I threw Brian a panicked look before holding up my phone so that he could also see who was calling. His eyes grew big.
"Answer!" he urged, motioning me with his hands to hurry.
"What do I say!?" I cried as I slipped into the car and closed the door behind me.
"Hello!" Brian groaned, the corners of his mouth beginning to curl up. He was amused by my sudden freak out. "Answer and say hello! Look, I'll get out of the car so that you can have some privacy, okay?"
Before I could protest, he was shutting the door behind him, the driver seat now empty. I looked back down at my phone, knowing that if I didn't answer by the next ring, the call would go to voicemail.
"Hello?" I answered as calmly as I could.
"Hi, Evie; this is Kai," replied the caller. I swallowed thickly, my mouth suddenly dry. I had to keep my composure. "I hope I'm not calling at a bad time."
"Hi," I replied. "No, not a bad time. What's up?"
He chuckled nervously. "Glad to hear. Listen, I'm calling because I would like to ask if you were free next weekend; I was hoping to see you."
The call I had waited for was finally happening. I found myself smiling from ear to ear, relief washing over me upon realizing that he had not forgotten about me after all. I mentally went through my weekly schedule—my parents were going to be visiting Annabelle in Colorado that very weekend, so I had no plans with them. Chelsea also had to work that weekend, so no plans with her, either. Naomi, one of my closest coworkers/good friend had devoted herself to volunteering at a pet shelter during the weekends. Veronica, my other closest coworker/good friend was too pregnant to willingly step foot outside her house, so plans with her were nonexistent for the next few months. Bianca had a plethora of parties and brunches to go to, as usual…I was completely free.
"I'm free," I replied.
"Perfect—does Sunday brunch sound good?" he asked. My shoulders slumped slightly—I didn't know why, but I was hoping he would suggest dinner on Saturday night. I quickly remembered, however, that I didn't want things to go too fast. Kai was, after all, a stranger to me, and I was not too keen on dating complete strangers. People like Annabelle and Bianca did spectacularly on first dates with strangers; they had absolutely no problem asking the cute guy from the train station or the handsome charmer from the coffee shop out for dinner and acing that first date. I, on the other hand, was awkward and had no clue what I would talk about. A Sunday brunch sounded safer, like something two friends would do.
"Absolutely," I said.
"Great! I'll text you the time and place by Wednesday," Kai said, sounding relieved; I could have sworn he was smiling. "Have a great night, Evie."
"Same to you," I breathed before hanging up. I stared at my phone in disbelief for a few seconds before I saw Brian's head poke back into view. Once he saw that I was no longer on the phone, he got back into the car, a smile across his face.
"Guessing from the grin you have on, everything went well?" he asked. I nodded.
"He asked me to join him for brunch next Sunday," I explained. His face fell slightly.
"Oh. I thought he would ask you out to dinner or something," he said as he turned the car on. He pulled the seatbelt around his body and clicked it into place.
"Truthfully I was a bit bummed out when he suggested brunch but then I realized that I'd much rather take baby steps. Dinner is a bit much, especially since I barely know anything about him. I'm not the type of person who's comfortable with going out on a dinner date with a perfect stranger—I need to know him a bit more. Brunch is perfectly fine. No romantic atmosphere, no pressure," I explained.
Brian nodded slowly as I explained why I was content with my plans. "I see," he murmured. "And given your…soulmate situation, I understand why you prefer baby steps."
"Exactly," I responded. "Anyway, now that my little problem is solved for the time being, how did things with Natalia go?"
Brian let out a sigh; I couldn't tell if it was a sigh of relief or a sigh of disappointment.
"I missed her a lot, but I never realized just how much. It's quite scary, you know—to care for someone this deeply. Especially if that someone is completely off-limits," he began. "We caught up, we joked around like old times, and we promised to keep in touch. Well…I promised. She's always tried to keep me involved in her life because we're still very close friends. There was one thing she said that caught my attention though."
I glanced at him, expecting to hear more.
"I asked her how Adrian was—Adrian's her boyfriend—and her demeanor changed completely. Her face became stony, almost. She told me that she didn't know how to answer truthfully. They've been butting heads a lot lately and he didn't approve of her coming to the barbecue. I obviously know why—he knows that Natalia and I are soulmates, and although we have always considered each other to be best friends, he's tried to keep her away from me from the moment they began to date. My girl knows how to stand her ground, though," he revealed with a proud smile, only to blush when he realized what he had just said.
