Prompted by Some Kind of Wonderful's Winter Prompt #1: "Who knew a postcard from a stranger could change everything?"
Let it be said, before we start this, I was Goldie Page at the time of The Event. I wasn't a fairytale fed, expecting-nothing-less-than-Prince-Charming girl. I didn't go into it dreaming of soul mates and nonexistent perfect love.
I guess I probably never will be a Prince Charming girl, actually, not through and through. I'm still Goldie Page and I'll remain Goldie Page, bad-mannered and insufferable whenever I need to be.
But before it happened, I hated all people, with no exceptions. The thought of being anything more than acquaintances with anyone sort of made me want to throw up.
I wasn't nervous, or scared of them or anything. I just…hated them, you know? It wasn't hard to hate shallow, dull beings.
However, the point being…the idea of love was downright laughable before The Event. I didn't need it and I certainly didn't want it.
But strangely, unconventional though it was ‒ and clichéd as it sounds, I know ‒ love ended up being exactly what brought me out of my little bubble of "I-hope-shit-rains-down-on-all-your-family-and-friends-if-you-so-much-as-look-at-me" attitude towards everyone.
The really stupid thing was exactly how unconventional it was.
I know you probably won't believe me. I guess that's okay. Other people's opinions never mattered that much to me in the past, and they certainly won't start making a difference to me now. I'm simply telling it for the few people who pretend to care.
I think ‒ if I'm not bullshitting myself ‒ the start of it was the day after a giant rainstorm had assaulted the city, then proceeded to freeze every last drop into treacherous ice hugging every single outdoor surface, as if Mother Nature had decided she was done with humans and killing them with fire was too pleasant.
I had been putting off coming down from my third to the top floor apartment to look at what my mother sarcastically called my "love letters."
I hated bills like a dentist hates Willy Wonka's candy shop. But you can only have so many candy shops. Bills were infinite devices that liked to procreate in my mailbox. I was certain they were made to remove my hair, my fingernails, and my sanity.
Sadly when you tell every person whose gaze happens to wander over you that they can stick it or you'll show them where to stick it yourself, jobs are hard things to come by. Odd jobs done on my computer found over the internet were my only money source, and they were hard to come by.
So the bills piled up in my pea sized mailbox, to the point where all the staff that might handle the mail just once every month or so knew my name.
"Gracie, don't forget these five too. They won't fit in your box."
"Thanks," I'd mumble, wondering if I'd get in trouble for punching my building assistant manger's secretary for her quirked eyebrow and smirk plastered on her perfectly shaped ruby colored mouth.
That mouth wouldn't be so perfect after losing a few teeth. Heck, maybe the assistant manager would even stop making out with her in the back room whenever they thought no one was around.
The day of the freeze, I started down the steep (and slightly uneven on floors seven and five) staircase leading down nine floors that was the only option besides a broken elevator that would ding occasionally for no reason and could barely move. I was already resigned to the fact that I'd probably be doing some crying and calling of various family members to beg for cash they'd long since learned not to entrust me with for the rest of the week.
Thankfully, the assistant manager's secretary wasn't working that day, replaced with a new, pimply kid who sported an awkwardly half straight, half curly head of badly cut hair. He grinned at me as I pushed the lobby door open. I glared.
He stopped smiling.
I stepped up to my mailbox, fishing out the key from my grubby, gum-stickied, stained brown purse and rubbed my head, yanking my gross hair into a messy bun and taking a deep breath. Preparation was required for the task of opening the door of my mailbox.
I cringed at the red and orange writing criss-crossing the steadily more urgent looking envelopes and reached in to grab the wad of wasted tree products.
I whipped around and glowered at the inexperienced teen. He wilted.
I marched up to the desk and held out my hand impatiently.
He gave me a incredulous look but placed another pile of paper and plastic in my palm.
I sniffed at him and turned to begin my long and much worse trek back up the stairs where I began to look over the envelopes and decide which senders would be less likely to murder me in my sleep if I didn't pay them for a while. My feet always dragged much more going upwards.
