Chapter 1: Each story has a beginning.
Tory walked down the street. "God damn this planet", she kept cursing through her gritted teeth. It was 7 a.m., a cloudy Sunday morning, and instead of sleeping in her warm and cozy bed, the 22-year old girl was heading to her office. Tory Winston was in her final year of studies in journalism at St-Petersburg's university in South Florida. She was also working as a part-time reporter at the local newspaper. Since it was her last year, she hoped to get a full-time job at this newspaper by the end of her studies. Unfortunately, lately her boss Kelly Melbourne, was pissing her off more than ever. Tory didn't have any free time for her personal life anymore: Kelly kept calling her with her so-called "emergencies" every time Tory wanted to have a moment for herself.
She crossed the main street before entering the town's suburbs. The office of The Daily News was situated in the west part of the town and to get there, the girl needed to walk at least half an hour. The wind grew stronger. She pulled up her collar and hid her hands deeper in the coat's pockets. Winter was getting closer.
Kelly was waiting for her free lance reporter right near the building's main entrance. Tory was late and the woman grew more impatient with every passing second. "What took you so long?" she looked at the young woman in front of her expectantly. "It's the sixth time this month." -'Well all these times it was extra work, your "emergencies", Tory spat the words in her face and entered the door without even looking at her boss. She knew very well that Kelly was hot- tempered and she made a mistake talking to her this way, but she couldn't help it. She was suddenly annoyed by the woman's very presence. It had never happened to her before. "So what did you call me for? What this time?" "You'd better watch your tongue, young lady" Kelly hissed in her favourite icy manner. "I called you here, because there was this boat accident last night and you need to gather as much information about it as you possibly can. It's for tomorrow's issue. Don't you dare let me down."
Without letting Tory object, the woman turned on her heels and left the room. The girl covered her face with her hands. Her Sunday was officially ruined.
"Hold the door please."
Ash Redfern hurried to the elevator. It was his first day at The Daily News and he was running late. He wondered about the reason why he needed to start on Sunday instead of Monday. The young man got in just as the doors were about to close. He said a quiet Thank You to the old lady who held the door and then he checked his briefcase for all the necessary papers. Ash was 25 years old, a journalist and a newcomer at St-Petersburg. He had quite an obscure past although his charm and captivating voice made everybody forget about all the strange lapses in his civic files. He was very tall, 6'3", nevertheless very gracious and well-built. His penetrating icy-blue eyes were captivating, as if the person was staring in two deep pools of water. That was one of the many reasons girls tried to stay away from those eyes and avoided his gaze. There was something in this gorgeous young man that made your instincts scream in alert. Although many girls stayed away from him, there were many others who couldn't stop themselves from loving him. He knew it. He could physically feel it. And he used it as much and as often as he was able to. And why not? He never promised anything to these poor fragile creatures. They invented everything themselves and filled in all the information they needed to feel comfortable with him. And after, when he was tired of their company he just broke their cloud-castles by telling each one of them the truth they knew all along though tried very hard to deny. And so on. He never stopped- he never wanted too. He was always comfortable, always in good company, always loved and cared for. Why stop when it was so good?
Blink. He bumped into somebody on the street. All these memories got him carried away. He excused himself, moved on without even looking at the person he bumped into. There were still a few blocks to walk till the newspaper's headquarters. He sped up.
-"No, mom, I'm really sorry, but I can't go with you. Kelly got me stuck with work till the end of the year." Great. Not only would she have to work on Sunday, the girl completely forgot about the family dinner she was supposed to have with her parents. "I'm sorry. But why don't you tell all this to Kelly? It was her idea to keep me here, not mine." Tragically sighing for her mom, Tory continued to type the article about the boat crash. "Yes mom, talk to her, maybe it will change something. You are friends after all, maybe she will listen to you." A few more sentences typed. "Okay mom, I will try to get out of here as soon as I can. Bye. Have fun with Dad." She hung up and stared at the screen for a second. The girl thought she saw a shadow. She was perfectly sure that she was alone in the building, nobody in The Daily News worked on Sundays, not even Kelly. It was a creepy feeling, to be alone in this huge two-story nineteenth-century dome, and she scanned uneasily her surroundings. Everything was perfectly still and quiet. "You are getting paranoid, my dear" she stated loudly and decided to make herself a tea. She turned off the monitor of her computer and headed to the door. Right near the conference room, which was next to her office, was a small kitchenette where the newspaper's employees usually had their breaks and where Tory was heading now. Slowly she made herself a black tea and while sipping it came back. Oblivious to her surroundings, Tory sat in front of her computer and turned on the screen. A loud sound of shattered glass echoed in the building.