"I-I didn't mean my girl, I meant—I didn't—″ Brian quickly tried to do some damage control, only to stop when I let out a snort.
"Don't worry, just relax. I'll pretend that you meant that in a completely platonic way," I smirked. He spared me a look just as he entered the parkway. At least he was smiling.
We were both in high spirits. Brian and I spent the entire car ride to Jersey happily chatting away. For once, I felt like things were finally beginning to go my way.
"Holy crap," Chelsea breathed after taking a swig of her coffee the following morning. I had filled her in on what happened during the barbecue while I got ready for work. "It's like an episode out of a soap opera."
I took a swig out of my own coffee mug before sighing. "Their entire story is something straight out of a movie. However, because yesterday was only a one-time thing, Adelle Rogers will soon be out of the picture and Brian will be back to square one; girlfriend-less and pining after his soulmate."
My sister nodded slowly, still somewhat groggy from having to wake up early. She had requested a few days off from work due to the shock of having discovered that the one person she really disliked in her life turned out to be her soulmate, so for the next few days, she had the ability to sleep in however late she wanted. Unfortunately, her body didn't allow for it—I found her sleepily munching away at a bowl of cereal, a mug of piping hot joe sitting in front of her.
Her eyes suddenly widened before shifting her gaze over to me.
"You. You need to tell me what the hell happened with your own soulmate, my dear sister. Oh my god how could I have forgotten!? It took everything in my willpower to stop you from leaving yesterday so that you could tell me what was going on!" she cried. I grimaced as I glanced at my watch—I had ten minutes to catch the train.
"I'll drop you off," Chelsea immediately offered before darting into her room and changing into sweats.
Five minutes later, Chelsea and I clambered into the car, where I began to tell her the entire story of how Kai Prendergast managed to worm his way back into my life. I knew I wouldn't be able to finish my story by the time we reached the Hoboken station—Chelsea liked to ask a lot of questions. To my surprise, however, my sister chose not to drive me to the station but to my actual job. That meant driving through the Lincoln Tunnel and midtown Manhattan during the morning rush hour, all because she wanted to hear every single detail. I was definitely not going to object; I would arrive at work earlier and in the comfort of my sister's car.
As usual, traffic was a complete nightmare, but Chelsea and I took it in stride. I told her all about Kai's appearance and answered any questions she had. Finally, I informed her of the phone call I had received from him the previous night.
"Oh my god, Evie!" she breathed as we sat behind a red Corolla, "You think he had a change of heart?"
I shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I don't want to jump to any conclusions until this upcoming Sunday—the biggest mistake I could make is get my spirits high. I'm just trying to be cautious," I replied.
It was true. While I was pretty excited to see Kai, I also knew that I needed to keep a level head. I wasn't going to allow my imagination to run amok. Kai was still a stranger to me, and although the universe said he was The One, my soulmate had once insisted that he wanted to pave his own path. I was older and wiser, and I knew better than to wear my heart on my sleeve. It hadn't been Kai's rejection that had caused me to build a fortress around my heart, however—it had been Garrett's doing.
Chelsea placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder and gently rubbed it. "You know what I think?" she asked. "I think this is good. I think that you two have had time to grow and explore a little bit. When you two found each other, you were still pretty relatively young—the people you were back then were definitely not the people you would be forever. I think the path would have been a lot rockier for you had you both decided to tackle a relationship."
I nodded at her words, instantly remembering Harmony's words of advice. As much as I cherished and respected my friend's opinion, there was something very reassuring about having my oldest sister basically tell me the same thing that Harmony had said. Chelsea was the level-headed one, the one who made the rational decisions, and in a lot of ways I was more alike to her than I was to Annabelle. For her to tell me that opening myself up to the possibility of inviting Kai Prendergast into my life was comforting—I felt confident in doing just that.
"You look awfully happy today," my coworker, Naomi, stated as she leaned against my desk. She smiled and tilted her head to the side. "While I'm happy to see your adorable little smile, it's Monday; no one is ever this chipper on a Monday morning."
