Hi all. This is technically the sequel to False Facades, but it can probably be read as a separate entity.
That being said . . .
"I'm going to leave first, Dad. I'll see you back at the hotel, okay?"
"Already?" The man looked up from the paperwork scattered over his desk, his blue eyes flickering up to the clock on the wall and then to the open organizer beside his hand before he tugged his cuff up to check his watch again. "It's only two. Can't you stay for a little longer?"
"Oh. Why? Is there something important you want done?"
"Well . . . no. No, not particularly. I suppose – I guess it doesn't seem like they're coming today –"
"Just some business partners, son."
"Uh huh." Pause. "So I'll be leaving then?"
"Oh. Yes, I suppose that's fine. Right. Right. I'll just call the driver for you –"
"It's okay, Dad. I think I can find my own way back. Besides, I want to do a bit of sightseeing anyway before it gets too dark." Tristan Harland, son of Patrick Harland, the CEO of Harland Incorporation and the Harland Hotels, opened the door with a wry smile. "After all, it's not every day you're in Beijing."
The boy stepped out of the elevators and headed toward the doors. As he walked past the front desk, the security guards stood up and greeted him. "Good afternoon, Mr. Harland."
Tristan nodded back. "Afternoon, gentlemen. See you tomorrow." He pushed through the glass doors and the sweltering heat enveloped him. The sun illuminated his hair like fiery white gold and his eyes automatically narrowed against the light. Donning his shades, he sauntered out into the bustling streets.
Bells jingled from bicycles and horns blared from passing cars. A colorful mosaic of umbrellas swarmed all around. An umbrella to diffuse some of the light seemed to be one of the main necessities for traveling around in China. The sun could be particularly unforgiving. Tristan didn't bother.
The languid clamor of the crowd around him had a peculiar way of making him feel especially lonely. It was his summer before his last year in high school and his father had insisted on making Tristan accompany him on his annual visit to their business headquarters in Beijing.
His younger sister, Carrie, had managed to beg off and was probably spending all her time at home with her boyfriend, Jack, and the others.
Unbidden, a shade of bold crimson came to mind and Tristan's pace slowed. Samantha Westlane. The newest addition to their group. Sammy with her scarlet tresses and quiet nature, perpetually turning pink whenever she was particularly embarrassed, angry, excited, happy – funny, he mused. Has there ever been a day that she's gone through without blushing? A soft smile touched his lips. I wonder how she's doing. She's probably hanging out a lot with Carrie as well. Carrie – and Vincent. Sammy's boyfriend and Tristan's neighbor and friend - of sorts.
He paused, peering up at the sun and glancing over at the storefronts around him. Rivulets of sweat rolled down his temples and he unbuttoned his collar. Closing his eyes ruefully, he shook his head. Maybe I should have gotten an umbrella after – His eyes flew open as something careened into his back. He stumbled forward and instinctively reached out to grab something to keep his balance.
He didn't fall but a loud squawk made him wince. His eyes darted up. An elderly lady with freckled, wrinkled skin shrieked at him. His hand was still clutching her shoulder. He ducked his head. "I'm terribly sorry! I didn't mean to –" The person who had crashed into him suddenly grabbed his shoulder from behind and his hand continued to slide down the lady's shoulder. He jerked away. "I'm sorry! I –"
The lady was now mottled red. She cranked back her arm and unleashed a hefty purse upon his head. Multiple times. She jabbered loudly as she shook her head.
Tristan tried to fend off the woman even as he attempted to maintain the delicate balance of staying upright with his assailant perched on his back. "Will you get the hell off of me already?" He hissed at the stranger behind him.
A distinctly female voice drawled in clear English. "We wouldn't be in this situation if you hadn't been bumbling around on the street, blocking traffic." The English turned to rapid Mandarin as the mysterious girl behind him tried to placate the elderly lady who was still trying to take out his eye.
The woman in front of him cooled down and nodded, eyeing him suspiciously. Then she turned and shuffled off.
Tristan rubbed his shoulder. "What did you say to her?"
