Christopher squeezed the trigger and delivered the final blow of death. The sound of the gunshot resounded off the paint-peeling walls as he fired directly at the gigantic man's head. His aim was right on, despite the pain in his arm.
The giant grunted as the bullet hit its mark and life went out of his eyes. Swaying dangerously, he fell heavily on his side, shuddering as he bled out. Christopher wiped the sweat that had gathered on his brow with his sleeve and looked away from the body. Without a backward glance, he rushed past the man and up the steps to find the room; that held his fate and housed his destiny.
He flung open a door, only to find an empty room. With hurrying steps, he shouldered open the next one, again nothing. Finally, he reached the last door and without a moment of hesitation, he pulled back his leg, putting all his weight into the kick. The rotting door burst from its hinges in an explosion of wood and dust, landing inside the room. When the debris settled the room was silent. Now he hesitated.
Gripping his gun at his side, he slowly stepped one foot into the room and looked around. There was nothing but gloom. The air smelt old, as if no one had cracked a window in years. He continued into the room, his brown eyes sweeping through then his eyes landed on her. He froze as their eyes locked. All he could hear was his heart thundering in his ears. All of the trouble he had been through for this woman, at that very moment, was all worth it. He would have easily suffered ten times over for her.
In an instant, she flew across the room and was in his arms, burying her face in his shirt and crying with relief. His arms circled her tiny body, careful with his gun and held her close, allowing himself to relax for the first time in ages.
"I knew you'd come back," she whispered into his shoulder.
"How could I stay away?"
She pushed back from Christopher enough to see him as her lips tugged into a smile. Her smile warmed him. With no restraint, he closed the distance and kissed her tenderly on the mouth. She sucked in a breath of surprise, but a moment later was pressing her lips back to his, sealing their first kiss. When they parted, her cheeks glowed with a rosy flush. Now he was smiling.
He grabbed her small hand in his and hurried to the door. "Let's get out of here."
She laughed nervously in agreement, squeezing his hand as they descended the stairs, stepped over the body and then out into the world.
The sun had almost set behind the surrounding abandoned warehouses and condemned houses; kissing the sky and making it blush, just as she had moments before. Without hesitation Christopher pulled her to him and kissed her the way he'd always imagined. She was safe and now she was his.
He walked his motorcycle out of the bushes outside the strange house. She climbed on after him and pressed herself to his back, her arms circling his waist, as if they had always been this way. As he started the engine and felt her warm body against his, he smiled, realizing that today was the start of a new life.
He revved the engine and shot forward, putting that horrible house as far behind them as possible and driving into the sunset−
"Hold on!" I muttered to myself, slamming the book shut. "They can't just−That's way too good to be true." Grunting in distaste, I threw the romance book to the side.
"Stories are good for the soul, no matter how farfetched," my grandma always said. However, the only thing stories and fairytales had ever gotten me were false hopes and heartache.
Prince Charming was NOT real and he was NOT going to sweep into my tiny New York apartment, carry me down the fire escape, and into his noble white Mustang Convertible, though just the thought made me sigh wistfully.
I finally eased to a stand from the couch, my muscles aching in protest with every move. How long have I been sitting in that position? I asked myself, placing a hand on my back like an old woman and tried to stand straight. Long enough to finish that stupid book and earn myself a good cramp. I didn't know why I even bothered with books like that. They were all the same and they all disgusted me in the end.
As I shuffled past the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of the clock and cursed. I'm late! I ran into my room, more like stumbled into my room, and threw on the first pair of pants I could find. They were crumpled on the floor and probably in need of a washing, but I didn't have time to be picky. That's what I get for having a lazy day. I scolded myself harshly. I tugged my stubborn long brown hair into a sloppy ponytail and rushed out the door, just remembering to grab my purse and jacket.
Nothing ever got done on lazy days…I suppose that's the purpose of them, but lazy days had begun to outnumber productive days.
A short bus ride later, I arrived at Central Park and rushed through the gate to my special bench that sat nestled under the eighth tree to the right. The woman on the bench was tense with agitation and looked at her watch a total of three times before I reached her. "Maggie! I'm so sorry!"
The woman with red curls bouncing to her shoulders, Maggie, turned and sighed. Maggie and I had been friends since high school where we met in history class and had bonded instantly. Ever since we had met, we'd been as thick as thieves. We'd seen each other through the good and the bad, the ugly and the uglier. She was almost like a sister to me, a sister I never had.
"Late again, Jen."
"I know, I know. I was…reading."
