Hayley hates birthday parties. She technically doesn’t hate every birthday party that she is invited to; she only hates her half-sister’s fourteenth birthday party. Which is also her twenty-eighth birthday. She wears a ridiculous birthday hat on, thanks to her wonderful stepmother, while watching Brianna laugh at a magic trick. For a fourteen-year-old like her, she seems to be disinterested with grown female stuff like makeup. She is still a kid at heart which makes her less annoying.
“I’m calling Henry,” she mutters under her breath, but before she can dial him, he dials her first. Hayley picks the call and at the other end of the line, heavy breaths resonate. “Hayley,” Henry’s deep voice warms her phone and Hayley holds back a giggle. Henry and Hayley have been dating for almost a year but they haven’t shared their ‘I love you’s yet.
Maybe it’s too early for Henry, but for Hayley, it’s neither too early nor too late for her. Her abuela believes that love is never too early nor too late for anyone. Everyone has to wait for the right timing because everyone is predestined for anyone.
“Henry? I thought you’re going to be late for work?” she asks. She feels deflated when Henry tells her he can’t celebrate her twenty-eighth with her but she understands him because he is such a busy man.
He aspires to be the CEO of the company he’s working in and she will always support him in every step of the way. So when he calls her she feels hopeful that they will eat dinner and watch romantic-comedy flicks after or perhaps cuddle in the middle of the night.
“I actually did. My boss told me that I can end my shift earlier so I had to call you and tell you that I made a dinner reservation at your favourite diner. How does that sound for you?” Hayley imagines Henry winking at the other end of the line which makes her chuckle.
“Yes, I’m winking that sexy wink you like.” She has perfectly read his mind.
“That sounds lovely, Henry,” she replies. “And this goddamn awful party makes me sick,” she says in a low voice. Henry laughs. She loves making Henry laugh his deep laugh, the one that genuinely reverberates against his chest. “Race you there?”
“I’ll win this one for sure,” he answers, “because I’m already standing in front of it.”
“Cheat! You could’ve given me a head’s up!” she shrieks lowly, before her stepmother notices she is preoccupied.
“What can I say? I’ll always win,” he replies. Hayley can picture out the mischievous grin on his lips. She badly wants to erase that smirk off his face. She leaves Brianna discreetly and her other fourteen-year-old friends engrossed at the party, making a beeline to the elevator.
Before the elevator door closes, a large meaty hand, presumably male’s, is stuck in between making the elevator doors open. A lanky guy enters the elevator with a stack of papers in his arms. Another broad guy enters, his brown hair dishevelled, wearing a plain grey top with a blank expression on his face.
Hayley purposefully clears her throat, which catches the broad guy’s attention. “Do you mind helping him?” she says politely but the broad guy ignores her and goes back to staring the elevator door blankly.
“It’s okay,” the lanky guy protests, “I can handle this. It weighs nothing but a f-feather.” His stuttering says otherwise.
“Here,” she offers, “Let me help you.”
“I-It’s o-okay r-really, no need t-to worry a-about m-me.”
“You need it and I’m willing to help you if broad guy won’t.” Broad guy chuckles at her sarcasm, still dismissive at her piercing remarks. She grabs a stack of papers from the lanky guy but the lanky guy’s knees wobble, losing his grip on the papers. All the papers fly inside the elevator. Lanky guy smiles sheepishly, his terrified gaze at the broad guy.
“I-I’m s-so s-sorry,” he stutters in fright. “I-I didn’t m-mean t-to…”
Broad guy angles his head to Hayley, his lips grim. “If you haven’t helped this guy—,” his index finger points towards lanky guy, “—there won’t be any mishaps.” Broad guy has a wide range of vocabulary, Hayley notices, but that does not dismiss the fact he is, actually, reprimanding her for helping someone who is clearly in need.
She places her hands on her waist, her eyebrows drawn together angrily. “If you actually helped him, then there won’t be any mishaps!” she retorts as the elevator dings. Broad guy shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, rolling his eyes at her.
The audacity! Never in Hayley’s twenty-eight years of existence has she encountered someone as unbearable as broad guy. In her head, she has created multiples of scenarios where she ends up bashing his head into pieces—quite literally.