He turned around then and found himself eye to eye with the owner of the voice. Soft brownish black hair pulled up in a high ponytail, wispy tendrils fringed eyes that were a pale shade of honey ochre. Dressed in a bulky white T-shirt with sleeves that hung nearly down to her elbows and a pair of baggy beige shorts, she cocked her head lazily. "You're welcome."
He arched an eyebrow. "I'm sorry – was I supposed to thank you for hurtling into me?"
She cocked her head in return. "So I take it's supposed to be my fault you were lumbering around on a busy street like that?"
"Is it a crime to stand on the street?"
"It should be, especially when you're blocking traffic."
An unusual spark of annoyance flickered through him. "So you tried to go through me? Excellent idea."
He thought he could hear the gnashing of her teeth. Good. "No. Actually, I was in a rush and you just happened to stop right in front of -" She suddenly paused and looked over her shoulder, shifting uneasily. Then she redoubled back on him, jabbing her finger into his chest. "Next time you want to stop in the middle of the road, do us all a favor and try to drag yourself out of the way –" Her eyes caught on something over his shoulder and she stiffened. Then she spun around on her heels, neatly whipping Tristan in the face with her ponytail, and sped off.
He spluttered, rubbing at his eyes. "What the –" He was bowled over again as two men in dark suits rushed past him. He caught his balance and carded a hand through his hair, squinting at the runners. "This is not my day."
Tristan rubbed his neck sorely as he walked through the streets. He didn't much enjoy shopping, but he had a certain fondness for bazaars and marketplace type of settings. He could still vaguely remember himself as a young child clinging to his mother's hand as they walked through some fair of a sort. She always loved buying small trinkets.
His eyes drifted lazily across each shop's display on the table posted outside. A loud ring interrupted his thoughts then and he fished his cell phone out of his pocket. He slid it open and lifted it to his ear. "What, Will?"
"Miss me?" William Carter's cheerful voice came through nice and clear.
"Denial. Get me any souvenirs yet?"
Tristan checked his watch. "Will, isn't it really late over there? Why are you calling?"
"I just wanted to remind you to get me goodies. Any hot Chinese girls or guys? Either will be most excellent, especially if you throw in a little fortune cookie along the side."
"What is this? Ordering take-out?"
Tristan picked up a thin gold bracelet and turned it between his fingers. "So how are the others?"
"Jack and Carrie still sitting in a tree. So are Vince and Sammy. And Caine still trying to haul Danielle up one. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes a baby – well, hey, I'm your baby, baby –"
"How's Sammy doing? And her brother?" A silver necklace with a small, simple ruby red crystal setting caught his eye then. His fingers gravitated toward it.
"She's okay. Terry's okay. We've all been visiting him a lot. He's making great progress and the doctors said he might make a full recovery soon. Quite a feat for someone who spent such a long time in a coma. You should see him and Vincent together. Vincent gets all flustered and you can totally tell Terry wants to levitate out of his chair and kick his little sweet behind –"
"How much is this?" A hand bumped into his just as he scooped up the necklace.
He looked up into a pair of startled eyes. The eyes turned into slits. "Oh. It's you." The human cannonball who had so kindly barreled into him before glanced down at the necklace in his hand. She gestured at it. "Terribly sorry, but I had my eye on it first."
"Who's that? There's a girl with you, isn't there? Who is she? Tell me! Tell me!" Will jabbered excitedly in his ear.
"No one important. Got to go, Will. Talk to you later."
"Wait –" Click.
Tristan held up the necklace, dangling it from his fingers. He sent a sidelong glance over at the girl. "Oh, you want this?"
She stared at him. "No. I just felt like setting it free in the woods."
"Ah. How considerate of you."
"It's in my nature to be considerate."
"I see." They eyed each other and then he turned his back on her. His smile was dialed up to dazzling and the storeowner, a pleasant woman in a flower print dress, flushed. "I'll take this, please. How much?"
The woman scribbled down a number on a notepad and held it up for him. "80 RMB?"
The girl shook her head. "What? That's not a good –"
"Thanks." Tristan handed over the money and shook his head when the woman offered a bag. Whistling lightly, he turned away from the shop with his prize in hand and walked off.
"Hey! Hey!" The girl caught up with him. "Haven't you heard that you're not supposed to pay the first price they ask for? You're supposed to bargain with them!"
