I’m all wasted kahit mag-uumpisaa pa lang ang araw ko. Akala ko nga tapos na ‘ko magbayad, ‘yung nga pala may in-order pa ‘kong pabango sa co-employee ko. I envy them, really. They’re all busy looking for a place kung saan sila gagala mamaya since it’s pay day Tuesday.

Habang ako…I’m counting how much do I still have in my wallet.

We’re here in the lobby and waiting for the elevator to arrive. It’s lunch time at sinamahan ko si Jenna bumili ng lunch niya.

“May baon ka? Wow… Tipid mode. Bango niyan, ah?”

“Oo. Gusto mo tikman?”

“Naman!”

Nilabas ko sa paperbag ‘yung binaon kong sandwiches for the whole day. If there’s one thing I’m proud of sa mga namana ko kay Mama, that’s my skill in cooking.

“Oh, isa lang. Hanggang mamaya—” Bigla akong napatigil.

Someone knocked me from behind at saka pumasok sa elevator. Yumuko ako kaagad para pulutin ‘yung nagkalat kong sandwich sa lapag. Sayang! Inis, ah!?

Inangat ko agad ang ulunan ko para tingnan kung sino ‘yung bumangga sa ‘kin pero sandali ko lang siya nakita dahil nagsara na ‘yung elevator.

          “Nakita mo ba ‘yun, gir!?” I asked Jenna. “Hindi man lang marunong mag-sorry!”

          I was in the middle of my rage when I saw Jenna na parang namatanda.

          “Huy! Ano ka ba?”

“Huh?” She looked at me, finally. “Ah, nakita mo?”

“Ang alin?”

“’Yung guy na dumaan, girl. Ang gwapo.”

“Yung bumangga sa ‘kin? Seriously? Ewan ko sa ‘yo.”

Pumasok na ‘ko sa elevator pagkabukas. Nakakainis, pagkain ko pa hanggang mamaya ‘to e. Antipatikong ‘yun.

EDWARD

          When I received the call from the security that Mom’s here at my pent, hindi na ‘ko nagsayang ng oras at bumalik ako kaagad sa building. Though I love my Mom, I still have to remind myself to change my penthouse door password.

          “Mom.” I kissed her on the cheek. “What brings you here?”

          “Why do I have this feeling na parang ayaw mong nandito ako? Are you…hiding any girl here?”

          Umupo ako sa couch while my Mom is busy looking at my refrigerator.

          “Kung meron, I’m sure I won’t hide her there,” I joked.

          “I’m just checking if you have enough food to eat here.” Tumingin siya sa ‘kin. “And I just found out na wala. You really need a woman in your life.”

          “I have you.”

          “Aww… But I’m not talking about me. Find a woman who will take care of a hardworking man like you. I told you, pwede naman nating ipa-handle sa Uncle mo ang business sa London so you can rest a bit.”

          Mom’s staying here in the Philippines with my younger sister after my Dad died. And then, I took over the business my Dad started in London. That’s why I had to give up managing this Advertising Company and seek the help of Sam who’s now the President of this company.

           After talking to mom, hinatid ko na siya hanggang car park. Good thing it’s the company’s busiest time of the day kaya walang kasabay sa elevator pabalik sa penthouse.

          Unfortunately pagdating sa eight floor, bumukas ang elevator and a girl employee went in. She looks surprised nang makita niya ‘ko and her expression changed from shocked to annoyed. Hindi ko siya nakitang pumindot ng floor kaya tuloy-tuloy pa rin papuntang penthouse ‘yung elevator.

          “Tingnan mo nga naman ang pagkakataon,” she said. “Mister, baka may nakakalimutan ka?”

          “What?”

          “What-what…” she murmured. “Nakalimutan mo na ba ‘yung pagbangga mo sa ‘kin? Tumapon lang naman ‘yung pagkain ko sa lapag .”

          “Ako?”

          “Kanina sa lobby. Nagmamadali kang pumasok sa elevator.”

          The elevator opened when we reached the penthouse. Mukhang ‘di niya namamalayang napunta siya sa floor na hindi niya dapat mapuntahan. Lumabas ako at sumunod naman siya.

          “Ah, I remember.” I don’t.

          One thing you should know about a mad woman… You don’t argue with her.

          “’Yun lang? Baka gusto mo mag-sorry?”

          Her voice is familiar… “Ang balita ko nga, he’s sixty-eight years old dahil para siyang menopause.” Ah! I grinned. So…it’s her.

          “May nakakatawa ba sa sinabi ko? Niloloko mo ba ‘ko!?”

          Bigla kong narinig ‘yung pagbukas ng elevator door. Sam came out and he looked surprised to see this lady in my floor. No employee can come here ‘cause it’s one of the policies of this company. Once na lumabag ka, termination is next.

          “Ah… Are you an employee here?” Sam asked her.

          Tumingin siya kay Sam at halatang nagulat siya. Of course, it’s the president. That’s the only time na nakita niya kung nasaang floor siya ngayon.

“Sir, o-opo. I’m sorry po. Hindi ko po namalayan na dito huminto ‘yung elevator,” she said with her head bowed.

Sam looked at me trying to figure out what’s going on. I just smirked while looking at this lady in front of me. Kanina, parang tigre kung magalit tapos ngayon…

“Hey, I’ll say it now…” Tumingin siya sa ‘kin. Halatang nagulat sa pagsasalita ko. “I am sorry—.” I stop nang bigla niya ‘kong hatakin papunta sa tabi niya.

“Sir, sorry po. Hindi po talaga namin sinasadya na mapunta sa floor na ‘to. Please, sir. Give us a chance po. Nagtatalo po kasi kami kaya hindi na po namin nakita.”

Tumingin sa ‘kin si Sam and I’m trying my best to suppress my laughter. She thinks I’m her co-employee! Because of her nervousness, hawak-hawak pa rin niya'ng kamay ko.

“Sir, Sorry po talaga.” She turned her head in my direction. Her eyes were wide enough like she’s asking me to do something. Is she asking me to…say sorry?

“Wait,” Sam said. Parehas kaming napatingin sa kaniya. He’s looking at her. “I think, Miss…”

“Hannah Fernandez, Sir.”

“I think, Ms. Fernandez, you should know that this man here is the own—.”

“Yeah,” I cut in. “I am very sorry…” Sam stared at me like I’m insane. “Sir.”

“What the f—.” He stopped when his phone rangs.

I chuckled at his reaction then I looked at her.  “Let’s go.”

“Huh?”

I pulled her with the hand that she was still holding. Napatingin na lang sa ‘kin si Sam nang pumasok kaming dalawa sa loob ng elevator. I mouthed “Later.”

While we’re inside…

“Bakit tayo umalis!? Baliw ka ba?” she asked. “Oh? Bakit ka natatawa?!”

“I’m sorry.” I tried to calm myself. “Don’t worry, it is okay.”

          “Okay!? Pa’no kung tanggalin niya tayo!?”

She looks worried.

          “Relax, I…” Nakatingin siya sa ‘kin looking hopeful. “I a… I’m close with the owner.”

HANNAH

          I thought yesterday was the end of my world! Bakit ba hindi ko napansing nasa forbidden floor na kami? Nakakaasar pa ‘yung lalaking ‘yun, he looked like he was not worried at all.

          “Sabihin mo nga sa ‘kin ulit, girl. Saang department siya? Anong position niya? Ano’ng name niya? Close talaga sila nung owner!?”

          “Pwede ba, Jenna—”

          “ANG DAYA MO NAMAN E!”

Napahinto ako nang biglang lumakas boses niya. Everyone here sa CR tumingin tuloy sa ‘min.

“Nakakahiya ka. Ang ingay mo.”

“Sabihin mo na kasi.”

“Fine, his name is Edward.”

 “Yummy.”

“Yummy? Anyway, new Advertisement Consultant daw siya rito na pinasok ng owner ng company. Dikit daw sila no’n.”

“REALLY!?”

“Sabi niya.” Mukhang totoo naman since hindi pa rin ako pinapatawag sa HR para sabihing wala na ‘kong trabaho.

          Katatapos lang namin mag-early dinner sa favorite hang-out place namin. Nasira na ‘yung pagtitipid ko simula nang matapon ‘yung baon ko. The rest of them are going home habang ako naman…magpapaka-buhay na bayani. May rush materials na kailangan bukas sa presentation ng mga bosses kasama ‘yung owner na naman.

          Fine, hindi niya ‘ko pinatanggal kaya hindi muna ‘ko magre-release ng stress sa kaniya.

          Sumakay ako ng elevator and I’m surprised to see him again. Seriously? He looks surprised too nang makita niya ‘ko. Parehas kaming tahimik pagkapasok ko sa elevator.

          I was about to press our floor nang makita kong naka-press na naman ‘yung forbidden floor.

          “I have a meeting with the owner,” paliwanag niya kahit ‘di ko naman hinihingi.

          Tumingin ako sa kaniya. “At this hour? Uwian na, ah?”

          Umismik siya. “Bakit ikaw, nandito pa?”

          “Huh?” I cleared my throat. Sabi ko nga e. “’Yung ka-meeting mo, ang daming hinihingi para sa presentation nila bukas.” Tumingin ako sa kaniya. “Wag mong subukan na sabihin sa kaniya ‘yang sinabi ko. May atraso ka pa nga sa ‘kin e.”

          “I already said sorry.”

          “Whatever…”

          “Tch. You don’t even know how to back down, huh? Mas matanda ako sa ‘yo sa tingin ko, close ako sa may-ari, and you still talk to me like that?”

          Hindi ako nagsalita kaya siguro nag-iba siya ng topic.

          “Are you not afraid na mag-isa ka lang sa floor—”

          Tumingin ako sa kaniya. “Do I have a choice?”

          Hindi na siya sumagot hanggang sa makalabas na ‘ko ng elevator. Pagkabalik ko sa station ko, ginawa ko na agad ‘yung mga dapat tapusin. Nang makaramdam na ‘ko ng gutom, pumunta ako sa pantry para lagyan ng mainit na tubig ‘yung cup noodles ko.

          Kaso… Pabalik na ‘ko sa table ko nang may marinig akong naglalakad mula sa likuran ko. Ako lang mag-isa rito, right?  Mas binilisan ko ‘yung paglakad ko baka sakaling guni-guni ko lang kasi lahat nang may biglang humawak sa balikat ko—“AHH!!!”

          “Jeeze!”

          “AW! AHH!”

          Natapon sa damit ko ‘yung dala kong cup noodles!!!

          “Sorry, hindi ko alam na magugulat ka—”

          “Na naman!??” inis na sabi ko habang nakatingin sa kaniya - kay Edward. “Pangalawa mo na ‘to, a!?”

          Nilinis naming parehas ‘yung tumapon sa sahig before ako nagpunta sa CR para ayusin ‘tong sarili ko. Namantsahan na ‘tong damit ko and I smell like beef. Bumalik ako sa table ko kung saan siya naghihintay.

          Nakita ko siyang tinitingnan ‘yung brochure na naka-pin sa cork board ko. Kinuha niya ‘to at kinuha ko rin naman sa kamay niya kaagad.

          “Hindi ka dapat nangingialam ng gamit ng iba,” sabi ko. “Bakit ka na naman ba kasi nandito?”

          “First, sorry again for what happened to your food. Second, the owner is not there yet for our meeting so I decided na bumaba muna.”

          Binalik ko sa cork board ‘yung brochure saka ako ulit umupo sa upuan ko. Tiningnan ko siya na nakatitig din sa ‘kin..

          “Ano?”

          “Naalala ko lang, may ganyan rin ‘yung may-ari sa penthouse niya.”

          “Talaga!? Well, hindi naman nakakapagtaka since may pambili siya.”

          “Then buy yourself one, too.”

          “Kung may pambili ako, talagang bibili ako. Pang mayaman na lang nga ata ‘yan.”

          “Everyone can buy it as long as you manage your money wisely.”

          I stared at him with disgust. “Bakit nakakainis ka?” Tinamaan ako do’n ah.

          “What?” He smirked and said, “The way you reacted tells me that you’re not a wise spender.”

          “Bakit? Sa tingin mo kaya siya nakabili nito e dahil magaling siyang mag-manage ng pera niya? No… You’re absolutely wrong. Mayaman siya, ‘yun ang sagot. I’m sure pamana pa sa kaniya ‘tong business na ‘to.Walang kahirap-hirap niyang nakuha. Rich people are all the same.”

          Hindi siya sumagot. Nakatitig siya sa ‘kin before he grabbed my hand and pulled me out of my chair.

          “Teka!? Sa’n mo ‘ko dadalhin!?”

          Hindi siya nagsalita basta sumakay kami ng elevator. Kung kanina, hawak niya ‘yung braso ko… Now, he’s holding my right hand.

          I don’t know why I’m not complaining but the feeling of his big manly hand covering mine felt good. It feels…strangely reassuring.

