Feathered - One

Harry Styles had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. His days were uninteresting and his nights were even duller. His life had become a routine, a pathetic, the-fuck-am-I-doing routine. Waking up at noon every day to walk to his job at the old, dingy bookstore which was only two blocks away from his even dingier flat above the Chinese restaurant – which, let’s be honest, didn’t deserve to be open anymore with all those health violation it had – was what he grew accustomed to after being out of school for the past two years. He couldn’t really complain though – but he still would – because dropping out of university was his fault, or his choice. He didn’t fit into the university life, doing maths and sciences, not knowing when he was ever going to use those in his life, but only because he had no idea what he would ever do after he finished uni. The back and forth with his academic advisor gave him migraines, the thirty-something year old pushing him to pick a major, the twenty-one year old not succumbing to the woman’s insistence. When Harry wanted to, he would pick something he would love to do for the rest of his life and he would go back to school when he was ready.

Today was not that day.

Instead, today, Harry woke up, noon as usual, to walk down to the bookshop. Don’t get him wrong, he loved that bookshop to death. It was one of the only jobs he could get at the age of nineteen, freshly dropped out of college and he had Mr. Windsor to thank for giving him the job. The bookshop was family owned, his father making it into what it is now. Harry didn’t know much about the history but it’s been in the family for a long time now. Mr. Windsor was an old man, who was slowly needing a cane to wall but was too stubborn to admit to it. He was still full of life, with a head of fluffy white hair and grey crinkled eyes. Unlike many others, Harry enjoyed his company – despite the very strong smoking pipe smell – because he didn’t stare at him like a complete failure, but more like puzzle to be solved. He’d never figure it out, though, because Harry didn’t even know what puzzle there was to be solved. But other than that, Harry enjoyed the advice he received and the books the elderly man would recommend, it taught Harry a lot more than what that old, uptight university taught him.

It was cold when Harry walked out of his flat, the smell of aged Chinese food lingering in the air making him cringe while he cursed at himself for ever thinking it was a good idea to live here. But it was the cheapest rent he could afford on the salary that Mr. Windsor paid him. He held his breath until he left the restaurant, waving at the middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Yang, who owned the place.

He took a breath of fresh air as soon as he stepped outside, wrapping the scarf around his neck tighter and pulling down his beanie even further over his mop of brown locks. The cold wind was nippy and despite being bundled up in layers of fluffy sweaters, he shivered. This was when he loved the fact he only had to walk a couple blocks to the bookshop, even if his entire flat smelled of old Chinese food. The sky was gray and cloudy, and it looked like it was about to rain, or snow, it didn’t matter, but the winter months were taking a toll on the weather, something Harry loved. Winter was his favorite season, loving how almost every year he’d be able to walk down snowy paths, and make hot chocolate. Though it was only November, Harry was excited for December, couldn’t wait, actually. He had presents already planned out for Mr. Windsor and the Yangs and his –

No, it didn’t matter anymore. He hadn’t seen his family since his father figured out he had dropped out of uni, which was actually several months later when both his parents showed up at his dorm and found only his old roommate leaving him to break the news to two very distraught looking parents. Needless to say, Harry’s father wasn’t the forgiving type and if he was being shunned by his father he couldn’t speak to his mother, as well. And that hurt him but he would never admit to it.

Harry entered Windsor’s Books, the small bell above the door ringing in the silence of the small shop, shoving his beanie into the pocket of his coat letting his wild, unruly curls roam free. It was empty, as per usual, and sometimes Harry wondered how in the world Mr. Windsor still had the ability to keep this place open and pay him. Still, Harry was glad that it had remained open. With a sigh, he shrugged his coat off and placed it behind the counter of the till, rolling the sleeves to his black jumper up to his forearms. Though it was near freezing outside, it was bloody hot for Harry inside. Thinking Mr. Windsor had left the heating on all night, a frown settled on his face, imagining how high the heating bill would be. He’d have to talk to him once again, knowing this problem would arise another time in the future. Going to the thermostat at the back of the shop, Harry adjusted the temperature before wandering around, trying to look for Mr. Windsor.

Windsor’s Books was a hole in the wall, miniscule, diamond in the ruff type of place. One of the only reason’s Harry had found it was because he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. The front of the building still had the authentic white paint, faded and peeling. It wasn’t the best looking storefront and the only indication that it was a shop was the sign dangling above the door, wooden and chipped. But the inside was a different story. It was a room with endless rows of bookshelves from ceiling to floor, books in piles at the corners and a small reading nook with old, comfy chairs and it smelled like the comfort of old and new books. It was always brightly lit, despite the lack of windows, by luminescent lights above and string lights tacked onto the walls. It was a book lover’s paradise.

So, Harry had to admit that the bookshop wasn’t as dingy as he made it out to be because he enjoyed spending his time here. It was just nothing new for him and he wanted something new and exciting.

“Mr. Windsor,” Harry called out, running a finger through the ridges of the books on the shelves against the wall. There was no answer, no raspy and gruff voice echoed back to him. Looking around, he tilted his head, confused as to how the shop was open but no one was here. With a shrug, he went back to the counter and sat on the stool, resting his cheek on his left hand, hoping a customer would come in. It wasn’t a customer who came in, just five minutes later. Mr. Windsor, a bundle of joy and carrying a rather large box comes barreling through the door. “Mr. Windsor!”

“Harry, m’boy. Glad you’re here.”

Harry rushed towards Mr. Windsor, grabbing the box from the man. Mr. Windsor gave him a warm, toothy smile before grabbing his cane from behind, Harry having no idea where it came from, before marching in front of him.

“If you follow me.”

“What is all this?” Harry took a peek inside, but merely saw a white cloth covering the contents of the box.

“In a minute, place it on the counter,” Mr. Windsor waved his hand in a casual manner.

Harry shrugged but placed the box on counter, accustomed to the strange antics Mr. Windsor does every once in a while. Last week, he came in with ten beanies on his head; it wasn’t raining or snowing at the time. He still doesn’t what Mr. Windsor was doing with all the beanies and he would never bother to ask. Mr. Windsor was of the eccentric kind, very peculiar and you never questioned it. Mr. Windsor walked to the counter and, with a flurry, he lifted the cloth and revealed its contents. At the very top of the box were…minced pies?

“Erm, Mr. Windsor, why-“

“Come, Harry, take one.. The ol’ lass from down the road, Mrs. Surry, made tons. Gave them out to everyone. But I’ll tell you what.” He lowered his voice and leaned into Harry, his gray eyes brightening up. “She gave me the most.” There was a twinkle in his eye and Harry couldn’t help but smile, knowing how fond Mr. Windsor had grown fond of the woman down the road.

“That’s great, but I’ll I think pass on the pie,” Harry crinkled his nose in disgust causing Mr. Windsor to guffaw before shaking his head and taking out the remaining pies from the box. Underneath the box, Harry wasn’t expecting to see. It looked like trinkets of sorts, a memory box. But were they Mr. Windsor’s? He was immediately drawn to the small wooden jewelry box at the bottom of the box, underneath the photo album that look about ready to be torn from its spine and a black raggedy sweater that seemed too feminine for someone like Mr. Windsor. His eyes were transfixed on the hand carved swirled details, the gold accents and the smooth finish. He wanted to know the story behind. Who gave him the jewelry box, where did it come from, why was it just in the box? But before he could ask him about it, or, in fact, get his hands on the object, Mr. Windsor placed the cloth back in the box, covering the rest of the items from view, snapping Harry out of his reverie.

“Harry!”

Harry looked up at Mr. Windsor, not realizing he had zoned out.

“M’boy, you a’right?” Worry was etched onto the man’s face, his wrinkles even more prominent before Harry nodded.

“I – er- yeah, sorry,” Harry smiled sheepishly before looking away, cheeks tinted pink.

“Anyway, I want you to take the box into the backroom, but put it in the room to the right instead of the left one. And then come back out quickly so you can help. We’re handing these out, helping Mrs. Surry.” He bustled along as fast as he could with his cane and left the counter.

“The room to the right? Mr. Windsor, there is no room to the right.” If Harry had only met Mr. Windsor, he’d be a bit worried about his mental capacity, but this isn’t the first time he had said something that didn’t make sense. “Mr. Windsor,” he called, but Mr. Windsor was too wrapped up in something to pay any attention to Harry.

He let it go and grabbed the box, noticing how much lighter it was without the gross, mince pies inside. Mince pies. Who in the world likes, much less eats, mince pies? Harry had to hold in a visible shudder as a faint memory of his mother trying to shove a mince pie into his mouth. Of course, it was all in a playful manner and he was ten at the time. It was Christmas, a white Christmas in Cheshire, and everyone was happy, even his dad who only seemed to be happy during the holidays. He immediately squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to remember what used to make him happy. Despite the warm feeling he got in his chest when it came to thinking about his home life, he didn’t want to think about what he didn’t have anymore. That memory was eleven years old, and he hadn’t even remembered it until now, and a dejected feeling surged through him He wouldn’t think about it now, or ever again. If his mum didn’t want to contact him then he didn’t want to contact her either. It was petty of him, but he was still hurt. Another Christmas would be passed by himself, once again.

Harry opened up the door that led to backroom. It was a very small room where more books were thrown on the ground, cleaning supplies like a bucket, broom and mop laid at the corner of one side, and on the other side, the left side, was a door. The only door in the backroom. Harry shook his head and made for the door until a noise startled him. He jumped, his heart beat quickening before he spun around, noticing that the broom had tumbled over, now blocking the path to the other door.

The other door?!

Harry had to do a double take as he stared, open mouthed, at the iron wrought door. It stood out amongst the wooden interior of the room, and he couldn’t understand where it came from because it was never there until now. Harry was confused and, to be a bit honest, nervous. Was he really that absent minded that he never noticed an abstractly designed door that almost engulfed the room? With timid steps, Harry shuffled along the floor, the box held tight in his grip. He shuffled it to one side of his body before reaching a shaky hand out to the cast iron door handle. He looked behind him, the room empty and silent before pulling the door open. It was heavy and creaking and he had to use more of his strength than what he expected. What he didn’t expect, when he opened the door, was how small the room on the other side was. It felt like he was in a cupboard; it was small and barely had enough room for the empty bookshelf off to the side. There was nothing in here, and the anticipation Harry had before was long gone. With a sigh, he placed the box on the floor, crouching down with it. He looked over his shoulder but the room was empty, Mr. Windsor most likely setting up the mince pies. He looked back down at the box and ever so gently lifted up the white cloth. His eyes were immediately drawn to the jewelry box. Something about the simple ornate box was intoxicating and he didn’t know why. Everything in his body told him to grab it, to keep it, so he reached for it. He held his breath, not knowing what would happen, but when he grabbed the box nothing happened. Harry released the breath he was holding and tried not to seem disappointed. He didn’t know what to expect but he sort of wanted something other than silence to engulf him.

With a huff, he pulled out the box, running his finger along the surprisingly smooth edges of the wood. It seemed really old that he couldn’t put a date on it and he wanted to know who it belonged to, or where it came from. He knew all he had to do was open the box and the contents would be revealed. But he couldn’t open it, at least not yet. Harry didn’t know why but he thought that he should wait. For what? He didn’t know, though. But with another look over his shoulder, the door to this room still wide open and nothing different had changed to the backroom, Harry decided that he didn’t have to wait. No one could actually stop him from opening up the box.

So, he did.

And he didn’t know whether to feel disappointed or surprised. Harry saw only a few things laying in the box. First, he noticed a silver chain, which he picked up to reveal a small, heart pendant dangling from the end of it. A closer inspection revealed something inscribed on the pendant but it was to faded and worn for Harry to read out. He set that down and picked up the next item. It was a piece of black, velvet cloth that looked like it was torn from some kind dress or shirt, perhaps. He stared at it, feeling the cool texture before moving on. The next item confused him to no end. He picked up the black feather and examined it, noticing that it was soft, softer than a cloud, Harry thought. The feather, he noticed, wasn’t from some bird since it seemed to be darker than any regular black bird. And he almost knew for sure that no bird could be this soft. He was amazed as he ran his fingers through the feather, more questions popping up in his head. Where did it come from? Why did Mr. Windsor have this box to begin with?