Maggie rolled her green eyes knowingly. "Another romance." It wasn't a question. It almost made me feel ashamed that I was that predictable.
Maggie stood and wrapped her scarf closer to her neck. In her hand was a cup of Starbucks that was still giving off steam. Seeing the steam reminded me just how cold it was today. I was thankful I remembered my jacket. In an effort to keep out the chill, I tugged my jacket closer and fell into step beside Maggie.
It was her idea to get some "fresh city air" before it snowed.
I noticed that even though she had a warm drink she was hugging her arms to her body to keep herself warm. Guilty thoughts flooded my mind instantly. If I weren't so late, she wouldn't be so cold. I battled the thought aside. Maggie was a big girl; she could handle herself.
Despite the cold Maggie, started what was only to be expected of her, a long stream of the gossip she'd recently heard at the office. I had taken the weekend off so that I could clean my apartment and run errands, though none of that had gotten done. She acted as though it had been forever since she had last seen me.
We both got hired on at the office around the same time, though I was a secretary and Maggie worked in payroll. We saw each other practically every day of the week, even when we weren't at work.
As we walked, we passed joggers and bikers, braving the cold for their last laps before it grew too cold. All the children who played wore fluffy coats and some scarves, hats and gloves.
We talked about the newest addition to the office; a European man named John. Maggie was trying to convince me to go out with him. He wasn't my type, but honestly, I was surprised that she hadn't tried for him yet.
"He's cute," she said as she continued to press the issue on me.
I shook my head. "He…looks at himself too much."
Maggie nearly spat out her coffee as she laughed.
"It's true," I rushed on before she could contradict. "He carries around that stupid little mirror and comb. It's like he's stuck in a greaser movie."
Maggie laughed again, "I guess that's true. Still, when are you going to go out on more than one date with a guy? I don't think I've ever seen you call a guy back, Jen. It's been…how long?"
I winced. You don't have to remind me, I thought. "I know…It's just there's no one around worth going out with a second time."
"What about Ted?"
"Ugh, too old," I said, blowing on my hands in an effort to warm them.
"Ok, Justin? He was nice," she pressed.
All I had to do was give her a look and she mentally crossed the name off the list. "Brandon? Chad? Matt?"
"Pervert. Creepy. Has stalker potential," I listed on my fingers.
Maggie sighed. "One of these days you'll have to face the fact that there is no 'Mr. Perfect' out there," She said, doing a quotation gesture and everything.
I gaped. "I know that! I just…I'm too busy for a relationship right now." I knew the words sounded lame before they even left my mouth, but it was too late to take them back.
She snorted at me then shrugged. "Fine. You can't say I didn't try. You're destined to be alone I guess."
I frowned deeply at the thought. Alone? Forever? It was sad that all it took was one heartbreak to turn me into an introvert who would eventually end up with ten cats, living alone and reading crappy romance novels.
We exited the park and walked through the streets. Vendors were still out, the owners of the booths in thick jackets to fight the cold. We passed tables displaying jewelry, movies, books, maps, trinkets, and a booth where you could have your portrait hand drawn. We hardly spared a glance.
Maggie thankfully changed the subject from my lack of love life to her latest find, a man named Noah. She didn't like the name, but she was all for his body. I rolled my eyes, typical Maggie; she pestered me about going out with less-than-attractive men and here she was, the shallowest woman I knew.
She repeated my name, pulling me from my thoughts. "Huh?"
"I said Noah has a friend." She lifted her eyebrows suggestively.
I shook my head. "No, no more blind dates. You promised!" Unwillingly I remembered my latest blind date with a man who had such an annoying laugh and for some reason he thought everything I said was funny. Or the time before that when I was coupled with a complete slob who smelled like dirty socks. It was obvious that the man had been desperate for a date. There I was with Mr. Bad Hygiene and there Maggie was, with his cousin, a drop-dead gorgeous model that was in town for a shoot. How she pulled, that one off I'd never know.
"But he's really cute!" she persisted.
"No. I've had enough blind dates to last me forever."
"You've only been on four," she said skeptically.
"And believe me, that was more than enough." We laughed and crossed the street with the crowds of people.
Suddenly Maggie gasped. "You still haven't met Noah, have you?"
I shook my head. And I don't plan to.
"Want to meet him?" she asked sweetly.
I shook my head firmly. "I'll pass on meeting the new love interest, thanks."
She shrugged. "I think he might be…different."
"Different?" I asked. "Might be?" We walked through the crowds and stopped into one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall bookstores that wasn't too far from central park.