          Nakarating kami sa forbidden floor ng hindi ko na naman namamalayan!

          “Te-Teka! Baka matanggal na ‘ko nito. Kung malakas ka sa owner, ako hindi—.”

          “Just shut up…”

          Nakita ko na lang that he pressed the penthouse door’s password at pumasok kami after mabuksan. OMG! TRESPASSING!

          “Nababaliw ka na ba?” mahinang sabi ko. “Pwede niya tayong pahuli kapag nakita niya tayong—”

          We both stopped nang makarating kami sa sala.

          “Do you think I’ll know his password if I’m not allowed to enter his penthouse? Tch! Fool…”

          “F-Fool!?”

          “Look…” Wala na ‘kong time mainis nang tingnan ko ‘yung tinuro niya. OMG. The home theatre na gusto kong bilhin! “That’s it, right?”

          I just nodded.  Nilibot ko rin ang tingin ko, ang ganda dito!

          “Do you think everything he has right now been just laid up in front of him without breaking his leg?”

          Mukha siyang asar habang sinasabi niya ‘yan. Ano bang problema niya?

          “Tingin ko. Gano’n naman karaniwan ang mga businessmen. Ipapamana, ipapa-handle sa iba, then yayaman sila. Tsaka bakit ba affected ka masyado?”

          Umiwas siya ng tingin sa ‘kin na parang kinalma niya ‘yung sarili niya. He looked insulted pero hindi ko alam kung bakit.

          “Fine. I just want you to know that I’m close with the owner. I know his story when building this company. It’s a product of blood and sweat.”

          “Okay… Pero kahit ano pang sabihin mo. A simple employee can’t avail of that.” Sabay turo sa dream home theatre ko. “Kung hindi siya luluha ng dugo.”

          “Nothing is easy in this world.”

          “Hmp!” Nilapitan ko ‘yung home theatre. “Mamaya, i-dare kita na tulungan akong makabili niyan within four impossible months, umatras ka—.”

          “Deal.”

          Tumingin ako sa kaniya. “Eh?? Seryoso ka ba?”

EDWARD

          “Ano namang naisipan mo at nakipag-deal ka sa employee mo ng ganyan? It’s a big gamble since you want your identity to be hidden.”

          Sam and I where here in his office at nakwento ko sa kaniya ‘yung nangyari kagabi. Well, not everything. Hindi ko na sinabing dinala ko sa penthouse si Hannah.

          I just don’t want him to tease me with malicious accusations.

          “I felt insulted when she said that.”

          “Insulted o attracted?”

          I looked at him. “Challenged.”

          He nodded and said in a sarcastic tone. “Ah… Sabi mo e.”

          “Since you also told me that I should breathe sometimes… Ito na, I’ll spend my days playing this game before going back to London and work.”

          “Bigyan mo na lang siya ng home theatre, pre. You can afford that.”

          “Tch! I can, but do you think I can’t make her eat her own words? ”

          “I don’t know man.” He stood up and drank his coffee. “What I know is it’s hard to play fire with a pretty lady…” he murmured.

HANNAH

          Paggising ko pa lang sa umaga, nakabasa na ‘ko ng text mula sa kaniya.

TEXT MSG FROM EDWARD: DAY 1 - Eat your breakfast at home and stop spending money on fast food take outs. Pack your own lunch. Eat your dinner at home. WALANG GALA.

          He’s serious with this deal! Hindi naman ako seryoso nang sabihin ko ‘yun last night. Plano ko sanang umatras kaso lang… Hindi ko alam kung bakit hindi ako nakatanggi...

I looked at him. “Eh?? Seryoso ka ba?”

Slowly, naglakad siya papunta sa direction ko with an eye piercing stare that caused my heart to race. My eyes began to trace his tall slender figure that stands 6’3, from his slight messy black hair down to his tanned brown skin on his face, pointed nose, his fine jawline, and his lips that look like were created for kissin—.

“Satisfied?”

He’s now in front me at mukha akong tanga na nag-day dream right here! Relax, Hannah.

“Satisfied?” I gulped. His face was inches away from mine.

He grinned before saying, “If I can make you buy the same home theatre as this…” Tinuro niya ‘tong home theatre sa tabi ko. “You should apologize to the owner for insulting him.” Nilapit niya ‘yung mukha niya sa ‘kin. “Be ready - ‘coz starting tomorrow…You’re mine.”

Kailangan ko na bang sumagot ng I’m yours?

CHAPTER 2

“My Secret – Your Secret?”

 

HANNAH

           “Ano ba, Hannah!? Masisira ‘yang keyboard sa ‘yo, ah?”

          Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ‘tong pagta-type ko kahit napansin na ‘ko ni Jenna. Ah, basta! Nakaka-badtrip talaga ‘yung mag-ari ng kumpanyang ‘to. I don’t know if I’ll be flattered or disgusted…

“Nagustuhan ng owner ‘yung articles at press releases na nilabas mo last week. Very crisp and punchy daw... Good job.”

“Thank you po.”

“He’s requesting us to produce five more articles for tomorrow since we held three important events last weekend.”

TOMORROW!? FIVE!?

          “Kainis talaga…” I murmured.

          “Sino?” ‘Yung may-ari!

          “Wala. Hindi nga pala ako sasama sa inyo mamay—.”

          “NO WAY! Favorite resto mo ‘yun, girl.”

          I looked at her with envious eyes. “I know… I don’t have a choice.” Sa sobrang seryoso nung Edward na ‘yun sa deal niya, he asked me to let him manage my savings and he’ll just give me the right amount of budget every day.  

          Though I have to admit na kahit nakakataka ‘yung dedication nitong si Edward sa deal na ‘to, you can’t erase the fact that I also have this little hope that he can help me achieve this goal for my Pa’s birthday.

          Nag-uwian na ang mga kasama ko nang maisipan kong i-text si Edward. I need an additional budget for my dinner since hindi naman ako makakauwi to eat the food I’ve prepared para makatipid. I continued to work while waiting for his reply nang mapasigaw na naman ako sa ginawa niya!

          “AHH—MMM!!”

          “Seriously, woman. Ilang kape iniinum mo every day?”

          Tinanggal niya ‘yung kamay niyang nakaharang sa 'king bibig. Bigla naman kasi siyang umupo sa bakanteng upuan sa tabi ko. ‘Di ko na naman siya napansin!

          “AH!” iling niya pagkapalo ko sa braso niya.

          “Pwede ba!? ‘Wag kang nanggugulat!”

          “Fine. Here…”

          Inabot niya ‘yung seventy pesos? Tiningnan ko siya nang masama.

          “Niloloko mo na naman ba ‘ko? Seventy? Gusto kong kumain ng masarap dahil sa stress ko sa boss natin." Teka… Did I saw it right? Ngumisi ba siya pagkasabi ko no’n? Just my imagination… “Pinag-iinitan ata niya ‘ko e!?”

          He cleared his throat. “Maybe you’ve done something wrong?”

          “Wrong… Teka? E ‘di ba sabi mo okay na ‘yung nangyari sa penthouse niya?” He nodded. “Oh, ‘yun naman pala. Bakulaw talaga ‘yung may-ari ng kumpanyang ‘to. Matandang binata siguro kaya pati bitterness niya pinapasa sa junior employee niya. Makita ko lang ‘yun, nako!” Sabay kain nung cupcake na bigay sa ‘kin.

          Natawa naman siya, and this time – I won’t let it pass.

          “May nakakatawa ba?”

          He stopped but her mocking smile still lingers on his kissabl—LIPS! Lips only…

          “Nothing,” he answered then he grabbed my last cupcake and ate it.

          “EHH!” iling ko sabay palo sana sa braso niya nang bigla niyang mahuli ‘yung kamay ko. Inalis ko agad sa pagkakahawak niya. ‘Yung dibdib ko, kinakabahan na naman. “Bakit mo kinain!?”

          “Hmmm…” He hummed while he savoured the taste. The way he eats made me think na ibang cupcake ‘yung kinakain niya sa kinain ko. Parang mas masarap 'yung kaniya… I mean, 'yung cupcake niya. “Not bad. Who baked this?”

          “Ewan. Tch! Mas masarap pa gawa ko d’yan.”

          “You know how to bake?”

          Inalis ko’ng tingin sa kaniya. “Naman. May bakery kami dati e.”

          Nilagay ko sa pitaka ‘yung perang inabot niya kanina. Magdi-dinner na muna ‘ko. I saw him checking my work habang nag-aayos ako…

          “I have an idea.”

 

EDWARD

          Three minutes and this meeting is over. I was about to check what time it was when Sam bumped my left foot under the desk.

          “What?” I whispered.

          “What the heck is your problem, dude?” he replied.

I gave him a questionable look and said, “Shut up, man. I’m listening.”

He replied while grinning. “Stop tapping the table for God’s sake. We all know that you want to end this meeting. Listening?” He snorted. “What-a-bluff.”

          I just looked at him. “Mind your own job, eh?”

          He just chuckled, and we both turned our heads in front when the last presenter said his thanks.

          “Good job!” I exclaimed as I stood.

          “Nice, guys,” Sam added.

 

          Naglalakad na kami sa hallway ni Sam nang mag-aya siya to spend the rest of our day in some bar outside.

          “Pass—”

          “Man, you’ve declined my invitation for four straight days. Don’t tell me…it has something to do with that girl employee again?”

          I shrugged.

          “Hindi mo itatanggi?”

          We arrived in front of the elevator.  I pressed up.

          “You should know me more than anyone else.” I looked at him. “I finish what I star.”

          “Tch! Reasons, Pre. Last time, I knew, you went to the market with her to buy baking stuff.”

          “How did you know that?”

          He just grinned. “I have ways~”

          The elevator door opens and I moved inside. “See you tomorr—.” I stopped when Sam moved inside too. “Hell,” I muttered. Hinarang ko ‘yung  braso ko sa papasarang elevator.

          “Oh?” Sam reacted. “What are you doing?”

          “Ikaw? Where are you going?” I asked.

          “Sa penthouse mo. You don’t want to go out so…lets go  to your—”

          “NO. You can’t—Go.”

          Pilit ko siyang pinalabas ng elevator habang nagtataka pa siya kung bakit ko siya pinapaalis. Nang makalabas na siya…

          Natawa siya. “Seriously, Pare?”

          “Magpapahinga ako. Sige na.”

          The elevator door closed at dumiretso na ‘to sa penthouse floor. Pagkabukas ko palang ng pintuan sa penthouse, I could taste the sweetness na naaamoy ko ngayon. Binaba ko sa couch ‘yung clutch bag ko saka ako dumiretso sa kitchen – to where she’s baking right now.

“Anong idea?”

          “Sell baked goods. Pandagdag sa savings mo. If you’re truly good at baking then prove it.”

          The next thing we did is to budget everything she needs. For starters, all in all, we could bake forty pieces of cupcakes. Not bad… Then, I lent her my baking tools for now since hindi ko naman nagagamit ‘to. My younger sister bought this when she stayed here for a while. I just told Hannah that I asked our boss’ permission na pinaniwalaan naman niya.

          “Smells good…” I announced my arrival while untying my necktie. “Does it taste better?” Tumingin siya sa ‘kin sandali habang naglalagay siya ng different colored frosting sa cupcakes.

          “Makakalimutan mo’ng pangalan mo…” she said boastfully.

          Lumapit ako sa kaniya and I have to control myself ‘coz she smells like vanilla. I love vanilla. Control yourself, man… Control… To distract myself, kinuha ko ‘yung isang cupcake na may frosting to eat it pero bigla niyang kinuha 'yun sa kamay ko to put it back.

          She glared at me. “Pambenta ko ‘yan. ‘Wag ‘yan…” May kinuha siya sa ref na mga cake scraps. “Ito na lang…” She took a mouthful of cake scraps and put some icing on it… I was surprised when she raised it in front of my mouth. “Ah…”

          Nakatitig ako sa mga labi niya when I obeyed her command to open my mouth. Her lips where slightly parted while she’s placing the cake scraps inside my mouth.

          “Hmm! Sarap??” she gladly asked habang nakalapit sa labi niya ‘yung kamay na pinanghawak niya ng cake scraps.

          Mabilis ko ‘tong kinain to give her a reply. “Yes. Very much,” I honestly replied. “But I can’t let that delicious thing go to waste…”

          “Huh?”

          I grabbed that seductive hand of hers and slowly nibbled the icing still stuck in her two fingers. Mmm… She really has skills.

          Someone cleared their throat that made me stop and turned my head. Crap! Hannah instantly removed her hand from mine as I heard her gasp.

          “Sir!”

          I really have to change my penthouse’ password. This guy, tsk!

          “Why are you here?” I asked. “AH!” I exclaimed when Hannah hit my left arm. Nang tingnan ko siya, pinanglakihan niya lang ako ng mga mata. Fine! Sam’s my Boss!

          I heard Sam chuckled but immediately stopped when I turned my head to him.

