Island of Fire – Kabanata 30

April 5, 2017 By In Island of Fire Comments Off on Island of Fire – Kabanata 30

Kabanata 30
Stress

I tried to act as cool as possible. Ni hindi ako sumulyap kay Radleigh nang dumating siya kasama ang ibang board members.

Nalaman ko lang ang pagdating niya nang nagbatian sila ni Ethan. At kahit nakatingin ako sa monitor ay nakita kong lumapit si Radleigh sa kung nasaan si Tita Relani.

My heart beat doubled. Nanlalamig din ang mga kamay ko at pinagpapawisan na ako. Hindi ko maalala kung kailan ako kinabahan ng ganito.

Si Ethan ang unang nagsalita para maipakilala ako sa lahat. Though, it isn’t necessary. Everyone knows me.

Pagkatapos niya ay ako. Tinulungan ako ng aking team sa presentation dahil medyo abala ako sa pag eexplain sa gagawing proyekto.

And even when this isn’t my first time to say these words, I am still so nervous. Especially when I see that look on Relani Riego’s face. She looks indifferent but attentive. I don’t know if she likes my ideas or not. Pakiramdam ko ay napakahalaga ng kanyang opinyon sa akin.

“This will be our first project for the middle class. At alam ng lahat na ang Vista Grande ay madalas para lang sa mga mayayaman. This is why we will reach out to the masses and inform them that these properties are affordable. They can loan it. We will offer that.” Tumango ako.

Damn!

Some board members nodded at me. Ngumiti rin si Engineer Alfeche nang napadpad ang tingin ko sa kanya. I can’t look at Radleigh’s eyes because I’d probably forget what I have to say.

“So… The problem with the middle class subdivisions is that it screams too much of its target market. Kung ang budget mo ay kaonti lang, talagang makikita iyon sa disenyo ng bahay mo. All the same design low-cost houses. Kontento na sila roon dahil iyon naman talaga ang nakasanayan. Es verdad?” sabay lingon ko sa isang half foreign na board member.

The old man smiled at me and nodded his head. Tumango ako, medyo satisfied sa nasabi.

“So here, with the price not more than a low-cost house’s suggestion, I was able to come up with designs that are modern…”

Nilingon ko ang projector at ipinakita na roon ang mga disenyo ng mga bahay na gusto kong ipahayag. Apat iyon, kumpara sa madalas ay pare parehong disenyo ng mga low cost housing.

“Sleek, and unique.”

Naipakita sa lahat ang specifications ng bawat design. Sa kanilang lamesa ay naroon na ang kopya ng mga disenyo, ang materyales na maaaring gamitin, at ang presyo ng lahat-lahat.

“I maximized the 40sqm lots and created these designs to carry out my mission and vision of this project. And that is to provide low cost… but! High end houses to the mid-class families.”

Ngayon naman ang nagpakita ako ng sample interior designs para makita ng lahat na tama lang ang naging disenyo ng mga bahay ko.

“The kitchen and the dining area would occupy the half of the living room. They can also choose from two interiors. One is the double bedroom. The other is the single bedroom.”

Ilang sandali ko pang ipinakita iyon bago tuluyang bumaling sa kanila at nagpasalamat sa pakikinig.

They clapped. Radleigh nodded and clapped with them. Diretsong kinuha ni Ethan ang atensyon niya at may pinag-usapan sila.

A board member raised his hand. Kasabay noon ng pag-akyat din ng kamay ni Agatha but she let the man speak first.

“Thank you, Miss Valderama,” bati noong lalaki. “I like your idea. I think this is achievable but I think the middle class will think that this low-cost housing isn’t low-cost at all. Unang tingin pa lang, mukhang pang mayaman na,” sambit nito.
I nodded. “That is why ads will play an important role for this project. This is the first of Vista Grande. We will adjust and I think people will eventualyy realize that it is low-cost. Pag-igihan lang ang pag-aadvertise. And… I think for every company, there are firsts. For the Vista Grande, this is the break we need to work on.”