"Pardon me for scaring you, this wasn't my intentions" Ash chanted in his melodious low voice. Tory was still gasping for air from astonishment and evanescent panic assault. In front of her stood a handsome and charming mysterious young man she had never met before. St-Petersburg was a relatively small town, and she knew most people living here. She was sure that she would've remembered someone like him. Someone this outstanding and gorgeous, she thought. Trying to look as confident and as indifferent as she could (considering the fact that she just cried like a baby and smashed a cup full of tea only because she got scared of his shadow), she babbled, "Hello, it's really nothing to worry about". He approached to help her clean the mess she just created. Very quickly and skillfully, he gathered the shattered glass and put it in the trash can nearby. Tory didn't even have a chance to touch the pieces. She smiled gratefully and attempted to start a conversation. 'So, creepy stranger', she started, 'what are you doing in this Godforsaken place on Sunday?'. He didn't answer, turning his back to her for a few seconds to clean his hands. Then, when she was already considering him a lost cause, he suddenly stated: "Your article is unfinished. May I help?"
"You haven't answered my question." So much for a nice start.
"My mistake. My name is Ash Redfern. I am a new employee of this newspaper. And you are…?" He arched an eyebrow, mimicking an innocent interest.
"Victoria Winston, one of the current part-time journalists working for The Daily News. A pleasure to meet you." She extended her hand, looking very much official-like. She didn't like her full name- it sounded too pompous, but at this moment she didn't want this stranger to call her Tory… He smiled, shaking her hand. "Pleasure is all mine. Victoria Winston? As in…Tory Winston?" Again that good natured surprise, tapping for an obscure reason on her nerves. "That's the way people call me around here, yes. Why?" Ash suddenly looked offended, it almost made her feel bad for her rough answer. "Nothing, it is just the fact that from now on you are to be my teammate. You are still a student, in your last year, am I right?" And how did you know that, huh? "Yes, indeed." She tried to match his way of speaking, which sounded as if he was some kind of an aristocrat, coming from the highest elite of British society. His quite exotic accent had only made her assumption even more truthful. Then what the hell are you doing here? She kept asking herself mentally. "I apologize, my approaching and questions may be too direct. You can always tell me if something is wrong, or if there is something in my behaviour that you don't like. I would appreciate a small dose of good natured criticism very much, especially when it is coming from such a charming young lady." She was taken aback by his manner of speaking his thoughts and intentions so easily. His answer pleased her, although Tory decided to give him some more tough time, just for the sake of her own amusement. "Thank you." She didn't know what else to say. Ash didn't seem to notice her puzzlement. He turned towards the computer and her unfinished article. "As I have said before, your article is not finished yet. Maybe I can offer some help?" "Yes, that would be great, since I have been working on it since this morning." He looked at her incredulously. "You must be extremely devoted to your work and this particular subject, if you decided to work on it on a Sunday morning." Is he mocking me, or is it really what he thinks? She decided to choose the safest way to continue. "It was a job that Kelly gave me. She called me in this morning, and I had no choice but to obey." She looked at him expectantly, but Ash felt silent for a few moments. He suddenly seemed to be carried away by some distant memories. A perplexed look crossed Tory's face and his gaze became clear again. "I am very sorry, I tried to remember who exactly the woman you talk about is, but her name doesn't ring any bell, unfortunately. It is bizarre, but during my short stay here, I've met a lot of people. If you could just give me some hint who it might be…" He looked at her, half-amused, faintly smiling, as if he was playing an interesting game. She mused about his intentions, but decided to play dumb. "Well, how can you stand here without having met our boss?" This little game between them started to become interesting. Victoria was still slightly irritated, but this man's strange behaviour and exotic accent have made their job: she was getting more interested in him with every passing second. Minor details about him captured her attention: the man was neatly dressed in a black shirt with a black narrow tie and navy blue straight jeans. To top off his tough-looking figure, Ash wore black ankle-length boots with laces casually half-pulled out. His dark blond hair looked gorgeously tousled and clean. He looked like he just came off the Men's Vogue magazine's cover. Do you look like this every day? She already anticipated to look at him in action, after all he was a professional journalist, and with these looks and his charisma he could easily be a television star, which, no doubt, he would soon become if not already. "Oh, you meant Mrs. Melbourne? I didn't know her first name was Kelly." Tory looked him straight in the eye, surprised. Was he this skillful and lied to her without even blinking? Kelly was famous in The Daily News and beyond for her coquettish personality. Even at 42, Kelly Melbourne was a good-looking attractive woman. With her bleached-blond bob-cut hair and big hazel eyes, she was thrilling for men, especially when her sharp mind and strong, almost clairvoyant-like intuition came into focus. She knew that she was admired secretly, and she developed a habit to flirt with every man she met. It was highly suspicious that she hadn't said her most famous, but at the same time most dangerous for men "Please, call me Kelly." Something wasn't right. She let it go for the time being though, her monitor on the desk started blinking. She was away from work for too long now. She sighed dramatically. "I would really love to continue this conversation, but my article needs to be finished. It's for tomorrow's issue, and Kelly will be outraged if she finds out I was courting my new teammate instead of finishing her "order".'
