Then There Was Us

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Finding Romance

"Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful”

Chapter 2 (v.1) - THE STRANGER WHO FEARS GOODWILL

Submitted: January 24, 2017

Reads: 90

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Submitted: January 24, 2017

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 VOLUME 1: TWELVE YEARS WAS A LONG TIME

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CHAPTER 2: THE STRANGER WHO FEARS GOODWILL

“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful”

Previously…

 

I stirred into my semi-consciousness and realized the heavy pounding was coming from my door.

I sighed, grudgingly getting up from my bed and sluggishly reached the door. It could be Brenda crying over to me like any other morning when she finds out that every love-of-her-life had left her the next day.

“Just a sec.” I croaked and opened the door.

 I yawned loudly, my hand covering my mouth as I focused my blurry-eyed gaze at the tall, lean and handsome figure outside my door.

 “Geez, Bren. You know you could’ve just used your own key.” I grumbled.

 I frowned, still disoriented from the traces of sleep in my mind.

 Wait, Brenda wasn’t tall, neither was she ever so muscularly lean nor have masculine features. She doesn’t even wear black in all of her life. I don’t have to crane my neck just to look up at her. She was shorter than me, curvy all the way and has cute pixie-like features that go with her bright girly clothes.  And most importantly, Brenda doesn’t knock. Ever. She had her own key for my place for Christ’s sake.

 

“You’re not Brenda.”

 

 

And Now…

 

“You’re not Brenda.” I deadpanned. And then slammed the door.

I rubbed my eyes. Dots swirling my vision.

The doorbell rang again. And again. And again.

I groaned.

I opened my door. He was still there.

 “No, I most certainly am not.” The man briefly looked at both of his sides before he chuckled and gave me a bright smile.

Gah! So blinding in the morning. I think my eyes would melt from the brightness. He stood in his bright glory at six and a few inches tall, his face chiseled and carefully carved to perfection. His hair like flowing locks of shiny gold pastures under the sun, so lush tumbling down until his shoulders. His eyes twinkle, sparkling vivid green eyes of wonder. He was lean but muscular. And his smile? His smile was dazzling like the pearls glimmering in value.

And I’m still too disoriented to observe further. I glared at his shiny appearance.

“Okay, so if you’re not Brenda and I’m assuming you’re not a new neighbor from the way you dress yourself, I doubt you’re even the delivery guy. Did you get lost from a New York photo shoot or something?” I grilled with narrowed eyes, not bothering to filter my words.

Huh, don’t think I would be so stupid to go along with your easy smile and your dreamy eyes. In case you don’t know, I’m not a morning person. Plus, I’m not afraid to bring out some attitude with me along with a little roundhouse kick if it means getting him out. The only person who can get away from it was my mom and Brenda.

 “Whoa! Easy there, poppet. I don’t mean you any harm.” He raised his hands in surrender, throwing me another bright smile.

I snorted at his posh British accent.

I threw him a look. My hand reflexively reaching for the door to slam it into his face.

Who was he calling a puppet? I waited for a second. Was that it? Wasn’t he gonna say something. I threw him a raised brow look. He just smiled.

“Okay, then. Get lost. Do let the door hit you on the face.” I gave him a cold look, banging the door shut.

He made an alarmed expression. I ignored it and listened for the door to hit on the frame when I realized it didn’t close. His foot was stuck to the door.

 “Look, obviously you value your life. I, too, respect life. So I suggest that you please bother someone with your time. Besides, with your face any girl would kill to be bothered by you – aside from me. So, please, leave?”

He didn’t react at first, stupidly smiling like on a high. Makes me want to wonder from whether he belongs on a ramp in Paris or in a softly-padded room in a mental institution. Seriously, am I being punked right now?

Ugh, I don’t even have the time for this.

I made another move for the door when he had finally decided to answer me.

“Actually, your father sent me.” That was all he said.

 

I gave him a withering look. For all the warnings I’ve said, that was all he would say?

Your father sent me…. Your father sent me… Your father sent me….

My father sent him?

Damn it, brain! You’re slacking off too much now.