Tumango siya. Si Engineer Alfeche naman ang nagpataas kasabay ulit ni Agatha. Agatha let him speak.

“I admire Miss Leviste’s passion on this. I think she’s right!” tumango siya sabay tingin kina Ethan.

Tumigil sa pagsasalita si Ethan nang napansing nakatuon na lang ang mga mata ni Radleigh kay Engineer Alfeche.

“I am going to check on the Structural Design of each houses. You can give me a hard copy of the blueprints, Miss Leviste,” dagdag niya.

Ngumiti ako at tumango. Quiet pleased with the outcome of my presentation until Agatha finally spoke.

“I would just like to comment on your designs, Miss Leviste…” panimula niya.

Tiningnan niya ang mga papel sa kanyang lamesa. Ganoon din ang ginawa ni Tita Relani.

Parang may lamig na lumukob sa aking tiyan habang hinihintay ang kanyang sasabihin.

“Well, I personally think this isn’t feasible. This isn’t a 500-thousand-pesos-design. This is more! The materials used were standard but the costing isn’t accurate. Mas mahal ang materyales nito sa totoo lang, Miss Leviste. this could cost for about seven hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand pesos! At hindi iyon low cost.”

Hindi ako nakapagsalita. I admit that the price range of the materials used were from my trusted employees at Vista Grande. Wala ako sa field kaya hindi ako sigurado. Kung totoo ang sinabi ni Agatha, kung ganoon, may mali nga ako.

Tumango si Tita Relani sa sinabi ni Agatha. Ethan raised his hand but Agatha only smiled at him, almost telling him to let her speak first. Umiling ako kay Ethan. Though we are cousins and this is his company, I want to take charge of this. Ito lang ang pinagkatiwala sa akin, hindi ko pa magawa ng mabuti.

“I think we can actually get the low-cost housing if we just reduce your design to something simpler. This is too complex. There are too many unecessary corners. Why not make it a box, instead?”

Shit. Okay. Breathe, Zari. Let her finish her comments before you speak and defend yourself.

Sumulyap ako kay Tita Relani na ngayon ay patuloy sa pagtango pagkatapos bulungan ng Mommy ni Agatha.

“Also, the forty square meters can be reduced. So instead of a single detached home, why not make it attached. Say the whole block is attached with each other. That way, we can minimize space and materias.”

Some Engineers nodded at her suggestions. Tumango rin ako, acknowledging her opinions. Hindi na ako sumulyap sa banda ni Ethan at Radleigh dahil pakiramdam ko’y mas lalo lang akong kakabahan.

Naupo si Agatha at naintindihan kong gusto niyang marinig din ang sasabihin ko. I cleared my throat first before finally answering.

“I acknowledge that I wasn’t very careful with my presentation in terms of the costs of materials since my employees provided that one for me. But I will further research on that, I think I can do something about it…” magpapatuloy sana ako sa iba pa pero nagsalita si Agatha.
“That already means that the whole presentation isn’t well thought about.”
“Agatha, the costs of the materials here are correct. Some of them should be updated but I think it will still hit the exact mark,” si Radleigh.

Nagtagis ang bagang ko. Hindi ko gustong tulungan niya ako rito. Gusto kong ako lang dahil gusto kong may mapatunayan ako sa aking sarili. Hindi sa mga taong ito. Kundi sa aking sarili.

Natahimik si Agatha at umiling na lamang. Ethan tried to butt in.

“The price of the cement is outdated, Zari. This could be good if it’s substandard but we won’t let that happen.”

Damn! Kung si Ethan na ang nagsabi, totoo na ito!

“The price is outdated maybe because of the cement used here, Ethan. The RHI is an affiliate with the largest cement industry here. I believe you are also an affiliate of that,” may tinanguan si Radleigh. “If we use that one, we can easily fall to the low-cost housing.”

Humilig si Ethan sa kanyang upuan. Tita Relani raised her hand. Pakiramdam ko ay nawala ang lahat ng dugo sa aking mukha.

