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!

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! 



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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Shanghai Calling

Happy 2018 everyone! The Christmas/New Year/Birthday season is always my favorite time of the year, only because there are so many things going on, and so many things to be grateful for--this trip included. Shanghai isn't new to me, but something pulled me toward it when we were choosing our yearly family trip. Maybe it was the cold, more likely it was Shanghai Disneyland. But in the end, it was a great way to spend time as a complete family, and to discover new corners of the city. 

And YES you will see Shanghai in a future book! I have really really specific plans for specific characters in this city, you'll see!


Experiences you can't miss: 

  • Jostling with the crowds on The Bund after a few happy hour drinks at The Long Bar at the famous Waldorf Astoria
  • Buying cute little tin cans of floral or fruit teas from Tianzifang while chomping down on candied kiatkiat then visiting the basement shops at the SML Center next door to buy the cutest insulated tumbler ever. 
  • Having a cup of coffee at the 5th floor cafe of the 1933 Slaughterhouse. Don't let the name fool you--it's now a gorgeous brutalist art space, and the cafe has an actual garden, I was dying. 
  • Spending an entire day at the 'No. 1 Water Village'. Venice has nothing on the extremely well-preserved Zhouzhuang. Plus the whole place has a creepiness factor that just makes it more worth the trip. 
  • Taking a picture with Kylo Ren at Shanghai Disneyland. Riding the Tron Light Cycle at Disneyland. Dropping your jaw at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Shanghai Disneyland. Just. Shanghai Disneyland in general. 

Thanks for Everything, 2017

Hello and welcome to 2018! It's been one HELL of a year in more ways than one, but I wanted to sort of end it on a happy note. 

I joined this group of writers who joined the #WriteAway retreat last October, and everyone's been all over the group talking about their 'word' for 2018--something like a theme for them to look forward to. I've never been that introspective (except now, obviously), but I realized that 2017 was a test in patience. Patience for things that I know will happen to me, for things that haven't happened yet. Maybe things I waited for this year will happen next year, maybe they won't. But I'm glad I have something to show for it at least. 

And I made it in collage form. 


Things I'm Grateful For 2017:

  • Publishing the Queen's Game. A Filipino royalty romance has long been running around my mind, but it wasn't until we went to Batanes that it fully formed. This book went through so much, it almost became something else completely. But I'm glad I made it the way I did, and on my own terms. Now it's being live read (again!) very, very soon. 
  • Playing with watercolors. Last year I was wondering why I should bother with this particular skill if it wasn't going to make me money, but I realized it doesn't have to be. I can paint because I want to, whatever I want. Last year I was terrified of painting landscapes, but with a little bravery and practice, I enjoy it a lot now. 
  • #romanceclass--my happy place, my safe space. This group changes lives, makes everything better. 
  • Writing more books! This year I wrote Making A Scene (which will be part of the #romanceclass Flair imprint), The Queen's Game, Baking Me Crazy, a book about London with lots of food in it, Chasing Mindy, a book about a two crazy kids visiting Paris together and maybe, maybe, a single parent romance. It's been a prolific year for someone who only published one book, but you see what I mean by patience? 
  • Travelling. I mentioned somewhere before that at the start of 2017 I felt so grounded. There were days where I would feel the routine settling into my skin like dust, and some days it made me want to scream. But it made actually going on the trip all the more sweet. 
  • Launching a book--in bookstores! Was something I almost forgot, and ironically, it's been a goal for so long. I'm not going to talk about how that makes me feel. But It's good to know that goals change. 

Designing The Queens Game Freebies

Have you heard, have you heard? One month from now, we'll be flailing in feelings for #FeelsFest2017! To be held on October 14, 2017 at Commune Cafe, it's going to be an afternoon of books, live readings and lots and lots of giggling. Very obviously, I can't wait. Not just because of the readings and seeing the community again (we're getting nametags this year and THANK YOU), but also because it's going to be the first time that The Queen's Game will be sold at the event! It's a little launch party for Princess Nina and Prince Felipe too. 

To mark the occasion, I decided to design a little sticker for anyone getting a print copy of the book. I love designing book covers and freebies almost as much as I love writing the books, so I thought I would walk you through my design process and help you get a bit of inspiration to try it out yourself!