She gave me a look as she started to browse the newest arrivals. "He's not a jerk like the others."
"Not yet, you mean," I said as I absentmindedly ran my finger along the spine of a book. She gave me another look. "He really is nice. There's something about him…He's so strong."
I rolled my eyes and snorted. "Strong?"
"In a mysterious sort of way. It's hard to explain, but I feel so safe around him." She said as she made a selection from the magazine rack and walked to the checkout desk.
I shook my head in disbelief and eyed the romance section wearily. I swore to myself that I wouldn't read another romance if my life depended on it. My obsession was not healthy. It couldn't even be called an obsession when I hated every book I read, could it?
We left the shop and joined the crowd again, settling into a comfortable silence. A while later, we arrived at my apartment and began the long climb up to my floor, all thoughts of Noah and romance books set aside.
I let us in. Without a word, she made herself at home, heading straight for the fridge, with a monstrous sweet tooth no doubt. What she found didn't please her. "You really need to go shopping."
"I've been meaning to go…" I spoke the truth. I had been planning to shop, but one book after another had stolen my time. What a waste! There were days when I would forget to eat all together.
She closed the fridge door and turned to me, propping her hands on her hips.
"Just like you've been 'meaning' to do the laundry? Or to take out the trash? Sometimes I worry about you." With pursed lips, she looked around my pigsty of an apartment. "Let's go food shopping now."
I groaned. We just got in and I didn't want to face the cold again.
"Come on, I'm hungry," she urged, looking at me with her special pout that always made me do whatever she wanted. I wondered just how powerful that look would be on a man. I laughed to myself at the thought of a man tripping over his feet to do her bidding. Lucky, I thought bitterly. With a sigh, I slipped on my jacket again and grabbed my purse.
We descended the stairs and Maggie bounced. I was grateful to have a friend like her, but sometimes I'd rather wallow in self-pity than be with Ms. Energetic. She always had to be doing something, unlike me, who was perfectly happy just reading, pondering, or watching people go about their routines without ever knowing someone else was tuning in. It was quite entertaining.
We joined the pace of the hundreds of people on the streets. I glanced at my watch and realized it was rush hour so the whole city was out, when only moments ago it had been manageable. I frowned at Maggie. "This was your idea."
She shrugged and smiled at me as we hurriedly crossed the street to get out of traffics way. I didn't understand why people even bothered to buy cars; there was never any parking in the city. We walked a few blocks from my apartment and entered a small corner store, the only store with reasonable prices. I waved to Jerry, the owner of the store and an old family friend.
"Jennifah, I haven't seen you lately. Don't tell me you found anothah store to shop at," he teased in a thick city accent. He laughed and his belly jiggled. He was a large man but in a warm sort of way, like Santa without the white hair. His looks were deceiving; he had a mouth that would put a sailor to shame when liquor had a hold of him.
"Jer, I'd never shop anywhere else."
He smiled and winked, the skin around his eyes falling into his well-worn smile lines. "No one can beat my prices."
Maggie rolled her eyes as she grabbed a cart.
We grabbed the necessities: milk, bread, cheese, frozen pizza, and chocolate, but I couldn't help but wonder if Maggie was adding things that she wanted to the cart. My suspicions proved correct when I watched her put a cheesecake in the basket. I don't even like cheesecake!
As we continued scanning different aisles, I began sneaking her items out of the cart. I knew that she did not intend to pay for anything in the cart, she never did. By the time we reached Jerry's register, all her things were gone. As we passed the items to Jerry to ring up she began to notice her chosen items missing. She said nothing, but threw me a glare. I just smiled sweetly.
My week was packed with work, leaving me little time to realize how lonely life truly was. I showed up to the office every morning at seven, got home at four (sometimes much, much later), ran a few errands. Every few days I visited my grandma in the retirement home.
My mom was the one to check her in, I would have taken care of her myself if I wasn't so busy. I averaged 3-4 shifts of overtime a week at least and I was constantly traveling for my job as an assistant to a law firm. Sometimes, I hardly even saw my apartment, but I did make the effort to spend at least an hour with grandma every time I visited. Maggie just didn't understand. I spoke the truth when I said I didn't have time for dates, let alone a boyfriend.
The thought made me sad. The heroines in the books I hated, pathetic, as they were, never seemed to have anything to do but be in a relationship. In a way, I envied those women.
It wasn't always this way. I used to be more outgoing. I was going to college to become an editor and had plans to complete an internship for a large publishing house. When had everything changed so drastically?