“We have to understand also, Radleigh, that this issue isn’t just about how we can make this all feasible. This is a question also of credibility… and the ability to provide a high quality project. If Miss Leviste has given us that fault at first, there might be a bigger problem out there. Na hindi pa natin alam.”

Pumikit ako ng mariin. Tama nga sila. I know Radleigh’s just saving my ass right now. Kasalanan ko naman talaga iyon dahil hindi ko sinigurado kung tama ba itong mga nilagay ko rito.

Kung hindi ako nasalba ni Radleigh, baka palpak na ang buong presentation ko.

“An unbiased opinion is very essential in this field. Hindi ito isang laro lamang na pwedeng takbuhan kapag nalugi. Employees will starve, clients will lose their trust on you, and you will lose your credibility.”

Umigting ang panga ni Radleigh at nanatili ang mga mata sa kanyang ina. When she didn’t speak, siya naman ang nagsalita.

“I only provided the answer to a problem that’s raised…” may sasabihin pa sana siya pero tinuloy ko na ang naiisip ko.

I know the awkward silence from the board members mean something. Siguro’y nararamdaman nila ang tensyon. Siguro’y iniisip nilang dinadala ko rito ang personal na buhay for… most of them know I’ve been engaged to Radleigh years ago. And of course, all of them knows that Agatha is his recent fiancee.

How fucked up is that?

At tingin ko’y bukod sa akin, mas masisira si Radleigh. Alam kong kasalanan din niya iyan. Hindi ko alam kung bakit siya umatras sa engagement nila ni Agatha. Hindi ko alam kung ano ba sila. At halos wala na akong pakealam doon.

“Thank you, Engineer Riego. I appreciate the quick response to the raised question. Gaya ng sinabi ko, I will personally research on that. My team on Vista Grande’s always been competitive. I know for sure they can explain to me how they’ve arrived with this costing.” Ngumiti ako.

Tumango si Engineer Alfeche na kanina pa nakatuon ang mga mata sa akin.

“Miss Valderama suggested to make the design a box instead of my cornered and modern design. Well, I can’t do that since that will attract the possible clients. Sa dami ng low cost housing ngayon na box ang disenyo, anong pinagkaiba natin sa kanila? This is to live by the mission of this project and that is to provide a modern looking low-cost house.”

Walang naging komento roon pero kitang kita ko ang pagbubusangot ng mukha ni Agatha habang nakatingin sa proposal ko.

“And for the single detached, personally, I want that design. That design can give clients the security and privacy. Most attached design look so much like a low-cost housing. Which is, again, a violation of my mission.”
“So you want the poor clients to feel rich even when they are poor?”

Ikinagulat ko ang tanong ni Agatha. Halos hindi ako nakahinga noon.

Kumunot ang noo ni Relani Riego. One man raised his hand. Naupo naman si Radleigh ng maayos, tila nauubusan na ng pasensya. Ethan talked to him a bit.

“I think that’s a good idea, actually. People live happier if they don’t think about their financial problems that much. Giving them a better idea in life will make these clients feel more satisfied with their lives.”

Tumango-tango ang lahat. Gusto kong magsalita rin pero may iba pang magsasalita.

“I agree with Miss Valderama. People won’t mind if it’s a boxed unit. The middle-class don’t usually care about the designs of the house so a box and an attached units is a better solution to that.”
“Tama! Plus, the complex design of Miss Leviste will not attract the clients because they might think it is expensive.”

Oh damn it!

“We are dealing with the middle class, here. Not the poor. Alam ng mga iyan ang importansya ng magandang disenyo ng isang bahay. I hope we don’t underestimate the clients. Social media is very accessible right now and the clients have surely dreamed of having a modern and neat house,” medyo iritado ko nang sinabi.

Ethan raised his hand. Tumango ako.

“Okay. Since the house is divided, I’m sure Architect Valderama has her own idea for this project. Why don’t we all just meet again and hear about her ideas?” si Ethan.