"What if we do it my way: I help you to finish it, and then maybe I will give you a ride home? You seem to live far from editorial."
Tory thought her jaw dropping would hit the floor. How the hell did this guy know where she lived? Recovering, she managed to ask in as casual a voice as she could imitate 'And how did you find out where I live?' He looked startled at first, then, his face crimson from embarrassment, he babbled: 'Oh, it's nothing, just a lucky guess.' Shrugging and suddenly wondering if all this was real, Victoria turned towards her computer and, positioning herself behind the desk in a way that Ash could fit in too, resumed typing fast. He pulled a chair and sat near her, reading fast the material she had found. 'You select the necessary and relevant information, I put it in the final article. Deal?' He looked up from papers for a second. 'Hey, I thought that I was the real professional here.' Tory felt offended ever so slightly. She was already used to these types of comments. 'You are a newbie here, you have no idea about this paper's readers, their tastes and preferences. No way I'm letting you write the final text. Now get to work.' Startled from this sudden superiority manifestation, Ash lowered his head and started looking through dozens of paper sheets, covered with text, photos and quotes. Suddenly his phone buzzed. Looking at the caller's ID, his face became grim, but he declined the call. 'Something important? You seemed displeased', Tory stated, eyes still on monitor. 'No, it's nothing, let's get this job done first, I will manage it after.'
Brian Stanton was wandering for a hundredth time around the cozy living room, painted in pale blue shades. A decorative coffee table with a vase full of red roses was surrounded by black cushions covered with pale blue pillows of the same shade as the walls. The window was wide open, weightless white curtains slowly moved, obeying to the cold breeze coming from outside. Shivering, Brian shut the window with a loud click. Time was running out.
He dialed the number again, losing all hope to hear an answer. After a few rings he hung up, helpless. Suddenly feeling angry for his surge of hopelessness, Brian knocked over the glass coffee table. The vase crashed with a loud noise, as did the table glass. The flowers and water were now scattered all over the deep green expensive carpet. The room, cozy as it was a few minutes ago, now looked offhandedly, dirty. Brian suddenly felt claustrophobic inside. He raced towards the door, then outside, kept running through streets, not feeling the cold or the drizzle that had started long ago. He didn't take a coat, he didn't care about it now. He wanted to feel free, alive. He wanted to run away from the worries that followed him everywhere.
Suddenly he came to a halt. A young woman just crossed the road in front of him, hurrying towards the small shop. Waist-long light brown hair was tangled and quite wet, even though she held a huge umbrella hovering over her cute little head. Though it was getting darker and the sun wasn't visible since morning, she wore dark sun glasses. It was this tiny detail that summoned Brian's attention to the girl. She continued on her way, her head down, long legs in boots on wedges dangerously slipping on each step. She steadied herself, oblivious to her silent admiring observer, and entered the shop. Brian stood there, waiting for her to come out, charmed by something he couldn't put his finger on. This girl looked so fragile, but so confident at the same time. Improvising, he approached the shop too. Not knowing what exactly he was doing or what he was going to say, he just continued to stay under the rain. He waited for his new found fairy to come out.
