It had been three weeks since my flight had arrived in Los Angeles, and two since I’d begun working for the small university publication press. I’d fallen into a sort of ritual; wake around six-thirty, shower and attempt to tame my hair into something remotely presentable, and slip out the door with a granola bar and a mug of lukewarm coffee. Walking became my primary form of transportation, as I slowly realized the small amount of money I did have was shrinking everyday and taking the public bus system or even a subway required a daily allowance. It wasn’t horrible walking though, as the weather in L.A. was unreal and proved to be a drastic change from the erratic environmental patterns in New York. Many days were blessed with glassy blue skies lined with clouds and I was welcomed to the gentle warmth of the sun each morning I stepped out of my small apartment complex. The buildings, while nowhere near as grand in size as back east, exhibited a different sort of glamour and were built with beautiful soft-colored bricks and stones that seemed to glimmer beneath the rays of sunshine.
As I stepped out of the apartment around seven, my fingers grasping my usual cheap portable coffee mug and a weathered brown bag slung over my shoulder, I made for my usual route which took on average twenty minutes. I hummed to myself softly, taking occasional sips from my cooling drink, and when my eyes caught sight of a corner pharmacy, I stopped. My stomach was gurgling unpleasantly and I knew I’d need to eat something, especially since I’d forgotten to grab anything on my way out. After a quick moment of thought, I made way for the store, stepping inside and pausing for an instant to appreciate the wave of coolness from the air conditioning. I hurried for the snack food aisle, reaching for my phone to check the time. I inwardly groaned - I’d be at least ten minutes late, but with the lunch break being five hours away, I had no choice but to stop. I felt a solid form collide with my arm and like an asshole, I continued to walk, only turning my head slightly over my shoulder to murmur a quick, disingenuous apology. The man that I saw was long down the aisle and more than likely didn’t hear me - but with a dark hood covering his head, I was almost relieved he didn’t respond. I reached for the cheapest snack available - an cereal bar with fake cherry-flavored filling - and made a quick turn for the front of the store. Sighing softly to myself in relief at the sight of a nearly non-existent line, I stood patiently while an elderly woman paid for a gardening magazine and a bottle of sweet tea. As I waited and controlled my desire to groan aloud at the sluggishness of the woman in front of me, I caught sight of the back of the same dark-hooded man I’d run into just moments prior dart out the front doors, his broad shoulders and tall frame disappearing quickly between the automatic glass.
I jumped slightly at the sharp, terse voice that broke my gaze from the front of the store, and saw a young girl - maybe my age, staring with annoyance at me. I stepped forward quickly, dropping the cereal bar onto the counter and offering an apologize half-smile at the girl. She didn’t return the polite favor, and instead grabbed the food item with her long, manicured fingers. I was accustomed to encountering girls like this one in Los Angeles; the bottle blondes and overly-tanned females were practically their own species in the west coast. Regardless, I continued to offer a slight smile to the girl as she scanned the food, Reaching up to tuck a coarse strand of platinum-blonde hair behind her ear, she glanced at me.
I reached into the bag slung over my shoulder, setting my mug of half-consumed coffee onto the counter to allow me better leverage. I felt around my bag, the tips of my fingers skimming the very bottom of the fabric, and felt my throat tighten at the realization that I hadn’t any cash whatsoever on me. I pulled out a handful of change, swallowing against the lump in my throat as an array of pennies and nickels and dimes sat pathetically in the palm of my hand. The change didn’t equate to even a dollar.
I forced a smile to the girl once again, laughing nervously as I dropped the change with a light clinking to the bottom of the bag. “I’m sorry, I guess I’ll have to use my card - “ I stopped for a moment, feeling the cold plastic of my debit card, and pulled it out to extend to the irritated blonde cashier. She grabbed it from my fingers, her lips pursed tightly, as slid it through her register.
“Credit or debit?” she spoke, looking at me expectantly.