Hayley matches broad guy’s steps as they both exit the elevator, lanky guy’s presence completely forgotten. “Hey!” she yells but broad guy continues walking. Hayley balls her fingers into fists, finally catching up with his pace. “I’m not done talking to you!”
Broad guy calmly replies, “But I am.”
A cab stops in front of them. Broad guy enters and the cab speeds off, leaving Hayley angry on her heels. Exhaustion settles in her system, rolling her eyes at something she shouldn’t be worked up with. She hails an Uber. The thought of Henry waiting at her favourite diner excites her, completely forgetting her heated encounter with broad guy altogether.
Henry sits at their favourite booth, the one nearest to the bathroom. It’s the most secluded spot at Abuela’s. Nobody sits at their corner because it’s either they are grossed at the idea of being near to the bathroom or they dislike the dim lighting the diner offers.
He is busy typing something on his phone, his blue eyes strongly set. She shakes him in surprise, and he yelps. She laughs at his surprised expression which morphs into a pout. She briefly plants a kiss on his lips and they both smile, their eyes lovingly staring at each other.
“I bought you something,” he says once Hayley is sat beside him, their bodies pressed against each other. The warmth from his suit exudes to her body, making her blush. They haven’t done something intimate aside from kissing because Hayley wants to save her purity after marriage. Besides, her family is a devout Catholic. Her mother’s side, anyway.
Henry places a small red box on the table. Hayley’s heart pounds lightning fast, placing the small red box on her grasp. Her cheeks heat up as she gingerly opens it, a small circular band resting peacefully inside. A gasp does not escape from her lips.
Maybe in her gut she knows Henry wants to marry her. Maybe Henry is too predictable. Maybe Henry is lame at surprises. In the end, she is really not surprised. She expects Henry to pull this kind of stunt, especially something like this for her birthday. Her previous argument from broad guy dissipates from her mind because all she can think of is whether to say yes or no.
She is twenty-eight for heaven’s sake. Being single beyond thirty is a curse, one of her mother’s sisters always reminds her, because who wants to marry a woman beyond her thirties? A pregnant pause blankets the atmosphere.
Henry has a hopeful look on his face and Hayley hates breaking his beautiful smile into a frown. Is it Henry’s way of saying I love you? That thought sends a raucous pounding on her chest.
“Will you marry me?” he asks, his words filling the empty atmosphere. “I know it’s too fast but I know that you’re the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.” He sounds breathless as he says those words. “I love you, Hayley.”
He finally says it. On her twenty-eighth birthday. It’s the best birthday present she can ever get. A smile lifts the corners of her red lips.
She nods vehemently and exclaims, “Yes!” loudly enough for the people inside the diner to hear. He abruptly encases her into a tight hug, her cheeks deeply tainted in bright crimson.
“I love you, too, Henry,” she whispers into his ear.
“I know,” he replies.
They stay in that position for what seems like forever; smiles etch on their faces. This has to be Hayley’s best birthday to date. And the best day of her life, perhaps.
September 25, 1672
Hayley was a slave in her first life. She was a farmer’s daughter who didn’t till their own land. They only earned money enough to feed her and her sisters’ hungry bellies, only enough to survive for the day. During the end of every month, she would harvest grains and sold it to the market at the cheapest price. Some merchants would bargain her grains at a lower price and when she didn’t have a choice, she would give in to the merchants’ wishes.
It was a hot afternoon on the twenty-fifth of September. Hayley didn’t know what the exact date was because boys were the only ones sent to school, boys who were privileged enough to be sent by their rich parents.
She was carrying cargoes of grains at her bony back, the sweat dripping on her forehead drying at the torrid heat. She walked barefoot heading towards the market. Only a few steps left and she would finally see the market. Her sister, Mariá, carried the lighter cargo but with her skinny frame, she was barely catching up to Hayley’s pacing.
“Imelda,” Mariá called Hayley in a breathy tone as she stopped in her tracks. Imelda—Hayley— stopped as well, a worried look encompassing her features. “Let me carry that,” Imelda offered, to which Mariá gratefully accepted. Imelda grabbed her satchel and drank the water inside to quench her thirst. Along the rocky road, a calesa passed by.