With a sigh, he set down the feather and picked up the last object, a photograph. This caught his attention the most. The black and white photo was dark and blurred but his eyes could make out a tiny figure in the center of it. It had to be a girl, he concluded as her small frame was surrounded by the darkness around her. She was sitting on what looked to be a swing, or a chair, he couldn’t tell, and that was about it. Everything was just black and all that peaked out through that photo was her, dressed in a white gown. Her head was down, her hair covering her face and that was it. Harry wanted to know who this girl was. Why wasn’t she staring at the camera? Why did the background look dark and empty but the foreground the complete opposite?

He brought the square photo closer to his face, trying to inspect it, trying to gather even more details despite him knowing it was futile. He still tried, too engrossed in it to do anything else. The hairs at the back of his neck stood to attention, suddenly, when he saw something in the photograph move. He blinked, bringing it closer to his face and waited a good minute before he realized nothing was happening.

It was probably just a figment of his imagination, a trick of the shadows. Harry was probably just staring too long and his eyes were straining. Whatever the case, he sighed but before he could even put the photograph down, a loud slam caused him to jump. His heart was beating at an erratic speed as he spun around and saw that the iron wrought door was slammed shut. He gulped before he took a hesitant step forward. Everything for him was getting weirder and weirder and he didn’t know what to do. He reached his hand out to the door handle, walking so slow and careful. His hand shook and he cursed to himself to get it together. He was fine, he was fine.

He placed his hand on the shockingly cold handle, ready to open it.

“Harry!”

Harry flinched and jumped away from the door, body shaking.

“Harry, where are you?”

It was Mr. Windsor, he realized with a sigh of relief. He looked down at his hand, the picture still there before he put it back in the jewelry box. He grabbed the box and rushed to put on one of the shelfs in the room. With a quick look around, he went for the door handle and pushed it open.

“M’coming, Mr. Windsor,” Harry yelled out before quickly shutting the door behind him. He took a deep breath, his mind racing with everything and nothing at the same time. He made his way through the back room, turning his head ever so slightly so the iron wrought door was in his peripheral. A shudder coursed through him and he immediately felt the temperature decrease a few degrees. He needed to get out of there before he was sucked into whatever else was in that room. With a sigh, he walked out of the backroom, closing that door, too, before walking up to the till, where Mr. Windsor sat.

“What took you so long?”

Harry shrugged, at a loss for words. “I got distracted.” His voice came out as a mumble, low and confused. “I didn’t know we had another roo. In the back room.”

“Harry, y’alright? You’ve worked here for the past two years and you’ve never known that?” Mr. Windsor let out a loud guffaw before he stood and clapped a hand down on Harry’s shoulder.

Harry could feel his cheeks heat up in embarrassment as Mr. Windsor took the mickey out of him. “Yeah, whatever,” he mumbled.

“C’mon boy, let’s finish putting out the mince pies.”

With a nod, Harry followed Mr. Windsor out the shop where a table was already set up, mince pies piled high on top of each other.

“Need to make this look extravagant, can’t disappoint Mrs. Surrey.”

Harry nodded and swore to himself that he could see the tips of Mr. Windsor’s ears turn a slight shade of pink.

“So, when are you going to tell Mrs. Surrey about your feelings for her?”

Mr. Windsor paused, his eyes widening as he turned to look at Harry who had a sheepish grin on his face.

“I’m an ol’ geezer, can’t do anything about it.”

The way Mr. Windsor brushed it off almost made Harry’s heart deflate. He shouldn’t feel like that, Harry thought. There shouldn’t be a cap on age, and Mr. Windsor should still be able to go for what he wants, despite his age.

“No point in thinking ‘bout it. Come, let’s fix this display.” And when Mr. Windsor changed the subject, Harry knew it would be dropped.

So, Harry got busy with fixing the mince pies display, which they would sell to help Mrs. Surrey, This whole thing made Harry forget about the backroom and the box and the strange objects.

Almost.

 

A Hazy Shade of Winter - One Shot

                    The snow falling and the sun setting made Mullingar look picturesque and beautiful. The sky was painted with an array of reds and oranges, a fireball almost. The shops were filled with people, bouncing about from one store to another, trying to get some last minute Christmas gifts. Children all had smiles on their faces, a twinkle in their eye and a bright aura around them. Some children even kicked around snow, earning them a hard look from their parents.

                    Nayeli giggled and hugged herself, wrapping the jacket tighter around her. Her snow boots made a crunch sound as she maneuvered through the thick crowds. She, herself, was doing some last minute Christmas shopping, trying to find the perfect gift for her grandparents. Nayeli sighed in despair as she realized she was lost once again. This was only her first time around Ireland. Though she was born and raised Mullingar, her parents moved her to the States when she was 10. Due to recent events and a tragic accident, her grandparents forced her to move back at the age of 18. In all honesty, she couldn't remember life in Ireland, for she was extremely happy in New Jersey.

                     Trudging along the sidewalks, Nayeli entered a random shop in hopes to get warm. She pulled off her pink beanie, letting her light brown hair fall just above her shoulders. She sighed again and looked around, noticing that she was currently in an antique shop. It was crowded, the shelves filled with intricate and minuscule items. Nayeli let her eyes trail over every object, amazed at all the wonderfully vintage things. It gave her a sense of familiarity, remembering how her parents once ran an antique shop of their own back in New Jersey. One of the things she fully remembered.

                    She walked further into the shop, her boots leaving a slight water trail. Nayeli had arrived at the back of the store now, still admiring everything and gently running a finger on the abnormal bits and pieces she spotted. That was when she abruptly stopped in front of a jewelry stand. A single bracelet, adorned with a silver dove charm, had caught her eye. Her hand instinctively flew to her neck, a necklace of the same variety hung loosely and she gently caressed the very same dove. She cocked her head to the side, a look of bewilderment plastered on her face.

                    It was the same exact necklace with the charm and silver plaited chain, only the one on display was of course a bracelet. Nayeli couldn't fathom, for the life of her, where the necklace came from. All she could remember was having it in New Jersey and never once taking it off. She shook off that unknown feeling and quickly left the store.

                    Outside, the winds had picked up and the snow began to fall harder. Nayeli put the beanie back on her head and started walking into the distance, not really knowing where she was going. She turned a corner, looking down at the snow and bumped into someone. Hard. Nayeli almost went tumbling to the floor but an arm had wrapped around her waist and saved her from the snow bath she could have received.

                    Her eyes were closed, so she didn't see her savior until he spoke up.

                    "Nayeli?" the boy questioned, his smooth, Irish accent sending shivers down her spine.

                    Nayeli opened her eyes, her brown orbs connecting with a pair of baby blue ones. She gasped in surprise, mesmerized by the ocean like orbs.

                    "Uhm... Oh, hi," she sputtered, blinking feverishly. A look of confusion crossed her face as the stranger smiled widely.

                    "Nayeli, it's good to see you." The stranger enveloped her in a tight hug but that was when she started freaking out. She wriggled out of his grasped and put a few spaces between them. "Nayeli...," he started but all she did was shake her head.

                    "I'm terribly sorry," Nayeli whispered, looking down at her feet. "But thank you. I have to go now." She walked past the blonde stranger, her shoulder accidently brushing against his, before she was halted in her tracks. The stranger wrapped a hand around Nayeli’s wrist, causing her to turn back. The boy looked confused and afraid, Nayeli gathered, but she, herself, was just as afraid. A look of fear crossed her eyes as he took a step forward and looked at her necklace.

                     “You still have it,” he breathed out. “I can’t believe you still have it.” The stranger took another step forward causing Nayeli to take a step back. He held a certain familiarity that was brought on by his eyes which were then covered up by hurt as she started increasing the space between them. Nayeli was now terrified of the stranger. A beautiful man he was but a stranger nonetheless.

                    She turned around and took off running, scared of what had just happened but also scared at the fact that her heart was racing a million beats per minute and not because he was only some stranger. There was something more hidden beneath their awkward conversation –if Nayeli could call it that – that made her weak at the knees.  She didn’t know what it was nor could she remember ever seeing him part from today and that simple thought just gave her a headache.

                     As she was running, Nayeli swore she heard a faint “wait” coming from behind her, but she didn’t wait and she didn’t stop. She just kept on running, completely forgetting that she was shopping for her grandparents, and didn’t stop until she was sure she was nowhere near the shopping center.

                     Leaning against a lamppost, Nayeli took two deep breaths and looked around.  She was a couple block away from her grandparent’s house now. She didn’t realize she ran that much, considering she was practically lost. Nayeli walked at a tremendously slow pace towards the house now, catching her breath in the process.  Her face was red and puffy and her eyes felt watery and heavy. She was ready for a nap, a nap that will hopefully let her forget about the eventful day that she just had.

                    Nayeli made it home five minutes later to the smell of apple cinnamon. Her grandmother was in the kitchen, no doubt, cooking her head off. Nayeli took off her boots and coat and placed them by the front door. She walked through the foyer and living room and went into the kitchen to see her grandmother placing a pie on the counter.

                     “Smells delicious, mama,” Nayeli told her, leaning in to kiss her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek. Even for an almost 60 something woman, Grandma Betty still had the twinkle in her eye and a certain bounce to her step. 

                    “Thank goodness you’re home, dear,” Grandma Betty expressed, patting Nayeli’s cheek. “There’s a snowstorm that just bound to happen at any minute.”  She went into the fridge and cupboards pulling out all sorts of ingredients. “I’m about ready to make some dinner for your grandfather. Would you like anything special made?”

                     “No, thanks, mama,” Nayeli gingerly shook her head. “I’m going to go take a nap.  Today really wore me out.” Nayeli kissed her grandmother’s cheek once again and made her way up the stairs and into the room. She didn’t think about anything except how good it would feel to take a nice long nap. Once she was in her room, Nayeli jumped into her bed with a soft thud and immediately felt her eyes droop in exhaustion. The last thing she remembered, as she drifted off into a deep sleep, were a pair of brilliant bright blue eyes staring down at her.

----------

                    “Nayeli, Nayeli wake up,” a voice whispered into Nayeli’s ear, gently shaking her in the process. Her eyes fluttered open and she was met with her grandmother’s worried face.

                    “Mama, what’s wrong?” Nayeli wondered, sitting up.

                    "Oh, thank goodness," her grandmother sighed in relief, placing a hand over her heart in the process.

                    "What's the matter?"

                    "You've been asleep for awhile, dear. I just thought..." Grandma Betty voice trailed off, as she looked anywhere but Nayeli.

                    Nayeli's face softened as she leaned in to hug her grandmother. "The doctor said I was fine. There's no need to worry, mama."

                    Her grandmother smiled and nodded, getting up from the bed. "I'm going to make dinner and tomorrow is Christmas Day," she reminded Nayeli, bouncing on the balls of feet. Grandma Betty scurried out of the room causing Nayeli to giggle.

                    Downstairs, Grandma Betty was looking through the cupboards when the doorbell rang. She looked towards the door, unsure of who would be out at this time and in this weather. Grandma Betty held a surprised look when she opened the door.

                    "Niall," she squealed, almost sounding like a teenager again.  "Come in."

                    Niall held a sincere smile as he walked into the house. His blonde hair was plastered to his forehead, wet from the falling snow and his blue eyes didn't hold the same spark as they once used to.

                    "Let me get you so hot chocolate dear." Grandma Betty rushed into the kitchen, leaving Niall to follow behind. He stopped in the living room, taking off his coat just as he sat on the couch. Niall looked around, taking in the familiar surroundings. He remembered coming here almost every day when he was a child. He loved coming over and admire all the bizarre paintings hanging on the walls, the walls were painted with the same cream color Niall helped chose for them. Back then, this was Niall's second home but now, though everything was familiar, it felt like he was stepping on foreign territory.

                    "I'm guessing you already know she's back." Grandma Betty handed Niall the mug of steaming hot chocolate and Niall was immediately grateful for the warmth transferring from the cup to his freezing hands.

                    Niall nodded at her statement, taking small sips of the hot chocolate. The hot liquid scathed his mouth and burned his throat but it still warmed up his body.

                    Grandma Betty sighed, almost sounding on despair. "I'm sorry, Niall, but she won't remember you."

                    "What happened?" Niall begged, placing the mug on the small table in front of him.

                    "She doesn't remember anything from her childhood." her tone sent a chill down Niall's spine. Her grave voice was all she needed to let Niall know that something bad had happened.

                    "Tell me," he whispered, grabbing a hold of the old woman's hand. Grandma Betty sighed and sat on the love seat next to Niall.

