I'M PRETTY SURE THE end of my life began on a Wednesday. Looking back, it was actually a very unremarkable Wednesday. There was no terrible weather signifying my impending doom, nor any natural disasters warning me that it was the beginning of the end. I can't deny, though, that this particular Wednesday was the start of it all.
That day my life started with an atypical workout and ended in madness. I had just left my apartment bright and early on my way 7th and Main, where an abandoned athletic center sat crooked and crumbling on the edge of downtown. Most of the equipment had long since rusted and graffiti decorated more walls than not, but it still served its purpose. Most of the kids and young adults in my city who couldn't afford to work out in a gym frequented the old building, making good use of the punching bags and old benches. I personally preferred a more hands-on work out, and spent most of my time at the pool, long since drained of water, to practice hand-to-hand combat with some of the other city dwellers. I was pretty good at fighting. Not great, but pretty good, which didn't hurt in a city like mine.
I tossed my bag beneath a bench and hopped into the empty pool, approaching a familiar man wearing dark sweatpants and a fabric mask over his face and neck. Everyone covered their face in one way or another, which kept our group somewhat anonymous. I figured that was for the kids who got in trouble on the streets, but I wasn't really one to ask questions. Some things were best left alone.
"What's up, Cobra?" I bumped my fist against his and the man shrugged, settling into a stance. I tried not to be too discouraged by his size. His upper body was so built he had to come through narrow doorways one shoulder at a time, and it didn't look like he'd been slacking off since I'd last fought him.
"Brother started using again," he muttered. "You ready?"
I winced. I'd fought this guy before, and he hit harder when he was stressed.
"Bring it on, man."
I saw the first hit coming and ducked, aiming a solid kick at his shins. He grabbed my ankle before it connected and I twisted in the air, whipping my other leg around. Instead of kicking him in the jaw like they did in all the movies, he dropped my leg and I lost my leverage. I fell on the cement, hard. I swore under my breath, wincing as I stood.
"Don't show off, Moony," Our unofficial leader walked over, dark hair sticking up behind his full Venom mask. "That's how you end up dead."
I made a face, annoyed.
"You have bedhead, Venom," I answered moodily, rubbing my hip.
"Sí, but I am not losing, so nobody cares."
I muttered something very rude in Spanish, and he made a particularly impolite hand gesture as he returned his attention to his own fight.
Moony was short for Moonshine, the unfortunate nickname I'd gotten stuck with after a not-so-pleasant fight I'd gotten into one of my first times coming down to the center. When my opponent started losing ground, he tried to break a bottle of liquor and use it as a weapon, so I kicked him in the gut so hard he lost his lunch and whatever bottle he'd downed the night before. The nickname had stuck ever since, despite my distaste for it.
I fought Cobra for the better part of an hour before hitting the showers, getting ready for school in the graffiti-coated locker rooms as I had since I started coming here a few years ago. The others had long since left, so I wasn't bothered as I got my things and began the long walk across town to my high school. I could drive, technically, but gas was expensive, and the walk was kind of nice in its own way. It gave me time to appreciate the gradual change in scenery, from trash infested gutters and graffiti-covered alleys to perfectly manicured lawns and immaculate red brick buildings.
Shorewood High School was a prestigious school for prestigious people, meaning rich students with richer parents. It was very exclusive, even for a private school. Practically everyone's mom or dad was either a lawyer, surgeon, CEO, or celebrity.
I was one of them once, daughter of a world-class geneticist. My mother had graduated early and continued to spend her life saving others and working on some research that got the government's attention. She'd lined me up for greatness, setting me on the track to attend the best private high school in the district.
Then my parents split up.
She got the money, because lawyers were scared of pissing her off (I didn't blame them, I would be too) and Dad got me. He never complained, bless him, and always told me that he got the better end of the deal, but I still felt pretty bad for him. Mom walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he got an angsty teenager. If it were me, I'd be pissed. But then again, I wasn't half the person my dad was.
So, I was probably the only student at Shorewood High School that was actually there purely on scholarship, through the Honor's Program. I got to go in exchange for making great grades and proving myself. Sometimes it was a little embarrassing not being up on all the latest trends and looking so obviously like the poor kid on the block, but I wasn't really there to fit in with kids or have a good time.