She motioned down at the small touchscreen device, tapping it with a long, polished nail. “Enter your pin number there, then hit the green button.”
i obeyed, pressing the four digits carefully and then pushing my thumb into the soft, green button. The screen paused a moment, informing me that the order was being processed, and I tapped my foot against the smooth linoleum floor as I waited. The girl stared at her screen for a long moment before glancing up at me, a smirk evident on her lips.
“The card was declined.”
I felt my heart lurch at this, my face flushing a heated bright red, and as I struggled to form something to say off of my dry tongue and accept defeat and hunger, a hand extended next to me and outward towards the girl. Her eyes widened slightly, as did mine, as I saw a handful of singles outreached between the obvious male fingers beside me, and I heard a low voice, barely audible, speak.
“I’ll pay for it.”
The girl took the singles hurriedly after a moment of apparent shock, and i felt my face cool a bit as I turned to give undying gratitude and thanks to the generous stranger who’d helped me have breakfast for the morning. But as I turned, he had stepped around me, and only his lanky, tall frame - adorned in a dark jean jacket and a fitted white jeans - was noticeable from the back. I caught a glimpse of short, shiny golden-colored hair peaking out from a trendy dark cap but I had no opportunity to see his facial features or to even directly interact with him. Frowning to myself, I looked down at the cereal bar and reached for it, not missing the vicious look etched across the cashier’s delicate features. She spoke then, the first words even remotely resembling something conversational.
“Guess it’s your lucky day.”
I nodded, more so to myself, and mumbled to the girl to have a good day, and walked back into the warmth of the sunshine blanketing the sidewalks. As I continued my morning trek and took slow, even bites at the processed snack bar, I couldn’t help but continue to think of the odd encounter in the drug store with the even stranger faceless blond man that had given a helping hand to me. It was more than likely the kindness of another human being seeing a person in a troublesome situation, I told myself. But if it were that simple why had I heard that voice before?
I stopped to toss my empty wrapper into a nearby trash can, shaking the strange thoughts from my head and making my way into the building before me.
The university publication press I’d agreed to work at for my internship lacked the glitz and glamour that L.A. had been highlighted for. The building, while outwardly having the same aesthetic appeal as the others in the surrounding area, was shady as hell on the inside. I took the stairs each day rather than the elevators situated on the first floor, as they were so fucking old there was a good chance they’d break down and I’d be trapped in their dusty confines for hours. The stairwells weren’t all that great either, really. Most of the florescent lighting embedded into the stark white ceilings were broken, giving the corridors an eerie, post-apocalyptic atmosphere with the hazy, dimmed lighting. My short journey up the couple of flights of stairs were unnerving no doubt, but as soon as I reached the second floor, the busy sounds that resonated from behind the publication office door eased my worries somewhat.
I pushed the door open, breathing a bit heavier from the exertion I’d used to get up and through the cold stairwells, and was greeted with the familiar sight of the array of desks situated around different corners of the small office space. The others I’d grown used to working with glanced up, offering me smiles and greetings as I shuffled over to my desk and dropped my bag and emptied coffee mug onto the surface near the scattered papers lining it. As I pulled my chair out to sit, the sight of a slender figure approaching me halted my movements, and I felt my jaw clench slightly. It was the one person in the entire office I hadn’t clicked with. She was beautiful, with hair a shimmery blonde shade that wasn’t a near-white color like Paige’s had been, and her skin was a flattering an color - nowhere near as orange as my ex-roommate’s. She stepped in front of my desk, pushing a few papers aside and sitting against the edge to look at me. She crossed her slim legs, resting a manicured hand against the desk surface.
“You’re late, Anna.”
“I’m sorry, Blair, I was - “
“I don’t want to hear that you’re sorry,” she cut me off, swiftly bringing a hand into the air and staring coldly at me. “And I don’t want to listen to excuses. I want you say it won’t happen again.”