                    She gently patted his hand before looking up at him. "About two months ago, Nayeli's parents were in a dreadful car accident. Nayeli and her little brother were in the back seat when her dad, Ben, swerved off the road. It was a tight space, the road, and a drunk driver was speeding on a winding road on a mountain. Ben, he...." Grandma Betty trailed off for the second time that day. Tears started forming in her eyes as she thought about her late son. “Ben and Anne didn't deserve to leave this Earth. And Tommy. Poor, poor Tommy. He was only ten and now...”

                    "I'm terribly sorry," Niall gasped, noticing the tears streaming down the woman's face.

                    Grandma Betty shook her head. "They went off the road. It's a miracle that Nayeli came out with only a concussion and a couple of bruises. But that head trauma caused her to forget things. There are holes in her memory and she doesn't even remember having a brother for some strange reason.”

                    Grandma Betty stood up and walked into the kitchen. She wiped her eyes with the hem of her apron and continued cooking dinner. Her voice was hoarse now. "The medics said to not put any strain on her memory. If you force her to remember something, it could just cause her head injury to become worse and possibly slip into a coma."

                    Niall was in the kitchen with her now. "Nayeli doesn't remember me." It was more of a statement than a question but Grandma Betty still nodded.

                    "I'm sorry, Niall, but the girl you knew back then is gone. I think you should go now," she said quickly when she hear shuffling above her.

                    Niall solemnly nodded, gathering his things from the living room and making his way to the front door. This wasn't what he wanted hear. Niall wanted to start right back where he and Nayeli left off. Even though it was many years ago, Niall knew, or thought he knew, that Nayeli was still the girl that left him and Mullingar behind.

                    Niall was snapped out of his reverie when an older man stepped through the front door, covered in snow.

                    "Betty, dear," he wheezed out. "The snow storm is coming towards us and the roads are blocked. There was no way I could get to the market." he shrugged off his coat and shook the excess snow from it.

                    "That's quite alright, Seamus. I can make do with what I have here." Grandma Betty hollered.

                    Grandpa Seamus finally looked up and spotted Niall standing awkwardly near the foyer. Seamus's eyes lit up and a grin formed on his wrinkle face. For an old man, his teeth were still intact and his hair seemed to be as long as Niall's, just whiter. Seamus's once baby blue eyes were now a cloudy gray, but they still held that fire.

                    "Niall," Seamus gleamed, patting his back as he made his way into the living space. "It good to see ya, lad."

                    "You too," Niall mumbled, immediately regretting not being his smiley self.

                    "It looks like you're going to have to spend the night," Seamus mentioned, pointing towards the window. He was quite right. The snow storm was coming toward them and though he lived a couple blocks away, it was still dangerous.

                    "How are you ol' chap? Feels just like yesterday when you were here with little Naye..."

                    "Seamus," Grandma Betty snapped, leaning against the door frame of the kitchen. She had a stern look on her face that made Seamus immediately shut his mouth. He quickly nodded at her and gave Niall an apologetic smile. Seamus knew that Niall had found out about the accident.

                    "I've been alright," Niall said, ignoring Seamus's glance. He settled down on the sofa and stared at his hands.

                    "It's gon' be aright, ma' boy," Seamus said sitting on the sofa beside Niall. "She'll come 'round." Seamus gave Niall hope but he kept his little confrontation with Nayeli earlier today. Now as he was thinking about it, Nayeli was frightened. He had scared her off and now she probably never wanted to see him again let alone speak to him.

                    "I should go," Niall said quickly as he realized he couldn't stay here.  He got up from the sofa but was pushed back down by Seamus.

                    "No, no, no." Grandma Betty came bustling into the living room, handing a cup of tea to Seamus. There was a bang upstairs causing the others to stir. Niall's eyes grew wide as he had a slight hunch about who was upstairs.

                    Nayeli slammed the door to her room trying to accommodate the searing pain in head. She had taken her medication thirty minutes prior but it wasn't helping. She leaned against the wall outside of her room before gaining enough strength to walk downstairs. She was hungry and Nayeli thought that a nice, home cooked meal would help the pain in her head.

                    Once downstairs though, Nayeli stopped dead in her tracks, her headache getting worse. She saw the stranger from the shopping center fitting the sofa next to her grandparents. Her head started throbbing as she thought back to their They all stared at her in wonderment, puzzled as to what she was doing.

                    "Mama," Nayeli whispered, cradling her head in her arms. She sunk to her knees and leaned against the banister of the staircase. Grandma Betty gasped and Nayeli faintly saw the stranger rush to her side.

                    "Niall, get her to the sofa," Seamus said, standing up and Removing the pillows. Niall picked Nayeli up from the floor, placing one arm around the back of her knees and the other one security around get back.

                    Nayeli immediately leaned into him, still holding her head in her hands. Niall gently laid her on the sofa.

                    "We need to get food into her system," Grandma Betty panicked, rushing into the kitchen and coming out moments later with a plate full of spaghetti. "Here Niall, feed her." She shoved the plate of food into Niall's hands and scurried off upstairs.

                    "She's gone off to get her medication." Seamus pointed to Nayeli's limp body on the couch. His voice was gruff, filled with so much emotion that it seemed as if he was going to break sown.

                    "Here, Nayeli," Niall said, gently lifting her up into a sitting position and offering her some food.

                    Nayeli tightly shut her eyes but opened her mouth. She wasn't thinking about anything but the pain and she never realised who was feeding her. If she had any sense, Nayeli would have jumped in fright or screamed. But she didn't do either one of those things. Instead, she let Niall feed her small spoonfuls of her grandmother’s spaghetti.

                    Tears escaped her eyes as the pain became unbearable and she curled up in a ball, ignoring Niall's request to take some more food. Slight buzzing sounds emitted in the back of her mind, on and off, like a bee flying annoyingly around her. It became more frequent and Nayeli suddenly yelled in pain. Niall, who had set the plate down, cradled her in his arms. Nayeli whimpered and moaned as the throbbing in her head didn’t cease. Her vision blurred and when she finally kept going in and out of unconsciousness.

                    In her head, Nayeli saw a white, snowy front lawn decorated with an assortment of Christmas lights. The sun was setting and there was a slight snow storm. She looked around and noticed that she was standing by a window in her grandparent’s living room. The house was decorated with festive decorations and a Christmas tree as well. There were a large handful of people in the house casually making conversation or eating around the dining room. She walked into the kitchen and noticed Grandma Betty taking out a homemade pie from the oven. Nayeli’s smile grew as she ran towards Grandma Betty, her stomach begging for a piece.

                    Nayeli passed a mirror that hung on a wall in the kitchen and noticed that she wasn’t an 18 year old girl anymore. She was now a ten year old dressed in leggings and a very poorly made Christmas sweater. Her hair, which was a bit darker and shorter, was adorned in two pony tails.

                    As she made her way to her grandmother, she was stopped by a woman who looked very similar to Nayeli. They shared the same eyes, same nose, and same hair. Her mother. Nayeli’s smile grew wider as she hugged her mother tightly.

                     “Mama made pie!” the girl squealed. Nayeli’s mother laughed and nodded.

                     “But there’s someone waiting for you right now,” her mother told Nayeli, dragging her into the living room.

                    The room was now filled with many people but Nayeli immediately spotted that one boy who she always seemed to find in a crowded room. She jumped for joy and ran towards the blonde haired kid. She hugged him as tightly as she could until he stepped back from Nayeli, her small arms unwrapping from around his waist.

                    "I have something for you," Niall said hesitantly. His boyish hands dug into his pockets and produced a silver necklace. The silver dove hung by the silver chain, slightly swinging back and forth.

                    Nayeli's eyes lit up in astonishment, reaching out to grab the glittering piece of jewelry. Niall retracted his hand.

                    "Turn around," he stated and Nayeli did so, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Niall gracefully, or as gracefully as he could for an eleven year old, placed the necklace at the base of her neck, clasping it closed.

                    Nayeli admired her new necklace, playing with the charm between her fingers. "It's pretty," she sighed, smiling up at Niall. There was a tint of redness forming on his cheeks causing Nayeli to giggle between her petite hands. She took small timid steps towards Niall and on her tip-toes; Nayeli placed a delicate kiss on Niall's cheek. He grinned wide, looking down at her. That was when he got an idea.

                    Gently, yet awkwardly, Niall slowly leaned down. Nayeli's eyes grew wide and she looked around the room. She looked at Niall, his lips puckered and his eyes tightly shut. Nayeli took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She has seen plenty of movies with couples kissing and her parents did it constantly. Nayeli could handle this.

                    She leaned in as well and their lips connected in an awkward but gentle peck. They pulled back almost immediately, both of their faces red as tomatoes as they realised a crowed formed around them. Their hearts were racing and smiles played on their lips.

                    "My baby just had her first kiss!" Nayeli heard her mom yell somewhere in the crowd.

                    Nayeli looked up at Niall who had outstretched his hand. She took it and hugged him tightly. There was still a slight awkwardness but it would eventually fade. They've been best friends since they were in diapers and them being each other’s first kiss was just another thing they shared.

                    "Happy Christmas, Nayeli," Niall mumbled. Nayeli was happy even for a ten year old.

----------

                    "She's coming around."

                    "Oh, thank goodness."

                    Nayeli moaned, rubbing her head in the process.

                    "How are you feeling, dear?" Grandma Betty fussed, fixing the pillow Nayeli's head was currently resting on.

                    "Like I got hit in the head with a truck a billion times," Nayeli mumbled, slightly sitting up. She heard a snicker coming from the other end of the couch. Nayeli looked up to see the stranger from the shopping centre. She scooted away from him, almost at the edge of the couch now, causing a slight frown to settle on his lips.

                    “Take these,” Grandma Betty ordered, shoving two pills into Nayeli’s hand along with a glass of water. Nayeli immediately took the two tablets and swallowed them with a small amount of water. The whole time, she felt the stranger’s eyes on her, staring at her with a deep sadness. “Niall, take this to the sink, would you?” Grandma Betty asked, tenderly handing Niall the plate of half eaten spaghetti. Nayeli’s eyes grew wide and she started choking on the water. Her grandmother roughly patted her on the back until she was fine.

                    Niall, Niall, Niall. The name kept repeating in Nayeli’s head, a mantra of sorts, over and over again. Niall. That was when she was taken back to her dream. Two little kids who looked almost exactly as them at a party that was held in a house like her grandparents. It was a weird dream, Nayeli couldn’t doubt it but it didn’t stop her from whispering Niall’s name.

                    His head whipped towards Nayeli and Grandma Betty gasped, jumping on the spot. The plate he was holding fell to the hardwood floor, shattering in a million little shards. Niall slowly walked over to me, eyes large and glistening with tears. He sat down next Nayeli, who didn’t seem to cower or move out of his way. Niall attentively reached for her hand and gently intertwined their fingers together. His touch sent shockwaves all throughout Nayeli’s body and that was when the pain in her started again. She gasped in surprise as the dream she had came to her. The more she watched it replay, the more she realized it wasn’t just a dream. It was a memory; a memory she never knew she had.

                    Almost instinctively, Nayeli squeezed Niall’s hand tighter. She was instantaneously thrown into a sea of lost memories floating by her. They all came so quickly that, even though the pain in her head had vanished, she was still short on breath. An abundance of memories from her childhood filled her head now, all involving the same blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy.

                    “Niall,” Nayeli whispered again as she jumped into his arms. Niall hugged her so tightly that he was afraid of losing her again. It’s been eight years since they last saw each other and even though they were young, it was undeniable that they should be together.

                    “I’ve missed you so much, Nayeli,” Niall whispered into her neck. Tears formed in his eyes while Nayeli was already crying her eyes out. Grandma Betty had left the room awhile ago, thrilled that Nayeli had regained some of her memory back, but deep down, she knew that not all of it could be returning just as easily.

