Chapter 1 - Azalea

Men

Friday night’s my favorite. It’s my fun time.

Pagkatapos ng buong linggong pagtatrabaho ay heto ako ngayon sa isang bar sa Tomas Morato kasama ang mga kaibigang si Maliah at Dean. Dahil busy kami sa kani-kaniyang trabaho ay ngayon nalang kami muling nagkita matapos ang halos isang buwan.

“How was your shoot in Singapore?” I asked Maliah.

Maliah is a part-time model. Her mother owns a modelling agency, and she sometimes takes small gigs abroad. She only accepts gigs away because she wants to be known as one of the best pastry chefs in the country, and not as a model. Pwede niyang gamitin ang pagiging model niya upang mas makilala sa larangang iyon ngunit ayaw niya. I think it’s weird, but we can’t really question her goals.

“Just the same tiring job for me. Nagkita kami ni Dean don. Oh my!” pagtili niya. Bumaling siya kay Dean at may paghampas pa sa balikat nito. “Tell her about the girl, Dean!”

Abot langit naman ang ngisi ng lalaki nang tumingin ako sa kaniya.

“Okay, okay. There was this girl who went inside my room—”

Patuloy naman si Maliah sa pagpalo sa kaniya. Bago pa magpatuloy sa pagku-kuwento si Dean ay mapaglarong naghampasan muna silang dalawa.

Kinikilig ba ang mga ‘to?

Pinitik ko silang pareho sa ilong, “H’wag mo nang ituloy, mukhang alam ko na ang nangyari.” May pagdidiin sa salitang “nangyari” ang pagkakasabi ko.

Nagtawanan naman kaming tatlo at nagkayayaang magsayawan. Ibinilin ko muna sa kakilala naming bartender ang cellphone ko. Ngumiti lang ang babae sa’kin. Dahil regular kami dito, alam na nilang hindi ko basta-basta iniiwan ang cellphone ko dahil sa trabaho.

Ika nga ng may-a*i noong patigilin ko ang kasiyahan dati nang ‘di ko mahagilap ang cellphone ko, ako lang daw ang party girl na iniisip pa din ang trabaho sa gitna ng dance floor.

Of course, sa kabila ng skimpy body suit at maiksing tight high waist leather skirt na suot ko ngayon ay isang workaholic diva ang nagtatago. I am one of my boss’ most trusted employee in the company, that’s why he calls for me even on weekends whenever he needs me. So, I party responsibly.

Don’t Cha by The Pussycat Dolls is playing in the background. Nilaro din ng DJ ang tune ng kanta na mas nagpa-engganyo sa’king sumayaw. Ito ang dahilang kung bakit kami naging regular sa bar na ‘to. They have a special Friday music night. Tonight’s theme is 2000’s R&B and girl, it’s a bomb. The DJ is top-notch. I don’t know how he made the rap part so sexy.

Nakaramdam ako na may mainit na katawan ang dumidikit sa likod ko. He’s almost dry humping me. Hinayaan ko lang siya at mas pinag-igihan ang pagsayaw. Dumadausdos ang dalawang kamay niya mula sa bewang ko papuntang balakang. Nang maramdaaman kung susubukan niyang iakyat ang hawak sa ilalim ng aking d****b ay hinarap ko siya.

Hmm, not bad. He’s an expat, bearded, tall and definitely hotter than most Filipino men. Well, that’s just my taste. I’m really into big white guys.

I looked at him seductively. Mas lumapit pa ‘ko sa lalaki na halos nalalanghap ko na ang hininga niya. Nilapit ko ang aking bibig sa kaniyang tainga at hinayaang dumikit ang pisngi niya sa aking mukha.

“Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me...” Punung-puno ng senswalidad na sabi ko.

“How I wish, baby.” He said in the same intensity as mine.

I rolled my eyes and pushed him. Hindi ako mahilig sa laruang may nagmamay-a*i na.

Hinanap ko sa dance floor ang mga kaibigan. Sa kanila nalang ako makikipagsayaw.

Nakita ko silang nagsasayaw sa bandang gilid. Maliah was still holding a bottle of beer. Patalon-talon siyang lumapit sakin.  

“Nasaan na yung pogi? ‘Di mo bet?”

Umiling na lang ako at ‘di na nagpaliwanag. Sumunod din si Dean at inakbayan kaming dalawa.

“Girls, come on. Sa gitna tayo.” Pag-akay niya samin.

