Pssst….Can You Keep a Secret?

Love, Scandal etc. by Ate Nora

Eighth in a series

Maria’s life was about to change drastically, moving from the Philippines to the U.S. to complete her schooling. Elena who was going with her was nowhere to be seen, and the plane—in 30 minutes—was almost “wheels-up!”

Editor’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome aboard Philippine Airlines Flight 104 for San Francisco. We will be departing shortly,” announced the sharply dressed flight attendant. “If you have not done so, please fasten your seat belts and make sure all your carry-ons are secured in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you. If you need assistance, please let one of the flight attendants know.”

Maria took a deep breath and thought about the events of the past month. First it was Junior’s unexpected death, the confrontation with Ofelia, Francisco’s announcement of their engagement, Maria’s announcement of her non-pregnancy, Junior’s funeral, and Maria’s speech at the funeral where she announced she was the first recipient of the Mayor Mendoza scholarship to study at the University of San Francisco.

“Dear God, how did all of this happen to me?” Maria thought, clutching the rosary her friend Elena gave her. It was Elena who had the idea to speak at Junior’s funeral and to make the announcement. Elena knew the Mendoza family would be cornered into providing for Maria’s scholarship because after all, it was only money and the honor of the Mendoza name was more important. Elena also knew that a public announcement would put more pressure on the Mendoza family to comply.

In the end, it was Elena who made all the arrangements, working through her Dad, Monsignor Jose Cadabana. Initially Monsignor Cadabana was not that happy with Elena and Maria’s scheme but Monsignor Cadabana was sworn to protect all of Junior’s secrets and indiscretions, just as Junior had been sworn to protect all of Monsignor Cadabana’s secrets and indiscretions.

A couple of days ago, Maria and Elena met for the last time at Joe’s, owned by the Monsignor. Maria and Elena reminisced about their friendship which started when they were ten years old, fellow students at St. Mary’s School. Elena, who was about to graduate from medical school, shared that she was dating a doctor at De La Salle Hospital, none other than Dr. Ariel Lim, the emergency room doctor who had declared Junior dead. Dr. Lim was 42 years old—much older than Elena—but as Elena giggled, he made her happy in so many ways. Elena wasn’t quite sure if Dr. Lim was her future but she enjoyed the love making and all the attention that she desperately wanted.

In all the fuss in the last month, Elena forgot to tell Maria until that night the details of her good news of being accepted as a resident at the University of California, San Francisco, rated #5 in the United States. She was also accepted as a resident at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, which was rated #7, but decided to give up her long-term dream of going to New York. “Girlfriend, who needs New York when I can have San Francisco?” Elena said to Maria. “Besides, I can always go to New York after my residency. And San Francisco is closer to home so if Ariel misses me, he can come to San Francisco for a conference. Besides, who knows, maybe my future is not with Ariel and my true love is somewhere in San Francisco. And I can easily drive down to Los Angeles where I believe some of my siblings are. I’m still trying to find out more details from my Dad.” Elena was always more chatty after a glass of white wine while Maria tended to be more reserved.

Maria learned from Elena that when Monsignor Cadabana had spent some time in Los Angeles during an exchange program for young priests, Monsignor Cadabana had fathered a set of twins who were a little older than Elena. The details of all of Monsignor Cadabana’s other children were still hush hush but Monsignor Cadabana had disclosed a few secrets to Elena, including the twins’ mom had been a young Filipina student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, studying to be a doctor. The twins’ mom came from a somewhat wealthy family in Cebu and quickly dispatched a ya-ya to raise the twins so their Mom could continue on to med school at UCLA. Elena also told Maria that night that she would make all the arrangements and that she too would be on the same flight as Maria as her residency was about to begin.

All of it was almost too much for Maria to grasp but Maria remembered her promise to her late mother Rosa that she would complete her studies no matter what so she could help the family. At times Maria felt such a burden but knew it was her destiny to do whatever she could and needed to do and she believed God would always be by her side, no matter what. Maria’s God was a loving and forgiving God and Maria believed God would not let her be such a bad person. That’s how Maria had rationalized her relationship with Junior—that God would not have allowed it if there wasn’t a good reason for it.

As Maria checked her watch, she noted it was almost 9:30 p.m. and the Philippine Airlines flight was set to depart at 10 p.m. “Where are you, Elena?” Maria thought. It would be a long flight, landing in San Francisco at 8 p.m.—thirteen hours after they departed but landing on the same day due to the international dateline. Maria never understood how that worked and for the moment was getting nervous that Elena had not yet boarded. Elena had not answered her text last night but Maria figured she was probably tying up some loose ends with either Monsignor Cadabana or Dr. Lim.

All of Maria’s family were in Davao and were not able to come to Manila to see her off. Maria understood the family’s finances would not afford them a trip to Manila and did not begrudge them. “Oh God, I hope I’ve done the right thing. Please send me a sign that all will be well,” Maria silently prayed. “And please get Elena on this plane!”

Suddenly, someone sat down next to her. Maria could not believe it.

“Hello Maria. Did you really think I would let you go?” said Francisco.