Ready? Okay!

Step One: Gather Inspiration 


This is usually where a Pinterest board comes in handy. Look at your reference material (in this case, the book itself) and from there try to gather pictures that you can use as inspiration for your design. I was looking at the pretty chocolate packaging from Demel (a chocolaterie from Vienna that's been around since the 1800s and kept the original packaging!) and a couple of other things that have been floating around my radar. Plus Van Gogh's Sunflowers, because, well. Sunflowers. 

Step Two: Start Sketching!

From the inspiration board, i knew I wanted to try making a round sticker. I knew I wanted to use flowers, for Felipe too. So from there, and using the ideas from the inspiration photos, I made a few sketches. Experiment with different styles, explore what kind of text or look you want for your sticker. No need to be super detailed here yet, just try to narrow it down to what you really want. 


Step Three: Final Drawing

Look at your sketches and see which one you're most comfortable working with. Some artists try to redraw their favorites into bigger pieces of paper to really plan out how it's going to look, and you're free to do that too, of course! But since this is a 'quick' version of my usual process, and I was limited by the place I was in (hospital rooms do not make you productive!), I settled with a pen an ink drawing on the notebook I had on hand. 

Take a photo of your final drawing, preferably in black and white with really good lighting. This is where your phone's photo editing apps can come in handy, if you prefer to do this digitally. Or else, make a final drawing on your paper and paint away!

Take a photo of your final drawing, preferably in black and white with really good lighting. This is where your phone's photo editing apps can come in handy, if you prefer to do this digitally. Or else, make a final drawing on your paper and paint away!

Step Four: Painting 

You can color or paint your sticker design any way you like, of course, but for this one, I played around on the Procreate App. It's really the best drawing software on the iPad that I've tried, and even the best artists out there use it too! It's definitely worth a try. 

Check out the video below to see how I did it! (note how I had to use a picture of a circle to make a circle in the app hahaha). 

Step Five: Import to Photoshop, clean up

Procreate has a PSD export option, which saves me a lot of time and heartache. If you did this manually, scan your art into Photoshop, and make some final adjustments. Make sure you delete the background layer and save to PNG! 


And that's pretty much it! I'm still deciding if I should go through a printer or just print them on my handy dandy printer here at home, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. People who purchase a copy of the Queen's Game will find this freebie stuck inside!

Got any questions about my process? Leave a comment below. :) 

Paris, Ooh la-la!

I thought that I already knew everything about this city. But I'm almost happy to find out that it's not quite true. I also told myself that I would one day write a story set in Paris, but that has yet to pass. We'll see if I can make it work. 

But until then, these are just some of my favorite photos from Paris. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I loved taking them. 


Experiences you can't miss:

  • Cafe-side sideway glances at Parisians and tourists alike from Saint Germain. 
  • Be a cliched tourist and wait for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle from the Trocadero Gardens. 
  • Pay proper homage to Manet's Olympia at the Musee D' Orsay and find out why I love her so much. 
  • Walk through the Opera Garnier and wonder that it's like to perform there with all the gold. 
  • Gasp at the sight of the Saint Chapelle
  • Sit on the green chairs at the gardens and chill for at least an hour. Preferably with a Brioche Doree pastry and a coffee in hand. 
  • Get foot blisters from walking. 

The Queen's Game

Here we go! I am soooo excited to share with you the cover and blurb for my new book--The Queen's Game! This is a case of things just coming together perfectly. I've been looking for an excuse to write contemporary royal romance. Then things happened, and my original idea was shelved. It was sad. But then, Carina Press had a call for contemporary royal romance, and I thought why not? After an inspirational trip to Batanes, I was so ready to write this story. 

But when I read through it again, I thought, why not publish it myself? I've been antsy to get back into the game and publish something new, something experimental while I'm waiting for my other books. After I decided to do that, my friend Maronne Cruz posted her photo, which later on became my book cover, and then one of our live readers basically wrote a love letter for #romanceclass, I knew. I knew I had done the right thing. 

Things fell perfectly into place for Nina and Felipe. I hope you guys enjoy this book as much as I have had writing this. 

ANYWAY. Ignore me, and read on! The Queen's Game will be available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited from August 1, 2017.