                    “I did too,” Nayeli whispered, loosening her embrace on Niall’s neck and giving him a watery smile. She stared into his eyes, his bright blue, ocean like eyes. “I didn’t even realize it until now and…” she trailed off, not knowing what else to say, and looking down at her lap

                    Niall smiled happily, lifting her chin so they were staring at each other. “I’m just massively thrilled that you’re here now.” Taking his hands away from her body, Niall searched through his jacket’s pocket until he retrieved something. He opened his hand and Nayeli gasped. It was an exact replica of her necklace only on a bracelet. It was adorned with the same dove charm and same silver plaited chain. Nayeli continued to weep but because she was happy. Niall clasped the chain around her wrist and looked at her. “I saw it in the antique shop you ran out of and I remembered the necklace I gave you. Do you like it?” All Nayeli could do was nod. “Exactly eight years ago today,” Niall said, glancing at the clock. It was 2 in the morning indicating that it was Christmas Day now, “I gave you that necklace and something else…”

                    Ever so slowly, Niall started to lean in causing Nayeli’s heart to jump to her throat. They’ve been separated for eight years and she felt as though they were rushing things. But one look at his face told her differently. Never had she felt this way, her heart beating, and hands sweaty. Niall was one of a kind, a lucky charm for her and it was very rarely when someone came around and made Nayeli feel like the way she did at the moment. It never happened but Niall just made her go weak at the knees. Even when she only saw him as that eerie stranger, he still managed to make Nayeli melt. She closed her eyes and leaned in as well.

                    Their lips met in a slow, sensual kiss. The softness of his lips made Nayeli’s heart flutter and drop to her stomach. It was passionate and filled with so much love. Whether it was puppy love or the real deal, Nayeli didn’t know, but she didn’t care. It made her feel right and alive. Nayeli was happy and she was once again reunited with her childhood sweetheart.

                    “Happy Christmas, love,” Niall’s Irish accent whispered into Nayeli’s year for a second time in eight years.

                    They say that the heart that truly loves never forgets. In this case, it took love to remember what they had once forgotten. 

Run - I

Three months later

The silence was deafening as Scarlett stood frozen, a million thoughts coursing through her mind so fast that she could not distinguishing any of them. Her brain was jumbled but she knew one thing was for certain and that was that she was ready to come back to work. She stared down the long, narrow hallway that led her to her destination but her feet stood rooted to the linoleum floor as agents upon agents stopped with what they were doing and openly stared. Scarlett knew that once she started walking down the hall she wouldn’t feel the stares and the soft whispers would be silenced.

Taking a deep breath, Scarlett finally took a step forward into the hallway, away from the room full of desks and people, away from the stares, sympathetic and glaring alike. Scarlett knew it was unusual to be back at work so soon. Having barely escaped a deadly bomb with bruises and a shattered shoulder and her whole team killed in action, some would say that Scarlet was the luckiest girl ever.

But she didn’t see it that way. She didn’t see that luck was on her side. All she saw were four dead bodies on her conscious. Her family.

She heard her heeled boots connect with the floor, echoing more and more, louder and louder as she got further into the almost abandoned hallway and closer to her destination, the chief’s office. She passed a few frazzled looking I.Ts, almost chuckling to herself as they scurried past her while shuffling through all the papers in their hands. As she got closer to her the Chief’s office, Scarlett recognized a young brunette with a hard and angry look in his brown eyes and a set jaw walk out of the Chief’s office and letting the door slam open against the wall. His name was Johnson, and next to her he was also one of the youngest in the agency. He was 26, tall and broad shouldered. When she was first recruited she was immediately drawn to him, but a 17 year old girl at the time had no chance with a 24 year old agent. Johnson walked by Scarlett, not even giving her a second glance. She knew something had happened between the Chief and him.  

Scarlett knew the Chief was difficult, he was brutal, and he had no mercy but he always held a soft spot for her. The special treatment he gave her was one of the reasons why people in the agency hated her. Besides being one of the youngest and most skilled agents, she was also favored by the Chief and that immediately frowned upon amongst her colleagues. She didn’t care, though. Scarlett kept to herself and knew her place, which was much high up on the ladder than many of the agents older than her.

After knocking on the door, she heard a gruff, but soft voice granting her permission to come in. She entered, a small smile on her face and she walked up to the desk at the end of the room. There was always a sense of nostalgia as she walked into his office. She spent more time in here than in her own home, because even though she wasn’t recruited until the age of 17, she spent most of her teenage years studying here.

“Hello, Chief,” Scarlett smiled, setting her bag on the floor just as she sat down in an overtly large, leather chair, crossing her legs.

“Scarlett, my dear, now tell me, what on earth are you doing here?’’ The Chief had voiced a question but his tone was anything but surprised. As Scarlett looked at him, she couldn’t help but sigh as she gave him a once over. His full head of hair was graying and slowly receding, the crinkles by the corner of his gray eyes were getting deeper and more prominent every time Scarlett saw him. It was the stress of the job and how much it took a toll on his body.

Scarlett shrugged before answering, letting the answer marinate in her mind before replying. ‘‘I needed to come back to work.’’ It was a short reply, but one she hoped she didn’t need to elaborate on.

‘’It’s only been three months, your shoulder is not fully recovered. I’m sorry but I can’t let you go out on any assignments.’’

Scarlett knew Chief would say something like this. In fact, she believed it was too soon to come back knowing she was not fully healed, but she could not stay at home for any longer. It tortured her having to think back to three months ago.

“I’m not asking you to send me out to Budapest, but it’ll make me really happy.Give me something to do so I get off my ass because it’s…’ Scarlett felt her voice waver and she immediately looked away from Chief, hoping he didn’t catch on.

But he did. He always did because he was like a father to her, he knew her inside and out, when she was sick, sad, angry, scared all the while bottling it up. He knew her like no one else did.

The great thing about the Chief was that he never pushed Scarlett to talk about it, he just knew.

He was silent for a minute, causing Scarlett to fidget in her seat. With a sigh, he pressed his fingertips together before looking at her. “I can give you a fairly simple job to do.”

She sat up straighter than before, nodding her head slowly. She wasn’t expecting the Chief to give her a job but she was glad.

“Styles & Co. are hosting an event in a week and have hired us to be an extra set of security detail around the venue. You will be the main security detail to the Styles boy, as per request by Mr. Styles. He doesn’t want his son getting into trouble during the event.”

Scarlett frowned and slumped in her seat. She had to take care of a boy?

“You want me to babysit?” Scarlett was a bit shocked, if she was being honest. Never in her life has he given her an assignment that seemed so demeaning. Her dark hair that was placed at the top of her head in a tight bun was suddenly giving her a headache. She did not do this type of stuff. She did hardcore combat in the field and that was that. She was hailed a hero in some places, though she never acknowledges that fact, but now she’s been downgraded to babysitting services.

The Chief shook his head, letting out a long sigh. “The boy won’t know that you’re assigned to him, but Richard Styles will know who you are. It’s just a precaution he takes at every public gathering. You are to follow him and watch him and ultimately protect him with your life. It is the oath you took before joining this agency.”

Scarlett sighed as the Chief looked at her expectantly, because he was right. She groaned to herself before nodding her head. He looked pleased with himself, the side of his gray eyes crinkling with delight before straightening himself out and putting on a serious demeanor

“Your mission, Scarlett Nova, should you choose to accept it, is to use your set of skills and protect Harry Styles with your life. It is up to you alone to complete this mission. As always, should you be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.”

She nodded, quirking her head to the side because she had never head a mission message in person. It was the same static, robotic voice and she always wondered how the Chief managed to change his voice to that from a warm, almost grandfather like voice.

“So, Harry Styles? ‘

He smiled and stood up causing Scarlett to stand up along with him. He stuck out his hand and shook her hand.

‘Good luck.’

-

Sometimes, Scarlett felt blessed to have the job she currently had. Not a lot of people would become agents given the fact that any mission you go on, you might not come back, but Scarlett wouldn’t switch out for the world. One reason, and she swears this reason is not why she stays, though she loves it entirely, involves getting dressed up in a fancy dress that she would never be able to afford on her own and attending galas and charity events and balls all the while going undercover with a security detail. It’s only happened a hand full of times since she’s started working for the agency, though.

Tonight’s event, from what Scarlett gathered, was a charity gala hosted by a lustrous company known as Styles & Co, Scarlett, to her dismay, still had no idea what the whole company did and she’s only heard of it in passing. She knew Richard Styles, the CEO of Styles & Co, was one of the richest men in the world and his son, who she’s never heard of until last week was apparently a notorious playboy. But who was she to judge?

The gala was biggest event in New York and everyone wanted an invitation. Originating in London, this gala came to New York City every five years and only the richest and best looking people were invited. From doctors, to celebrities and socialites, to extremely wealthy businessmen, the guest list seemed like something out of a movie. Scarlett never understood the appeal of galas or extremely large events for charities. She appreciated the fact that it was a charity event, though, and that all the money raised was going to a good cause, but why host such an extravagant party? The money being put forth for the party could just go to charity as well, but she knew this gala was just to gain good PR. Merely a tool being used for the rich and famous’ benefit.

The agency arranged for a black car to pick her up at a nearby hotel from the gala. She was en route, sitting in the back seat of the car, smoothing down her dress. For Scarlett, it was the most precious and expensive floor length dress she’s ever worn, let alone seen. It was a Champagne color with thin straps and a deep neckline. The bodice was completely beaded by hand in an intricate design where it ended mid-thigh in a chevron-like pattern. The rest of the dress was flared out, mimicking that of a mermaid style dress, with a silk chiffon fabric.

It was absolutely breathtaking.

Along with the dress, the agency hired a team of makeup artists and hair stylists to finish her look. Her dark hair was down in lose waves just past her shoulders. Her makeup was kept to a minimum with a light gold eyeshadow on her lid, and a darker gray color in the outer corner while her eyes were lined with a dark kohl that made her light brown eyes pop.

Very few things were running through Scarlett’s mind. She was nervous but only because her last mission was three months ago and it ended in disaster.  She knew her shoulder wasn’t fully healed but she didn’t let it stop her from coming back. It was painful having nothing to do, having the same images of that night in India running through her mind of all hours of the day. Going back to work would help her block those thoughts and nightmares.

The car pulled to a stop in front of the American Museum of Natural History, the venue for tonight’s gala. She gathered her thoughts and forced her heart to slow down to a normal heart rate. She grabbed her gold clutch that was laying on the seat next to her and held it tightly against her body and waited before the door opened for her. With the skills acquired through years of training, Scarlett slid out of the car with as much grace as a swan gently gliding on a lake. She smiled at her chauffeur for the evening and took his hand, steadying herself on her feet.

“Thank you.” The chauffeur, who she had learned earlier that his name was Charles, nodded and smiled at her before getting back into the car and driving away. She didn’t know if he would be back.

There was a red carpet leading up to the entrance with photographers being held behind rails on either side, as if it couldn’t get any more glamorous. Scarlett looked up at the building and gasped. In front of her was the most grandiose and gargantuan building she’s ever seen. It reminded her of a modern day castle with columns and a staircase and a grand entrance and for the backdrop, a breathtaking sunset with hues of purple and pink. She was so enamored with the place that for a second she almost forgot why she was here.

Taking a deep breath, Scarlett walked through the hordes of people dressed up in the most dazzling and expensive ball gowns and suits. She looked down at her dress and decided that this was much more her style. A small smile tugged at her lips as she heard photographers yelling left and right to pose for their picture. She swiftly and skillfully moved through the masses, even in her heels, before finally making it up the stairs and in front of the entrance, where she was immediately stopped.

“Name?” An enormously, large man put a hand out towards her and looked down at the clipboard.

“Abigail Rose,” she coolly said, a smirk forming on her lips as she flipped her back. She always loved going undercover. Her acting skills were ace.

The man nodded before waving her through and inside was even more extravagant and Scarlett’s eyes sparkled as she took everything in.  From the high ceilings and marble floors, to the mounted statue of an Elephant.

But Scarlett had a mission and even though it wasn’t the most remarkable of jobs she was still going to pull it off.

Standing by the entrance to the rather large room the event was going to take place in, Agent Johnson stood, stiff and nonmoving, an earpiece in his ear. Scarlett saw his lips move before he looked at her directly, for only a moment. This would have made 17-year-old Scarlett weak in the knees, but this Scarlett merely nodded at him, no longer affected by his strange pull. The nod was a sign telling him that she was ready for the mission, and he nodded as well, making sure to do so as without dragging any attention to him.

She was ready and she walked into the grand hall. The room, if she could even call it a room, was bigger than any house she’s lived in. It was decorated with crystal chandeliers that sparkled whenever the light hit them, silk fabrics that felt almost like water running through fingertips and dazzling centerpieces that complicated the chandeliers. The place was enormous.

Scarlett looked around, realizing that it would be close to impossible to find Harry. The room was being flooded by people by the second and as she tried walking towards a clear section, bodies kept bumping into her. Even in her heels, Scarlett seemed to be the shortest person there, as everyone almost towered over her. She made it home free, just barely making it to the base of a set of a grand staircase when she ran into something hard.