          “We meet again.” He greeted her with that knowing look. Tch! “I heard a lot of good things from you, Hannah.” God, he’s flirting with her!

          Ibabalik ko sana sa usapan namin si Hannah when I saw her silently enjoying this crazy man’s show.

          “Thank you, Sir.”

          I looked at her. “Fine, tapusin mo na ‘yan. I’ll get what the President needs here.”

          Hindi ko na siya hinintay sumagot basta umalis na ‘ko sa kusina. Sinundan ako ni Sam hanggang sa makarating kami sa tapat ng pintuan.

          “You better guard yourself, man.”

          “Tch! I know what I’m doing – just go,” I said as I nudge him.

          “I hope so. Well…Enjoy~”

           “Shut up. Go.”

HANNAH

          “Uy, pa-reserve ako, friend.”

          “Kanina pa ‘ko, Hannah, baka kalimutan mo?”

          “I know, I know. Sa mauubusan, gagawa na lang ako ulit. Next time, gagawa ako ng egg pie,” I proudly said.

          They all seem excited sa next kong ititinda and, I think, lahat naman sila ay satisfied sa nabili nila from me. I didn’t expect that it would be such a hit. Nagpa-taste sample pa lang ako no’ng isang araw and surprisingly - every one of them asked me to place their orders agad. As in! Hanggang pati ibang floor alam na nagtitinda ako. Mukhang nasarapan naman sila. Indeed, word of mouth is the best advertisement nga talaga.

          “Uy, girl.” Umupo sa tabi ko si Jenna. “Umuuwi ka pa sa Rizal para lang mag-bake? Wala ka namang oven, ah?”

          Inaayos ko ‘yung mga orders sa notebook ko.

          “Hindi. Sira na oven namin do’n.”

          Hmm… Daming dapat i-bake bukas. Should I ask him na samahan ako pagbili? Well…s’ya rin naman nag-recommend kung sa’n mura bumili.

          “E sa’n ka nag-bake?”

          “Sa pent—.” Oh shoot!

          “Pent?” 

          I looked at her and gave a fake laugh. “Sa…pent…pensan ko.. Pinsan.”

          She gave me a strange look pero mukhang naniniwala naman siya.

          It has been almost one month na since I started this small business. Edward was really a great help para ma-accomplish ko ‘to. He even recommend creating a Facebook page for this. That’s the reason why mas lumawak pa ang customer reach ko.

          “Ikaw, ah. Ramdam ko may sikreto ka.”

          “Sino? Me?” I just laughed. “You and your imaginations.”

          “Asus. Mamaya…may something na pala sa inyo no’ng guy na nakilala mo na friend pa ng may-ari ng company, ah?”

          Wow… Kumpleto ang description niya. “Naalala mo pa siya?”

          “Of course! Kung utang nga ‘di madaling makalimutan e. Super hot gwapong officemate pa kaya?”

          Napaismik ako. “Sabi ko nga e. Anyway, ganda ng dress mo, girl. Sa’n mo binili?”

          “You’re changing the topic.”

          “Hindi, ah?! Pero, sige na, sa’n mo nabili ‘yan?”

          Hindi siya sumagot.

          “Eyy! Don’t be selfish. Sa’n ka nga bumili?”

          After seconds of hesitation, nagbuntong-hininga siya saka bumulong. “Sa Taytay. Girl, ang mumura ng damit. I tell you, mall quality.”

          “Mall quality? Talaga?!”

          Nagulat siya sa reaksyon ko. Hinila ko siya palayo sa mga officemate namin.

          “Sa’n mo nabili?  Uh?”

          It’s an oh-some weekend!

          It’s time for another business venture! Yeah, I know. I won’t be this determined kung hindi ako tinulungan nitong katabi ko. Kung noong mga naunang araw – I resented him. Now? I love hi—Okay, that’s too much to say. I admire him! Admire lang, girl.

          He’s too bright with business na parang nakapag-handle na siya himself pero sabi niya hindi naman daw.

          “Stop grinning to yourself,” sabi niya while driving. “Para kang may iniisip na namang masama.”

          “Masama?!” I smirked. “Ikaw ‘tong pumayag na tulungan ako. So dapat lang lubusin mo na.”

          Actually, pauwi na kami galing Taytay Tiangge Market. Nalaman ko kasi kay Jenna that she’s buying all her pretty dresses there at a very low price but with high quality. Kailangan mo lang mamili ng best na store.

          Well, I came up with the plan of doing an Online RTW business. Since, uso naman ang online shopping, why don’t I try, right? Sinama ko si Edward para pumili ng shirts suited for men.

          At first, ayaw niya pumayag. Nang sabihin kong sasabihin ko sa mga female co-employees ko na close siya sa owner – pumayag siya kaagad. For sure kasi na hindi siya titigilan ng mga ‘yan hangga’t hindi sila nakakahingi ng picture ng owner since they’re very curious about him.

          We arrived at my apartment minutes later.

          “Oh, mag-juice ka muna.”

          “Thanks.”

          Ininum niya nang straight, halatang napagod. Ako naman eh naghanap muna sa ref ng pwede kong lutuin since dinner time na. Medyo na-concious pa ‘ko kasi patingin-tingin siya sa kabuuan ng apartment ko.

          Habang naghihiwa na ‘ko ng mga gulay…

          “Mayaman ka siguro?” I casually asked.

          “Huh?” He seems stunned. “Me—No.” Naglagay ulit siya ng juice sa baso niya.

          “Sus. Halata namang ngayon ka lang nakakita ng ganito kaliit na apartment. Parang at home ka nga sa penthouse ng boss natin eh.” I saw him drink his juice. “Kung ‘di ko nga lang alam na sa may-ari ‘yung penthouse, iisipin ko na sa ‘yo ‘yun e—.”

          Tumigil ako when I heard him cough na parang nabilaukan.

          “Oh?”

          “Sorry.” Pinatong niya sa mesa ‘yung baso. “What were you saying again?”

          “Nako, wala.”

 

          Pagkaluto ko ng Pakbet, inaya ko na siyang kumain. He volunteered to prepare the plates and utensils sa mesa. After praying, we both ate our food, silently at first – puro kwentuhan na next.

          “I think you’re a great cook, too.”

          “Sus. Ngayon ka lang ba nakakin ng lutong-bahay? Plain lang ‘to compared sa luto ng Mama ko.”

          “Well, yeah. It’s my first time na makakain ulit ng lutong-bahay. I’m not living with my Mom. Sinanay ko na’ng sarili ko not to crave for her cooking. I focus on work simula nang mamatay ang Dad ko. I don’t have time to think about food, you know.”

          “Tch!” Nilagyan ko pa siya ng kanin sa plato niya saka ulam. “Kumain ka pa nga.”

          “How about you? Why did you chose to be here instead of being with your parents?”

          “Hmm… Sabihin na nating...matigas talaga ang ulo ko. I want to prove something to myself. Ang napatunayan ko so far…I still need their guidance kahit siguro magka-asawa pa ‘ko. Kaya nga balak ko talagang bilhan si Papa nung nakita niyang home theatre. Retired na kasi siya. He loves watching movies tsaka mag-videoke. Kaya…” I looked at him sincerely. “Thank you talaga sa pagpayag mo sa deal na ‘to.  Ma-reach man o hindi ‘yung target savings para makabili ng gift ko, I’ll be thankful pa rin sa ‘yo. Lalo na sa paghingi mo ng permission sa owner na gamitin natin ‘yung penthouse niya. Feeling ko nga kaya hindi na mabigat ‘yung trabaho ko e dahil sa’yo, dahil close kayo ng boss natin.”

          Hindi siya nagsalita basta tumitig lang sa ‘kin. Parang may iniisip siya. But afterwards, he flashes his smile and returned eating.

          “I’ll wash the dishes.”

          “Hindi na. Ako na.”

          Seryoso niya ‘kong tiningnan. “I insist.”

          “Hmm… Kung gusto mo talaga makatulong, I have something in mind…”

          “I don’t like the tone of your voice.”

          Ngumiti ako. “I-model mo naman ‘yung men’s wear - then I’ll take pictures of you. Para sa Facebook page ko lang, please!?”

EDWARD

       “What? Did someone ask you?”

          “Yes, Sir. Three of them asked me kung sa’n daw po natin nabili ‘yung cupcakes and brownies,” Sam’s secretary said.

          I just had a meeting with a client. Nagpa-order ako sa secretary ni Sam ng cupcakes and brownies sa FB ni Hannah to be served in today’s meeting. I’m thinking that she might get connections or customers from these big clients. Nagpaabot din ako ng boxes of strawberry pies sa dalawang TVC shoot na ginagawa ng company. I gave them instructions na bigyan 'yung mga artist nila and have them post it on their social networking site accounts if they find it delicious.

          “Binigay ko na po sa kanila ‘yung calling card na binigay n’yo. We can expect them to call Miss Hannah anytime this week.”

          “Good. Thanks. Nag-iwan ako ng chocolate cupcakes sa table mo.”

          “Oh, Sir. Thank you.”

         

          I called her after I changed my clothes here in my penthouse. Inaya ko siyang kumain outside – my treat. Agad naman siyang pumayag so we agreed to meet at the parking lot to where my car was parked.

          Papalapit pa lang ako sa sasakyan ko nang makita ko that Hannah and Sam talking. Nakita ko siyang tumawa sa sinabi ni Sam and then she showed him something on her phone. This time, si Sam naman ang tumawa.

          “Having a good talk?” I announced myself.

          They both turned their heads in my direction.

          “Hey,” he greeted. This is crazy and dumb. He knows I don’t want him near her even though…I didn’t not answer his question. “Going somewhere?”

          “None of your—.”

          “Sir, baka gusto n'yo po sumama? Kakain po kami sa labas.”

          Tumingin ako kay Hannah. Is she inviting him? For real!?

          I wanted to give him a good beating when I heard him laugh.

          “Pwede ba?” he sarcastically asked.

          I mouthed… I’ll kill you! Then he started laughing again. Napatingin lang sa ‘min si Hannah who’s now clueless why this guy kept on laughing.

          “Ah, sorry. I almost forgot. I have to go somewhere. But thanks for inviting me, Hannah.” Hannah!? He looked at me while entering his car. “I’ll see you around.”

          Nakaalis na siya nang harapin ako ni Hannah.

          “Ano’ng problema mo?”

          “The last time I know, I don’t have a proble,”

          “Really? E bakit hindi mo inaya si President? Parang ayaw mo pa isama.”

          “Are you kidding me? Are you really inviting him to our dinner?”

          “Yes. Bakit? May masama ba?”

          Tch! Do I need to explain to her that I invited her ‘cause I want to eat with her and not with—What the heck is wrong with me, huh?

          “Ano!?”

          “Nothing. Just get in the car—.”

          “Ayoko na.”

          I looked at her — not believing what I heard. “Ayaw mo?”

          “Nakakainis ka kasi ang sungit mo. May ginawa ba ‘ko, ah? May nangyari ba sa ‘yo at sa ‘kin mo binubuntong galit mo?! Para kang ‘yung kaibigan mong may-ari nitong kumpanya. Ako rin ata ang buntungan ng stress niya kaya dami kong trabaho—.”

          “As if he’s giving you any extra work lately? Huh!”

          “As if you’re the owner para malaman mo? Huh! Huh!?”

          Nagtalikuran kami. God, Lord, why are all women like this!?

          “Buti pa si President, kahit presidente - hindi mainit ulo. Nagsabi pa nga siya na bibili ng cupcakes. E ikaw?”

          Hinarap ko siya. “What about me?”

          “Wala!” She yelled then murmured, “Bigla ka na lang mainit ulo diyan…”

        Clueless girl…

HANNAH

          Three days after naming…mag-away? Mag-LQ—OH C’MON! It’s not like we’re lovers. Basta! Hindi kami nag-usap na dalawa. And the same goes with him. Kahit nga gustong-gusto ko sana siyang kausapin dahil may nag-tag sa ‘king dalawang artista with a picture of my baked goods. Nakakakilig sa tuwa!

          Truth is…. I’m thinking na si President ang may kinalaman do’n. Recently, nalaman ko that the President’s secretary is the one who’s ordering these baked goods online. Hindi kaya—No, of course. Maybe he thinks I’m dedicated kaya niya ‘ko tinutulungan makabenta.

          My phone rings habang nandito ako sa pantry.

          “Yes, Miss Carmi? Red folder to your table. Conference room – okay.”

          May pinakukuhang folder si Miss Carmi so hindi ko na muna tinuloy ‘yung pagkuha ko ng kape. Okay lang din since I’ve been sitting down for five straight hours. I need this walk…

          Kalalabas ko lang ng elevator while holding this folder when I stopped. Wait… If I’m going to the conference room, it means I’ll be seeing the owner!?