It was near the bottom of the stack. When I finally got up to my apartment, I'd only been able to scan two thirds of the bills. The rest I tossed on the table, looking over the first two thirds and thinking as I opened up my computer to obsessively check my bank balance and scour the various sites I had to find another ten one-time typing up something jobs.
Halfway through the stack I still held, I shivered and realized the the stupid window had come unstuck again.
Where was the hammer? God, as soon as people started paying me for sitting around the house and I became rich, I was buying a nice little perfectly fixed up apartment in a building that doesn't act suicidal ‒ like it's going to throw itself onto the street far below at the slightest gust of wind.
Speaking of wind, another burst of cold air shoved itself through the gap between the window and the broken sill and scattered the mail on the table all over the place. I growl-shrieked in irritation and went to bang the window back into place.
Turning, I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. I was a messy person, yeah. A little more mess shouldn't bother me, right? I'd cleaned a week or so ago, it wouldn't be that bad...
It was worse. I stooped to gather up the loose papers and something oddly colored and shinier than the plastic of the envelopes caught my eye.
I snatched it out from under my rickety table's wobbly leg and plopped down in my half-massacred ugly blue saved-from-the-dump couch and examined the odd postcard, my cleaning and money problems forgotten. Who in their right mind would send me a postcard?
It was a picture of the nearby monster sized park, the only place of greenery in the whole bustling city. The bustling city, however, was occupied mostly with people who could care less about greenery, so about the only occupants of the park at any time were wide-eyed tourists who couldn't afford air fare to anywhere more expensive.
The picture was misleadingly bright, filled with flowers and sunshine from one of our only good summers, probably years ago. Now the park was mainly dead maples, deceased flowers, and dreary evergreen bushes and trees covered in frost.
Why would someone visiting nearby send me a postcard? I wondered again, and flipped the card over.
Hey Jackie and Brandon,
Oh. That explained it. I glanced over to the address. The chicken scratch of the writer was nearly impossible to read, but I highly doubted its intended destination had been in the hands of our building's new pimply assistant to the secretary. I marveled at how the card had been sent at all.
I debated about throwing it away as I absently skimmed the cramped paragraphs of small, just barely legible writing.
I hope my dear little sister is doing well, and her new husband is too.
A disgusting winking face was inserted here.
You better be treating my sis right, Bran. As her big brother, I can still kick your ass. And don't blush or glare, Jackie. It doesn't become you.
Maybe I should actually tell you how I'm doing. The vacation is great. I just wish I didn't have to still work while I'm here. I think I should find an assistant or I'm going to go crazy. Company would be nice anyway, but don't get any ideas, Jackie ‒ I intend to remain a blissfully free and frolicking 27-year-old bachelor.
The weather's getting colder and there's supposed to be a giant rainstorm soon, but I think at this rate, it'll come down as snow. I sort of wish I was able to go somewhere warmer, but free birthday plane tix ‒ I mean, can't look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it's my last gift from Mom, right? Dying wish and all!
Welp, I don't have any more space. I guess I'll just have to get extra postcards to bother you guys some more. Should I be worried about being an uncle yet, Jackie?
His signature was tiny and squished, but I thought I knew what it said.
His last name was more of a half hearted scribble, with marks like he'd started to sign it along with his first name, thought better of it, stopped, and then started it again. Habit was hard to break for signing things, even when you were writing to your sister.
I held back a grin and read it again. Maybe it was hard to read, but I liked Kiran Collerston's bold yet hopeless chicken scratch. Mine was easier to read, but I had a bit of a chicken scratch of my own.
I wondered where exactly Jackie and Brandon lived. How this Kiran Collerston could make his larger writing of the address even less legible than his tiny one sided conversation on the left was completely beyond me.
Should I throw it away? Put it back in the mail in hopes that they'd find the right address this time?
I chewed on my lip and placed the postcard on the table. I'd figure out what to do with it later.
That was right. Bills. I groaned and got back to my cleaning.
As expected, the week following the beginning of The Event with the arrival of the park postcard involved me drowning in my own tears, making use of my limitless minutes on my cell, and trying to stave off my deep, dark depression by purchasing copious amounts of ice cream I couldn't afford and eating tubs of it.
