One: Find Yourself Another Place to Fall
There it was, staring her in the face like an apparition of some dream. It was, to Imogen, the embodiment of her childhood; she stared, stunned, at the small, square book which, though it had some minor differences, like worn edges and faded color, looked to her nearly the same as it had the day she'd left it on the bench in the park in Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Now it rested, squeezed in between a book on German philosophy and Stephen King's It on the bookshelf of a man she had quite literally bumped into mere minutes before, in Chicago, Illinois.
One might have described her facial expression as a deer-in-headlights, but a very sharp and sudden pain brought her back to reality.
"Ouch!" she screeched, simultaneously wincing and clawing at the armrest of the loveseat she was currently sitting in.
The stranger, the one she had run into, looked up at her from a thick dark fringe of lashes with a scowl on his face. "I barely touched you," he mumbled.
Imogen made a noise and tried to rid her throbbing ankle from his sure hands in an effort to paw at it herself. She was unsuccessful; the man's grip was strong and firm.
"Stop moving," he demanded, his attention going back to her bare foot. With his left hand he raised her foot to her chest level and held it steadily while he reached for the bandages with his free hand. "Grab the ice bag. You're going to need to hold it on your ankle in a minute."
Cameron Moody was annoyed. He hadn't even seen the girl when he ran into her; for a split second after it happened, when he found himself lying half-way on top of her, he was almost sure she appeared from thin air.
He was already running late that day for his mind-numbing day job in the city, one which he speculated was slowly taking his IQ down a few pegs with every day he spent there. Menial as it was, Cameron hated to be late, for anything. His running into a stranger already twenty minutes late for work was bad enough, but it was the icing on top of his cake that, in the collision, he had somehow twisted her ankle too.
He wanted to walk away from her. He tried to walk away from her, but something stopped him. It was an unfamiliar and most unwelcome feeling that flared in the pit of his stomach when he watched her whimper as she attempted to walk away. He had heard the word once, this feeling as described by someone else: humanity. She couldn't stand on her left foot. He couldn't let her limp away without at least bandaging her up.
"C'mon," he had said, taking her a bit roughly by the arm and helping her wobble her way up to his apartment. Luckily for the both of them, it wasn't far off- the accident happened right outside his building.
That was the sequence of events which led Cameron Moody, not without the obligatory rolling of his eyes, to invite Imogen Campbell, who hadn't yet had the opportunity to thank him for his generous hospitality, up to his humble apartment while he played doctor for the injury he caused.
Cameron worked on bandaging her ankle when Imogen spotted the book which was so familiar to her and became enamored of it.
"I'm Imogen Campbell," she said without ceremony.
Cameron said nothing.
"Don't you have a name?
"What if I said I didn't?"
"Everyone has a name."
Cameron could feel the cold distance between them as strangers slowly beginning to give way to the warm intimacy of a budding acquaintanceship. The panic button in his head went off. Exchanging names was one step closer to another human being, something Cameron wasn't particularly keen on.
He refrained from entertaining her with any more conversation. Surely she would take the hint and be quiet.
"If you're not going to tell me your name then I'll just have to resort to giving you a generic one of my own, Mr. Smith."
"Mr. Smith it is." With deft fingers he secured the bandage around Imogen's ankle and carefully set her foot down onto the floor.
"Why are you so afraid to tell me who you are? It's the least I can do, thanking the man who injured me but then took care of me."
"No good deed goes unpunished, Imogen." He stopped and pointed a finger at the ice pack. "Put that on your ankle."
She did so without breaking eye-contact.
Cameron closed his eyes and ran a hand over his forehead. "See, it's self-preservation. I'm not giving you my name so that I'm not punished by the universe in the future for helping you out."
Imogen's eyebrow went up. "That's not fair. You just used my name when I don't even know yours. At least give me an initial. Something."
Cameron sighed. He had known this girl for thirteen minutes and already he was drained.
"C? Okay, that's a start. C…"
9:35 a.m. Thirty five minutes late.
She was at Ca- when he interrupted.
"God. If it'll make you feel better, my name is Cameron."
In retrospect, he would view this moment and this action- telling her his name- as the moment he sold his soul.
A slow smile crossed her face. "Cameron," she repeated. "I was getting there. Nice to meet you."
He stared at her open hand like it was anthrax presented to him in an open envelope. She wiggled her fingers.
He gave her an insincere smile and moved to the desk. "You too, Imogen."