Ngumiti si Agatha. Radleigh looked so stiff in his chair na kahit na sinusulyapan siya ni Ethan ay hindi parin siya nagrerelax.

“Also, Miss Leviste. Your interiors are too much. It looks so extravagant. A geometric shape coffee table? A lamp shade that cost a fortune? It isn’t just modern, tulad ng bathroom design. It is almost for expensive hotels!” si Agatha.
“I agree with you, Agatha. This is a clear manifestation that this design is expensive and not for the middle class,” si Tita Relani.
“This is what it should be since it has to live to its promise… as a modern subdivision with high-end-looking houses,” Radleigh said in a lazy drawl.

Sumulyap siya sa akin. Damn! Pakiramdam ko ay masyadong kahiya-hiya ang mga nangyari. Pakiramdam ko’y madidisgrasya muna ako bago ko makalimutan ang lahat ng ito.

“I acknowledge Miss Valderama’s comments. I also would like to give the Vice President’s suggestion a chance. I will set another appointment for this project. I want Architect Agatha Valderama’s take on this. Before I can finally endorse… and before everyone can finally decide which project… we should work on.”

Para akong nabunutan ng tinik sa sinabi ni Radleigh. I know it is the right decision. Deciding to approve mine right now is not wise. Bukod sa kailangan ko ngang mag research pa, tingin ko’y hati rin ang board members sa kanilang desisyon.

The meeting was adjourned. Hinintay kong umalis ang mga board members ngunit nahuli si Tita Relani, Agatha, Ethan, at Radleigh. Lumapit naman sa akin si Engineer Alfeche habang nililigpit nina Glen ang aking mga gamit.

Nag slow clap siya. Umiling ako, medyo nahihiya.

“Ang galing!” naglahad siya ng kamay.
Ngumiti ako at tinanggap na iyon. “I need to research more.”
“Matutulungan kita tungkol diyan!” sabi ni Engineer Alfeche.
“You seriously need to research more, Zari…” sambit ni Ethan nang nakalapit.

Si Radleigh ay nasa kanyang likod, medyo kunot ang noo. Kinabahan tuloy ako.

“I know. I will. Iyan ang gagawin ko sa linggong ito.”
“Sinabi ko sa kanya, Ethan, na kaya ko siyang tulungan,” si Engineer Alfeche.
“She doesn’t need the help, Marco,” mariing sinabi ni Radleigh.
Natatawa na si Marco ngayon. “But I’m head of the Engineering-”
“Zariyah,” parang kulog ang boses ni Radleigh nang pinutol niya si Engineer Alfeche. “I need you in my office.”

Tumango ako. Sa likod niya’y nakita ko si Tita Relani na kausap ang Mommy ni Agatha. Agatha walked out of the room when she heard Radleigh’s words.

Tumalikod si Radleigh sa amin. Ganoon din si Ethan na ngayon ay sumunod kay Radleigh. Natatawa namang umiling si Engineer Alfeche.

“Pupunta ka?” tanong niya.
“Yup.” Nilingon ko sina Glen. “Sorry but can you please help me with my things?”
“Walang problema, Miss Zari!”

Tumango ako at iniwan na sila roon. Engineer Alfeche was with Glen and my team.

Imbes na lagpasan si Tita Relani ay tumigil ako ng saglit. Although she also questioned me, I feel like she has all the reasons for it. Kaya tama lang iyon. At walang dahilan para ignorahin siya dahil ako naman ang may kasalanan ilang taon na ang lumipas.

“Thank you, po, sa pagbabahagi ng opinyon ninyo. I appreciate it so much. I hope I can be a better Architect through this experience.”
“You’re still to learn more. Why did Radleigh give you this job when we only get the most skilled Engineers and Architects?”

Para akong binagsakan ng langit sa sinabi ni Tita Relani. But still, I nodded because it’s true. Everything she said is true.

