#26 23rd Apr 2017 at 7:08 AM Last edited by Charmful : 23rd Apr 2017 at 5:06 PM.
Plague of Memory
Chapter 12: Plague of Memory
It had been a tumultuous weekend to say the least. Illyana had been wrapped in a blanket of rage and despair and spent every free moment writing scathing letters to her ex-boyfriend that she never intended to send. Writing was a sort of release for her, it was more productive than banging her fists against a wall but wasn’t as satisfying. She’d even been inspired to pen a couple of angry songs and accompanying guitar riffs too. Maybe one day she’d perform them, they’d get produced and he’d be forever immortalized as the worst man in the world.
Monday afternoon, after her class had let out, she decided it would benefit her to so some breathing exercises to calm down, to keep her emotions at bay, and to keep from weeping or screaming curses openly.
It was a small feat to put on a good face for her friends–she didn’t want to worry them and hopefully she’d more emotionally stable by the next week to drive them to Pandora. She couldn’t help to also feel annoyed by her moping. She should be glad she no longer had to deal with that asshole who had cheated on her. Rose-tinted memories had a way of sneaking into her mind however, and that was problematic.
The day was nice, sunny, not too hot for mid-autumn so she took advantage of it and went outside to meditate in the shade of the community college orchard. Agricultural-focused students maintained the produce garden and fruit trees. In another week or so, the apples would be ready to harvest.
Illyana took a deep breath and put her palms together before exhaling and lifting her bent knee into the tree position. She let her eyelids fall closed, hoping to concentrate on breathing and banish the current, torrid thoughts that were brewing in her brain.
The warm temperature and the sound of chirping birds eased her somewhat despite the metaphysical gaping hole in her chest cavity. She’d turned her phone off because she feared that he’d call. That she’d be too tempted to answer, to hear his excuses, to be swayed by them and risk taking him back–to have that feeling again–the incandescent happiness he had brought her before it all came crashing down around them.
Like the times when they first started dating when he’d drive over from Sim State campus and surprise her after class. He’d wait on a bench outside of the lecture hall and if she saw him first, would sneak up behind him and cover his eyes. In those days his hair was relaxed, his stormy blue-grey eyes could be hidden behind the length of it and it was one of the many reasons she was attracted to him, and loved him. Realizing it now, that was a young, naïve love she had held for him in her heart.
Illyana had thought she was so lucky to have his attentions because she never dated in high school. She figured most boys thought her too prickly to be ‘girlfriend’ material. But Adam was different; he liked her—prickliness and all.
That memory was one of the many that frustrated her. A good way to block such deceitful nostalgia was to think of how the scumbag slept with another woman-–but then that led back to the anger dangerously brimming at the edges of her mind.
Even when he had quit school to focus on the band, he’d still visit her often. They’d hunker down in the common room when it was too cold to go on walks together and discuss everything from the latest concert in town to their favorite childhood memories. He made her laugh so much, and it distracted her from worrying about planning for complicated mid term modules. Every time he would make her smile she felt herself falling a little more in love with him.
She knew she shouldn’t be thinking about him, but every time she tried to clear her mind, thoughts would drift back to their time spent together.
Why wasn’t she remembering their fights, the insults, the way he made her feel guilty about missing his shows? Was love that strong of a drug to diminish those vital moments that would be clear to any outside observer that they were not such a great couple after all?
Remembering the way he kissed her and he held her against him as they fooled around in her dorm room, in the dark and the feel of his warm skin, his toned muscles–it was exciting and sexy and…
Illyana’s eyes snapped open and her breathing became quick and short as her emotions caught in her throat.
Why was she doing this to herself?
Breathing exercises were not working. Clearing her mind was useless if all that preoccupied it again was that son of a bitch. She swallowed those thoughts and the rage bubbled up in their place. She wanted vengeance, she wanted satisfaction, she wanted to hurt something.
She abandoned her yoga pose and all but tore down the pathway toward the small community college gym. It contained a few exercise machines, a treadmill and a punching bag. She had used the punching bag before, but was revved up and could only imagine that beating it to pulp would give her anger reprieve at the moment.
She entered the building, pushing the door open with force and all the energy she had pent up inside of her deflated at the sight of someone already using the punching bag.
A guy she knew of yet had never exchanged words with was ripping into the bag with as much vigor as she had felt like unleashing herself. The chain holding the heavy bag swung back and forth as he jabbed out a quick succession of left and right hooks. His face was pulled into an angry, concentrated stare, and though he wasn’t making any noise, he looked like he was growling. His wide shoulders were hunched forward slightly and that look paired with his substantial height and obvious muscle made him seem like an absolutely menacing figure.
She had heard rumors about Franz Schoulsburg, knew of his reputation and how he gave a kid a concussion when he was younger. He never seemed to speak either. She stared numbly at him, too intimidated to interrupt his workout.
He halted his punches, grabbed the bag to steady it and took in a few deep breaths before smoothing some of the hair that had fallen into his eyes. That was when he finally noticed Illyana standing there and slowly turned his head, his face suddenly wiped expressionless. It unnerved her to the bone.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, looking away from him and at her running shoes.
He frowned slightly, stood straighter, took another breath, and wiped the sweat from his brow, “What for?”
She didn’t mean to look like she had crept in to stare at him, but that’s probably what she was sorry for. For bothering him, for being in this space. She didn’t want to say all that so just kind of bit her lip and shrugged. Ugh, she hated feeling like this! Sure the guy was like a foot taller than her and had enough strength to throw her clear across the room if he wanted but she finally met his eyes and put her hand on her hip, proving she couldn’t be intimidated.
“I wanted to use the punching bag, were you going to be finished anytime soon?”
Her tone was a tad bit too aggressive, but she was glad she wasn’t acting pathetic and timid like she was a moment ago.
He raised a brow, then nodded, “Yeah sure. You can have it.”
Well that was easier than she thought. Maybe the whole break-up ordeal had made her think men were hard to deal with. Maybe Franz Schoulsburg wasn’t so scary after all. He disappeared into the gym bathroom, presumably to wash up.
She took a position at the punching bag, curling her hands to fists, letting that anger return to the forefront of her thoughts and propel her arms.
She threw a punch, her knuckles hit the bag with a dull thump. She took another.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
It felt good. Satisfying. Now, if only Adam Hamilton were right where the punching bag was then that would be better.
She kept on punching. It probably wasn’t a healthy thing to do, but it was less destructive than bottling it up or destroying items in her room. Alarie had once suggested Illyana should talk to a therapist about her anger, but Illyana didn’t have extra simoleons to throw around on something like a therapist. She never had!
Even for what she won in her share of the Battle of the Bands grand prize wasn’t enough to allow her to join the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. She had used the money save for college fees, dorm rent, and to start an emergency fund.
Alarie and Leona came from families much better-off financially than Illyana’s and it was frustrating when they glibly suggested she should try things that may not seem expensive for them but would put Illyana out of money for a whole week.
Her tunnel vision for punishing the punching bag must have been pretty strong because she didn’t realize Franz had returned to the room like some kind of silent, menacing, shadow. He put his hand on the punching bag which halted it’s swinging and motioned for her to stop.
“What?” She snarled, not appreciating the interruption.
His face was slightly more expressive, showing something akin to mild concern, “I couldn't help but to notice that you’re angry.”
“Yeah? So? What’s it to you?” Illyana narrowed her eyes.
Franz didn’t realize it until he had seen Illyana taking swings, but he felt just as angry with recent developments and that is why he had found himself at the punching bag that afternoon too. For once in his life he just needed to talk to someone, preferably Alanna—as soon as she had some free time to hang out again.
He hesitated to think about Illyana’s question. Franz was never one to address people he barely knew about his observations; he didn’t really care much for others’ problems but he knew Alanna considered this young woman a friend. Even if she were a stranger, Alanna would have at least shown some kind of concern for her.
“Are you okay?”
Illyana’s frown unraveled as did her fists. She stepped backward a few steps while shaking her head, “No. I’m not.”
For a moment, a wave of emotion caught in her features and she looked like she was about to start sobbing but it passed and she took a few deep breaths instead.
"Do you…need anything?”
She fell to the seat of one of the weight machines, considering.
He took a seat at the opposite weight machine, patiently waiting, hoping he wasn’t screwing up the whole 'being sympathetic’ thing that Alanna always told him he needed to be more of.
“I guess, I just need to rant,” she admitted to herself, while biting a hangnail from her thumb, not paying mind to Franz’s concentrated stare.
“Okay,” he nodded.
“What? You want me to rant to you?” She looked across the gym to him in utter bewilderment, as if he’d lost his mind, “I’ve never even spoken to you until today!”
“You can if it makes you feel better,” he gave a slight shrug of one of his shoulders.
She seemed hesitant, giving him a good once over—seeming to try and discern if he was trying to trick her.
She knew nothing about him, he knew nothing about her.
And she had nothing left to lose.
#27 23rd Apr 2017 at 10:44 AM Last edited by whoward69 : 23rd Apr 2017 at 5:17 PM.
And just when you thought you knew where Charmful was taking this story, it ducks and dives and weaves a bit!
(Edit: And does that really say "I <3 Boobs" on the love-rat's boxers? Edit of the edit: Apparently it does!)
(Edit: And does that really say "I <3 Boobs" on the love-rat's boxers? Edit of the edit: Apparently it does!)
Just call me William, definitely not Who-Ward
#28 23rd Apr 2017 at 4:39 PM
Thanks: 580 in 2 Posts
They both have their issues and for a moment I thought they would start a fight club!
#29 23rd Apr 2017 at 5:19 PM
Originally Posted by nayahn1
They both have their issues and for a moment I thought they would start a fight club!
But Illyana wants to rant ... and we all know the first rule of fight club
(Which in hindsight is not technically correct, as that would be talking in fight club, but you know what I mean!)
Just call me William, definitely not Who-Ward
#30 29th Apr 2017 at 5:46 PM
Chapter 13: Adjusting
Nick felt like a hobo.
He surveyed the living room; contained in two boxes were his worldly possessions minus his guitar and on the floor was his sleeping bag, duffel bag, and a pile of dirty clothes.
He owed Cypress and Orion big time for letting him stay at their place while he figured out what he was going to do to for a new residence. He needed money for that. He could try his hand working in a cafeteria, or maybe as a bartender. He was a pretty good bartender. He just didn’t feel like begging for more funds from his family and breaking the news to his father that he had quit the fraternity. He could only imagine how that conversation would go–like a car wreck.
He thought of his options as he did some stretches in front of the TV. There was a soccer match on that he was watching but it was currently playing a commercial. He almost was touching his toes when he heard a knock on the front door. He figured Orion or Cypress would come down and answer but then a few minutes passed and he heard more knocking. So he went to investigate.
It was some dude dressed in a casual vest and tie. He had shaggy brown hair and eyebrows so thick that Nick’s first thought at seeing them was that if he ever got cold, he could use those eyebrows to knit himself a pair of mittens. That is if he could actually knit.
They regarded each other with puzzlement.
“Hello,” Nick said to break the silence.
“Hi, I’m here to see Orion. Who are you?” the guy asked, giving Nick a long, considering look up and down.
“I’m Nick Hart,” Nick stuck out his hand in greeting. Nick was always down for making new friends.
The guy took it and shook hesitantly, “Cain Nova.”
That name rang a bell, but Nick couldn’t remember where he heard it and in what context.
“Come on in. Orion is upstairs,” Nick pointed up the stairwell. He noticed he hadn’t picked up his plate from dinner so walked over to grab it and wash it. He already had made a mess of the living room. He was being a bad guest leaving his dirty dishes laying around.
“Nick Hart, you’re the guitar player then?” Cain asked from behind him. It startled Nick slightly because he had assumed that Mr. Eyebrows had gone up to see Orion since that was the reason he was there.
“Yeah, I play guitar. How did you know?”
“They mention you from time to time,” Cain smirked, and gestured above them to indicate Orion and Cypress, “So what are you doing here tonight?”
“I’m being a hobo,” Nick laughed and began to explain his predicament.
Cypress should have been doing homework. Key word: should.
Instead, he was lounging on his bed and listening to music. He had downloaded a handful of songs and was deciding which ones he should play the next time he was in the SSU radio station. Every Wednesday, Cypress hosted a campus radio show that played new and local music. He loved it. Coursework was another matter, he often felt like it was the most tedious and useless thing.
Why was he even in college? He’d had three years to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and still hadn’t picked a major to the annoyance of his adviser and his parents.
His grades weren’t the best either. If he dropped out, though, what kind of message would that send to his family? His parents were highly respected in the science and medical communities, their fieldwork and accompanying journals had gained them academic notoriety. Their disappointment in him would be crushing if he told them how he really felt. His younger brother, Cedar, was at the age he could start filling out college applications but if Cypress decided that college wasn’t worth it, his actions could jeopardize Cedar’s future. Cedar had always been one to trust Cypress’s judgment, after all, Cypress had virtually raised his little brother because his parents were too involved with their research.
His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Orion, who had flung open his bedroom door without warning and entered without pants on.
Cypress wasn’t even phased, it was an all too common occurrence.
“Dude, can I borrow one of your shirts? All my good ones are dirty,” he pointed in the general direction of Cypress’s wardrobe and clean laundry he had yet to fold.
“How about you do your laundry so you can wear your own clothes,” Cypress dismissed the request and shut his eyes to continue listening to music.
“I don’t have time to! I’m going out with Cain tonight…”
Cypress’s eyes snapped opened, he ripped off his headphones, and sat up with a frown, “He doesn’t care what you wear!”
“But I don’t want to smell funky!” Orion sunk to the floor with an exaggerated pout and grabbed Cypress’s leg beseechingly, “Please? I promise not to get your clothes dirty.”
Cypress closed his eyes in frustration. He hated the thought of Orion making out with Cain while wearing any of his clothes but Orion was his best friend and he looked kind of pathetic laying on the floor and begging like that.
Cypress stood with a curt nod and Orion’s smile returned; he pulled himself up and opened the doors to Cypress’s wardrobe while Cypress leaned against it and pointed out which shirts he could borrow.
“So is this a date? Is he finally your boyfriend, or what?” Cypress asked, trying to not let disgust seep into his tone.
“Cain doesn’t do exclusive relationships…” Orion’s smile faltered a bit as he picked out a teal shirt from the wardrobe. Orion may not have been aware of the full extent of Cypress’s dislike toward Cain, but had least picked up on the fact that Cypress wasn’t very receptive to discussing anything pertaining to the guy; so he found it odd that Cypress had even asked, “…but yeah, I’d consider it a date.”
This. This was why that cocky bastard was the literal worst. Cypress’s anger boiled within at remembering the fact. Cain had been leading Orion on for at least two years and never committed to anything. He showed up when it was convenient and then could go for weeks without calling, and his behavior only heightened Orion’s anxiety.
The first time it happened, sophomore year, Cypress found his best friend in bed, huddled into a ball and hyperventilating. Knowing that Orion was best comforted with physical contact, Cypress pulled him into a hug and held him while trying to distract him from his fears of inadequacy that were causing such a violent panic attack.
“Think of your favorite song,” Cypress had suggested. Orion was shaking in his arms, and his breathing was shallow and erratic, “Envision the notes in front of you and how they sound.”
Orion shakily took a breath and then began to hum. It was the melody for his favorite Pink Floyd song and Cypress joined in. Eventually, his breaths established a steady pace and normalized.
So that had unfortunately become a routine for them in those awful instances in which Cain ghosted for too long. Cypress hated Cain for it. It would have been better if Cain never returned or contacted Orion again. Yet Cain always ended up coming back. Orion always forgave him.
Orion changed into Cypress’s shirt and thanked him, then went back to his room to find a decent pair of pants. A moment later, Cypress heard him leave his room to go downstairs. Cypress followed; he needed a smoke anyway.
When they entered the main room, they found that Cain was already there and having a lively discussion with Nick.
“Seriously, though, none of the Twikkii Tidals can score if their life depended on it,” Nick bemoaned. Cain nodded in agreement. It was soccer talk, probably related to the current program they could hear coming from the television.
Orion walked up and slipped his hand into Cain’s, “Are you ready to go?”
Cypress crossed his arms, and only Nick saw his leveled expression of pure hate aimed right at Mr. Eyebrows. Now he remembered where he’d heard about Cain. Cypress had complained about the guy when they had gone to the bookstore pick up new course materials for last semester.
“Where are we going?” Cain asked.
“Um…” Orion was caught off-guard. He didn’t know he was supposed to pick a place.
Loathing in Cypress intensified.
An idea struck Nick on how he could start repaying his friends’ generosity.
“I know a place,” Nick said with a smile. He put his arm around Orion’s shoulders and motioned Cain to follow. They walked outside.