She screamed, then put a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound, he apparently scared her. She was holding a bag with the shop's logo. There were two boxes with ice cream. "Isn't it a little too cold for _ ice cream, young lady?" he smiled politely, offering his hand to carry her bag. Startled, she managed a surprised glance and a short answer: "I just have a sweet tooth, and right know, I'm craving for an ice cream." She let him take his bag, and invited him under her huge umbrella. The man didn't even notice that he was dripping wet, his turtleneck turning from blue to black. "Aren't you cold?" She softly looked at him. She was surprised, indeed, but far from afraid: with undisguised surprise she was studying him. They resumed walking tightly under the black circular roof protecting them from the drizzling rain. "You aren't from here" she stated simply, and waited for him to reply. "Aw, my cards are now open. How did you understand it?" He expressly thickened his British accent. She laughed at it, "no, not because of that, you don't look like anybody I know, and this town is small enough for its residents to know each other." She abruptly turned the corner, leading him along. They approached a small café. As if answering to a silent question raising in his eyes, she said "Let me get you a cup of hot chocolate, I don't want you to die from cold because of me." Smiling, he let himself to be led inside the cozy little room, where few people were sipping their coffees in the farther end. She motioned him to choose a table and went to order two hot chocolates.
A few minutes later, they were sitting near the window and talking, each of them sipping their drink and truly enjoying it. The girl finally took off her sun glasses, without explaining this strange habit. Her hazel eyes were so bright and shining, he stared at them in awe. This girl was unlike any other he had met: nobody would accept help from a stranger on the street and then bring him to a café and drink hot chocolate with him. She was recklessly brave, unlike most girls on Earth. "I'm Brian by the way." He extended his hand over the table. She took it and gently shook for a moment. "Tory, enchantée" she softly giggled. "So how come you stood there without a coat or an umbrella? You could get yourself a cold, and that could be dangerous" She smiled caringly. He was taken aback by this sudden care coming from her to a stranger. For her, though, it was the most natural thing to say. He ruffled his dark brown hair, trying to dry it. "Well, I was waiting for Lady Luck and here she is." he winked at her. She giggled again. She felt safe with him, it was strange even to himself. If she only knew…but she shouldn't.
They spent the whole evening in that café, talking about life, preferences, truth, destiny. Though the topics were deep and hard, she made them sound as light unimportant chatter. He felt weightless with her, looking into her deep eyes. She often smiled shyly and looked away, but then would always look back. When the night was deep, and it was already past midnight, he finally caught a hold of time. "It's getting late." He looked at her with a sigh. The magic was gone, she looked around sleepily and noticed that under her bag there was a little white puddle. "What a shame", she laughed, "my ice cream is now milk." They laughed together and got up to leave. The drizzle outside had stopped and, as the night broadened, it got colder. The wind was ravaging the trees. Brian still didn't feel the cold. His turtleneck dried, he could bear the wind. She looked often at him, worried. "You sure, you don't want to call a taxi?" He was okay. He just smiled and they continued walking. When they reached her house, she smiled and kissed his cheek. "It was very nice meeting you, Sir Strange-a-a-ah" she mockingly imitated his British accent and laughed. "The same, Lady Luck" he smiled back and turned to leave. She called him "How will I find you?" He gave her a long look and then mysteriously, his words carried by the stormy wind, murmured "I will find you myself."
Sun was filling the room with light. The girl woke up and abruptly sat on the bed. Looked around. For a split second she thought she saw a shadow of somebody very tall, with a horribly and unnaturally long and crooked nose. Then she shook her head in disbelief. What kind of thoughts do I have in mind to see this! She got up, preparing herself to the long day that lay ahead. Something caught her eye, and she turned towards the window to see closer what it was. She approached her bed again, then climbed and stood on it, right in front of the window. But the vision was gone. The glass was still covered with mist, the only things she could make out outside, were unearthly forms which were just trees in the yard, blurred by tiny droplets of water resting on the smooth surface.
Text message from Mi, Nov.15, 11:21
Received: "Remember our plans 4 2day? hope 2 c ya soon".
Text message from Tory, Nov.15, 11:23
Sent: "Sure thing, @2 near the Plaza, right?"
Text message from Mi, Nov.15,11:30
Received: "Yup, c ya, very busy right now"
Text message from Tory, Nov.15, 11:32
Sent: " 'Sup?"