 I looked him up from head to toe. He doesn’t look like a driver. More like the master of the driver.

“And why should I believe you?”

Who knows, he could be an assassin or a kidnapper. Does he even know I’m close to destitution? From his style of clothing, he could pass as one of my schoolmates with their designer clothes and thousand-dollar haircuts. Probably someone put him up to this as a prank.

“Because he won’t stop whining and moping around until one of us actually does what he wants us to do which of course involves calling reservations and making sure you’d get there.” He politely explained in a soft, gentle tone.

Blondie - yeah, I know – real original.  Still, I decided to call him that, what with his blonde hair, sparkling green eyes and thousand mega-watt smiles - chuckled lightly. I turned to watch him stare at me again with amusement on his face.

I arched a brow. So my dad whines and he mopes like a child, and he seemingly fell for it. Why am I not surprised?

 “I’m James, by the way.” He offered his hand for me to shake.

I glared at his outstretched hand before giving in to one of my mom’s lectures about manners – even if he is shady in some way. I shook his hand firmly and then quickly let go.

“Alyce. “ I grunted.

 “Cute name. Alice in ‘Wonderland is one of my favorite movies too.”

 “Yeah, sure you do,” I shrugged and leaned on the door. “Wait, what made you say that, anyways?”

 “Let’s just say, I once knew a girl who stumbled in a certain place and met interesting people.” His tone had a touch of wistfulness laced in.

 I stare at him for awhile. Now that I look closely into his eyes, I saw a semblance of familiarity. Somehow, I - Forget it. Thinking hurts when my brain could hardly function enough to set my Locomotor skills running.

He coughed and cleared his throat.

“I’m guessing, you’d probably shut the door on my face anyway and get back to sleep. Unless,” he brought out his hand and I was surprised to see an IHOP bag dangling in it. “You get your pancakes or so what Richard told me.”

“Come on, smell the pretty pancakes. You know you want it. You could have it if you let me in.” He cooed in a falsetto voice, talking – almost singing – to me as if I was a child. Nice try, Charlie Puth voice-alike! 

He leveled the bag to my face, letting me smell the wonderful and oh-so-heavenly aroma of cake, butter and maple. I almost moaned.

My eyes followed the bag’s movements as it was being dangled in front of me.

Come on, Ali! Be strong! You can do it! Just look away from the bag!

But, then again, it smells so good. I haven’t had a few of those for weeks now since my budget wouldn’t let me.

NO! NO! FOCUS! LOOK AWAY!

Sorry pancakes!

 I saw him widen his smile. My resolves set, I looked away. There was no way he could trick me into pulling a childish trick like that. It almost made him look like a creepy pedophile that parents would warn their children to stay away from in the park.

I peeked at his smiling face. I gritted my teeth.

 “You forgot the coffee.”

 “No, I didn’t.” Quick as lightning, he held out a two-cup container of Starbucks. “I figured, coming out this early, you’d need it. It was my idea though I didn’t know what flavor you preferred.” He sheepishly smiled.

I sighed unhappily . “It’s okay. Any flavor’s good as long as it’s coffee.”

 We both nodded this time. A second went by and finally I snapped back. I sighed.

My stomach growled. I felt faint. Okay, what were we standing here for again?

 “So… are you gonna invite me inside?” he reminded me, as if he read my mind or something.

Yeah right, I snorted to myself, there’s no way he can read my mind. Right?

“No, I’m afraid I can’t though that would be incredible. Still, it’s quite interesting to meet a person who’s not afraid to speak their mind a lot when they’re half-asleep.” He noted cheerfully as if satisfied with himself for knowing. I ignored it.

Who’s he trying to fool? I don’t talk when I’m asleep or much less half-asleep. My mom would’ve told me that! What’s he standing there for?

“You were about to let me in for breakfast?” he offered kindly.

I grumbled a “Whatever.”

I face-palmed myself in the inside though. Of course, he would want to get inside. He was waiting for me to let him in. Curse my morning disorientation!

I flushed at the thought and went in first, not bothering to check if he was following me.