“There’s this great jazz bar in downtown Scandalica City and I can get you in for free,” Nick winked at Cain. He had no interest in Cain, but felt that the guy would be more susceptible to his suggestion if he charmed him a bit. If there was one thing Nick was a pro at it was charming others.
“You’re..uh..going with us?” Orion seemed reluctant.
Cain looked thoughtful at Nick’s offer, “Sure, that sounds awesome, sign me up.”
Nick threw his other arm around Cain’s shoulder and was solidly separating the two lovers as they walked to down the street to the nearest bus stop.
Cypress’s lips broke into a small grin — Orion probably wouldn’t be pleased that his one-on-one time with Cain was being intruded on, but was too polite to tell Nick off. Cypress was glad that Nick had intervened. He was glad that there was a high probability that Nick’s self-appointed third-wheeling would make the night very unromantic and more of a bro-fest. Did that make Cypress a bad friend?
He made his way to the back porch and pulled out a cigarette. It was a bad habit but he smoked as a means for stress relief—something he’d never really dealt with as a teenager. It came in waves as a young adult. At least tonight he’d be less stressed about leaving Orion in the company of his shady, flaky, non-boyfriend.
He lit the tip and looked at the night sky, then took a drag.
That was the main reason that Cypress hadn’t up and left Sim State yet—Orion would be a mess without him.
My back up game files have been retrieved and are safe now, so I put this week's chapter up a day early to celebrate!
#31 3rd May 2017 at 5:40 AM
Great updates! I really liked the Illyana /Franz interaction. That's the fun part of an ensemble cast... sometimes it's easy to forget that certain characters haven't met before, and it's fun to see their stories intersect!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
#32 7th May 2017 at 6:46 AM Last edited by Charmful : 17th Feb 2019 at 9:40 PM.
Chapter 14: Forgotten Empire
Orion appreciated all types of music. Jazz was something he didn’t hear live often but still loved it when he did. The Jazz bar Nick had gotten them into without paying cover was a cozy dive in downtown Scandalica City; it was called The Smooth Mute.
Despite being in a place buzzing with music, with a guy he liked, and one of his good friends–Orion just wasn’t feeling it. Cain had ordered them some martinis and Nick was drinking beer. Maybe alcohol was the reason. Orion didn’t usually drink but took sips of his martini since Cain was kind enough to buy it for him.
Or, maybe the reason Orion wasn’t feeling the atmosphere was because Nick was seated in between him and Cain, and it was the first time in awhile that he and Cain were able to go out. Orion would have liked to sit next to Cain and he didn’t want to come off as pushy or ungrateful toward Nick by demanding they trade spots, so he kept quiet. Cain didn’t seem to care who sat by him; Nick didn’t seem to notice Orion and Cain were kind of together.
It shouldn’t have bothered Orion so much that Nick and Cain were getting along famously. It was good at least one of his friends was warming up to Cain. It wasn’t like Nick was into dudes either, but he did seem to be a natural flirt when he talked to people and his extroverted nature made people like him rather quickly. It had always been that way, ever since they were boys. Orion still wondered exactly why Nick had left the fraternity–it was an environment perfect for him.
Nick and Cain were currently discussing sports, something Orion didn’t have that much of an interest in so he focused his attention on the jazz players and took another sip of his drink. He only acted like he did because all his friends were into it.
“We should go to a game sometime. I have a connection at the student center that can get us discounted tickets,” Cain said.
“That’d be awesome. I used to play in high school but sort of lost the time to practice,” Nick smiled, “What about it Orion? You want to go to a soccer match with us sometime?”
Orion blinked a few times since he was finally being addressed, “Sure.
How was it that Orion had become the third wheel on his own date?
“That reminds me…” Cain swirled his drink around and eyed Orion. Orion felt a bit hopeful they’d finally talk about something else. “You have that third room upstairs you and Cypress use as storage–why don’t you clean that out and let Nick live with you?”
Orion wasn’t expecting such a question and Nick wasn’t either. Orion hadn’t even thought about offering Nick the room. Did that make him a bad friend?
“I didn’t know you had a third room! I thought that was a closet!” Nick laughed, becoming eager that there was a chance he wouldn’t be homeless for much longer.
“Um, no, not a closet…” Orion thought about it. Cain and Nick looked at him expectantly and he didn’t want either of them to think he was a jerk. He’d have to talk to Cypress but didn’t see the harm in having Nick live there, “I guess if you wanted to split the rent you could move in.”
Nick reached over and grabbed Orion into a grateful side-hug, “Bro, you and Cy are the best! Thank you!”
Nick’s pocket started buzzing suddenly and he dug his phone out to look at it.
The Caller ID indicated that his father was calling.
Great, he thought to himself sarcastically. Way to ruin the mood. His father calling was never a good thing–but knowing him, he wouldn’t stop until Nick answered. Nick took a swig of beer and excused himself from the table to go outside where it was quieter and he could take the call.
The night air was a moderate temperature, and the streets were relatively empty because it was a Monday evening. No one was even passing on the sidewalks. Good, the less there were to hear his Dad’s shouting, which was all their conversation inevitably spiraled into as of late.
Nick pressed the ‘accept’ icon and put the phone to his ear, “Hello?”
“Hello Nicholas,” his father’s voice was almost bordering on displeasure.
“Hey, Dad. What’s up?”
“Can you explain to me why one of my biggest donors just pulled out of my campaign?”
“Uh…” Nick stalled, not really knowing what the heck his dad was referring to or why he would think his son was involved, “Who would that be?”
“Pryce Cosgrove, the CEO and President of the Cosgrove Collective. He cited his reasons for dropping funding was that if ‘my son can’t take his greek society membership seriously, then how could I–as your father–take my position as mayor seriously.’ Why would he have such an impression?”
Here it was, the moment before the storm. Nick had to take a deep breath before responding, “I quit the fraternity.”
He expected a loud, angry, inquiry as to why but it was even worse. There was silence.
Nick scrambled to fill it, “Cosgrove’s son was drugging drinks at our parties. I made my objections clear but he’s the president–it wasn’t like he was going to stop so I had to leave. It’s okay, though, I’m not a hobo. I’m going to live with Orion and Cypress.”
“You’re ruining me, son,” his father said in an exasperated sigh, and it struck Nick harder than he’d have thought. Didn’t his dad even listen to what he was saying? Girls were being taken advantage of and Elm Calhoun could only be concerned for himself and his image.
“I can’t be a part of a school society that thinks something like that is acceptable.”
“It’s a part of being in that society. You just deal with it and move on,” his father snapped.
Nick was rendered speechless before a blast of anger shot up through his body and out of his mouth, “If that’s true, and you really believe it then you are the worst judge in the history of Kashmire and I hope you lose this election hard!”
With that sentiment aired, he ended the call. He couldn’t stand his father–the most conceited, arrogant, and inattentive man Nick had ever known. This was why he always referred to himself with his mother’s surname–the family name of his Grams and Gramps–a name that invoked the love they had given him throughout his life: Hart.
Calhoun was his legal last name, the name he was born with, the family he was born into but he refused to share the name of the man he reviled so much and it gave him the tiniest of petty pleasures that every time someone referred to him as Nick Hart it would drive his father mad.
Nick knew what he’d said to his father wouldn’t be without consequence and he shuddered to think what his dad would do if he happened to unseat the current Mayor. He wasn’t that worried, though. Orbinson was incumbent, and that whole family was a political dynasty in the region. He could only surmise that his father was running for the mayorship because he wanted more power and passing life-altering judgments on people wasn’t enough to satisfy him anymore.
Nick fiddled with his phone absently, wondering how his father was going to punish him for his insult. Nick was always the defiant Calhoun son–sneaking out, questioning orders, trying to plan a path in life that his father had a minimal hand in. Shane was clearly the favorite son, the academic with a bright future, and Kit was so innocent, he wouldn’t question anything their father did.
Nicked pocketed his phone, figuring he should get back to the guys before they started to wonder.
They spent another hour or two drinking and listening to jazz. Nick found Cain Nova wasn’t half as bad as Cypress seemed to think. He was funny and could keep up a good conversation though he and Nick seemed to try and out-brag each other many times. They ended up paying their tab and laughing their way out the door while quoting their favorite comedy movies.
As they were walking back to the bus stop, they passed a series of warehouses.
“What was this place?” Nick asked, gesturing toward a three-story brick warehouse that had seen better days.
“Oh, the old Armscor warehouses. It used to be a packing place twenty years ago or so that went out of business. The city should probably demolish the lot–it’s just more urban blight,” Orion answered and they stopped briefly to look at it from across the street. He forgot how he knew that fact. Maybe he read it in a history book?
Orion saw nothing special but Cain and Nick were seeing something different and instead of continuing toward the bus stop, they wandered into the lot.
“Hey, what are you guys doing?” Orion caught up with them as Cain bashed off an old, rusted lock attached to the chain on the doors leading into the front warehouse.
“Aren’t you curious?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, where’s your sense of adventure?” Cain teased. Orion looked through the dusty windows at the dilapidated interior. He shuddered. There were probably mice in there too.
“I promised Cypress I wouldn’t get his shirt dirty,” Orion shook his head and made an excuse not to enter.
“Well it’s your loss,” Cain dismissed the worry and pulled open the door which made a creaking noise loud enough to wake the dead.
“If you get it dirty just wash it, it's not like Cypress is gonna freak out if you get a bit of dust on it,” Nick suggested, “Come on and check the place out with us.” He too went through the double doors.
Wasn’t this breaking and entering? Trespassing? Orion stood beneath one of the only working lamp posts on the lot and felt a vast sense of loneliness with the darkness surrounding him.
He swallowed his apprehension and followed.
Cain and Orion had already made it to the second floor; It was dark and there were silhouetted mountains of old boxes. It was like the company had gone under and didn’t bother to clear anything out, just packed up and left it the way it was. It was kind of a sad notion—simply abandoning all the products. It wasn’t like they could hire anyone or pay to have it removed, so it all just sat there gathering rust and dust over the last three decades.
“I wonder if any of the lights work?” Nick wondered out loud and his voice echoed off the ceiling and through the expanse of the room.
Orion tried extra careful not to bump his shoulders or sides into any of the protruding clutter. He could barely see Cain climb another set of stairs onto the next level that overlooked the warehouse’s second floor.
“I think I found a switch!” Cain called down to them. Nick and Orion hurried up after him. They heard a metallic clink, then a groan and finally a dull buzz as several of the overhead lights flickered on and illuminated the warehouse.
“This place is awesome!” Nick exclaimed with the edge of excitement in his voice. It felt like he was a kid again and had the opportunity to explore a big, mysterious playground. What were in the boxes? What was in the other warehouses? The world was at his fingertips.
“Indeed,” Cain mused.
“Let’s get out of here,” Orion said and put his hand on Cain’s shoulder, “We shouldn’t be here.”
“Chill out,” Cain put his arm around Orion’s waist to give him ease, “No one cares enough about this place to complain about a few college students rummaging around in it.”
Orion relaxed just a little, perhaps now not so eager to move because of the placement of Cain’s hand.
“I’m going to check out the next warehouse,” Nick said and slid down the stair rail, which left a streak of dust on the backside of his workout pants. He patted himself down and ducked out a side door to the fire escape. Cain made a move to follow but Orion wrapped his arms around Cain’s shoulders and kept him from leaving.
“Can’t we just be alone for two seconds?” He pleaded in a quiet voice, the frustration obvious in his tone.
Cain stopped and considered the request, “What’s the matter? I’m just trying to get along with your friends. You always encourage that, and it’s not like Cypress makes it easy.”
“I know, I appreciate your…enthusiasm but I want to spend some time with you. I’ve missed you.”
Cain’s prominent brow softened and then he gave a wolfish grin, taking Orion’s hand without another word and led him to the supply lift. Orion was curious to where they were headed but didn’t question it. He trusted Cain.
The switch Cain had found earlier must have activated the power grid the warehouse was on because to Orion’s surprise and relief, the lift functioned and delivered them to the roof of the warehouse.
The of view of downtown was pretty stellar. Thankfully the rooftop was solid as they stepped out of the lift and onto it. Cain pulled Orion forward and held him in his arms, “I missed you too, star boy.”
The way Cain said ‘star-boy’ made Orion melt a little. When they had first met and Orion introduced himself, Cain took to calling him that on account of Orion sharing a name with the constellation.
“How’s that Tranquilicis treating you?”
“It’s amazing,” Orion felt himself smile. If it wasn’t for those pills who knows how many anxiety attacks he would have had? He could have been having one now with all that had happened this evening, but at least had the sense to take one before he left the house.
“That’s good to hear. I’m glad it’s working for you.”
“I was wondering,” Orion mumbled, “Can I get some more? I think I only have a few left.”
“Of course,” Cain reached up and skimmed his fingers tenderly along each side of Orion’s jaw–right where it met at the neck–and leaned forward. Orion let his eyes fall closed and parted his lips in anticipation but then… they heard the doors to lift squeal open.
They ripped away from each other and faced the doors to see Nick appear, “Here you guys are. I guess I accidentally left you behind. Sorry, my bad.”
Orion knew it was unkind and that he’d regret it if it actually happened, but he couldn’t help but to imagine himself bellowing with rage and throwing Nick off the roof in that instant. He’d be out a roommate but maybe he’d actually get to be alone with Cain for more than Five. Freaking. Minutes.
Cain had his arm behind his back and Orion stood stiffly with his arms crossed. This was the worst date he’d ever had.
“Did you want to see what was in the other warehouse?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, man, let’s check it out!” Cain nodded and moved forward while making a grab for Orion’s hand. Orion rejected it. It caused Cain to take pause and look at him in question.
“You guys go, I kind of want to sit alone for a moment.”
“Suit yourself,” Cain shrugged and followed Nick down the lift.
Orion sat down on the slanted tin roofing and sighed. He didn’t hate Nick but found it really damn annoying that Nick had ruined the moment with Cain he’d been waiting for all night. The worst part was Nick wasn’t even doing it on purpose!
Cain really seemed to like Nick and maybe that was a good thing about having Nick live at the house with them–Cain would come around more often if he had someone else to get along with. Cypress didn’t make much of an attempt and Orion didn’t know why. Cypress just seemed to isolate himself in his room when Cain visited, rather than be forced to converse.
Orion looked out across the warehouse rooftops to the city beyond and couldn’t help but to realize how peaceful it was up there. Despite the whole breaking in aspect, he knew Cypress would have loved the view too.
Though, despite the peacefulness, something seemed off about this place and Orion couldn't quite put his finger on what about it unnerved him.
Nick had climbed the third staircase in the back warehouse where it ended on another landing. He’d found old furniture–beaten, battered, and worn with age. There were dirty old desks and chairs, and even holes in the floors where the lumber had given out. This was much better than the clubhouse he’d always wanted as a boy. Cain was looking through an old filing cabinet that had a sharp, ear-piercing squeak when the drawers were opened.
Nick surveyed the contents of the new level and froze suddenly at what he saw. Was that…was that what he thought it was?
“Hey!” Nick called down to Mr. Eyebrows. Cain looked up to where he was. There weren’t as many working lights in the back warehouse so it was harder to see.
Nick gestured with his arm for Cain to come join him on the upper level. Cain climbed the stairs and stopped to catch his breath since he’d made it so quickly at Nick’s urging. Then he caught site of the same thing Nick was staring at.
“Holy shit,” Cain exhaled and moved closer, covering his mouth with disbelief.
Nick smirked and crossed his arms, thinking the same thing as Cain.
Before them stood a worn old counterfeiting machine. But it wasn’t just any counterfeiting machine–it was a genuine silver-age model that the old syndicates used before they were shut down. Armscor warehouses hadn’t been just a packing facility, but also the business front for an empire of crime.
Credit to @Zarathustra for making this awesome, inspiring warehouse lot!
#33 11th May 2017 at 3:51 AM
Oh man, that warehouse lot is AMAZING. You really did it justice with your intriguing story and fantastic picture-taking skills!
Oh, Nick. Nick, Nick, Nick. I kept going back and forth between "you tell 'em, kid!" and "dude, you have NO tact." I'm very interested to see where you go with him.
I feel so bad for Orion. He deserves better.
Oh, Nick. Nick, Nick, Nick. I kept going back and forth between "you tell 'em, kid!" and "dude, you have NO tact." I'm very interested to see where you go with him.
I feel so bad for Orion. He deserves better.
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
#34 14th May 2017 at 7:48 AM Last edited by Charmful : 24th Mar 2018 at 7:17 AM. Reason: fixing special characters
Chapter 15: Bridal Pains
The setting was rather decadent in the worst of ways. Frills, flowery perfume, and an exorbitant amount of white d cor. The only thing L'Amour Bridal Boutique had going for it was the classical music playing in the showroom.
Evelyn Jane was there at her elder sister s request. Speaking of Victoria, she was standing in front of a series of mirrors in a wedding gown while a tailor was fiddling with the petticoat.