Mas naging wild na ang mga tao. Hating-gabi na din kasi at halos lahat ay lasing na. Ang hiyawan din ay mas lumakas pa, patuloy ang indayog ng mga katawan at pag-sabay sa musika.

Huminto ako sa pagsayaw at tumingin sa paligid. Inikot ko ang aking mga mata sa kabuuan ng bar.

I love how the music makes everyone forget. I love how I’m surrounded by a dancing crowd. I feel like this is me living the life. I feel alive.

Napalingon ako ng may kumalabit sakin. Ang bartender na pinagbilinan ko ng aking phone ay sumisigaw sa kabila ng ingay. ‘Di ko naintindahan ang sinabi niya pero iwinagayway niya ang cellphone ko at nakita kong nasa screen ang caller ID ng boss ko. Hinablot ko agad yun at tumakbo palabas.

Nang makalabas ako, sinagot ko ang tawag at bumati, “Hello, Sir?”

Isang malalim na buntong-hininga ang narinig ko. “Sir?”

“Come to the office. We got a problem.” Sagot niya sa malalim na boses.

I almost gasp. His voice sounded delicious, oh my goodness.

“Azalea?” Natauhan naman ako sa pagtawag niya. Lasing na ata ako.

“Yes, Sir?”

“I said check the news. And get here ASAP.” Napatango naman ako kahit ‘di niya nakikita.  

Pinatay ko ang tawag at dumiretso sa kotse ko. I checked the time and saw 11:30 PM. Nag-iwan ako ng text sa dalawang kasama matapos i-start ang engine ng sasakyan. Halatang-halata sa mukha kong nakainom ako kung kaya’t nagmumog ako at naghilamos gamit ang tubig ko sa tumbler.

When I arrived in the basement of our building, I reapplied my lipstick and fixed my hair. I can’t go inside wearing my skimpy top. Mabuti nalang at may coat akong laging dala sa sasakyan. I put it on and locked my car.

Wearing my three inches stiletto, I made my way to the elevator going up to the CEO’s office. Na-check ko na ang news na tinutukoy ng Boss ko kanina. While driving earlier, I also contacted some of our staff that we need to talk right now. They must be already here. Nadaanan ko na rin sa opisina ko ang mga kailangan ko.

The news of kidnaping already broke out. As much as we want to keep the media out of this, they were still able to get whiff of the crisis. That was fast and suspicious. I’m positive the Senator’s side didn’t tell the media about this, we definitely didn’t too.

Nang marating ko ang opisina ng CEO, kumatok ako ng tatlong beses bago pumasok. Dire-diretso ako sa lamesa kung saan tahimik na nakatitig ang boss ko sa magkasalop niyang mga kamay.

Tila hindi niya pa rin napapansin ang aking pasensya. I cleared my throat, “Sir, I’ve already called upon a meeting with the board of directors. They’ll be here in the morning. And…” Hindi pa ko tapos sa mga sasabihin ko ngunit napansin kong napahilamos siya sa kaniyang mukha.

Siya si Hue Silverio, ang CEO at President ng Helping Hand International, Inc. o mas kilalang Helping Hand. We provide services to single parents in the Philippines in an affordable price. Anything can be requested to us including nannies, assistants, babysitters, shoppers, and the most special service, the stand in parents for hire. He lets me call him Hue. Pero ‘di ko mapigil na tawagin pa din siyang “Sir” lalo na sa opisina.

And in the five years that I’m working here, this is the first time I’ve seen him so defeated and speechless. Hindi lang ito ang krisis na pinagdaanan ng kompanya, ngunit marahil ito nga siguro ang pinakamabigat. Malaking posibilidad na ‘di na makaahon pa ang Helping Hand mula dito ngunit kailangan pa rin subukan.

“I don’t know how we’ll be able to get pass this crisis. The senator’s son was kidnapped by our own employee, by our own!” he paused and looked at me, “The company’s going down, Azalea.”

Of course, I know what he’s thinking. He’s worried that the senator will use his power to bring us down if his son is harmed in any way.

Humakbang ako ng isang beses upang mas makalapit. “With all due respect, Hue,” I looked at him eye to eye and in a serious tone continued to say, “You’ve got no time to mope. You need to think of a way out of this. For the company and all your employees.”

Tila naman nagising siya dahil sa sinabi ko. He stood up straight and removed his coat. Bagay na ginagawa niya tuwing nagseseryoso sa trabaho. He also removed his tie while still looking at me.