My life had taken a turn for…the boring. I was not an editor, I was a secretary who worked for scraps. I never saw my parents because they were too busy with their country clubs and traveling. And the only constant people in my life were Maggie and Grandma. They were good enough to take me with my insecurities and all.
I sighed heavily as the copy machine jammed, again. Of course, it works just fine for everyone else. Opening the front tray, I peered in to find the jam. I didn't have time for this to happen everytime I needed to make copies. They should pay me extra for always fixing this damn thing, I thought.
Eyeing the jam, I bent clear over, reaching my arm into the bowels of the copier and feeling for the paper.
Suddenly, someone cleared their throat behind me and made me jump, wrenching my arm painfully from the machine and earning myself a good scrap.
I whipped around and had to seriously suppress the urge to groan. Charley, from the third floor, stood smiling at me.
Maggie had somehow convinced me to go on a date with him maybe a month ago; it had been the longest night of my life!
Pure agony, was the definition of listening to Charley in his monotone voice talk about his "exciting" job as a claims clerk and his unhealthy obsession with the show Survivior.
After the date, I never returned a single call from him and last week, I had literally turned around and hurried off in the opposite direaction when I saw him coming. You'd think he would get the hint!
I could've strangled Maggie for setting me up with him; now he wouldn't leave me alone.
Quickly regaining my composure, I closed the copier. "Uh...hi Charley."
"I tried calling you again last night. Thought you might want to have a Survivor marathon, since you said you'd only seen a few episodes. I have every season."
"I was busy," I said, grabbing my papers that I had needed copied and decided I'd rather handwrite them than continue this conversation; heck, if I was out of ink, I'd even be willing to write it in blood.
"Have you been avoiding me?" he asked.
"Why would I do that?" I retorted sarcastically.
He shrugged. "So, wanna come over tonight?"
I finally managed to squeeze through the doorway. "Uh, I have this...thing. Family thing. Sorry, can't." and with that, I hurried away. As soon as I turned the corner, I ran like a bat out of Hell for my office.
Never again would I date anyone from work. It wasn't worth it!
One thing was certain, Maggie would die at my hands the next time I saw her.
If guys like Charley were the only men I could attract, I was in for a lonely existence. The thought didn't sit well with me as I shut myself safely in my office. And the sad thing was, I wasn't sure how to change my bleak future.
I finally punched out, my mind already far from work, and locked up behind me. Of course, I was the only one crazy enough to stay late to get all my paperwork done. There would just be more tomorrow. Sometimes I didn't know why I even bothered. I had better get that promotion. I had worked my butt off for three years.
As I reached the outside world, I found that the sun had set hours ago and it was pouring down in torrents of freezing rain. I groaned and held my purse over my head as I ran, in heels, to the subway.
I hurried down the stairs of the subway and slid my card at the gate. The smell of urine hit me like a wall as I walked through the gates. I hated the small subway station, but it was better than waiting in the rain for the bus. There was hardly a soul in sight, but soon enough I heard the screech of metal against metal and saw the lights of my train. It flew by, slowing. My hair blew back from my face as car after car breezed by. Finally, it stopped and the doors dinged as they opened. I passed a few people getting off and found a seat. I settled into my planner, reviewing all the things I had to do the next day, exhausting myself at just the thought. This is why I shouldn't take lazy days, I thought.
The train started forward with a lurch. At that moment, my purse decided to spill itself all over the place. I groaned and bent over to pick up my scattered things. I tried hard to ignore the inch of filth on the floor as I was forced to my knees to reach under the chairs for my lipstick, cell phone, and glasses. Before I got up I spied something else under the chair; something black jammed in the bars. I reached forward, curiosity winning. With a hard yank, it came loose.
I stood and brushed my knees off as I studied the black object. It looked like some sort of book. At closer inspection, I found that my guess was correct. It was bound in black leather and was worn. It was obvious that this book was very old and well read at that. I turned it over repeatedly; a leather cord, intricately knotted, bound it. As I tried to figure out how to undo it, the train stopped and I nearly went flying because I wasn't holding on.
I grabbed my purse, shoved the book inside, and hustled for the door before I missed my stop. I got out a second before the door closed and sighed with relief. Clutching my purse to me, I headed up the stairs. It was still pouring, if not harder than when I got out of work.
I ran the two blocks to my apartment. When I got in, I was completely drenched. My shoes squeaked and clacked against the tile as I walked up the stairs to my apartment. It reminded me of being a kid and squeaking on purpose just to see who I could piss off. Now it only embarrassed me. I hoped I didn't wake anyone up this late.