"Can you take that bit up, Gene?" Victoria asked. She didn t look pleased. Evelyn Jane couldn t see why. The dress was absolutely beautiful and looked gorgeous on her.
"You don't want to disturb the material it too much, I can take it away but adding it back is tricky. I'd advise you not to Miss Orbinson," the tailor said from where he was crouched at her feet.
"Nice dress," Evelyn Jane commented as she approached.
Victoria s expression of displeasure lifted at once at hearing Evelyn Jane s voice. She turned and pulled her sister into a tight hug, "Evie! You made it!"
She then turned to the tailor and said, "Fine. I won't take any of it up."
The tailor looked relieved. He'd probably been dealing with Victoria's bouts of Bridezillah-ness all afternoon.
"What did you need exactly, my opinion your dress?" Evelyn Jane asked as she followed Victoria into the changing room. Victoria gestured to the laces at the back of her bridal gown and Evelyn Jane obliged by loosening them. Her sister then went on the other side of a dressing screen.
"No, you're picking out a bridesmaid dress today, dear sister."
When Evelyn Jane got a call from Victoria earlier that day to meet, she didn t expect this was what it was for considering there were probably more important things to lock down before the wedding like catering or the officiant. Well, to be fair Evelyn Jane didn't know if those hadn't been taken care of yet, she hadn't had a lot of time to discuss the wedding with her sister mostly because she found the subject tedious. Victoria knew Evelyn Jane would try to avoid it until the last minute, so never mentioned exactly what they were to meet about but may or may not have indicated that she needed Evelyn Jane's input on her wedding gown . Curse Victoria for knowing Evelyn Jane's habits too well!
Victoria had piled a few dresses on hangers for her sister to try on. All were pink as previously promised.
"Why do I have to choose? It's your wedding. Evelyn Jane bemoaned and looked at the choices with distaste. Victoria was done changing back to her casual clothing. She rolled her eyes with a playful air as she passed.
"Evie, I know you dislike the color but it's important to me that you pick something that you're most comfortable in," Victoria smiled and took a seat to wait.
Evelyn Jane pulled her striped shirt off and set it in the changing booth, exchanging it with a short peplum-style dress. It squeezed against her thighs but as she checked herself out in the mirror, she realized her legs looked awesome. The color was wrong on her though.
She stepped out and gestured toward herself for Victoria s appraisal, caught site of herself from the side and grimaced. While her legs looked great, her behind looked larger than usual.
"Oooh you look so good in that!"
Well then that s settled, Evelyn Jane said dryly and made to go back and get dressed.
"No! You have to try them all on. What if you look better in the next?"
Evelyn Jane rolled her eyes but acquiesced and tried the second dress on. It was long, invoked more of a formality than the first. She made a disapproving face at seeing her reflection. It might have been exquisitely flattering but it made her look like some sort of spring maiden, something she was definitely not.
"How is Sawyer?" Evelyn Jane inquired, making a quick appearance to show Victoria the second dress and intended to go right back in.
"He s fine," Victoria answered but stopped Evelyn Jane from returning and asked her to do a twirl.
When they were girls, they would spend their summer days inventing elaborate dance routines to show their father when he returned from work. Evelyn Jane had become very graceful through that practice. She executed a perfect twirl much to Victoria's amusement. The skirt of the dress flowed outward. Okay, she had to admit It was fun to wear but she doubted she d be able to twirl much at the wedding.
"Has he found a job yet?"
Victoria briefly scowled at Evelyn Jane for the doubtful tone. Sawyer was Victoria's husband-to-be. He was a nice guy but he was a dreamer wanted to travel the world and sweep Victoria off her feet. Their family had reservations at first at Victoria s pick in a partner.
He had a lot of good ideas for business start-ups through if he could just find an investor
It wasn't like he was soon to have a wealthy father-in-law who could provide a means to lift a fledgling business off the ground.
"He's going to be his own boss. He has a series of investment meetings this week. Tomorrow is the first one."
"Well good luck with that," Evelyn Jane said and returned to the changing booth to try on the last dress.
It made her look like their grandmother. Despite her protests, Victoria insisted on seeing how it looked and once Evelyn Jane stepped out from behind the dressing screen, Victoria was sent into pits of laughter.
"That's the one!"
"Vicky, NO," Evelyn Jane started to mildly panic, "Besides you said I could choose!"
It would be disastrous if she was seen wearing something so gaudy. There would be photographers and possible even journalists since it was an Orbinson wedding.
"I'm just teasing. Plumbobs, calm down, Victoria finished laughing, making a show of how funny it was by clutching her tummy. She often riled her little sister up as older sisters tended to do, ever since they were children.
Evelyn Jane gnashed her teeth together, she disliked being teased mostly because it caused her to lose composure. There was something she found shameful in being set up for a reaction and taking the bait. At least that was the impression her parents had always given her. There was a careful and delicate tightrope of personal versus public face the Orbsinons always maintained.
"Are you bringing anyone to the wedding? You know you can have a plus one," Victoria asked after finishing off her laughter. Evelyn Jane quickly disappeared behind the screen once more to change back into her regular clothes; she couldn t stand to be in that baby pink nightmare any longer than needed.
And regarding Victoria's comment, who could Evelyn Jane even bring? She couldn't think of anyone to suit a spot.
"I don't know," she finally admitted after pulling her shirt over her head.
"What about the Ambassador?"
Evelyn Jane didn t hide the derisive snort at the suggestion, as she pulled on her white skinny jeans and heels.
Like hell she was going to take someone her parents wanted to match her up with.
"I don't even know him. I'd rather just go alone."
"You don't mean that, Evie," Victoria said. It annoyed Evelyn Jane that Victoria thought she knew everything Evelyn Jane felt.
Evelyn Jane popped her head around the screen and frowned, "Yes. I. Do. Now drop it."
It wasn't like she had a secret stash of male escorts to pick from. She hadn't had time nor interest to cultivate any kind of relationships with men in college, not when Shaun Piper's shadow constantly lurked over her head.
She bitterly thought about how every other Sunday she was expected to meet him. To collaborate.
She wiped that melancholy thought from bleeding into a facial expression and returned to Victoria with the dresses draped over her arm.
"So...which dress do you want? I'll buy it for you," Victoria smiled, now concerned with the matter at hand and thankfully not on her sister s love life.
"If I must choose the first one is acceptable enough."
"Don't sound so excited. You could be having to wear the one in grandmother's style," Victoria was back to teasing but Evelyn Jane was prepared and didn t lash out with a reply. Victoria then took the dresses, placed the rejects on a rack and they walked to the front of the boutique to the check-out.
As promised, Victoria paid. Despite the dress not being something Evelyn Jane would ever buy herself, she was appreciative that Victoria was kind enough to realize that and purchase it for her. She really was a princess from a fairy tale, despite her elder sister tendencies to provoke Evelyn Jane at times. Evelyn Jane gave a genuine smile but before she could thank Victoria, her cell phone rang.
Evelyn Jane's smile vanished as she saw who it was that was calling. She should have just not answered--but that was risky. She told Victoria she would be a minute and went outside, leaving her sister to banter with the dress tailor.
"What do you want?" She asked as soon as she answered, "You aren't supposed to call me."
"Miss Evie, that is no tone to take with me. I was calling to inform you that I am moving our collaboration meeting to tonight."
"What? You can't do that!" She hissed.
"I can do what I damn well please. If you don't like it, take it up with the reporters who will be on your father's doorstep first thing in the morning. I hear your sister's wedding is coming up soon not to mention he's is running a re-election campaign. It would be a shame for everyone to discover our relationship so close to these events."
The way he referred to it as a 'relationship made her skin crawl.
"Wait!" Evelyn Jane's eyes went wide as she struggled to maintain composure and not resort to shouting expletives at the maestro in front of L'Amour Bridal Boutique. It had been a long time since he d openly threatened to leak their affair to the public, "Fine. What time would you like to meet?"
"The usual. nine o'clock this evening. Wear something fine."
She was about to ask him why but he had ended the call. She made a frustrated noise at the back of her throat.
"Hey Evie! Are you free tonight? Sawyer is flying to Quincy this evening to present to a prospective investor tomorrow and I thought we could get dinner and have a sleepover!" Victoria startled Evelyn Jane by coming up behind her and asking.
Evelyn Jane shook her head regretfully--because it really had been so long since she had gotten to spend quality time with her elder sister and it pained her to say "Sorry, but I have a previous engagement."
#35 14th May 2017 at 9:30 AM
Thanks: 580 in 2 Posts
Poor Evie, this goes way beyond the punishment she deserved... :/
#36 14th May 2017 at 10:00 AM
Poor Evie. I really hope she can get out of Shaun's claws soon and punish him for it.
#37 15th May 2017 at 11:42 PM
Evie! I was wondering when we'd see her again! Poor thing. Yeah, she kind of got herself in this mess, but she realized the error of her ways and has been trying so hard to make it right. I'm still holding out for her redemption! Great update!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
#38 21st May 2017 at 9:16 AM Last edited by Charmful : 27th Oct 2017 at 7:05 AM.
A Gray Day
Chapter 16: A Gray Day
It took all the self-constraint Alanna had to not tap her foot anxiously as she sat by herself on a bench at the Blackwheel Bus Station. She glanced across the street to see a city bus pull up at one of the stops. Was that the one he’d get off of?
She’d received a text from Franz earlier that afternoon. They’d text often to keep in touch but there seemed to be something insistent in the last:
Franzster: I need to tell you something. Meet me at BWB.
Because it was a text, she wasn’t able to read the tone that well. She didn’t know if it was something serious…well Franz was usually serious but the caliber of seriousness she couldn’t discern. He did, after all, sort of bail rather quickly the week before when he was helping her study for her midterm and never filled her in on the reason. He also left shortly after his confrontation with Reggie, which still shocked her when she replayed the scene in her head. She’d never seen Franz so…forceful before. He always seemed like the most patient, the most gentle, most thoughtful person to her and that’s why he was her best friend.
People piled off of the bus she was staring at but she failed to see the tall, muscular, blond-haired man in the crowd.
Her imagination went through a whole list of possibilities of what he had to tell her. Maybe he had finally forgiven Reggie for whatever had happened between them. Maybe he was serious about a new book? Or he’d invented a new flavor of crepe? He really liked making crepes. Her favorite so far was the ‘Nanner in a Haze’ which he had her try that consisted of hazelnut spread, bananas, and whipped cream. Her tummy gave a rumble, reminding her that she’d forgotten to eat lunch.
“Wrong bus,” she heard a deep voice from behind her. She gave a startled noise and spun around in her seat to see Franz leaning against the pillar that supported the shelter above the benches. His arms were crossed and he must have come straight from class since he still had his shoulder bag with him. He had a slight grin on too, probably amused he had given her a scare. He’d always been good at unintentionally sneaking up on people.
He must have gotten off one of the buses in the Blackwheel station loop in the opposite direction.
“Hey,” Alanna greeted, putting on her warmest smile. She hated that she hadn’t had as much time this semester to spend with him. Franz never admitted he got lonely but she could tell he needed a social boost.
“Thanks for meeting me,” he nodded, his grin fading into the usual indifference. Alanna had noticed more and more over the past few years that Franz’s indifference was a façade. He felt as much as anyone else but had excellent control and conscientiousness of his expressions—the outside world was rarely invited to know what his real feelings were.
“No problem. Class let out early… though…” She bit her lip and gave an apologetic smile, “Can we go get a bite to eat? I accidentally skipped lunch again.”
He nodded, “The Delicatessen?”
“You read my mind!” She laughed and led them across the road to board the bus she had been watching before. It was picking up a new set of passengers to take down to the King’s Station district.
“Looks like it’s going to rain,” she noted before boarding the bus, referring to the clouds that had rolled over the city and were turning dark.
“It’s been gray all day,” she heard Franz agree from in front of her as he climbed the few steps and sat in one of the empty front seats. She sat next to him, still wondering what he needed to talk to her about. Instead of bringing it up, he was looking out the window at the darkening sky, and the tiniest of worry was creasing his face in the reflection. That’s when she knew that whatever he needed to talk to her about wasn’t going to be a good thing, so she sat quietly and tried to enjoy this peaceful moment with him before the figurative and literal storm happened.
Alanna’s tummy was starting to full on growl as they walked into the Scandalica Delicatessen. It was a local eatery that had good sandwiches and burgers. Franz had been quiet the whole ride there, which was usual for him but the vibe around him was very unusual.
She maneuvered herself in front of him to halt his advance to pick a table, “Franz, what’s wrong?”
He looked mildly surprised at her for her insistent tone. Alanna wasn’t one to press matters and allowed Franz time to think before speaking as he usually did.
He shifted his weight and the strap of his shoulder bag, then quietly asked, “What do you know about VBTs?”
Alanna took s step backward and sat upon one of the chairs at the food counter. She held her hand up to her face, trying to hide her sudden look of devastation. Franz quickly stepped forward, realizing what she was thinking and made to correct it.
“It’s not me, it’s my Mom.”
That was a relief! For a moment there she thought Franz had…but no, it still was awful that his mother…she had always been so inviting toward Alanna.
Alanna glanced up at him and saw that he was just as devastated. She didn’t know if it was so much that he couldn’t hide it anymore or if he was allowing her to see just how much it affected him. Either way, she reached out and gave his hand a squeeze, “I’m so sorry Franz.”
“Is there hope?”
She inhaled, not wanting to get his hopes up but at the same time she needed to give him something to smile about—a VBT was survivable if detected early and treated, and it also depended on where it was located.
“How about we get a table and order something and then we can talk more about it?” she suggested. Or rather, deflected.
They sat down and declined a menu since they’d both been there many times and knew what they wanted. Alanna ordered a hamburger and Franz went with something lighter since he had eaten lunch already.
“The other thing I was going to tell you,” Franz said but his tone made it seem like he still rather not tell her, “Is that since treatment is expensive, Mom is planning on selling the bakery.”
It broke Alanna’s heart that this was happening to him. There had to be something she could do to help.
“Has she signed anything yet?”
Franz shrugged, indicating he didn’t know.
“Well, what if we could raise money for your mother’s treatment instead?”
“That’s going to be a lot to raise, and I have thought about it. I just don’t know where to start.”
“We could always have a bake sale!” She suggested jubilantly.
He stared at her, as though he hadn’t considered that idea before.
“I could sell scones for 10 simoleons a pop I guess….and I’d have to make and sell…” He mused and calculated, “eight-hundred of them before it would cover the cost of treatment.”
At first, his tone was flat and serious but then she realized he was being sarcastic.
“Plumbobs, I didn’t realize treatments was so expensive,” Alanna gasped and then frowned, “Kashmire’s health insurance system is ridiculous. I’d wish we’d have one more like the Takemizu region where it’s covered by the government.”
“If Calhoun wins the election, maybe that’ll happen in time, but it’s not enough for the time being. We’re going to have to pay the difference out-of-pocket.”
“Eight thousand Simoleons…” Alanna shook her head at the ridiculously high number. They were going to have to have quite a lot of bake sales.
“So when do you want to have the bake sale? When can we bake?”
“That’s happening?” He arched an eyebrow.
“It’s better than doing nothing,” she raised her brows insistently in reply.
He thought about her answer and then slowly nodded, “Okay I have some time available to bake tomorrow morning after class. Will that work?”
She began to nod but then stopped herself, “Oh darn it, no. I almost forgot Thursday is out. I promised Reggie a cup of coffee before his class.”
Franz immediately narrowed his eyes and his lips pressed together tightly.
Their food arrived then and Alanna quickly started to consume her hamburger, to avoid having to explain herself further and also because she was famished.
She didn’t understand why Franz disliked Reggie so much. They had been friends once. What had changed?
She set her burger down to take a breath after nearly inhaling half of it. She looked at Franz’s salad, thinking of what she could say to change the subject back to what really mattered. Then a thought struck her. Was Franz jealous of Reggie spending time with her? He’d always made it crystal clear that he didn’t have any feelings more than friendship toward her, but why did he seem so…protective when it concerned her and Reggie?
“How about we have it on Saturday? It’s fall break–we could set up a bake sale outside of the coffee shop. I can talk to the owner about it.”
Franz considered her suggestion then gave a slow nod before eating more of his salad. All that was left was to figure out when they could bake and what they would make.
She smiled, at least now they had a start of a plan and could do something to help his mother and the bakery. They finished eating without much more chatting. She knew Franz was comfortable with silence, and she understood it but it still felt odd between them. He’d still made no spoken opinion on the fact she was going to hang out with Reggie again, but despite his silence, and despite his utter mask of indifference she knew he still disapproved.
As they exited the Delicatessen, raindrops began to fall onto their heads. Alanna held out her hands and looked skyward, “It decided to rain after all.”
