It's safe to say that when I woke up that morning, I wasn't prepared for what was coming, I wasn't ready. Although, when I entered my kitchen and saw that blue envelope laying on my table, my heart jumped. That envelope was my destiny. My fate's calling.
"Ms Grace Wayne."
My first move wasn't even to open it, instead, I reached down my jeans' pocket to grab my phone and texted my two best friends, to let them know. And meet them just like each day. Turned out they also got the very wanted envelope. I wasn't doubting my future, neither was I doubting me being chosen instead of them. They were also rooting for me since I taught them everything. And yet when I opened it, my world fell apart.
"Ms Wayne, we have been watching the effort you put into applying, however, we think you aren't ready to join the agency. Please accept our deepest apologies.
Best regards, keep your eyes and mind open,
"We did it!"
"I can't believe they got us in!"
My friends were ecstatic, and so was I for them. However, I couldn't help but feel injustice. It was like being responsible for group studies because you're the most qualified and smartest and yet being the only one not to graduate at the end of the year.
"We're still wondering why you haven't been chosen, Gracie. Do you want us to ask them why?"
My friend Annie was the kindest person I've ever met. She was also gifted with the ability to see things from a different point of view. Maybe that's why they picked up her and her boyfriend James.
"No, don't. This isn't like a job we've applied for and anyway, I'm not ready to be chosen yet. At least that's what my card said."
"This must be a mistake" James jolted, "you're the one that taught us everything from A to Z. We always knew you'd be the first to be chosen, I mean you're older and smarter than the both of us."
"Well, James, they obviously think otherwise."
"Nonsense, you've been ready since you were born."
My two friends looked confused, alas, they were incapable of changing my fate. These people were pretty strict about their hiring policy. Not job-like strict. More like the MI-6. Because they were not some random incorporation. They were Riddle.
"When do you guys have to leave?"
"Tonight," Annie said "they gave us train tickets to London. They're picking us up at Paddington."
"This is really happening then..." I said, truly happy. Still, I was proud of my friends, they would see our dream come true.
"Let me drive you guys to the station, please."
It took them about half a second to accept. I let them took care of their packing up, and when the time came, as promised, I drove them to Plymouth's train station. The place was crowded and, I couldn't help but think, how many are there to join Riddle, in addition to my best friends? How many were about to live the dream of my life?
It's such a painful feeling. Reaching your dream so close you can almost feel it is real. And all of a sudden, that dream turns into ashes in your hands and you're left with nothing but illusions and vain efforts.
"Please don't look so sad, Candy."
James gave me that nickname when we first met. Because of my pastel pink hair, a signature I've been wearing for three years now when I was brave enough to say goodbye to the brunette me. He thought it looked like Cotton-candy so much, he only shortened the term.
"How can I not be sad, you guys are leaving, I'm gonna be all alone. Yet I'm so proud of you. At least it proves my knowledge was right."
They both hugged me tight, I didn't want to let go of them. I would miss them so badly, they were the only family I had. My real family was somewhere else, somewhere I left a long time ago. Letting my friends go would be like letting go of another family. But I had no choice.
"Call me when you can, okay? I want to know how well you guys are doing out there in the big world."
Group hug again, tainted with laughter and melancholy.
James and Annie were 19. Young and yet the smartest people I've ever met. Even if I taught them what I knew, they also taught me a lot. About who I am and what I care about.
My friends took place on the train, but I didn't leave, I wanted to stay until I couldn't see their faces anymore. They stuck their head to the window, making me laugh with funny faces. A robotic voice made an announcement, the train started his way out of the station. A few seconds later, my friends were out of sight, I was alone on the platform. Back then I could felt a vast emptiness filling me to my bones. The only thing connecting me to the reality was work.
Checking the station's clock, I indeed noticed that...
I was late again.
The drive back home offered me some time to think. At that moment, I felt anger coming up my veins. Anger towards Riddle. They took my friends away and they left me with nothing but loneliness, disappointment and lower self-esteem. I couldn't help but think I did something wrong. I taught my friends, all alone and they got in, I wasn't. Even if the three of us had the same practical knowledge.
Maybe I wasn't strong enough. Maybe I made a mistake that my friends didn't make and that cost me the dream of a lifetime. The dream I was holding on to.
Going home only took a few minutes, I only needed to get my outfit, a white crop top and black jeans, and my black leather backpack full of useless things I had to have with me when I was out.