The entire office was quiet at this point, their eyes locked in my directing and watching the tense situation unfolding between Blair and me, and I knew my face had flushed that horrifying crimson shade from embarrassment. Looking down at my desk, my cheeks unbearably hot and my chest tightened uncomfortably, I exhaled shakily.
“It won’t happen again.”
She leaned towards me, cocking an eyebrow as she crossing her arms across her chest. “I’m sorry?”
I chewed my lower lip to the point that I was certain I’d tear the skin with my teeth, and repeated the words louder, my eyes still cast downward.
“It - it won’t happen again.”
Blair sighed, leaning back. “Anna, how am I supposed to accept that when you won’t even look at me?” She tapped the surface of the desk rapidly. “I would appreciate it if you’d actually attempt to look sincere. Now try it again.”
I looked up then, but not in accordance to her demand. I was in disbelief at what was happening - I knew Blair hadn’t had liked me from day one of my internship for the press - but to publicly humiliate me in the vicinity of my co-workers seemed harsh, even for her. I let my lips part and inhaled slowly, inwardly cursing at myself for giving in so easily and allowing another person to treat me with such disrespect, but the sight of another figure coming through the front door broke my bewildered gaze. I felt a surge of relief at the sight of the chief editor of the magazine, James, and his warm smile as he made his way towards Blair and I reassured me.
Blair turned to see who I’d been gazing at, and at the sight of James approaching she slid off the desk gracefully. She leaned down quickly, smoothing her slender hands over the front of her skirt, and smiled at him.
“Good morning, James,” she said, seeming perkier and significantly friendlier in the presence of the young man.
“Good morning...” he spoke slowly, carefully, his gaze shifting between Blair and me. “What’s going on here?”
Blair laughed lightly then, waving her hand casually before cocking it at her hip. “Oh, nothing really. I was just talking to Anna here about her tardiness this morning.”
James’ eyes - which were a cool grey color - focused on me then. “You were late, Anna?”
I nodded slowly, my eyes falling downward again as i laced my fingers together in an attempt to establish some feeling of security in the incredibly awkward circumstances presented before me. “Yes, James - I’m sorry, I just had to stop for something to eat.”
“She was nearly half an hour late,” Blair added sharply, casting a long stare at me before turning to smile at James. “I was just reminding her how important arriving on time is.”
He inhaled slowly, nodding at me and then at her, his facial expression unreadable. “Well, that’s probably something that I should be discussing with her, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I’m the junior editor so I figured - “
“And I’m the senior chief editor,” he snapped. “It’s not your place, Blair.”
I looked up then, eyes widened slightly as I saw Blair’s mouth turned downward in a frown. She nodded slowly, her heavily-lined eyes falling to her dark heels, and then muttered a nearly incoherent apology before walking away from my desk and towards her own. James and I were alone then, and I suddenly felt self-conscious as I took in his dark dress pants and fitted, deep grey button down. A grey tie was tight along the collar, its color emphasising the shade of his eyes, and his short brown hair was combed neatly in place. As always, James’ appearance was nearly immaculate and his handsome features reflected a sweet, warm compassion as he smiled at me. And as always, I wore dress pants that I’d had since my last year of high school and a plain white shirt. I knew I had absolutely zero sex appeal, but standing in front of a man that looked as if he’d stepped out of a magazine and having him inherit such a wonderful personality didn’t help my insecurities. As he glanced down at my messy desk, I reached down in a quick effort to organize things into semi-neat piles.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, biting my lower lip as I continued to sift my papers into crooked little piles around my desk. “I’m not usually this messy - or late... I just... I’m sorry.”
My jumbled, apologetic words were stopped as I felt the press of fingers down on my forearm. I looked down to see James’ hand resting gently against my skin, stopping my movements from progressing, and when I glanced up at him, he still had that welcoming smile decorating his full mouth.
“Anna, don’t worry about it,” he reassured me with a grin. “I’m messy sometimes, too.”
I highly doubt that.
“And anyway, you’re new here,” he continued, his smile never faltering. “We all make mistakes, don’t worry about it.”