She looked over her shoulder to see that Franz was also staring up at the sky and his messy blonde hair was starting to stick to his brows. He looked lost in thought. She took off her backpack and found an expandable umbrella she always kept in there in case of times like these.
“Here, you hold it since you’re taller,” she nudged him with it. He took it and opened it above their heads. Suddenly the raindrops were making pelting noises on the plastic canvas.
“Don’t you need to go back to the station?” He asked. He supposed she had to get back to studying.
She bit her lip feeling a bit ashamed and shook her head, “I’m sorry I haven’t had as much time to spend with you as I used to.”
“You’re busy. I understand,” he replied and moved forward and she had to as well to stay under the umbrella.
“I don’t have to study tonight, though. I can do it tomorrow,” she said with a smile, “So we can hang out—maybe plan what to bake and—”
“I can’t,” he cut her off sharply.
She gave him a surprised stare, waiting for an explanation.
“I have to close the bakery since Mom is feeling…you know, sick.”
“Oh. Okay,” she looked away, hiding her disappointment, “Yeah, of course, you have to help her.”
He suddenly took her wrist and placed the handle of the umbrella into her hand while ducking out into the rain, paying no mind to how wet he was going to get, “I have to head back.”
“It was good to see you,” he said and turned around, walking in the opposite direction with his hands in his pockets—toward the nearest bus stop, “I’ll call you later and let you know what my schedule looks like so we can bake.”
Alanna stood in the middle of the sidewalk while puddles formed around her feet, watching as his figure—a slumped set of shoulders—became smaller and smaller before he turned down the street and disappeared. She was sure he wasn’t giving her the brush-off, but she couldn’t help but to feel like she had failed some sort of test. She realized then, she never really answered his question.
Was there any hope for his mother? Franz never seemed to have hope so this whole situation was probably hitting him hard. Alanna couldn’t be sure if there was hope but had to have some, for his sake.
I am out of town next weekend so there may not be an on-time update Sunday. I plan on posting Monday
#39 28th May 2017 at 6:17 PM Last edited by Charmful : 3rd Jun 2017 at 5:14 AM.
Return to the Maestro
Chapter 17: Return to the Maestro
Evelyn Jane pushed the buzzer just outside of the penthouse entrance.
“Who calls?” The voice of the Maestro crackled through a moment later.
“You know damn well who it is,” she nearly snapped as she slammed down the talk button in reply. Who else would be visiting this late? Certainly not his wife, who she determined to be away and the reason for him to advance their weekly tryst from its usual time.
She heard him chuckle with a cavalier air and then cut the connection to the speaker.
She leaned up against the door frame as the it opened, with a glower pasted on her face to convey that it was a great inconvenience to be meeting him anytime outside their agreed upon schedule. Shaun Piper looked her up and down appreciatively as he crossed his arms and leaned against the side of the refrigerator.
“Fine enough for you?” She gestured to herself.
“My, my miss Evie you really do know how to dress to impress,” he grinned.
She was wearing a dress made of slinky material, it was elegant and she’d bought it to wear at her father’s most recent publicity event. She thought red was her best color, much more intimidating and alluring than pink. She only rolled her eyes at his compliment. Shaun wasn’t nearly half as charming as he thought he was. He took her arm, pulled her close and gave her a kiss on the cheek in greeting to which she made a disgusted face at behind his back. It had become a sort of game with him–trying to be as unpleasant as possible without making him resort to threatening to expose their affair to all of Kashmire.
“Why did you have me dress up anyway? It’s not like I keep my clothes on for very long at these meetings of ours…” She mumbled darkly.
Shaun went to the wine rack and pulled out a bottle, setting out two glasses to pour it into.
“Because, my dear, it’s time that we celebrated,” he answered, choosing to ignore her tone. She crossed her arms and her frown only deepened. He handed her a glass of red wine and clinked his against it, “To my new violin concerto.”
She took a seat on the sofa and took a drink. At least he offered her a way to make their collaborations more bearable. They had been collaborating for the past couple of years on his new violin concerto. Evelyn Jane was a talented player, and gave very helpful feedback on how it was played and how it sounded. She even suggested ways he could make it better, a crescendo here, a diminuendo there… it wouldn’t be nearly as good without her input and he knew it.
“You mean it’s done?” She asked, slightly surprised if that were the case. In her opinion, the piece hadn’t been completely refined. The sound was too convoluted near the start of it. Violin music shouldn’t start too complex, in her opinion, it had to begin simple and seduce the listener into staying to hear the remainder of it.
“Come see for yourself,” Shaun gestured above them and she followed him upstairs into the music study, a red-walled room that contained his precious violins and where her playing form had been put through every appraisal and critique to the point she didn’t feel anything but disdain when she picked up the instrument.
There was a spread of sheet music on his desk and she shifted through it, seeing if she could spot any changes from the last time. Between hasty, handwritten bowings and scratched symbols for where the solo repeated she did notice some differences.
She slowly consumed more wine and studied the music notes and smirked, he did take her advice after all and simplified the beginning. She’d committed most of the concerto to memory already because he had her play it for him for so many months on end. Shaun was a bit of a perfectionist, and she could once relate to that trait but ever since he turned the tables on her, flipping the balance of power—she just didn’t care for music anymore. She turned to face him and leaned against the desk, “Decent.”
As she suspected, he looked a bit annoyed, “Is that all you have to say? It’s the finest thing I have ever written.”
Evelyn Jane shrugged, secretly relishing in his annoyance, “If it’s so fine why haven’t you debuted it yet?”
“Impatient as always. I need you to play it again in it’s final form before I deem it ready for debut,” he nodded toward his violin, the common one, which was nice but not worth a fortune.
She’d better get to it then. He took a seat and continued to drink wine.
She set down her glass, looked at the notes to the intro again and then picked up his violin and began to play.
She only got five notes in before he stopped her, “The fifth note starts with an up bow. Start again.”
Evelyn Jane inwardly grumbled, straightened her posture to appear unflustered and began once more.
“More vibrato,” Shaun cut her off after a moment, “Start again.” She glared at him and started over once more but made sure to rock her wrist back and forth as vigorously as possible to get the vibrato he demanded.
He did it a few more times—snapped harshly at her to use better fingering or play with more fortissimo and she allowed him without saying a word but wanted nothing more to smash his violin to the floor and leave. She may have not cared about music anymore but she still very much cared about her family’s reputation. Her noncompliance could potentially, ultimately lead to a public scandal. It had been ingrained into her from a young age that perception was everything to her family and ruining it would also ruin her.
“Start again,” Shaun repeated.
“What was wrong that time?” Evelyn Jane snapped, finally the frustration at starting over multiple times had bled into her voice.
“Nothing, but I want to hear the intro again. Don’t you think it’s nice and uncomplicated?”
If she cared about it, she would agree; the music was actually quite beautiful-sounding.
“It’s perfectly adequate,” she replied.
He frowned at her from his seat. He was foolish if he thought he was going to get anything more complimentary from her.
She began the intro again, playing everything to his specifications that he had so far interrupted her about. Then finally she was able to play the rest of the solo. She hadn’t seen many changes in his sheet music for the remainder of the piece.
Evelyn Jane closed her eyes and focused on the notes she had memorized. Anyone would mistake that for an expression of passion but in reality, she didn’t want to see his face anymore. She had always been of the opinion that regrets were a waste of time because one could never change the past, however she deeply and truly regretted ever thinking that trying seduce the maestro would give her an edge in the Battle of the Bands.
Her fingers flew down the bridge of the violin in the allegro, followed by a series of staccato notes.
Shaun had once told her she could be ‘of use’ to him. She’d thought that always meant he could use his power to force her to stay in an affair but as she played more and collaborated with him, she realized that he was trying to mold her into his protégé. Her talent for playing the violin was her true use to him.
Her eyes snapped open and she stopped playing unceremoniously.
“Who exactly will be debuting this piece?”
Shaun seemed struck with surprise for a moment and then grinned, “You of course. Why do you think I had you play it so extensively?”
“To stroke your ego,” Evelyn Jane replied and put the violin under her chin once more. She began to play again but improvised a bit which caused Shaun to fall back into his own glare. Evelyn Jane smiled for the first time that night, just imagining, “Isn’t it a bit risky entrusting your precious concerto to someone who wishes for nothing but your absolute ruin?”
Shaun gave her a hard look that shut down her wishful fantasy, “No, because you won’t do anything of the sort.”
Evelyn Jane’s smile faded and she put the violin back on the stand and turned away from him. If she did ruin the world debut of his new music, he would make her pay dearly. They both knew it. She suddenly felt him against her back, his breath close–on the shell of her ear and his hand gripping her upper arm rather forcefully.
“Don’t hate me, Evie. I’m turning you into a world class violinist. You will be the only one to know how to play my concerto, and you will play it correctly." She didn’t say anything. He grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him, "You will, won’t you?”
She nodded numbly, struck with fear by the menacing look in his eyes. He gave her a quick kiss and released his hold on her chin and she turned away from him in disgust but her skin crawled as his fingers laced through a loose piece of her hair with the affectation of tenderness.
“If you play it perfectly, my dear miss Evie, which I know you can, I will give you what you’ve been after all these years.”
For a moment her hopes raised so high that she might have floated off the ground. Would he halt all his threats to expose their affair and let her leave in peace?
“I’ll let you have your hand at the Simvarious I violin.”
Her hope deflated like a popped balloon, feeling like a fool to have had any at all. While the prestigious Simvarious I violin in his collection was a legendary instrument, not even the promised spectacular sound it would produce was enough to satisfy her. Freedom was the only prize worth having now.
#40 30th May 2017 at 9:13 PM
I'll be honest, I haven't actually read this story (I am book marking it for later ), I'm just in awe of these pics, they're on point! How do you get the sims in focus in them pics?
#41 30th May 2017 at 9:28 PM
Hey, thanks! For the in-focus/out-of-focus look I edit each pic with a blur tool to emphasize what I want to be in focus. So I blur the backgrounds to get a sense of background/foreground atmosphere. The quickest way is through web pic editor called befunky
#42 1st Jun 2017 at 5:06 AM
Wow, that chapter was intense! I love the evil look on Evie's in that picture where she's playing the violin. You are such a master of catching expression!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
#43 4th Jun 2017 at 6:16 AM
Pining for Acceptance
Chapter 18: Pining for Acceptance
“What’s up Alanna?”
“Good to see ya, Alanna.”
Reggie was trying to figure out how to greet Alanna when he next saw her in a way that didn’t seem unnatural or awkward.
“Lookin’ Good, Alanna!” he tried to come off as attentive and complimentary but when he pointed his fingers and smiled at his reflection in the mirror, it looked ridiculous. Fortunately, he didn’t suffer the full vision of ridiculousness since had yet to put on his glasses so it was a slightly blurry, ridiculous reflection.
He sighed in frustration and pawed at his hair which he had yet to style with some hair gel; it was still messy and limp from sleeping on it all night.
His bird squawked at him.
“Don’t judge me!” Reggie turned and pointed at Kissinger. The bird cocked its head and Reggie realized that he’d forgotten to give Kissinger breakfast; the bird was asking for food and not making fun of the fact Reggie was woefully inadequate at impressing women. He approached Kissinger’s bird cage and pulled out the box of bird seed, carefully pouring it into the feeder so not to spill it all over the floor of his apartment.
It was unfortunate that the only time Alanna had free that week was right before his Theory of Patriotism class at nine o’ clock a.m.
However, it was perfect timing to get a cappuccino because Reggie couldn’t seem to get through the day without out at least two cups of caffeine, but he wished it wasn’t so early and that they could have more time together. He figured he should start getting dressed and look presentable.
Through before doing that, he Instead plopped down in front of his computer and checked his messages. He could dick around for hours on the computer—reading tech blogs, writing code, following an endless suggestion trail of funny videos, or playing rush hour—but his excitement to meet up with Alanna would be enough to drag him away so he wasn’t worried about losing track of time.
He had an email from Professor Carr reminding him that the robotics program was still meeting up on Saturday despite it being fall break, though it was optional. Sure, Reggie had nothing better to do on Fall break—might as well brush up on his coding and see what the other members were working on.
He also had a ping from his friendly rush hour nemesis; they must have messaged him after he went to bed the night before. They had played a few rounds against each other which he had won.
Violet_Fire: Too busy to play this weekend, but will kick your behiney the next time I am online
Violet_Fire had actually won the rush hour tournament match up with him the week before much to Reggie’s disappointment but he felt some sort of vindication at winning the most recent one-on-one races.
He didn’t know much about the user named Violet_Fire. They didn’t really chat about personal things, just seemed to trash talk each other about who was the better player. He’d seen them in the game match-ups for at least the last year and a half and they both had sort of been going back and forth in the regional rankings; evenly matched. He thought it was amusing that they ended most of their chat lines with winky faces.
Kissinger squawked at him again and he bolted up, remembering he still had yet to get dressed, gel his hair, and gather his class materials before he could leave and meet Alanna for coffee.
Reggie tapped his foot anxiously, and impatiently as he stood in line for coffee. It was five minutes later than when Alanna told him she’d meet him. He had waited outside for a minute or two but it was a bit chilly that early in the morning, plus he needed that espresso to wake him up. So he stood in line, hoping he could flag Alanna over when she showed up. It seemed every time the doors to the coffee shop opened, he would whip around with a smile only to have it wipe away because the incoming patron was not her.
Finally, finally, he spotted her enter the building. Her hair was pulled up messily, like she didn’t have time to brush it and part of it was already falling out. Despite her disheveled look, she still was stunning as ever. She spotted him and her warm smile was enough to forget about the morning chill, and forgive her for her tardiness.
“Sorry! Sorry for being late and sorry it took so long to get a clear schedule, I do a lot of studying that takes up most of my time,” Alanna explained and joined Reggie in line for coffee. She gave a enormous yawn. “I accidentally overslept because I went too late studying last night.”
There had to be something admirable in a person who had that much patience and concentration for hours of nothing but studying.
“What’s your major?” Reggie asked. He knew what it was, he had looked at her SSU student profile online but wanted to see if asking her would lead to more natural conversation.
“Biology,” she replied, “And yours?”
She gave a small nod as if that wasn’t surprising. It really wasn’t considering the legacy of politicians in his family. It was never outright spoken but there was this sort of assumption Reggie would follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps to become mayor one day. He didn’t have a problem with that expectation but at the same time wanted to make his own mark on the legacy if he were to go through with it.
“So, will you study, even over the break?” He asked and started to feel more at ease talking to her, falling bit by bit into that comfort zone he’d had with her when she had been his chemistry partner in high school.
“Not the entire time. I’m busy helping with a bake sale on Saturday.”
Reggie stepped up and ordered his usual cappuccino. Alanna reminded him she was paying since she had offered to buy in the first place. He offered one word of protest before giving in and letting her buy their caffeine.
They took a seat at one of the counters. Reggie sipped on his cappuccino and felt instantly better. A shot of caffeine did wonders. Alanna sat next to him with her coffee in a to-go container. He was curious to know more about her bake sale; it could be another opportunity to see her.
“So where is the bake sale? Maybe I will drop by and get something. Do you bake?”
“A little,” she shrugged one shoulder, suddenly with a troubled expression that didn’t escape his notice. “It’s outside the Isla Del Kashmire Mocha Chip Coffee Shop…”
“What’s wrong?” he asked with concern, interrupting her to know why she looked so troubled.
“Franz is going to be there,” she finally mumbled, and Reggie felt himself frown, “I just don’t want to see you guys get into a fight again.”
Reggie let out a sardonic laugh and set down his cup, “Franz is the fighter, he’s always been that way.”
“He has not!” Alanna protested.
“Oh yeah?” Reggie raised his brows doubtfully, “So he didn’t march into Mocha Chip last weekend and threaten me with no provocation?”
Alanna bit her lip and looked down at her coffee. She couldn’t argue with that point.
“He’s not your boyfriend, is he?” Reggie asked. He didn’t think they were together, imaging Franz trying to be romantic was just amusing and unlikely, but considering how threatening Franz had been toward him—he could have been mistaken.
“No!” she looked shocked that he would even ask such a question, “We’re just friends.”
“Listen, I was his friend long before you and the guy is dangerous. Do you ever wonder why he gives off a such a loner vibe? He can’t keep friends and ends up driving them away. He put a kid into a concussion when he was in the third grade, and he even punched me in the nose once back in high school when he got angry. Violence is the language he speaks and always will.”
“I don’t believe that,” Alanna said, finally staring hard at Reggie. He wasn’t going to change her mind today, but given time he could make her see that Franz wasn’t worth the trouble. He knew, he’d once been friends with Franz too.
