I wasn’t sure what shocked me more: the sudden engagement appointment, or the fact that Mom went home just to deliver that news to us.
“No buts, Steff. You know our deal.”
Maybe one of the reasons why I had no interest in romantic relationships or love was because of her. When I was in high school, she would always ask me if I was already crushing on someone. It was no secret that wealthy families would rather marry off their children to another wealthy one, or the children of their business partners. They could preserve their riches and reputation, and even expand it through their children’s marriage. Thinking about that made me detest being in a relationship since it wasn’t even about me. It was always about them and their egos.
I kept on insisting that I was still too young to think about it, which was true, and I was too busy studying to maintain my grades. They were the ones who told me that I should study hard so I could achieve my dreams, but now, she was telling me that I should socialize instead. It was normal for people around my age to have romantic feelings and pursue relationships, but that was too burdensome for me.
She said I should have at least someone I like when I stepped into the university, or else she would set me up with someone she knew. I thought she was just kidding and using that as a threat for me to expand my circle, but look at where my assumption had led me.
I didn’t want to yield to her easily, but I had already ran out of words to assert my own choice. Feeling defeated, I turned to Dad.
He approached Mom and they hugged. “Alice, come on. Steff just barely entered college.”
Mom goes by Nicole Soriano-Damian as her preferred name, but only Dad calls him by her first name. Alice and her also share the same name, so they were kinda awkward with each other. Her expression suddenly softened, something I could only see when she’s with Dad.
“I know, Steven, but I’m getting pressured, too.”
She nodded. “They want to make sure that the company will be in the right hands.”
I still don’t know a lot about how a company like that works, but I sure know how they have prejudice against women directors. Dad and Mom were one of the rare couples who didn’t have to go through several marriage interviews since they were together since high school. They got married with their parents’ approval and everything was going smoothly, but Mom was ambitious. She didn’t want to just be a wife supporting his husband, but someone who could lead their company, too. It took her years before her own parents and the board of directors of their company could trust her as the managing director, and it wasn’t because she wasn’t skillful, but because she was a woman.
It must be suffocating to run a company when everyone was waiting for you to mess up, and would probably blame it with your gender. It was also probably the reason why she always looked tired whenever she goes home. Still, why do I have to go through that kind of ordeal just because I’m also a woman?
I wanted to assert my resolve about this matter, but Mom had already rested his case for today. Umakyat sina Mom at Dad sa kuwarto nila habang naiwan kami ni Ven sa sala.
“Omg ate, what will you do?”
She gave me a worried look, knowing that she would experience this, too, in a few more years. Napabuntonghininga ako at napaupo sa couch. There was no telling how this topic would proceed tomorrow, but I needed a way out. I didn’t want to meet someone for their sake. And I definitely didn’t want to be engaged or married to someone they just picked for me.
I needed a plan.
Hindi ako nakatulog nang maayos kakaisip sa kung ano ang puwede kong gawin para lang hindi matuloy ang plano nilang engagement appointment. I had thought about several excuses, but I wasn’t sure if they would even work out.
Pagbaba ko sa dining area ay nandoon na agad sina Mom and Dad. They were quietly eating their breakfast, and I joined them in no time.
“Good morning,” bati ko at agad naman silang tumango.
I was served breakfast, too, and I ate in silence, discreetly observing their expressions. However, I couldn’t tell their current mood. I just hope Mom could hear out my arguments regarding her proposal.
Makalipas ang ilang minuto ay bumaba na rin si Ven at sabay-sabay kaming kumain. There was an awkward air among us, but at least it was bearable.
Gusto ko sanang i-open ang topic na ‘yon pero hindi ko alam kung paano ko sisimulan. I didn’t want to ruin the mood, especially when they were still eating.
“What is it?” Mom suddenly said, breaking the silence. “You’ve been glancing at me one too many times, Steff.”
Ibinaba niya ang tasa ng kapeng iniinom niya at tumingin sa akin. I tensed upon meeting her sharp gaze, but I tried steeling myself.
I swallowed back the nervousness that was rising through my throat. “Mom, I’ve decided. I won’t attend the engagement appointment.”
Mom raised her eyebrow. “And why is that? Do you have any excuse why you wouldn’t?”
That was the question I was waiting for.
A lot of words flooded my mind, but I needed to be careful. A weak excuse would just make me sound like a brat who couldn’t honor a deal, despite it being completely unfair. Muli akong huminga nang malalim para kalmahin ang sarili ko.
“I do,” I sternly said.
“And what is that?”
“I already have someone I like.”
Halos mabulunan si Dad sa kinakain niya nang sabihin ko ‘yon habang nanatiling nakatitig sa akin si Mom. Ven, on the other hand, covered her mouth with her hands from shock. My cheeks immediately reddened upon saying that, but I held my gaze.
She had been pressuring me about liking someone or having a crush since high school, precisely because she didn’t want me to go through these harrowing circumstances. Perhaps using that same excuse would let me escape that trouble.
Mom studied me closely, and I had to soldier through the anxiety building up my chest. “You are not just making an excuse, aren’t you?”
I almost flinched upon hearing her words, but I maintained my composure. “No, Mom,” I insisted. “This may sound shocking, but I do have someone I like now.”
Mukhang nagulat silang tatlo sa declaration ko, but I was desperate. Ayaw ko talagang um-attend sa ganoong appointments lalo na at alam kong wala akong magagawa kapag nagtuluy-tuloy na iyon. This was the easiest way I could think of to escape that.
“I see.” Mom put her coffee down and kept a tight smile. “Then, may I know who that person is?”
Lalong lumakas ang tibok ng puso ko sa kaba. Darryl’s face popped up in my mind the moment she asked that question, much to my annoyance. I knew I was a terrible liar, so I couldn’t let Mom see through this fabrication.
“A-a classmate of mine,” I mumbled.
“Hmm. So, he’s from Kingdom University,” she remarked. “That means his family is well-off.”
“Does he like you too?”
Her question had taken me aback. “Eh?”
“It’ll be easier if you already like each other, don’t’ you think?”
“Well . . .”
“He doesn’t know you like him, is that it?”
“Uhm . . . k-kinda.”
Mom heaved a sigh, but her shoulders seemed to relax a bit. “I guess, we can hold the appointment off. The board won’t like it, but you have a reasonable excuse.”
My face brightened. “Really?”
“You already have someone you like, haven’t you? That’s enough reassurance, I think.”
Sa sobrang saya ko ay tumayo ako at naglakad papunta sa kanya. I hugged her from behind and thanked her. Mom’s words had always been the law, and I had always thought she was strict especially to me, but today, not only she listened to my argument, but she also changed her decision for me.
“Sorry for forcing you this matter the moment I came home,” she suddenly said, and it shocked me enough to loosen the hug. “Those geezers and men wanted to control me for years just because I’m a woman, but they couldn’t do that anymore. As the next head of the company, they sure want to do it again with you, especially now that you’re still a teenager. They have been putting pressure on me, too, regarding this matter, so if you do not want them to take control over you and your decisions, you better take the initiative.”
I had always known that business politics was something I had to learn and experience few years from now, but everything seemed to be dirty and messy. Each had their own motives, and those who were on top would not have any peaceful day. Maybe Mom became like this because of the constant pressure and apprehension around her.
“Make that boy fall in love with you so we can already let go of this problem,” she continued.
She kept on asking about the guy I like for minutes that I had to retreat into my room. Kahit si Ven ay kinukulit na rin ako dahil alam niyang wala akong nagugustuhan na kahit sino.
Napahiga na lang ako sa kama ko at kahit papaano ay nakahinga ako nang maluwag. That problem had been solved. At least, for now.