The thing grunted, and turned around and Scarlett wondered why tonight of all nights her feet decided to be as ungraceful as a toddler learning to walk.

She locked on a pair of bright green eyes that shone under the luminescent lights, his chocolate brown curls looked as if he had just gotten out of bed, but it worked. Scarlett gulped, keeping her eyes trained on only his face, but she was so short compared to his tall built. His suit fit him to perfection but Scarlett would never admit that to him or herself. A smile tugged at his lips as he his eyes trailed further down her body.

“Well, hi.” His voice was deep and ultimately slow as he drawled out his vowels. His eyes finally made their way to Scarlett’s face where she glared. She clutched her bag by the sad, trying desperately to bite her tongue. She couldn’t say anything to him. At all.

With a huff, a roll of her eyes, she turned on her heel and blended with the crowd. She didn’t bother to turn around and stare at him just as he was watching her retreating figure get lost in the crowd with a lazy smirk and confused stare.

Once was hidden well amongst the people, she let out a sigh of relief, glad to be away from the infamous Harry. He could not know that she was his supposed body guard for the night. Why? She still had no idea, but that was the mission. Now that Scarlett knew she was out of Harry’s vision, she made sure to keep him in hers the whole time.

The night was a long one. Harry was constantly moving, talking animatedly, his hands usually placed behind his back or touching the person he was speaking to with a delicate hand, engaging in the conversation. He kept his attention on the person, absorbed with what they were saying and then he would proceed to either nod or shake his head. He seemed respected by everyone and respectable towards everyone. Scarlett could almost admire him, almost.

It was a different story with young women. Scarlett lost count with how many women almost jumped his bones. And he would take it all, basking in the attention, loving every moment of it. This was when he became hands on with the ‘guests’, touching their waist, stroking their arm up and down as they twirled a piece of hair around their fingers, batting their eyelashes. Harry’s smile went from being polite to almost sinister as he drank the women in, eyes lingering on anything but their face. She wanted to puke, but thought that it would be inappropriate so she settled with rolling her eyes as she took a sip of her drink, non-alcoholic since she was on the job. She made sure she was 5 feet away from him, and that was perfect because he never paid her any mind, too busy with the busty women at his feet.

It was getting late, Harry made his rounds, making sure to greet everyone, shake every hand possible and thank them for being there. Scarlett was confused as to why it wasn’t Mr. Styles doing the public appearance, especially after the “riveting” speech he gave earlier. It was also confusing to see two different sides of Harry. It didn’t matter, of course, and this gave the younger Styles all sorts of great press.

Her feet were starting to hurt and just when it seemed that things would end smoothly, just as Chief promised, it didn’t.

The party was still going strong and even though it neared midnight, it looked like nothing could stop it early, or so it seemed.

Scarlett saw him hidden within the massive crowd, his gun pointed straight at Harry. For normal people, their blood would run cold and they would freeze on the spot, never having been at the end of the barrel of a gun, but Scarlett was no normal person. It took her less than a second for her body to move and when she did, she sprinted like she’s never done so before.

Harry didn’t notice anything, he didn’t notice the man pull out his gun from the waistband of his slacks, he didn’t notice the man lift up the gun at eye level, he didn’t notice that it was pointed straight at his head. All he noticed was that of a petite body slamming into his long limbed body with an incredible force and knocking him onto the ground. Before he had the chance to scream his head off, the gun went off.

And then the screams started.

Scarlett jumped off of him and, without looking at Harry and checking to see if he was still breathing, pulled him up by lapels of his jacket and dragged him deeper into the crowd and as far away from the shooter as possible. She wasn’t thinking, only doing, her instincts taking over any sense that she had. She was used to this, but her heart was beating so erratically that it seemed as if this was her very first mission all over again.

It wasn’t expected, none of this was, but now she had to do her job and that was to protect Harry Styles with her life.

Scarlett pulled Harry until they were in the middle of the room, enclosed by all the hot, running bodies and that was when she was able to look at her surroundings. She lost the original shooter in the crowd but she could make out three hooded figures on the third floor. They were making their way down the stairs, and that’s when she noticed the M-4 Carbine’s in their hands. Scarlett would have groaned in annoyance before she remembered the clutch that was in her other hand. She let go of Harry, who had yet to say a word, before pulling out her 9 mm pistol, switching off the safety and cocking it back. Almost immediately, she raised up the gun and aimed for one of the hooded figures. She fired; the bullet, too fast for her to see, hit its target on the chest and went down. Everyone screamed as they heard her fire and at the corner of her eye, Scarlett saw Harry flinch, backing away from her.

Her eyes were ablaze when she turned to him, throwing her clutch on the ground. “Don’t you fucking go anywhere.”

Harry visibly gulped before nodding and Scarlett wasn’t so sure what made him stay because if she was in his position, she would be running for the nearest exit.

As she thought about running again, she lifted up her dress, taking out a hidden knife from a holster on her thigh and she cut off the end of her dress. It almost pained her, as she grew so attached to it in those few hours, but she forgot about it once she heard yelling from upstairs. She couldn’t make it out and the resumed to put the knife back into its holster.

Scarlett didn’t know where the rest of her team was and she didn’t know why these hooded figured men kept marching in through the second story but that didn’t matter. She had to get Harry out of this room and fast. There were a round of shots that went off around them and one by one people fell to the ground, limp. Blood splattered on them but she was immune to. Harry’s expensive suit was covered with more blood than he probably would have liked. Scarlett didn’t dare look around at the body count but she latched onto Harry and pulled him away from the chaos. Harry wiped his forehead, smearing the few drops of blood that landed there. At the corner of the room, she saw an ‘Exit’ sign and raced towards it. She felt Harry slightly resisting but one look towards him made something within him wake up and finally run alongside of her.

They were almost near their destination before a man slid towards them, blocking the exit, a gun in his hand pointed directly at Scarlett. She wasted no time though, before jumping in the air and roundhouse kicking the gun out of his hands. The man had no time to react before Scarlett grabbed his head and kneed him, hearing a crack on impact. That surely broke his nose. She pushed the man away as hard as she could and ran towards the door.

When she looked back though, Harry hadn’t moved an inch, staring at the unconscious man a few feet away from the door. She didn’t have time for this but deep down she knew how he must of felt.

“Harry, c’mon!”

Harry whipped his head towards her voice before sprinting out the door. Scarlett followed him, shutting the door behind her. They were in an alley way in the back of the museum. All that was heard were their heavy breathings and the screams and gun shots insides. Harry flinched away from the door, seemingly unable to handle the noises. The alley was dark, a single light flickering on and off. She couldn’t see his face clearly, but she knew that nothing she could say would make him feel better.

Hell, she didn’t know what she could say to herself at this moment. Her dress was tattered, covered with splatters of blood, and feet felt like they were blistering. Harry was probably worse, and it made her almost sigh. He looked at her, but the green eyes that once shone and twinkled in the hall were gone. Now, they were dull and lifeless, as if no one was occupying them.

“Let’s go,” Scarlett said once she felt the air turn nippy, her voice sympathetic. She turned on her heel, though, careful not to look at him and walked further into the alley way, knowing that it would come out into a small street. From there she would take that street all the way back to her hotel. Without any hesitation, Harry followed her into the eerie darkness of the alley surprising them both. Scarlett, because she didn’t expect him to be compliant, and Harry because he didn’t expect to listen. But he did. And now they were stuck together. Scarlett only hoped that it would be for a short while.

Run - O

An almost deafening explosion nearby startled Scarlett causing her to turn her head away from the pair of technologically advanced binoculars perched on her face. Her eyes darted back and forth across the plain, brown room she was currently in, barely realizing that night had surfaced and harsh shadows danced across the lived in furniture of the flat. After nothing out of the ordinary jumped out at her, and everything around her stayed silent besides the occasional car honking on the streets of India, Scarlett went back to peaking through the binoculars. She pressed a button near her right thumb and adjusted her eyes to the bright green that filled her vision. As she grew accustomed to the new setting, Scarlett was finally able to make out an abandoned warehouse a mile away with it’s broken windows and destroyed walls.

“Agents 1, 3, 4 & 5, did you hear that explosion? It sounded as if it came from East of my current position,” Scarlett, also known as Agent 2, whispered. There was a beat and static before a gruff voice filled her right ear.

“Vaguely,” Agent 1 said. Scarlett could tell he was distracted with something so she kept quiet. She knew the drill, get her team in and out before anything terrible happened to them all the while trying to gain access to the perpretator. It wasn’t a normal occurrence for Scarlett to be Watch Tower – she mostly did field work and hand to hand combat – but she new everything she needed to do the job properly.  Today, she would lead her team out safely from the warehouse and out of India and tomorrow she would get her hands dirty in, let’s say, Moscow. These jobs came to her frequently and as one of the youngest field agents in the MI6, Scarlett was always recruited because she had an upper hand. No one ever expected a 19-year-old girl to be doing the job of a 35-year-old man. But that was beside the point, she wanted to hone her skills as field support and communications.

Scarlett felt for a button near her left thumb and pushed it before four little red dots scattered throughout her vision through the binoculars, surrounding the warehouse.

“I have you all on visual.” She lifted the binoculars away from her face and looked down at the laptop off to the right where a series of windows played CCTV scans of the perimeter of the warehouse. “Everything is clear.”

“All clear on my end,” Agent 4 whispered into the transmitter. She was the only other woman on the team and that gave Scarlett a sense of comfort knowing that she wasn’t completely alone on these missions. They were a family, they’ve been together since Scarlett joined the MI6 and have worked every mission as one.

There was a chorus of responses from the remaining agents as they also gave the all clear signal. Scarlett looked back into the binoculars as she saw four red dots move forward on her screen.

Scarlett sighed as she began to unconsciously chew on her lip, a habit she had picked up since becoming a field agent two year ago. It was strange, getting a job with the MI6 at the age of seventeen was something that was uncalled for. It never happened, but for some reason the Chief operative knew there was something special bout Scarlett. Not only did she graduate from high school and college early, she knew 15 languages, 2 dead languages, had acquired skills in hand to hand combat and also gun combat. It was helped that she was the daughter of Ryder Nova, the top operative in the MI6, who was killed while out on a field mission in Egypt. Some would say that this agent business was in her blood.

Another explosion rattled Scarlett out of her reverie and slightly shook the windows of the flat. Her neck prickled as if someone was out there, closely monitoring her but as she checked the CCTV on the laptop and found nothing strange surrounding the flat nor the warehouse, she let that feeling go. Deep down, she knew she shouldn’t let the feeling go, but acting as Watch Tower made her usually spot on intuition faulty.

“There was another explosion, this one was closer but I don’t see anything on camera or through the binoculars.”

“We’re almost done here, Agent 2, just get us to him and out as quickly as you can.”

“Yes, sir, Agent 1,” Scarlett smirked knowing how much he hated to be called sir.

She looked down at the screens, not noticing anything out of the ordinary with the perimeter, when another explosion erupted from just beyond the flat, violently shaking the windows this time and throwing her onto her back, the binoculars skidding to the end of the room. She let out a gasp as she scrambled up into a sitting position, looking out onto the streets to see that just a mile away, the exact same area where the warehouse was located, black smoke filled the air. She looked at the laptop, the CCTV showing absolute serenity, and that was when she knew they had been fucked.

Cursing violently to herself she spoke into the earpiece, trying to stay calm. “Abort mission, I repeat abort mission. “ She felt ridiculous because the warehouse was already in flames and then she had that gut sinking feeling that she probably just failed everyone on her team.

“Oh, god.”

She ran to get the binoculars before looking through them out the window. The red dots were still being shown, a good sign in her books but then she spoke too soon, and heart stopped beating for a split second.

A red dot flashed on and off three times before stilling and slowly fading into nothingness. That only meant one thing and Scarlett did not want to believe it. She did not want to believe that she just killed someone on her team.

“Where are you, agents?” She half screamed, half whispered. “Give me your locations.” She ran to the laptop and started pulling up codes onto the monitor to try and get the live feed of the CCTV but she wasn’t as advanced as Agent 4 was with a computer. “Fucking shit,” she screamed, as she peered through the binoculars once again. This time only two dots were brightly lit and that made Scarlett sick to her stomach. “Someone say something.”

