Baker Boy, Latte Girl: Draft Chapter One

What is this? I have no idea. This is the first draft of a thing that I started writing, and I’m not quite sure where it was going, so I figured I would post Draft One here, for accountability. The idea was to take Star’s Hollow and You’ve Got Mail on the Upper West Side and bring it to Lipa.

Even from here I can see the many ways this draft can still change, how Sari and Gabriel will be different, but for now, we write. Will take it down, maybe if I finish this! We’ll see. I would love to know your thoughts too!

Baker Boy, Latte Girl


Chapter One

Sari Tomas loved her pre-school science classes. It had fascinated her that there were names for the sensations she felt when she was around food—smell, sight, touch, sound, taste. Five senses working together to create one experience, separate and yet all together. Cupcakes weren’t just cupcakes, they were soft, they smelled like vanilla and possibility, they came with a happy birthday song. Mais con hielo came cold with crushed ice and milk, with little bursts of sweetness from the corn.

To Sari, her exploration of food was a scientific endeavour, and she was the intrepid explorer, making her way to the pinnacle of food and taste. Later on, science classes would get way more technical, and she lost interest in all of that (she had been spectacularly bad at chemistry, go figure), but she still liked to eat. She could still break any experience down into those five senses. Smell, sight, touch, sound, taste. In fact, it was one of the reasons she was able to do the work she did.

But ever since the bakery opened next door, all those five senses had gone into overdrive. Rosaline’s Bakery looked innocent enough from outside, all white subway tile, neon letters and a bright pink wall that should have looked out of place in the Laneways, but fit perfectly. But inside, oooh. Inside was a den of jewelled delights waiting for Sari, tempting her to taste them. She knew better, of course. She’d seen the first two Mummy movies well enough to know that you don’t just take jewels all willy nilly. But the baked goods continued to tempt her, tuning her senses to locate them before they came too close. She could smell a baked good from a mile away (which was a useless expression to those who measured things in meters, as they did).

“You’re exaggerating,” her older brother Raymond, fresh off of his one hour drive from Manila to Batangas, said as he followed her behind the counter. “And a little obsessed.”

Sari was, as always, busy. There was always something to do, even in a thirty square meter space like hers. Like right now, she was wiping down the countertops, checking the temperature in their pastry case, making sure that the gleam on their coffee machine was pristine. It was a gorgeous thing in robin’s egg blue, something Sari had insisted on when she opened the Sinta Cafe.

“When have I ever exaggerated, brother, dear?” Sari asked, brushing past him as she piled more paper cups into the dispenser. The cafe thrived on takeout orders, people coming in for a cup before leaving to continue walking around the narrow alleys of the Laneways.

“I have to admit, it’s not like you,” Ray said, taking a cookie from the pastry case with a pair of tongs and taking a bite. “Eugh. This is awful.”


Sari ignored the little dig on her food, honestly she was fine with it. She didn’t open the Cafe for the food, there were plenty of other establishments on the Laneways for that. No. She was here to dispense legally allowable stimulants in proper dosages, sometimes with milk. She was, in short, a coffee peddler, and she was happy with that.

“Then stop stealing from me,” she rolled her eyes. “Do you want coffee?”


“Always,” Ray retrieved a piece of tissue paper and lay the rest of the cookie on it.

“How about you tell me why you came here while I make your coffee?”


“Can’t a brother drive hundreds of kilometres just to see his favorite sister?”

“I’ll tell Sam you said that,” Sari chuckled. “And I know for a fact that driving here takes as much time as you driving from work to the house, with the traffic and all. This isn’t hard for you,” she said, waving her hands around the shop like she was trying to encompass the entire space. “Cafe mocha, right?”


“Mhm.”

Sari knew her bother’s coffee order and could make it in her sleep—Ray might call it a cafe mocha, but Sari thought his preference was much closer to a Vietnamese coffee flavored with chocolate syrup instead of condensed milk. She’d gotten the coffee from the grinder, but then it happened. The bell to the shop rang, a bright, tinkling sound that cut through the moment of silence while Sari got her accoutrements ready to make Ray his coffee. She heard her staff politely greet the customer as she came up to the counter, heard the crinkling of a paper bag as she studied the menu. Sari didn’t have to ask, she knew where that paper bag came from, knew that there was some sinful little treat inside.

The customer opened the bag, as if to check that whatever she purchased was still inside. Sari inhaled.

Butter.

Sugar.

Chocolate.

Banana.

Banana?

Her head shot up from where she was standing behind the espresso machine. The scene had been subtle, but it came to her nonetheless, like a disturbance in the Force. Sugar always lingered in the air like this, the same way it lingered in your mouth when it was too much. But this wasn’t too much. Even with the chocolate and the banana, it was just enough. Enough to punch through the delicate, floral smells of the coffee and make her look up.

She took a deep breath, unsure if it was because she was trying to steel herself, or because she wanted more of that lovely, blissful smell.

The customer smiled, and ordered an iced Americano. Because she was already behind the counter, Sari nodded at Mari behind the counter and started to work on the order, working on Ray’s right after. She was dousing Ray’s coffee with mocha when she heard the sound. The machine was quiet, and there wasn’t really any other sound, so when it happened, it was clear as a bell.