Text message from Mi, Nov.15, 12:47
Received: "Darling, rly soooooooooooorry, cant make it @2, smth came up L"
Text message from Tory, Nov.15, 12:49
Sent: "Whats wrong?"
Text message from Mi, Nov.15, 13:25
Received: "Sorry, busy, smth with work"
Text message from Tory, Nov.15, 13:27
Tory put her cell phone aside. So, work, huh? Never mind me then, I can wait. Mad for some reason, her mood dashingly dropping down, Tory nevertheless forced herself to get dressed and get to the kitchen. She was starving.
It wasn't the first time Mia changed her plans for her work's sake. Tory was okay with that, she knew how much psychology and her patients meant to her best friend. Never mind the fact that they almost stopped seeing each other. Never mind that Mia slowly started to find new friends at work, other psychologists who were much more interesting than Tory, who was still in university, not even a graduate. Those two years of difference between them felt like an abyss now: Mia finished her studies and now was living alone and working in a respectable and prestigious private company, thus earning a lot of money. Tory, meanwhile, was still living with her parents, obeying their stupid rules (like curfew, no boys in the house, etc.), still not finished with university, and barely having any money with this stupid part time job at the newspaper. When Tory entered the journalism faculty, she dreamt of traveling all over the world, being in hot spots, writing about major events, being respected and loved…all those dreams turned to ashes. The only future she had ahead of her now, was to work till the end of her unworthy life in the small daily newspaper. Even the name was so unoriginal. "The Daily News", what could be worse? No, Victoria wasn't a pessimist. It's just…sometimes, she was feeling helpless and terrorised when facing her future. She had suicidal thoughts, she was ashamed of them. But sometimes it was the only possible way out for her.
She shook her head. Why did she start thinking about that again? It happened more and more often now, these panic, fear, depression attacks were seizing her mind, blurring her comprehension of the world surrounding her. She went to the kitchen, and stopped short: her mother was coming at her with a knife in her hand. The first reaction was to scream. But then, it faded away. She blinked hard, and stared at the space surrounding her: her mother was nowhere near, only her voice was heard from the basement.
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!
"Tory, sweetheart, are you ready?" Her mom came out from the basement, and went towards the kitchen. Nothing happened, she kept telling herself. My mother doesn't want to kill me. It didn't sound convincing enough at the moment though. She decided to go to the kitchen anyway. Her stomach started to make sounds, as if it wanted to make its owner aware that it is empty, and eager to work again. She poured herself some milk, put cereal in a huge bowl and sat on a tall chair near the table. She ate mechanically, her eyes glassy, her thoughts lost somewhere deep inside. Her mother didn't like that stare. She came close to her daughter, who didn't notice a thing. She shook her ever so slightly. The girl bolted upright, overturning the bowl with milk and cereal on herself and splashing the liquid in all directions. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!" The girl looked at her with an insane gaze. She wasn't right. "Tory, darling, I'm sorry, I didn't intend to scare you." She let the strong words past her ears with an ease she never had before: something wasn't right and she felt it with her motherly heart. "You need to calm down, sweetheart, do you want something?"
Tory's eyes were filled with fury, as was her mind. She was never this mad before: she finally understood. All her problems were of course because of her parents. They never cared about her, they were selfish, never understood her. It was like an illumination. If they could only listen to her, try to put themselves in her shoes, try to help her at last! -she would be able to fulfill her dreams. And now what has she got in life? Only faded avenue of broken cloud-castles. Her mother came closer, tried to hug her, to calm her down. She was dripping wet and stinky from milk and sugar she had on her. She yelled something at her, pushed the woman away, and ran towards her room. There, she locked the door, swiftly changed her clothes and went under the sheets, sobbing uncontrollably. If only somebody could understand and help her! But who is capable of help, when she cannot even help herself on her own?