He shrugged. "What does it matter? I thought it was a reasonable price." He swung the necklace on his finger. "After all, it's such a pretty piece, isn't it?"
Her lips thinned. "Well, gee thanks for being so gentlemanly."
"Welcomed." He grinned lazily at her as he strolled off.
She followed him, ticked off at his blasé attitude. "I can't believe you just took the necklace even after I asked you so nicely for it."
"Did you, now? Funny. I don't believe what you said could ever qualify as asking and never as so nicely."
Her eyes flared and she muttered between gritted teeth. "Fine. I'll pay you 85 RMB for it then."
Tristan cocked a brow. "Oh wow, ma'am. I'll never go hungry now."
Her glare was lethal. "95."
"Sorry. It's not for sale. Why don't you go find something else?"
"Why do you want the damn necklace so much anyway?" She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear impatiently. "It's not like it'll look good on you."
Tristan flashed a blinding smile. "It won't? Darn. And I had thought it would match my complexion so well."
She bared her teeth at him. "So what? Is it for your girlfriend?"
She had walked ten steps before she realized that he was no longer beside her. She halted, turning around. He was just standing there. She frowned. "What?"
His blue eyes were subdued. Shifting awkwardly, she arched her neck defiantly. "What?"
His voice was even and quiet. "No. No, it isn't. It's for a friend. Not that it's any of your business." He walked away.
She blinked at his retreating back. "Oh? Well, it's not like I wanted to know anyway. And with your attitude, it's no wonder you don't have a girlfriend to give . . . necklaces . . . to . . ." Her hand came up to cover her eyes. "Oh man, this is not my day."
The necklace still dangling on his finger, he lifted his hand up and watched the clear crimson crystal swing before his eyes in a hypnotic momentum. It'll look good on her. It'll match her hair. "So what? Is it for your girlfriend?" He rapped his knuckles against his temple. No.
He studied the necklace one last time before looking away. Then he took a step off the curb.
Well, at least he would have if he hadn't suddenly been yanked backward by the scruff of his shirt. He choked on his collar. Rubbing his neck, he whirled around and came face to face with the same girl again.
"What?" He seethed between his teeth. "What in the world is wrong with you? You're a stalker, aren't you?"
She was heaving deep breaths as if she'd just ran fifty miles. She doubled over, pressing her hands to her knees and peeking up at him through the fringe of her hair. "Don't you even know how to cross the road?"
"Excuse me?" Tristan snapped. He threw up his hands. "I get it. You're a lunatic. A completely obsessive lunatic." He turned around. "Here, miss. Want me to show you what a big boy I am?"
He nearly tripped. Oh, I don't believe this. He looked down. "Are you clinging to my leg?"
She jerked away and rose up before invading his personal space. Rearing up on her toes, she could almost tower over him. "Would you stop trying to jump off the curb and kill yourself? It'll be messy and bloody and I sure as hell don't want to be the main witness to your messy and bloody death!"
His stare was unperturbed. "And what in the bloody world are you blabbering about?"
She jabbed her thumb at the road. "You can't just go speeding off into the road. This is not America. We'll run you over faster than you can try to emulate Frogger."
He leaned forward and she instinctively tried to edge backward before she remembered to hold her ground. "Miss, I think I know enough how to prevent myself from standing in the way of an incoming car."
"Oh really? Because from your display earlier, it really doesn't say much about your knowledge on how to get the hell out of the way."
His fingers curled and he realized that this was the first time he was ready to throttle someone – beside Vincent – and Sammy's disgusting uncle - of course.
"Didn't your Mommy ever teach you to look both ways before crossing?"
He found his hands clamped on her arms before either of them could blink. There was a long pause. She arched an eyebrow. He let his hands slide away, but his voice was icy. "Just for your information, Miss I Can't Seem To Mind My Own Business, my mother's been dead for quite some time now, but hey, not to worry, I think episodes of Sesame Street taught me well enough."
She blinked. Then she shifted, rubbing her hands against her shorts. "Oh." And stammered, "Wow. I'm sorry. I mean – I didn't - I'm –"
"Don't." He was already kicking himself for blabbering to this demented girl.
