Jayden had become too familiar with insomnia. He’d woken up from the same type of dream that had been tormenting him for too long. He could hardly remember a night where he didn’t wake up, drenched in his own sweat, panting. Sometimes the dreams were so real that when he woke up to reality he would feel a pain in his chest like he’d never felt before. The pain of knowing he couldn’t change the past. The course of events he kept revisiting in his dream. Sometimes he came close. Other days he failed blatantly. Most days he succeeded. Like today. Only to open his eyes to the truth that in reality, what was done was done. He couldn’t change it. And then he hurt all over again.
He picked up his glasses on his night stand. Got out of bed, paced a little. Then prayed. He sat on his bed and stared straight at a bare wall that had once been filled with pictures, sketches and words of encouragement. Now it was empty. Much like how he felt. His clock read 3:16 am. There was no going back to sleep now.
He went down the stairs, through the hall and into the kitchen, only to find Eric sitting at the breakfast table, a book open in front of him and his eyes shut, his chin resting on his knuckles.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Jayden poured himself a glass of water at the sink.
“Something like that.” Eric answered, his eyes still shut.
Jayden settled down at the table opposite his brother with his glass of water. Eric’s Bible which sat open in front of him was tattered, with highlights and pen markings. There was something absolutely peaceful about the scene so Jayden sat back and enjoyed the quietness. The view of the forest through the glass backdoors was covered in the autumn early morning darkness. No sound came from outside.
“Hey.” Eric finally looked up.
“Hey. Rough day at work?”
Eric's eyes dimmed. “We found a young lady alone in her apartment. Drug overdose. She didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry, man.”
Eric nodded and inhaled. “And you? You OK?” He studied his little brother.
Eric’s dirty-blond hair was in its usual early morning tousled state. Except for his brown eyes and big build, Eric and Terrie bore quite the resemblance. Most of the time, even in character.
Jayden sighed, forced a smile and buried his face in his hands “Define ‘OK’.”
Eric watched him. “What’s happened?” His eyes slightly narrowed. “What have you done?”
Jayden always forgot how well his brother could read him. Behind the very playful and teasing exterior, Eric knew how to observe and Jayden constantly appreciated that his brother would give it to him straight. Whether he wanted to hear it or not. At the moment, he was leaning towards not.
He said nothing and looked down at the glass of water on the table.
“Mum told me about her new employee. Who she is.” Eric sat back in his chair. “You Ok with that?”
Jayden shrugged. “Don’t really have a choice. Mum explained. How they’d met up for the interview in town before you all went over to visit Auntie. How after her accident she decided to hire Kim and got Terrie to drive her to town to give Kim the keys. I wished she would’ve told me though. It would’ve saved me the shock of getting there on Monday and seeing her.”
Eric sighed. “I asked Mum why but she said no one else who applied was as competent as Kim. And when she decided to meet her for the interview she didn’t think it would be her until she saw her.” He paused. “You weren’t upset?”
“No. Surprised, but not upset.”
“Mum says she’s pretty nice.”
Jayden felt like he’d just been punched in the gut.
“Ok, Jay. What have you done? You have that look in your eyes.”
“While you were all away that weekend, I saw her in the forest and invited her over.”
Eric shifted in his seat. “Ok…”
“I had opportunities when I could’ve come out and told Kim. I should’ve. But I couldn’t. I don’t even know why I invited her over. It’s just, she sat against a tree trunk in tears. She…she looked like I felt, Eric. And I couldn’t just walk away. But getting to know her and being around her at the store means I’ll have to tell her the truth and honestly, I’m not ready for that and I don’t know if I ever will be. My best bet was to avoid her. Then I’d never have to say anything. But now…”
“Jayden, none of us will tell her if you don’t. But she’ll probably find out. And that won’t end well.”
“Terrie said the same thing.” Jayden shut his eyes tight and took a deep breath. A thought suddenly crossed his mind. “You know, maybe if I was a friend to her… maybe I could make up for what I’ve done?”
Eric sighed. “Bro, you haven’t done anything.”
He ignored his brother’s words. “She’s really hurting. I can tell. And I’ve been a jerk to her. Not that she makes it easy to be nice to her.” He sighed. “Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. It’s too late to try to stay away from her now. But maybe I could make things right by just being there for her.”