          Bigla akong nagmadali sa paglalakad nang maisip ko ‘yun. Nag-text ako kay Miss Carmi nang makarating ako sa tapat ng conference room. I have to ready myself  ‘pag nagbukas ‘tong pinto. This is my only chance na makita ko ‘yung owner ng company.

          Pabukas na ‘yung pintuan sana nang…

          “Hannah?”

          Lumingon ako sa likuran ko. “Miss Carmi.”

          “Good. Thanks for coming. I’m at the CR so I didn’t see your text right away.”

          Tch! Akala ko pa naman makikita ko na…

          “Sige po. I’ll go ahead.”

          Pumasok na ulit sa loob si Miss Carmi habang ako naman naglakad pabalik sa elevator but I decided to go to the CR first. Palabas na ‘ko sa CR nang mapahinto ako sa nakita kong dumaan. Edward?

          Sumilip ako and I saw him with President Sam and another man with a higher position. Woah… Close talaga siya sa mga bosses. Fine, ako na’ng babasag sa silence naming dalawa.

          “Edwar—”

          “Sir! Sir!”

          I stopped. Isa sa mga senior ko yung patakbong lumalapit sa direksyon nina Edward while waving an envelope in her hand.

          “Sir, sorry. I forgot to give you this.”

          I was expecting that she’ll give it to President Sam, when suddenly – inabot niya ‘to sa harapan ni Edward.

          “Sorry, Sir.”

          “It’s okay,” he replied with full authority in his voice. “Take note of what I said earlier for your next project.”

          “Yes, Sir. We will. Thank you, Sir.”

          Umalis ‘yung senior ko saka inakbayan ni President si Edward and said…

          “The owner is not in the mood. Would you like to have a beer, my friend?”

          Nagbukas ‘yung elevator saka sila pumasok without hearing his reply. No… I don’t need his reply because clearly…

          He’s the owner. Si Edward ang may-ari nitong kumpanya!

CHAPTER 3

“The Truth…”

 

HANNAH

“Best na po ‘yan sa lahat ng meron kami dito, Ma’am” the salesman said. “Kung titingnan n’yo po, discounted na rin siya. Early Christmas sale po kasi. Sayang naman kung ‘di n’yo kukunin.”

          “I like it pero titingin muna rin ako sa iba.”

          He flashed his smile. “Okay po, Ma’am. No problem.”

          Naglakad ulit kami ni Jenna palayo do’n sa mga baking equipment. I’ve decided kasi to buy my own baking tools and equipment simula nang malaman ko ang totoo. It was almost three weeks simula nang malaman ko ‘yung tungkol kay Edward. Yes, I have to admit… I was a little disappointed.

          Hindi ko alam anong gagawin ko o paano ako magre-react sa nalaman ko. Gulong-gulo ang isip ko kung dapat ko bang sabihin sa kaniyang alam ko na kung sino ba siya…

          O dapat magpanggap na lang din ako just like what he’s doing ‘til now.

          Laking pasasalamat ko pa that he has been busy with his own stuff kaya hindi kami halos nagkikita. He just insisted that I can use the penthouse’ kitchen as long as I need it.

          “May nangyari ba sa dating pinaggagawan mo ng mga bine-bake mo? Why are you buying new tools?”

          Kinuha ko ‘yung mixing bowls. “Napag-isip-isip ko na may kinikita na rin naman ako. This is a good investment. At least, akin na ‘to.”

          Jenna gave me a strange look. “Wait lang. May…’di kaba sinasabi sa ‘kin?”

          Tumingin ako sa kaniya. “What are you saying?” I just smirked.

          “Wala lang. Napansin ko lang nitong mga huling linggo, you look so serious and silent. Parang…laging may iniisip?”

          Bumalik ako sa pagtingin sa mga bowls and whisk.

          “Business… Lagi kong iniisip pa’no palalaguin ‘to that’s why.”

          Yeah… This is all business for him. He just wants to help me achieve my goal. Bakit ba ‘ko nag-iisip ng iba? As if anything will change kung malaman niyang alam ko na kung sino siya.

          Of course… He’s trying to hide this since he’s not someone you should have met in the first place. Right?

          Habang naglalakad kami, I received a text message from him.

 

TEXT MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM EDWARD: Hey, I have good news for you. Call me once you’re free. K?

 

Yes, I know… He’s just being generous with his knowledge in business. I should be thankful… Yes, Hannah, just be thankful.

 

TEXT MESSAGE SENT TO EDWARD: Oks.

EDWARD

       Oks? Just Okay? I knew it… There’s really a problem here that I didn't know. Did I just do something stupid again? Or is this another woman’s episode?

          “Lovesickness again, caveman?”

          I turned my head on him. “Caveman?”

          May pinipirmahan siyang document in his table.

          “Cavemen protect their possessions very seriously… More importantly, their woman.” He looked at me. “You’re like that with Hannah—.”

          “Shut up. Just do your work.”

          Narinig ko siyang tumawa as I got back to browsing some documents.

          “The funny thing is… You reacted with me saying you’re a caveman but not with…being lovesickess? Owowoah~ This must be—.”

          “Shut up.”

          Then I heard him laugh again. This bigmouth…

          “Anyway, Pare.” He’s back to his serious tone. “Hindi ko na kayo nahuhuling magkasama na dalawa. Are you being cautious now ‘coz I’m teasing you?”

          “I have nothing to be cautious of.”

          “Tell that to my foot. Seriously, man, is the deal over?”

          “No…” Though I wish, I mean, I have this thoughts that I should not have agreed to this. “We’re both busy—Wait. Why do you keep on prying into our personal lives?”

          “Ohwowooah! Our? God, you really are lovesick.” Before I can react, he got up from his seat. “I have a meeting so you stay here first. Try to figure out what’s wrong because the last time I talk with her…she seems bothered talking about you.” While he’s walking out the room he said, “I wonder if she wants me more than—Hahaha.”

          Binato ko siya ng ballpen.

          “Tell her I’ll buy two boxes of—.”

          “Go buy somewhere else!”

          Then he went out of the room, at last.

          Naalala ko ‘yung sinabi ni Sam… Bothered? Why would she? Tch! This will not do. I dialled her number on my phone and called her. She answered after five rings. FIVE RINGS for pete’s sake!

          HANNAH: Yes—Sir—I mean, Oh? Bakit?

          EDWARD: Meet me on the rooftop.

          HANNAH: Rooftop? I’m working—.

EDWARD: Should I have to tell you na pinagpaalam kita sa owner—

          HANNAH: Fine… I’ll go.

 

HANNAH

        Gosh!!! Anong gagawin ko? What will I say!?? What will—Relax. I have to act normal. Parang ‘yung dati lang, ‘di ba? Okay. Go!

          “What are you doing?”

          Lumingon ako sa likuran ko. He looked at me like I’m a strange creature—Oh, shoot! Binaba ko ‘yung dalawang braso ko na nakataas sa ere.

          “Nothing.”

          Lumapit siya sa ‘kin and it felt like my heart was starting to beat crazily. Stop! Stop it, now! He stopped in front of me with a piercing stares.

          “Tell me, honestly, what’s wrong with you?” seryosong tanong niya.

          “Huh? Wrong—Sa ‘kin?” I exclaimed. “No, nothing’s wrong. Y-You? Honestly… What’s wrong?”

          “Nothing. Ikaw ‘tong parang may problema. Are you avoiding me?”

          “NO! Bakit ko naman gagawin ‘yun?” I faked a laugh. Kailangan kong mag-change topic. I’m tensed. “Bakit mo ba ‘ko pinapunta rito?”

          Hindi niya ‘ko sinagot. Tinitigan niya lang ako.

          “E-Edward?”

          Bigla siyang ngumiti saka umiwas ng tingin. Baliw talaga ‘tong isang ‘to. Then he looked at me again.

          “Let’s go out tomorrow.”

          “HUH!? G-Go out?”

          Oh, God. Are you being real to me? Is this—.

          “I have this last step to teach you.” Eh?

          “Last step?”

          “Yeah.” He nodded. “The last thing you should know is to protect what you’ve earned.”

          Ahh… We’re back to our deal. Ano ka ba, Hannah? I already told you, it’s all business to him. Gumising ka!

          “Okay,” I silently said without looking at him.

          Why… Why am I feeling disappointed here? It’s not like there’s something—Don’t even start, Hannah. Magpapaalam na sana akong babalik sa trabaho when I heard him sigh, before two fingers were placed under my chin. He gently turned and lifted my head to look at him and I had no other choice but to look back.

          “Has anyone told you that you look good in red?”

          “H-Huh?”

          Stop… Control… Relax…

          He flashed me his self-satisfied smirk then smoothly removed his fingers under my chin.

          “I’ll pick you up at 1.”

 

          Nervy Weekend!

        Kanina pa ‘ko papalit-palit ng damit dito sa tapat ng salamin. Though I already reminded myself that this is just a plain-simple-no- meaning day out[1] , yes – day out, sige pa rin ako sa pagpili ng dapat kong suotin. 

Wala na talaga akong pag-asa.

          I heard someone knock at akala ko malalaglag sa sahig ‘yung puso ko sa kaba. Huminga ako nang malalim pagkatingin ko sa salamin for the last time at saka binuksan ang pinto. And when I saw him…

          Gosh… Five hours of fixing myself will be wasted. I’ll look like a potato beside him. He’s a gorgeous piece of art.

          But just in time, parang nagbago lahat ng pananaw ko

          “I love it…” he said.

          “A-Ang alin?” Kahit alam mo kung ano!?

          He gave me a broad grin and said, “Everything.” He looked at me from head to toe. “Let’s go?”

         

          Sumakay na kami sa sasakyan niya and we were both silent. He switched on his stereo to kill the silence, which I am thankful for. I tried my best to let my mind wander on different things pero bumabalik pa rin sa sinabi niya last time sa rooftop.

“Has anyone told you that you look good in red?”

          Hindi ko maiintindihan ‘yung ibig niyang sabihin kung hindi pa sinabi ni Jenna…

“Girl, anong kulay ng lipstick mo?”

          “Lipstick? Hmm… Re—.”

          “Uh?”

          “Full Rose Red…”

          Hinanap ko pa sa katawan ko kung may iba pa ‘kong pula pero… That time… The only red that I’m wearing is my red lipstick.

          At hindi ko alam kung bakit ko na naman sinuot ‘tong lipstick na ‘to!? Hannah… Hannah… Are you looking for heartache?

          “How’s your business?”

          “Huh? Ah—Yes. Everything’s fine. Mas lumakas siya ngayon. Medyo…nakakalito na nga minsan sa dami. But I’m not complaining. Okay na okay sa ‘kin ‘yun.”

          Gosh~ I talk too much.

          I saw him nod. “That’s sounds good. Kaya naisip ko na rin na maaga pa lang, you have to learn to manage your business and learn how to protect it. You know anything about insurance?”

          “Ahh… ‘Di masyado. ‘Yun ba pupuntahan natin?”

          “Yes.” He kepts on driving. “You know, it’s good to learn what benefits you can get from it.”

          “Eh… Kailangan ko ba talaga? Hindi pa naman gano’n kalaki business ko. Tsaka…baka puro sa insurance mapunta kinikita ko.”

          “It sounds intimidating at first lalo na kung wala ka pang alam about it. Don’t worry, I’ll help you understand. Trust me.”

          Tumingin ako sa kaniya after niyang magsalita. Trust me? God knows I want to trust you… But how can I trust someone who can’t even tell me who he really is?

EDWARD

          We’ve spent two hours in the same insurance company I am in since I first built my own business. I can sense her uneasiness at first as the wealth planner explained to her what she needed to know. But as time goes by, siya na ang nagtatanong ng kung anu-ano.

“Teka, ano ba ang VUL?” Hannah asked.

The wealth planner explained it in terms she could understand, “Ganito ho yun, Ma’am. Ang VUL ay Variable Life Insurance. Medyo complicated pakinggan diba? Pero don’t worry, madali lang naman siya i-explain.

He continued, “Normally, ang alam ng mga tao tungkol sa life insurance ay binabayaran mo ang insurance company para ma-protect kayo sa aksidente or anything else that could negatively impact you and your family,” I noticed Hannah nodded her understanding.

“Yun ‘yung lumang type of insurance. It’s known as Traditional Life insurance.”

Hannah raised her hand slowly signalling that she wanted to know more about what she heard, “So, bago lang ang VUL?”

“Opo. Ang pinagkaiba niya sa Traditional Life insurance ay ‘yung pera na inii-invest n’yo ay pwedeng i-lagay sa isang fund. Ang fund po na ‘to ay kumikita ng pera on your behalf. Sa Traditional Life insurance kasi, life protection lang siya. Ang isa pang advantage ng VUL sa Traditional Life ay yung kinita ng investment niyo pwede niyong i-withdraw in case nagkaroon ng emergency at kailangan niyo ng cash.” the wealth planner paused for a bit, anticipating any additional questions from Hannah.