She cleared her throat and tried to press on anyway because sometimes, it was the only thing a person could do. Continue rolling on and hopefully, everyone else will back down. She stared into the boy's stolid blue eyes. Or you just roll right over them. "But – but if you had really looked, you would have seen that truck coming –"
"I did see it. And I believe that if you hadn't ambushed me, I would have already been across the street and probably back already – twice - in the time it would take for the truck to drive past."
She automatically scoffed. "Please. You would have been flattened like a pancake – twice – if you had tried."
He gritted his teeth and looked away. "I can't talk to you. You're driving me nuts."
"You were just too busy mooning over that stupid necklace you stole from me so don't lie that you were paying attention to the road!"
"I never lie and I was not mooning over the necklace. I'm not some kid. I know how to – oh god, I don't even know why I'm wasting my time arguing with you." He ran his hand across his face and started to stride away. He turned around momentarily to hold up a hand. "Just – just please. Please don't let me ever see you again."
She bit her lip before yelling at his back. "Well, you won't have to worry. Because I never ever want to see you again either! Idiot! Ungrateful jerk!"
He snarled over his shoulder. "Thank you ever so much then, your highness!"
"You're freaking welcome! Freak!" Her breaths came out in harsh gasps and she turned around to trudge off in the opposite direction. "Stupid tourist," she muttered.
He was about a block away when he suddenly had a nagging notion that he was forgetting something. He looked down at his empty hands and he closed his eyes. Patting his pockets all over, he grimaced. "Oh, I can't believe this." He jogged back, retracing his steps as he peered along the ground. "Where – where –" He furrowed his brows and raised his eyes just in time to catch a red glimmer.
It was hanging out of the gaping pocket of a pair of beige shorts. The beige shorts that were covering the long striding legs of a girl in a white T-shirt and a loose ponytail – "Ah hell." He stood up to give chase after the girl who'd been the bane of his existence the whole day. "Hey! Wait!"
She was two blocks away, still grumbling to herself when she heard a noise from behind. Her neck twisted around to peer curiously over her shoulder. Her eyes widened.
The idiot was sprinting at full speed toward her, yelling something or another. She cocked her head. The idiot did look kind of good with his blonde hair offset by a modest tan and the most amazing pair of crystal blue eyes she had ever seen. Now that he was running like some lifeguard straight off of that Baywatch show her slob of an uncle watched, she could see how certain girls - those who probably never had to talk to him - might find him attractive. Maybe.
He didn't look particularly happy though. Oh man. Did he hear what I said about him being some stupid tourist and now he wants to challenge me to a duel or something? But hell, I called him a lot of names so how could he possibly get angry over that? Am I going to be in trouble? I - Her mouth went dry then. Coming up right behind him were two familiar men in dark suits. Oh crap. She tried to minimize herself. Whoops. Too late. They'd caught sight of her and were already making their way over. Her eyes darted back and forth between them and the idiot and she made up her mind.
Spinning around on her heels, she flew away. Her legs pumping crazily, she dodged random pedestrians and ran like she had never ran before.
What the hell? Tristan almost came to a full stop in his shock as he watched the girl speed off, careening around the corner. His eyes darkened and he picked up his pace again, this time with anger pumping the adrenaline through his veins. "Hey! Hey, you! Come back here! You little thief . . ."
He was five steps behind her and he could see that she moved like liquid, cutting through the crowd easily. Damn. She was a good runner. "Hey! You! Stop!"
She blinked at him from over her shoulder, but she kept darting ahead. Why the hell is he still running?
"You stole my necklace!" He bent his head forward.
The pounding of her heart and her steps against the pavement echoed in her ears and she furrowed her brows in confusion. "What? What did you say?" She screamed over her shoulder.
"You stole my necklace!"
A truck conveniently blared its horn from across the street then and she made out something along the lines of You . . . mow . . . my . . . paste. She shook her head, but didn't stop. "Huh? What? I can't hear you!"
"You little - I said, you stole my –" Tristan stumbled on something then and crashed to the ground, his palms and knees scraping against the hard surface. He blinked up dazedly to see the elderly lady who had beaten him with her purse this afternoon standing over him victoriously. "Lady, please don't tell me this is just a small world."