“You can’t adopt a tiger and expect it to act like a kitten, Alanna. You’ll see his true nature of these days and it’s not going to be a pleasant sight,” Reggie stated and picked his cup back up to finish off the remaining espresso.
True nature. To Alanna, the person Reggie was describing sounded like a complete stranger. Franz was so good at maintaining a stoic demeanor, but considering recent events, Alanna didn’t know how long it would last. She hoped the bake sale would have a large turn out and they could get at least enough money to start on the cost of his mother’s treatments. Her worry reached her face again.
“I’m just really worried about him, his mother…she’s sick. They’re probably going to lose the bakery in order to keep up the cost of treatments,” she said. She hadn’t actually drank her coffee yet and seemed rather melancholy. “That’s why we are doing a bake sale—to raise money.”
Reggie didn’t really care about Franz or his problems. He wanted to hang out with Alanna and start over, not be burdened by this boorish conversation about another guy he disliked. He didn’t want to seem insensitive so forced himself to look at least, mildly sympathetic, “That’s a shame.”
Her melancholy didn’t seem to lessen as she stared at her drink container, seeming preoccupied with thoughts about Franz.
Reggie prickled with jealousy but had to remind himself that he had a lot more going for him, and it wasn’t like Alanna had a thing for Franz anyway, as she just admitted. Reggie needed to get back on Alanna’s good side.
“Hey, how about I drop by Saturday and buy a whole bag of baked goods, that way it will help out.”
To his relief she smiled gratefully, “It really would, thank you!” Then, to his surprise and delight she threw her arms around him and gave him a quick squeeze of appreciation.
She picked up her coffee, seeming to have a renewed interest in it and finally took a drink.
They sat and chatted about more subjects besides school—hobbies and entertainment—general, easy-going topics that weren’t so controversial. As they walked out, an idea struck Reggie on how he could entice her to meet up again.
“What are you doing Saturday evening?”
“I’ll be busy studying, why?”
“Well if you can afford to put it off for an evening, you should come with me to the robotics group and check out what we’re working on. I remember you were big into the science club in high school, didn’t you win like the regional science fair with that weather contraption?”
She nodded with a sudden excitement, “Yeah, but I didn’t know you were into robotics too! My brother works in the industry and he’s actually developed some new A.I. functions. Is that what you do?” She pulled out her phone and flipped through it and then looked to him with a smile, "I can rearrange my schedule. I’d love to see what you are working on!“
"Well I work on the internal coding, the computer parts of them—it’s sort of a hobby I got into,” Reggie explained, losing a bit of confidence. A.I. was some advanced tech Reggie wasn’t even close to touching, she probably wouldn’t be impressed with anything he was coding at the moment compared to what Antoine Thackery had done. But now that she was interested in going, he couldn’t revoke his invitation.
He told her the location and time to meet Saturday to look over the robotics projects. Professor Carr surely wouldn’t mind with it being Fall break and a lot of the program members would probably be out of town anyway.
The sun was shining and producing more warmth than before, Reggie could tell he’d probably strip off his sweater and just wear his collared shirt underneath by the time class let out. He bid farewell to Alanna and was grateful he got to spend some time with her, and was eager to spend more time with her either by seeing her at the bake sale or during robotics.
He watched her walk away in the opposite direction and he slumped against the side of the coffee shop. He was as in danger as he ever was of falling for Alanna again. He thought maybe he could keep it cool and not come off as totally infatuated with her but felt like he was making heart eyes the entire morning and if she had noticed, maybe she was too polite to call him out on it.
His sister had often told him that regrets were a waste of time because one could never change the past, however he deeply and truly regretted ever trusting her word that Alanna had purposely led him on just to make him and Franz hate each other at the Battle of the Bands.
Alanna was wonderful. Evelyn Jane was a snake, and he should have realized sooner.
He got a sudden pain in his wrist again, probably from playing rush hour and his abundant computer usage. He pressed his thumb against it to ease it, and as he did he heard something that made him take pause.
“There’s an opening in the Hoh Fruhm House,” a student said to his friend as they walked past Reggie and toward the entrance of the coffee shop. Reggie turned his head around the corner to hear more, his attention suddenly caught.
“Yeah one of the upperclassmen just…like..totally bailed on the Greek society.”
“Man, that’s crazy!”
“Tell me about it. Now we have to fill a spot…” the first guy said as they entered and the door shut behind them.
Reggie had been trying to get into Hoh Fruhm since he entered college. He had always been moved down the waiting list, and he never knew why. He had the family name, the legacy, the money but yet the powers that be just didn't seem to want to accept him.
Maybe this was his chance to finally get in, and he’d just have to find out more about the situation because it was virtually unheard of, a person willingly abandoning a greek society membership. It was odd.
Reggie looked at the time and cursed because he had to rush in order to get to class on time. He walked hastily down the sidewalk toward the building his class was in. To rub salt in the metaphorical wound, he was forced to pass the Greek row—a street of houses reserved for those accepted into the society. Hoh Fruhm stood the largest and most modern-looking of the bunch.
He tucked his hands in his pockets and glanced at the house with a hint of longing. He wanted to be a member of Hoh Fruhm nearly as badly as he wanted Alanna Thackery to be his girlfriend—but for the time being, both desires were just out of reach.
#44 11th Jun 2017 at 6:26 AM
Chapter 19: Radio Edit
Cypress Leaned back into his chair and grinned. He had created the perfect playlist. A good mix of local artists and indie bands that all sounded superb and when ordered together would be a listening experience to take note of. He’d basically vetted every song before determining to add it to the playlist. His shift at the SSU radio station was already underway and the third song in the queue was playing—one with an excellent balance of guitar-to-drum ratio and growing in popularity among the listeners.
Finding songs, and researching music was much more appealing than actual coursework. He’d probably spent more time in the last two days finding and ordering songs for his radio gig than actual studying. He was lucky the station director let him pick his own music to play.
It seemed he had his whole life to prepare for this. He and Orion had always spent hours combing through the Orion’s father’s old record collection they had found in the attic when they were kids. They played each one, carefully listening to the music and discussing it afterward over the years. His brain must have cataloged over 200 albums and all their songs by now.
He wasn’t the type of radio DJ to do a lot of talking. It annoyed him when radio stations played too many ads or had inane talking heads fill up the air space. The reason he listened to the radio was for the music and so tried to limit the amount of time his voice was on the air. However, sometimes the lack of speaking caused issue too. If he let a series of songs play without announcing to the listeners what they were, he’d end up getting a few calls to the station of people asking what had just played. He was also required to remind listeners which radio station they were listening to at least once per hour.
The song was ending, so he rolled his chair over to the soundboard to fade the music out, turned on the microphone and said, “That was The Perishers singing ‘Sway’ here on KRLM, 86.5 the Llama—Kashmire’s source for college and alternative rock. Next up is Abra Moore with 'Big Sky.'”
Cypress raised the volume of the music system and turned off his microphone.
He heard a knock on the door to the studio and gave a slight jump. His shift was in the evening, so no others were usually in the building at that time except for the barista on the first floor that worked the building’s small coffee stop. During the day the director was usually in the office across the hall, and mass communications lectures were held on the first floor.
Cypress, pulled his headphones off and leaned back in his chair, “Come in.”
To his slight surprise, Orion was the one who appeared from behind the door. He had thought Orion was hanging out with Cain again, but obviously, he wasn’t by his sudden appearance.
“Hey, do you take requests?” Orion asked with a smile and shouldered open the door.
“Well yeah, but I put together a really good playlist...so there's probably not much for you to request tonight,” Cypress grinned and motioned Orion into the studio. It wasn’t like the director was there to complain about non-station employees hanging around. Orion had dropped by a few times before as well, so it wasn’t an unusual occurrence.
“Oh yeah? Let’s see it,” Orion said and leaned over the computer to see what was in the queue. Cypress caught a strong whiff of sandalwood cologne that Orion had must have doused himself with in anticipation of seeing Cain again. Orion scanned the list of songs set to play over the next two hours and then focused back to Cypress sounding impressed, “You really did cover everything.”
Orion usually listened to Cypress’s radio shows and offered song suggestions after each. It looked like there were none this time around, so Cypress had taken every suggestion to heart and implemented them. Cypress nodded and took a moment to stand as he’d been sitting for awhile.
“What are you doing here, man? I thought you were hanging with Cain tonight?”
Orion leaned against the door and crossed his arms, “He had other things he needed to take care of.”
Cypress knew Orion was vastly disappointed, evident by his fading grin. Cain Nova was the flakiest dude in the world. He folded his arms and felt a prick of anger on Orion's behalf.
“I probably shouldn’t have told you that,” Orion mumbled.
“Why?” Cypress knotted his brows.
“I know you don’t like him."
“Can’t you see why?” Cypress couldn’t help but to raise his voice, “He has no respect or consideration for your time or feelings, he’s horrible at communicating, and because of that, your anxiety goes into overdrive. You seem miserable even when he finally does show up after leaving with no explanation for weeks.”
Orion looked at the ground, “You usually don’t like talking about him, so I never get to tell you about the good things he does.”
Cypress bit his tongue and looked at the ceiling. He was supremely frustrated. He doubted there were many good things about Cain Nova from his experiences around the guy.
“Whatever, man. It’s your life. I’m not going to tell you who you should and shouldn’t be with but I think Cain is a raging jackass and that you could do a lot better.”
Abra Moore’s song was about to end, but the system would auto-play the next song.
Orion looked struck though didn’t say anything more on the subject. Cypress just couldn’t understand how Orion felt about Cain—Cypress had never been attracted to anyone before in such a way. Now that Cypress had come out and admitted his dislike, Orion didn’t know how to reconcile that his best friend and romantic interest were never going to get along and if he hadn’t taken a Tranquilicis that day, he knew he would have felt overly anxious about that fact.
He glanced over to the small recording studio on the other side of the glass windows and saw a guitar.
“Do you...do you mind if I play you a song I’ve been writing?”
“Not at all,” Cypress was thankful they had changed the direction of the conversation, “Just go out into the hall and the door to the recording studio should be unlocked.”
Orion’s grin returned and he left the room to do so.
Cypress had to turn on the connecting microphone so he could hear what Orion would sing, but made sure that the playlist still was what was currently airing.
Orion adjusted the microphone, then picked up the studio guitar and took a seat on the tall chair and then strummed the strings. He adjusted the knobs to tune at least two.
“Can you hear me?” He asked, and his voice was clear through to the tech studio where Cypress sat. Cypress was looking on the controls of where to find the button that allowed him to speak through into the music studio--it was used for live on air performances from local bands to visiting musicians but Cypress never had much use for it considering his late shift. He did see a recording button though.
So instead of talking, Cypress nodded, giving Orion a thumbs up that he could see through the window.
Orion began to play. Cypress quickly pushed the record button before Orion got too far into it. Orion knew how to handle just about every instrument he came across—his family boasted a legacy of musicians, some had even had extraordinary success. Cypress knew that if Orion didn’t have such bad anxiety he could probably find the same amount on the account of being so damn talented. Maybe a recording his music wouldn't be as nerve-racking if he performed in front of a friend instead of an audience. His song was a pleasant acoustic tune. Orion was a decent singer but his talents lay in writing the musical portions. In fact, he’d always been better at expressing himself through music than regular words. He’d written countless drum solos for Cypress to try over the years and Cypress loved playing them. Cypress had been concentrating so hard on how the music sounded that he had forgotten to pay attention to the lyrics Orion was signing.
“I wish you would let me love you but it doesn’t seem to be…”
Was…was this something he wrote because of Cain?
“…you know how I love you yet your heart is closed off to me”
Cypress was momentarily shocked and then restrained himself from rolling his eyes. How could anyone love Cain? Orion deserved such better treatment, someone who would at the very least would own up to being his boyfriend. But Orion felt strong and deeply for people, it was how he always had been—He got attached quickly and it was hard for him to let go.
He sat for a few more seconds playing the guitar and Cypress only felt a mix of anger and sadness for Orion. The song had heart, though. It seemed his talent was best used in the midst of suffering. In Cypress’s opinion, it shouldn’t be hidden anymore—the last time they had played live was after the Battle of the Bands when they were seniors in high school but Orion had second guessed himself and it ended up singing off-beat and ruining the song. Orion swore he'd never play live again.
“I never knew what love was until I met you. So thank you for helping me discover what I felt was true.”
The current song playing over the radio waves had just ended and Cypress switched on the live button that re-directed the airtime to pick up the music studio’s microphone. Cypress finally found the push-to-talk button. It was an unassuming little green button among the rows of sliders, marked with a 'T'.
Orion sang more; the song had multiple verses and a chorus, followed by a bridge and a repeat of the chorus. Once Orion finished up his tune, Cypress quickly flipped the live switch back to the playlist.
"How did you like it?” Orion asked, seeming eager to know.
“It has some solid melody,” Cypress pushed the talk button which finally let his voice be heard in the music studio. He wasn’t going to make any more comments about Cain and how Cain didn’t deserve a song written about him.
“Dude! I heard Orion on the radio and it gave me an idea!” The door to the tech studio flung open and Cypress swiveled around in utmost surprise. Nick stood there seeming out of breath like he had run all the way to the station from the house. To be fair it was only two blocks away and Nick played soccer all throughout high school so he was a quick runner.
Orion couldn’t hear anything since he was in the other room and the button wasn’t pushed. He waved at Nick through the window and set down the guitar.
Cypress was still stricken by Nick’s sudden, loud entrance and had trouble finding his voice. A moment later the door opened again and Orion popped in. It was such a good thing that the station director was not in during the evening shift to chide Cypress for all the outsiders hanging around.
“Hey Nick, what’s up?” Orion asked.
“What if we start the band up again?”
They had been in a band for a few years during high school called 'Incarcerated Heart’. Mostly, it was Orion and Cypress’s way of being creative and furthering their interest in music. For Nick, the band was a way he could pick up girls. They didn’t have time to jam anymore after entering college because Nick’s free time had been wrapped up in the Greek Society.
But now that he had left it and his fraternity, his free time consisted of moving into his new room upstairs or job hunting so he could start helping pay for rent to be able to live in that new room. He’d officially stopped being a house hobo.
“We could make some good simoleons playing around Scandalica City,” Nick added in lieu of the stunned silence from his friends.
Cypress and Orion exchanged a look. Playing again sounded great, but Cypress knew his best friend wasn’t the best live performer.
“That sounds awesome,” Orion smiled, “We should do it. I’ve been writing new music.”
“Yeah I know,” Nick laughed.
Orion gave him a confused look but before he could ask how Nick had known, Cypress cut in with disbelief, “What about your anxiety? The last time we played you choked mid-song.”
Orion waved it off nonchalantly, “Don’t worry about it. I got it covered and am good to go.”
Nick smiled wider and proclaimed that was awesome but Cypress was a little more concerned at the glib response. Nick wasn't the one who had to console Orion in the wake of the bad performance and didn't see how it had messed him up. Nick started chattering about some venues he could see about booking with and Orion was nodding enthusiastically. Nick woke up the computer on the other desk to get some contact information pulled up from his emails.
The phone line started ringing and Cypress sighed, knowing it had been awhile since he had given any indication of what was playing on air.
“Hi, what was that song playing a few minutes ago with the guitar?” the caller asked.
Cypress turned and interrupted Orion and Nick’s planning, “Hey dude, what is the name of that song you were singing?”
“Uh…didn’t give it a name yet,” Orion looked over to him curiously and seemed to blush a bit.
“It’s called, 'In love with a Raging Jackass,’” Cypress answered and then hung up.
Orion’s eyes widened in horror, “You put me on live air when I was singing?”
"It was a good song—it's about time you get some recognition for your talents," Cypress justified his actions simply.
"You didn't give me credit though..." Orion pointed out, looking a bit betrayed.
Before either of them could get into it, they were startled by Nick’s sudden, uncharacteristic cursing that rang through the tiny room. They looked at him and he was standing, hunched over the computer with an angry look of disbelief.
“What’s wrong?” Orion asked.
Nick stood straight and then a step backward from the computer. He knew something was going to happen, that his father was going to make him miserable for his insolence, just not this, “He’s revoked all tuition he paid for the semester.”
The university office of financial records informed him that if he didn’t come up with the money by the next week, he would have to leave Sim State. Getting the band back together wouldn’t be enough to fund tuition and rent at this rate.
Maybe it was about time to put that machine in Armscor Warehouse to good use.
#45 18th Jun 2017 at 6:15 AM Last edited by Charmful : 18th Jun 2017 at 4:44 PM.
Packing, Baking, and Braiding
Chapter 20: Packing, Baking, and Braiding
It shouldn’t be so hard to decide what to pack. Part of the problem was that there were so many choices. Alarie dug through her dorm drawers looking for outfits suited for warmer weather. Shorts, tanks, and sandals were all appropriate items, but then there was the matter of what to wear for the casino. She definitely planned on looking fabulous as she tried her luck in Pandora.