“I have only less experience. It’s an honor to be hired for this job and I will continue to study for it, po. Kahit na hindi nagustuhan ang aking disenyo, maaari naman akong matuto sa mga opinyon ng mga magagaling.”

I smiled and nodded at her. She looked at me straight in the eyes. It reminded me so much of Rad’s hooded eyes.

“Excuse me, M-Madame Riego,” paalam ko para sumunod na sa utos ni Radleigh.

Kabadong kabado ako pagkalabas ng conference hall. Hindi ako kinabahan kanina nang nag-usap kami ni Tita Relani pero noong nakalabas na ako, para akong tumakbo ng 100-meter dash.

Binuksan ko ang pintuan ng opisina ni Radleigh at nakita agad siya roon sa swivel chair, nakaupo. Kung hindi pa lumingon si Ethan sa akin ay hindi ko siya napansing nakaupo sa sofa.

“Wow! Wow! And wow!” Ethan said with amusement.

Umiling ako at umirap. What the hell? Paniguradong panunuya ang kanyang ibig sabihin.

“You engaged in a war with the wrong gun, Zari,” ani Ethan, tunog disappointed.
“Ethan, stop it,” si Radleigh.

Tumayo si Radleigh at kitang-kita ko ang lambot sa kanyang mga mata. Pumunta ako sa couch at naupo na roon. Lumapit naman si Radleigh sa amin at naupo sa pahabang sofa na inuupuan ko.

“Don’t worry, Rad. She isn’t that emotional. She has to hear what I have to say. Nag research ka sana ng maayos!” si Ethan.
“I believed in the skills of our employees. Of course, that’s better than research!” giit ko. “And don’t worry, I will research again!”
“Tama naman iyon, Ethan. We just have to make a deal with some affiliates. It’s feasible.”

Nanliit ang mga mata ni Ethan habang tinitingnan si Radleigh. Sumulyap si Radleigh sa akin.

“I’m starting to think that it’s a wrong choice to appoint her as Architectural design head,” si Ethan. “You won’t think clearly, Rad.”
Radleigh smirked. “No. Of course I can think clearly. That’s why I immediately have a solution to her problem, right?”
“Ewan ko sa inyo. Is this all we’re talking about?” tanong ko.

Hindi pa ako nasasagot ay may kumatok na sa pintuan ng opisina ni Radleigh. Agatha, Tita Relani, and Agatha’s Mom went in. Hindi na ako nanghingi ng permiso kay Radleigh na umalis. Kusa na akong umalis doon.

Hindi ko alam kung ano ang maaaring pag-usapan nila roon pero pakiramdam ko’y tungkol iyon sa medyo pinakitang favoritism ni Radleigh sa akin. It was so obvious. Mali iyon. Rad should’ve let me deal with it on my own. Lalo na dahil siya ang Chairman.

“Kumusta ang presentation, Miss Zari?” tanong ng isang Architect na taga right wing. Hindi ko alam bakit napadpad iyon sa amin.
Ngumiti ako. “Medyo palpak, e. Aayusin ko pa ang disenyo ko.”
“Ma’am Zari naman! Anong palpak?” singit ni Glen. “Maganda nga ‘yon, e!”

Somehow their discussion made me a bit happy. Ang malamang may naniniwala parin sa akin ay parang nakakagaan sa loob.

Radleigh:
I have a meeting this afternoon. Are you going to edit your designs? I think the furniture were expensive.

Napangiti ako sa text niya. Lunch noong umalis si Tita Relani kasama ang matanda sa kanyang opisina. Si Agatha ay nauna na kanina, medyo busangot parin ang mukha at halos iniignora ang lahat ng nakakasalubong.

Ako:
I know. It’s just sample. I’m sorry.

Radleigh:
You’re good. And you’ve finally covered some parts of your skin that are mine!

Lumapad ang ngisi ko. Bolero rin ang isang ito. Ang feeling pa!

Ako:
Concentrate on your meeting. Stop flirting with me.