The key slid home as I let myself in and dumped my things on the couch. As soon as my hands were free, I peeled my stockings off and threw them towards the hamper, missing. I contemplated picking them up, but decided that it was too much effort, so I left them there. I felt a lot better in my dry set of jeans and rolling stones T-shirt. Searching through the fridge didn't produce anything worthwhile, so I popped a TV dinner in the microwave and lit my stove, placing a teakettle on top.
My teeth began to chatter. Why is it so cold? I wondered. I roamed around my small apartment and found my robe under heaps of other clothes. That helped a little. I turned on the heat. That helped a little more. I made my way to the bathroom to scrub off the makeup and sweat from the day. I pulled my long brown hair into a messy bun and got a good look at myself. I stared back at my big brown eyes, framed by thick black lashes. My skin was clear enough, except for a few problem spots on my chin. Overall, I'd say I looked pretty normal, nothing too special. I had a cute small nose, pouty lips and a great smile.
I stepped back from the mirror and looked at all of me. I was slim but strong enough to take care of myself. My waist grew into a swell at my hips, giving me a nice feminine figure. Like I said, I was nothing fantastic, I was just…average.
The microwave blared the same time as the kettle whistled. I jumped at the sudden thunder of noise in my tiny apartment. Snapping me out of my self-depression and with my heart still racing, I turned my little stove off and took my food out of the microwave. While I waited for my food to cool, I made my tea. Since I lived alone and had no one to impress, I didn't bother to go to the table; I just ate and drank right there on the counter. The hot tea hit the spot, warming me to the bone. The food wasn't very good, but I ate it anyway.
After my belly was full, I settled myself on the couch with another cup of soothing tea and watched the storm out my window. I loved to hear the rain, so I cracked one of my windows open, listening to the hard patter. Within seconds, the smell of cold rain entered my apartment. Its heavy scent clung to everything it touched. With a yawn, I stretched my legs out and in the process knocked over my purse. I sighed heavily and contemplated leaving it there, until I spotted the strange black book from the subway. I had forgotten all about it.
Setting my tea down, I scooped it up and flipped it around in my hands. As I studied the leather cord that held it closed, the first flash of lightning lit the sky. I jumped and chided myself. I was too jumpy today. My fingers brushed over the cord and tried to find where it all came together to open.
Another strike of lightning. This one was bright. I lowered my blinds a little and got closer to my table lamp by the window for added light. Even though I brought the book into the light, I couldn't find the opening. As I turned it, I saw tiny gold lettering under the bindings. It was foreign. I knew I couldn't read it. I growled in frustration and finally just threw the book on the floor. To my surprise, the strap fell loose. Figures. I just stared at it in disbelief for a minute.
The rain pelted the ground and the buildings harder. I picked up the book again, gingerly unbinding it. The leather felt rich under my fingers despite its ancient appearance. I opened the book; it was very, very old; the pages were yellowing and made a crinkling sound as I turned the page. My eyes studied the words. They were hand written, but the way the pages were organized did not look like a journal or random thoughts. It looked almost like a story. It was written in…some sort of language I'd never seen before? As I studied the page more, I realized that a few words could be English, in a sense.
I flipped the first few pages. The words that I could almost understand: Man… Running…House… I flipped the next page, my eyes skimming over words and wondering if even Google would know how to translate this language. The "almost English" words stood out to me; Snow…Woman... A few more pages in; King…Delbrook …Love… Suddenly I sneered down at the book. Another romance! I snapped it shut, knowing it was high time I stopped reading crap like that. After I set the book aside, I went to put my cup in the sink. A yawn tore up my throat and out my mouth. Work had been grueling and it was well past my bedtime.
I shuffled into the living room and to my lamp. I picked up the book and shook my head. Why'd it have to be a romance? My fingers felt around for the lamp switch. At that very moment, a powerful wind blew through my blinds and the rain entered.
What were the chances that I'd be electrocuted? Who knows? Slim to none in my book. Maybe fate was cruel or maybe it was just a freak accident, either way, my lamp short-circuited, catching me in the crossfire. The vibrations raced from my fingertips to my whole hand, engulfing my arm, traveling fast. Before I knew it, my hairs stood on end and the rain continued to blow. I couldn't find the strength to let go. I couldn't even find the muscles that controlled my fingers.
A soft gasp escaped my lips as finally it grew to be too much and my body played its last defense card. I blacked out.