Hours later, she came up to the surface of reality from the depths of her wild thoughts, bothered by a tiny unnerving noise that she was hearing for some time now. It sounded like tiny claws clicking or tiny crabs walking on the wooden floor of the attic above. She lifted up her head, then let it fall back on the multitude of pillows covering her bed. The covers were soaking wet and the girl was shivering. She forced herself up, and with a great effort reached the door of her wardrobe. Right near it, ages ago, her mother had placed a huge mirror. Now she contemplated her reflection with disgust: thinned body, tangled hair, black circles, swollen eyes, sunken cheeks - she had it all. She felt limp and dizzy, it felt as if something was draining her life energy away. She went back to bed. Taking a morning shower, changing in fresh clothes and washing her teeth didn't seem like a good idea anymore. She didn't even feel the hunger anymore. All she wanted right now was to make this noise stop and fall back into the abyss of blackness reigning in the sub- consciousness of her mind. Even simple thoughts made her suffer. Bright sunlight penetrating in her room now made her eyes hurt. She covered her head with a pillow and tried to empty her head. After a few moments of total stillness somebody turned off the bulb in her brain.
She abruptly sat up in her bed. Tory clearly heard a soft click outside the door. Somebody was watching her, she was sure of it. Getting up as soundlessly as she was able to in her current condition, the girl tiptoed till the entrance door. She put an ear to the door and froze, trying to make out the tiniest of noises coming from outside. She heard nothing. When, suddenly, the door was pushed aside, she almost jumped on the person entering. It was only her mother, her soft brown eyes full of surprise and concern.
"Are you okay, honey? You look horrible. Are you sick?"
She was sick, indeed. A quick glance on her daughter's face and she knew exactly what her little girl was suffering from. Though not the wisest and smartest woman, she was an excellent mother. Or, so she thought. Coming closer to Tory, she put her hand on the girl's forehead. "You are all burning, apparently you caught a flu."
"Did you hear clicking sounds somewhere near my door?" Tory didn't seem to care she had a fever. Her eyes were shining madly. Maryl was taken aback. "No, why? There is nothing and nobody out there, you can check it yourself." She opened the door wider, as if to show her that there was nothing to be afraid of. Victoria looked away. "Nothing, I just thought someone was out there." Maryl studied her for a minute. "You don't feel well. I will bring you some pills and water. You will have to stay home for few days. No university, no job." Tory rose to object, but her mother firmly held up a finger, preventing her from talking, "There's no argument", and left. Tory was left there, on her king-sized bed, still shivering with fever, unable to think clearly. She fell on her pillows again. When Maryl came back, she was long since in Morpheus' kingdom.
"Hi, you have reached Miena Zelenski's voice mail box. Unfortunately, I am not available for the moment, for whatever reason. Please leave me a message and your phone number after a short beep, and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you, have a good day."
"Hi…it's me. There is something wrong with me, Mim. I've had this bad flu for a few days, I am still so weak, I can barely stand. Hm…there is something I would like to talk to you about. Something else was and still…still IS happening…I can't stop hearing all these strange noises. There is clicking, sounds of steps outside my door. It sounds…look I know it might be absurd but it sounds like there is somebody out there who is spying on me. Sorry. I am so so so afraid, hon. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm not imagining these. They are real…Maybe you could do your mumbo jumbo to me, and it would go away? Anyway, call me or come visit as soon as you hear this. Thanks, bye."
She listened for another few long seconds to the static sound of the line and then hung up. There was no way to tell when Mia would hear this message. After all, she was a busy woman. Still, Tory hoped she would listen to it very soon. Even though they weren't as close as they had been years ago, a childish conviction still lived in the girl that her friend still cared about her as much as she did before.
Tory went silent for a moment. No it wasn't an illusion. She clearly heard it. Somebody breathing and walking. She crawled back in her bed, hiding under the sheets, filled with terror. It came out of nowhere, nevertheless swiftly building up a solid wall inside her, cutting her breath. She stayed there for hours it seemed, shaking with fear. Then, exhausted, she dozed off, and lay in the dark river of blackness for a long time, her inflamed mind getting the necessary rest.
Days came and went, and everything stayed the same. Mia called, but never came. She was too busy now. It hurt Tory a lot, though she didn't show it. When she got slightly better, she put on her warmest clothes, a wool hat, scarf and mittens and went out. More than two weeks she spent home, it was already December outside. Huge snowflakes were slowly dancing around, covering the ground and painting everything in white. It was so beautiful, that Tory forgot all her worries, fears and troubles. She felt like a child again. She raised her head, catching the snowflakes with her open mouth, feeling the pleasing coldness against her lips. Clouds of steam surrounded her as she exhaled. Enjoying the weather, she didn't notice at all, as a dark-haired man approached her soundlessly. Even the snow didn't crunch under his feet. She abruptly turned and found herself inches away from Brian's face. He softly put a finger on her lips, preventing her startled screams. "Enjoying the weather, I assume?" Her already big eyes became ever wider. Panic gave place to pleasure, and, calming her adrenaline-fuelled heart, she breathed out, "You scared the hell out of me! Yet, nice to see you again." She smiled coquettishly to him. She still liked this mysterious man. "I hope, you weren't on your way home? It would be a true pleasure for me to walk with you for some time", he half-smiled. She made a mocking attempt of a reverence, "The pleasure would be all mine." They started walking towards the woods, leaving two lines of trails on freshly fallen snow.