Crunch.

Crunch.

Really, this was getting ridiculous. Rosaline’s bakery had been open for two weeks. She didn’t have a count of how many people had come in holding Rosaline’s goodies, but she’d smelled them all, heard the way they snapped or crumbled, exactly how they should.

“Iced Americano for Hazel,” she called a little too loudly, placing the ceramic mug with her logo on the serving counter. She wanted to fight baked goods with coffee, even if it was all in her head.

The customer looked a little dazed as she looked up, and Sari could see the crumbs she brushed off her skirt. Tiny, innocent little things that were now on her territory.

“What is that?” Sari asked her, a little more sharply than she intended. She saw her brother cover his mouth with a hand, muffling a laugh. “In the box?”


“Double chip cookies,” the customer said hesitantly, clearly confused. “Banana chip and chocolate chip. They’re from the bakery next door.”


She inhaled deeply and then let it go in a huff.

“Of course they are,” she grumbled, and turned her head to the wall she shared with Rosaline’s glaring at it like it was going to crumble if she glared hard enough. She certainly endeavoured to try. To her customer, or to anyone else who looked at her, really, it may have looked like she was seething, and she was, just a tiny bit.

“Uh, can I have my coffee to go instead?” her customer asked, edging slowly away from the counter. Sari opened her mouth to acquiesce to the request when someone else’s hand wrapped around the cup of iced Americano and deftly transferred the contents into one of her robin’s egg blue cups.

Then with a little smile, Ray handed the customer her coffee and wished her a great day as she smiled back, took the cookie, and took its scent away with her.

Sari felt her shoulders drop, and she hated that they did. She was supposed to be better than this. Reformed sugar lovers shouldn’t be so excited over baked goods that weren’t even hers to begin with.

You would think, she told herself. That after not touching carbs or sugar for two years, I would be immune. Stupid bakery.


“You know,” Ray said, and already Sari knew that her brother was going to be annoying about this. Not in the least because he was rubbing his chin. “I wondered why nobody seemed to like hanging out in your cafe. I thought it was the bad snacks, but…I was wrong.”

“Shut up,” Sari grumbled, shoving her brother’s coffee into his hand before she grabbed a tray and started to load it with mugs and a little jug of fresh milk they bought exclusively from the farm ten minutes from the Laneways. It was one of the reasons why Sari had loved the idea of opening her cafe here, where she had access to fresh, local ingredients without having to think about the logistical nightmare it would have been if she were in Manila. “And I do really well on my takeout orders, thanks. I have to go upstairs and prep for class.”

“Need help with that?”


“No.”

“I have to tell you why I came here,” Ray said, his voice suddenly serious as he followed her up the stairs to Sari’s coffee lab/office. Juggling a tray of coffee mugs and milk, Sari managed to open the door herself and let them both in.

A rush of cool air greeted them as they entered. Everything a coffee master needed was here—a tabletop coffee roaster for her bring out delicious flavors from the beans, where she worked out how to make the tricky, tougher robusta bean into something that blended perfectly with the lighter arabica. There was a wide assortment of manual coffee makers, gleaming and waiting for her to use and play with. The whole space only smelled slightly of coffee, just a barest hint of the many flavors Sari had been able to pull here. There was a sink for cleanup, a tiny office, and a daybed by the window, her favorite spot, with bookshelves stuffed to the brim with books.

But all of this was eclipsed by setup in the middle of the room. There was the grinder, ready and waiting with today’s blend—the Rosabaya Robusta, which she developed for a friend’s retreat house, perfect for today’s basic barista class. A single group machine bright and gleaming in the middle of the room, still in that bright blue she loved, with red letters showing off its fancy Italian name.

With practiced hands, Sari flipped switches, and the station came to life. The perfectly roasted beans were ground into her waiting receiver, and Sari started to move through the motions that every barista knew within their soul. It was a dance she could lose herself in easily, fuelled by knowing exactly what came next, when to turn, when to wait, when to hum. This, she couldn’t mess up. This, she knew.

Deep liquid gold poured from the spout and into the espresso glass waiting below. Grabbing one of the now warm mugs that she’d placed top down on the machine, Sari poured her newly extracted espresso into it, taking a quick sniff of the Rosabaya’s fruity notes, the way the addition of their family’s fine robusta beans punched through. Arabica snobs would scoff at the Tomas family’s dedication to bring fine robusta beans and blends to the masses, but they had been in business for the last thirty years, so they were doing just fine.

Sari added milk to the little silver jug and plunged it to the steamer, letting hot steam rise from the jug like a witch’s brew. Then she poured the frothed milk into her mug, tilting, swirling, coaxing until she had a pretty tulip pattern in milk and foam.

Behind her, Ray snorted.

“Show-off,” he crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned against the countertop.

“Not my fault you never learned,” Sari pointed out. But this was the agreement the siblings had forged very early on, when Sari needed it. Ray, the oldest, was in charge of the business side of things, the operations, the marketing, the…other things (Sari honestly had no idea). Sam, the youngest, always the wild one, was in charge of the coffee trees. It was a perfect system, and the siblings got jealous of each other for it.

“Can we talk now?”