It was a good thing she was going to her parents’ house that night, for she had a lot more clothes to decide upon stashed in her old wardrobe there because when moved to college, she couldn't fit all of her clothes in the small dorm room. The sudden vibration of her phone caught her attention from where it lay on the desk. She picked it up and answered, “Hello?”
“Have you been avoiding me?” Rafael’s voice filtered through the receiver. He sounded agitated.
“No, I’ve just been busy,” Alarie explained while digging out a cute pair of panties to add to her duffel bag, “I’m going to Pandora this weekend with Leona and Illyana and have to figure out what to pack.”
“You didn’t tell me you were going to Pandora!”
“Am I supposed to?” She rolled her eyes.
“It’d be nice to know. Maybe I wanted to spend time with you this weekend and planned a big romantic outing but because you failed to tell me your plans I now have to find someone else to take to Kashmire Point,” Rafael stated bitterly and Alarie found the tone suspiciously close to whining.
“Take one of your bros,” she suggested without sympathy. He could have texted or emailed her; she was known not always have her phone around so couldn’t be expected to answer every call. She did also not feel obligated to tell him her weekend plans if he was okay with just going off to the beach with his fraternity brothers without mentioning anything every so often.
“Fine I will!” He responded indignantly.
“Did you call just to yell at me or was there something you wanted to discuss?” She snapped, she didn’t have time for Rafael’s tantrums.
“I was calling to see what you were doing this weekend but no use now…hey, Is there going to be a lot of guys where you are going in Pandora?” He asked suddenly seeming concerned.
“I smell your insecurities and it’s not attractive,” Alarie said dryly. She really did love Rafael, and had been going with him since she was seventeen, and they'd had their share of tiffs over the years. She was jealous when he had first gone to college and joined a the popular Hoh Fruhm fraternity, a place where he was surely exposed to many beautiful women more mature than her. He was overprotective of her around other men, call it what you will, a machismo of sorts. They partied in different social circles and it caused tension but at the end of the day they either decided to break up or stay together and it had been on and off for several years now.
Her comment had subdued him instead of riled him, and she was thankful for it.
“So can we get together when you return? It’s fall break after all,” she heard him exhale to calm himself then ask.
“Definitely. I will call you on my way back into the valley and we can go for drinks or something,” she agreed. He had to slip her phone between her shoulder and ear to free her hands so she could add her basic overnight hygiene items to her bag.
“That sounds like a plan,” Rafael agreed and then he paused, “I love you. Sorry I yelled.”
“I love you too,” she replied and smiled to herself before hanging up.
She planned to Meet Leona at the Blackwheel bus station where they would then get on a bus to Isla Del Kashmire together. Neither Alarie nor Leona had their own vehicle so relied on other means of transportation to get around the region, thus the reason they needed Illyana to drive to Pandora. Leona would be coming to the station from Sim State University and Alarie would be arriving from Academie Le Tour. She had told her Mother that she and Leona would be spending the night at the house and then Illyana could pick them up early in the morning so that they could head out to the desert town six hours south.
Alarie pushed the last of her clothes into her bag, pulled the cords tight to lock everything in, and then threw it over her shoulder. She was ready for a well-deserved break from school. School was just another thing in her life that she had no real negative or positive feelings for. It was just there, something she had to do to get on with life.
Leona was already sitting on a bench in the Isla Del Kashmire terminal of the Blackwheel bus station loop when Alarie got off the connecting bus. It didn’t seem like she had been waiting very long.
“Hey girl!” Alarie waved and headed toward where Leona sat with her roller suitcase. It was much bigger and Alarie bet that Leona was bringing twice as many outfits, she did after all, have a concert to sing at. With Edric King no less! Alarie was ecstatic for her friend and on some deeper level, jealous of her talent and luck to be a part of something bigger.
“You packed light,” Leona commented as Alarie sat down next to her on the bench.
“You packed heavy,” Alarie laughed and shot back, reaching out with her foot and toeing the roller suitcase, “Did you bring your whole wardrobe?”
“I brought all my options. Maybe you and Illyana can help me pick what to wear for the concert.”
“Don’t they have like a wardrobe department or stylist you can use?” Alarie asked.
Leona hadn’t considered that. She’d just always worn what she wanted when she sang but it was possible this was a big enough deal that Edric King would need her to wear something standard for a singer. So she just shrugged.
Alarie brushed her hair from her neck, thinking she would have to do something with it. It was much too thick and long to wear down in the desert. Her fingers felt the texture of the braid running around the side of her head and she got an idea.
“Can you braid my hair tonight?”
“What?” Leona laughed, not expecting such a request.
“Yeah like milk-maid type braids that I can just wear all weekend. I’ll boil to death if I leave my hair down, it’s as heavy as a rug.” Alarie explained.
“You’re exaggerating, but sure, it will be like we’re in grade school again,” Leona giggled, “Having sleepovers and braiding hair. All we’re missing is…”
She stopped her mouth from completing the thought. She didn’t want to remind herself of what they’d be missing. Because she missed it too much. She missed him.
Alarie didn’t need to ask what she had meant, but she hid a knowing smile from Leona as the bus pulled into the station.
Alanna had always been big fan of eating sweets before they were baked, cookie dough especially. So it was a small kind of torture being instructed to hold a bowl full of the sweet temptation while Franz decided what else to put into it. They had run out of counter space due to their large baking project they had spent all afternoon on for the bake sale the next day. They had already gone through scones, muffins, turnovers, pies, brownies, and lemon bars and now were on the last batch of cookies.
“Why can’t we just make them regular chocolate chip?” She wondered.
He looked around the kitchen thoughtfully and shook his head, “It needs to be something more unique, we already have too many chocolate chip cookies.”
Alanna had to disagree but didn’t voice it. There could never be too many chocolate chip cookies.
“If the point is to sell them, wouldn’t simpler be better? Everyone likes chocolate chip cookies!” She protested.
He gave her a sideways glance and then picked up a bag of raisins and Alanna took a horrified step backward, clutching the bowl to her protectively as if it were her child, “No! You are not going to ruin these cookies Franz Schoulsburg!”
He shrugged one shoulder, took a few raisins out of the bag, popped them into his mouth and then grinned while he chewed them.
“You told me that everything I baked was delicious, was that a lie?”
“I never thought you would be blasphemous enough to put raisins into chocolate chip cookies,” Alanna made a disgusted face. Obviously, she was not a big fan of raisins.
“Fine,” he set the bag down much to her relief and instead picked up a bag of chopped almonds, “Will these be an acceptable alternative?”
She nodded, nuts were a nice enough companion ingredient and she held the bowl outward. Franz stepped forward and started shaking almond bits out of the bag.
They were using her parents’ kitchen since Franz didn’t want his mother to know about the bake sale, or how they were doing it all for her. Alanna thought it was a sweet thing to do and didn’t understand Franz’s insistence on keeping from her. His mother’s kitchen was much bigger and better prepared to handle their stock of baked goods.
At least she was hanging out with Franz again. With Fall break basically upon them, she wouldn’t have daily assignments that took up her free time. Though Franz didn’t ever seem outwardly bothered or disappointed by that fact, she could tell he was when she had to decline his invitations to go to the bookstore like they used to. Baking with Franz was a good activity despite the sad circumstance for it, it was actually fun, and the result was always delicious. Just never when raisins were involved.
Franz must have baked bread earlier that day; Alanna caught the scent of it on his shirt since he was standing near enough. Though, she didn’t know he had made it for the bakery or for his culinary class at the community college. He shook the last bits of almond out and told her to stir the dough once more. It was harder the thicker the dough became, and it was too thick for a regular mechanical mixer.
When she was done, she handed him the bowl and he began to scoop out the cookie dough and lay it with precision into little rows of balls on a baking sheet. Since he didn’t need the stirring spoon anymore she quickly coveted it and started licking the extra dough off of it, relishing the sweet, soft, buttery taste.
“So this is the last batch?”
He nodded wordlessly, as he filled the last space on the baking sheet with a scoop of dough. He picked it up and slid it into the oven. Alanna grabbed the timer and wound it to 15 minutes, then set it onto the counter next to the oven. Franz turned and saw her continuing working on cleaning the spoon of the cookie dough and made a small chuckle.
“You have some cookie dough on your face,” he replied. Alanna left the spoon in her mouth and quickly wiped at her face, seeming to hit just about everywhere except the actual place he was referring to. As he maneuvered past her, he reached out and brushed the spot just underneath her lip, clearing it away for her, “There.”
She gave a laugh and thanked him before throwing the spoon into the sink with the rest of the dirty dishes they had made. Franz started bagging the scones and turnovers he had baked earlier that were now cool enough to touch. Alanna joined him to help, though she should have probably gotten a start on washing the dishes. One of the stipulations of them using her parents’ kitchen was she had to clean every last dish that had been used before she went off to the bake sale tomorrow.
She planned on spending the night in her old room, waking up early and taking the goods to sell outside of the Mocha Chip Coffee Shop with Franz. She had already asked the owner if it was okay and they agreed. She had been a long time patron of the little coffee shop and since they didn’t sell baked goods–just coffee–it wasn’t like she and Franz were affecting or competing with their sales.
When a stretch of counter was cleared, Alanna checked the timer and found about five minutes were left. Franz pulled himself up to take a seat on the counter top. He’d been on his feet nearly all day and let out a deep sigh. Alanna leaned against the counter next to him, “How is your mom doing?
His large shoulders shrugged. Understandably, he didn’t seem to want to discuss it. She bit her lip, feeling bad if she had upset him by asking.
In an uncharacteristic move he suddenly slumped forward with his hands covering his head. His fingers were running anxiously through his hair, seeming like he was trying to ease a headache away.
“Franz? What’s wrong?”
He was quiet for a few long moments, and she knew he was thinking of what to say. They could clearly hear the evening news from the living room where her parents were watching. The Thackerys had been kind enough to keep out of the way in the kitchen while Alanna and Franz were baking, in addition to letting them use it and make a big mess of flour, sugar, and various fillings. They had ordered in pizza for dinner instead of interrupting the flow of the baking.
“I…I…don’t know if she’s going to be okay,” his voice finally cut through her thoughts, it was low-pitched as usual but it cracked with emotion as it wavered. He stared hard at the kitchen floor, “She won’t tell me how she is. I think she doesn’t want me to worry but it’s ten times worse when I don’t know anything at all.”
Alanna felt a lump form in her throat seeing him so distraught. She couldn’t even begin to imagine how awful he was feeling. She lifted herself to sit on the counter next to Franz and put her arms around him while resting her chin on his shoulder to try and comfort him–to convey her utmost sympathy but she didn’t say a word because there were none she could think of that would help.
Franz was not a touchy-feely type person, he was usually content to maintain minimal contact with others, but that was mostly a result of him not having a lot of opportunity to show and receive physical affection as he grew up. He hugged his mother on rare occasions, and he didn’t ever have the inclination to hug Fauna. He’d never even been kissed!
She had found that tidbit out about him when they were discussing a book they had both read when the romantic subplot came up. He had offhandedly admitted to her didn’t see the point of the characters kissing more than once because he got the gist of it the first time. When she explained that’s just how it’s written to convey realism of being in love, he still held the same sentiment. She had laughed at his attitude and called him unromantic but he just agreed with her assessment.
Alanna had found out that despite his preference for minimal physical contact, he would tolerate her embraces. She had hoped it was because they had been friends long enough that he was comfortable with her doing it and got some sense of ease or enjoyment out of it. She enjoyed hugging Franz in any case—he was like a big, warm, plushie toy that only the most skilled people at carnival games could win.
“Holy Plumbobs, what did you do to the kitchen?” They heard Alarie ask and Alanna quickly sat up straight in surprise at the sight of her sister and Leona coming into the house.
Alarie threw her duffle bag onto the dining table and walked into the kitchen to survey the mess they had yet to clean. Leona was dragging a rolling suitcase behind her. Their father appeared, hugged Alarie and then slightly chided Alarie for putting her duffle bag on the table and told her to take it upstairs, which she waved off and assured she would. Leona waved out a brief greeting at them before heading up the stairs.
“We’re baking,” Alanna answered matter-of-factually.
“Are you spending the night here?” Alarie asked and crossed her arms, completely ignoring Franz. It was nearly uncomfortable the way the guy stared without emotion.
“Yes, why?” Alanna responded. It was uncanny how Alanna looked at her with nearly the same, neutral expression. It was just one of the mannerisms Franz always had that seemed to rub off on her over the last few years.
“Leona is sleeping over, but I was going to have her use your bed. If you are staying over too, where is she going to sleep?”
“Why are you even home?” Alanna asked. She hadn’t seen her sister in months. They went to school at different campuses and Alarie hardly picked up her phone when Alanna called.
“We’re going on a road trip tomorrow and have to wake up early. Illyana is picking us up. I’m consolidating!” Alarie explained, “Why are you home?”
“I come home nearly every weekend,” Alanna reminded her, though it wasn’t like her sister paid attention or cared about that fact no matter how many times Alanna had heard her parents complain that Antoine and Alarie never visited. Alanna just found it a better studying environment during the weekend, being in a familiar place and not having to be interrupted by the girls in her dorm.
“Of course you do,” Alarie sneered, “I’ll just grab one of our old sleeping bags for Leona then.”
Alanna disliked how her sister unfairly suggested through tone that it was Alanna’s fault that Leona had to sleep on the floor. If they’d just had asked, she would have let Leona sleep in her bed.
The timer went ’ding’ signaling the cookies were ready to be taken out.
“What was that about?” Franz asked and slid down from his seat on the counter to get the cookies.
The unnatural frown on Alanna’s face lifted and she looked a bit sheepish for being caught in a mood other than her usual cheeriness. Her tone however, was not indicative of cheer.
“Alarie thinks I’m perfect.”
“What’s wrong with being perfect?” Franz asked as he crouched in front of the oven to see how the cookies looked.
“I’m not perfect!” Alanna insisted and turned her back on him, her frown reappearing.
“Okay. You’re awful. Absolutely horrid,” Franz said evenly but she could tell it was sarcastic.
She appreciated that he was trying to find humor but it was serious. All her life people seemed to think she could do no wrong. The truth was she hated disappointing others and tried not to do wrong by them, but then somewhere along the way she became one too many teacher’s pets, a regional science fair winner or the chess club president and then people thought she was too good for them, too intelligent, too pretty, or too kind—and it made it difficult to try and make friends or any meaningful relationships. Franz was the only person who seemed to see her for who she truly was and engage with her in a normal fashion. Not like Reggie, or her sister or their acquaintances.
“I’m serious. Perfect is just an impossible expectation,” she grumbled.
“That you have somehow achieved,” he said, again his voice was a deep monotone that most would take for seriousness but it was pure sarcasm. “Even when you can’t eat cookie dough without it getting all over your face.”
She had to grin at his snark. How could anyone accuse Franz of being boring, emotionless or robotic? All they had to do was spend a little time with him and see he was full of character, and in fact was really amazing.
Alarie had dug out an old sleeping bag for Leona and placed it in the middle of the room between the two beds. She didn’t ever think she would have to share a room with Alanna after high school but here they were. Alanna had finished up the dishes and had went out with Franz, probably to do boring nerd things like read books to each other–leaving Alarie and Leona to pick through Alarie’s surplus of clothes.
After finding a decent amount of options for Alarie to choose from to complete her vacation outifits, they changed into their pajamas and sat on the sleeping bag in the middle of the room. Leona brushed Alarie’s hair behind her shoulders and began parting it out for braiding. It was something it seemed like she had done 100 times since they were little girls. Her father had braided her hair when she was a child and she didn’t like the way he had done it so taught herself better ways and since Alarie had roughly the same hair type, just a bit thicker, Leona would practice different braids on her friend.
“You sure you want the milk-maid style?”
“Yeah, and make it as tight as possible too. I don’t want to have to do anything with my hair over the weekend,” Alarie instructed.
Before Leona could start in on the actual braiding, they heard knocking. It was so loud that it drifted up to the second floor where they were.
“What’s that?” Leona momentarily let go of Alarie’s section of hair and stood up to listen closer from the doorway.
“I think someone is at the door?” Alarie guessed, not seeming very curious.
“Well, why don’t you go down and open it and find out?” Alarie leaned backward onto her elbows and smiled.
Leona frowned, “It’s your house, why don’t you answer it?”
“You’re closer to the door,” Alarie replied.
Leona arched her eyebrow, thinking it ridiculous that Alarie was so lazy that she wouldn’t open her own front door when only a few feet further away than Leona was. Mr. and Mrs. Thackery were already settled in their bedroom, and they were a floor higher and probably didn’t hear the knocking. Alarie had on a grin, which could have meant anything at this point.