I was there to graduate and then get a job that could earn my dad the lifestyle he deserved. And maybe… it was to show my mom that I could do it all on my own, without her dumb money. Call me petty or whatever, but she totally screwed my dad by leaving us with nothing, and he didn't deserve that.
But, of course, that was long term. On the short term, I found myself in class, reading a textbook while several students chatted happily about designer brands and hot news concerning people I'd never heard of.
The bell rang, and everyone found their seats as my physics professor entered the classroom, another new transfer student in tow. We'd been getting quite a few lately, since a high school in some other wealthy city got shut down, and those students had been randomly distributed to schools in the surrounding districts, one of which was Shorewood High.
The professor cleared his throat.
"Class, it's my pleasure to introduce a new student to you today. Please make an effort to help him fit in and answer any questions he may have." He turned to face a dark-haired boy standing behind him, already dressed in the school uniform.
"I am Professor Anthony Vuong, and this is your Advanced Physics course. Why don't you introduce yourself to the class, Mr. Eros?"
A couple of girls leaned together to exchange excited whispers as all eyes turned to him.
"I'm Baelfire," the boy introduced himself, dark eyes scanning the classroom searchingly. "I'm eighteen, and transferred here from one district over." He smiled a little, his gaze distant, and inclined his head politely. "It's nice to meet you." He had a heavy accent, which didn't fit where he said he was from, but no one seemed to be complaining.
The girls sitting in front of me were now whispering furiously, and I took a moment to glance over the new kid myself, taking in dark, almost black hair, deeply tanned skin, and dark eyes that had an almost feral look to them. I wondered if his family was Brazilian or something, because he certainly didn't look like he was from local Minnesota.
He looked predatory, his dark eyes scanning the room carefully. They passed right over me, his searching gaze settling on the empty seat across the classroom. I wondered briefly what he was looking for before slipping my headphones back in. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't my business. I just hoped the professor would take it easy on us for the new kid's sake. Physics lectures weren't my favorite by a long shot.
He did, much to the class's delight, and Baelfire got to be the center of attention for the next hour and a half. He seemed to get along well with the class, the girls especially, and I felt mild gratitude toward him for getting us out of a painful lecture over kinematics. Other than that, it never crossed my mind that anything was out of the ordinary. Once again, there was no sign that my entire life would be falling to pieces in a matter of days.
I read for the rest of class, dozing a little, and didn't realize I was being spoken to until I was hesitantly tapped on the shoulder. I pulled out my headphones and turned, only to see the new student standing there, watching me. He was much taller than he'd seemed from the front of the classroom, and I squinted up at him, confused.
"The bell already rang, love," he told me with a wry smile, and I glanced at the clock in surprise. Sure enough, the classroom was almost empty, and I hadn't even noticed. I blinked.
"Oh. Thanks." I grabbed my bag and stuffed the textbook inside, tiredly pushing myself to my feet. Three more classes to go.
"I'm Bae," he offered, and I had to try really hard not to snort. Don't be rude,I admonished myself. Some people didn't have the luxury of normal names. Not like it was his fault. He'd just been born into the wrong generation, where 'bae' was the equivalent of 'honey' or 'baby'.
"Simone," I offered back, pulling my bag over my shoulder. "Nice to meet you."
I scooted out of the classroom before he could ask me to show him around, and congratulated myself on doing the guy a personal favor. Better for him to fit in with kids that blended in with the school stereotype.
Getting seen with the only poor student in the school would just be terribly bad luck for the guy, which would be a shame considering he was fairly good looking. I mean, not that I was actively made fun of or anything. I wasn't bullied, or pushed around, or teased. That was like, middle school amateur stuff.
No, in high school it was more of an exclusion thing. The idiots didn't know how to talk to me, so they didn't. Socioeconomic class gaps were a barrier they'd probably never breached before. It didn't bother me much, but that didn't mean I was going to drag the new guy down with me.
School was slow but uneventful, and I began the long walk back to my apartment complex at four, squinting at the clouds in the sky and trying to guess whether or not is was going to rain.