Fortunately, I managed to gather an acceptable amount of money through various methods, and although by the end of the week there remained a small gathering of bills in the center of the rickety table, the key word that held me up and out of my bottomless hole of despair was "small."
I'd pretty much forgotten about the lost postcard from Kiran Collerston by the time the week had passed. I yanked on my coat and ran down the apartment stairs, completely done doling out money to companies and people I couldn't even remember requesting services from.
I was preparing myself to brave the still cold-enough-to-freeze-your-nose-and-backside-off outside temperatures and dangerously icy sidewalks to walk gingerly to the nearby pizza place when the smug secretary cleared her throat at me. "Miss Page? Goldie."
I resisted the urge to snarl at her and tell her never to speak directly to me again or I'd show her what a black eye felt like when she held out a thick, half laminated rectangle of paper, her usual arrogance gone.
A postcard. Another. I stared at it in her outstretched hand.
"Why isn't it in my mailbox?" I demanded, only vaguely meaning it. The real questions I had weren't ones she'd understand. Was it from him again? Did he really have handwriting that bad that it could be mistaken for my address, twice?
"The latch is broken so I kept it here for you." The secretary didn't smile. I bet she thought I was friendless and lonely, with my only mail being from people who wanted money. Now she looked sour at discovering I wasn't alone in the world.
I smiled coldly at the bitch and snatched the card from her dark purple manicured grasp. "Have a nice night."
Of course I didn't mean it.
The walk down the short block to the pizza place, Cheesy Pie, was agonizing. I had to keep my eyes on the sidewalk so I didn't slip on an unseen patch of black ice, when all I wanted to do was read the postcard.
When I stepped into the mercifully heated warm box of a pizza parlor, I was about to bite off my own tongue from the frustration. I impatiently ordered, rudely as usual, and stumbled on numb feet to the small table by the window to sit. Finally. I pulled the postcard from my jacket pocket, smoothing out the dog ear at the top corner and looked for the signature. Again, he'd written way too much, but it was signed in small print:
I exhaled and dropped the card onto the table, rubbing my mittened hands together and blowing on them. When I'd read the first postcard, I hadn't thought about invading privacy. Now I wondered if reading a stranger's mail was really a good thing to do.
But curiosity and an odd sense of excitement accompanied my eyes as they flashed back down to read the back of the city at night postcard.
I felt guilty as I poured over the smudged ink, but something drove me to keep reading as I ran my fingers over the shallow grooves his pen had made and picked up the piece of paper.
I winced as one particularly sharp side sliced open my finger and pulled it away to suck on it as I read the words meant for someone else.
Jackie and Bran,
Hope you got last week's postcard! Apparently the mail system's a bit screwy here and the mail can get mixed up some. And with my handwriting, it could go anywhere, right?
I'm getting a little lonely here with no one to talk to. The weather is worse than ever, it's all frozen and cold as hell.
Work's going to shit too. But the bright side is in the hotel I'm staying at, I can go out on the balcony and scream and no one cares a bit.
I got some teal balloons today and put them in the office to remind me of home. They're really teal, okay, Jackie? Teal is a color.
Inside jokes, Bran, don't ask.
Sometimes I open my window and let the cold air in and close my eyes and think. That's usually when the best designs come to me, actually. But they never feel good enough to show to Grayden. I feel like he'll laugh at me again.
Wow, this is a depressing postcard. I almost hope the post office screws up delivery so you don't have to read it. Anyway, why don't you write me back, Jackie? I know you hate writing letters, but I'm still sticking to my only-work-related-emailing rule. Here's the address, I don't think you have it.
He listed the address and name of a fancy hotel about a half an hour from my apartment as I shot to my feet. Could I, Goldie Page, be a heroine and return this guy's mail to him?
The pizza was placed on the table as I waved the server away with a bill. Bewildered, he took it as I demanded a box and impatiently glanced back down at the postcard.
Forty-five minutes later, I was stepping off the crowded bus, nervously arranging my only skirt underneath my nice jacket and checking my pockets for the two cards again.
All right, maybe I was worried about fitting in in the fancy expensive hotel.