“Fine, but it’s probably just Alanna and she locked herself out,” Leona rolled her eyes and went downstairs. The knocking was still consistent and heavy. A lot heavier than she would have suspected Alanna of. If she thought about it more, Alanna was much too responsible to get locked out and probably had her own house key. Leona had a sudden, definite doubt the person knocking was actually Alanna.
She hesitantly turned the knob, not knowing who to expect and as she opened the door her body seemed to freeze—all except for her hands that flew to her face in utter surprise at the sight of him.
“Hey there, songbird.“
#46 18th Jun 2017 at 9:46 PM
I'm with Alanna on this one. Raisins in cookies is a crime against nature.
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
#47 25th Jun 2017 at 6:30 AM Last edited by Charmful : 2nd Jul 2017 at 6:04 AM.
Mending of the Hearts
Chapter 21: Mending of the Hearts
She would have never expected that it was him. If she thought about it though, it was the second likeliest place in Kashmire he would be—his parents’ house. She thought he would have been halfway around the world. But no, he was standing right there in front of her. In sleepy, little, Isla Del Kashmire.
“Antoine,” Leona simply said his name, still in minor state of shock.
He picked up a suitcase at his feet and maneuvered past where she stood, “What a lovely coincidence you are here.”
Coincidence indeed. Leona shot a frown at the ceiling, just knowing Alarie had probably tipped him off on her whereabouts. Not that she was trying to hide from him but it was awfully perfect timing for them to be in the same place at the same time considering the last time that happened it was when they had broken up.
Leona had been the one to end it, she thought it better for her in the long run—not being distracted from worrying about a scarce boyfriend when she was trying to stay focused in school and more importantly her dream of being a professional singer. Antoine had taken it pretty hard, was utterly devastated and swore she was the only woman he’d ever love. Antoine was a romantic and it made it even harder to leave him. “What are you doing here?”
He didn’t seem any amount of torn up at seeing her once again, though it had been a year since she was face-to-face with him and they had both had time to heal. He laid his suitcase on the sofa and answered, “I’m taking a week off. I’ve been to ten different cities in the past two weeks at conventions and I’ve been put up in hotels the entire time so I’m kind of sick of them. I came home instead.”
Though that excuse didn’t make any sense. His room at home had been converted to a music room for Alarie’s drums after he’d left for college. So why come sleep on a couch at home when he could sleep in a real bed?
“Don’t you have your own apartment by now?” Leona asked.
“Yeah but the lease is up and I have everything in storage. I’ll be looking for a new place—another reason I took a week off. Though, it’s not like I’m in the area enough to justify having an apartment,” he seemed to grumble as he opened his case and started grabbing clothes out of it and then disappeared into the small bathroom connected to living room.
She thought he loved travelling but now saw how much wear and tear it did on him. She’d been happy for him that his new job would take him to new places but also afraid that it would lead him to meet new women–prettier, more sophisticated and intelligent than her in his industry. At least, that is what her father had told her. Her father had always had it out for Antoine, and never approved of them together.
He re-appeared, having changed into pajama pants. He looked tired, “You look well. I’m guessing you and Alarie are having a sleepover? Aren’t you a little old for that?”
She placed her hand on her hip with indignation, “One can never be too old for a sleepover. In fact, I was about to say earlier that the only thing we’re missing from the old times was you trying to sneak into the room and listen to our boy-talk. Now look at you, dressed for the occasion.”
He flashed a grin, “That’s because I was curious to know if you were talkin’ about me.”
Leona returned the smile. It was probably at one of these sleepovers that Antoine had overheard her tell Alarie how dreamy she thought he was. Probably around the time she was thirteen, full of hormones, and just noticing how handsome a 16-year-old Antoine seemed. In all actuality, he had acne, braces, and was kind of a lanky nerd who was into building little toy robots but she thought he was the finest thing on two legs.
Now he was 23 and the toast of the engineering community, and still pretty damn fine in her opinion. It was just a shame they couldn’t be together anymore.
She cleared her throat, realizing she was checking him out and looked at the wall behind him, “So when do you have to leave again?”
“The company I work for wants me back in the demonstration circuit after next weekend. I figure I can see if I can lease an apartment in Memosa Bay closer to headquarters,” He looked up at the ceiling with a doubtful frown, “Is everyone else asleep already?”
“Your parents might be. Alarie is upstairs waiting for me to braid her hair and Alanna is still out somewhere with Franz Schoulsburg.”
“She still friends with that guy?”
“I guess so,” Leona shrugged, it wasn’t really her business who Alanna decided to be friends with. Though most people thought it was strange for her to take up any sort of camaraderie with the Baker’s son. “But speaking of Alarie…did she tip you off that I was here tonight?”
Antoine only grinned, which was proof in itself that it was the truth. Alarie was such a devious friend sometimes and she could learn to mind her own business once and while! Leona couldn’t help but to make an expression of annoyance.
“How could I have passed up an opportunity to see you again?” he asked keeping the same grin.
“What are you hoping it accomplishes? We’re too ambitious and stubborn, and most of all busy to be dating anymore. The past year proves it. You never called me, or messaged,” it was hard to keep anger and dissapointment from leaking into her tone.
His gray eyes weren’t sad or discouraged but were rather the eyes of a man dying of thirst who had just seen a glass of water.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Leona snapped and moved away, she grabbed the stair rail to make her way back upstairs to Alarie but noticed his movement and paused. He followed her, stood behind her but didn’t reach out, just crossed his arms and considered her. She looked over her shoulder, his grin was gone.
“I didn’t contact you because you told me not to. I’m not going to be the sort of ex-boyfriend that disrespects your wishes. So you can’t be mad at me for doing what you wanted me to do. If I had it my way though I would have spent every day until now giving you reasons to take me back.”
His admission made something in her chest go tight and sad; she held in a pained gasp as she stared forward. She had thought his lack of contact was because he was over her. Could they have made long distance work?
“Antoine…” she turned around, and said his name on a sorrowful note while slightly shaking her head back and forth. She was sorry to have had broken his heart, but hers had been equally shattered. He reached out that time and she didn’t hesitate before falling into his arms to be squeezed into a heartfelt embrace. It felt so good after a year of nothing except for the fond memory of the times they’d had together.
It was more than comforting being encased into that hug. He’d always had such a calming effect on her, whenever she was troubled it all just seemed to melt away when she was in his arms. She squeezed him tightly wanting to never let go.
“My hair isn’t gonna braid itself you know,” their blissful embrace was interrupted by a voice from above. Leona and Antoine broke apart and looked up to see Alarie with a knowing smirk on her face.
Antoine averted his eyes, “Jeez Al, put on some shorts or something.”
“You should be one to talk AB-toine. You aren’t impressing anyone except Leona,” Alarie sassed and made her way down the stairs. Leona seemed to blush a bit and didn’t argue the point. “Put your washboards away, no one is doing any laundry at this hour.”
They all heard the front door handle rattle and soon enough Alanna came through it pausing to greet everyone, especially surprised and delighted to find that their elder brother was at home and then took in the scene with a puzzled curiosity, “Antoine, did you started lifting?”
“Fine, I’ll put a shirt on,” was his grumbled response and he sounded slightly annoyed. It put all three of the girls into a fit of giggles while Antoine marched back to his suitcase to find a shirt to sleep in. It was reminiscent of the old sleepovers when Alarie told her brother to go away when he was trying to do something impressive to show off in front of Leona like explain how his toy robots worked, treading on imperative time where the girls could be discussing school gossip or taking love quizzes the latest teen magazines. Leona never minded Antoine’s demonstrations; she actually enjoyed them and once he even let her have one of his little toy robots. She still had it; it was sitting on a table in her apartment at that very moment.
Alanna had moved into the kitchen and Alarie followed as did Leona. Alarie looked like she was fishing for information, nosy as usual, “So what were you doing with Franz?”
The younger sister was packing up some of the last baked goods that had spotted the kitchen when they had first arrived, “Well he suggested we go to the bookstore; it has been awhile since we checked out the new arrivals. After the bookstore closed, we parted ways and he went back to the community college.”
Alanna didn’t seem to notice how Alarie crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. She must have been hoping for a juicier answer. It was Alanna though–she was like the sweetest, most innocent person in the world–so Leona didn’t know what sordid information Alarie was looking for from her sister.
“By the way, that was kind of rude of you earlier,” Alanna looked up from the muffins she was packing into a tupperware and frowned, “to stop in and not even acknowledge Franz was in the room with us. He’s not just some piece of furniture.”
“Could have fooled me,” Alarie matched the frown, “He doesn’t talk. He might as well be an inanimate object. It’s creepy, the way he stares at you…”
“Stop,” Alanna snapped, “You have no right to make fun of him. You don’t even know what he’s going through right now…” She suddenly pressed her lips together and held her head like a sudden ache had formed in her frontal lobe. Leona put her arm around Alanna and shot Alarie a look that told her she was being overtly obnoxious.
“You give people too much credit. When are you going to learn that not everyone is full of rainbows and butterflies?” Alarie scoffed and then left the kitchen, gesturing for Leona to follow. She still had to braid Alarie’s hair and that would take awhile. So much for trying to go to sleep early. She watched Alarie climb the stairs and then noticed Antoine was quietly standing near the kitchen entrance, leaning on the wall of the threshold, and waiting for her to be alone again.
“You okay?” Leona asked Alanna, who still was holding her head.
“Yeah,” Alanna sighed and let the pressure off while slightly shaking her head, “I’m just tired.”
Alanna gave Antoine a quick hug, and Leona overheard him promise to come to Alanna’s bakesale the next day. Then she too, went upstairs. Leaving just the two of them.
“I should probably go to bed too,” Leona nodded up the stairs.
“Come tuck me in,” Antoine requested and she held in a laugh at it. He must have found another sleeping bag while they were in the kitchen because one was rolled out on the living room floor. She followed him over to his humble bed. He was probably going to be like this for a few days while he looked for a new apartment.
“Well, I hope you have a good night,” she smiled.
He took a step closer and ran his fingers through her curly hair before tucking a peice behind her ear; the strands of hair refused to be put into place and immediately popped back into its original position with defiance.
“You know I will when you are sleeping in the same place,” he whispered and she held in her breath because his lips were so close. She braced herself for a kiss. She felt him peck the tip of her nose like he used to. It was chaste and left her feeling torn on whether to swoon or be frustrated because he didn’t go for something more intimate. But maybe she was moving too fast, hoping for such a thing—after all, she probably didn’t even deserve a kiss like that considering she was the one who had stopped them entirely in the first place.
She just simply nodded with a weak sigh, her smile faded, and she made a move to leave.
“What are you doing next week?” his question halted her in her tracks.
“I don’t know,” she replied and turned to face him, “why?”
He looked a bit unsure, which wasn’t the norm for someone as confidant as Antoine. He beat his fists together and looked at the ground, “Would you want to come with me to look at apartments? I’d figure you might want to have a say considering…” Her heartbeat accelerated, wondering what he was implying. “Well, it’s just that I’m sure you’ll be auditioning a bunch around Memosa Bay in the future and will need a place to crash.”
She felt her face tear into a smile from cheek to cheek and she nodded "I’ll give you a call when I return from Pandora.“
#48 2nd Jul 2017 at 6:32 AM Last edited by Charmful : 2nd Jul 2017 at 6:47 PM.
Chapter 22: Just Evelyn
It had been a week since she had dinner at the Ambassador’s home, but Evelyn Jane still felt very annoyed at what had transpired. She could have been soaking in the rays on a beach in Kashmire Point if it weren’t for her father volunteering her to be a tour guide for the Ambassador.
She begrudgingly held the doorbell down so it rang obnoxiously on repeat. The Butler greeted her cordially, seeming to pretend that the noise didn’t bother him.
“I’m supposed to show the Ambassador around the city,” she explained. How annoying that he wasn’t ready yet. Wasting her time.
“The Ambassador is on the top terrace, he requests your presence,” the Butler motioned upward. Evelyn Jane did not hide her irritation as she began to climb the spiral staircase, then the next, finally a straight one before emerging back into the sunlight. The terrace was enormous and contained a full zen garden, along with the ever-present abundant plant-life.
Her fixed scowl lifted, though, as soon as she saw that the Ambassador was playing fetch with his dog. He smiled as she approached, “Good morning, Miss Orbinson!”
He really did have impeccable style, this time adorned in a green vest over a collared white shirt with the top button undone. She had to respect a man who could dress so well.
The dog trotted up and dropped his stick at his master’s feet. Then, started barking playfully at seeing her; he bounded up to her and stood on his hind paws while putting his front ones on her dress. She let out a garbled noise of protest and maneuvered herself away.
The Ambassador snapped something in Takemizese to the dog and it sat down obediently.
“My apologies, Sebastian is quite excited to see you.”
Evelyn Jane wiped at her dress, there was not much damage done anyhow, the dog had clean paws. She bent down and stroked Sebastian, he was a very fluffy animal, “It’s all right, I was just startled.”
“I’m glad to see you as well. I have something for you before we start our day on the town,” he said and led her down the series of terraces, back through the kitchen and out to a balcony where a low table and some floor cushions sat.
The Ambassador dropped to his knees onto one of the cushions and indicated for her to join.
She reluctantly did the same but was growing more and more impatient.
He picked up the teapot at the center of the table and poured some of its contents into the small cups in front of them. “This tea is a recipe from my own house. It’s very special and one of Takemizu’s best kept secrets. I want you to try it.”
She lifted the cup into her hands and saw he was waiting to observe her reaction. She was much more of a coffee drinker—and to be honest, she never had a tea that she liked. The ones she had tried in the past were bland and weak. The steam that rose off her cup smelled wonderful, though. The fragrance was of honey and jasmine. She carefully took a sip of the hot beverage and considered it, licking a drop of it off her bottom lip. It tasted surprisingly delightful. Her lips broke into a smile and she took another.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s the best tea I’ve ever had.”
He laughed before taking a drink of his own cup and said, “You flatter me.”
She shook her head, “I mean it. I don’t even like tea usually.”
“Truly?” His brows rose in disbelief and an expression of pity crossed his features.
She nodded and they sat in a comfortable silence while listening to morning birds in the trees. After a few more moments she finished the contents of her cup. He did the same and stood, holding out his hand for her to take and stand as well. She did so and thanked him.
“Now, where are we off to?”
“This is Summer Gardens,” Evelyn Jane gestured around them to the many flowering bushes and trimmed hedges that made up the landscape. A giant fountain stood before them too, shooting off vertical jets of water in no particular pattern.
The Ambassador took in a breath and closed his eyes before opening them again, “This place is beautiful, thank you for taking me here.”
She wore a knowing smirk. Of course, he’d love it considering twenty-five percent of his home here in Kashmire contained plant life. They began to move around the pathways as she explained more about the garden.
“It was added to the city fifteen years ago. It can be rented out for private garden parties or weddings. During public hours, musicians may come and perform and community easels are set up for leisurely artistic pursuits as long as you bring your own canvas,” she rambled off some facts she had looked up online prior to deciding to take him there. She spoke in the manner of an emotionless tour guide, like the GPS voices one would have in their car.
“Which is your favorite part?”
“Of this garden?”
“I don’t have one,” she replied honestly. This was the first time she’d actually stepped foot in the gardens.
“We’ll have to change that,” he smiled, and then it widened at seeing something behind her. He brushed past her and stood in front of a few bushes containing bright blue-hued blooms. “This is my favorite plant—the blue hydrangea. It’s a Takemizu native.”
She didn’t doubt it. She had seen bundles of the blue flower in just about every flower bed at his mansion.
“There is a folk tale behind these flowers,” The Ambassador reached out and touched the velvety blue petals. “There was an Empress of an ice kingdom, she was also sorceress with unlimited powers and she became desolate for nothing grew in her land, no matter how much she tried to use her power to grow it. A druid entered her kingdom one day and told her the secret to growing life wasn’t in power but love. The druid agreed to stay and teach her, she fell in love with them and that’s when she finally understood it. Alas, the druid fell ill and died from the harsh, cold, climate. When she cried over their grave, the blue hydrangea sprouted - her tears held her love, and the blue represents the ice she used to have in heart that had melted into the spring.”
Evelyn Jane didn’t comment that she thought love was a joke, but simply gave a feigned smile and continued leading him through the gardens. He stopped and sat down on a wooden bench in front of the Takemizu botanical plants.
"Ah, this feels a little bit like home,” he mused, propping his head beneath his hand and resting his arm on the back of the bench. Evelyn Jane pulled her hands behind her back and stared at the tiny landscaped area containing two bonsai trees and more plants she recognized from his mansion.
He looked up to her, “Could this be your favorite?”
“It’s pretty,” she admitted. She didn’t need to engage in more conversation than needed. This wasn’t a date no matter how much her father wanted it to be. She’d was only there to answer his questions and give him information about Memosa Bay.