 “You could just put the bags there.” I pointed at the coffee table while he wasted no time placing the bags there.

I sat down on one end of the couch while he sat on the opposite side.

 “You have a, uh, lovely home. Not exactly what I expected though.” He said, observing my tiny abode.

I huffed, not bothering to reply to that comment.

Gee, sorry if it doesn’t exactly rise up to your fancy expectations!

 I must’ve said my thought out loud when he suddenly babbled on, “And by that, I meant it looks… it has vintage décor vibe” Translation: second-hand, “delightfully… quaint,” Translation: cramped, “it’s got a-a charming neighborhood,” Translation:  shady and poverty-stricken, “the worn wooden floor and the low ceilings have an interesting structure,” Translation: shabby miserable looking, I quirked a brow.  “It’s just, I don’t know, it feels like a home.”

“Thanks.” I was caught unaware by his compliment.

  It was the first time someone other than Brenda came here and so for a stranger complimenting my apartment – once amongst a number of diatribes – was a blatant surprise to me. In fact, I wasn’t sure if I ever did invite any of my friends to come over. Still, I was proud of my place. I remember when my mom was still with me. We would scour the charity shops across the town and buy furniture we could afford one at a time. For example, the television, the curtains, the tables and the carpet were all chosen by her. When she died, I tried to carry that tradition but since I was still a student and only had a part-time job, I could barely buy a piece of furniture while trying to fit in with my budget. Although, I did buy some new duvets and some throw-pillows for Pooka and me. Other than those, it seemed like mom never left the apartment.

 James seemed to be at home. Placing the bags on top of the coffee table, he quickly rummaged through my empty pantries, until he successfully returned with a couple of plates and utensils. He also managed to set the food on the coffee table and turned on the television while I stood still, watching it all in fascination. We ate the pancakes and drank our coffee in silence while we both watched the news.  I peeked at him as he gracefully sliced through his pancake and back at the television.

 “I don’t suppose you carry a newspaper around with you?” I asked, trying not to be hung up on the awkward silence.

As always, leave it for Randy to overlook my door on his paper route.

“Not really. I use my phone to keep up with the news.”  He took a bite and wiped the corner of his mouth with a napkin. “Why, do you want me to search for something?” he asked, taking out a black case from his messenger bag.

He fished out an iPhone and held it in front of me. I eyed it with disdain. Technology and I had a slight misunderstanding with some certain things. Plus, it looked too expensive for me to accidentally break.

 “How am I supposed to check for prices from the local stores around here from a phone?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“I don’t really know.” He shyly replied, his expression apologetic. “I never tried it though. Why? Does it appear on the newspaper?”

 I nodded. “On the local paper, maybe. Some of the stores aren’t exactly up-to-date with the technology or the internet.”

 “Oh, are you planning to buy something?”

 “Just some groceries.” I waved it off, focusing on my pancakes.

 “Really?! You buy your own groceries?” I could see he was shocked by my answer.

No they just randomly appear like magic in my pantry. Though by the look on his face, it seemed like I committed some sort of sorcery.

 “Yeah. I mean, don’t you?” Of course, you don’t. You’re rich. People like you probably had maids to buy them for you.

 “No,” he shamefully admitted. “But I’d like to.”

 I felt some part of me warm up to him.  It; wasn’t his fault he was born rich.  At least he wasn’t the prissy rich kid I thought he was.

Now, what was I supposed to say?

And he’s smiling - again.

 Seriously, all I see from this guy are sunshine and smiles. In fact, now that I look more closely, he looks kind of familiar.

 “So, why did my father send you here?” I asked as we both finished halfway through our meal.  I scarfed mine down while he was eating like he’s out for brunch with the Queen of England.

Am I supposed to let him out now? I blew and carefully sipped my still-hot coffee.

 “I have to get you ready before you meet Richard. “ He simply answered. “I suggest you take your shower now before I prep you up.”

I almost choked down on my coffee.

“What?!” What did he mean take a shower? What made him think I’ll take a shower with him around?