Eric rested his elbows on the table. “Jayden, you’re that guy who tries to be a friend to everybody. It shouldn’t be any different with her.” He paused and looked down at his open Bible. “There’s a reason why we’re in people’s lives. We can make a positive impact, a negative one or no impact at all. The last one’s too easy. The second option – don’t even go there. And the first one? Well, that takes effort and commitment.”
Jayden nodded. “I just want to make things right.”
Eric stared hard at him. “You know, Jayden, maybe your problem is thinking that things are wrong. What if this – everything that’s happened – was meant to get you right here, right now?”
His brother’s words made Jayden’s eyebrows furrow. “Eric, God couldn’t have meant for things to be like this.”
A faint smile crossed Eric’s face. “Yes, but He’s an expert at turning messes around. Trust Him, bro.”
Jayden nodded and swallowed. “I just hope Kim will let me reach out. I messed things up at the store.”
Knowing that Eric would ask, he went ahead and recounted his confrontation with Kim at the store the day before. He sighed. “She probably hates me.”
Eric shook his head. “Seriously, you can be a real dweeb sometimes.”
“Oh, thanks for the love, bro.”
“You went about it all wrong. It doesn’t matter what she did. That was not the way to confront her. Man, how big of a dweeb are you? Actually calling her names? Sometimes you are way too forward in your opinions. Words make or break, Jay.”
Jayden shut his eyes in remorse. “I’m not the person I want to be,” his eyes dropped to Eric’s Bible, “Heck, I’m not even the Christian I want to be.”
Eric nodded, “Good. The day you become the person you want to be, that’s the day you stop growing. Keep raising the bar.”
A moment of silence passed.
“What about you? What’s the story? Just a tough day at work or is there more to it?”
Eric sighed. “My head was on overdrive. So I couldn’t sleep.”
Jayden quirked a brow.
“I guess it’s all sinking in. The fact that I’ll be spending the rest of my life with the woman of my dreams.”
Jayden sat back and smiled. “And what’s that like?”
“Oh, it’s awesome. Absolutely terrifying but awesome.” Eric grinned in that way that showed off his dimples.
“You and Lucille are as close as it gets to perfect.”
Eric’s eyes held a spark that lighted up his whole face. He stared at the table. “We picked a date.”
“Wow. Great! Let’s hear it.”
Eric hesitated. “I wanna run it by Mum and Dad first before its official. But since we’re on the subject…You remember when Charles and Gina got married 8 years ago? You were still in high school back then. I was Charles’s best man. So I made him promise he would be my main man at my wedding.”
Jayden didn’t miss the sadness that had suddenly invaded his brother’s features.
Eric inhaled. “Anyway, sadly he’s not around to keep that promise. But…I would be absolutely honored if my little brother would fill the spot…please.”
Jayden couldn’t stop the grin on his face. “And there I was hoping I would be photographer for the day. Instead, you want me in suit and tie.”
Eric sniggered. “You are not coming to my wedding holding a camera.”
“Dude, don’t do that to me.”
“No. How am I gonna have you in the pictures if you’re the cameraman, weirdo?”
They both stopped and laughed.
“I’ll be glad to be your main man, Eric.”
Eric beamed. “Good.” He closed his Bible on the table, revealing a colored flashcard with a note on it. He picked it up and a pensive look crossed his face. “Hey, I wrote this down while reading. It sort of jumped at me from the pages. Wasn’t sure why but with you here, I have a hunch.” He extended it to his little brother. “Keep it”.
Jayden pocketed the flashcard. He meant to read it but for some reason, he couldn’t get himself to do so with Eric watching him so intently.
“Wanna bake something?” Eric asked a mischievous look in his eyes.
Jayden scoffed. “At this time?”
“It’ll pass the time. I don’t go running until in over an hour.” Eric was already up on his feet.
“What should we make?”
“What do you want?”
Jayden thought. “Oreo cupcakes.”
Eric grinned. “That could work…if you haven’t eaten all the Oreos”.
They proceeded, not talking much but working in sync. They were done with the batter and were placing the cupcakes in the oven when they heard their mother struggle into the kitchen on crutches.