My job didn't exactly fit my knowledge, but I had bills to pay and no family to help. I worked in a fancy club as a bartender and entertainer. Most of the customers were rich businessmen that came there to relax and visually enjoy the bodies of the pole dancers. That wasn't exactly my kind of place, I didn't fit in there with my pink hair and bright blue eyes. These men liked to dream, exoticism, foreign languages. If only they had known I could speak seven. My bosses didn't know either, they only expected me to prepare cocktails - Martinis, Sex on the beach, Gin tonic, and to dance - fully clothed - on the counter. Just like in Coyote Ugly.
Later that night, as I prepared the drinks for a bunch of people my age that celebrated the end of the school year, I couldn't help but think about Anne and James. They were certainly arrived at the Riddle headquarters by then, given their badges and being called "agent".
Being a Riddle Agent was an honour. Riddle Agents were required to solve murders, investigate Mr Nobody's life, disguise as someone and infiltrate a group, immersion in a group, being transparent. They say that they called their agency "Riddle" because of their agents. The agents were the only riddle that couldn't be solved. They were machines, trained to resist and fit anything. From one extreme to the other.
I've always thought I was perfect for this. Time passed and the more I learned, the more I wanted to enter Riddle's team. Not for the honour. But because I'd belong to a tribe. Other people with rare abilities like mine, being able to talk and be understood. Of course, I had Anne and James. But their level of ability was slightly below mine. They were younger and I couldn't teach them everything I knew. I had to keep some stuff to myself, knowing they wouldn't understand. Like how, when I saw someone, their whole history appeared in my mind. Some call it instincts, intuition, I didn't care. It just happened. My first impression of someone was always the right one. I didn't even need to talk to them but did anyway to prove myself. My guts led me.
And that's why, when I saw that stranger in the club, my guts told me to run as far and fast as I could. I knew all the clients, we were informed if a new important member registered. This one wasn't, and yet, he was there. Staring at me. I just kept my usual mascarade, which was being discrete, almost stupid for no one to notice me. Not that I usually had low self-esteem, I only wanted to disappear. To be invisible. I readjusted the two pink hair buns on my head, carelessly, using the mirrors behind the bar to check on Mr Black suit no tie. He was bald, Jason Statham-like. His whole physique screamed danger and death. My death was on his list tonight, I knew it. But I didn't want to give him that pleasure.
Careful not to look in his direction, I called the waitress.
"Dinah, please, can you go and distract the new guy? I have to leave. Now."
Dinah was a tall platinum blonde dancer-waitress. Very appreciated by the regulars and my closest friend in there. She knew the real-life, hardships, I could always count on her. She noticed my anxiety and asked:
"I will be, don't worry. Distract him as long as you can, subtly."
"These babies will do, as always." She said, pushing her breasts up. "Don't forget to take you-know-what with you. And be careful."
She leaned over the bar and kissed my forehead. This 35-year old woman was also the closest thing I had to a mother in my life.
One of the good things about this club was the feminine support. All the girls here, no matter what their job was, all stuck together. Dinah left, her tray up in the air, boobs forward, straight for Jason Statham, while I grabbed my gun that was taped under the bar. Slipping it quickly in my jeans against my back, I went to the locker room, grabbed my bag and left the club. I needed to get home as fast as I could, not knowing how long Di would hold him. Thank heavens, I owned a beast as a motorbike. She was my best friend and my most precious good.
As I pulled on the road, the little voice in my head whispered that he would find me, no matter what. I was doomed.
The man readjusts his glasses. He's wearing a white blouse over his navy blue suit and he's smiling over a file he's reading. It's impossible to tell if he's being truly happy or glowing with cruelty. He has this predator smile that attracts all the women. The ones looking for a thrill.
His black wavy hair is falling on his forehead, hiding his thoughts away from the rest of the world. His head tilts slightly to the left when his eyes land on the picture attached to the file with a paperclip. A girl. Bartending at some fancy club for older gentlemen. She's got her pink hair tied up in two buns on her head, she looks naive but he knows she's hiding way more than that. He touches the glossy paper with his fingertips and sighs.
He knows that picture by heart, he often stares at it after his shift is over. He keeps the file in a secured drawer in his office. Just like all the other similar cases. But this one, this one is precious to him. He lifts the photograph to read the report below that he also knows by heart :
[Grace Katherine Wayne, 26
5'9 – Navy blue eyes, pink hair.
Abilities: Full memory, instant assimilation,
easy immersion, strong intuition. Boxing,
self-defence, knows how to handle multiple guns.
Languages spoken: 7 (English, Spanish, French, Russian,
German, Swedish, Chinese).
Hiring status: Processing.]
He smiles again, a genuine smile this time.
She's soon to be his.