Print editions are now available for pre-order here!


There are only two reasons why Nina would come back home to Cincamarre--one, if Auntie Delia promises to stop butting into her business, two, if her father died and she was made to ascend the throne to be queen. 

Unfortunately for her, it was the second thing that brought her home. 

As a princess who's sunk a yacht and been caught kissing popstars, it's easy for her aunt, the regent, to think she's ill prepared for the throne. But Nina doesn't think that having to fake date Felipe, the handsome, squeaky clean Prince of Concordia was the best solution for that. 

Nina's ready to learn the ropes of her new role and make it hers, and reconnecting with Felipe only makes her want to be a better queen. But is the monarchy ready for a queen like Nina?  

Buy on Amazon
Review on Goodreads


Need some more convincing? Read these glowing reviews!

"This book was a beautiful thing to read. Since the very beginning, Carla de Guzman enchanted me with her writing and her flower-y metas that she uses for some stuff."
- Sil, @thebookvoyagers 

"In just a few chapters, Carla de Guzman was able to lay out a great and believable world building and transported me to Cincamarre. If it’s still not obvious…yes, I enjoyed The Queen’s Game a lot and would highly recommend for you to check it out once it goes live on Amazon. It’s a royal contemporary story that you can easily breeze through." 
- Amanda, @fandomlybookish

" I feel like Carla’s writing have grown-up with this book, too, what with the rich and vivid descriptions of Cincamarre and Concordia, and the way her characters dealt with their issues."
- Bentham Hurtado, author

"All in all, I loved this book. I loved the ending! Rebel till the end, no amount of royal protocol, strict rules and stuffy customs hindered them from pursuing their happiness. But done in the name of love, breaking protocol can certainly be forgivable. "
- Mayumi Cruz

Buy on Amazon
Review on Goodreads

Pinterest + WIPs

Who would have thought that writing would require so much visual research?

But for the last few works in progress, Pinterest has been a huge help to me in coming up with a clear 'image' that I want to convey for the books I write. It's so much fun researching looks, places and little things, and it's helpful to me to make sure that the book has a unified feel to it. 

Or maybe I just like looking up couple pictures and location shots. 

But seriously, it's a huge help when you're stuck with a WIP! Especially to a writer who relies so much on location. 

I have to admit, I nicked this idea from Mina V. Esguerra, who started posting Pinterest boards of her projects as they were happening. Until then I was using Pinterest just for fashion posts and lettering inspiration.

Check out the Pinterest boards of my works in progress, in no particular order!

Making A Scene
part of the upcoming #romanceclass Flair imprint 

Baking Me Crazy


The Queen's Crown 




Max + Martha

This short story was based on an actual tee shirt I saw while we were on vacation in Batanes. This place deserves all the stories written about it. And after we did our own version of writing in the books at the parish, I knew it was Max's story. This happens in between chapters of If The Dress Fits, just a little after Martha invites Max to go with her to Dangwa. 

Read, and enjoy, or leave a comment if you can!

This is why you don't travel to romantic island destinations with your best friend, especially when you were in love with them.

I was on a date. Everything around me gave clear, telltale signs. Twinkle lights, soft bossa nova covers of famous pop songs that made my skin tingle, and of course, my date. Georgina was beautiful, as per. She liked to play up her looks with darker makeup on her cheekbones, shiny things on her eyelids. I told her I preferred her without, but hey, it was her call.

She was looking at me expectantly, and I realized she was waiting for me to say something. Shit. This is what I got for trying to remember where I left off of The Unbearable Lightness of Being  before I left the apartment. 

"What, sorry?" I asked her, and George broke out into a fit of giggles like I just said something hilarious. 

"I was saying we should go to Batanes together," she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I heard we can hike up Mount Iraya, and see fantastic views. You game?"

My throat went dry at the mention of the destination, and I immediately grabbed a glass of water and swallowed to buy myself time. I didn't know how to tell George this yet, but I was never going to Batanes ever again. Not after Martha.


"Holy shit, Martha. Where are we?" I asked six months ago, swiveling my head around the view that stretched around us as our car continued to amble up the curved roads. I knew we were climbing up mountains, but this...this was fucking spectacular.