I smiled as I finished up typing an email. "I had a great weekend is all," I stated simply, not wanting to go into details while potential eavesdroppers were around. "Got to relax and unwind with friends."
Naomi was the very first person to take me under her wing when I first began working at Collins. She intimidated me at first—she was tall, beautiful, and charming. Everyone in the office loved her, and I quickly figured out why. Naomi was a team player, someone who genuinely cared for her coworkers and friends. She was more than willing to help anybody out, even if she had her own mountain of work to tend to. This did not sit well with Jacob, her supervisor up in finance. He was always on her case, making sure she finished every report on her desk while also ensuring that no email went unanswered.
Some people clicked their tongues at Jacob, but they failed to realize that the reasons as to why he was so hard on Naomi were because she was a bright, talented employee, he truly cared about her job—perhaps a little more than she cared about it herself—and because in an odd way, he liked having her around. Naomi had once revealed to Veronica and I that she would help Jacob go over financial reports well into the evening, sometimes going home as late as eight or nine. They would usually share some Chinese takeout or a few slices of pizza together if their workload was particularly demanding. All in all, Jacob was a great person and a great supervisor; he balanced Naomi out. Sure, he would scold her harshly from time to time, but his words alone were the only things that kept poor Naomi in line.
Personally, I hoped they would one day open their eyes and realize that they would make a heavenly couple. But I never told Naomi that—it was Veronica's and my secret.
"Ah, that's the best," she smiled. "Relaxing with friends. What did you do? Movies? Brunch?"
I shook my head. "I went to a barbecue. It was fun, I had a great time," I replied. Naomi's face lit up.
"Were there cute guys?" she asked suggestively, raising an eyebrow. I laughed.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…but yes, there were a few conventionally cute ones here and there," I said. Brian was definitely attractive, but so were his two older brothers. Luke and Jesse were also ladykillers. "However, I was there for leisure and relaxation, and that's exactly what I did."
My coworker grinned. "Well, flirting can go hand-in-hand with leisure and relaxation!" she chirped. "As a matter of fact, I met a very handsome grad student over the weekend."
Ah, yes. Naomi had a long list of suitors that were after her. She was a very beautiful and intriguing woman—she had long, slim legs, silky jet black hair that she always kept short, and striking features, an example being her emerald green eyes. Men saw her as exotic, as a woman who stuck out in a sea of lookalikes. She could have easily been a model, but Naomi had insisted time and time again that she would have hated it. According to her, she's not photogenic. Still, Naomi was a charmer, someone who never shied away from the limelight.
She was about to tell me more, but before she could, she quickly ducked behind my cubicle wall, her eyes frantic and pleading for help.
"Jacob just walked in," she whispered. "Just pretend like you're doing your work."
I looked up to see Jacob Forester walking towards Margot's—my supervisor—office. His visit seemed innocent enough. Perhaps he had yet to notice that Naomi was missing up in the finance department.
"He just went into Margot's office," I whispered to her. I looked down and locked eyes with Naomi's green ones. She looked hilarious with her legs awkwardly bent this way and that, trying her best to make herself as small as possible, doing her best to hide her entire body behind my desk. "You have about five minutes to get upstairs. Go!"
Naomi didn't have to be told twice before making a run for it. I watched her go before turning my attention to Margot's door, hoping it would remain closed for another three minutes; enough time for Naomi to dash upstairs, where she should be. Luckily for her, Jacob didn't emerge for another five minutes.
Jacob Forester was a stern, straight-laced man for the most part. He was friendly and cordial, but he was a workaholic. According to Alberto Nunes, the office gossip, Jacob was single, lived in Long Island City, and seemingly didn't have much of a social life—and if he did, he did a great job of hiding it. Although he and Naomi had somewhat of a love/hate relationship, almost everyone who knew the two was under the impression that they were each other's closest friend.
I turned back to my computer screen, and tried my best to focus on the task at hand. Naomi was right—I was particularly bright and chipper that morning. I knew that the week would pass by in the blink of an eye, and that I would soon find myself seated across from Kai Prendergast. I just had to keep a happy outlook.
