Chapter One - My Fateful Encounter
"Crap, I'm late for work" was the first coherent thought that crossed my mind as I drowsily rubbed my eyes and woke up to the cacophony of the alarm clock to realize that I was the only person left in the apartment. I cursed a string of swears as I hastily got to my feet and rushed into the bathroom to get ready for work, which had started about half an hour ago.
As I struggled to put on my trousers and realized that the zip was up, I had a dreading feeling that today was going to be the worst of days, if that was even possible, for more reasons than one. Being late for work didn't even make it on the list, hell, if it did then every day would be the worst of days. The main reason was the fact that my long-time friend and self-proclaimed adviser, Charlotte Moreau was coming down to London from France today to 'see how my little Lukie was doing' and I'd forgotten to arrange the extravagant welcoming party she was expecting.
Annoying? Yes, she was at times, but she was still a good friend. Heck, if she wasn't, I'd have punched her in the face for constantly referring to me as 'Lukie'.
Don't get me wrong, I'd never once thought of her as more than a friend and never will; she wasn't interested in rude Yanks and I wasn't interested in people in general.
Fine, so I had had a few relationships in the past, but all of those relationships ended awfully. I mean, literally car-crashed.
It was pouring (damn British weather) so I grabbed my black trench coat and made a run for the bus, albeit missing it by a mere second. I cursed under my breath and sighed as I decided to just endure the heavy rain and walk the mile and a half to work.
As I rushed down the bustling street, I noticed a florist's and saw this as the perfect opportunity to avoid Charlotte's wrath; if there wasn't going to be a welcoming party then a bouquet of roses might be able to calm her down a bit.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
However, as I was distracted by that thought, I temporarily forgot that I was standing in the middle of a crowded street and found myself crashing into an aloof stranger, causing the both of us to tumble to the floor.
I dropped my nametag and keys, making me curse in annoyance and I heard the stranger mutter an irritated "bloody hell" as he picked up his umbrella and quickly got to his feet to brush the dirt off his tweed sports coat (seriously, what sane young man in this century would wear tweed of all materials?), tilting his head down so I couldn't see his face. I was more than ready to smack this loser in the face if he blamed me for the collision, but as he lifted his face to smile at me and apologize, I found myself frozen and at a loss for words.
"I'm terribly sorry," he apologized in such a sincere way that I was almost convinced he was speaking from the heart.
I tried to speak, but strangely enough I found that my throat was dry, probably from gaping too much at his dazzling electric blue eyes. I cleared my throat as I forced myself to say something, anything.
"Um, er… It's fine," I muttered nervously in a barely audible whisper, causing him to lean closer and peer at me curiously, making me feel downright awkward.
His azure eyes lit up as he beamed in relief and backed away. "If you're all right then I have to excuse myself, I'm in quite a hurry," he explained formally with an apologetic and slightly embarrassed chuckle as he turned to leave.
I didn't understand why, but I suddenly felt the urge to grab him by the arm and stop him.
I didn't, of course. That would make me seem crazy.
So like any other ordinary person, I just stood there and gazed at his strikingly dashing figure until he disappeared into the crowd.
I was about to leave when I noticed something on the floor, probably something he'd dropped.
I raised an eyebrow. A book?
I crouched down to pick it up and dust it with the sleeve of my coat. Curious, I turned it over and read the title.
Grimms' Fairy Tales.
A grown man reading fairy tales.. Really?
I noticed a bookmark poking out from between the pages and opened the book to see that it was placed in between a chapter titled 'Cinderella'. A smile tugged at my lips and I couldn't help but snigger as I slipped the book into my coat pocket to keep it from getting any wetter from the showering rain.
I guess he won't mind if I take a peek at it later.
"We've been expecting you about an hour ago, Inspector Clouseau. You're lucky Boss didn't pass by to check up on us today," my co-worker and roommate, Lyle pointed out half-jokingly as I stepped into the café.
"First of all, Inspector Clouseau did not wear a black trench coat and second, the alarm clock didn't work so sue me," I grumbled as I shook the raindrops off my shoulders and was about to take off my coat when Felix, another one of my annoying co-workers and roommates stepped in from the locker room and upon seeing my irritated expression and dashing trench coat (the magnet that attracts all snarky comments), immediately grinned.
"Go, go, Gadget -"
"Don't even finish that sentence," I snapped with a threatening glare, causing him to quieten down. "If I'm Inspector Gadget then you're Brain the Dog," I mentioned sarcastically as I hung my jacket on the coat rack and brushed past him to hear a faint "gosh, Luke, no need to be such an arse" from the Irishman.
"Wow, you actually made a joke," Lyle remarked as he whipped up a latte for a waiting customer in the queue. "You must be in a pretty good mood today, huh?"
"I wouldn't go that far," I objected as I stepped into the locker room. "Let's just say that I'm able to stand Felix's dull humour today."
"Mate, don't lie to yourself. You love my jokes," Felix spoke up in that heavy Irish accent of his. "What's that you've got there?" he questioned, eyes lit up with curiosity as he noticed me shove the book into my locker.