I looked at Hannah, she looked at me with a questioning look. I knew that she had more questions since this was a life-changing decision for her.

“Is there anything else you’d like to ask?” I finally replied.

“Kailangan ko ba talaga ito?” she asked.

The wealth planner cleared his throat and interjected, “Ma’am, isipin n’yo na lang na parang business n’yo rin ang pagkuha ng VUL. You are getting insured while still making your money work for you,”

“Hindi po natin masasabi ang mangyayari in the future. Di ba nga sabi nila it’s better to be safe than sorry? There’s some truth to that. It’s never too late to start living your life now knowing you’re getting protection and getting your investment back. Mas malaki ang profit na pwede ninyong kitain instead of just keeping it in the bank.” This is what another wealth planner told me as well. I looked at Hannah and nodded my approval. She seemed to agree with what the wealth planner explained.

She’s now weighing her decision on what kind of insurance she should avail of first.

          “Kung lalaki pa ‘tong business ko, I’m sure I can avail of insurance para kina Mama at Papa. Naisip ko lang, ‘di ba?” She turned her head to me.

          “Yes. Why not…”

          I can’t explain it but it felt nice to see her pleased and thrilled at the same time. She chose getting a VUL plan after getting her papers in order, we got in the car and drove off.

“Nga pala…” I heard her say during the ride. Her tone became different. It felt like she’s now being cautious. “I’m starting to buy my own baking tools and equipment. ‘Yung oven, nakabili na ‘ko. Ipapadala na sa bahay next week.

Bigla akong nakaramdam ng pangamba sa sinabi niya.  Seriously, Edward, why would you be worried in the first place? You should be glad that no one will intrude in your privacy. But then, I don’t want her to go.

          “Naisip ko kasi that it’s best to have my own tools, right? And… Nakakahiya na rin sa owner. Masyado na ‘kong nakakaabala and baka sabihin niya umaabuso na ‘ko—.”

          “I’m sure he thinks differently.”

          “Hindi naman ikaw siya to say that,” she calmly said.

          This time, I’m the one who glanced at her. She just look outside her window.

          “I know. I just know. Trust me.”

          Yeah, how ironic. How can you tell her to trust you if in the first place – you’re someone na hindi niya dapat pagkatiwalaan. She’s looking at me right now. Binalik ko’ng tingin sa kaniya nang ihinto ko ang sasakyan pagka-red light.

          Those eyes… I don’t want to fail those eyes.

HANNAH

          “Girl, mas maganda ata ‘to kaysa diyan.”

          “Patingin… Ay, you’re right. Sige ito na lang.”

       "Nakakainggit ka naman, girl. Palaki na ng palaki 'tong business mo[2] . Napapaisip na tuloy ako to open up my own business."

         "Why not? But before thinking that kailangan matuto ka munang i-manage pera mo. Ang gastos mo kaya."

      "Wow... Parang kailan lang Ms. Gastadora ka. Tapos ngayon... naks! I'm proud of you."

          Pagtapos naming makapamili sa next batch ng female collection ko for my online RTW shop, dumiretso kami sa binilhan naman namin ng male shirt and jackets ni Edward last time. Obviously, he’s not with me this time.

          Hindi ko na siya sinabihan na mamimili ako ngayon. Gulong-gulo na kasi ‘tong utak ko. It’s telling me things that I shouldn’t be thinking of. Alam ko na rin naman ang bibilhin since ‘yung mga napamili na namin last time ‘yung bibilhin ko. I have to admit, after using his picture as my model for my male collection – dumami ang likes and shares ng page ko.

          Plus – maraming female buyers ang bumili ng collection na ‘yun. For their boyfriend or friend – I don’t know kung kanino nila ibibigay.

          “Hi, Ma’am! Welcome back po.”

          “Hi, Ate.”

          “Sa’n po si Sir?”

          “Sir?!” Jenna immediately asked. Tumingin siya sa ‘kin. “Sinong Sir?”

          Gosh, this girl won’t stop. I can feel it. Tumingin ako kay Ate…

          “Nasaan po ‘yung dating binili ko? Kukuha po ako ulit. Bibigay ko ‘yung sizes…”

          “Ay sige po.” Inabot ko ‘yung papel na may nakasulat ng bibilhin ko. “Sayang naman ala si Sir.” Gosh, Ate, stop now. “Boyfriend n’yo po ba ‘yun, Te?”

          “BOYFRIEND???” Jenna reiterated. She looked at me with accusing eyes. “Boyfriend!?? Hindi tayo uuwi hangga’t ‘di mo sinasabi kung sino siya!”

And just like that, I told her everything. Yeah… Everything. We’re here at a fast food chain eating our dinner. Right now, she’s still weighing everything she heard.

          “Ano? Uwi na tayo?” I asked.

          She grabbed my arm para pigilan ako tumayo.

“You mean… Si Edward na muntik na kinababaliwan ngayon ng halos buong company natin dahil sa nilagay mong picture niya sa FB page mo…is our company owner!? OMG.  Unbelievable.”

          “Yes. Kaya hindi mo pwedeng sabihin ‘yan sa iba dahil malalagot ako.”

          “E akala ko ba hindi naman niya alam na you know the truth na?”

          “Basta… ‘Wag mong ipagkakalat.”

          “Naman. Ayoko nga siya i-share sa iba. Bakit naman kaya ayaw niyang sabihin ang totoo sa ’yo? Halos magtu-two months na kayong together ‘no.”

          Hindi ako agad nakasagot though I know the answer well.

          “It’s not what you think it is. Lahat naman ‘to…deal lang. Business deal.”

          Alam mo naman pala, Hannah. E bakit pipigilan mong ‘wag maiyak ngayon? At bakit ka naman iiyak!?

          “Na-fall ka na sa kaniya.”

          Tumingin ako kay Jenna. She’s looking at me with those regretful eyes. It’s like I’m looking at my own eyes now.

          “I didn’t…” I unconvincingly said.

          “Sabihin mo ‘yan sa mata mo na ‘di marunong magtago ng secret. Tsk, tsk, tsk. E ano na’ng gagawin mo?”

          “Hindi ko alam. Kahit ang ire-react ko hindi ko alam kaya I keep on pretending na hindi ko pa alam. Dapat ba ‘kong matuwa o magalit?”

          “Hmm… Let’s see… Kung gusto mo maging good vibes, ‘wag ka magalit. Since lahat naman ng ginawa niya so far e puro good things, right? Tinulungan ka niya ng bonggang-bongga.”

          “Then…Kailangan ko na lang maging thankful.”

          “Well, yeah.”

“Ang dami ko ng natulong sa ‘yo pero ni minsan… You didn’t offer baking me something.”

“I’m saving the best for last. Ano bang favourite cake mo?”

“Well… I’m just a simple guy. Chocolate cake.”

EDWARD

          I’m here at my younger sister’s house. I brought their strawberry cupcake orders from Hannah that I asked Sam’s secretary to order. Nagustuhan nila ‘yung dinala ko sa kanila last time so they asked me na magdala ulit.

          “Is something wrong?”

          “Mom.”

          Nandito ako sa terrace nang tumabi si Mom sa ‘kin.

          “Work problems again?”

          “Ah, no. Not this time.”

          “Hmm… Then…a woman?” I chuckled. “Ahh.. I’m right. Bakit? Ano’ng meron? Though I have to admit na I’m surprised that you’re having a different problem besides business matters. Now you look like a normal man.”

          “I am normal.”

          “I won’t argue. So what bothers you?”

           Nag-isip ako kung ano’ng sasabihin ko. “What do you think I should do if it feels something’s not right? I mean, parang…hindi ako mapakali kasi parang pakiramdam ko may mali akong ginagawa?”

She just smiled. “Remember - if it doesn’t feel right… It is probably wrong. Don’t waste your time and make it right. End of story.”

          Three days have passed and we haven’t talked nor seen each other. I’m not sure of her own reason why pero ako – I was bombarded with different issues regarding my Dad’s business in London. Lately ko na lang din na-realize that she’s not going here anymore in my penthouse to bake. For sure, dumating na ‘yung in-order niyang oven.

          “E ‘di mapapadali ang balik mo sa London?” Sam asked.

          Papasok na kami dito sa pent ko and I’m glad I can rest now. 

          “Yes, I think so.”

          We both slumped on my couch and stared at the ceiling.

          “How about your woman?”

          “She’s not my woman…” Yeah, how about her?

          Hindi ko na siya nagawang tawagan even though my friend from the insurance company informed me that she already availed one of their insurance packages. Hindi maganda ang timpla ko recently so I didn’t want to vent it out to her just like what she’s always accusing me of – as the owner.

          “Man, seriously? I thought something’s going on with you two. Pinapayagan mo pa siyang pumunta dito sa penthouse mo.”

          I know he won’t stop so I should not give him a hint so he can stop asking.

          “She’s not going here anymore. And besides, this is all just part of the deal I had with her.”

          “And of course, don’t forget, you did this to make her eat her words for insulting you, right?”

          I didn’t answer right away. It really doesn’t feel right.

“Remember- if it doesn’t feel right… It is probably wrong. Don’t waste your time and make it right. End of story.”

          I forcibly closed my eyes.

          “So far… Are you getting near with your goal?”

          “I think so…” I just want to end this conversation.

          I heard him sigh before saying, “What a shame… Well, at least you had fun before going back to London.”

          “Yes… I had fun.”

          “What are you planning for her?”

          “I…  Nothing.”

          As soon as I said that, I heard a thud like a refrigerator door closing. I was about to open my eyes when a cold sticky sweet smell something covered my face. I gasped kasabay nang pagbangon at pagmulat ng mga mata ko.

          “What the—” I heard Sam muttered. “No way...”

          I tried to open my eyes as I wiped this…chocolate? - off my face.

          “The hell with this—.” I stopped when I finally opened my eyes and saw who’s in front of me. “Hannah.” Tumayo ako to face her. Her eyes were filled with angry tears as her face turned maddening red. “I a—.”

          She raised her left hand to stop me. Nakatitig lang siya sa ‘kin habang umiiyak siya. I know, with the way she looks at me, she resents me.

          “Hannah, it’s not what you—.”

          She slapped me.

          “I’m glad you had fun,” she said then stormed out of my face. Out of this penthouse…

And probably, out of my life. Like Hell.

CHAPTER 4

"Life worth living..."

 

 

HANNAH


Ang sama niya! Nakakainis! Nakakainis! Nahihiya pa man din ako dahil tinutulungan ako ng boss ko, tapos ngayon...pinaglalaruan lang pala niya 'ko?!

Napakatanga ko. Lagi na lang ako naloloko. Kung hindi sa mga scam, sa lalaki!?

Huminto ako sa paglalakad at saka tinakpan 'yung mukha ko.

"A-Akala ba niya iiyak...iiyakan ko s-siya??! Manigas siya! Hinding-hindi ako...hindi ako iiyak!"

"Miss?"

Inalis ko 'yung mga kamay kong nakaharang sa mukha ko. May lalaking nakatayo sa gilid ko at may hawak na panyo.

"You can have it. Iiyak mo lang 'yan--."

"MUKHA BA 'KONG UMIIYAK???!" Sabay punas sa luha. "Hindi ako umiiyak!"

Halata naman na nagulat siya sa reaksyon ko. Ganyan! Ganyang-ganyan 'yung reaksyon niya nang makita niya 'ko sa harapan nila kanina.

"Lumuluha ka kasi oh..."

"PAWIS 'TO! PAWWWWIIS! Hindi ba pwedeng pagpawisan ang mata ko, ah?? Napapagod din naman 'yan tumingin sa mga manloloko, ah?"

"S-Sorry, miss. Akala ko lang kasi—."

"Alam mo bang maraming namamatay sa akala na 'yan??! Pero ang totoo, mas maraming nasasaktan - hindi namamatay! Tandaan mo ‘yan."

"Ah—oh, sige. Kung talagang 'di mo na kailangan nitong panyo—."

"Hindi ko kailangan! Akala mo ba magpapasalamat ako dahil tinulungan mo 'ko? Hindi! Hindi ako magpapasalamat dahil manloloko ka! CHE!"

Tumalikod ako saka nag-umpisang lumakad paalis. Narinig ko pa siyang nagsabi na...

"Ako? Niloko siya?"

Naglakad ako sa antayan ng bus. And haba ng pila, nakakainis!!! Ayoko na maghintay. Gusto ko ng umuwi kaya umalis ako sa pila ko at saka naglakad papunta sa taxi bay.

Sakto naman na maraming taxi.

"Kapag pauwi ka na... Iwasan mo na'ng mag-taxi. And laki ng gastos mo d'yan. Mag bus ka na lang."

Tinakpan ko'ng magkabila kong tenga. AYAAAW! Ayoko na siya marinig.

"Sasakay ako ng taxi!!!"

"Taxi, ma'am! Dito!!!"

(After 3 hours and 45 minutes...)

