1: Love's a funny thing
I was on top of the world.
Having finally freed myself from a relationship more constricting and more suffocating than rusty metal chains, my soul was as light and airy as the cool, bay breeze. Even the coastal fog had drifted away, revealing an expansive canvas of perfect blue sky. The glittery dots on the dark pavement reflected sunlight beneath my feet, and the sounds of cable cars and footsteps danced through my ears like a song.
"Hello, San Francisco," I whispered, readjusting the worn suitcase beside me.
Yes, indeed. I was on top of the-
Ground? I blinked, dazed, disoriented and bewildered. The gleaming pavement dug tiny pinholes into the bare skin of my legs, and sharp edges carved scars into my right arm and hip. One sharp inhale and I could smell the tangy, metallic scent of blood. My blood. My stomach churned and half my body ached dully.
"Oh, shit. Fuck. Sorry! Are you okay?
I let a delayed breath whistle out of my lips. Dark black spots twirled and flickered at the edges of my vision, trying to protect my eyes from the white sunlight above me. A growl stung at the back of my throat, and I weighed the option of springing up and slapping whoever had crashed into me; would it hurt too much? Would the pain be worth it? I moaned-a mildly satisfying response-and set about getting myself off the ground. The act was alarmingly difficult.
So difficult, in fact, that I didn't resist the warm hands helping me complete the feat. Now that I was eye to eye with this criminal, I could more effectively scream at him. Before I unleashed all my dramatic fury, however, I was stopped by a terrible realization. The man was beautiful.
Beautiful. Not hot, not sexy, not cute-although, upon closer examination, any of those terms wouldn't have been wasted. His blonde hair was windblown and unkempt, framing a tan, charismatic face with deep, liquid brown eyes. He was three inches taller than me-give or take-and I could see muscles carved in his arms where his coat had fallen off. Any words of rage promptly danced in an awe-struck whirl out of my mouth and down the city street.
"I'm fine," I grumbled. I was caught off-guard by his looks, but I was stubborn enough to manage a rather pissed-off visage.
He smiled a large, all-encompassing smile, and then bent down to retrieve my dropped bag. "I'm so sorry," he began. I sighed and began to step towards him, reaching for the book that had fallen on the ground. He continued, "I was running and I didn't see you, and then-"
Smack. Somehow, he hadn't noticed me bending over to help him, and the violent stranger had slammed the bag into my face.
I recoiled downwards, crouching with pain and biting back a squeal. He gasped, "Fuck, fuck, fuck! Oh my god!"
Determined to tell him off-gorgeous or not-I sucked in a large breath and shot myself upwards. Sadly, the effect was ruined, because this time I hadn't seen him duck over me, and I rammed the back of my head into his face. Needless to say, that accident sent us both reeling backwards in agony, clutching our injured selves and muttering broken fusions of apologies and insults.
Several minutes later, the initial pain subsided, and we stood to face each other. The stranger attempted a smile, but winced instead; I started to laugh, but laughing hurt, and thus I winced too.
"I'm Dominic," he gasped, rubbing his forehead. "Nice to meet you."
"Cassie. And I'm not sure I can say the same."
He rolled his eyes, hardly grimacing this time. "For your information, I don't run around the city like this normally," he leaned closer. "You see… I'm being chased."
"Are you really?"
"Yeah, I am. Although at this point, maybe it would've been smarter to let myself get caught."
"Nah, then you wouldn't have met me," I teased.
"True." He was about to say something else, but before his pretty mouth opened, a dark figure leapt out of nowhere and attached itself onto his back, knocking him forward. Luckily, I managed to sidestep out of the way to avoid a fourth collision.
Dominic let out a scream along with various other profanities. I was too amused-and vengeful-to try and save him; instead, I observed. The thing that I assumed had been chasing him was another man. His face was buried in Dominic's shoulder, but from what I could see, he had messy, almost black hair. His long, skinny legs were wrapped around his victim's waist, and the skin unhidden by his shirt was pale and smooth.
"Get off, Taylor."
The other man-Taylor-laughed darkly. I saw his grip tighten. "Never. You know you like it."