Oh, fine, it might just be I was nervous about meeting this for sure rich guy that had been accidentally sending his mail to an indebted pauper who despised humanity.
The previously buried in the very back of my closet pair of stiletto boots adorning my feet ‒ a two year old gift from my delusional mother who thought her daughter could actually afford to go clubbing (and would want to) when she could barely afford rags to cover her back ‒ clicked on the sidewalk as I straightened my newly brushed mousy brown hair and took a deep breath to walk past the two uniformed men opening the doors for me.
Everything was gold and ivory. Well, the colors. I was pretty sure there was more than a fair share of both of the real thing mixed in among the stone, wood, and fabric, but I tried to avert my eyes from the splendor that would only exist hereafter in my wildest dreams.
The receptionist at the end of the lobby eyed me suspiciously as I approached, his skinny mustache twitching like a fuzzy caterpillar stuck to his upper lip. I held back a spiteful giggle as I walked up to the desk, allowing my smirk to stay.
"Do you have a Kiran Collerston here?" I asked, trying to keep the tone a pitch below demanding. This guy could probably throw me out if he wanted. Maybe even send me off in the back of a lovely cruiser.
I swallowed suddenly as he looked down his nose at me and typed the name into the computer.
"No," he said shortly, and I felt a wave of panic.
"We only have a Kiran Connerston in our hotel."
God, his writing was bad.
"Sorry ‒" I never apologized to anyone, I hoped this guy appreciated the extreme politeness he was getting here "‒ that's him. Um, where can I go to get to his room?"
"We don't allow our guests to be disturbed without their permission. Does Mr. Connerston know you are here?"
"No, but ‒"
"I suggest you leave, Miss, or I'll have to call security."
He reached for his phone and I beat a hasty, sullen retreat. I didn't know "Mr. Connerston" but I disapproved of his choice in hotels. Rude receptionists were a flaw indeed.
Conveniently I forgot that I tended to out-rude that particular receptionist on a regular basis. But my stubbornly angry thoughts weren't inexcusable.
He continued to send postcards as snow began to cover the ice outside. And they continued to show up behind the desk, intended for me.
I didn't know what mail sorter guy was blind and kept directing them toward me, but I grudgingly took them from the progressively less haughty receptionist and the new kid.
He wrote about a lot of things. After the second card, he seemed to try not to talk about depressing things, or laughed them off if he did write them in. He mentioned a couple of times, everything worded deceivingly jokingly, that he was hurt they weren't writing him back.
The tone and distracted manner kept on getting worse. He seemed to be trying to force himself to put on a happy face for his sister. A happy face he no longer felt.
I could read between the lines enough to hear the depressed tones of what he wrote.
His boss, Grayden, was hard on him. His designs for whatever his job was were rejected, repeatedly, and criticized mercilessly. The weather was dampening his mood. No one spoke to him.
I'm beginning to wonder if you've been killed by wolves or something, sis. I know you act like you don't care about me, but I thought you'd at least you'd reply. You're the only people I have left in the world now. Sometimes I feel like a man hanging onto a life raft filled with people in a storm, but no one's helping me hold on. Going home isn't even an option now that the tiny airport nearby doesn't want to send out any planes in this weather.
I can't say what card it was, which time it was when I read the words I'd read too many times that set something warm fluttering inside my stomach that I probably would have regarded before it happened as a disgusting mess of emotion.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, on a forgotten postcard back, I read yet again another
and I knew. It was like an explosion of corny, horrible romance movies had gone off in my normally sensible, sarcastic brain and taken over all functions, in one second.
It was probably the most insane thing I'd ever grasped, including when I first started understanding calculus, that my parents weren't gods, and the US economy.
I was seriously, desperately, against all odds and my better judgment, in love with Kiran Connerston.
Beyond the "I think you're sweet and I'd like to get closer to you" shallow phase. More in the range of "I think I'd like to marry you if I knew who you were" type thing.
I'd never even met the stupid, rich, pathetically alone guy. He had no idea I existed.
And I hated people. No exceptions.
Somehow, the words of a complete stranger had thrown everything I was upside down. And somehow, in a bittersweet kind of way, I was okay with it.
What the hell.