"So, could you tell me more about you? Last time we met, we talked only about me. I feel awkward", she stated, and then, seeing him holding back a smile, jokingly punched him in the shoulder, "Hey, I'm serious!"
"Alright then, where should I start?" He paused to let her ask questions. "How old are you?"Tory blurted. Then added hastily, " Not that it matters much though, I'm just curious, that's it." He studied her with interest. This girl wasn't as simple as she seemed at first sight. Special even. He liked her more and more with every word, every move, every smile she gave.
…"So did you move here for good, or are you still planning to leave?" She looked at him with her doe eyes, a question rising in them. She does hope I would stay, he thought. I would give everything in the world to make this wish of hers become true. Bitterly, turning his gaze away, he growled, "I did not make the final decision yet." They walked in silence for some time, Brian thinking why destiny was always so unfair to him, Tory, on the other side, wondering about the cause of her companion's sudden brutal change of spirits. Finally he broke the silence, trying to bring the light mood back, "But you never know what might happen next. Even the Devil might knock on your door and give you candy", he smiled at his weak attempt of a joke and looked at Tory expectantly. Strangely, she started to shake, tears dropping from her eyes. Brian, startled, stopped and shook her lightly, trying to make her come back to him, "Tory, what is it? Did something scare you? Did I scare you?" He hated himself now, for the words he let out, he shouldn't have said that. She bit her lip, let out a few sobs, and breathed, "It's okay. Everything is okay. I need to go home now. Tell me a way to reach you, though." She tried to be polite, interested, but he knew he had ruined everything. Something snapped deep inside this fragile little creature, so loudly and so perceptibly, he could hear the crack of it. The situation was worsened now, and there was nothing he could do now. He tried to stop her, but then left his attempts. There was no way he would lift her spirits now, she was already turning away to leave, when he took desperate measures. "You know, I could show you where I live. Thus, you would be able to find me whenever you want, my doors are always open for you", he smiled. She stopped, half-turned, thinking. Then, reluctantly, as if walking in dangerous swamps, approached him again, silently nodding. He was grateful for this chance she gave him.
They resumed their walk in silence. Trying to save the situation, and feeling a little guilty, Tory tried to start the talk again, telling him about the weather particularities in St-Petersburg. He supported the attempt, and the embarrassing accident was quickly forgotten. From weather they jumped to social problems, global warming, politics, and people. They talked non-stop, until she realized that they were long since standing in front of an old-looking, although still majestic and coldly beautiful Victorian house. She admired it for some more moments, when Brian broke the silence again. "Would you like to come in?" She was taken aback by the proposition. It was too much for one day, she thought. Politely refusing and referring to the necessity of visiting The Daily News, she turned around and left.
Brian stood there, in front of his house, under the now intensely falling snow, wondering what in the world he was thinking in the moments when he ruined everything he had built up earlier.
The next day, the day after, strange thoughts appeared in Tory's head. She couldn't forget that evening, when she first met Brian. It was the oddest thing that happened to her in a while. He appeared out of nowhere, started talking as if they knew each other for a long time already. She was tired that day, truly tired, after the fights she had with her parents, unexplainable appearance of a new "teammate" as he called himself, she just went along. But the second meeting? Again, a surprise. Again, she found herself almost screaming in front of him. Was it a coincidence? Victoria, in spite of her beauty, had never had a secret or not-so-secret admirer. A crazy thought flew across her mind: what if Brian was following her, stalking her for some reason? And again, she pushed it away, just like the thoughts she used to have of being spied on or being followed, or being secretly threatened. The best scenario was that Tory became paranoid. The worst…she didn't want to think about what happened seven years ago. She crossed that dark part out of her life and memory and now it seemed to come back and haunt her again.