“Hmmmm?” She innocently asked him over her cup of coffee. 


“Sari,” Ray said, his patience being tested. “We have to—“

Whatever else he had to say was immediately cut off by music. Loud music, the kind that was belted out by neighbors on karaoke machines for the weekend. Sari knew this song, too. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. Classic, but not her favorite. She raised her eyes over to the window that connected her coffee lab to the bakery next door (a quirk of the old warehouses, these second floors were offices). It was a large bakery, with fancy counters and a whole cabinet of sprinkles that was just calling to her.

But that wasn’t the reason why she was so suddenly distracted. It was the guy inside. He was dancing and singing (quite badly, she liked to think) along with the tune, throwing his head back, even if the effect was lost with all of his dark hair tied back in a ponytail. He shimmied his hips as he moved around the kitchen, dancing to the song, singing badly. It took Sari a moment to realize that he was actually…baking.

A stick of butter and a heap of sugar went into the mixer. Then he added flour and smoke billowed out of the bowl, like a witch’s cauldron. Double, double, this guy is trouble.

And the perfect excuse to leave the room.

“Be right back,” Sari said suddenly, putting her coffee down to make her way to the fire exit before Ray could say anything more. It was silly, of course. Her brother could just open the door behind her and continue talking to her in the fire escape, but Sari knew that he knew an escape attempt when she took it. And she was already here, so she might as well.

So, with Freddy Mercury encouraging her, she raised her hand and knocked on the bakery’s fire exit door. The music played on. She knocked again. She was just about to talk herself out of this, accept whatever Ray wanted to say on her side of the door when it opened, and her neighbor’s face peered at her through the opening.

Sari wasn’t ready. But how could someone ever be ready for a face like his? Her neighbor was all sharp angles and handsome features, warm brown eyes and bee stung lips. His dark hair was pulled back and away from his face, and it made him look like he belonged on a crew of a ship in the middle of the open sea, pillaging and plundering, instead of being covered in baking ingredients. His smile was kind, and it lit up Sari’s entire world.

“Hi,” he yelled over the music like people knocked on his fire escape every day, and suddenly the entire world resumed its regular course, and music blasted from inside the kitchen. Sari hadn’t even been aware that it had stopped. “Can I help you?”


Why was she here again?

“Hi,” she managed to yell back. “I’m Sari Tomas. I own the Sinta Cafe next door.”

“I know!” He said like it was the most brilliant thing that he’d ever heard in his entire life, like Sari being next door to him actually meant something. He was…happy about it, Sari guessed. Because obviously, nothing went better with baked goods than specialty coffee. “Do you like Queen?”


“Yes!” Sari exclaimed, and she did, actually. She especially loved it that one year in high school where she cut off all her hair, donned the sando, the white pants and the moustache for a Halloween party. She was nothing if not dedicated. “But we have a connecting window that isn’t soundproof, and I have a training class later, so I was hoping you could—“


“Can I interest you in a dalandan muffin?”

“What?”


“Well, not dalandan, it’s actually sinturis, the local variety that grows on these trees in the Blossoms Farm in Bolbok. They harvested yesterday, and they gave me a basket since I just moved in. I’m still tweaking the recipe, so it’s not going to be perfect, but anyway, muffin?”


He looked at her like he was fully expecting her to leap into his arms and say yes. And really, who would say no to a free muffin? It would go perfectly with the sweet jammy notes of the coffee already waiting for her in the lab.

But no. Sari would remain strong.

“No thanks!” she said a little too chirpily. “But the music? And our window?”

Oh, she was calling it *our* window now?

“Yeah, I was wondering about that too,” he rubbed at the beard growing on his chin, turning to their common wall. “Why is there a window?”


“We share the same warehouse,” Sari explained, unsure of why she was explaining all of this to him. Surely this was one of the reasons why he rented a space in the Laneways in the first place? Because it was cool, because it was a great use of old space, because it was a tourist destination? “This is an old garage with an office, which is why we have second floors, the owners just cut everything up into rentable retail spaces.”

“Aaah, the Luzes, right?” He asked. “Everyone keeps telling me they’re like a Big Deal here. Kira Luz was actually the one who helped get me this space, we were classmates in high school. Have you met her?”

“Who?”

“Kira Luz?”


“We grew up together,” Sari shrugged, and she should know, because the Tomases were here since the Spanish brought coffee trees to the land. Legacies like hers were rooted in the land, and Sari had thought more than once that it was her legacy that saved her. “But anyway, the music?”


“What?”


“Music!” Sari made a gesture like she was either turning down the music volume on a car radio (you know, the kind that still had knobs) or she was trying to get him to come closer in the weirdest way possible.

“You sure you don’t want my muffins?” He asked, and it was slow and deliberate and really, really frustrating. He came closer when he turned to lower the volume of the music, and Sari could just smell the sweetness of him, the little bit of sourness from the sinturis that he must have been hand-squeezing. It was a heady, intoxicating smell, mixing in with the coffee still lingering in her own clothes. This was Sari’s catnip, and it was right in front of her.

She knew getting this guy’s muffins was a bad idea.

“My mother taught me not to take baked goods from strangers,” she managed to say without fluttering her eyelashes.