I remained stoic waiting for his command. Bumalik siya sa pag-upo at binuksan ang kanyang laptop.

“I know you have assistants, but I want you to handle this personally. Contact the police handling the case, tell them we’ll cooperate with the investigation. Get me the contact number and the address of the senator, I’ll meet them personally tomorrow to reassure them we’re getting to whoever’s behind this mess.”

Tumingin siya sa kanyang relo bago nagpatuloy, “Call for a meeting with the Operations Managers, have them ready the information of all the employees involved. I want them in the conference room in an hour.”

Napangiti naman ako sa turan niya. This is the boss that I admire.

Ipinatong ko sa kanyang lamesa ang folder na kanina ko pang hawak. “Here’s the Senator’s contact number with all the details about his son and the services they requested. I have already called the police earlier, and they said they’ll be here to get information. The team is already in the conference room waiting for you, Sir. We need to gather all the details we can get so we can give assistance to the police.”

Hue sighed deeply and smiled to me. “Thank you, Azalea. Let’s go meet them now.”

Hindi ko namalayang umaga na pala. I’m working on the press release we’ll provide to the media tomorrow when I heard a knock. I’m currently with Sir Hue in his office as we were finalizing the information that we’ve got.

Pumasok si Aram Silverio, kapatid ni Hue. Tumango siya sakin bilang pagbati bago kausapin ang kapatid, “Hey, man. I’ve heard the news. Tell me how I can help.”

Hue shrugged and continued what he’s doing.

“I’m sorry. I know you’re busy. Aeza, can you tell me about the update with the problem my brother is going through, my brother who’s too shy to ask for my help.” He smiled to me meaningfully. 

I smiled back but looked at my boss to ask permission to speak. Aram became a friend of mine but he’s not a part of the company that’s why I’m not sure if I should update him or not. Hue just nodded to me.

“We’re already cooperating with the police, and they already know where they can find the kidnappers.  They believed they’ll be able to save the senator’s son tonight. We’ve also already proven that this is not the company’s fault as a whole, but the employees who infiltrated the company to do this crime. Of course, we are still liable for hiring these people. But the Senator is not taking this against us. He’s aware of the threats to his and his family’s life because of the upcoming election. The main problem, the kidnapping, is almost over. Our main concerns now are the investors who’s pulling out their support to the company, the trust of our clients and the company’s image that’s been tainted.”

They both nodded as I speak. Aram looked impressed.

“All you need to think of is how you’ll be able to get back the trust of the people, right?”

“Yes,” pagsang-ayon ko sa sinabi niya.

“Anong plano niyo?”

“Despite how understanding the Senator is, the media is still targeting the company with this issue. Uhm...” nag-aalinlangan akong ituloy pero tumaas ang kilay nilang pareho sakin. “It has drawn many comments from the people regarding how unsafe our services are, and that how can they be able to trust a company for parents that is being led by a bachelor.”

“Ako ang pinupuntirya sa social media, now can you be able to help me, brother?” Hue said sarcastically. Aram and I looked at each other. He’s very stressed and tired that is why it’s understandable that he’s being like this.

“Come on, I’m with you here, brother.” He went near him and patted his arm. Hue looked apologetic.

“You certainly cannot step down from your position, but you can still improve your image. Your clients just need to be able to trust you, in order to trust in the company again.” Aram said as a matter of fact. “Maybe you can get married or something.” Patawang dagdag niya pa.

Napatayo si Hue sa sinabi niya. “What? I was just joking, okay? Calm down.” Napaatras siya habang nagpapaliwang.

“No. You’re right! Maybe I can get married or something.”

Napataas naman ang kilay ko sa usapan nila. They are seriously thinking of a dumb thing now.

“But I have no one, bro—

“Of course, you have no one, you rejected all of them.” 

Hue is now pacing back and forth across the room. Is he seriously taking this for consideration? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I wanted to speak to wake them up from this trance, but they both looked determined as they talk.

“Are you both serious? Baka gusto mo din mag-anak?” I said sarcastically. Baka ‘pag narinig nila na may mas ridiculous pa sa pagpapakasal ay matauhan sila.

 They both gasped.

“You’re genius! A single parent leading a company for single parents!” May pag mwestra pa sa hangin si Aram nang sabihin niya yun na parang nag-i-imagine siya ng headline sa dyaryo.

“Azalea, find me someone who’s willing to bear my child.” Hue said firmly.

Oh, my goodness! Men and their small penises.

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