Eventually, though, Dominic did manage to slip out of Taylor's grasp; he looked angry for a fleeting second, but happiness and amusement soon melted his harsh mood. I, on the other hand, was furious, because Taylor was equally-if not more-attractive than Dominic. The fury was irrational, of course: I should have been elated. I'd spent five minutes in San Francisco, and I'd seen enough eye candy to last me a solid week.
Meanwhile, Taylor had diverted his attention to me. His casual smile hinted that he was amused, but his eyes were piercing-light, glassy blue orbs so saturated they seemed unreal. He had a rigid jaw line and defined cheekbones, giving him the appearance of some sculpted god-aside from the fact that he was basically skin and bones. He didn't look anorexic or malnourished; he was just really thin.
"Hi," I coughed. He looked at me expectantly.
Dominic cleared his throat, "This is… Cassie. Right?" I nodded, and he looked pleased. "I nearly ran her over while fleeing from you."
"And then he hit me with my own bag."
Taylor cringed, but it was clear a laugh was bubbling behind his sapphire eyes. "My god, are you okay?"
"Well… not really," I said honestly. Meanwhile, Dominic pouted dramatically, drawing a line down his cheek to imitate a teardrop.
"On his behalf, I apologize sincerely," Taylor gushed, reaching out to take my hand. "But a kiss can cure everything, right?"
I scarcely had time to gasp before the beautiful brunette darted forward-a movement about as eerily fast as when he'd launched himself onto his friend. Our mouths fused together, and I felt nothing but sweet softness, tasted not metallic blood but wintergreen lips. His hand fell lightly to the back of my neck as the kiss melted away all the pain I'd been exaggerating. My face was on fire; my heart was scorching. Then he pulled away.
Dominic laughed again in a tone that was both amused and mildly offended. "What, you think you can heal everything with a kiss?"
I was about to point out that Taylor had, indeed, distracted me from all of my distress. The wounds weren't healed, but I was so numb with awe that I couldn't feel half my body-let alone its pain. Before I could, however, I was knocked across the head with a different kind of awe. Taylor flashed a grin, skipped away from me, and kissed Dominic with noticeably more passion than he'd kissed me.
Repressing the shock, I let myself be torn apart by conflicting emotions. On one hand, I was devastated: the two men I would have willingly thrown myself onto were in relationships-with each other. On the other hand, the kiss was so fantastically adorable that I almost wanted to cheer with glee. I had known the two strangers for no time at all, but I was fully convinced that they were in love with each other. They were so in love, so devoted, so happy to be around each other, that I wondered why they'd ever let one another run out of sight. And all this-deduced from a kiss.
"Oh," Dominic gasped, his cheeks flushed. "Well fuck me-I guess you can."
"Is that an invitation?"
"Okay," I interrupted, drawing out the word. "I'm clearly not welcome anymore, so… Taylor, thanks for the kiss and Dominic… try not to kill me next time? Yeah. Goodbye."
After gathering my things with urgent haste, I began to shuffle towards the opposite street corner. Before I managed three steps, however, thin fingers wrapped around my wrist and pulled me backwards. Taylor's lips were pressed together, and lines of worry streaked his forehead.
"Hey, don't leave. I'm sorry about that. Honestly."
I shrugged, "I've watched people kiss before. Usually, it's polite to leave them alone."
"Manners are a waste of time," he said, grinning. "Where are you headed?"
"The nearest motel, I guess. I figured out I wanted to move to San Francisco, but I didn't get much further than that."
Dominic smiled, "Not one for planning ahead?"
"Not necessarily," I admitted, biting back sarcasm. "So if you two want to help, you could give me the quickest route to the cheapest place in the city."
"I think there's a Motel 6 around the corner, but I know another place. It's loud, and the people there are rather obnoxious, but it's basically free."
I didn't miss Dominic's mischievous undertone, or the way Taylor's eyebrows rose in amusement as he spoke. Nonetheless, I was tired, and I didn't much care if they took me to the Four Seasons or to a strip club; I wanted to take a nap and console my poor heart for losing two potential soul mates in one afternoon.
"Okay then, follow me!" And with that, Taylor-the man with striking blue eyes, with dark, untamed hair, with a passionate kiss-raced around the corner.
Dominic sighed and picked up my second suitcase. "Love's a funny thing."