Our view was wide open, with hills as far as the eye could see, with dark green trees making an appearance here and there. There we cows grazing lazily, unaware that they could tip over with just a little push. The road stretched out away from us, almost like it was running up to the tallest mountain I'd ever seen, its pointed top disappearing in a cloud bed.

From her seat beside me, Martha gave me a serene, sleepy smile. We'd departed from Manila to Basco at six am, arriving here promptly at eight. She was never a morning person, and I was lucky she still managed a smile.

"I told you," she said. "This is Batanes."

The name meant nothing to me. I grew up in the States, in California, where our idea of the beach came with concrete and boardwalks. What I knew of the Philippines was limited to my parents' experience, which was all Manila-based. I learned to speak Tagalog, ate adobo and kissed my elders on the cheeks when it was appropriate. Even when I studied in Los Baños, I very rarely ventured away from the campus. This view alone told me that there was still so much more to this country that I didn't know.

I pulled my phone from my pocket to send my twin sister a text. Olivia's life was hectic, to say the least, which made her absolutely useless when it came to actual conversation. But she was really diligent in texting, instant messaging and the like. I liked to joke that modern technology was what kept me close to my sister, but it was the truth. Twins first, we always said (or twinsies were winsies if you asked her, ew). 

'Batanes,' I texted. 'Add it to the list.'

This was our thing. I would see something she had to try, and she would add it to the list of things we had to do when she actually made it to the Philippines. It was bound to happen eventually, one of these days, maybe, and we knew that we had to be prepared when it did. 

'Where is that???' she replied quickly, despite the weak signal and the twelve hour time difference. 

The car pulled to a stop at our hotel and the driver unloaded Martha's luggage while I slung my backpack over my shoulder. I winced with a slight 'oof' as the three books I brought slammed against my back. Served me right for bringing three books. But it was impossible to choose just one book for a four day trip. None of these were even part of my ever-growing 'to be read pile,'

"Are you sure that's all you're bringing?" Martha asked me skeptically. "Clothes and books?"

"I don't need much when I have you," I said, making her snort and roll her eyes.

"You are so lucky I brought extra sunblock," she said, smiling. Martha hopped off the van and stretched her arms over her head, just as a breeze wafted through the driveway, lifting her cropped shirt to reveal just enough of a lacy pink bra. Enough for me to know that it barely covered the full shape of her breasts.  

"Sorry," she said, her cheeks burning as she pulled down her tee shirt over her fitted skirt. "Didn't mean for you to see the marks."

By marks, I knew she meant the stretch marks running up the sides of her softly rounded stomach. Little did she know, I'd been completely distracted by something a little more...due north. I chose not to say anything. With Martha, it was always better to choose your battles. She could easily kill you in any one of them. 

"See what?" I asked innocently, as she shook her head and followed the porter to the reception area, a small brick house hidden under an arc of white flowers and vines. Two geometric stone statues guarded the door.

Seriously, where the fuck were we?

"Reservation under Aguas?" Martha asked the receptionist before they quickly went over the details of the room, tour times, whatever, whatever. I walked up behind her just as the receptionist handed her the key, and the receptionist's gaze instantly shifted towards me. I smiled at her, and she almost immediately giggled. 

"Umm," she said to me. "You can follow the porter to the room. Breakfast will be served at the Hillside café at nine. We can reserve you a seat so you have a view of Mount Iraya. Your tour guide will be at the hotel at ten so you can start your South Batan tour. Is it your first time here at Balai Angeles?"

She blinked at me expectantly, and I suddenly felt like a mouse in a corner. I heard Martha snort beside me and I elbowed her to make her stop. She gave me a little wave and formed the words 'byeee' on her lips. Then she whirled around and left the room, leaving me alone with the receptionist and her intense gaze.

"I thought we were in Batanes...?" I asked, knowing fully well that the question was stupid but I desperately needed an escape. 

"Batanes is a group of three main islands and six municipalities," she giggled, tucking a hair behind her ear. "This is Basco, and we're in the North Batan area. Don't worry, I'm sure your tour guide will explain it to you."

"I'm sure he will," I said, and damn it, I did not mean to make that sound flirty. It was Martha's fault. Catching a glimpse of her  bra so early in the morning threw my sexual energy all over the place.