It was peculiar because until this very moment, Scarlett never knew what it was like to lose someone. Sure, she lost her dad but she was young and she hardly knew him, but her team, they became a family who watched each other’s backs and she probably just killed them. The anger and self-loathing Scarlett felt was anything but small. She felt everything from that to sorrow to absolute disbelief.  She was trained to handle situations like this one but it was as if everything she learned flew out the window. She stood in the flat, pacing across the floor and pulling at her hair, her eyes rimmed with red as if she had already been crying.

A noise that was so quiet it went by almost undetected made Scarlett pause. Static echoed her earpiece before someone came on with only one word.

It was merely a whisper and it confused her for only a split second.

“Run.”

Her blood ran cold as she froze, but it was in that split second that an object came soaring towards the window of the flat. Scarlett ducked, falling flat on her stomach and covering her head with her hands as the foreign object smashed against the window, sending shards of glass all over her, and landing with a thud against the wall on the other side of the room. She quickly scrambled up to look out the window but she saw nothing. She lifted the binoculars to her face at the same time the last red dot started to fade away. She couldn’t think as she threw the binoculars down. She needed to know if what she saw was real but before she could even gather a thought from her messed up head, a rather loud ticking noise echoed off the empty walls of the room. Scarlett felt the blood rush to her head and her adrenaline kick up a notch as she looked towards the object lying on the floor. One look at the brightly lit number had her legs working again and with everything she had, she bolted for the door.

She was on the third floor, and Scarlett panicked as she descended the steps onto the second story landing. She wanted that to be enough, she truly wished that that could have gotten her a safe distance away, but she knew that logically, it wasn’t.

The makeshift bomb in the third story flat landed on zero before detonating. The initial blast sent Scarlett down the stairs in an extremely ungraceful manner. Rubble and debris flew everywhere, destroying the whole complex. Scarlett landed on her left arm somewhere on the first floor landing just as the ceiling came tumbling down.

Scarlett closed her eyes, wishing for something good, but she knew she would never get that. She had just killed her team. And that was her last thought before the wreckage of the complex came plummeting down onto her.

Autumn Leaves - A Short Story

 It was freezing once morning came around causing me to dig myself deeper into the futon. The sun was glaring in through the lack-of-curtain windows of the tiny studio apartment, enveloping the single room in an incandescent light.

      Was it morning already? Throwing the blankets off me, I groaned and lazily got out of bed. The floor was chilly on my legs as I crawled towards the curtain wall separating the bedroom from the living room. The curtain was just sheer enough to see a figure walking across the living room and into the kitchen.

      Clad in only boy shorts and large flannel, I crawled into the living room observing the sight before me. Brad, dressed in basketball shorts, was cooking in the space of the small kitchen. A giggle escaped from my lips before I could stop it. Clamping my mouth shut from laughing even more, Brad whipped his head around but I made sure to hide behind the island.

      “Lennon, I know you’re up.” His voice was raspy, sleep still evident in his speech. With that, I got up from the floor and smirked at the shirtless boy in front of me.

      I walked around the island and stood a distance away watching him fry up eggs and bacon. It smelled delicious and my stomach grumbled as I sniffed it. “This is why I keep you around. I need someone to feed me every once in a while,” I joked and sat on one of the stools.

      He shook his head, a sigh eliciting from his lips. “Lennon, you know I worry about you, right?” Nodding, I kept my head low. My heart suddenly felt heavy as I heard the worry in his voice as if something other than his worry was wrong, but it only lasted for a second before it disappeared. My appetite disappeared a month ago, and I knew that he knew that I wasn’t eating. But it was tough when the money you made went to buying art supplies than groceries.

      Before Brad had the chance to lecture me of my eating habits, though, I quickly questioned him, “Have you talked to your dad, lately?” He knew what I was doing but he didn’t press on. He simply shrugged and ignored the question while placing a plate in front of me. A smiled played at my lips. “Thank you, Brad,” I mumbled, shoveling forkfuls of egg into mouth.

      His face contorted into disgust as I devoured my breakfast but then he laughed, digging into his plate. It was quiet for a few minutes, the clattering of our utensils filling the silence. Nothing else needed to be said.

      He was staring at my walls, each one covered with each painting and drawing I’ve ever done. It was a mess with different colored paper

      “Brad?”
      Brad whipped his head toward me, a sheepish smile gracing his face as he realized he was caught snooping. “Yeah, sorry, what?”

      “Do you have any plans today?” I asked again, leaning against the island, opposite of him. Brad stared down at his food, his too long hair falling against his face. He shook his head, his hair never staying in one place.

      “I’m actually still tired, I think I’m going to try and sleep off the hangover that you caused.” Brad got up from the stool and walked back towards my make-shift bedroom. I nodded in response which was futile considering he was gone already and picked up his barely touched plate. With a feeling of disappointment, I put the dishes in the sink, not wanting to do anything anymore.

      I was disappointed because I knew something was wrong with Brad, and I wanted to be the one that he opened up to.

*****

      It was midday when I finally set up the blank canvas and palette of different colored oils. I hadn’t painted in a while because lack of inspiration but here’s to hoping that setting up my work space would get me somewhere. Brad was behind the curtain, inside my room, taking a nap, saying something along the lines of ‘needing my beauty sleep’. That princess.

      Rolling the sleeves up of the flannel, I grabbed a paint brush from a container and sat on a stool but once I did, my mind went blank. My head used to be filled with thoughts and memories and jumbled messes but every time I tried to put any of that onto the canvas, nothing ever came out.

      For the past month, my inspiration was lacking. Before, I would paint at least two medium canvases and sell them to a corner antique shop just down the road but now I could barely paint a small one.

      Groaning in realization that I would not get anything done, I slumped my shoulders in a huff.  Frustration and anxiety rushed through my veins and it wasn’t going away. A problem I always had was putting myself under too much pressure and expecting too much from myself. And I felt that problem very much.

      In frustration, I threw the brush across the room, not caring where it landed, and hearing a loud oomphfollowed by a clang. My head whipped to the left as I saw Brad shuffling across the floor, a hand on his forehead. I bit my lip to keep myself from laughing as he got closer, holding the paint brush in his other hand.

      “You dropped something,” he stated, handing me the brush as he moaned about the stinging pain on his forehead. “That really hurt, woman.”

      As he sat on the couch I shrugged and continued to stare at the blank canvas. I dragged the clean brush across the canvas, hoping to elicit any type of image into my mind, but I still got nothing.

      “Are you having trouble, Lemon?” I rolled my eyes at the childish nickname but mumbled a ‘yes’ nonetheless.

      “I’ve been having trouble trying to come up with something.” I stood from the stool. Brad looked at me in bewilderment but I couldn’t stare back long enough. Instead, my eyes trailed down his bare torso, taking in every tattoo, muscle, and freckle. He was not a little boy anymore and the boy – no, man – in front of me made my stomach twist in knots.

      He cocked his head to the side, his green eyes glimmering with mischief. “Are you okay?” My eyes snapped to his face, knowing I had been caught checking him out.
      I sighed and stepped back to the stool, not wanting to be anywhere near Brad at this time. He made everything that much harder in my life. The way his lips were naturally pink, the strong, defined jaw line, the dimples, his curly, windswept hair that was now slicked back because it was too long and his eyes. His shining, emerald eyes that held every emotion possible but made it entirely impossible to decipher what he was feeling. Brad Williams was beautiful and complicated and perfect. And that scared me because never in my life have I ever thought that way about someone.

      “Paint me like one of your French girls.” It was so abrupt and there was a hint of playfulness in his voice.

      I did a double take as I heard that line, nearly choking on air as I looked over the canvas. Brad was now laying on the couch, thankfully still fully clothed, with his head resting on his hand, being propped by the couch. No words came out of my mouth as it opened and closed. A smirked graced his lips as his tongue gently guided over them, evidently wetting them.

      “Don’t be so daft,” I scoffed, and rolled my eyes, trying not to seem affected by the way his deep voice grew a few octaves higher. I also tried not to notice the way his stomach was contracted, showing off his sculpted abs and I almost wanted to jump off a building.

      Why did I have this beautiful creature in my house, when I knew I couldn’t handle him? This was just too much

      All Brad could do was laugh as he sat up, and when he did I couldn’t help but gasp in surprise.

      “Stay there!” I yelled, not wanting to lose the perfect moment of lighting.

      Brad was confused but didn’t say anything. The way he was posed, when compared to the lighting of the sun coming in from the window almost made him picture perfect. Wait, he was already picture perfect. I just hoped my painting could do him justice.

      “I was only kidding,” Brad started but was cut off when I held up a finger.

      His lips were parted as he looked off the side, his emerald eyes almost glittering in the sunlight. His dark hair was a couple shades lighter as the sun reflected off of him from behind. His arm rested against the back of the couch as a leg was curled under him. It really was the perfect representation and the inspiration and motivation to paint came almost immediately.

     My hand moved on its own accord as I mixed different shades and tones to get the colors of his skin right. I felt the brush glide on the canvas, the smoothness of the n giving me a feeling of reassurance.

      I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but from the corner of my eye Brad kept twiddling his thumbs, moving his legs and running his hands through his hair.

      “I’m almost done,” I assured him, my eyes flickering to his for only a second before returning back to the now colored canvas. The background was a huge contrast to his light skin and all that was left to paint were his eyes. His bright, emerald eyes that beautifully glowed with happiness.

      A few small, gentle strokes later, I set the brush down not entirely sure about the finished work.

      “I’m finished?” It was more of a question as I observed the painting, trying to see it in a different point of view. Brad jumped up from the couch with such speed, untangling his limbs and almost tripping over his feet. He stretched before taking quick steps towards me. He stood behind me, his face next to mine, his hands placed on shoulders.

      It was quiet for a few seconds, Brad’s even breathing calming my beating heart. I kept my eyes on the painting, too scared to look at him, for fear of finding out what he really thought.

      “It’s amazing,” he finally breathed out, standing up straight, his arms falling at his sides. ”Just, absolutely amazing.”

      I peered up at him, my eyes shining over with relief just as I saw his flood with, was it admiration? It was when he looked down at me, that I lost my breath, teeth nibbling the inside of cheek, my heart picking up speed. The rate my feelings had grown for the boy standing in front of me made me anxious.

      Anxious in the same way a little girl is when she gets her first crush. The same butterflies, the same confusion and the same giddiness. And when his eyes skimmed down my face, across my nose and to my lips, my heart nearly jumped out of its confinements.

      And when I saw him lean ever so slightly, head barely moving but moving nonetheless, I jumped out of my seat and ducked under him trying to distance myself as I closed my eyes.

      “Look at me,” Brad said, his voice hoarse and I heard his steps He took my chin in his rather large hand before lifting my head up. My eyes snapped open and once again, I was taken aback at the beauty of his eyes. He gazed into my eyes, and then my lips. There was ache in my chest, a slow turning of my stomach, the shaking hands. It was all too much.

      “Fuck it,” I said after a beat and without another thought, I leaned up, gently placing my lips on his. Brad wrapped his arms around my waist, and pressed his body against mine, lips moving in sync, my hands sliding into his hair. The silence of the room was deafening but it was welcomed as his lips parted my own. Brad’s hand slid down my waist, the touch sending shivers throughout my body. My heart fluttered, excitement and relief coursing through my system

      In the back of my mind, I knew doing this would be consequential but I pushed them away. The aftermath was something I wasn’t even going to consider. At this moment, I had Brad in my arms. I’d deal with the consequence of my actions later. I gasped for breath as we parted, my eyes closed as I tried to calm down. Almost immediately, I felt a rush of cool air and I slowly opened my eyes, realizing that I was staring at my wall and Brad nowhere in sight. Confused, I walked around my flat; nothing looked different. The painting created, though, had changed and it was then that I noticed a pair of wings protruding from Brad’s back. Biting my lip, my stomach dropped as I realized I was trying to block something from my mind. Walking into the kitchen, hoping that what I was thinking was merely just a thought, the only thing that caught my attention was the calendar. Today was twenty-fourth of August and there was one thing written on it dating three weeks ago that I don’t remember writing.

Brad’s funeral @ 11 am.

The Off Season - A Short Story

             He was in the back of an ambulance when he regained consciousness. It was bright and loud, the lights above blinding him instantaneously as the whining sirens deafened him. He was confused and scared. He couldn’t remember why he was in the back of an ambulance, securely strapped to a stretcher with three faces staring down at him.  He tried to make sense of the faces that were in his line of sight, huddled close together, but everything was blurred. He felt nothing; his body was numb and he couldn’t lift his arms or legs.

