“Isla Euodia Porter, I swear you are the most boring person I’ve ever met!”
I threw a split-second glance at the girl in front of my desk. My best friend had her hands on her hips, huffing out an annoyed breath.
“Anyna, just a sec... Almost done...” I furiously scribbled into my notebook resulting in the unintelligible penmanship that would be of no use later when I review.
I had to finish at least this much before I went for lunch.
“Know why it’s called homework? Do it when you get home. Come on!” she pulled me by the right elbow causing my pen to slip.
“Alright, I’m up! I’m up!” I flipped my notebook closed and neatly returned it inside my Hermes backpack. I stood up, looking at her in defeat.
“I’ve been hungry for the last two hours and you insist on studying,” Anyna grumbled in disgust. She looked down at the Cartier La Dona gold watch on her wrist and turned her glare on me. “See? We’ve already wasted twenty minutes of our precious break!”
She picked up her Louis Vuitton shoulder bag and stormed out of our classroom leaving me to scramble after her. With the pace she walked in the middle of the corridor, my best friend almost ran into another student.
“Watch where you’re going!” she hissed at the freshman. The poor guy looked scared out of his wits as he moved out of the way. I and Anyna were graduating from high school in two months, but I doubt it was our seniority that made him scram.
It would be very strange for anyone not to know who Anyna was.
Ludum Caeruleo Academy may be the school for the rich but even the students weren’t saved from its own Caste System. Anyna Clarrisse Ruiz’s father was an infrastructure genius. Both an engineer and an architect and the head of the billion-dollar SHR Builders Inc.
“Stupid commoner! This is why the board should have abolished that useless scholarship program!”
Oh, no. She’s starting again. With a nervous laugh, I slipped to her side, “You wanted that lunch, right? We have a class in an hour.” Anyna was already getting second glances and people were stopping in the hallway to watch the unfolding drama.
“Oh, stop being so nice, Isla! This is why you always get preyed on by those vultures!”
With an apologetic glance to the people around, I took hold of my best friend’s expensive bag and started dragging her out of there. Anyna may not care for the attention, but I did. and when she started, there was no stopping the things coming out of her mouth. My best friend may be both rich and beautiful but she needed a mouth filter.
In a way though, I couldn’t blame her.
During our first year, I had a friend. A product of the CSR program of our school. She was kind, well-mannered, and intelligent- the very reason she passed the difficult screening of LCA. It was always just the two of us and we tended to stay in the library for studying. But for some reason, whenever we were together, I tended to mysteriously lose my things.
Anyna was just my classmate then and she was the one who caught the scholar stealing from me. She even persuaded me to report it to the Student Affairs of our academy for proper action.
To say I was shocked was an understatement. And instead of reporting the incidents, I confronted that friend. Her answer was something that I, in all my time, would never forget.
“That shouldn’t be a big deal! Aren’t you rich? I needed the money more than you did!”
Words failed me and I froze up on the spot, staring at her. But Anyna, who stood beside me, was quick to react. Her hand reached up to pull the other girl’s hair. Of course, that girl fought back. They fell on the grass as Anyna got on top of the other girl, not letting go of her hair.
“You dirt-poor thief!”
In the end, it became the three of us landing in the Student Affairs Office. Anyna told the concerned office staff about everything. My parents came into the room, Anyna’s Mom too. And the Director was called in.
The next day, the girl was gone. Rumor swept throughout the school like wildfire. There were mixed reactions from the students due to the incident. Many not favorable to us. But from that time on, Anyna and I became friends.
I remember her saying, “You should stick to your own kind,” and since then, it was just the two of us... but there are days when I still wonder if we’re the same “kind”. Like today.
“Aren’t you embarrassed by what you’re doing? If your dad finds out!” I lectured her as we walked.
Anyna snorted in an unladylike fashion. “What could he do? Disown me? I’d definitely pay to see that one."
I always knew this girl was a bit too rebellious for her own good. But lately, she’s more hotheaded than normal. Especially at the mention of her parents. I decided to keep my mouth shut until we got to the school cafe. There were just a few people left lounging around and we quickly got our plates.
“I thought you said you were hungry.” I pointed my fork at her untouched meal.
I looked at my best friend. Straight blonde hair, full red lips, high cheekbones, and a slim figure. She was pretty tall at five-eight. But there was something about the set of her perfectly shaped eyebrows and clouded big brown eyes that screamed wrong today.
Anyna was turning eighteen this Saturday and my family was invited to her party.
I took a sip of my milkshake before breaking the silence, “I got your invitation, by the way. Should I wear something red for a change?” My best friend always complained that I stuck to soft colors when we attended functions. And she always insisted my best color was red.
Big brown eyes turned to me before blinking twice. Anyna blew out a breath.
I smiled at her encouragingly, “Oh, come on. You’ve been acting weird lately. Just say it. I’ll listen no matter how crazy it is.”
My smile, however, quickly faltered as tears brimmed those brown eyes. “Anyna—”
“I’m already engaged, Isla. They’ve hand-picked a husband for me.”