Not to say that I didn't like it. Far from it. Martha had a body with more to love, and it only made her sexier when she moved around. As her best friend, I knew I shouldn't call her sexy, but it felt idiotic to convince myself otherwise. I liked the way she moved, and found her beautiful. She was what she was, and I loved that about her. 

"Ready, buddy?" She asked me, holding an arm out for me, her smile wide as her hair billowed around her face behind the sun, casting a golden halo around her. I grinned and looped my arm around hers and with her bag ahead of us, we walked to our two room villa at the Philippines's final frontier.

'Googled it. Damn, we gotta go. NOW,' Olivia texted. 


It was a scouting trip, Martha had said in lieu of an explanation as to why we had to go to Batanes. They had clients looking to make an investment in the island, and needed Martha to make her evaluations. I didn't really expect much, even when she tried to convey why this trip was such a big deal.

"Not a lot of people go to Batanes," she explained to me, her light brown eyes sparkling with excitement as she lay brochures and research between us. "Flights are few and far between, so it's expensive, and it's like, uncharted territory over there. Wild country. It feels like anything can happen there."

If it meant spending the next three days just the two of us, I would have gone anywhere she asked me to, and I said as much. Martha and I always talked like this, her caring for me while I flirted just to the left and right of her.

Our car pulled up to the first stop, a small outlook point in one to the many sharp corners of the winding roads of Batanes. Sometimes we would look out and find ourselves staring out an an empty horizon, only for the car to push forward and find another curve to take. The roads were so small that little public signs reminded drivers to 'blow ur horn' every time they made a turn.

And people thought the streets of Manila were wild.

Martha looked absolutely delighted by it all, taking photos and videos of every bit of scenery we passed. And what a scenery it was. 

I always thought she looked most beautiful when she was happy, with two dimples appearing on her cheeks as the round apples of her cheeks touched her eyes. When she was happy, she wasn't thinking about work, or her family, or if she should have that second helping of breakfast. 

"This is the Chawa Viewing point," our tour guide said without preamble. "Careful please, there's a puddle in front of the entrance due to last night's rains."

Martha bounded out of the car with her camera in hand, her sunglasses on and sunblock carefully applied thirty minutes before. She regarded the puddle-blocked entrance for a minute before gamely stepping on the thin side of the puddle, ambling her way to the outlook slowly with the tour guide's helping hand.

No, I was not going to be jealous of a tour guide. 

I heard her gasp as she made her way to the edge of the outlook. All I was expecting was a huge drop to the sea, but this island was really good at proving me wrong.

"Max, look at this," Martha exclaimed, pulling me next to her as she pointed down, where layers and layers of limestone rocks framed a small cove of deep indigo water. It looked incredibly inviting to jump into. I could almost picture myself diving into the water. 

"Holy shit," I said. 

"It's beautiful," she insisted, snapping a photo. 

"Mamser, you can go down over here," our tour guide called, pointing at a steep set of stairs that zigzagged all the way down to the waters, where the low tide made a large, flat stone a serviceable walking area for fishermen and tourists alike. It had to be about a four story walk down. 

After seeing Martha's enthusiasm about the view, I was sure she would enjoy getting close to the water. But as I turned to her, I immediately noticed her face turn a bit pale at the sight of the stairs. 

" go ahead if you want to, Max. I want to look at this view some more."

I quirked my eyebrow at her. She'd just stuck her body out of a ledge to a fifty foot drop, now a set of stairs was making her blanch? 

"You sure?" I asked her. "I bet we could take some awesome photos down there."

"Nah, you go ahead," she said quickly, turning away from me. Just like that, this discussion was over, and not even I could convince her to do anything.

So I shrugged and headed downstairs with the tour guide, and we talked about the islands and where Taiwan was supposed to be. When Martha and I returned to the car, she didn't look sad or regretful. She just smiled and asked, "how was it down there?"

I decided to give her and honest answer.


The same thing happened when we made it to our next destination, the Blue Lagoon. It was a gorgeous, somewhat hidden cove next to the highway. A deep slope led down to the rocks of the beach, with inviting tidal pools and calm waters. 