It looked like a carriage except it only had two wheels. The calesa stopped in front of the sisters. A mestiza stepped down from it, tagging a mestizo teenage boy along with her. She was wearing a large hat that covered majority of her features to protect her skin from the glaring heat of the sun.
Imelda immediately felt inferior with her skin colour, hugging her bony figure as if to shield herself from the colonisers. She didn’t notice she was shaking vehemently until her sister held her arm.
“¿Es este el camino al mercado?” the mestiza asked.
Imelda didn’t learn how to speak in Spanish so when the mestiza asked her, all she could do was nod. There was a pause which made Imelda swallow the bile rising on her throat. The mestiza smiled and further asked her something in Spanish.
“¿Quieres un paseo al mercado?”
She only nodded in response. The mestiza nudged the teenage mestizo forward. He lifted their cargo and placed it in their calesa which alarmed Imelda. She didn’t know what to do. She only stared at the cargo of grains falling into the hands of the colonisers, an unnoticeable tear slipping on her cheek. Mariá was dumbfounded at what was happening. Once the mestizo finished lifting their cargoes, he offered his hand.
Imelda only stared at his extended hand, tilting her head sideways. “Are you coming or not?” he asked in native tongue with his prepubescent voice. She was rendered speechless. He could actually speak in their native tongue.
She stuttered replying, “Y-yes.” She grabbed Mariá’s hand and accepted the mestizo’s hand. It was soft unlike hers. Her cheeks warmed. It was her first time holding a boy’s hand. It would be a sin to pine at someone who was completely out of her league. Her father kept reminding her that Spanish boys would never look at Indios like her.
She pushed away the blooming feelings from her chest as the calesa moved. Her eyes danced at the trail of wheat passing by, an innocent smile tainting her lips. Mariá had the same expression like hers but a giggle occasionally escaped her lips.
“¿Dónde vives?” the mestiza asked. Imelda didn’t notice she was asked a question so the mestizo snapped his fingers which effectively caught her attention.
“Hablas… no… español…” she replied in broken Spanish sheepishly. The mestiza removed her hat, her beauty exuding in Imelda’s eyes.
Her face was perfectly symmetrical, the bridge of her nose the most prominent feature on her face. She had dark eyes that could pierce into anyone else’s soul. Judging by her features, she was still in her early twenties. The mestiza smiled amiably.
“Where do you live?” she asked politely.
Imelda was surprised that a coloniser like her was civil towards an Indio like her. The soldiers who was on duty in their land had whips on their hands, ready for lashing at a farmer, like her father, lazing during work hours.
She only stared at the mestiza as a reply and the mestiza chuckled. “I was born in España,” the mestiza talked, the smile never wavering from her face. “And I live in a pueblo.”
“We live in a farm,” Mariá answered filled with pride. She was eight and proud.
“That’s an interesting place to live in,” the mestiza said. “How’s it like?”
Before Mariá could reply, Imelda whispered into her ear. “Papa said not to talk to strangers, especially to peninsulares.” Mariá’s lips curled upside down, keeping herself from glaring at her sister. They were nice to them, Mariá concluded.
An awkward silence draped the air. The mestiza only smiled at the two sisters uneasily and averted her gaze back to the lumpy road.
With the silence blanketing them, Imelda couldn’t help but steal glances at the mestizo boy. His side profile sped the beating of her heart. She crossed her arms around her small frame and stared back at the large fields of weeds.
The horse neighed as it stopped galloping. “¡Finalmente, el mercado!” the mestiza exclaimed. She was smiling genuinely as if going to the mercado was the best thing to do during leisure time. She turned to the sisters.
“Here’s our stop. I’m so sorry if I ever made you feel uncomfortable.” It was sincere coming from her but still, Imelda didn’t trust her. She never trusted any foreigner even if that foreigner had her heart beating like crazy.
 A small two-wheeled calash used in the Philippines
 General term applied to native Malay, lowest class in the Philippines
 Spaniards who are born in Spain, highest class in the Philippines
Hayley is Henry’s fiancée. Hayley processes the thought, a smile never leaving her lips. She skips as she enters her house, the thudding of her steps echoing on the linoleum floor. As she turns the light on, her mother’s figure makes her jolt in surprise. Her mother only laughs at Hayley’s reaction, the wrinkles disappearing from her face.