 He hardly glanced at me as he focused his eyes on the clock. “You’d better do it now. We still have to do your hair and your outfit.”

 Ohhh…. Why didn’t he say so? Yeah, as if that assures me at all! Just pop in the shower while a stranger – who I’ve just met, by the way – is waiting right outside.

 I gulped as he pushed me toward the bathroom door along with my robe. Pushy much?! I scowled at the door and faced the sink.

Do my hair and outfit, he says.  What’s wrong with what I look anyway?

I studied myself on the mirror.  My straight white-blonde hair was longer now as it reached past my waist. Normally I keep it short until the top of my shoulders with a side fringe and cut it every month. However, since last year, my schedule had been too hectic that I had always forgotten to trim it now and then for a couple of months. I always use a knitted cap to stuff it all in. Not that I could help it, my hair has a very fast growth pace. Even my fringe had reached the side of my face, covering my eyes. I flicked my hair from my eyes. I stare at the dark bruise-like shadows under my eyes as they dulled down my silvery blue eyes. My face even seemed to look thinner now that I looked properly at my reflection. My pale complexion could almost scare the bejesus out of me.

 My thin frame didn’t seem to help either. I poked at my visible ribs and took a deep breath as they contract against my skin in a prominent fashion. I sighed. I wasn’t a fan of diets or eating with much gusto. I only eat when I had the appetite or when I wasn’t busy making my future sooner than I planned.

I jumped into the scalding hot water and quickly washed myself.  I grabbed a towel from the rack and dried myself off, only remembering that I didn’t have a change of clothes with me.

Sh-shizz!

I slowly opened the door. I poked my head outside the frame and searched for any sign of James. When I was about to step out, I heard him call me from my bed space.

“Alyce, are you done yet?”

“Y-yeah?” I replied tentatively.

I blushed. How was I supposed to get out of the bathroom just wearing a towel?

“What are you waiting for? Come out now, we barely have any time to prep you.” He said in an impatient tone.

“Yeaahh… about that.”

“Hmm?”

“I’m not coming out.”

“And why is that?” I could hear him approaching, his steps causing the wooden floor to squeak.

I panicked. The last thing I needed was him seeing me.

“I don’t have any clothes with me.” I mumbled quickly, waiting for him to reach the other side of the door.

“Check the door knob.” He replied nonchalantly before I heard him walk away. I listened to the sounds of cabinets and drawer being opened.

Just what is he doing?

Immediately, I grabbed the clothing bag at the door and closed it. I didn’t bother to check the clothing as I zipped myself up and walk towards the mess James had caused.

I found him near my tiny dresser. Beside him was a fancy-looking kit. The kind that professional make-up artists have in television shows. I turned to my closet. At least my cabinets and drawers were closed without any thing scattered around.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“I was planning to give your hair a little curl and maybe a light make-up to color those cheeks but looking at you now, I see we have a lot of work to do.”

 I groaned.

For the first time, I saw him put on a serious expression as he pushed me down on a seat and turned me around to face the mirror. I noticed that he also installed a couple of bright fluorescent lights on my dresser.

“Okay, first, let’s start off with your hair.” He paused and made a hesitating attempt to pick a lock of my hair. “What barber shop cut your hair?”

“Ha-ha. That would be me.”

“With a machete? In an earthquake?” he flung a lock on the fair. “Seriously, like did you have to hack it off blindfolded?”

I rolled my eyes. Excuse me for having been denied the privilege to have my hair cut from some high-end salon.

“At least your hair has good volume. That’s a relief. All is not lost.” He commented, pleased at the slight reprieve.

Somehow, I doubt James and I can survive this ordeal without me murdering him or him criticizing me on every little detail about my hair. Sure, just lay it on the poor girl. 

“But, your fringe!”

“What?” I asked at his appalled tone.

“It’s too long!” I rolled my eyes.

 “Well that’s what ‘fringes’ do. They grow long, we cut them again.” I explained quietly.

I glanced at him through the mirror. He was going through his bag, looking for something. He wasn’t even listening. I hung my head in exhaustion. 