             “Oliver,” a voice said, but he barely registered the voice as his eyes fluttered closed, darkness engulfing all five of his senses immediately.

*****

               Oliver felt as if his body was lying on a bed of pins and needles when he woke up again. His body was sore and aching. The sharp, agonizing pain that shot up Oliver’s right leg felt like a thousand knives stabbing him at the same time. It was fire and ice on his leg, all at once. It was a throbbing mixture of agony and then numbness. Oliver let out a groan as he watched a nurse inject him with what had to be morphine. He barely felt the prick of the needle as the pain in his leg was far worse than anything he could have imagined. He wanted answers; to know why he was in the hospital, or why it felt as if somebody took a baseball bat and battered his leg with it. But the only thing he could think about was how white the room looked. He was swimming within his thoughts, nothing forming correctly in his brain. He suddenly wanted to sleep but he was still in pain. Even with the morphine he was injected with, Oliver still felt the pain from his leg and that almost kept him from falling asleep. Almost. Within seconds, he was knocked out.

*****

             There was only a slight burn in his leg, when Oliver woke up some time later. He was aware of his surroundings for once: uncomfortable hospital bed, scratchy hospital gown, blank white walls, machines by the head of his bed and tubes traveling down his arm. Oliver whimpered, his body heavy with sleep as he tried to sit up. Something kept him from doing so as he was pushed down immediately.

             “Don’t move,” a familiar voice said, “you’ll take the stitches right out.” Oliver blinked three times before his vision cleared and he finally saw his mother standing over him, an indent between her eyebrows and frown lines visible. She wasn’t worried, though, and he could tell because her bright green eyes, the same as his own, held no such emotion of worry or concern.

             “Mother?” Oliver’s voice was strained, sore and dry from not speaking in a while. Yet, the formality of his word was nothing short of familiarity. He squinted up at his her, the lights from the hospital room still too bright for his eyes to adjust accordingly.

             “Do you remember what happened?” his mother, Danielle, asked, smoothing down his curly hair. Oliver whined out loud, feeling a slight throb in his leg but it left just as quickly as it came. He wanted to lift his leg, but that was when he noticed that it was bound in plaster and hanging from a sling connected to the ceiling, elevating his leg. He only nodded his head when memories of his baseball game flashed in his mind.

             It was the last inning of the last game of the season and his team, the Panthers, were up by one. Panthers versus Tigers. High school rivals in every sport that was offered at each school. The Tigers were up to bat with a runner on first and second. Oliver was at shortstop, already on his toes, anticipating where the baseball would go. He remembered it clearly because it was one out and all he needed was to get a double play and they’d be home free. The stands were packed with friends, family, fans of both teams, yet none of them included his mother. He shoved that thought to the back of his mind because it was nothing new of what he expected.

             The California sun was blazing down on his already tanned skin while the sweat slowly trickled down his face and neck and into his brown jersey. It happened instantaneously, like everything usually does when it came to baseball. He would get so into the game that, before he knew it, it was over and he would be walking out of the dugout, dazed and overly energetic. This moment was no different. The batter, number 24, stood at home plate, positioning himself accordingly with the pitcher’s throw. The batter swung his torso forward along with the bat. With a clink and an expert hand at a bunt, the ball took a couple of bounces before laying still on the grass before the pitcher.

              Oliver got into position and ran to second base as the pitcher and first baseman ran towards the ball. Using his feet, he straddled the base and lifted his glove clad hand into the air, waiting for either the pitcher or first baseman to throw the ball to him. Oliver’s heart was pumping, the adrenaline getting to him, knowing that it was ultimately up to him to get the runner out at second and throw the ball to first. He paid no mind to anything but the ball; he wasn’t even watching for the runner. Oliver just knew that he had to step on second to get the runner out before throwing it to first. He could feel the sweat and the grime; he could hear the screams coming from the stands and the yells from his teammates. He didn’t realize, though, that the screams and yells weren’t words of encouragement and before he had the chance to put two and two together, Oliver felt his leg give out. The runner had slid into second base, lifting his cleat and kicking Oliver in shin. The sharp spikes of the runner’s cleat buried themselves into his skin, and he swore he could hear a few bones cracking. It was that moment, when he was on the ground withering in pain, that Oliver knew everything in his life would be ruined.

             Oliver shuddered and looked away from his mom to stare at a blank wall, but at that moment, a doctor flounced into the room with a boy following closely behind her. The doctor seemed too happy, especially to Oliver, as he now felt that everything was falling apart. He did not want to hear what she had to say because anything she would say would be bad news to him.

             “Hi, Oliver. I’m Doctor Mendez. How are you feeling?” she greeted as she walked towards the end of the bed to look at his charts. She had a young, happy face and her black hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, showing off her sharp cheekbones.

             Oliver merely shrugged, his gaze moving to the boy who stood by the doorway. He was pale, just as he remembered, and his blonde hair was styled up in a messy quiff, the roots of it a dark brown. His bright blue eyes darted around the room as if he didn’t want to stare at Oliver for too long. Oliver was mesmerized by the boy because it wasn’t that long ago that they shared not only a class but so much more. He averted his eyes from the boy and turned his head to look at Dr. Mendez who had started talking to him. He felt warm, embarrassed that he could have been caught not paying attention to her, when what she was saying could have been important.

             Dr. Mendez gave him a knowing look before tilting her head towards the wall opposite of Oliver. There was a gleam, making the x-ray pictures visible to the naked eye. What he saw made him cringe and he could feel his stomach drop.

             “As you can see,” Dr. Mendez said, walking towards the x-rays, “this was a severe compound fracture to the tibia and your fibula suffered from a comminuted fracture.” Oliver tuned her out after that because he did not understand anything of what she was saying but he merely had to see the x-rays to know how bad it truly was. His tibia had broken skin and, even though he couldn’t remember what it looked like when it first happened, he knew that the bone sticking out of his skin was nowhere near being a good sign. His fibula was a different story, though. Instead of it being a semi-clean break, part of the bone was shattered and that deflated any hope within Oliver instantly. He suddenly felt embarrassed that the boy was in his room because he didn’t want his pity.

             “It’s going to take almost a year before you can play again.”

             This brought Oliver back down to Earth and his eyes widened in shock. “But, my scholarship...,” he trailed off, knowing there was no possible way he could go to Florida State on a full ride for baseball anymore. He’d lose his scholarship and he wouldn’t know what he’d do.

             “It’s just a setback, Oliver. You can work through this.” Danielle grabbed his hand and squeezed it reassuringly but he knew it was anything but that.  Oliver tried to smile but it was futile. He recognized his fake mother’s optimism and knew she was already jumping for joy on the inside. She was supportive enough towards him when baseball was just a hobby, but when it came to long term decisions, Danielle wanted Oliver to continue in her footsteps and attend Harvard Law and take over the law firm. She drew the line at sending him off to school for baseball so it was a blessing when he received the scholarship to FSU. But now it was all for nothing and his dream went down the drain. He’d be out of practice for a year because of his stupid leg. After he made a full recovery, if he did, he’d have to go through physical therapy to make his leg stronger and then he’d have to work on his arm. He could not see the silver lining at the end of this. He’d lose his scholarship and his one way ticket out of California and from his mother. Oliver felt utterly useless.

             “Every patient here gets a student volunteer. It’s something the hospital just implemented and it might also save you from boredom.” Dr. Mendez gestured towards the boy. “This is James, whom I believe goes to your school.” James nodded his head, a slight smile coiling around his lips as he gave Oliver a gentle wave. Oliver tried to smile back but there was a rolling in his stomach; his heart felt like it was trying to escape the confines of his chest. Instead, he nodded in acknowledgment and averted his eyes to look at his mother who was busy fussing with his pillow. She, too, was not looking directly at him and it definitely had something to do with trying to conceal her glee of him possibly not attending FSU anymore.

             “I’ll call Chloe for you, you must want her here,” Danielle said, kissing Oliver on the forehead and rushing out the room to follow Dr. Mendez. Oliver groaned when his mother left, knowing that if she did call Chloe, it would just be one awkward and short phone call. It had been three months since they had broken up and he still hadn’t mentioned it to his mom.

             It was silent except for the noisy machines and the doctors and nurses rushing past the door. Oliver hated the silence but he didn’t know what he could say to James. It had been awhile since he last spoke to him – a month and a half to be exact; not like he was counting or anything –  and he knew that anything he said right now would be useless. But he hated the silence.

             “What are you doing here?” Oliver asked, finally getting the courage to break the awkward silence. He could feel the tension; it felt as if all the oxygen in the room was quickly dissipating, leaving him to gasp for the non-existent air. But that feeling disappeared when James replied.

             “Volunteering.”

             Oliver didn’t say anything, wanting to hear more of what James was doing. He sighed when Oliver didn’t say anything after a long beat. “I needed something to put on my college resume. Not everyone can get a full ride to their dream school.” His voice was clipped, not at all condescending but rather in a matter of fact tone. A simple statement.

             Oliver rolled his eyes, knowing that it didn’t apply to him anymore. “Yeah, because I can play with a broken leg.” He sighed as a dull pain started forming in his temples which he tried to soothe away with his fingers. “My future is gone, my dream went down the drain.” It was the realization of everything spiraling down that made his head hurt. It was hard for him to admit that. Even harder to admit it to James since he was the one person that Oliver wanted to steer clear of, feelings and all.

             James shook his head, a determined look on his face. “So you just take a year off. If you called the university –”

             “It’s going to take longer than a year to recover,” Oliver snapped, interrupting James in the middle of his sentence. He knew what he was going to say and he didn’t want to hear it, any of it. “It’s over and done with.” He felt defeated; he was defeated and, in that moment, wanted to disappear. He pushed himself down on the bed, trying to sink in between the lumpy pillows and scratchy blankets.

             James wasn’t listening. He never listened to him. It was this personality trait Oliver noticed he had, sure of everything, positive that everything would work out in the end. It was also one of the things that bugged him about James.

             “We can get you another chance, Ollie.” It was the nickname. A name he hadn’t heard in a while.

             “Who’s we?”

             “You, your mom,” James paused, eyes cast down to the floor. “Me.” He whispered the last part but Oliver heard it as if it was yelled to him.

             He was shocked beyond belief to find out that James felt that way, that he wanted to be a we with him. But he wouldn’t stand for it. In a way, it was too embarrassing for Oliver to even think them together.

             “There is no we, James.” His voice hoarse but he tried to muster up enough force to not sound weak. He couldn’t sound weak in front of him, he just couldn’t. It could have been a masculinity thing for all he knew.

             “But, what about that time…” James trailed off and the adamant and optimistic boy suddenly seemed defeated.

             “It was only one time,” Oliver whispered, looking away from the blonde haired boy. His voice was low and he just wanted to get away from where this conversation was headed towards.

             “One time, my ass.”

             “Well, it wasn’t my ass, that’s for sure,” Oliver snarled back, his head snapping towards James. He wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings but he could vaguely hear the heart monitor that was connected to him start to beep a little louder and faster. It was a distant beep to his mind, all of his attention focused on the boy in front of him.

             There was a beat, the silence between them seemed to echo in the room. James walked closer towards the bed as a slight smile started to make its way to his lips. Oliver glared at him, hating the fact that he was enjoying their banter. James slowly sat on the bed, his hand inching its way to Oliver’s

             “I -” He didn’t expect James to sit by him and his eyes were glued to the boy’s hand closing in on his own. He couldn’t form a coherent sentence, let alone a single thought. It wasn’t until their hands made contact, brushing ever so lightly that Oliver snapped.

             “Just get away from me, faggot.” James flinched, snatching his hand back so fast like Oliver does before throwing a ball. It came out so abruptly that even Oliver was surprised at his words. Never had he degraded someone for being who they were, but, at that moment, he was so tired and stressed with everything that it was like his mind was on autopilot. James stood up quickly, backing away from him, while stumbling to get to the door. The look on his face was a mixture of hurt and disgust, and Oliver immediately felt his heart constrict with regret, wanting to take it back, to take their whole conversation back and start over.