Unfazed, Imogen dropped her hand into her lap, the sound of flesh smacking fabric ringing through the air, and looked back at Cameron's bookshelf. Her gaze settled once more onto the all too familiar book. There was a deep aching in the pit of her belly and her fingers twitched with the desire to touch it, to hold it, to open its pages. Her eyes were moving back and forth as if she were already reading the words printed inside of it.
Cameron was busy rolling down his sleeves and fixing his tie, thankful for the momentary silence, when he noticed that Imogen was completely absorbed by something on the shelves. He turned half-way to face her, shoving his arms through his jacket.
She looked almost like a child, the expression on her face innocent and full of wonder. She seemed to have forgotten all about the pain in her ankle.
He waited a minute or two and still she didn't move an inch.
He cleared his throat. "See something interesting? Trust me, that German philosophy is not as appealing as it sounds. Couple hours with it and you'll see what I mean."
"What is this? You're trying to start a conversation with me now?" Her eyes sparkled in a way he didn't like.
"Fine, I won't talk anymore—"
"Stop it. I'm teasing. You should lighten up. Can I ask you a question?"
"No bother asking for my permission as pretence; I know you're going to ask me no matter what my answer is."
Where the hell was his briefcase? He pushed his tie to his chest and started searching around for it, on the floor, on the desk, next to the sofa…
"How did you come by that book?"
The briefcase wasn't under the desk, or next to it, or on top of it.
"This one, right here. The small book with the brown cover."
He didn't have to look to know which one she was referring to. "I don't know," he grunted, shoving boxes a few inches to the left, trying to spot that damned briefcase. "I think it was in my mailbox or something. Someone just put it there, no note or anything."
Imogen blinked. "Have you ever read it?"
"No, not entirely." Aha, there it was, behind a filing cabinet next to the door. He must've chucked it there as he walked into the room, his hands full with Imogen. "I opened it once and read through it, but there wasn't anything important in it. It's a journal, full of inconsequential thoughts and nonsensical ramblings by amateur philosophists, better known as ordinary people." He waved a hand in the air as if dismissing any other inquiries she might have had.
"Random musings on life, hu? It might be more important than you think, Cameron. You don't have to have a degree to be insightful."
"Au contraire, mademoiselle. That is where you are wrong. A degree means education and an education means intelligence. I prefer to let the intelligent elite do the outrageous thinking."
If Imogen had a disposition in which she was easily put off, she might have been put off then. She had never met anyone like Cameron in her entire life, and she wasn't sure at this point if this was a good or a bad thing. Always the optimist, Imogen refused to let Cameron's cynical view of life get to her right away. But she was intrigued; his raw skepticism of anything and everything was almost seductive because it was new to her.
"Do you have a degree?"
"Not the one I wanted."
"But you have one."
"And do you consider yourself part of this elite, as you call them, then?"
"Not at all," he said in a mockingly light tone as he looked at his watch.
"Shit," he whispered. "I'll be an hour late."
"You have somewhere to be?"
Cameron couldn't resist. If he had to defend himself, he'd say she walked right into it. "What was your first clue, Sherlock? The fact that I raced you up here? The fact that I've been checking the clock every three minutes? The fact that I'm now trying to subtly get you out of my apartment?"
Subtly wasn't exactly how Imogen would have described Cameron's attempts to get her to leave.
"I'm an hour late for work. I hate to rush you out…"
He wanted to smile as he said the words. He loved rushing her out.
"…but I really must be going. I have a job and other responsibilities I've grown tired of which I need to see to, unfortunately, and as much as I'm enjoying sitting here with you in my apartment talking about stupid anonymous journals and whether or not the common man is intelligent enough to make profound commentary on his own meaningless life, I do, as a matter of fact, have somewhere to be."
Imogen took his outburst with a smile on her face. She allowed herself to be heaved up by Cameron and escorted out the door. She stood next to him outside his apartment as he locked the door, wished him a good day as he glared at her, and waved to his back as he retreated down the hall and into the lobby.
She couldn't be sure where the feeling came from, exactly, but she knew that was not the last time she would ever see Cameron. Anyone else might have shrunk from the knowledge, but Imogen looked forward to it with an almost perverse anticipation. Next time, she promised to herself as she hobbled to the elevator, she'd get to thank him properly for setting her sprained ankle.
AN: I'm back, and it feels so good! This is the first project on my list. I've got the bare skeleton of plot fixed in my head, but after a lot of struggling with the details, I decided just to write the story and see what comes out of it. Basically, I don't have much more of an idea than you do about what might or will happen. Let the literary adventures begin! Enjoy it :)
*Chapter title from KT Tunstall's "Another Place to Fall."