"Some of our visitors like to swim down there," the tour guide explained as Martha and I looked down together. "Maybe you guys want to try tomorrow?"

"That would be awesome," I said, already excited for the cool relief of the ocean. Let it be said that the sun burned brighter in Batanes. Plus it had apparently rained last night, making the air thicker and more humid. For once I was glad that Martha was over prepared and sprayed sunblock on my exposed skin. She even had special sunblock just for the face, who knew? 

She took one look down at the slope path, and her lips straightened into a frown.

"Hmm," she said noncommittally. "Maybe."

I knew that a noncommittal maybe from Martha Aguas meant a very definite 'no.' The tour guide took our photo at Martha's request and headed back to the car with us following behind him. Martha huffed and I placed an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close despite her protests that she was sweaty and gross. It was the combination of heat, sweat and sunblock. 

"We're both sweaty and gross," I pointed out. "You sure everything's okay, gorgeous?"

I didn't miss her wince at the nickname.

"Yeah," she smiled. "It's beautiful here, isn't it?"

Then she slid out from under my grasp and fell behind. Something was definitely bugging her. As her best friend, I knew I had to find out what it was. 


Our next few stops were made inside the small seaside municipalities of the islands. Specifically at the San Carlos Borromeo Church, a structure from the 1700s when Spanish colonizers came to Batanes. The Church was nice, but my favorite bit of the tour was next door, a dark little shop filled from end to end with books of varying shades of turquoise and deep blue. Numbers were stamped in gold on the base of the spines. It was a tourist thing, whenever someone visited the church they could choose a book from any of the volumes on the shelves, leave a message and make a memory. A bibliographic version of Paris' love locks. 

"The nerve of some people," I grumbled, pointing out the carved writings some people left on the book spines. I touched the carved names like they were open scars. "You poor things."

Martha walked up against the shelves, running her fingers across the numbers. I felt myself shudder, like I'd been the one she'd caressed so lovingly. She turned to me, the excited smile back on her face. 

"Pick a number," she told me as I came to stand beside her, her eyes wide and curious as I came close. Had her eyes always been that shade of brown? "And don't say 143."

"I wasn't going to," I lied, reaching over her head to pick a book from the line. "221, for Arthur Conan Doyle and your sad obsession with Benadryl Cumbersome."

She snorted as she snatched the book off my hands. She headed straight for the sturdiest chair in the living room set, a pen already in her hand. 

"Don't lie, you were crying by the end of the series too," she said to me as I slid next to her, draping my arm over the back of the seat. I didn't try to deny her statement, but we were both grinning anyway.

"So what do we write?" I asked, peering over her shoulder and breasts to the blank pages propped on her lap, her pen hovering just above it. "This feels wrong, writing on a book."

Martha chuckled, leaning back comfortably as I gripped her shoulder with my hand. Her arm didn't fit around it, but I didn't care. We were just so comfortable, sitting like this. 

"I'm sure you can power through to make mementos with me," she said, writing the date on top, then our names together in her block-letter handwriting.

Max + Martha

All the air rushed out of my lungs as the rest of the words Martha wrote blurred away, leaving just our names. Why did those words make so much sense to me? Why was I suddenly out of breath, ready to fall of my seat if I wasn't so damn comfortable? I was a reader, I responded to written words, but they were just our names. Our names together.

I felt shaken to my core, my grip on Martha's shoulder suddenly tight as she closed the book. She had no idea how my entire universe had spun with just those two names. 

"Done!" She announced, and I nodded dumbly as she returned the volume to the shelves, tutting her lips as she pointed at desecrated spines on some of the books. But I didn't hear a word she said. I couldn't hear anything, just the beating of my own heart as I looked at Martha. 

"Hi," I said, the words sounding lame to me as she quirked an eyebrow at me. Did she know? Could she see it on my face? So much had changed in a span of seconds, and I was still reeling.

"Hey," she said, looping her arm around mine as she steered me out of the side of the church. "You okay?"

The warm summer sun hit us like a fever, and it served as a sobering reminder of where I was what was happening. But I turned my eyes to the lovely woman beside me, squinting her eyes in the sunlight.

"Still not going to tell me what's bothering you?" I asked her, feeling extremely aware that she wasn't totally fine. That despite my feelings, what I want didn't really change. I wanted her to be happy, to smile the way she did.