I dumped my bag on the floor by my desk and was about to pull out a textbook when a knock at the door made me pause. I wearily made my way to the door, and opened it a crack. My one room apartment was my own and I was proud of it, but I didn't exactly live in the nicest part of town.
"Hello," a polite voice came through the crack. "Is there a Simone Chase here?" I opened the door a little wider, getting a good look at the visitor. Nice slacks, untucked button-down shirt, light brown hair combed neatly to the side, expensive shoes. I stared at his feet. Very expensive shoes.
"I'm not interested in buying anything," I told his shoes blankly. "You should try Timber Creek Apartments. People can afford things there."
His smile widened and I glanced up at his face. Perfectly straight teeth. I was suddenly a little self-conscious about my windswept ponytail and lack of makeup.
"I'm not a solicitor," he assured me. "But you are Miss Chase?"
"Simone," I nodded, leaning into the doorway. "Can I help you?"
"I'm not sure," he answered, rubbing his jaw, suddenly lost in thought. "Is there a Mr. Chase here?"
I laughed, and then realized too late that he was serious.
"Oh, um, I'm eighteen," I awkwardly answered. "No uh, significant other or anything."
Wow. Was that really the smoothest way I could think of to say I was single? What a nightmare. "Sorry, um, what do you want?"
"This is going to sound horribly strange, but please try to humor me," he met my eyes sheepishly, and I noticed his were blue. A very light sky blue that made me wish I had combed my hair in the last seven hours. "Has anyone recently come into your life and acted obnoxiously interested in you? Maybe asking personal questions, singling you out of a crowd, anything like that?"
"Besides you? Not that I can think of," I smiled a little, and he blushed. It was a good look on him. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm looking for someone, and thought he might come here. I guess I was wrong. Strange though, I'm not usually wrong."
"Do you have a picture?" I asked, curious now. Maybe it was someone I knew.
"I'm afraid not," the young man sighed, and I frowned.
"Sorry, but who exactly are you?"
"Castor," he answered distractedly. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise," I answered dryly, more than a little suspicious.
"If anything does happen that seems out of the ordinary in the next few weeks, would you mind coming to me?" he asked. "Any strange events, especially relationship related, yours or someone you know, just let me know." He pushed a business card into my hand and I reluctantly looked down at it.
"What the heck is A New Global Enterprise for Love?" I asked, glancing up. I blinked. Where Castor had been standing just a moment ago now only empty air remained, my worn welcome lying forlornly on the cracked cement. Officially perplexed, I closed the door and tossed the business card in the trash. Minnesota was full of crazies, even good-looking ones. Best not to get involved.
I returned my attention to my bag in the corner, half its contents sprawled across the floor. I sighed and picked up a textbook. Thanks to Mister Mysterious I probably wouldn't be able to finish my essay before my shift. At a quarter to five, I resigned myself to the fact that the essay was going to have to come with me to work. Maybe Ellie could help out at the front while I finished.
Ellie Davis was a force of nature that defied all the laws of high school. Her family was extremely wealthy, her future just waiting for her to reach out and take it in her perfectly manicured hand. She was naturally beautiful, with long, wavy blonde hair and cobalt eyes most high school girls would kill for. It was the kind of beautiful that made you feel a little guilty just for standing too close. She was captain of the cheerleading team, probably the most popular girl in school, and had just about every guy in class drooling during lecture. The laws of high school said she should be spoiled rotten and snobby all the way down to her core.
Instead, she was my best and only friend in high school. She often ate lunch with me in the courtyard instead of in the cafeteria with the cheer squad, and she helped me out in the tiny bookstore I worked at, sometimes just so she could talk to me outside of school.
At first, I thought she was just trying to be nice out of pity, and shot her down the first three times she asked if I wanted to grab a coffee after school. Just because I wasn't rich didn't mean I was a charity case. The fourth time I told her to leave me alone, she snapped at me so fast it left me stunned. She said that just because I wasn't rich didn't mean I had to be such a dick anytime someone tried to get to know me.
She said she was tired of the fake friends and the fake family and that my life was real and she wanted in on whatever I was up to. I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but I had the sense to drop it. Her anger came like the wind, fast and harsh, and vanished just as quickly.