“Lucky I’m not a stranger, then. Gabriel Capras,” he said, holding out a hand for her to shake. It had sugar on it. Un-fair. “I…I own this bakery.”

Did she just imagine that little catch in his voice when he said that? If she hadn’t, then fe covered it up quickly, picking up something she couldn’t see, which turned out to be a steaming mug of coffee that he raised to his lips. Sari couldn’t help it—her nose wrinkled.

“Is that…3 in 1?” She couldn’t help but ask, indicating the mug. Yes, her voice had a tone. She was totally aware that the instant three in one mixes were popular, easy and sugary sweet. But why have that when she was right next door?

I smell a hypocrite, Sari heard her brother’s voice dancing in her ear.

“Yes it is,” Gabriel said, lifting his mug. “You sure you don’t want a sinturis muffin?”

“No,” Sari said decisively, finally, after being asked only three or four times. “I’m on a diet. No carbs, no sugar, no muffin.”

Now she was sure she was imagining the way his shoulders dropped. “Why are you on a diet, though? Your body is gorgeous.”

He said that like it was a fact. The sky is blue, grass is green and your body is gorgeous. Had anyone ever said that about her? Sari didn’t really want to think about it at the moment. Between this and her brother waiting for her in the coffee lab, she realized that she was having one of those days when nothing made sense.

“It’s gorgeous because I haven’t touched a carb in two years,” was the least caustic of the replies she’d come up with. “Anyway, I’m going back to my lab. Try to keep the music down?”


“Only if you can resist dancing to it,” Gabriel smiled again. “I saw you earlier.”


Her cheeks burned hot, and she knew from experience that Gabriel could see it. So she sometimes danced along to a beat when she was making coffee? It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen Gabriel do the exact same thing before she came here.

“You sure I can’t tempt you, Sari Tomas?”


As if he was taking on a dare.

“I’m sure.”


“How about a date, then?”


Now, Sari knew when she was being teased. She had an older brother, after all, and this was definitely a teasing.

“Music down. No muffins. And drink better coffee, seriously,” she summarized, exiting the fire escape and headed back to the safety of the coffee house, where Ray had patiently waited for her.

Out of the fire and into the frying pan, or something like that. 


***

“Why are you still here?” Sari huffed irritably, making a beeline for her abandoned coffee cup, the foam now dissolved and turning it into a sad, cold mess. But, she didn’t waste things, so with a few motions, a bit of tinkering and a gigantic pour, she was now drinking an iced latte.

Sigh.

“Three things,” Ray said, because he always liked to break things down like this. Business and efficiency, that was the mark of a Tomas. Press it all down and keep working was practically the family motto. “One, Lola is looking for you.”

“She’s always looking for me, and she knows she can come here to talk to me,” Sari frowned, her standard response to her grandmother’s weekly request. It was almost perfunctory now for her to ask, for Sari to ask her to come, but her mother never did. “This is her province more than mine.”


“And Manila is more your home than hers,” he said, and it was like having a knife twist in her chest when Ray told her that. “You can’t avoid the capital forever.”


It sounded like something out of a dystopian novel, but Sari knew it was the truth. Everything was in Manila, it seemed, their business, her family, better selections at malls. Lipa wasn’t the most provincial of places, really, not since all the major mall franchises were coming in at an alarmingly fast rate. They even had Starbucks and The Coffee Bean here now, which was a huge thing to the Barako-till-I-die crowd. But still, it wasn’t Manila. Why did everything have to be in Manila?

“You know why I have no plans to go to Manila anytime soon,” she reminded her brother, shaking her mug so the ice cooled the drink even faster. “It’ll be like putting my tail between my legs and admitting that I’m not fine.”

“Why? You have this fantastic place, we have people knocking down our door for you to grace them with your knack for flavor, and people are flocking to the Sinta Cafe from all over, even if it’s mostly for takeout because your food sucks—“

She threw a coffee bean at him.

“So why are you so scared?”


“I’m just not ready yet, okay? Please don’t tell me how to feel. And don’t pretend it suddenly matters to you.”

“Okay,” much to Ray’s credit, and one of the reasons why Sari liked when he came to see her, he didn’t push. “Okay. I really don’t mind driving up here to see you, you know. And Sampy is here every week.”


“I know,” Sari finished her coffee and started to clean up, pointedly avoiding her brother’s gaze. “You said there were three things you wanted to talk about?”

“The second thing is about the Carlton Hotel. They got the Lounge Blend you made for them.”


Sari inhaled, and she knew exactly what blend Ray was talking about. Part of her job was to come up with bespoke coffee blends for clients who ask for it, and theirs was popular because Sari always insisted on using their family’s fine robusta beans in the blend.

She knew the Carlton’s Lounge Blend like the back of her hand—Brazilian beans, roasted just enough to bring out the grapefruit notes, blended with their farm’s fine robusta, fruity sweet and strong, reflecting the flavors of the earth it was planted on. Sam had been experimenting with inter-planting their coffee trees with banana, creating a batch of beans with a subtle banana flavor. Sari thought it would be perfect for the upper class high street clientele of the Carlton Hotel. It would also be perfect with the cookie that customer brought in earlier, the Banana chip one. Ugh.