“Good thing I have my favorite pair of scissors with me. Now, we can get rid of these horrible split-ends.” James said as he happily snipped at my hair.

I stared at the ground, watching strands of my hair fall to the ground. I hear him plug something and felt an unexpected heat burning the back of my neck.

I flinched from the contact.

“Hey-hey, relax. I was just curling your hair. “

I dropped my shoulders down not letting my guard down.

 I waited for thirty long excruciating minutes before I heard him plug the curler off. I raised my head up only to be blinded again by the lights. I felt James move at my side and some wet goo was rubbed on my face.

“Wha-“

“Tinted moisturizer.” He simply answered.

I didn’t ask any further questions other than to tell him not to heavily put make-up on my face. No way would I have my face cracked up or resemble a birthday cake.

 He swept a brush on my cheeks, adding some pinkish tinted glop on the hollows of my cheekbones and my jaw. He also added some white cream on the bags of my eyes. He pried my eyes to open and applied a thin coat of mascara to each eye. As for my lips, he smeared a rose-colored lipstick on them. He made me pucker up like a puffer fish and then made some slight adjustments at my fringe.

“And voila! A fashion miracle!” He proudly exclaimed, mumbling about being the Buddha of fashion or whatever.

I shook my head and stood up only feel a draft on my legs. It was then that I noticed myself wearing a short flowing dress that stopped a few inches just under my mid-thigh. Its blue color was as pale as the sky before dawn with a hint of lilac and the merest of lavender. It was silky and very breathable with a corset-like fit for a bodice and a square cut neckline supported by dainty straps. Over-all it fitted me like it was custom-made.

“Are you sure you got my right size?” I asked skeptically, pulling down the skirt and rubbing my bare arms. “Can’t I wear my pants underneath?”

I’ve never exposed myself like this. Not even at my mom’s funeral where I sported tights and a thick sweater on me.

“It’s a dress, not a shirt.” said James, rolling his eyes, dusting off non-existent dirt and smoothing the back of my dress.

“Are you sure? Somehow, I don’t think this is gonna fit me. Can’t I just wear my own clothes? Preferably a shirt and a pair of jeans?”

“Actually with the right shoes …” he trailed off, clearly not listening to me.

I heard some things get thrown off from across the room before he came back to my side.

He better clean up that mess he made or else!, the clean freak inside me of grumbled.

He handed me a pair of three-inch heels. He turned to me with a glint in his eyes.

“Ta-dah!” he happily exclaimed, as if expecting me to suddenly turn googly-eyed on the shoes and start jumping up and down.

My expression wasn’t what he was expecting.

“Nuh-uh. No way. Not gonna happen.” I shook my head fervidly. I eyed the shoes in disdain.  He already had me running away at heels.

“Yes way.” He replied, from the way he said it I could’ve sworn I imagined him with saying it with an evil laugh in between.

 He pressed the pair of heels towards my closed unwilling hands.

“Nope. Already had my fill of heels back at junior prom. And, believe me, I’m not going back. I’m wearing my sneakers.” I made a beeline to my old beat-up Converse when I felt move behind me and then appear in front of me.

“With a de la Renta?” he cringed, distastefully. “No, no, no.” he shook his head rapidly. “Blahnik. Take it or go barefoot.” He conditioned, holding out the accursed heels on one hand, pointing it in my direction.

I raised my brow. “Barefoot it is, then.” I said smugly.

He looked to be thinking deeply for a moment before snapping his gaze on mine.

The smile on my face disappeared at the indescribable look on his face. He advanced towards me. I backed away until I felt the wall behind me.

He pushed me down again on my chair. I fell down with a silent thud.

I looked up to give him a dirty look only to find him snaking his hand on my feet and strapping the shoes on them himself.