“Mamá?” Hayley asks idiotically, as if her mother standing in front of her is only a product of her wild imagination. She pinches her mother’s cheek and her mother snorts humorously in return.
“No, it is your mother from another dimension,” she retorts sarcastically. Hayley’s mother is a scientist, a brilliantly mad scientist at that. She has published several articles about quantum physics in which Hayley has no idea about and in which she has no interest in learning.
Her mother sometimes blabbers about a theory that when a person dies, their consciousness wanders around the universe. Which actually equates that the soul probably exists and that reincarnation may be true.
Hayley’s older brother, Hector, is the only one who listens to her mother’s musings and it isn’t a surprise to the Santiago clan that he is now following her footsteps. He almost bags the Nobel Prize for Physics.
“Can you blame me? I barely see you anymore,” Hayley pouts. Her mamá rolls her eyes at her expression but she gives her a brief hug.
“I have a present for you,” she says. She hands Hayley a box that is poorly wrapped (her mother is the worst when it comes to wrapping gifts), a shiny golden ribbon keeping the gift intact. Despite the fact that it is unpresentable, she opens it excitedly, like a kid receiving a present on Christmas.
Her mother gives the most peculiar presents to her children. On Hector’s eleventh birthday, he receives a time-traveling box that is a prototype (it doesn’t work, unfortunately). And now, as Hayley unveils her gift, a black wristband perches inside. She tilts her head sideways.
“What is this? I’m pretty sure this isn’t a wristwatch. I have a lot of wristwatches,” she says.
“Of course, mija. This is actually another prototype I built.” Another prototype, great. When will her mother give her normal gifts like Henry’s mother? She loves her mother but all these prototypes she’s building needs to stop.
She is not some kind of experiment. She is her daughter. She fakes a smile and waits for her mother to explain further.
“I’m working on this theory that this wristwatch can predict who you’re predestined with,” she explains in Layman’s terms.
Hayley is suddenly curious, the feeling of being offended flying out of the window. “Does it work?”
“I haven’t tried it honestly. I know you’re a true romantic at heart, and even if mi mamá—your abuela—and I don’t see eye to eye with a lot of things, at least we can agree with one thing: our love for you. I know you believe your abuela’s stories about intertwined destinies so I’m scientifically testing if the premise is true.” Tears well up on Hayley’s eyes and before she can prevent them from falling, a dam is now released.
Her mother lacks greatly with emotional warmth and those words she uttered are the closest thing she can ever get.
“Oh mija, I never meant to make you cry.” She wraps her arms awkwardly around Hayley and she basks in that action.
“Quite honestly,” she says in-between sniffles, “this is the best present you’ve ever given me.” Her mother chuckles and gives her a wink.
“I’m your mother, and mother knows best,” she answers in a singsong tune, imitating Rapunzel’s mother from Tangled.
Broad guy’s unprecedented presence gives Hayley a whiplash. Out of all the places, it has to be the place where she works. What a small world she’s living in. She slowly walks to her boss who is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Journal.
He is talking animatedly to broad guy, his arms flying in the air. His presence has uplifted her boss’s mood which is quite a rarity for him to have. When her boss sees her approaching, broad guy makes inappropriate noises from his throat accompanied with a small frown. Her boss smiles, his eyes twinkling excessively.
“Hayley!” he exclaims too sweetly. Hayley cringes. He gestures for her to walk faster. She stands in front of broad guy and him, biting her lip nervously. “I want you to meet Terrence Williams. He’s the new assistant editor-in-chief,” her boss announces loudly, his voice booming across the room.
All her co-workers stop from their tracks, their heads leaning away from their cubicle to look at the new guy.
They hold the same expressions as their boss. Hayley is almost surprised with the position he’s given but her boss has this thing—bias—when it comes to cute guys.
Quite frankly, if you look at broad guy’s features closely, he is actually good-looking—broad shoulders, an ocean blue gaze that pierces through anyone’s soul, luscious kissable lips, and most of all, his perfectly curved ass. But Hayley will never admit that to anyone. Their unpleasant encounter a week ago has been ingrained in her head and saying that he has redeeming qualities is a mortal sin.