             Without another word, James turned and fled the room, leaving Oliver feeling heartbroken, a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long while. With a sigh, he threw the blanket over his head, wanting nothing more than to disappear. He was disappointed in himself, angry as well, and he felt he didn’t deserve to live. The derogatory term felt like it was still resting on his lips, burning him and then trying to suffocate him, but that could have been the blanket he was under. His mind felt frazzled and, quite frankly, dead. He tried to let his mind drift off, but the sound of footsteps caught his attention. He stayed under the blanket as they got closer but the blanket was suddenly ripped away from him, exposing his body clad in a raggedy hospital gown. He felt his heart skip a beat as he saw a head of blonde hair, but it wasn’t James.

            “You still haven’t told your mom we broke up?” the blonde said, an undertone of irritation laced within her shrill voice.

             Oliver gulped as his eyes connected with a pair of brown ones and not blue, like he was hoping. “Chloe,” he gasped. “You’re here.” He tried reaching for the blanket that was now in Chloe’s hands, but she pulled it away from him.

             “Of course I’m here,” Chloe said, pulling a chair that was in the corner and bringing it towards the bed. She placed her bag on the floor and sat down. “Now, why haven’t you told your mom?”

             Oliver sighed and shrugged. “It never come up, I guess,” he mumbled, picking at his gown.

             Chloe rolled her eyes. “You really do have to tell her soon,” she sighed before handing the blanket back to him. “And you also should tell her that you-”

             “Shut up, Chloe,” he interrupted, snatching the blanket from her grasp and trying, but failing, to cover his whole body with it. He did not want to talk to his ex-girlfriend about his problem.

             She shrugged her shoulders and leaned back against the chair. “So, what happened? You look a little green.” Oliver wanted to roll his eyes, finding that statement humorous. Just barely. “Your leg looks like it could plaster all the holes in my kitchen’s wall.”

             “Isn’t your kitchen being remodeled?”

             “Exactly.”

             Oliver scoffed before dragging himself up a little higher into an almost sitting position. “Baseball,” was all he said and Chloe nodded in understanding as if she actually knew how much it hurt him to discuss any more. And it did.

             “Everything will work out in the end,” Chloe said, her voice growing softer, soothing him. He didn’t know if she was talking about his broken leg or the predicament with James. Only Chloe understood what happened between them and she never judged him, even when he told her the reason for their breakup. “Listen, I have to get going. I left my mom alone and my dad’s away on business, so I’m pretty sure the liquor cabinet will be empty by the time I get home.”

             Oliver nodded as he watched Chloe stand. She grabbed her bag from the floor and placed her hand on his, squeezing it reassuringly. She gave him a small smile before walking towards the door. Oliver watched her go, expecting her to just leave, but she turned back around once she stood under the doorway. “Please tell your mom.” That was all she said before finally walking away.

*****

             A week passed before James stepped foot in Oliver’s room. In that time, doctors and nurses kept rushing in and out of his room with charts in their hands, updating him on his progress, though it had only been a week. What could possibly change in his leg in seven days? His mother would come in sporadically to try and come off as a concerned mother but most of the time she was working, doing overtime in hopes that she did not have to come and see him. Today, she was at the hospital but he hadn’t seen her in about an hour.

             Oliver didn’t expect James to come back so he was surprised when he saw him, clad in a white volunteer overcoat.

             “James,” he breathed out, trying to lift himself up but ultimately failing. James didn’t move from his spot by the door. His skinny legs were crossed over one another and his hands were behind his back. He looked serious, as if he didn’t want to be there. That hurt Oliver but he had to remember that he hurt James way worse. “Look, James, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I was angry and upset, but not at you,” he tried to explain but all James did was shake his head.

             “It’s fine. It’s over and done with. I couldn’t ignore you for that long. Dr. Mendez would have noticed,” he said nonchalantly as he walked further into the room. Oliver noticed him walking around the lifeless area, trying to prolong their minutes of silence before finally stopping at the foot of his bed.

             Oliver didn’t know what else to say, but at the same time, he had everything to say. And he relaxed his mind and body before he said his next words. “It’s just really hard, okay.” James didn’t say anything, but instead tilted his head to the side looking more curious than he’d ever been. Oliver sighed, his heart hammering in his chest, before continuing. “I’m the star of the baseball team, I’m put on a pedestal, I don’t know what my mom would say if she found out that-” He paused, feeling his words spewing out of him and took a deep breath but didn’t say anything else.

             James rolled his eyes, resting his arms on the footboard. His blonde hair was lying flat on his head hanging just above his forehead as he looked down at the open chart on the bed. Oliver was struggling to put the words together, never realizing how hard it would be. His heart was still pounding and it felt like he was going to throw up. “If she found out that I liked boys.” There. He had said it. It looked as if James had stopped breathing, not expecting Oliver to ever admit that he was gay. “I’m sorry that I ignored you at school after we first got together, and then ignoring you again after the second time. I’m sorry for making you think I didn’t like you because I do, James. I do like you and now, well, now I’m not so afraid to admit it.” Oliver was out of breath by the end of his this, still not believing he had admitted anything but this time he felt good. He felt free and alive and finally, like himself. But he was getting nervous with every ticking second that James didn’t say a word. His green eyes roamed up James’ torso, noticing the flannel underneath his coat and finally making his way to his face. It was then Oliver noticed a smile making its way on his lips and he suddenly felt relieved. “James?”

             He looked up, finally, his blue eyes shining brightly and a smile taking over his face. “It’s about time, you idiot.” James let out a boisterous laugh before taking a few strides towards Oliver. He sat at the edge of his bed, not being hesitant this time and placing a hand on the crippled boy’s cheek. “I’m proud of you, you know that?” Oliver merely shrugged, feeling warm all over.

             “I’ll tell my mom, I swear,” Oliver said.

             “I’m just glad you said it to yourself, we can work on how to tell your mom, together.”

             Oliver nodded, feeling his smile grow. Together didn’t sound so bad. They would just have to figure out the future some other time.

             “I’m going to kiss you now,” James whispered and Oliver nodded, scared, happy and still confused. Kissing James wasn’t a new thing to him but to finally kiss him as himself said so much.

             Oliver felt James’ breath on his lips and his stomach flipped as he finally had him this close. Their lips brushed lightly, Oliver’s chapped lips against James’ soft ones and it felt normal to Oliver. But nothing could ever end happily for him. At that moment, he thought of his mother, and what she might say. He pulled away. “James, wait.”

             “What’s wrong?”
             “I can’t tell her. It’ll be like telling her that grandpa cut her off.”

             James rolled his eyes. “You make her seem like a teenager.”

             “She thinks she’s entitled to have a say in everything, including my life. She wanted this perfect family and she freaked when dad left. She’ll freak when she learns about us.” Oliver felt defeated but James’ hand on his cheek gave him a sense of relief.

             “You’ll have me by your side when you do tell her.” Their noses brushed and James leaned in to capture his lips again, using both hands to cradle Oliver’s face. Oliver was happy, finally happy, but it evaporated when a shrill scream erupted within the room.

             “Oliver Edward Stangard!”

             The two boys sprang apart; James jumping away from Oliver as Oliver cringed away from the blonde. They turned to look at the door, eyes wide with shock when they saw his mother, Danielle, standing with a bag of food in her hands and two drinks spilled endlessly by her feet. Oliver looked at his mother like a deer caught in the headlights as her mouth hung open.

             Fury and astonishment were etched on her face making Oliver gulp. He didn’t know what he would say but the sudden warmth and pressure he felt on his hand told him it would be okay in the end. Hopefully.

Bona Fide - I

She spoke to them but he was solely focused on the way her lips formed the words, her lips moving almost obscenely, that he did not hear a thing she said. He was entranced by the movement of her slim, delicate hands, how she always seemed to speak with them, her blue eyes sparkling under the fluorescent lighting of the stadium making it seem as if she had a secret to tell, teasing him.

He wanted her.

He wanted her in every way possible but he couldn’t have her, at least not now. Standing in the midst of a celebrity crowd, backstage at an award show was not a place to show any sort of emotion towards the stunning girl standing in front of him clad in the most delectable black dress he had ever seen on her. He wanted to ravish her. His green eyes traced the outline of her silhouette, taking in how long her legs seemed to go from the peak he was able to get. He bit his lip, remembering the last time he had kissed her. He was so preoccupied with thoughts of her that he didn’t realize he was being called until a sharp jab at his ribs woke him up.

“Owww,” Harry complained, rubbing his side, cheeks going red as all the attention was now on him, even hers. His skin grew warm, something that always happened when he knew she was watching.

“Sarah says it’s time ta go, mate.”

Harry looked up at Niall before nodding. He mumbled a goodbye to everyone, keeping his eyes cast down to the floor. It was out of character for him, everyone knew, but he didn’t want anyone to notice how his eyes would have lingered on the blonde woman standing in front of him.

It wasn’t until he made it out of the building that he could finally breathe properly again. The nippy, London air felt like it was burning his cheeks from how cold it was but it came as a relief as he took deep breaths.

“Is everything alright, man?”

The voice was distinct, but Harry was too preoccupied with trying to clear his mind that all he did was nod, waving him off in the process. He followed his driver after parting ways with the rest of the boys, the four of them most likely going to a club to get shitfaced. Harry couldn’t, though, he had to get home.

The car ride back to his house made Harry feel even antsier. His hands felt clammy, his heart couldn’t stop beating like a drum in his chest and it was all because of her. His driver looked at him from the rear view mirror, concerned but with a knowing look on his face, yet he didn’t say anything to the poor lad who looked as if he was going to be sick. He merely pulled up into the house, making sure the gate closed behind him.

Harry quickly got out of the back seat before coming up to the drivers’ side.

“Make sure to come by tomorrow, thank you.”

It was all he said before he scurried to the front door, hands shaking as he tried to dig out his keys from his abnormally tight jeans. He was finally able to open the door after a bit of a struggle and lock himself inside. The lights were on in the entire house, he noticed, a positive sign.

He heard clamor in the kitchen.

Fuck.”

His eyes widened before making his way to his kitchen where cupboards and drawers were pulled opened, shit thrown everywhere. It seemed as if a tornado came by and raided only the kitchen supplies.

But all that was a forethought to Harry, as his eyes lingered on her, standing there still clad in her dress, barefoot, with a wine bottle in one hand and a corkscrew in the other, her hair messy from the event and make up smudged. He couldn’t help but smile, dimples indenting his cheeks as he couldn’t help but think at how beautiful she looked.

“Taylor…” He couldn’t help but breathe out in just a whisper. She still heard it, though, but instead of greeting him, she merely complained.

“Why is it so complicated to open up a bottle of wine? Is this their way of telling me that I shouldn’t drink it?”

Harry chuckled, finding amusement in the fact that she couldn’t open the bottle as well as complain about it.  In a couple of strides, he was next to her, taking the bottle and corkscrew out of her hands and placing it on the counter. She pouted, crossing her arms across her chest.

“I wanted to drink that,” she said.

“Later,” was all he replied, before grabbing her hand and guiding her out of the kitchen. He didn’t stop or let go until they were in the living room, a fire already burning, much to Harry’s surprise.

Taylor shrugged, a grin tugging at her nude lips. “It was cold. You Brits have the most complicated systems here.”

“Taylor, you literally have to press a button to start it up,” Harry said, exasperated, but they both knew he was merely being playful. She walked past him, to the front of the fireplace, rubbing her bare arms up and down.

Harry couldn’t help but stare at her, watching her small movements, the way she seemed to be rocking back and forth as if being controlled by the music in her head. Harry was lucky to have her standing in his house, away from the struggles of being in public, away from every prying eye needing to know their every move of every minute of every day. It was a relief for him to be here, the weight of the world not on his shoulders for just this night.

He kicked off his shoes before walking up to Taylor. It seemed almost normal now, despite being apart for so long to wrap his arms around her, and so he did. He grip tightened as she placed her hands on his arms, leaning back against his chest, humming in delight.

“Missed you,” Harry mumbled, digging his face into her neck, smelling the sweet scent of vanilla and strawberries.

“You saw me an hour ago,” Taylor tried to reason but Harry could hear the way her voice rose, as if she was agreeing with her.

“And before that was a month.”

Harry could feel Taylor sighing before she turned in his arms, her hand going to cup his angular jaw, softly stroking the minimal stubble he had.

“Will you ever be able to grow a beard?” She was changing the subject, he knew her well enough to know that this was a conversation she had a hard time with. They both did.

“Heeeeey,” he decided to play along, not wanting to bring up any negativity. “I’ll have you know that I shaved two days ago.” He was almost proud of that accomplishment.

Taylor shook her head, but a smile was still there before she gently placed her lips on his jaw, a sweet kiss.