“Something smells good. What are my boys up to in the early hours?”
Mum crutched her way to the island where her two sons worked. Eric shot her his mischievous grin. Jayden wrapped his arm around her shoulder to give her a peck.
“How long did it take you to get down the stairs this time?”
She yawned. “My record time I believe.”
"What, did you crawl?" Jayden sniggered.
"If you had crutches, young man, you wouldn't survive those stairs. Besides, I only crawl backwards up the stairs."
“Careful Mum, you want your ankle to heal properly.” Eric gave her a look as he licked the batter from the spoon in his hand.
“I hear you Rickie…” She brushed her brown locks to the side, then reached out to rub flour off of Jayden's face. He quickly dodged her reach with a teasing smile. She shook her head at him.“Just got off the phone with your father. He's getting home this morning.” The joy radiated from her voice.
“Great! I’m off work tomorrow.” Eric said.
“I don’t have any shoots booked.” Jayden grinned. “Ah…with Terrie around it’ll mean a Saturday when we're all here.” His grin widened when he saw Mum’s eyes light up. He knew what she was thinking.
With the cupcakes finally done, Jayden retreated to his room. He lazily reached into his pocket for Eric’s note and read the words:
“Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish” ~ Psalm 25:17.
He read and reread the words, feeling like he had penned them down himself. Then he sunk to the floor with his back against the wall and prayed that prayer.
Jayden wondered whether to ring the doorbell a second time. That would be rude. At least he was sure this was the right house. He looked down the row of fine houses with perfectly manicured lawns and nice looking cars in the driveway but instead of feeling any sort of envy, he appreciated his family's lovely forest cottage even more.
He finally heard footsteps to the door. It swung open and a slim Asian woman with dark shoulder-length hair stared at him, eyebrows raised. She wore a pair of work pants and a stylish sophisticated white top.
She gave him a once-over. “I’m sorry, we’re not interested in whatever you’re selling.”
He shifted from one foot to the other. “Er…actually I’m here to see Kim, Mrs. Hart. I’m a friend.”
Her dark eyebrows shot up and her gaze travelled right down to his shoes and up again. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Jayden wondered if he was properly dressed. He wore black pants he had slightly rolled up at the ends to reveal gray socks which matched his long sleeve. He topped it all with his gray wool jacket and muffler and sported a pair of worn converses. And then there was his trademark old-school styled backpack.
Mrs. Hart cleared her throat, “Kim’s friend?” incredulity not only oozed from her voice but her whole expression.
“Yes. I’m Jayden. Jayden Finnegan.”
“Oh…right. Well, come in then.” She stepped aside, eyeing him as he entered her home.
He turned around when he heard her clear her throat, her eyes on his feet. “If you would please kindly remove those and put them to the side.”
Jayden hurriedly proceeded to remove his shoes, grateful he had worn brand new socks today. He noticed no other shoes beside the door.
Mrs. Hart loomed over him until he was done, she took his coat and hung it then she led him through a spotless hallway. Expensive vases and other decor sat on luxurious furniture. Pictures framed the walls. Kim and Raelynn as little kids at a playground. The family on holiday at some beach resort. Graduation pictures of Kim and Raelynn. A framed pencil sketch of Mr. And Mrs. Hart. He stopped looking. Mrs. Hart led him into the kitchen, where not a thing was out of place. Spotless. Gleaming.
“Coffee?” she turned around with an expression devoid of a smile.
“Um…no, I don’t want to be a bother.”
She ignored him and went about working the coffee machine.
Jayden was almost afraid to move. Or breathe. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself. He finally sat on one of the stools at the counter. Mrs. Hart turned around and stared at him. He wasn’t sure where to look so he lowered his gaze to his hands on the counter. He could certainly tell where Kim got the attitude from. But even the physical resemblance was stunning. She could easily pass as a younger version of her mother. Well, except for the color of her skin and her black features. But the eyes and expressions, the way of talking…
“Oh, I should’ve said. Kim’s in the shower. She should be done soon. She only just came back from her morning run.”
“Oh, right. Thank you.”
Mrs. Hart picked up the first cup of coffee and placed it before him. For which he awkwardly thanked her.
“A bit early for a morning visit, isn’t it?”