I smiled back at him then, feeling my heart beating quicker than usual as his fingers lingered on my arm. The feeling didn’t last long, though, and as rapidly as it had happened, his fingers were gone and tucked into his jacket. Smiling playfully, he turned to walk away and glanced at me. “And no more apologies, okay?”
As he walked away, his tall form disappearing behind his personal office door, I exhaled slowly and let my arms fall to my sides. The office resumed its usual business, the others seeming to forget about the entire ordea as they immersed themselves in paperwork and computer screens once more. As I pulled my chair out to sit, I saw Oliver approach me and felt a bit calmer. Oliver had been one of the only in the entire office that had tried to speak with me on more than on occasion, striking up a strange almost-friendship within the past few weeks. He was handsome, in an unusual way, with his messy black hair, olive skin tone, and lean figure. His charming crooked smile was not to be missed as he neared me.
“Well that was interesting,” he remarked, leaning against my desk and smirking at me.
I sighed, reaching up to rub at my face. “I’m so embarrassed,” I groaned. I dropped my hand and looked up at him, my shoulders slumping. “I feel like such an idiot, but I had to stop to get something, I was so hungry.”
“Thirty minutes late isn’t a big deal,” he shrugged. “James is pretty laid-back about that shit - “ he paused, glancing over his shoulder towards Blair’s desk. “That one is a different story, however.”
I leaned forward on my elbows, dropping my voice to a near-whisper. “Why does she hate me? I haven’t done anything to her.”
“Beats me,” he said, reaching a finger up to push his thick-rimmed glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. “She’s just a bitch, I don’t think any explanation is needed.”
“I guess,” I sighed before looking up at him. “How are you doing, though? How was your weekend?”
He shrugged again, stretching his arms out in front of him lightly. “Uneventful. I’m just happy that I have a new assignment for this week.”
“Another review?” I asked, my interest perked. Oliver was the head of the column involving music - whether it was live or studio album reviews, his job seemed much more fascinating than my awful task of correcting grammatical errors from the rejected advice column. I didn’t even have the task of writing the damn column, I just had to look over it to ensure it was neat and tidy before the pages went to the printers. Oliver’s job was fun, but I knew it suited him perfectly as his father worked with a major record label.
“No, thank god,” he laughed lightly. His long fingers toyed with the edge of my pencil cup, a lazy smile curling at the corner of his mouth. “I’m doing an interview later this week.”
“Really? With who?”
He laughed again, but it was dry and almost completely void of any humor. “Fuck if I know. I won’t get the memo until Wednesday. I’m just happy to be able to actually fucking interact with a musician or a band or whatever - beats sittin’ in this shithole for eight hours writing about music I don’t care about.”
I smiled slightly. Oliver’s sarcastic, callous demeanor exhibited brutal honesty but proved to be entertaining; I was relieved to meet someone real in a city draped in such superficiality. Grinning teasingly at him, I poked at his hand lightly. “What if you don’t care about the musician you’re interviewing?”
“At least I get some fresh air...” he paused, smiling softly at me and then pressing his finger back into my hand. “I also get free food, which is fucking awesome.”
“Well you’re lucky,” I said. I motioned around my desk with a hand, shaking my head. “I have so many edits to finish, I don’t know if I’ll last the week.”
He laughed - a genuine, deep laugh that I’d recognized only as Oliver’s, and then locked his deep brown eyes on mine. “Well you better live through the week,” he stood from my desk, still smiling. “You’re not too bad.”
As Oliver walked away, I caught a glimpse of James coming out of his office, a manila folder in his hands. He leaned down over another desk, speaking to the person sitting at it, and then gave me a quick glance. A fleeting smile teased his mouth and my heart skipped. As I looked past James, who’s attention was back down at the other person, I found my eyes locked on Blair’s. She stared at me, her expression flickering obvious anger, before looking away, and I found myself immersed in useless paperwork once more.