“May suggestion ako, Ma’am! Bakit hindi na lang natin I fully furnish ang looban noong mga bahay para mas konti ang gastos?” si Glen.
“Huh?”
“Magaling na ang disenyo mo, pero kung fully furnished ang loob, tulad ng may pintura at naka tiles na, mas gagastos tayo, ‘di ba? Pwede namang wala noon. Ang importante ay sa labas, sosyal ang disenyo ng bahay. Uso po talaga ang ganito, Ma’am. May mga low-cost housing ang Vesarius Hidalgo Riego na project at ganoon ang ginagawa nila para mas maengganyo ang kliyente!”

Now that he mentioned it, maybe we can do that. Because the clients can paint the walls with any color they want or put a tiled floor however they want it?

Ilang sandali kaming nag brainstorm doon sa ideya ni Glen. Pinabago ko rin sa kanilang tatlo ang costing habang inaayos ko ang sample interiors.

Pumupuslit din ako ng disenyo na gusto ko. I realized that I shouldn’t make my designs too personal. Lalo na’t may sinusunod akong mga patakaran kaya imbes na ilagay ang pinakagustong disenyo sa mga iyon, iyong tamang disenyo ang sinusunod ko.

Idinidirekta ko ang disenyong gusto ko sa iba pang bagay. So aside from my Vista Grande houses design, I also made a designs for… whatever. I don’t know where to use it… or maybe, I have an idea but I’m just too scared to finally admit it.

Paulit-ulit kong tinitingnan ang isang produkto. Mamahalin pero gustong gusto kong bilhin. Lalo na dahil sa specifications nitong pang matagalan.

I don’t have money. I don’t have money. I should save. I should save.

“We’ll need to interview some of the employees kasi. It will be included in the article,” sambit noong isang baklang kadarating lang.

Kausap niya ngayon ang sekretaryang babae ni Radleigh. Nagtama ang tingin naming dalawa at lumapad ang ngiti niya nang nakita ako.

“Zari!” he said in a high pitch tone, leaving Rad’s secretary.

Nagbeso siya sa akin at pinasadahan niya ako ng tingin mula ulo hanggang paa.

“Oh my God! Nothing has changed! You still look so fab!” anito.

Ngumiti ako. He’s a family friend that’s always present in social gathering. I remember now. And he’s also a Photographer and Writer of a business magazine!

“Thanks, Neil! You’re looking for Radleigh?”
Ngumuso siya at agad may malisyosang tingin sa akin. “Of course, your ex fiancee! Ifi-feature namin siya bilang head story sa aming magazine! Bukas pa naman ang shoot namin sa opisina niya pero ngayon kailangan kong mag gather ng story! And you… you’ll be a good-”
“What? I can’t be!”
“You’re his employee now, right!? Pwede ka! Sige na, Zari!”

Hindi ko alam kung paano niya ako napapayag. Basta’y bigla ko na lang kinamulatan na ako na ang iniinterview na.

“So how does it feel to work under your ex fiancee?” tanong nito.
“This is too showbiz, Neil. I think it shouldn’t be that personal.”

Naging bilog ang hugis ng labi ng bakla dahil sa sinabi ko. Kahit na hindi ko naman direktang sinagot ay parang may napulot siya sa sinabi ko.

“How’s he as a boss?” he asked.
“Well, he’s very… uhm…” kumunot ang noo ko. “Good. Not too strict. And he’s a great multi-tasker.”

Sabog yata ang pag-iisip ko at bakit ganyan ang mga sagot ko.

Habang nagsasalita ako ay nakita kong dumaan si Agatha sa harap namin. She looked a bit confused at what I’m doing.

“I heard he’s a bit strict. You said he’s not. May posibilidad ba na dahil ex mo siya, kaya siya hindi mahigpit sa’yo?”

This is damn personal!

Agatha shook her head in disappointment. She should be interviewed as well. Ex din siya, hindi ba?

“Hindi naman. He’s also good with his other employees.”

