I’ve invited my author friends to drop by with what we’re calling Story Spirals or outtakes from their books. Stories that could be happening alongside the main plot, stories happening to the main character but aren’t in the book, stories that are connected someway, somehow.
featuring characters from This Side of Sunny by Agay Llanera
Alex wondered if it was too much to ask of an island. But really, you couldn’t blame the tourists for coming here, hoping to find romance. Because romance was the island’s selling point, whether it was intentional or not.
On its promotional posters, official website, and articles posted by travel bloggers, love was a recurring theme. A silhouette of a couple against the blaze of sunset. Sea foam kissing the soft sand. And the palm tree with its curved trunk, its head-full of fronds bowing towards the ocean as if in awe of its beauty.
Even its name spoke of love. Gumamela Island. An island named after the hibiscus plant, known for its showy colorful blooms. The island abounded in its deep-red variety, petals curving outward, shamelessly revealing its fragile heart of a pistil, shooting out like a fairy’s wand. The flower was a tribute to love’s blossoming, of baring one’s self and giving one’s heart to another.
Alex saw her enter the pizza place, forehead knotted in determination, a sheaf of papers tucked beneath an arm. She was beautiful in a way that he couldn’t quite place. Foreign with a touch of the local.
He wasn’t the type to come up to strangers, and introduce himself. Oh, no. Quite the opposite in fact. In Manila, he was known by his circle of friends for being painfully shy, and his last relationship—the one that lasted four years—only came about because the girl had made the first move. Practically courted him. Well that was up until six months ago when she had decided to make the first move on his best friend.
But this was Gumamela Island. Home of the Breathtaking Sunset! Island of Pleasure and Leisure! Nature’s Best with the Best Amenities! He could be a whole, new person here. No one could mistake him for a wallflower—with the way his biceps bulged, and his abs rippled after six months of perfect gym attendance, as he weight-lifted and cross-trained his way to heartbreak recovery.
He was right behind her now, her hair fanned out against her nape like the sweeping skirt of a ball gown. He wondered what it would be like to run his fingers through those soft waves of dark brown.
She had tacked something on the public billboard, filled with other announcements on job vacancies and proclamations on being the best resort on the island. She stepped back, scrutinizing her own leaflet, which showed a blown-up photo of a woman with long, black hair and almond-shaped eyes, beaming at the camera.
“A missing person?”
The girl startled, and turned around to meet his gaze. Those eyes just about slain him—brown and tinged with honey, like chocolate at the point of melting. He kept his smile pasted on even if his mouth wanted to hang open in admiration.
“Yours?” he managed to croak out.
The girl didn’t say anything, but Alex could make out the tensing of her jaw, and the—was that fear in those eyes?
No, please, he wanted to blurt out. I’m the last person you should be afraid of.
But the girl quickly turned on her heel and walked out of the shop.
Freak. He wanted to hit his head on that billboard to take out his frustration. What had he done wrong? All he had wanted was to see her smile. Hear her voice. Let her talk to him a little, for her to acknowledge that he wasn’t the loser that he thought he was.
He should just go back to the hotel. Yes, that’s right. To nestle in the safe cocoon of his sheets, see what’s good on TV. Maybe catch that Star Wars marathon he’d already seen thrice.
But first, food. The food would take the sting away. He deserved a cheat day.
At the counter, he ordered a family-size pizza with everything on it for take-out. He had to wait a few minutes for his pizza, so he sat quietly in the corner, trying to rid his thoughts of the earlier disaster.
“Thank you for waiting.” The girl materialized beside him, setting the huge carton of pizza on the table. “Enjoy!”
He mumbled his thanks and got up.
“I’m sorry.” The girl’s hesitant voice made him finally look up. “But you look like someone I know. Is your name Benson?”
Benson was the name of his dog. The girl’s mistake made him smile. “Nope. My name’s Alex.”
The girl shot out her hand. “Layla.”
He couldn’t leave her hand hanging out like that. He shook it with the right amount of firm and gentle. Besides, the girl was pretty, in a pixie-ish sort of way. Laughing eyes. Shorthaired. Petite and small-framed, like he could fit her into his pocket.
“So it’s my first time here.” He could feel the blush creeping up his neck, but continued talking anyway. “And I’d love for a local to show me around.”
She laughed. “Hardly a local. But I’ve worked here for so long, I guess you could practically call me one.” Then she took a step back, as if studying him for a few heartbeats. Finally, she seemed to have reached a decision. “6 PM later? We can meet here.”
He nodded his head too many times before he was aware of it. “Sure,” he said as casually as he could. But he couldn’t stop the smile breaking out on his face. “See you.”
He was still grinning when he stepped out, only stopping to admire the start of a sunset, every bit as breathtaking as the one on the island’s promotional poster. He breathed in deeply, smelling the sea, the salt … and yes, maybe even a hint of romance.
This book doesn’t just have a gorgeous cover, but a gorgeous story as well! Its characters, Mela and Paolo, are so real and so endearing, you are pulled in from the first few chapters.
Descriptions are really Agay Llanera’s expertise. You don’t just feel as if you are right in the scene, smelling, feeling, seeing, hearing, and tasting along with everyone else, but you will marvel at each word she has meticulously chosen for these descriptions. You will marvel AND want to hold them close or eat them up. I am in awe of this woman’s writing.
But if you don’t really care for those things, because some readers don’t and that’s perfectly fine, that isn’t a problem. The story doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings, it makes you fall in love too – with Paolo (most especially), with Mela, with life, and with this book.
I’ve read two of Llanera’s books and this has the most kilig or romantic feels so far. Maybe because it’s told from both Paolo’s and Mela’s POV. But the reason doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s a feast for the senses and the heart.
Prepare yourself for a trip to the beach, awesome food (the crash course YOU and Mela will get in Philippine cuisine is such a treat – yes did that on purpose), and a love story to remember forever.
About This Side of Sunny
Like her boyfriend back in the States, 18-year-old Mela Connor is spending spring break by the beach. But the difference is she’ll be on an exotic island in the Philippines, where she’ll spend the next six days finding her estranged mother. In the process, Mela meets her self-appointed tour guide–the hunky beach bum, Paolo, who helps Mela make amends with her past while struggling not to fall in love with her.
About Agay Llanera
Agay Llanera is a freelance writer for television and video, and a published writer of children’s books. She is the author of New Adult Romance books Vintage Love, Once upon a Player and This Side of Sunny; and the Young Adult book, Choco Chip Hips.
Did you like the snippet above? Find out what happens in This Side of Sunny. Available on Amazon and Smashwords.
Her blog can be found at agayisagirl.blogspot.com.