Hayley extends her hand to welcome her new colleague even if it’s against her will. Broad guy, Terrence, accepts her hand brashly. He abruptly lets go of their handshake, his face looking repulsive. He shouldn’t worry, she shares the same sentiments. She wipes the palm of her shaken hand as if Terrence’s hand is slimy.
“Nice to meet you, Terrence,” she says in an exaggerated sweet tone, emphasising every word.
Terrence mimics her tone. “Nice to meet you, too, Haaay-leeee.”
“Good!” her boss, Mark, chirps, oblivious to the tension between Hayley and Terrence. He walks in small steps towards his office, expecting for the two of them to follow him. When only Hayley trails behind Mark’s back, Mark gives a quizzical stare at Terrence. Terrence gets the hint, immediately striding by his side. Hayley snickers at him.
“So now that you’re both acquainted,” he says, sitting down on his neon purple sofa, “I have a job for the both of you that requires both of your…” He trails off, his brown eyes staring at the poorly-painted ceiling. “Cooperation.”
Hayley and Terrence are standing a good few inches away, as if a large brick wall is built between them. Mark crosses his legs and grabs a pen and a scratch paper lying on his desk, scribbling in lightning speed, and as soon as he finishes, he displays his neat handwriting to them. Hayley grabs the paper, reading the words out loud.
“Interview Nick Schmidt.” Nick Schmidt is the lead singer of a famous band, Nickolai, whose fame skyrocketed during 2015.
She tilts her head sideways. “I can do this alone, Mark,” Hayley says in a subtle tone of pleading, her eyes almost going glassy. After earning Mark’s respect, she is allowed to call him on a first-name basis.
“You know I work best alone… and of course, I always give you great content for our paper.”
Mark waves her off as if he hasn’t heard every single word she said. “You need a partner for this,” he insists. “We are writing his biography and it’d be good if two people work on this to have two different perspectives in interviewing him. This interview will either make or break us.”
“I totally agree with Hayley here,” Terrence butts in, “but I am the fittest person for this job. You saw my credentials.”
“And I’m the editor-in-chief,” Mark retorts and that shuts him up. Hayley sniggers, mentally counting at how many times she’s won. Two for Hayley, none for Terrence. “Both of you will interview Nick Schmidt and I will have none of your protests. If you can’t work with that, then I’ll find someone who will.”
Both Hayley and Terrence’s shoulders slump as they exit Mark’s office. While they are walking to their respective offices, Terrence says, “It won’t be that bad.” He says it as if he’s convincing himself more than he’s convincing her.
“I don’t know Terrence,” Hayley says, irritated. “The fact we can’t even agree on helping lanky guy is saying something.”
“You haven’t really moved on from that?” he asks, genuinely curious. “And the lanky guy’s name is James. He’s sort of my assistant.”
She rolls her eyes. “I don’t think giving him all the work really helps him. You obviously see him struggling and you don’t really give a shite about that.”
He puts his hand inside his pockets, shrugging his shoulders. “Honestly, I didn’t notice he was struggling. He didn’t say any word that he needed my help.” Hayley is taken aback. She stops from her tracks which makes Terrence stop, too.
“You honestly didn’t know?” He looks serious, judging by the expression on his face. When he nods in response, she sighs a deep sigh and shakes her head. “You gotta improve at reading body language. The fact that you didn’t notice your sort-of assistant struggling at carrying those monstrous stacks of papers can totally affect relationships with people; a relationship with me especially we will be working together.”
He nods in agreement, a frown imprinting his lips. “I got fired that day. Probably made me extra peachy.”
“And why is that?”
“For being too insensitive with co-workers…” He looks ashamed when he says it but when Hayley doesn’t respond, he feels a bit lighter for saying it out loud. “I didn’t know honestly and I wished they told me instead of saying it behind my back.”
“Then you’re going to have a hard time with me,” Hayley says. She stops in front of her office and tells Terrence, “I’m the frankest person you’ll ever meet.”
“Will be looking forward to that.”