It was almost six when I’d arrived back to my apartment. I half-expected my new roommate Elyse to be sitting in her usual armchair near the large window in the living room, smoking a cigarette and typing furiously away at her computer, but the apartment was empty and dark when I walked in. I dropped my bag to the kitchen table, kicking my modest heels off and shrugging my jacket off and then made my way for the fridge. I was starving. I’d only had that snack that I didn’t even pay for earlier in the morning and Oliver had shared half of his turkey sandwich with me at lunch. I brought a bag of chips and some cheese and crackers, which I devoured, but that little amount of food was nowhere near the amount I required to just function everyday. I sighed as I opened the fridge - besides Elyse’s organic fruits and weird yogurt products, there was almost nothing to eat. After scavenging the cabinets, I settled on a can of vegetable soup that had expired a week prior.
An hour later, after a hot bath, I found myself in my bedroom. I video chatted for awhile with Vic, who was still back in New York, and listened to him chastise my bleak clothing and my much thinner frame. He gushed about some sexy teaching assistant named Jeremy in his political science class, bitched about how some heavier-set girl in his history class called him out in front of the entire lecture about his opinions on the war in Iraq, but the last thing he’d remarked before I logged off startled me.
“Oh - oh! I almost completely forgot!” he exclaimed, waving his hands wildly in front of the camera. “I found out something very interesting today that I thought you’d like to know.”
I yawned against my hand. “Tell me quickly, I need to get to bed.”
“The asshole you were involved with last fall, Tom or whoever - “
My heart almost stopped.
“...I read something about he and his brother,” he continued. “They are living in Los fucking Angeles.”
Then it did stop.
My mouth dried, and I quickly licked at my lower lip. “W-what? What did you just say?”
“The douchebag braided man is in L.A., Anna.”
“How do you know?”
He laughed, rolling his eyes. “How do you think? A tabloid. They moved there a month ago, I guess.”
I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.
“Absolutely.” He paused then, yawning himself. “But look, it’s three hours later here and I really need to sleep too. Can we video call tomorrow? I’m sure that bitch in my class will have some other snarky-ass comment to say. I’ll show her, you don’t mess with - “
“Victor,” I said, my voice weaker than before. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, yes.”
He sighed heavily, its sound vibrating painfully into my headphones. “Anna, don’t work yourself up about this. Los Angeles is huge. The odds of you running into those two again is slim to none.”
“You’re right, I - “ Pausing, I smiled faintly into the camera. “Good night, Vic.”
“Good night, honey.”
I clicked my camera off, climbing into my bed. As I looked over at my desk, an object caught my eyes. It was the delicate diamond bracelet that I’d gotten last November from him - I’d begged myself to get rid of it, and Vic had pleaded with me to sell it - but I couldn’t. Instead, it lay on my desk, gleaming beautifully under the dim light of the pink lamp on the desk - reminding me, torturing me with thoughts of my encounters with Tom over six months ago. Forcing me to relive the events I’d experienced with him - mocking me that I’d fallen for him. I swallowed hard, ripping my gaze from the bracelet and to the framed picture of my dog, instead. I missed home. I missed my friends, I missed my old apartment - hell, I missed Paige, even. Reaching for my stuffed polar bear, I tucked him under my arm, squeezing him gently as I continued to look at the photo of my dog.
And as I lay alone in my empty apartment, I realized that Los Angeles - although massive - was even lonelier than New York.
Chapter End Notes: I'm so sorry Tom/Bill aren't DIRECTLY in this chapter (or are they? ;D) but really... I couldn't throw them in immediately. I was happy just to bring Anna back to life... I love her so much... and the other characters (Blair, James, Oliver) will have a big impact on everything. This is gonna be a fun ride, I hope you guys are ready. :) As always ,feedback so I know whether I should continue this. I love you all!
THANKS TO: DARYLL BERG FOR THE BEAUTIFUL PICTURE FOR THE BANNER. :)
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