“Did they like it?” she asked, her shoulders suddenly tense because, oh god, what if they didn’t?

Ray shot her a wry look, like he couldn’t believe she was still asking him.

“Oh they did,” he said, twirling a pen in his hand. Where he’d gotten that pen, Sari had no idea. “In fact, they liked it so much, it leads me to the third thing, and the real reason why I came.”


Sari tensed, waiting.

“The Carlton people loved it so much that they want to do a whole launch for the blend,” Ray continued, all smooth and suave, even if Sari knew that he knew her answer before he even asked. “They want to do an exclusive cupping session with you, make you the face of the brand. If we do that, they’ll buy our original Sinta blend for their lounge, with the possibility of expanding to their other hotels in the Philippines.”


The breath Sari inhaled was so sharp that she actually staggered backwards, swallowing uncomfortably.

“No.”


“Sari—“

“No! I’m not a celebrity endorser, Ray, that’s you. You can do the private session, say all the right things.”


“They don’t want some guy with good hair and a business suit, they want someone who knows her shit, and that’s you, kiddo,” he argued without flinching at Sari’s immediate reaction.

“No,” Sari moved farther from her brother, looking for other things to do. Surely, there were other things she could do rather than listen to this? “I already said I don’t want to go back to Manila. Especially not for an event where I’m going to be in front of a crowd. Say no.”


Ray cleared his throat, and this time, Sari actually turned to face him. There was no point in seething at someone when you weren’t looking at them right in the eye, and Sari was a master of seething, especially when it came to Raymundo Tomas being extra stupid.

“You mother fucking asshole. You said yes!” Sari threw another coffee bean at him, aimed precisely at his forehead. “I have *grinders* here in my lab, Ray. Industrial grade grinders to pulverise your sorry ass into powder so fine nobody will ever know.”

“If you grind me up, there will be blood everywhere, and your coffee will taste like bleach for weeks,” Ray pointed out, even as Sari shot him the dirtiest Evil Eye she could muster at the moment. “We need the publicity. The Farm is doing well, but nobody knows we’re out here. People in Manila think we grow and make strong, acidic Barako, which they don’t like, and the people here in Batangas think we’re growing Arabica, which they think betrays our heritage. And while I think the Sinta Cafe is a great way to show off our coffee beans—we still need to get out there and tell them what we’re about.”

She opened her mouth to protest, mostly because she already knew that Ray was about to bring out his secret weapon, the one thing that would get her to agree, even if she didn’t want to.

“Mom and Dad dreamed of reviving Lipa’s old coffee glory,” Ray reminded her. “And we can do it, the three of us. Me with the business side, you with the blends and Sampaguita with the coffee beans. That’s why you have to go to the Carlton, smile for the cameras and talk about how good Batangas coffee beans can be.”

She had no escape. It was her legacy, after all.

All their lives, they had been told, ‘one day, one day all of this would be yours.’ The Tomas Farms had been growing and supplying the country with Batangas barako beans for the last fifty years, and one day, it would belong to Sari, Raymundo and Sampaguita.

Well, after the Big Blow Up two years ago, ‘one day’ was suddenly ‘right now,’ and giving up was never in the siblings’ vocabulary. It had been a huge scramble in the first year, trying to take reins on a speeding carriage that was heading straight into a cliff, just managing to get it to safer ground. If Ray said they needed this, then they really needed this.

Sari tried to breathe away the flames of fear that were trying to lick her toes. Tried to remind herself that there was nothing to be afraid of. Manila was a big city, and she deserved a place in it as much as anyone else.

“When is it?” she asked, and she hated that her voice sounded so small.

“Two weeks.”


“Son of a mother fucker.”


“I know. I’m sorry.”


“No, you’re not,” Sari sighed, because they both knew perfectly well that he really wasn’t. But the truth was, Sari didn’t hate him. She hated herself. For being weak, for being scared, no matter what other people tell her. “Okay. Okay.”


“They’re not going to show up,” Ray said gently. “I’ll make sure of it.”


“Of course they’re going to show up,” Sari snorted. “They always do.”

“I love you,” he said, because it needed to be said. Then he wrapped an arm around his sister and squeezed tight. Sari used to believed that hugs had the power to make anything instantly better, a belief she shared with her siblings. But right now, even she could tell that Ray’s heart wasn’t quite in it.

“Love you too,” She snorted. “Are you staying for dinner?”


“No,” Ray said, stepping back. “I actually have to leave now if I want to avoid the traffic. I’ll send you the details, and you can call me anytime. Unless you’re backing out.”


“I already said yes, don’t test me,” Sari grumbled, and Ray gave her one last squeeze before he headed for the door, closing it behind him.

Once he was gone, Sari wanted to drop her head on the countertop and not get up. She was so frustrated and annoyed that she didn’t even bother to look up when ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ started to blare through her and Gabriel Capras’ common window. She’d almost forgotten that she’d met him today.

She turned her face toward the window and saw him standing there, giving her a small wave.

‘You ok?’ he mouthed to her, even if they both knew that if he shouted loud enough, she could hear. Sari gave him a thumbs up.

‘Date?’ he mouthed, it was all Sari could do to just roll her eyes and leave the coffee lab.