Gosh.... Kasumpa-sumpa talaga ang araw na 'to. And laki ng bill ko sa taxi. Nakakahinayang—HINDI! HINDI KA DAPAT MANGHINAYANG.

Minsan lang naman ah? Saka... Sino ba siya para sundin mo'ng mga utos niya? Lahat ng tinuro niya sa ‘kin, hindi ‘yan totoo. Lahat ‘yun, part lang ng panloloko niya.

Akala ko pa naman…

Ilang araw na ang nakalipas simula nang malaman ko ang totoo. Hindi na rin kami nagkita pagkatapos no’n. Dalawang beses na rin akong umiwas na mapunta sa floor ng mga executives sa tuwing mauutusan ako.

Minsan…naiisip ko na kaya ayoko rin silang makita ay dahil sa nahihiya ako sa sarili ko, sa mga nangyari sa ‘min to be exact. Siguro tuwang-tuwa siya na napaikot niya ‘ko sa mga balak niya. Habang ako naman…tuwang-tuwa na kasama siya, na kausap siya, na marinig siya—NO!

HINDI PWEDE!

Tama na ‘yan, Hannah. Wala na kayong dahilan para magkita.

Hindi na kayo magkikita.

EDWARD

“That’s fine with me. Ikaw, Edward? What do you think?”

Many days have passed and we haven’t talked yet tungkol sa nangyari. I know, I should be glad that somehow…I made her eat her words. Alam ko, that because of her business, nakaipon na rin siya. I’m not sure gaano na kalaki ang kita niya but I’m pretty sure that she can meet her goals before her Father’s birthday.

But why am I still worrying about her?

I should stop thinking about her since everything’s done. We don’t meet. We don’t talk. We…We’re back to our old lives.

“Pare…” I heard Sam whisper.

“Yes?”

I saw him smile with the presenters here in this meeting at saka sumenyas na ituloy nila ‘yung ginagawa nila.

“Ano’ng yes'  No’ng isang araw ka pa, ah? Wala ka sa sarili mo.”

I just smirked with the thought. Ako!? Wala sa sarili?

“I’m not. I’m okay.”

“Talaga lang ah? Okay ka na?”

I gave him a serious look. “Don’t make me a fool. I am – okay.”

“Sige, punta tayong PR Department. Mag rounds tayo.”

“Fine.”

“Okay, call.”

Wait!? PR Department? Sam looked at me with devious eyes.

“You’re okay, right?”

After the meeting, we went to the PR Department. A lot of them were surprised to see the President in their floor. Obviously, they were excited to see us.

Only one wasn’t pleased to see us—I mean, not pleased to see me.

Her.

HANNAH

“Uy, ‘di ka na ba nagtitinda ng cupcakes mo?”

“Huh? Ahh… Nagtitinda naman.”

"Eh bakit 'di ka na sumasagot sa mga inquiries sa page mo? Dami na nagko-comment, ah? Pati 'yung sa huli mong dress collection. Mamaya niyan...mawalan ka ng parokyano. Sayang naman."

Nagbuntong-hininga ako. Hannah... Get back to your own self. Nabigyan ka na ng chance to be successful sa field na hindi mo akalaing magugustuhan mo. All you have to do is...

Maintain everything you've been doing. Kung may babaguhin ka man...it's for the better.

I shook my head. Ayoko na siyang marinig! Hannah, lahat ng sinabi niya kasinungalingan kaya 'wag mong paniwalaan 'yun.

Nakarating na kami sa floor namin. Nag-lunch kami sa labas ng building. Hindi na rin ako nakapag-prepare ng lunch ko para ngayong araw. Nawala ako bigla sa mood...

"Bakit parang ang daming tao?" tanong ni Jenna habang papasok kami ng office.

Nakatayo 'yung iba na parang nakatanaw sa bandang pwesto namin ni Jenna. Nakita ko rin 'yung Boss ko na nandoon. Lumapit ako sa co-employee ko saka nagtanong.

"Ano'ng meron?"

"Nandito si President."

"President?" ulit ko. Sam?

Tumingin ulit ako sa pwesto namin kung sa'n sila nakatayo.

Bumulong ako. "Tch! Kung 'di ko lang siya boss—."

"Tapos kasama niya 'yung gwapong advertising consultant," dagdag pa ng pinagtanungan ko.

Advertising consultant? Teka...  

"Oo nga. Teka…parang pamilyar siya.” Tumingin sa ‘kin ‘yung isa ko pang co-employee. “’Di ba siya ‘yung nasa FB page mo—.”

            Naglakad ako palayo sa kanila.

Nakita kong humarap sa 'kin si President, at pagkatapos no'n... Siya naman ang tumingin sa direksyon ko.

May lakas ka pa ng loob magpakita sa 'kin? Tch!

Tumingin ako kay Jenna. "Girl, tara."

"Huh? Bakit?"

Hinawakan ko na siya sa braso para hilahin sana nang tawagin ako ni Ma'am Carmi.

"Hannah?"

"Inis naman..." mahinang sabi ko.

Binitiwan ko si Jenna saka naglakad papunta sa kinatatayuan nina Edward. Pinilit kong 'wag tumingin sa kahit na sino sa kanila ni President.

Oo na, oo na. Parehas ko silang boss pero pwede ko naman silang kainisan sa utak ko, 'di ba?!

"This is Hannah Fernandez, Mr. President. Siya po ang nagsulat ng latest proposal ng department namin for our next brand."

'Di ako tumingin kay President kahit nagsalita pa siya.

"Ooh... I see. I really commend you on your wonderful proposal."

Blah blah blah....

"Actually, Edward here..." Huh? Napatingin ako sa kanila. Halata namang nagulat din si Edward sa sinabi ng kaibigan niya. "He's the one who analyzed your proposal. Though there are some parts na gusto niyang...linawin sa 'yo. IF you’ll give him a chance... of course."

I had to control myself na huwag mapaismik. Linawin? Chance?

"Thank you, Sir. Kaso may gagawin pa po—."

"Nako, Mr. President. She can all have the time that she needs to make our proposal perfect." Tumingin sa 'kin si Mrs. Carmi. "Right, Hannah?"

As if naman makakatanggi ako.

"Yes po."

Napatingin ako Kay Edward pero inalis ko rin kaagad ang tingin ko. Nagulat kasi ako at nakatitig na siya sa 'kin nang diretso. Akala ko pa naman ako ang may kasalanan sa kanya.

Sumama si President kay Ma’am Carmi sa office nito. Habang si Edward naman, naiwan sa tabi ko.

"Sorry po, alam kong wala talaga kayong sasabi—."

Napahinto ako sa pagsasalita nang maramdaman kong hawakan niya ang kamay ko at saka bahagyang hinila palabas ng office. Sinundan pa kami ng tingin ng mga officemates ko paglabas naming dalawa.

For sure, kung anu-anong tanong na naman ang maririnig ko mamaya.

Ilang minuto pa at 'di ko na namalayang nakarating na kami sa rooftop na dalawa pagkasakay namin sa elevator.

"Pwede mo na 'ko bitiwan....Sir."

Humarap siya sa 'kin. Nakatitig na naman siya tapos 'di nagsasalita.

"May dapat po ba 'kong malaman tungkol sa proposal ko? Kasi—."

"What don't you hear me out first?"

"May dapat pa po ba 'kong malaman, SIR?!"

"Stop calling me Sir! We both know that—."

"Na ano? Na nagpaloko ang isang tulad ko sa laro mo. Okay lang naman. Boss kita eh. Kailangan ko pa 'tong trabaho na 'to kaya kakainin ko na lang ang pride ko para 'di ako matanggal. Baka kasi isang araw—."

"Hindi ko gagawin 'yun sa 'yo and you know that."

"No, hindi ko alam. Hindi ko na alam kung anong totoo sa nangyari noon. Ngayon, ang alam ko lang..."

Huminto ako. Hannah, gusto mo bang magmukhang katawa-tawa? Niloko ka lang niya...kaya pati nararamdaman mo sa kaniya - hindi totoo.

Umiwas ako ng tingin.

"Sa tingin ko, wala na dapat tayong dahilan para magkita. Alis na po ako."

Tinalikuran ko siya and I was about to go nang magsalita siya.

"You haven't heard my side yet."

Wala ng dahilan—.

"Yes... Alam kong mali ang dahilan ko nang umpisahan ko lahat 'to. Hindi ko itatanggi 'yan. But I wouldn't say that those days I've spent with you was a mistake, too. I am really sorry for hurting you, Hannah, but I am not sorry for enjoying those days that I was with you. Those times na kasama kita...I will never forget that, even if you cast me out. You can trust me on that..."

EDWARD

I'm here in my pad's kitchen. Hindi ko na namalayang naubos ko na 'yung isang box ng cupcakes na pina-order ko sa secretary ni Sam noong isang araw. I might get drunk with sweetness...

"Oh?! You're here yet you aren’t answering my calls."

Nakasandal lang ako habang nakatitig ako sa hawak kong cupcake.

"I'm not answering your calls yet you're here?" I sarcastically replied.

He went straight to my ref and got some beer. Nilapag niya sa table saka umupo sa tabi ko.

"Don't try to deny it now, man. You fell in love with her."

I didn't give him a reply. It's not him who should know what I really feel right now.

"Do you think she'll forgive me?" I asked while staring at this strawberry cupcake. Gusto ko na 'tong kainin pero I want something to remind me of her.

I think I'm getting addicted

"I don't know. Maybe...she won't. But she'll definitely forgive me 'coz I know she will never resist my charisma," he teased.

Tiningnan ko siya.

"Are you attracted to her?"

He roared with laughter.

"Don't worry. I am more attracted to her cupcakes." He grabbed the cupcake off my hand and then took a bite.

"WHAT THE—HEY!"

He stood up and started to move out.

"I'll make sure she'll be taken care of once you’re back in London."

Then he's gone.

I nearly forgot. Two days from now, I'll be going back to my old life. One thing's for sure, it will never be the same again.

 

HANNAH

<Phone Call>

WEALTH PLANNER: Sayang naman, Ma'am, kung ihihinto n'yo na ang business n’yo. Nakita mo naman po 'yung nauna nating computation sa pwede n'yong kitain sa loob pa lang ng six months. Wala pa po doon 'yung naisip nating pwedeng idagdag na item sa RTW at pastry business n'yo. Kapag nagtagal nga po, may mga pwede kaming i-recommend na client sa inyo. Sooner or later you can have your own place for your business. Kahit maliit lang to start with."

Tumawag ako sa wealth planner ng insurance company na pinuntahan namin ni Edward noon. I have concerns kasi regarding my business and sa in-avail ko sa kanilang insurance investment. Para kasing...ayoko na ituloy muna lahat 'to.

          <Phone Call>

HANNAH: Nawalan kasi ako ng gana, lately. Ang totoo... Natatakot ako na magkamali ulit. I think hindi ko na kaya na mag-jump na naman into a big decision like this tapos sa huli magkakamali ako. I don't want to waste the effort, you know? Nakakahinayang lang."

After that talk, nakipag-set ako sa kanila ng meeting to discuss my concerns. Naging positive naman sila sa naging tawag ko kahit na ang nega ng dating, Mayro’n din daw silang gusto i-share sa ‘kin para raw sana ma-enhance ang benefits ng insurance na kinuha ko.

Nang magkita na kami, hinayaan ko na muna siyang i-share sa 'kin 'yung sinasabi niyang good news bago ko naman sabihin ‘yung bad news ko.

            “Ma’am, gusto ko lang kayo bigyan ng update sa investment ng policy na kinuha n’yo,” ang sabi sa ‘kin ng wealth planner pag-upo naming sa isang restaurant. “Good news! Positive ho ‘yung nagiging performance ng insurance n’yo kahit kakaumpisa n’yo pa lang. Sooner or later, mas lalaki pa ang value ng investment n’yo,” dagdag niyang sinabi sa akin.

            Tiningnan ko ang mga papeles na inabot niya sa akin. Maayos nga ang naging performance after several months since mag-start ang business ko. Kaso… Mas tumaas ang concern ko kung itutuloy ko pa ito. ‘Yung business ko pa nga lang nawiwindang na ‘ko i-handle, eh.

            Kumunot ang noo ko. Kailangan ko pa ba talaga ‘tong insurance? ‘Yung wealth planner na kausap ko nabasa yata ‘yung mukha ko. “Ma’am, may tanong po kayo that I can answer?”

            Nahinto ako sa pag-iisip. Biglang nagsalita ang wealth planner. “May suggestion lang po ako. Na-start n’yo na ho ‘yung insurance n’yo. Naramdaman n’yo po ba ‘yung gastos?”

            Sa totoo lang ‘di ko nga naramdaman ang gastos. Siguro nga tama si Edward. I guess even if he’s not here, he made me understand the value of money. Kahit wala siya rito, naalala ko pa rin ‘yung mga advice niya sa akin when it comes to spending. Almost four months na rin since tulungan niya ‘ko to start this business. Lahat ng gastos ko sa paggala, eating fast food, and spending on whatever napunta sa business.

