This story is by Anna Jailene Aguilar and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Juliana didn’t believe in small choices having far-reaching effects. Neither did she believe in destiny; at least not anymore.
“I grew up,” she would tell Alexis, her college best friend. “I had to. Soulmates don’t exist in my world, only arrangements. Fairy tales are for dreamers like you, and I love you for it. You and fairy tales are a match made in heaven, as you and your Vivienne.”
Alexis would accuse Juliana of being that predictable adult devoid of life and fun. “Like your boring fiancé,” Alexis would jeer at her best friend and proceed to act out a search for the young Juliana who loved love.
Shaking off the thought, she played in her mind how she wanted the day ahead: as planned and nothing out of the ordinary, although it wasn’t her usual work Friday in New York but a pleasant October day in Las Vegas. The desert temperature had cooled down four weeks into fall. Juliana put on her Burberry sweater, Gucci jeans and Jimmy Choo pumps. Brands made her feel good enough. With her Prada bag, she made her way to the Grand Canal Shoppes in The Venetian where she was staying.
She nodded at her reflection before stepping out of the elevator and walked straight into another body. He was busy on his phone. He managed to hold her steady to prevent her from falling.
“I’m so sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s fine. It was my fault, too…” She did a double take: unconvinced she was standing in front of her first love, the one that got away. “Philip?”
“Jules! Isn’t it a small world?” His excitement was undeniable despite the surprise.
“Cliché, but yes.” She smiled.
“I must buy you a drink,” he offered. “And cake?” He flashed a wide grin at his recollection of her love of cakes.
“Who can resist cake?” she quickly quipped. It was one of her inconsequential decisions. “Anyway, how are you? What are you doing here? Are you still in California?”
“Yeah, still in LA. I was entertaining clients here. You? Loving the East Coast?”
“You heard? From whom?” asked Juliana, curious.
“Hmm, Alexis…” She gave him a quizzical look. “She now lives in Virginia, you know.”
“Who leaves the Caymans for Virginia?”
“All in the name of love,” she muttered. “Apparently…”
“Ah, love!” He chuckled uneasily.
As they walked towards the Grand Lux Café, it hit Juliana that she was actually with Philip after eleven years, when they were last together. She felt surreal and tried to shake off the vision of her, all in black: mourning her leaving him and moving to another country because her mother told her so. She could almost feel the emotions she felt at Sunday Mass, her last one with Philip, whose hand she had squeezed too hard as she prayed earnestly, convinced God was truly listening to her prayers. She could almost feel his touch.
“Hey!” Philip grabbed her hand. “Earth to Jules?”
She mentally slapped herself on the face to get out of the reverie that seemed too real.
“Yeah, yeah.” She dismissed his teasing, casually taking her hand back. There’s not a chance I’m letting those old feelings to resurface, she thought, trying hard to keep herself collected. Love of my life… young life… or perfect partner I know, but—
“You didn’t say why you’re in Vegas. I’m waiting…” Philip loved to mock her, albeit always sweetly.
“Old age at thirty-two.” She snickered. “I attended IMEX America.”
“IMEX? International Monetary Exchange?” he teased.
She giggled. “Worldwide Exhibition for Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events.”
“Exciting stuff! You want my business?” he joked.
“Sure thing,” she gleamed.
At the café, Philip sat back at his chair, exuding confidence and an ease he didn’t have when last they were together. Yet, Juliana could sense something else: humility. His overall kind nature that endeared him to her was peering through at her as if looking for the starry-eyed, carefree Juliana.
“Time’s changed.” She sighed faintly, not realizing she uttered the words out loud. “I’ve also changed… to a robot… or zombie.”
“It can’t be all that bad.”
Startled, she said, “Pardon me. What can’t be bad?”
“Time. Change. You… zombie.” He laughed. Then, with eyes shining, he took her hands. “I’ve missed you. A lot… I should have fought for us. Why didn’t we work out?”
Realizing that he didn’t change completely—he was still the Philip she loved with an intensity she never had with another—she tried to avoid his gaze. “Ah, immaturity… distance… parents… pride. Feeling of inadequacy. Stuff… Irrelevant now. Anyway, how are you? Married?” She freed her hands from his as she smiled at him weakly.
“Nope. Never will… most likely. A girl got away and I was a chicken.”
She started to feel uncomfortable purely because of her own emotions. “Don’t say…”
“It’s a pity you’re engaged.” He looked almost forlorn, then beamed. “On second thought, a pity only if you were married.”
“Philip, things have changed. I wish… no, I can’t. I won’t complicate my simple life.” She shrugged. “I’m glad we bumped into each other though. It had been tough getting over you. It took me ages to stop comparing everyone with you. What we had was perfect… for me.”
“For me, too,” he admitted.
“Why, I don’t know. Do you?” she asked.
He smiled. “The heart has its reasons… and we don’t have to know.”
“Pascal. But, my therapist said you’re an illusion. We’re an illusion.”
“We’re real, Jules. Honestly…” He paused to let out a nervous chuckle. “It’s just been several months that I’m able to remotely consider moving on. I was… I am convinced you’re the only one for me, that I’d love you till death. It was merely wrong timing. We now have it right. Destiny, you know.” She was about to protest but he continued, “I know you’re engaged. That can change, and not because I say so. I don’t know if you’ll leave him and come back to me. I think you feel the same as I do… I see in your eyes. We’re soulmates and we’re too old to waste time… unless we want to be together at seventy, walking canes and all.”
The love Juliana saw and sensed frightened her. She had not been unsure of herself in years. “I… ah…”
“Is my Juliana back?” His eyes danced. “Let’s spend the day together. And night. What say you? Let’s get out of here,” he invited her with a smile.
She hesitated at first, then walked hand in hand with him. She had a decision to make. She once decided to love Philip forever. It took years to undo the decision. She wondered about destiny, questioning what will win: head or heart.
They walked out to a less bustling city. The sun was shining but the weather was cool. Juliana knew that the strip was there—unchanged—but all she saw was a young couple strolling, as if on the beach, and all she heard was his voice. Wake up, Juliana, she told herself a few times.
As they reached the peak on their high roller ride after dinner at the Bellagio, Philip inched closer and proposed, “What if you drive with me to LA? Or, I fly with you to New York? We’ll figure out the rest later.”
She wanted to listen to her heart. “We waited eleven years, let’s do the right thing. I’ll go to New York alone, you go to LA and let’s sort out our separate lives first.”
“Fate brought us back together, Jules. Okay, work… business. Here’s our second chance. I love you. So much.” He pulled her closer.
“I know.” Nearly inaudibly, she added, “And I love you. Always have. Always will. Until death.”
There, on top of the world, as he held her tight, she could hear their hearts beating. Then, his lips found hers.
A few breathless moments later, she whispered, “This is real… Is this real?”
“Absolutely.” His eyes twinkled. “You realize we’re in Vegas, right?”
“Oh, no! No way, Philip.”
“Yes way, my love.”
They tittered like twenty-one year olds as they left the high roller.
Philip left Las Vegas early the next morning and called Juliana as he neared LA.
“Don’t you forget how much I love you. I can’t wait to start our life together,” he had said to her, feeling only their love, blissfully oblivious of his surroundings. All he could see was her smiling face.
“And I do love you so much,” she had said to him. Darned fate, she thought. Heart. Whatever. Saying goodbye filled her with both contentment and anxiety.
Smiling at their wedding picture on his mobile phone, Philip looked up too late to avoid the runaway truck…
Juliana wouldn’t hear the news. Her flight went off the radar an hour after take-off. The White House suspected terrorism.