“I don’t really get why you’re so set with this dress,” I squirmed helplessly at my dress,” and these heels.” I wiggle my toes as I felt them slip through the smooth leather. “They’re just clothes and shoes, aren’t they? I mean I could just toss in one of my normal clothes and wear my Converse and still”-

He put a hand on my shoulder, as if to offer comfort – not that I’m aware I need any of. “Poppet,” he sighed, shaking his head in sympathy, ”I can only imagine how it could be so hard to be deprived of the great things in life. To never go inside a Berdgorf Goodman’s or a Neiman Marcus – God forbid, a Versace.” His eyes held a faraway look as if he had just witnessed the sun fading away and stepping into an abysmal world of darkness.  He shivered. I cocked my head to the side, trying to get a clearer view of his face.

“Uhm”- I was gonna ask him if he was okay when he placed a finger on top of my lips.

My eyes widened in surprise at his finger before they focused back on his face. 

“But, you don’t have worry about it anymore. I am here now.” He placed the hand that rested on my shoulder and placed it on top of his chest. “I will guide you to the path of enlightenment – of beauty and elegance. And you,” his hand cupped my one of my cheeks, “will no longer have to suffer from the likes of Goodwill.” He cringed at the last word, as if saying it was sacrilegious.

“I… don’t know what to say,” except that you have clearly been watching too much fashion tv or had probably been dissected and brainwashed by the same aliens that did the same to those Real Housewives shows. I don’t even want to start on the whole just-because-I’m-poor-I-shop-at-Goodwill thing or how he even knew I shop at Goodwill in the first place!

Though, thinking about it. I am poor – I have to give him that. Still, Goodwill offers good clothes at a reasonable stuff! I internally huff.

“Say no more, you can think of me as your fairy godmother – no, godbrother.” He stated with such finality and as he placed both his hands on his chest, it’s like the ceiling opened up and a shaft of light shone above him.  I mentally face-palmed myself.

Looking at him, he gave me an idea for a new character to make. A bright angel-like person with flashy clothes and personality, weird feminine gestures – almost metro-sexual – a clearly misguided outlook of the rich-and-the-poor and a dazzling smile to boot. Oh, and a not-so-bright brain. 

I smiled slightly at the thought until I felt him tugging at my feet.

“Why are you so keen on doing this? And, how do you know all of this stuff, anyways? I don’t even know half of the things you said.” I asked after he successfully wrestled the last of the clasps on my feet.

“I’ve always liked fashion and beauty and all things cute and pretty.” He let go of my foot and motioned me to stand up. “I can’t help but to make things more beautiful,” he motioned for me twirl around. I grudgingly obeyed. “More elegant. Strange I know, but somehow over time this fascination turned into a hobby and into a-“

I stopped twirling just as I face the mirror with him behind me.

“Dream,” he finished, his voice oddly breathy.

"I don't even know why you're doing this. It's not like I'll magically turn into a model or something. I'm not even pretty." I mumbled silently, looking at my high-heeled feet, crinkling my toes.

He stared at me and opened his hand. “I beg to differ.”

I eyed the box of contacts and opened them.  Carefully, I slipped them on, observing my vision clearly.

I felt his hands gently coiffing my hair until he managed to tie them together. He lightly lifted face to meet our reflection.

“See? You look beautiful.” He breathed. "I should know."

I shivered at the close proximity and his intense stare at the mirror in front of us. His minty breath tickled my neck.

Curiously, I then shifted my eyes and peered at the other person in the mirror. And I gasped.

I couldn’t help but gaze at that person for a moment.  She looked so much different than me - and yet somehow still be me.

Her white-blonde hair was neatly tied in a sleek ponytail with curly ends. Her rosy face was devoid of bags or its pale pallor. She looked less tired. Her cheeks looked more pronounced like the airbrushed models in the magazines and highlighted well with a rosy pink blush. She looked more vibrant - more like my old self years ago. Her lips were plump and moist and her eyes… well her eyes were something. The mascara made her thick eyelashes thicker making the bluish grey color of her eyes pop even more. Looking into them now, they looked so serene, so cool and calm like the reflection of the sky on a still-water ocean.

Combining them with her dress, she looked ready for a Teen Vogue photo shoot.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“A smile would suffice.” said James, with a smile on his face.

I smiled back.

Watching the girl in the mirror, she never looked brighter or more beautiful.

Maybe I did need this after all.

Now, I was ready to face my father.


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