Why I Wrote If The Dress Fits

It's a hot button issue right now in Romancelandia--someone wrote a fat-shaming, fatphobic and ultimately very hurtful book. People are divided between those who vehemently hate it, and those who raved about it. 

Honestly, I've never felt like an advocate of anything. I follow the Aaron Burr school of thought where I stay quiet and watch. But lately it's been eating at me (ha-ha) of how people view us fat people. So I go back to If The Dress Fits. I usually tell people that this book is me putting my soul on paper. Every feeling I've had about being the way I am is here in the book, with an addition of the perfection that is Max Angeles. 

Because that's all we want, right? We want one guy who sees us, thinks we're pretty amazing, despite.

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When I was writing this book, it was my way of trying to convince myself that fat is okay. Honestly I didn't quite believe it then, which is what some people picked up on in that scene where Martha looks at herself in the mirror. I learned from #romanceclass that writing these books is about giving people the happily evers they deserved and I thought I deserved that, fat or no. So yeah, Martha is the most like me--she loves to eat, she loves her dog. But she's also a lot more brave than I am. She isn't afraid to go after what she wants, and that speech she makes at the wagyu place? I wish I could make that speech! 

And she doesn't lose weight. Doesn't tell herself to stop eating carbs or chocolates, doesn't deprive herself. I have no time to read how someone lost weight and found love because that's a horrible adage that still rings true to me sometimes. I had experiences where someone who cared about me used to tell me 'you got thinner!' every time I saw him to make me feel good. What a lie. 

When I finished writing the book, when I heard it read out loud, when I heard people tell me how they felt about it, my feelings changed. I became more confident in myself, posting photos of my whole body, wearing a bikini (!!!) to the beach. I wanted to write a book that said it was okay not to be confident in your own body 24/7, but I ended up doing just that. 

In the dedication, I wrote, “To every girl who has ever been called the f-word. You are beautiful. Believe it.” I didn't really believe it myself until now. 

So come at me haters. One day I'll write a book with this new perspective, but until then, here you go. 

Also, If The Dress Fits is $0.99 on Amazon from August 12-19, wherever you are. It's not perfect, but it's mine. I hope you like it. 

 

Writing is Hard

So I've had this brilliant story idea in my head. It's been in here so long that it's gone through three drafts, one almost book deal and three location changes. I did all my research--I watched all the Oceans movies, the Thomas Crowne Affair, Entrapment, read about forging paintings and sleight of hand, read similar books (Mina V Esguerra's Young and Scambitious series, Bianca Mori's Peyton Riley series, The Heart of the Steal by Avon Gale). I had no other books on the pipeline, I planned for this. And Ocean's Eight came out, and my little heart soared. My idea was begging to be written, it promised that it was ready. 

So I thought I was ready. 

But writing this draft has so far been like trekking through mud. It's been slooooow, and I'm not used to slow. I realize that in movies, you get away with a lot more things. You don't have to explain certain motivations, don't have to fact check if certain technologies exist, or if certain things are possible (how on earth did Vincent Cassel dance through a laser field, and I'm still annoyed at the Julia Roberts plot twist). But here, you're managing all of that against a love story, a love story that makes itself clearer as the story goes along. 

So we're slow. SO SLOW. I'm actually hesitating over writing steamy scenes (ikr). And I'm easily distracted by other plots, other things. But I am determined to make this work. 

Here's to those difficult plots you just need to write through. We'll get to THE END somehow. 

In the mean time...we write. We wait. We watch more things. 

Te Amo, Barcelona!

WHEW. We're back, people!

It's taking me a little longer than I expected to recover from this whole trip--I'm still sleeping pretty badly, but then again, I may just be a bad sleeper. But Barcelona was a magical city, the sunlight that falls here is just fantastic, giving everything a softer glow. Unfortunately, we were very badly pickpocketed here! It was a dim start to an already wild trip on the way. It changed a lot of our plans, and I like to think we ended up with a better trip than we planned. 

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Experiences you can't miss:

  • Eat a cone full of Manchego cheese and Iberico ham from La Boqueria at the end of La Rambla. But make sure you keep an eye on your bags!
  • Snack on the salted caramel ice cream from my new favorite place to eat--El Nacional on Gracia.
  • Catch a game of football (we watched Spain vs. Morocco!) at a local pub, or have some Crema Catalana, mmmm!
  • Wake up at eat from your local Churreria
  • Pay homage to Picasso at the Picasso Museum in the old Gothic quarter, and check out his famous Les Menines interpretation. 
  • Make a wish at the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's man made forest. 
  • Have some arroz negra from the food court of El Corte Ingles on Playa Catalunya along with a glass of sangria. The view is also pretty fantastic!
  • Check out Barna Paper and Barna Art which has a pretty amazing selection of art materials. Make sure you grab an Escoda brush too, as a special souvenir. At the end of that road is the Casa de les Punxes, a castle in the middle of the city. 
  • Explore the Gracia neighborhood, which includes a stop at Onna Coffee. 
  • Make the journey to Montserrat for amazing, sky high views. Be ready to face your fear of heights!

 

Packing for Europe!

My parents have been married for thirty years. 