“Is there anything you are passionate about Miss Orbinson?”
She had once been passionate about music, specifically classical. She had enjoyed attending symphonies and playing violin recitals. Nowadays she could barely stand to pick up her violin because of the memories it brought on. Memories of Shaun Piper and the reminder of the power he held over her. Her passion had been the path to her current, most undesirable predicament.
“No, not really,” she replied evenly.
“That is a shame. Please sit,” he gestured to the empty spot on the bench. She took his invitation and sat down next to him. “I promised you last week that I’d tell you how I got the ambassadorship to Kashmire.”
That was something she was interested to know. Her gaze went from the flowers to his face in sudden curiosity. It was probably the first time she had met his eyes that day. There was nothing but genuine kindness in them.
"My father wanted me to study abroad, but I was bull-headed and refused to leave my home region. He allowed me to finish school in Takemizu on the condition that I become ambassador to Kashmire until I am ready to run for his office. Though to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be. I rather despise politics.”
On some level, Evelyn Jane could agree with that sentiment. If she hadn’t been blackmailed by Shaun Piper, she would have thrived on playing the political game. “So how did he get you an appointment as ambassador?”
He looked mildly amused at her ignorance, “It certainly doesn’t take many strings to be pulled for the grand chancellor of Takemizu to grant his son any appointment he wishes.”
It suddenly made obvious sense. She could have cringed at her inattention to details. Bao was the political family name equal to her own in the Takemizu Region. No wonder her parents were so keen on trying to make him a match for her. She had heard of the family before but didn’t connect it with him. She had always imagined members of the Bao family to be stuffy and pompous. He definitely was not.
“You’re Yuzan Bao, aren’t you?”
“The one and the same,” he smiled, “You may call me Zan if we are to be friends.”
She had taken him to the Top of the World. It was a restaurant chain that coveted the highest spot in every city in the region to build upon so that it could boast the best views. Admittedly, from where they were sitting the view of the bay was terrific but she still thought Yuzan’s mansion had the best view she’d ever seen.
He sat across from her at a table with the backdrop of Memosa Bay skyscrapers. After the gardens, she took him to the Cross Corner district and then the shopping plaza. He had gotten hungry and asked her to take him to her favorite restaurant in the city.
Yuzan was fairly easy-going. Kind of a dork when it came to plants, but humble and endearing all the same. He was the type of guy Evelyn Jane would have chewed up and spit out when she was a teenager. Nice men had always seemed so dull to her, lacked ambition and bite, which is why she was surprised she had actually started to like Yuzan’s company. It was sort of refreshing after so many years with Shaun as a companion. It turned out Shaun Piper was something she bit off more than she could chew.
“What’s your favorite dish?” he asked.
“Salmon,” Evelyn Jane replied. Yuzan ordered them both a plate when the waitress came to take their order and insisted he would pay. It was too much. This wasn’t a date, he was being too nice–she wasn’t supposed to actually enjoy being around him.
They discussed the restaurant more and Evelyn Jane explained why it was called what it was. Yuzan listened intently, seeming to soak up every piece of information like a sponge to water.
“I have to ask you something,” she announced abruptly. He tipped his head forward, indicating she should continue, “Did my father imply anything about me…being single?”
He smiled, “Your father happened to mention he had children about my age, and I do desire to make friends here in Kashmire that aren’t elders, politicians, or both.”
She felt foolish. She had assumed her father was trying to match them up but really it was only to give the Ambassador a chance to befriend someone his own age.
“Since you just did imply you were single, there is something I must ask,” he continued. She was too embarrassed to meet his gaze.
“Would you be amiable to going on a date with me sometime?”
She snapped her eyes to his face, seeing his hopeful smile, and was rendered speechless. She hadn’t been on a real date for years. She’d had a few fun nights over with college men once in a blue moon–but nothing ever serious, and trysts with Shaun were contained to his penthouse and they never went in public together.
Their food arrived then, Yuzan gave a small shrug and shook his napkin out before placing it in his lap, “Think about it, and let me know.”
As dusk descended upon them, Evelyn Jane transported the ambassador back to his mansion in her convertible. She walked him to the door and then bid him farewell in the foyer.
“Miss Orbinson, it was a pleasure,” Yuzan leaned forward into a deep bow before taking her hand and lifting it to his lips. He kissed the back of it.
Evelyn suddenly felt breathless. It had been a long time since a man had that effect on her. She may have even been blushing.
“You…You’re welcome,” she stuttered and tried to get a hold of herself, taking her hand back “and you don’t have to refer to me as Miss Orbinson. ‘Evelyn Jane’ is just fine.”
“Why not just ‘Evelyn’?”
Evelyn had always been her great-grandmother. Her family took to appending her middle name to differentiate the two, though considering her great-grandmother had been dead since before she was born, it probably wouldn’t be too confusing to start going by just ‘Evelyn.'
“If you want, that’s fine too,” she determined.
“Very well, Evelyn, have you given my question any further consideration?”
Being addressed as just 'Evelyn’ made her feel slightly different. It had a sophisticated, timeless, beautiful ring to it as a singular name. More like a woman, less like a school girl. The question at hand he was referring to was if she’d go on a date with him. She had thought about it—Yuzan was intriguing, attractive, and very kind—anyone would be lucky to receive attention from him.
But it was complicated.
She sighed, “I’m not interested in dating at this time but I’d be glad to show you more of Kashmire if you were up for it. Today was…enjoyable.”
He nodded with a small smile in understanding, “It was. Let’s plan to do this again next week, shall we say…Saturday?”
“The day of the election? I think my father wants us both at his election party.”
“Good point, it had slipped my mind. You’re right, he did invite me,” Yuzan rubbed his chin and thought about it, “How about Sunday then? The results, no matter what they are, shouldn’t be too much of a distraction the day after.”
She agreed. She would take him on another tour in a week. She wasn’t new to Kashmire like the Ambassador, but to be honest, Evelyn could use a friend just as much as Zan did.
#49 5th Jul 2017 at 5:32 AM
So Alarie totally nailed what I was thinking the minute shirtless!Antoine came onto the scene:
I happened to be drinking water when I read that line. Big mistake. Water went everywhere and my roommate couldn't tell if I was laughing or dying; when I regained control of myself I said it was a bit of both.
I love how you can work in those brilliant splashes of humor and make them work with the more serious overtones of the story. And I love the Ambassador... a Prince Charming to redeem our pampered princess, perhaps? Can't wait to see what happens next!
|“You should be one to talk AB-toine. You aren’t impressing anyone except Leona,” Alarie sassed and made her way down the stairs. Leona seemed to blush a bit and didn’t argue the point. “Put your washboards away, no one is doing any laundry at this hour.”|
I happened to be drinking water when I read that line. Big mistake. Water went everywhere and my roommate couldn't tell if I was laughing or dying; when I regained control of myself I said it was a bit of both.
I love how you can work in those brilliant splashes of humor and make them work with the more serious overtones of the story. And I love the Ambassador... a Prince Charming to redeem our pampered princess, perhaps? Can't wait to see what happens next!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
#50 9th Jul 2017 at 6:41 AM Last edited by Charmful : 8th Oct 2017 at 3:55 PM.
Down the Desert Road
Chapter 23: Down the Desert Road
“You know, you’re lucky that this highway is straight,” Illyana mumbled with a hint of disgruntlement. It was aimed at Alarie who was squished into the middle of the jeep and had put her foot up on the dashboard since there was no leg room; it was dangerously close to the steering wheel. If Illyana navigated any more to the left or right, Alarie’s foot would be clearly obstructing it.
“I just remember this thing having a lot more room,” Alarie grumbled, equally as disgruntled.
“Maybe you should watch what you eat,” Leona snarked from the passenger seat. She’d been gradually squashed into the passenger door on the ride out to Pandora and had rolled down the window in case she needed to start hanging out the window to allow more room for Alarie.
“Shut your mouth! I wasn’t the one drinking a shake for breakfast,” Alarie snapped and stuck her elbow into Leona’s side
“It was an energy shake! Cut that out!” Leona squealed irritably.
“Don’t make me turn this jeep around!” Illyana shouted, not taking her eyes off the highway.
The other two women bit their tongues. Not only was the room tight, but the heat was simmering. The Jeep’s air conditioning was hardly offering any relief from it. The sun beat mercilessly down on the vehicle as it traveled across the desert. It was mid-morning already and the distant view toward the horizon was waving in a mirage effect on the road.
It had already been three hours and they had gotten on the road before sunrise in order to arrive at the hotel and check in. Leona had a lunch meeting with Edric King and his agent. So with lack of sleep, lack of leg room, and the increasing temperature, all three young women were starting to get supremely annoyed with one another.
Reprieve was found at a small gas station off of the highway nearly an hour later. Alarie and Leona busted out of the jeep’s passenger door to stretch their limbs that had all but fallen sleep. After groaning and popping her shoulders, Leona went around to fill Illyana’s gas tank as she’d promised to pay for it.
“Plumbobs, next time I am taking the train,” Alarie said as she brought her arm up and stretched it.
Illyana frowned, thinking they were both acting ungrateful. After all, she could have just stayed in Isla Del Kashmire and they could have ridden the train. Good luck on trying to get to Pandora in under six hours though on that thing.
Leona decided to call her father and let him know where they were. He could be a little worrisome and overprotective of her at times, and he’d gotten better over the years since she went off to college but she was his only child and understood his trepidations with her road-tripping with her besties out to the desert city known for gambling, shady motel-hook ups, and on-the-fly weddings.
Antoine once jokingly suggested they do it–a quick Pandoran wedding. It was before he left Kashmire, when they had time to spend with each other. She maybe would have agreed back then and done it, that is if her father didn’t kill him first.
While Leona talked briefly with her father, Alarie and Illyana stood in the shade of the gas station roof. Illyana was unusually quiet, and her eyes–the very windows to her emotions–were hidden behind her sunglasses.
“I was meaning to ask you, but how are you doing?” Alarie turned to Illyana.
Illyana shrugged unconvincingly. Though her sleazy ex-boyfriend was not mentioned, he was implied.
“What an asshole. You are so much better off without him,” Alarie nearly growled.
“I keep telling myself that but still feel really…” Illyana took a breath. Then two. Finally three, before finally finding the right word, “devastated.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find you a really good distraction in Pandora,” Alarie nudged her with a playful smile.
Illyana didn’t really care if she ran into a guy that could distract her from her current set of emotions, but she knew it would be fleeting. How could Alarie think that a fling with a stranger could erase three years worth of feelings she had for Adam?
Alarie had been dating Rafael off and on for at least five years! If they broke up for good, could she simply forget him and go with the next person who caught her interests?
Illyana didn’t voice her concerns but stared forward into the desert, trying again to see if she could just blank out her mind from those thoughts. It was better this way. She pushed off the wall from where she was leaning and went around the Jeep to see if Leona was done with getting the gas.
“Don’t worry, Daddy. We’ll be fine,” She heard Leona assure on her phone. The handle to the gas pump clicked and she removed it, and put the cap back on. “Yes, I know…I know…Daddy, I know. I love you too. Bye.”
Leona gave a helpless look after hanging up, “He’s worried we all are going to get married to strangers in Pandora. He spends too much time watching reality television.”
Illyana just nodded absently, not even cracking a smile at Leona’s statement.
Leona turned to Alarie and they exchanged concerned stares. Alarie gestured Leona over and said, “Let’s get something to drink.”
It was hot enough they could use a refreshment. Illyana stood where she was, still staring out at the desert landscape which wasn’t much to behold.
Leona sat on the bench against the outside of the gas station while Alarie browsed for a soda. She wiped some sweat off her brow that had accumulated as she had stood in the heat. "Speaking of drinks, my dad said to watch ours because he saw on the news there's this new drug going around called Torporia. Apparently, it's a roofie of some kind."
"Yeah, my dad mentioned something about that too. He's heard of a few cases in Scandalica City involving it," Alarie remarked; her father worked as a detective for the IDKP. Both girls knew better though; they would not accept open drinks from strange men or even men they sort of knew without seeing them made by the bartender first. Their fathers had all but warned them. Alarie stopped browsing the vending machine options and saw Illyana still standing by the Jeep, staring into the desert. Illyana's father was dead. If her were alive, Illyana's father would have castrated Adam Hamilton the moment he knew the reason for the break up.
“We gotta do something. She can’t stay like this–like some depressing lobotomy patient,” Alarie said with her usual brashness, referring to Illyana. She punched her choice of soda and heard a rumble and clanking as it fell inside the machine.
“She’s never been through something like this before though. She has to process it and heal.”
“Which is why…” Alarie fished her soda bottle out from the machine slot and then turned around and pointed it at Leona, “We are going to find her a good way to distract her from all this. She’s competitive. If we get her in on a poker table she will be there all night, I am sure of it.”
“Yes, until she is stone broke,” Leona frowned.
“Or…until she’s a millionaire,” Alarie grinned.
“Doubtful, but I agree she could use something to take her mind off the whole thing,” Leona nodded. She knew what heartbreak felt like, but it was a dull memory now. Seeing Antoine again last night, and actually getting to talk alone with him renewed all her hope, and if things went well this weekend and she established herself some more contacts in the music industry–well she’d be on top of the world.
They made it to the Pandora’s Box Hotel & Casino with little time to spare. Leona wasted no time in checking in and trying to charm the concierge into moving faster. All the while Illyana considered the luxurious open lobby space, speckled with desert flowers and other native wildlife. Through one threshold lay the hotel restaurant called the Cactus Bar & Lounge, while through another was a vast atrium containing a swimming pool. Then, through the middle was the bright lights and loud sounds of a lively casino, even at the noon hour people were trying their luck.
“Come on!” Leona nudged Illyana, breaking her of gaping around at the amenities. Leona passed her while dragging her roller suit case forward and through the casino floor toward an elevator. Alarie and Illyana followed, trying to to be too distracted by the slot machines and other assorted gambling fare.
Leona wiggled from side to side in excitement as they rode the elevator up to the room they’d be staying in, “I got us a three-room suite!”
“Wow, that sounds expensive…” Illyana replied and removed her sunglasses, “Are you sure you don’t need us to pitch in?”
“Nonsense, I told you guys it was my treat!” Leona smiled and they stopped off the elevator and onto their floor. The suite was more long than wide, they noted, as they stepped into a common room with a TV, table, and sofa.The windows looked out over the hotel’s roof, it was probably at least cheaper that way. There was a larger room toward the back and then two small rooms with twin beds.
“So, I have to get changed and meet Edric King and his manager at the Oasis, we’re having lunch and discussing the process for tonight’s show and I have a lot to cover,” Leona explained.
“Wait, the Oasis? You mean the Wild Scarlet Oasis?” Alarie seemed very curious all of a sudden and asked for clarification.
“Yeah that’s the one, what about it?”
“It’s only like the most exclusive spa in the region. You have to make reservations seasons and seasons in advance to get in and you get to go there just like that?” Alarie snapped her fingers to emphasize Leona’s luck to be going there.
“Oh I wasn’t aware,” Leona admitted and Alarie rolled her eyes, not surprised that her friends were never up to date on the coolest trends or places. Illyana reached out to calm Alarie’s dismay. Leona continued, “Anyhow, because of this crunch time, I probably won’t see you guys until after the concert.”
They had been slightly dismayed to find tickets had already sold out for the concert. Illyana even more so, but not because she was missing out on music by Edric King, but because she could have used the concert as a springboard for her journalism class, which had an assignment due in a few weeks and Illyana wanted her the subject to be on music.
“Well, good luck,” Illyana said and gave Leona a thumbs up.
“Yeah, knock them off their socks,” Alarie aired the same sentiment and made a pantomime of some fisticuffs.
“Thanks guys, and thanks for coming down here with me,” Leona smiled before dragging her suitcase into the larger room to get changed. She sighed, still with a smile on her face and looked at the bed appreciatively after being cramped in Illyana’s Jeep all morning. She couldn’t wait to relax and meet the popular singer.
Meanwhile, Illyana had claimed the small room with windows and had just sat down on her bed to take a moment and think. Now without Alarie and Leona’s bickering, she had some peace and quiet. She wouldn’t mind relaxing and maybe getting a start on outlining her paper. She’d had more ideas for how to structure it as the week went by.
Little did she know, Alarie had different plans for her–when she barged into the room and said, “Leona gets to have her fun but we’ll have ours. I propose we get dolled up and hit that casino floor with no regrets tonight.”
Illyana thought about it, she didn’t know entirely how to gamble or doll herself up to the extent Alarie was expecting. When she told Alarie this fact, her friend brushed it off with no worry, “I’ll take care of everything, just bring your A-Game and all your luck.”
Illyana didn’t know much about her luck considering recent events, but she was competitive and if there was something to be won from the night, she would make her absolute best attempt to win at it.