The interview lasted for almost an hour. At nang natapos ay lumapit na ako sa water dispenser para maglagay ng tubig sa aking mug. Medyo nadehydrate yata ako sa mga nangyari sa araw na ito.

“Are you done with your new presentation?” si Agatha na biglang nasa gilid ko.
“I’m working on it with my team.”
Tumango siya. “You had all the time last week to polish that and you didn’t do anything about it. Ngayon naman, you’d rather have an interview with a magazine. If my designs get approved, I hope you’d be sport.”

Umalis siya agad nang ‘di dinidinig ang sasabihin ko.

I admit that I have my faults with my presentation. Pero itatama ko iyon at hindi ko hahayaang mabitiwan ko ang proyektong ito!

Ang nalalabing oras hanggang gabi ay iginugol ko sa pag-aayos ng mga disenyo.

Nakatulugan ko na lang iyon at nagising lamang sa isang haplos sa aking pisngi.

Malamyos na haplos ang nadama ko. My hair fell and then the rough fingers, I’m feeling, put it back on my ear. Unti-unti akong dumilat.

Namataan ko si Radleigh na naroon. His legs were far apart. Ang kaliwang binti ay nararamdaman ko sa aking mga binti at ang isa’y halos nasa likod ng aking computer chair. His right hand is onmy back rest and his left hand doing the slow touches.

Bumangon agad ako at kinusot ang mga mata. Medyo madilim na sa opisina ngunit may naririnig parin akong mga boses. Siguro’y marami ring nag-oover time.

Nilingon ko ang cubicle sa banda niya. Naka upo siya ngayon sa upuan ni Glen. Hindi ko alam kung nasaan na ang team ko… o narito pa ba sila. Gabi na sa labas.

“I slept…” I noted.
“Don’t stress yourself too much,” he said in a husky tone.

Wala na siyang necktie at coat ngayon. Nilingon ko siya. Nagtama ang mga mata naming dalawa. He smirked and then his eyebrow shot up.

I licked my lips. Suddenly feeling conscious with everything.

“Are you worried?” he asked.
Umiling ako at ngumiti.
“Good. Don’t be,” sabi niya na tila pangako.

He pulled my chair closer as if we aren’t close enough. Hinalikan niya ang tungki ng ilong ko at bahagya akong umilag.

“I just woke up,” sabi ko.

Mas lalong lumapad ang mapaglarong ngiti sa kanyang labi. Uminit ang pisngi ko.

“So?” he said and started kissing my cheek down my neck.
“Damn it! Rad, there are still employees,” I whispered.
“Konti na lang. Umuwi na ang team mo,” aniya na parang kailangan ayos lang ito.
“Rad…” I called in a very girly voice now.

Damn!

Umilaw ang cellphone ko dahil sa tawag ng walang hiyang si Caleb! At ngayon pa talaga niya piniling tumawag!

Rad stopped kissing and he looked at my phone. Hindi siya nagsalita. As much as I want to cancel that call, I have to tell him I can’t go tonight! I have so many things to do!

Nagkatinginan kami ni Radleigh. Seryoso ang mga mata niya bago ko iyon sinagot.

“Caleb,” sabi ko.

Rad positioned his nose on my left ear. The phone is on my right. Ang kanyang kamay ay nasa aking hita na ngayon, hinahaplos ito.

Bumaba ang mga mata ko sa kanyang kamay. Kinagat ko ang labi ko.

“Where are you? Ano? Pupunta ka ba rito? Calla said she’ll come if you’re around, Zari.”
“H-Hindi…” sambit ko.
“Hindi? Bakit?”

Radleigh started kissing my neck again. Tumindig ang balahibo ko. I shifted a bit but his wet and soft kisses is kind of distracting me.

“Trabaho. Caleb, sa birthday mo na lang, okay? Sorry-”
“Zari naman, o! Kadarating ko lang.”
“I’m really sorry, Caleb.”