Can you believe? Thirty crazy years with ten kids, one (or more) dogs, and more papayas and mangoes than anyone can eat in a lifetime. My parents’ anniversary has always been a huge celebration for us because 1) it always falls on a holiday, 2) it's my Dad's birthday 3) they consider it the day our family was born (awww). 

So when we were deciding what to do for the big 3-0, they only asked us for one thing—a cruise. It's one of their favorite things because my Dad loves to lie in bed and watch the Love Boat, my Mom loves to swim, and of course, the food. The Mediterranean cruise has been on their must do list for awhile now, so this was the perfect excuse!

Of course, we kids saw it as an opportunity to really dress up. We grew up pointing cameras at each other, so of course you gotta look good. 

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If you were wondering why I put up a lot of pictures of myself on my own moodboard, it's because I inspire myself. CHOS. 

It's mostly because the clothes I buy aren't Googleable--you can't trace them to a brand, or the brand has stopped selling it, making a legit blogger-like board impossible. I did however, have my own pictures of myself in these awesome clothes. So there. The bottom left picture is funny because I ordered that earring online thinking I was buying a pair, when it fact they were selling it per piece. Weird. 

The photo on the right is of fabric that my aunt posted, which I then asked if she could turn into a dress. 

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I don't have a picture of my earrings because I haven't decided yet! How do you choose among your favorites? How do you even pack them for a trip to make sure they don't get damaged? It's still a thing I'm figuring out. 

The clothes, in the meantime, came pretty natural to me. I've always lived in dresses, and have been wearing the flowy boho aesthetic since I decided on it in my second year of college. You see the red fabric on the upper left? My aunt turned it into the CUTEST DRESS. I can't wait to wear it. 

I've been on enough cruises to know the importance of a tote bag to put all your things in as you move around the boat. Our resident book printer, JMD Copy Prints, does tote bags now! So I had to bring mine. 

And yes gurl, she's wearing a bikini! First time! God I hope my boobs don't pop out or something huhu. 

I've always been a less is more, mix and match kind of packer. So my bag has (more or less) two formal dresses (with one casual-ready), three regular dresses (including my airport wear), two fun tops, three plain tops, one pair of shorts and one skirt. Hopefully that equals enough clothes for the two week trip? 

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Now for the more important part--the books and the art stuff. So crucial!

The Art Stuff
I got one of those Japanese multi pocket kits from National Bookstore and filled it with everything I need to paint on the go. My Moleskine watercolor book (with a Hulyen sticker!) a mechanical pencil, an eraser (yup that's not a white pencil!), a ruler, an Isabey size 0 travel mop brush and an Escoda Prado Size 4 Travel Brush are my travel weapons of choice. There's also a little glass jar in there for my water. The palette is all ShinHan colors that I filled in for a workshop a couple of years back, but I like that this palette has the essential colors (and then some) and large wells. I carried this kit around in Hong Kong, and it seemed to do just fine. 

The Books
See this is one of the reasons why I never understood the 'Death to the Kindle' crowd. Because can you imagine bringing 100+ books on a single trip? I don't think so! I'm bringing along a couple of print books as well, but it's more because I don't have the digital copy. If I did, I would leave my print ones at home. (oh hey they're all written by women!) 

Obviously I am an overpacker afraid of getting bored at sea, but it's always best to over prepare, don't you think! I CANNOT WAIT to share photos of my trip with you guys, and obviously, these places are going to end up in books, one way or another.

I'm ready. 

*cue panic*

 

 

Sydney Love

If I wasn't a fan of avocado before, I definitely am now. I loved the city's chill vibe, I loved the food and I definitely loved the coffee. There's just something about how they managed to bring together the city life and the quiet loveliness of different plants that makes Sydney feel like my happy place. 

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Chasing Mindy: Cover + blurb!

Let it be said that uploading books to Amazon is not easy, and not good for panick-y people like me! After announcing on Twitter that Chasing Mindy is coming out on April 15, after a series of hijinks, it's now out on April 1. No pre-orders, no April fools jokes. 

It'll just be there, out in the world. 

Now before I bury myself in my covers and weep at my own silliness, I thought I would send you guys the full cover, and the blurb for this little Paris book that I've written, re-written and flipped over. 

See you on April 1!

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Mindy and Javier are not friends, okay. 
Despite their mothers’ matchmaking, they’ve managed to stay out of each other’s way. Until Mindy goes to Paris for a week, and her mother insists she meet up with Javier. He’s in Paris to study, really looking forward to see you, she says. Watch over each other.
No thanks. Javier is taciturn and boring, Mindy is dramatic and has a tendency to yell at things when her eight siblings are brought up. It’s not a great combination. 
But things start to look a little different under the Paris lights, and what felt like hate feels a lot closer to love. 

I hope you guys get a chance to read it, because my tech blunders aside, I really enjoyed the entire process behind this book. It follows If The Dress Fits as Book 2 of the City Love series, but this can certainly be read as a standalone!

Newsletter Exclusive: Max + Martha

This is a snippet from a series of shorts that I wrote documenting Max and Martha's trip to Europe. Newsletter subscribers get the whole ebook for free, so I've included a sign up link at the end of this short story so you can get it too! Happy Valentines Day! 