At first it was kind of weird, because her parents owned several corporations, including the bookstore I worked at, so her mom wasn't myboss exactly, but she was sort of my boss's boss. I wasn't sure if that made the situation better or worse, but in the end it didn't matter. Everything I did just fascinated her.
Our mutual love of coffee was the start of a surprisingly deep friendship, and I was certain she loved my tiny apartment more than I did. Ellie was the one that had actually corrected my prejudice about all the rich kids at my school being shallow, uncultured morons. Maybe money didn't ruin everyone after all.
I entered the bookshop and dropped my bag in the back just as she rounded the corner, brushing perfect blonde strands of hair from her eyes. They lit up as soon as they met mine.
"Finally, you're here," she smiled and walked over, hugging me tight. "You're lucky Marion left. You're late."
I let out a relieved sigh. My boss was fair, but totally no nonsense.
"Just you and me tonight, then?" I asked, and Ellie nodded. "I told Marion she could take off early, and that I'd watch the place until your shift started."
Ellie didn't technically work there, because her allowance was more than my salary doubled, but she liked feeling like she had a purpose, and the bookstore was a really friendly place. We both liked the quiet, probably one of the reasons we got along so well, and I quickly clocked in, hoping Marion wouldn't check the records tooclosely.
Evening faded into night, and before I knew it my essay was complete, it was time to lock up, and I was promising Ellie that she could come stay at my place over the weekend. I waved goodbye before heading home, fairly exhausted. I ducked between two office buildings, taking a shortcut back home, and felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as soon as I was enveloped in darkness. Something felt… off.
My fatigue vanished, replaced with ice hot adrenaline as a shadow moved in my peripheral vision. I took a deep, slow breath, calming my racing heart. I glanced at the reflection in the window of a parked car to my right. A dark figure was creeping up behind me, their silhouette warped in the glass, but undeniably closer with every step.
My hand inconspicuously moved to my jacket pocket, closing around my pepper spray. I had been mugged once before, getting off a subway, but it had been too crowded to do much of anything, and I didn't have anything particularly important. He'd grabbed my gym bag, so the joke was on him, really. He got a sweaty sports bra and an old water bottle for his efforts. This time, I'd try to be as civil as possible, but I thought about maybe asking the stranger to spare my essay. That sucker had taken hours, and it was due tomorrow.
I heard the quiet crunch of footsteps on leaves, not quite in sync with my own. I tried to relax the muscles of my back and neck.
Just wait for it, be ready. Wait for it… Inevitably, once we were in the middle of the alley, I felt a demanding hand grip my shoulder. I turned hard and found myself too close to fumble with the pepper spray clenched in my fist, so I did the next best thing and punched my pursuer in the throat.
I was going for the jaw, and felt a trickle of guilt when the masked stranger gagged, choking and coughing. The hand released me at once, the stranger falling to the ground, and I felt a flutter of panic. It looked like a woman, though it was hard to tell with her face hidden, and she was convulsing, hard.
"Oh, God, um, sorry," I stammered, hovering uncertainly. "I just… my essay…" Christ. Was I really apologizing to someone who just attacked me?
"I—I'll call an ambulance for you, but I'm not gonna stick around, since you… well…"
Jesus, just leave already! The tiny voice of Common Sense screamed at me. I shouldered my bag more firmly as the woman's eyes hardened and she reached for her side.
My eyes followed the movement and I saw the glint of a gun peeking from her waistband.
Oh my God!
Without thinking, I stepped on her hand in panic, pressing it into the cracked asphalt. She hissed in pain, and guilt flooded through me. But why? She was going to shoot me for Lord's sake, and I didn't even know why. I grabbed her gun and ejected the magazine, putting it in my pocket. Then, for no particular reason, I put the gun back in her waistband. I really wasn't much of a thief.
We stared at each other awkwardly for a moment. I eased off her fingers with my foot and bolted, sprinting the rest of the way home.
A/N: Hey friends, it's been a while. This story is being re-uploaded with some loose ends tied up and some plot holes filled in. Hope you like the new and improved version! I look forward to re-entering the world of angels with you.