"No," she said as we loaded the car. 


The next few minutes were a blur of curvy roads and fantastic landscapes. Batanes had views that rivaled Scotland and Switzerland, at least in my book. I wanted to point out every cow and grazing goat we passed by, because while this certainly wasn't my first time to see those animals, it was my first time to see them grazing so freely. 

"Oh look, that one's pregnant! And that one's leg looks a little mangled, the farmer will have to bring him to a vet."

"Oh look, they're all running away because the vet's here to give them a shot in the butt," Martha laughed, her breasts pressing heavily against my arm as she pointed to the gaggle (was it a gaggle?) of goats that were jumping higher up the mountain. This happened to us a lot, I realized. We were always sticking together, always close, always touching. She once said that she was so large that she didn't notice or care when her breasts hit something, or when her large hips knocked something over. I didn't either, except now there was a sexual undertone to the gesture, because I was in love with her.

Fucking hell it felt so freeing to be able to tell myself that. 

Also, fucking hell, she didn't know. 

She leaned closer to the window, and now was not the time to wonder what it would feel like to have her body in my hands. Nor was it the time to wonder what she smelled like. Perfume, obviously. Something light and floral that she wore rain or shine. I leaned my head forward, my nose inches from where her collarbones were supposed to be, getting ready to take a deep inhale when the car jerked to a stop at the side of the road, causing Martha to stumble. I caught her arms easily, and she pulled away, suddenly self-conscious.

"We're stopping here," the tour guide announced and turned off the engine. "This is Motchong point, the closest we're going to get to the sea today." We'd stopped at the side of a hill with fresh, spiny grass, the kind that golf courses paid thousands of pesos to sod their land with. The air carried the pungent smell of animal droppings, and I took in a deep breath.

"Gotta love the smell of hot shit in the morning," I said, making Martha laugh as she dropped my forgotten baseball cap on my head. I walked easily up the hill after our guide. I loved that just when I thought I had reached the edge, larger expanses of greenery cropped up. We had a perfect view of the rocky beach, the deep blue waves playing tag with the shoreline.

Then there were, of course, the goats.

Martha was still ten steps behind me when I turned to face her. She raised her camera and snapped a photo just as I saw her.

"Down here, sir!" Our tour guide called, and I bounded over to one of the lower curves of the hillside. The ocean looked vast and endless, and Mount Iraya looked tiny from where we stood.

"Martha, isn't it--" I began, surprised to find that she wasn't standing next to me. Was she still taking photos? 

I turned and saw her making her way very slowly down the hillside, her arms akimbo as she balanced herself. She was red and huffing, like she'd run a great distance. 

"," she huffed as she made it to the spot next to me, trying to hide the face that she was really panting. "Pretty."

"Okay, back to the car!" The tour guide announced, walking past us. "Your lunch is waiting at Marlboro Country."

I nodded and smiled at the guide as I heard Martha distinctly curse. 

"Motherfucking hills," she mumbled, and it made me stop. I pulled her arm back before she took another step. "Dude, come on," she said in a none-too-happy voice. "Next spot."

"We booked the private tour so we can linger if we want, and we're lingering until you tell me what's bothering you," I said stubbornly. Yeah yeah I sounded like a petulant little boy, but Martha's behavior was bizarre. "You were so looking forward to this trip, and now you're grumbling and complaining. Do you regret it?" I asked her, wincing because I hadn't meant for my question to feel so loaded, even if it was only so for me.

After what felt like an eternity, she caught her breath and dropped her shoulders, shifting her weight from side to side. I hadn't noticed how tense she was until she let it all go. 

"This is okay for you because you're as tall as a fucking tree," Martha grumbled. Finally, finally she was going to tell me what was wrong. "But my legs are short, my thighs are thick and I can't walk fast. Max, I cant even reach my own shoulders, so now they're sunburnt."

She twisted her arm to demonstrate the reddening skin, and I winced.

"I can barely walk a straight line at home, and here..." she trailed off, looking at the fantastic skyline, then behind her to the hill we still had to climb. "I can catch up, usually," she insisted, but it was more for her own benefit than mine. "I can. But here it's too wild, too high. I don't know if the path is going to go up or down or twist suddenly. I can feel my entire weight just pitch forward, and I'm so aware that I'm too fat to follow you. And I don't want to hold you back."