The pause was involuntary on my part.
I didn’t know why I was still surprised. It wasn’t anything new in our class. The mega-rich, as the media had called us, did everything to rise to the top and stay on the top. Marriage and business always went together. It was either further or maintain the status and the monetary value of a household name. It’s just the way things are. How it’s been for centuries.
But my best friend was just turning eighteen! Which means she was going to be legally allowed to marry now.
And I’m turning eighteen in three months too.
Suddenly, I was nailed to my seat, at a loss for words. A single tear fell, which she hastily wiped away with manicured fingers. She bitterly smiled at me while trying to lighten her tone. “Not that it isn’t expected but...” her lower lip wobbled.
I tried to regain my composure, “Do you know the guy? Do I know him?”
She shook her head and for some reason, I felt like my heart would break for her. My hands were tied too.
“Jakob Darius Fierro Ramirez.”
The name did not ring a bell.
“The Fierros are from another construction firm in Europe. Jakob Ramirez is an architect on an internship in SHR Builders under Dad’s direct supervision. That’s all I know.”
“Did you try talking to your dad? Maybe he...” What, Isla? Stop the engagement? Maybe postpone it to salvage the feelings of his daughter?
I was one to talk. I knew I couldn’t say no if my parents said jump. This was part of the business, the payment for the lavish lifestyle. Things like these were negotiated ever-so-carefully between families—quite possibly even before our births. It’s our part to follow through the contract, our duty.
When the bell rang and I went back to class, I think I was more zoned-out than Anyna. I kept looking over to her, who now calmly listened to the lecture. As if nothing was wrecking her internally.
When the last class ended, I sprung from my seat and immediately went to her side.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked worriedly.
Anyna arched one brow before rolling her eyes. She gave me the attitude as if the conversation earlier was already forgotten. “It looks like you should be asking yourself that question, babe.” Then she suddenly lunged at me and engulfed me in a bear hug, “Don’t look so heartbroken! It’s marriage not suicide!”
I tugged at her hair, “Don’t joke about death, you banshee.” I murmured, hugging her back.
Her hands let go of me, raising in the air. “Isla, I’m fine. Really. I swear.”
I didn’t believe her but sure. “There’s this new Italian restaurant that’s been all the rave this last week. According to reviews, the chef is a reality show winner. Wanna go? My treat.”
Anyna’s driver was already waiting in front of the school. We slipped into the backseat of her Audi. I texted my own driver the coordinates of the restaurant and told him to follow. I also called my mom who immediately agreed upon learning I was with Engr. Ruiz’s only daughter.
It was 7 PM when we got to the place. And the whole time, Anyna was pretty animated again, maybe telling me these things made her feel better. She was devouring the food and somehow, her earlier mood shifted to me as I picked on mine. Things were going around in my head.
“Do you think...” I started and she stopped mid-chew.
Anyna swallowed, taking the wineglass and pointing it to me, “Do I think what?”
“Do you think you’ll like him?” at my own words, my cheeks colored in embarrassment.
Her face soured as if my question was the most ridiculous thing she’s heard.
I waved a hand to her face, “Don’t answer that. Never mind,” pairing it with an awkward laugh.
We finished eating and I gave the card to the waiter. Anyna was obviously in a better mood now and was humming as we strode out of the place.
“Shoot! I forgot something,” I looked over as Anyna ran back inside as I was left on the sidewalk. I rolled my eyes as I watcehd her disappear through the door. She was always like this, always forgetting things and I shook my head. My gaze traveled up the building. The place was a hotel-restaurant, the first floor being the restaurant. Which reminded me, I pulled my iPhone out of my bag and dialed my driver’s number.
“Hello, Rob? I’m outside--”
Something slammed against my side and I crashed to the floor on my elbows and right hip. My iPhone skittered across the pavement. I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, my weight on one high-heeled foot. There was no way I could’ve caught myself and I took that fall hard and skidded even a few inches. Pain shot up from where I landed on the hard ground. My teeth clicked together upon impact before a groan.
I heard a curse. A string of them, as a guy, presumably the one who slammed into me, halted in front of me in obvious annoyance. Expensive Italian loafers came into my sight.
“Would you look at where you’re going?! Get up!” He uselessly ordered.
“O-Ouch...” I couldn’t think past the pain on my side. I couldn’t get up either, at least not for a minute as I gathered my spinning sight. My eyes squeezed shut as I tried to breathe through my nose.
And that earned me another string of profanities before I felt a hand on my arm. And another on my hip. The man pulled my arm, slipping it around his broad shoulders and hauling me upwards. My eyes flew open at that point.
Only to meet the angry silver stare of a stranger.
And this is where the story started.
Back then, I still didn’t know who he was. I had no idea. But had I known that moment that it wouldn’t be the last time we crossed paths, I would’ve never gone there. I would’ve tried to change fate. Because in the future as I would know, I would wish we never met. Repeatedly.