            “Ma’am?” Nagsasalita pa pala ‘yung wealth planner. “Imagine n’yo na lang ‘yung investment ninyo, ‘di po ba you feel protected without even realizing it? Isipin n’yo na lang po na you are not just saving, you are also investing for your future. Wala na kayong kailangan i-fear. Hindi po ba advantage sa inyo ‘yun?”

Napangiti ako sa sinabi niya kahit na matipid.

Para akong nakipag-usap sa kaibigan ko after ng meeting namin.  Gumaang 'yung pakiramdam ng dibdib ko. Sinabi ko 'yung concerns ko pero I let her know din na itutuloy ko na ulit itong business at insurance investment na kinuha ko.  Hindi talaga ako nagkamali to meet her.

Naalala ko pa naman 'yung sabi ng co-employee ko na nakakatakot mag-avail ng insurance kasi parang sinasabi mo na may mangyayari sa 'yong masama.

Hindi pala.

Tinutulungan ka lang talaga nila na mas maging free sa life - free from fear of life.

Kung hindi dahil sa kaniya, hindi ko malalaman 'yung ganito. Baka kung saan na naman mapunta 'yung mga kinikita ko.

"Those times na kasama kita...I will never forget that, even if you cast me out. You can trust me on that..

Umuwi ako kaagad sa apartment ko after ng appointment ko. Nilabas ko na lahat ng natitira ko pang ingredients sa paggawa ng cupcakes.

I spent the next few hours sa paggawa ng cupcakes. Naka-off ako ngayon kaya I have this privilege sa oras ko.

Habang naghihintay ako na matapos ang baking time, nag-check ako ng Facebook page ng online shop ko. Tsk! Ang dami ng inquiries!

You have to wake up, Hannah! Regret and hatred has no room for your progressing business. Dahil diyan, nag-post ako ng apology sa Facebook page ko. Good thing, maganda pa rin ang response at excited rin sila sa new products and items na gagawin ko.

"Okay. I'm all good!" I said habang tinitingnan 'yung kaka-box ko pa lang na six pieces na rainbow cupcakes. Ang kulang na lang ay itong hawak ko. "Lalagay ko pa ba? Corny eh..."

May maliit akong card na sinulatan. 'Di ko alam kung ilalagay ko pa sa box o hindi na.

"Tsk! Bahala na nga."

Kumuha ako ng double sided tape at saka ko idinikit 'yung card sa box. Okay. It's all set!

Mga dalawang oras din ang itinigal ng byahe ko bago ako nakarating sa building namin. Pagkapasok ko ng elevator pinindot ko 'yung forbidden floor. Di na 'ko kinabahan na may makasabay since kanina pa uwian.

Tingin ko nga kaya na lang ako pinapasok ng guard kasi kilala niya 'kong laging kasama si Edward na may-ari nitong company.

Lumabas kaagad ako pagkabukas ng elevator. Bigla rin akong kinabahan. Teka... Hindi ko pa alam ano’ng sasabihin ko.

Oo, makikipag-ayos na 'ko sa kaniya. Naisip kong kahit ano pang naging dahilan niya para gawin 'yun, hindi ko pwedeng kalimutan 'yung mga times na masaya kaming magkasama. Hindi ko pwedeng lokohin ang sarili ko na hindi ako masaya nang mga oras na 'yun.

Bahala na!

Sinubukan kong mag-doorbell ng ilang beses pero hindi nagbukas 'yung pintuan.

Wrong timing ba 'ko?

Narinig ko 'yung pagbukas ng elevator kaya napalingon ako. Ang laki ng expectations ko na siya na 'yung dumating. Nagulat na lang ako ng si President ang makita ko.

Halata rin na nagulat siya nang makita ako pero bigla 'tong napalitan ng something amusing sa expression niya. Ngumiti siya sa 'kin at saka nagsalita.

"Looking for Edward?"

"Opo sana..."

Humawak siya sa dibdib niya saka sinabing "Ouch. Akala ko pa naman friends na tayo. Bakit OPO pa rin sagot mo sa 'kin. Besides, it's not office hours. Pwede na'ng Sam."

Matipid lang akong ngumiti saka tumango.

"Anyway, wala si Edward dito."

Sabi ko na eh. Tsk! "Gano'n pala. Ah sige, balik na lang siguro ako next week."

"He won't be here next week either." pinalo niya ‘yung side ng closed fist niya sa isang kamay niya. "Ah! You didn't know?"

"Ang...alin?"

"Bumalik na siya sa London."

EDWARD

 

<Video Call to Sam>

EDWARD: How is she?

SAM: She's doing fine. Actually, lagi ko na siyang pinapasama sa mga closed door meetings kapag involved ang PR department.

I'm here in my office sa London. Doing the same stuff again for the whole week na bumalik ako dito. Hindi pa rin kami nag-uusap. I'm afraid that she might lose her interest again in her business once na magparamdam na naman ako sa kaniya tulad nang nangyari noon nang hindi na niya sinasagot 'young mga inquiries sa FB page n'ya. Ngayon, she's doing great now without me. Lalo na sa business niya. I can see it in her Facebook page. Nakausap ko rin 'yung kaibigan ko sa insurance and she told me na maganda ang takbo ng business ni Hannah. I don't want to ruin it for her.

SAM: Nga pala, I forgot telling you this...

I continued typing on my laptop. I heard him clear his throat.

SAM: Dear Edward... Alam kong sawa ka na sa mga bine-bake ko pero bibigyan pa rin kita as a sign of peace between us. I want to tell you that I forgive you and...

I didn't get what he was reading, not until I heard the word forgive. Napatingin ako sa isang screen ng laptop ko, I saw Sam holding a small red card.

SAM: I also enjoyed the time I've spent with you - Hannah.

He looked at the screen, as if he's looking at me.

EDWARD: When did she give it to you?

SAM: Ahh... Two days after you left?

EDWARD: What?! Hindi mo man lang sinabi sa 'kin!?

SAM: Man, you're the one who's not answering my calls. You know you're a workaholic who doesn't want to be bothered once you get started. Sayang, isang linggo na 'tong cupcakes mo.

He showed a red box na binuksan niya. May lamang rainbow cupcakes sa loob.

EDWARD: Don't dare touch it. I'm warning you.

SAM: You can't do anything unless you're here.

            Oh, crap! He's right. What am I supposed to do? I can't leave this job behind—.

            SAM: You better hurry, man. The last thing I've heard...

            EDWARD: What?

            SAM: There's a guy who always sticks with her these past few days. He's not from the office. Lagi siyang sinusundo according to my assistant. The last thing I knew, wala siyang manliligaw. Tch! But it's not impossible for her to have one. She's someone who's hard to resist.

            SAM: I'm warning you, man. You better decide now or you'll regret it  in the end.

 

HANNAH

            Nakakatuwa tingnan 'yung gawa kong three layered cake pati cupcakes do'n sa special table ng debutant. Ito na nga ata 'yung pinakamalaking order na natanggap ko simula nang mag-start ako sa business ko.

            I'm happy they trusted me with this.

            "Hi, Hannah. Here's the full payment nga pala for the pastries and the cake."

            Inabot sa 'kin ng mother ng debutant 'yung white envelope saka ko nilagay sa bag.

            "Sana po nagustuhan ng debutant."

            "Nako, yes naman. She didn't want to slice it. Sayang naman daw 'yung design."

            Parehas kaming natawa sa sinabi niya.

           "No doubt that Edward was right about you. You're a good baker, Hannah."

            "P-po? Edward?"

            "Hmm?"

            "Sabi n'yo po Edward is right about me?'

            "Ah, yes. He's the one who recommended you to me. He is always calling me to make sure na ikaw ang kunin ko sa debut ng unica hija namin. Usually, I have to taste test first bago ako mag-order but I know mapili siya sa mga gusto niya so, I trusted him instead."

            "How about si Gianne?"

            Siya 'yung wealth planner ko sa insurance company.

            "Ah, I know magkakilala sila. Baka siya na pinakausap sa 'kin ni Edward since he's in London now."

            Umalis ako sa event ng client ko with a longing heart. Pagkarinig ko ng tungkol kay Edward, do'n ko na-realize na I've been telling myself not to miss him but the truth is...I terribly want to see him.

            Hindi totoo 'yung mga naiisip ko nitong mga huling araw na kinalimutan na niya 'ko. He’s still cares for me.

            "Hannah!"

            Lumingon ako. Si Kuya, nandito na.

            "Sorry, lakas ng ulan sa labas. Ano? Tara?"

            Dito kami sa mall nagkita ni Kuya. Lagi na niya 'kong sinusundo simula nang mapabalita 'yung babaeng na-holdup sa lugar namin.

            "Kuya, may pupuntahan lang ako sandali? Department store lang."

            "Sige."

            Two weeks na lang, birthday na ni Papa. And yes, may naipon na 'ko para sa birthday gift ko sa kaniya. Thanks to him who's not here to celebrate it with me.

            "Oh! Hi, Ma'am," bati nung salesman sa 'kin. "Na-miss ka namin dito. Di ka na dumadaan."

            "Oo nga e. Naging busy."

            Lagi kasi akong dumadaan dito noong nag regular employee na ako para ganahan ako mag-ipon pambili nang gift kay Tatay—huh!? Teka... Bakit wala na sa display 'yung entertainment set?

            "Nasaan na 'yung entertainment set dito na binabalikan ko?"

            "Nako, Ma'am. Sorry po sold out na po 'yung gano'n namin last week pa. Naging in demand po kasi dahil naka-Christmas sale. Next year na po ang susunod na stock namin."

            Pagkatapos no'n. Inihatid na rin ako ni Kuya pauwi sa apartment ko. Inaya niya 'ko kumain sa labas kaso nawalan ako ng gana sa narinig ko.

            Sinubukan pa nilang tumawag sa ibang branch kanina kung meron pa silang stock pero tulad sa kanila, naubos na rin.

            Bakit pa kasi December din ang birthday ni Papa?! Haay...

        Nagising ako sa lakas ng tugtugan sa baba ng bahay namin. Office vacation na since Pasko na! At syempre, birthday na rin ni Papa ngayon.

            Hindi pa rin kami nag-uusap ni Edward pero nagpadala ako ng email sa kaniya na nagpapasalamat ako sa ginawa niyang pag-recommend sa 'kin sa mga dumating na bagong clients.

            Hindi nga lang siya nag-reply.

            Bumaba ako pagkatapos ko mag-ayos. Tuloy lang 'yung lakas ng music sa buong bahay.  Teka? Ang lakas ng music... E wala naman kaming—.

            "Oh, Papa."

            May hawak siyang mic habang inaayos ni Kuya 'yung ENTERTAINMENT SET!

            "OMG!!?" Lumapit ako kina Papa at Kuya. "D-Di ba...'yan 'yung..."

            "Buti gising ka na," bati ni Papa. "Kilala mo ba si Edward S. Tamayo?"

            "Opo. Bakit?"

            "Ito, oh. Nakalagay sa card... Happy Birthday, Sir. This is Edward S. Tamayo, friend of your daughter - Hannah. Have more blessed years to come. Edward."

            Binigay niya talaga 'to???

            Pinaliwanag ko na mayaman si Edward kaya ganito na lang siya kung mag-regalo. Pero sa totoo lang, nakakalula 'tong binigay niya. Sinubukan ko siyang bigyan ulit ng email pero hindi pa rin siya sumasagot.

            Nakakainis naman siya. Ano bang gusto niyang gawin ko!? Hindi ko naman alam kung sa'n ko siya mako-contact—ah!

        Nandito ako ngayon sa coffee shop. Actually, kasama ko nga si President. Naalala ko na binigyan niya 'ko ng calling card niya. Tawagan ko raw siya kapag kailangan. Hindi ko naman alam kung bakit niya nasabi ‘yun noong una pero ngayon...mukhang alam ko na.

            Nag-text ako kay President na bibigyan ko siya ng cake at cupcakes bilang Christmas gift ko sa kaniya. Hindi naman siya nagdalawang-isip at sinabi niya kung sa'n kami magkikita. He offered me na sunduin niya ako pero tumanggi ako since malayo 'yung bahay talaga namin sa Manila compared sa apartment ko.

            "Thank you for this, uh?"

            Tinuro niya 'yung cupcakes at cake na dala ko sa kanya.

            "Gustong-gusto ng niece ko 'to nang matikman niya. If only you weren’t doing well sa trabaho mo sa company, I would suggest that you start your own pastry shop."

            "Thank you."

            Gosh, pa'no ko ba tatanungin kung kamusta na si Edward. Kung sa'n ko siya pwedeng makausap. Kung kailan siya uuwi...

            "He's more than okay."

            "Huh?"