Rad’s hands naughtily went deeper on my thighs touching my most private part. Inipit ko ang tuhod ko para mapigilan siya. Tumigil siya sa paghalik at nagkatinginan kami. Kahit anong gawing ipit ko, nakakagalaw parin ang kanyang daliri.

Damn it!

“Rad!” I hissed.
“Zari? Ano?”
“I-I said, I’m sorry, Caleb…”

Hindi na ako maka focus dahil sa ginagawa ni Radleigh. Nagtagis ang panga niya habang patuloy ang ginagawa sa akin.

“But you’ll come this Friday, right? Don’t tell me you have work again?”
“Yes, I have work on F-Friday…”

Shit.

His other hand snaked around me. His fingers slipped on my cleavage and found a way to my peak.

Hindi ko alam kung para saan ang pagmamakaawa ko.

“What? Pero gabi iyon! Ibig sabihin may trabaho ka parin sa gabi?”
“W-Wala na, Caleb! I w-will, okay?”

Hindi ko ma formulate ng maayos ang sinasabi ko lalo na ngayong hinahalikan na ulit ako ni Radleigh sa aking leeg.

Damn it! What is he doing?

I squirmed on my sit trying to stop his hand only to feel more intense. Ni hindi niya pa ako nahahawakan ng ganoon. His fingers was only against the cloth of my underwear!

He pinched and pressed it back and forth. He softly caressed it and I don’t understand how I can feel so much with just that?!

Imbes na ilayo ang kanyang kamay ay napahawak na lang ako roon. Like holding on to my dear, almost gone, rational side.

“Damn it! Rad… Please…” shit!
“What? Hello, Zari?”
“Bye! Let’s just meet some other t-time. N-Not now!” tila kay hirap na noon.

Lalo na ngayong naramdaman kong hinawi niya ang tela upang maramdaman ako ng buong buo! Hinawakan ko ang braso niya, hindi para ilayo ito, kundi para may makapitan.

“Damn it! Rad!” I said slightly loud.
“Shhh…” he chuckled.

He teased my entrance with his rough finger. Napapikit na ako, parang nagdedeliryo. His other hand played with my peak alternately.

“You going out with that boy?” he whispered on my ear.
“N…” Umiling ako. “No…”

Huminga siya ng malalim. Ang kanyang hininga ay kiliti sa aking tainga.

I felt his stiffen and then he plunged a finger on my entrance. Mas lalong uminit ang pisngi ko dahil nararamdaman ko ang sarili kong nanginginig.

“Rad…” I whispered so tenderly.
“Yes, baby?” he whispered back.

I couldn’t hold it anymore!

I let out a small, “Ah…”

My whole body spasmed because of a mind-blowing release. Hindi ko alam kung paano ko naramdaman ito gayong pareho kaming hindi man lang nagtatanggal ng damit. At lalo na’t dahil narito kami sa opisina!

Damn it!

Tinanggal niya ang kanyang kamay sa aking dibdib. Unti-unti rin niyang inayos ang aking damit. While I’m still trying to calm down as I hold on to his arm.

“Engineer Riego,” a voice called from somewhere.

Shit! Masyado akong nanghihina para makaharap pa kung sino iyon.

Radleigh positioned himself calmly against me to block the voice from my sight. Pumikit ako at bahagyang humilig sa kanya.

Can we go home? I want to go home with him. Damn it!

“May tawag ka po galing kay Sir Gino. May nag pa appoinment din po na kliyente bukas at hindi ko pa makumpirma kung walang utos mo,” iyong sekretarya niyang lalaki yata.
“Tell Gino I’ll contact him some other time. And… say yes to the client. I believe I know that appointment.”
“Sige po.”

At narinig kong umalis ang kanyang sekretarya. Pinatakan niya ng halik ang aking ulo at pinadausdos ang kamay sa aking baywang para mayakap ako.

“What the hell did you do?” I whispered.

He chuckled. Hinagkan niyang muli ang aking noo. Nanghihina akong kumapit sa kanya.

“I hate being jealous.”

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