Chelsea's mini-vacation ended on Wednesday.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm a bit nervous," Chelsea admitted to me on Wednesday morning as she pulled her hair into a ponytail. "However, Dorian has never intimidated me before, and I definitely don't want anyone to think I'm acting differently around him, so I need to pull myself together."
I took another sip of my coffee, listening to my sister ramble on and on about Dr. Giroux. I had three hours to kill before I had to run to the Hoboken train station to catch my train, but Chelsea's work shift started earlier than my own, which was why she was up and running at five o'clock in the morning. Although she had taken some time off in the hopes of clearing her mind and coming to terms with the fact that her least favorite person is, in fact, the person that the universe deemed to be her perfect match, I felt that she should have asked for more time off.
The thing is, Chelsea is a hard and compassionate worker; she viewed her patients as her kids. She's great with them, too—some people are just naturals with children, and my sister was one of them. Kids immediately opened up to her, and whatever fear they may have would melt away whenever my sister was around. Needless to say, Chelsea dreamed of having at least five kids and a big house to raise them in. Like me, she harbored a dream of finding her own soulmate, falling in love, and beginning a beautiful journey together.
I often found myself wishing I was more like Annabelle. I wished I would take more risks without worrying about the consequences. I wished I saw my soul mark as nothing more than a blemish, a marking that was just…there. Growing up, Anabelle had taken our parent's words to heart—no matter what the universe said, she was going to march to the beat of her own drum. She never identified herself as a renegade, however; instead, she adopted a "Que sera, sera" attitude.
"If I meet my soulmate and we hit it off, then awesome!" she had told me once. "But if we don't ever meet, or if I fall in love with someone else or vice versa, then it's okay too. It's not the end of the world. Just keep truckin'."
With a sigh, I finished my coffee and headed to the shower. The sky outside was beginning to change color, signaling that dawn was not too far away.
Finding a table and a chair in Bryant Park between the hours of twelve to three is practically impossible. It was the lunch rush, which meant that office employees from all around Manhattan were finally released from the cubicles—practically all at the same time.
The weather was getting warmer; so warm, in fact, that people were no longer wearing coats or jackets, and opting to soak in some vitamin D by spending every minute of their free time outdoors. The temperature was just right—not too hot and not too cold. The wind carried that delicious spring smell, accompanied by the inevitable storm of pollen that came with the gorgeous season.
With my burrito bowl from Chipotle in one hand and my iced green tea lemonade from Starbucks in the other, I made a beeline for the perfect little table. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was going to get to spend my lunch hour in the park—what more could I ask for?
Just as I set my bag down, however, someone else decided to claim my table as their own.
"Oh!" I let out, surprised by the body that had dropped down onto the frail-looking chair. The stranger and I looked at each other, both taken aback by each other's presence.
"Sorry," he said dismissively before turning away. I glared at him, miffed by his blatant rudeness.
"Excuse me," I began curtly, "But this is my table."
He smirked a little and sipped his coffee calmly, taking his time to respond. "This is public property. You don't own it, it belongs to the city," he replied.
My perfect day had soured a little, but the woman sitting at the table behind me stepped in to save it.
"I'm actually about to leave; you can take this table if you'd like," she said as she tapped me on the arm. I turned to look at her and thank her for her kindness, barely sparing the thief in front of me another glance. I wasn't going to stoop down to his level. I wasn't going to allow him to ruin my day.
"Thank you very much," I smiled back as I watched her quickly gather her things. We wished each other well and she was off, leaving me alone to eat. I ate slowly as I exchanged texts with Chelsea, who also happened to be on her lunch break. Just as I read over her text, I heard someone calling my name.
I looked up, surprised to see Naomi approaching me. I smiled and waved her over.
"Hey!" I greeted her, "What are you doing here?"
She grinned as she sat down in the unoccupied seat across from me, placing down her brown paper bag, which I assumed contained a container of wonton soup from the Chinese restaurant a few blocks away from the office.
"Eating, silly. I took an earlier than usual lunch today and decided to join you—I actually went to look for you but you were gone," she smiled sheepishly. I raised an eyebrow at her, puzzled as to why she didn't shoot me an email beforehand. Just a few months ago, Naomi, Veronica, and I would always share our lunch hours together, but due to conflicting schedules during recent weeks, our lunch hours didn't overlap anymore. Veronica had switched lunch hours with someone in her department, and Naomi had taken it upon herself to help Jacob sort through files and reports ever since Clementine Uribe, Jacob's second-in-command, had resigned back in January. The company had yet to find a suitable replacement, which left Jacob to fend for himself. After seeing the toll that this added work had taken on her beloved boss, Naomi offered him a helping hand, which Jacob reluctantly accepted.