            Nakatingin siya sa 'kin habang iniinum 'yung kape niya.

            "He's busy as a horse but he's excited to see you."

            "Huh!!?"

            Natawa naman siya sa reaksyon ko. Kasi naman e... Wala naman akong sinasabi.

            "Obviously, it's not about my Christmas gift kaya tayo nagkita. But still, I'm thankful."

            "Wala naman akong sinabi..." I whispered.

            "You two should really meet ASAP. My service as your love cupid is about to expire."

        Five days ang lumipas simula nang magkita kami ni Sam. Pero 'til now hindi pa rin kami nakakapag-usap ni Edward. Nag-focus na lang muna ako sa pag-aayos ko ng bagong orders dahil mas nag-doble ang orders ko dahil Christmas season. Pati orders ng mga damit online dumami kaya nagpatulong ako kay Mama at Papa sa pagbili ng mga items sa Taytay. Nakahanap na rin ako ng iba pang pwede kong bilhan pa ng mga damit sa sulit na price lang kaya mas marami pa ang naging items ko.

            "Hello?"

            Naglalagay ako ng frosting ngayon sa order na cake sa 'kin.

            "Ah, kayo po pala. Dadalhin ko na po mamaya 'yung orders n'yo sa 'kin. Po? Ah... Sige po. 8pm, no problem po. Okay. Thank you."

            Kailangan ko ng matapos 'to.

        Isang oras akong maaga sa usapang time na dapat ako pumunta. Mas maganda kung ma-set up ko na agad para makauwi na rin ako. Marami pa 'ko aasikasuhin sa mga orders.

            Nakakataka lang...

          Para kasing wala namang party dito sa garden resto na pinagdalhan ko. Wala namang tao.

            "Hi, Hannah."

            "Ay, hello po. Sorry, napaaga po ba’ng dating ko?"

            "No, it's okay. 'Yan na ba 'yung order ko?"

            "Yes po. Sign na lang po kayo dito and I can set up the cupcakes. Ahm... Sa'n po ba ilalagay?"

            "Sa garden. Let's go?"

            Naglakad kami papuntang garden na...okay? Hindi pa ba sila nakakapag-set? Madilim pa sa paligid at may fluorescent light lang na nag-iilaw do'n sa circular table na nasa gitna ng garden. May patungan ang cupcakes na dala ko na paikot rin going up.

            "Here..." Inabot niya sa 'kin 'yung box na may ribbon. "Nasa loob 'yung ilalagay mo on top pagkaayos mo sa mga cupcakes."

            Bubuksan ko na sana pero bigla niya 'kong sinaway. Buksan ko na lang daw kapag nailagay ko na lahat ng cupcakes. Okay?

            Iniwan na muna niya 'ko dahil may mga aasikasuhin daw muna siya sa loob para mamaya. Inumpisahan ko na rin ayusin ang dapat kong gawin. Sa totoo lang, parang ang weird talaga ng client ko na 'to. Sinabi niyang magsuot ako ng dress pagpunta since may event daw. As if I'm part of the guest list? Hindi ko na siya tinanong kung bakit basta ginawa ko na lang.

            And now... here's the last piece to place.

            Kinuha ko na 'yung box na inabot sa 'kin kanina at saka ko binuksan. Eh? Ano'ng event ba 'to?

            Kinuha ko 'yung design message na itutusok ko sa tuktok ng cupcape tower. I'm sorry... 'Yun 'yung nakasulat.

            Ang weird talaga. Nagulat na lang ako nang biglang namatay 'yung ilaw nang maitusok ko sa tuktok 'yung message!

            "Hello!!?? May tao ba diyan?!" sigaw ko.

            Kukunin ko sana 'yung phone ko nang biglang magkaroon ng ilaw. Maraming ilaw! Para akong nasa Disney sa daming iba't ibang kulay ng mga ilaw.

            "You look wonderful."

            Lumingon ako and I was surprised to see him standing in front of me.

            "Pa'nong... I mean... Ito?"

            Gosh, hindi ko masabi kung ano'ng dapat kong sabihin.

            "Yes... Yes. And yes."

            "Naintindihan mo ba 'yung tanong ko? Kasi ako hindi."

            Natawa naman siya sa sinabi ko.

            "Yes, I am here. Yes, I'm the one who made the cupcake orders. And yes...I want to spend more time with you. How about you?"

            "Me?"

            "Yes. Ikaw, ano'ng gusto mo?"

            Napaismik ako. Baka magulat siya kapag sinabi kong ... Ikaw.

            "’Because if I'm the one you would ask? My answer would be you," he said casually.

            Kumuha siya ng cupcake at saka kumagat habang nakatitig sa 'kin. May natirang frosting sa labi niya pero pinunasan niya 'to gamit ng thumb niya diretso ulit sa bibig niya saka siya pumikit na parang ninanamnam ang lasa. Nang-aakit ba siya?

            "Hmm. I miss this."

            Pinatong niya ulit 'young cupcake sa mesa saka niya hinawakan 'yung magkabila kong kamay.

            "I want to start everything with you again. This time...a much better start."

            "E di..." Bumitaw ako sa kaniya saka ko itinaas palapit sa kaniya ‘yung kanang kamay ko. "Hi, I'm Hannah. Communication coordinator sa isang advertising company sa Taguig. Single at magaling mag-bake ng pastries at cake. Nagtitinda rin ako ng RTW online na napaka...raming customers."

            "You're a great businesswoman, I see."

            "Thanks to someone I know."

            "That someone must be brilliant."

            "Conceited man, I think."

            "Tch! I see."

            Inabot niya'ng kamay ko at saka nakipag-shakehands.

            "I'm Edward, not a vampire, but a businessman. I don't suck blood but I'm a sucker for sweet...very sweet pastries. I want to meet someone who knows how to bake and sell quality goods. I wonder if you know someone like that?"

            Inalis naming ang kamay namin sa isa't isa saka parehas na kumuha ng cupcakes.

            "Nga pala..." sabi niya."Someone told me..." He cleared his throat pagkakain ng cupcake. "May...sumusundo raw sa 'yo every end of your shift. Is there something I need to know?"

            Sumusundo? Teka...

            "Si Kuya?"

            "Kuya? Kuya mo?"

            "Yes. Si Kuya nga. May holdapan kasing nangyari sa place ko kaya lagi muna akong sinusundo ni Kuya."

            "Tsk, that man..." mahinang sabi niya.

            "Huh?"

            "Nothing—." Napahinto siya.

            Kasi... Hinalikan ko siya sa pisngi. Nakatitig lang siya sa 'kin, hindi nagsasalita. OMG! Bakit ko ba ginawa 'to??!

            "Sorry! Sorry!" Pinalo ko 'yung bibig ko. Umiwas ako ng tingin sa kaniya. "Hindi ko alam kung bakit ko ginawa 'yun. Gusto ko lang talaga mag-thank you sa gift mo kay Papa—."

            Huminto ako nang magsalita siya at hawakan 'yung kamay ko.

            "If you want to thank me with a kiss, do it right."

            He put his arm around my waist and then pulled me close to him. Slowly, he leaned his face near mine pero bigla kong hinarang 'yung hawak kong cupcake sa labi ko.

            He grinned and said, "Don't worry, it's too early for that." Then he licks the cupcake frosting before he placed a kiss on my forehead. Tumingin siya sa mga mata ko. "You're always welcome."

        8 months later...

            Ang tagal na simula nang mag-start ako sa business ko online. Thanks to Edward at nalaman ko na there's no easy road to success. Lahat, pinaghihirapan.

            It might sound intimidating at first, nakakatakot na to the point na gugustuhin mong sumuko, pero sa'n ka na lang dadalhin kung puro takot ka sa life?

            Right now, makapag-open na 'ko ng first physical RTW shop ko sa isang mall dito sa Manila. Tinulungan ako ng insurance ko na magawa 'to. They told me what to do and how to do it. At ngayon, with their guidance, nagawa ko na. Si Mama at dalawang sales lady ang nagbabantay dito everyday. Meron ding stock man na nagde-deliver ng supplies ko.

            Kapag mas lumago pa, iniisip kong maghanap ulit ng iba pang pwesto at kumuha pa ng tao.

            Tuloy pa rin ang online shop ko ng mga baked goods. Pero ngayon? Regular na 'kong nagsu-supply ng pastries sa isang restaurant.

            Tuloy pa rin ako sa pagtatrabaho sa advertising company. Actually, na-promote na nga ‘ko. Hindi dahil kay Edward huh! Habang si Edward naman, hindi na bumalik sa London. Iba na ang pinahawak nila sa company ng Daddy niya doon. Laking pasasalamat nga ng Mommy niya sa 'kin. Ako lang daw nagpabago ng isip niya na mag-stay na lang sa Pinas. Habang dito naman sa company niya, kilala na siya as the owner pero...

            "Ganda ng dress mo, girl"

            "Sa shop ni Hannah ko 'to nabili. Bili na kayo. Ang gaganda, girl." Sagot ni Jenna. "Ayan, Hannah, libre promotion na. Discount next time ah?"

            "Sus. Mayaman ka naman. Di na kailangan—."

            "OMG, si Boss."

            Napatingin kami sa may elevator.

            "Oo nga. Quiet, baka marinig tayo."

            Kasama ko ‘yung mga officemates ko pasakay ng elevator. Actually... Kami na ni Edward. Pero dito sa office, walang nakakaalam ng tungkol sa totoong relationship namin. Pinilit ko kasi siyang 'wag ipaalam sa mga tao sa office dahil ayokong mag-iba ang tingin nila sa 'kin. For sure, nakakailang.

            "Good morning, Boss."

            "Good morning," sagot niya.

            "Balita po namin, pupunta po kayo sa department outing namin, Boss."

            Bumukas 'yung elevator saka kami sumakay ng mga co-employee ko at ni Edward, syempre.

            "Yes, I'm planning to go. It's hard to miss that. Lalo na with my hardworkng employees."

            "Ooowww. Si Boss talaga oh."

            "Bolero si Boss."

            Halata naman na kinikilig sila. Tch! Parehas kaming nasa likuran ni Edward pero 'di kami nagpapansinan. Unti-unti na kasing dumami 'yung tao sa loob ng elevator. Sumikip na rin sa loob at halos magkasiksikan na kaming dalawa. Delikado...

            "Boss, may girlfriend na ba kayo?"

            "Uy, grabe ka, girl!"

            "Hahaha Boss, pasensya na kayo."

            "No, it's okay."

            Tumingin ako sa kaniya bigla nang maramdaman kong hinawakan niya'ng kamay ko. Pinanlakihan ko siya ng mata nang mas hinigpitan niya pa 'yung hawak sa 'kin. Inaalis ko na nga e! Pasaway! Tumingin lang siya sa 'kin saka ngumiti.

            "So, Boss? Meron po ba?"

            "Well..." Umiwas si Edward ng tingin sa 'kin. "I have a girlfriend. A very beautiful girlfriend."

            "Wooow?? Talaga, Sir?

            "Hindi n'yo po ba siya dadalhin sa outing natin?"

            Inaalis ko 'yung kamay ko dahil malapit na kami bumaba pero ayaw niya bitiwan. Unti-unti ng nababawasan 'yung mga tao.

            "I might. Pero kakausapin ko pa siya. She's...a very shy woman and I'm...a very patient man. She's the boss."

            Ayan na, floor na namin! Tumingin ako sa kaniya. Bitiw na!!!

            "Bye, Boss. See you po—."

            Pinindot agad niya 'yung close nang makalabas sila kaya nagsara agad 'yung pinto. Kami na lang 'yung natira at dirediretso ng umakyat sa floor ng pad niya.

            Pagkarating namin do'n...

            "Pa'no kung nahuli nila tayo? It will be awkward for sure. Ikaw talaga."

            Saka ako umupo sa sofa.

            "It's okay."

            "Wag muna. Alam mo naman—Teka..." Napatingin ako sa Home theater niya. "Ngayon ko lang napansin 'to, ah? Hindi naman ito 'yung dati, 'di ba?"

            Lumapit siya sa 'kin with both hands in his pockets.

            "Ah, 'yan? Actually... Naalala mo 'yung birthday gift ko kay Tito? Nang malaman ko kay Jenna na hindi mo nabili 'yung home theater, naisipan kong ibigay 'yung akin. Hindi ko naman nagagamit 'yun, don't worry. Alam ko kasi, you really want to give the exact home theater to him. I hope it's oka—."

            Tumayo ako at saka hinawakan ang magkabilang pisngi niya to give him a kiss on the lips.

            "That's me saying thanks to everything you've done for me. Simula noon until now."

            "Tch! By the way, everything I've done for you - it's out of love."

            "Basta... Thankful pa rin ako. I'll thank you everyday.”

            He smirked. "You really don't have to. But still...do you want to know how welcome you are?"

            We stared at each others eyes and grinned. Mukhang alam ko na kung pa'no...