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Vienna

You know what people don’t tell you about going on vacation in Europe? How hard eating is going to be. 

I’m a rice and ulam kind of girl, plus soup if I was feeling extra hungry. But here, in this beautiful, old continent, rice wasn’t exactly standard fare. 

We arrived in Vienna exhausted and hungry. After a quick Google search and directions from the front desk, we found ourselves at Rathausplatz, a park that was just adjacent to the city hall. It looked like no city hall I had ever visited. 

From where I was standing, Rathaus was a gothic dream come true, with tall spires that reached up to the sky, each detail carved delicately into the building. It looked like a castle, and in the darkness of the night, the purple lights from the music festival against the sepia stones made it look like a princess’ castle with a clock face. A huge screen was set up facing the plaza, with rafters and proper seats for the film viewing. 

Where we were standing, we were standing in a food park. Now this was familiar territory. Seats and tables filled the central area, surrounded by big, colorful booths advertising their food—Aperol spritzes, ice cream, sliders, Chinese food, steak, kebabs, hotdogs, and other food I didn’t quite recognize. I was focused, letting my nose dictate my steps, feeling a little disoriented with the new smells and sights. 

“Why is everybody advertising Weiners?” Max suddenly asked, unable to hide his childish laugh at the term. 

“It’s German for Viennese, you perv,” I elbowed him, thankful nobody could understand us as we continued talking in Filipino. It was like a superpower, one that we both took advantage of. 

“Alright,” Max announced, clapping his hands together. “Let’s imagine we’re on our first date.”

“What?” I asked, momentarily distracted by a Chinese food stall…oh my god, they had fried rice. I missed fried rice!

“Martha, focus,” He said, pulling my shoulders and kissing my forehead, which was pretty effective. “Let’s pretend that you and I are hanging out in any old food park, getting to know each other romantically for the first time. What would we do?”

“Well, first of all, we would be holding hands,” I said, holding my hand out for his, which he slid easily into mine. This still didn’t come naturally to us, but I wasn’t worried. “And maybe we would go around the booths twice, debating our choices.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, swinging my hand as we walked towards a bight green stall that advertised ‘authentic german spatzle’. The cheese sauce against the potato pasta was practically calling my name. 

“God, I’m going to get so fat on this trip,” I grumbled, almost salivating at where the chef was preparing the food. Cheese and potatoes, was there a more classic combination than that? 

But the amount of cheese and potatoes on the plate suddenly made me think of all the croissants and cheese I ate in Paris. I thought of the sinful little strawberry frasiers I’d eaten. The way my pants were actually getting tighter. 

Then I thought about Cafe Demel, which the Internet bragged had the best hot chocolate in the world. I could skip that, couldn’t I? 

“So am I,” Max said, tugging my hand a little. His brows were furrowed with concern. 

“But…the carbs.”

“Martha,” he laughed. “You once told me that if you’re going to get fat, you might as well get fat on really good food. So are we having spatzle for dinner?”

Ack, I shouldn’t. I should look for something healthy, like a salad. I was going to be in Europe for a while still, I wasn’t going to run out of encounters with german and wiener food!

“Yes please. But let’s add a tomato or a lettuce leaf or something on the side so we don’t die too early.”

“You’re an easy date to please,” he grinned, kissing my forehead again as we stepped in line to order our food. I scanned the plaza again, and saw that there was a gorgeous circular structure across the street, creating a perfect backdrop against the food park. It looked like a theater. It looked like a dream. 

“This is the best first date I’ve ever been on,” I said, wrapping my arms around Max’s waist, because everyone else around us seemed to be doing the same thing. 

Back home I would have pouted at couples doing this in public, but here, thousands of miles away and without any prying eyes, it felt just right. I think we needed this, him and I just needing some time to be Max and Martha. Learning how to hold hands when we walked, to hug each other and kiss each other’s forehead when we felt like it. 

“So tell me about yourself,” Max said, reciprocating my hug. “Brothers? Sisters?”

“One sister,” I said, looking at him slyly as I played along. “Too many titas.”

“Isn’t that always the way?” He asked, and we both laughed, a sound that was familiar and new at the same time. 

We started to talk about all the things we enjoyed—he talked about the book he was currently reading about the provenance of art pieces (‘I picked it up in Paris’, he said proudly, even if I was there when he bought it from Shakespeare and Co), and I told him about the movie I watched on the plane on the way to France, even if he’d seen it too. 

We looked like any other couple on a date in just any other city, and that was a comforting thought. 

Armed with our cheese and caramelized onion spatzle and two glasses of Aperol spritz, we settled into the seats in front of the Rathaus, spending our first night in Vienna watching a compelling ballet about war, leaning against each other and falling into comfortable companionship. 

It stuck me that I’d never had this with anyone before, and here I was now, having it with Max. I was happy, full and just a little tipsy from the Aperol. Suddenly the carbohydrate content of our dinner didn’t matter so much. 

“Let’s get fat together,” I told him. The f-word sounded weird on my tongue, I’d associated it with negative things for so long, and saying it now in this context was…nice. New. 

Even in the dark of the evening, the light that glowed from Max’s face could have powered the entire MuseumsQuartier. I gave in to the urge to kiss him.


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