She simply wagged a finger at him and retrieved the cane she had used to trip him before ambling off.
Two pairs of feet narrowly missed him as two men leapt over his body, turning the corner at neck breaking speed.
The girl was gone.
So was Sammy's necklace.
Tristan dropped his face into his hands. "This is really not my day."
The door to the suite opened. Patrick Harland looked up from his newspaper. "Hey, son –" He stared.
Tristan limped through the door, his palms bleeding and his blonde hair dusty. Streaks of dirt adorned the boy's clothes and his pants were slightly ripped at the knee.
"What in the world –"
"Don't ask." Tristan lumbered across the room and sat down heavily on the couch.
There was a moment of silence and then, "I'm thinking of going home this weekend."
"Oh." Patrick kept his voice carefully neutral.
"But you haven't even had a real proper tour of the city yet."
"Oh, believe me," Tristan chuckled darkly. "I've had quite an adventure already."
"Oh. Huh. Well, are you sure?" Patrick seemed visibly disappointed.
"Yeah." Blue eyes darted over to appraise the man. "Why? Did you have something in mind?"
"Oh. Well. Sort of." Patrick refused to meet his son's eyes. "But it's alright. There'll be more opportunities in the future, I guess."
Tristan leaned back in his seat and narrowed his eyes. "What opportunities?"
The man shrugged, lifting the newspaper up to his eyes again. "You'll see."
"Did I not say that you were supposed to be home by noon? Didn't I?"
She winced and ducked her head low. "I'm sorry. It's just – I just don't think it's a very good idea –"
"Not a good idea? You had my men running around the city after you all day long – you think that was a good idea?"
She fell silent.
"Why do you always have to be such a disappointment? Look at you. Wearing such grungy clothes – didn't I specifically tell you to try to be more refined? You're not a child anymore."
"You were the one who said that you'll try to fulfill your mother's last wish. You were the one who said it'll be okay and then what did you do? You ran away again."
Her heart sank. "Yes, I know, but I didn't know it'll be so soon. I was just – just so shocked. I needed some air. I'm really sorry."
"That's all you ever say. I'm sorry." He pressed his fingers to his forehead and waved a hand at her as if dismissing one of their servants. "Enough. Leave. I have to make apologies."
She stood up. "I'm truly sorry, Father. I won't disappoint you again."
He snorted and turned away from her.
The girl backed up and walked out of the room, her steps stiff and robotic. She managed to reach her room and close the door behind her before sinking to the floor. Her eyes followed the trail of reddish orange remnants of the setting sun and she slammed her fist against the ground. Gritting her teeth tightly, she dropped her head to her knees and it was then that she felt something fall out of her pocket.
She frowned and picked up the necklace. Turning it in the palm of her hand, she arched an eyebrow. "And just how did you get in here? Did that idiot accidentally let you slip into my pocket while he was spieling Sesame Street at me?" Then she blinked. "Oh. So maybe that's why he was chasing after me."
A corner of her lips tipped up as she leaned back against the door. Swinging it before her so that the last light caught on the ruby red jewel, she murmured, "Well. I guess maybe this means you're meant to be mine after all."
I'm back! I apologize for being AWOL for so long. But I really have been writing – it just takes me forever because I'm such an indecisive gal. I kept scrapping and reworking chapters until I'm near bleeding TristanTristanTristan out of my pores. I wrote three drastically different versions of just the first chapter until I finally just closed my eyes and refused to open the file again. I do hope you liked this intro though.
To put you all out of the misery I gave you for False Facades, I will be setting deadlines for updates: a new chapter will be posted every week or at the latest, every other week. The long wait for this first chapter was mainly due to trying to get several pre-written chapters in storage so that I can crank them out at a reasonable pace right from the start. That, and my sobbing over Chemistry and Physics also kinda delayed things.
Thanks for reading and I hope you'll stick around for Chapter Two next week.
Thanks to Intorqueo for catching my mistakes. You work really fast – I was just about to edit all the kinks out of the border dividers when your review came through. :) Thanks so much - I've been trying to decide between the tenses for welcome. I completely blanked out. Thanks again!
Thanks to four squared for picking up on another blunder of mine. Whoo! I really need you guys. Thanks for keeping me on my toes!
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