"What do you think? It's a book," I replied and threw on my apron.
Lyle raised an eyebrow and questioned in slight disbelief, "You read?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."
I wasn't lying; I did read, a lot, actually… Just not children's bedtime stories, that was for sure.
I couldn't tell them the reason why I was in such a good mood. In fact, there was only one person who I could talk to personally without cringing and that person was Charlotte.
Christ, Charlotte. I forgot to buy the roses.
I mentally face-palmed myself as I worked alongside Lyle, who was casually chatting up a female customer. I rolled my eyes; "He's certainly using his American heritage to his advantage," I thought as I watched him smooth his spiky blonde hair and bedazzle the young woman with his charmingly distinct American accent.
Not that I was being condescending; I was American, too. Well, half-American, half-German, to be completely accurate.
Still, I decided to break it off since they were going on it for minutes on end and there was a line of angry customers gathering behind the unknowing redhead. "Lyle, stop chatting and get back to work," I growled, earning both of their attention.
To my surprise, it was the girl who spoke up. "Excuse me, but I was just in the middle of a conversation," she snapped.
I scowled. "Seemed more like eye-sex to me."
She flushed a bright shade of scarlet and I could literally feel her glare piercing my skin as she screeched, "Mind your own business! And what kind of employee talks like that?!"
"The kind who hate slutty teenagers."
I didn't have to look at him to know that Lyle was now in a fit of panic as the girl suddenly leaned over the counter to give me a hard slap across the cheek and then left in a huff, turning the angry customers into alarmed customers.
"You know, you could get fired for that," the blonde spoke up after he was sure that she was out of sight.
I shrugged. "She had it coming." I raised a hand to stroke my bruising cheek. "Third slap in a week," I remarked. "I must be pretty damn irresistible."
Lyle chuckled as we gestured for the customers to continue lining up and went back to work as if nothing had happened. Let's just say that stuff like that was commonplace what with me being around. It was a wonder that I wasn't fired yet.
"Mate, I've been calling you for the past two minutes!" Felix scowled in annoyance as he snapped his fingers in front of my face, making me to snap out of my daydream. "I said 'do you need anything from the corner shop'? My shift's over and I'm off to grab a few drinks before I leave," he repeated.
I gaped in disbelief and looked down at my watch.
4:00p.m. already? Time flies by so quickly when I'm daydreaming.
"Well?" The auburn-haired young man tapped his feet impatiently and furrowed his eyebrows. I wondered for a second if they sold roses at the corner shop… probably not.
He's probably in a rush to play Call of Duty or something.. I shouldn't keep the kid waiting.
"No, nothing," I hastily replied as I dipped into the till to take out a bit of change for a waiting customer. "See you later."
He nodded and turned to leave as Kai stumbled through the glass door, almost dropping his glasses as he did so. They exchanged greetings (Felix enthusiastically offering a high-five and Kai hesitantly taking it) as Felix exited the café and the other timidly stepped over to the counter and greeted me with a shy smile. "Um, I'm here to take over Felix's shift," he said, making me sigh and roll my eyes.
"I know, Kai. You've been doing that for the past two years," I dryly pointed out, causing him to squeak in embarrassment and duck past me to head into the locker room. Although we'd known each other for years, I figured that Kai would never cease to be intimidated by me and I would have to put up with it forever. He stopped for a second to glance at Lyle, who immediately looked away and pretended not to notice him. I frowned; even when Kai was our roommate for a year, he and Lyle never seemed to get along. I guess it was a typical jock-nerd relationship that they shared.
As I served the last customer in the line, I heard a faint vibration and the song She Blinded Me With Science was audible from the locker room. "Kai, turn that off," I scolded from the counter and heard the clumsy young man fumbling in his pockets.
"Um, this is an important call, Luke…" he reluctantly protested. "Can I please take it?"
I frowned in reluctance but nodded. "I'm not your boss, do what you want."
I couldn't see him, but I knew that he was smiling as he answered his phone. "Hello?"
Now, I wasn't the kind of person who snooped around and listened in to people's conversations, but this was an exception. Actually, I didn't listen to his conversation from the start, but a certain sentence grabbed my full attention.
"What? You lost your book?"
My ears perked up as I shut the till and immediately listened in to his phone call. Of course, I couldn't hear the person on the other end of the call, but I tried anyway.
"Why don't you just buy a new one or borrow one from the library?" Kai suggested to his friend.
No way, it can't be him. Such coincidences can't possibly exist.
"Okay, well, I've got to go so I'll call you again later." He hung up and approached me, causing me to stiffen in surprise and pretend that I was focusing on work.
"Who was that?" I asked nonchalantly.
"Oh, just a friend," he replied, a bit surprised that I'd bothered to ask. "He's quite clumsy, he lost a book on the way to university," he added with a slightly amused chuckle.
This was the perfect opportunity to ask what book it was so I took it. "What book would that be?"
It's definitely not the book I picked up, why do I even bother asking?
"Grimms' Fairy Tales."