And so, I usually found myself spending my lunch hour alone, not that I minded. I would usually catch up on some reading or I would listen to music while I ate, which helped relax me before heading back into the corporate craziness. What piqued my interest about Naomi's sudden decision was that she had not given me a heads up about her change of plans…
"No Jacob, huh?" I asked as I took another bite of rice. Her smile faltered just a bit.
"Bingo," she chuckled. "He…decided to step out of the office today. Maureen Chester from public relations swung by his office around ten and invited him out, so…"
"Oh. Okay," was all I managed to say. Although Naomi didn't directly voice her frustration, I knew that she wasn't too happy with Jacob's change of plans. She was sometimes very easy to read. "Didn't know he was friends with her. But that's good, you know? The weather is beautiful, and he needs to get out of that stuffy office of his," I added.
"I don't think they're friends, I think they're closer to acquaintances," Naomi quickly replied, almost as if she was absolutely intent on pointing out that they weren't even friends to begin with. "But you're right, I'm glad he finally left that office of his. Plus, I got to join you for lunch, too!"
I smiled at her, torn between pointing out her obvious jealousy towards Maureen Chester. Perhaps it wasn't the type of jealousy that stemmed from romantic interest—I wouldn't be surprised if it was the first time Jacob had left Naomi to her own devices during lunch, and she wasn't accustomed to that.
"Maybe if Maureen keeps asking Jacob out for lunch, we can make it a routine again," I smiled teasingly. I was met with an uncomfortable smile before Naomi changed the conversation. Little did I know, the prick that stole my table had caught sight of my very attractive coworker, and he was determined to get her number and chat her up. Had I known that, I would have never stepped foot in Bryant Park.
How does Italian food sound? There's a great place called Girasoli in Nolita; it won't disappoint. I was thinking to meet up around eleven thirty, the text read. I bit my lip as I hovered my thumbs above the touch screen, trying to find the right words to text back.
Absolutely? Wonderful? Can't wait?
I sighed as I chewed the possible replies over in my head, becoming so absorbed in my thoughts that I almost didn't notice when my train pulled up to the Hoboken station. I darted out just in time and began my walk back home.
As promised, Kai had texted me about Sunday's plans. I was on the train back home, tired and in dire need of a relaxing shower—the only thing that had the power to liven me up again was seeing his name pop up on my phone screen.
Sounds great, I texted back as I slowly walked away from the station. I'll meet you there.
He read the text almost immediately, which sent the butterflies in my stomach into a frenzy. I felt my cheeks warm up, embarrassment soon filling my mind; I was acting like an adolescent. I needed to keep a level head. I couldn't get my hopes up no matter what.
With one last sigh, I tucked my phone away and continued my walk home. I was going to take a quick shower before getting dinner started, so that Chelsea would find a nice, hot plate of food to go along with the sympathetic ear I would offer her. Despite the many times I told myself that I was doing all of that for my sister's well-being, I knew that deep down, it was my way of trying to push Kai Prendergast to the very far back of my mind.
Aaaaand I'm back.
First and foremost, I am super sorry about the late update. It's been about a month, no? I have less than two months left of school and I'm pretty busy, but I'm trying my best to keep up with my writing, too. It's a great way to relax and take my mind off of school-related stress, so I'll definitely continue updating as much as I can.
Secondly, as much as I wanted to like this chapter, I can't really say I'm all that satisfied with it, so I'm sorry if t disappoints; I tried my best to set the stage for more characters and for what's to come in Evie's and Kai's freshly hatched relationship. I will totally understand if you weren't satisfied with it, too (although to be honest, 98% of the time I don't know what you guys are thinking because not a lot of people leave reviews).
Which brings me to number three; thank you for reading/reviewing/following/favoriting! I would love to hear your thoughts and your constructive criticism, so please leave your thoughts! I love reading your reviews, they brighten my day!
I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week!