My eyes widened as her face burned with humiliation. All morning, my sudden realization of holy-shit-I'm-in-love-with-my-best-friend aside, I had run through different possibilities of what could have bothered Martha. Her frustration over being unable to fight gravity was the last thing I could have thought of. I wanted so much to pull her into my arms, kiss her and tell her she was being silly, and not to worry. But that wasn't what she needed to hear. 

She mistook my silence as agreement, and she huffed. 

"I know, I know," she said, her arms crossed. "You're going to say that I'm being stupid, and I shouldn't worry about this kind of thing."

"You are, and you shouldn't," I insisted. "You're not slowing me down. I don't want to see any of this without you."

Because I love you.

"'s not worth it when you're alone, right?" I asked, hoping that they were the right things to say, that my hands on her arms weren't giving away my feelings, that the little hug I gave her didn't say anything more than I had to. I was so aware of every move I made, every little thing I said to her now.  I hated that I was being a coward, that it was getting in the way of me being a good friend to her. Martha needed a friend, and damn it, I was her best friend. I would be a shit best friend if I didn't comfort her right now.

Then I slipped my hand in hers. Carefully. Her hand was warm and made my heart start racing again, but it made her smile. 

"I'll walk with you," I said. "We'll take this as fast or as slow as you want. I have one request, though."

"Hmm?" Martha asked, her mood significantly better now as we walked up the hill together. I knew now that she was having difficulty talking and climbing, so I kept my questions to a minimum.

"I'm at a particularly exciting part of Like Water for Chocolate," I told her. "I was hoping to read a bit after lunch. Is it okay if we sit around for a bit?"

Her face absolutely lit up at the suggestion, her cheeks still red from the effort she made as we finally made it to the car. Taking a huge breath, she nodded and got in.


So that was how we spent our afternoon, me sitting on the sloping hills of Marlboro Country while Martha lay on the grass beside me, her eyes closed and her smile serene. We were surrounded by endless green hills, with nobody else for miles. The sea below us look looked perfectly still, and time seemed frozen here. The view knocked any English countryside I'd ever seen out of the park. We owned the world here, she and I. I wouldn't have had it any other way. I was determined that I was never going to come back without her.

I slowly lowered the book, wondering if now was the perfect time to kiss her, to tell her about these feelings. It was certainly the perfect place.

"I saw this tee shirt on one of the tourists in the restaurant," Martha said apropos to nothing. "It said Batanes: you see her you will fall in love, when you leave her she will break your heart. Sad, right? I can't imagine this island breaking my heart."

Neither could I. But the possibility still loomed over us, over me. That she would reject me, that I would be the one left behind. I still hadn't told her anything. My love for her could end up ruining our friendship, and I could end up losing her. I shuddered involuntarily. 

"Read to me?" Martha suddenly asked, her eyes still closed.

"Sure," I said, resuming my page as I took a deep breath and started to read. There would be time to tell her how I felt. Later. We had a lot of laters to go.


"Max?" George asked, snapping me out of the memory. I was in Manila, still polishing off my water, still without having told Martha how I felt.  Six months later and I was still a coward.

"Sorry George," I said, lowering my glass. "I...I didn't really like Batanes when I went."

Lying to her felt ugly and horrible, and I knew was a total jackass for doing it. Because the island had done exactly as the shirt promised. Martha was pining over someone else while I stayed in the sidelines, pathetic, heartbroken and a liar.

She frowned, and my phone started to ring. Martha.

I snatched it up before either of us could get a word in.

"Hello," I said, trying very hard to hide the smile on my face. "Miss me?"

"Only when you're not around," she joked, and just the sound of her voice made me heart swell in my chest. How long had it been since we last talked? Three weeks? A hundred years? “You’re still driving me to Dangwa tomorrow, yes?“

The was no way I could say no.


If in case you haven't read If The Dress Fits, Max and Martha's story continues here: 

Max's twin sister Olivia will have her own story, coming out later this year. My Instagram feed will have photos of these destinations Max and Martha visited, so follow me if you can. :D