“Er…well, I was hoping to take Kim to work. We work together.”
Mrs. Hart’s eyes narrowed slightly as she studied him. “You work at a second hand store.” She said the words as if they were a logical explanation to whatever she’d been thinking about him but her hiked brow gave away the fact that something still remained a mystery to her.
Jayden swallowed and reminded himself to keep eye contact no matter how badly he wanted to avoid those persistent dark eyes of hers. “Well, no. I’m a photographer. But I help out at the clothes store. It’s not really a second hand store. We have a thrift section but everything else is new, just old-school styled.”
Mrs. Hart nodded in a way that indicated she’d stopped listening somewhere along the line. “I expect photography isn’t very lucrative. Is that why you have to work at the clothes store?” She took her mug from the machine and stared at him as if he was a charity case.
Wow. Jayden shifted in his seat. “Er…I actually have my own photography business and its doing quite well. I help out at the store because my Mum owns it.”
“Ah...” She nodded. But he could tell. It was already too late. She had decided he was poor and a charity case.
“Your mother can’t afford proper employees?”
Oh boy. “I like helping out there.”
Mrs. Hart nodded and drank her coffee in silence, a look in her eyes. She’d obviously also come to the conclusion his mother was equally poor and her business wasn’t doing very well.
Jayden couldn’t wait to get out of there. Where was Kim?
He suddenly heard hurried footsteps approach the kitchen with the clicking sound of heels.
“Dad! Dad, I knew you would come ba –” Kim stopped short at the kitchen doorway. She froze at the sight of Jayden and her mother. A mixture of emotions seemed to play over her face. Disappointment. Hurt. Discontentment. Then embarrassment. She looked back at the hallway.
“I heard the door. I thought…” Her voice slightly choked with emotion.
Mrs. Hart sighed. The state of her daughter seemed to cause her eye to twitch as if she was holding back some sentiment. She redressed herself. “Honey, this young man says he’s your friend?” The question mark hung in the air like a heavy cloud on a sunny day.
Kim’s eyes met Jayden’s. Whatever embarrassment had displayed itself on her face moments ago seemed to triple. Her eyes widened as if the reality of the situation had just hit her.
“Jayden. What are you doing here?” She stepped in the kitchen looking from Jayden to her mother and back.
Jayden offered her a smile. She was already dressed for work: a knee-length gray dress, brown knee-length heeled leather boots and a brown suit jacket. Her long dark hair was still wet.
“I thought I could take you in to work today.”
Kim’s mouth dropped open. She looked him up and down then turned to her mother as if to translate something. “Jayden is my boss’s son. He helps out with the clothes store and the antique store.”
Mrs. Hart nodded. “He filled me in. Honey, is something wrong with your car?”
“I’m sorry. I should’ve called first.” Jayden shifted on the stool.
“Friends give each other rides to work, Mum.” Kim looked at him and gave him a small smile.
That smile. The smile that inevitably made Jayden smile.
“So, what type of photography do you do, Jayden?” Mrs. Hart crossed an arm across her chest and drank the last contents of her cup.
“I do a bit of everything, I guess. I love taking pictures of nature and objects. Moments in time. But I get hired to do photo shoots and events.” Jayden paused and stared down at his hands. “One day I’d like to travel with my camera and just take as many pictures as possible. There’s so much beauty in this world. I’d like to capture as much of it as I can and maybe do an exhibition - show the rest of the world”. He looked up to the contrasting expressions of mother and daughter. Mrs. Hart looked like she didn’t realize he’d just poured out a bit of his heart. Either that or she just wasn’t moved nor impressed. Kim on the other hand, stared at him – to his surprise – with a look of fascination.
“Where would you like to go?” She stood at the counter in front of him.
"Well, everywhere. France, Italy, Ireland, Kenya, South Africa, Egypte, Honk-Kong, Japan, New Zealand even New York, I guess." He chuckled nervously.
Kim stared at him, saying nothing.
Mrs. Hart snorted. "Big dreams. That'll take years and years of saving up on your part though."
Jayden met her eyes. "I've actually already been to all those places. I'd just like to go back".
Mrs. Hart's eyebrows went up - stunned and incredulous.
"You know, Jayden, we should really get going." Kim pinned her gaze on him as if sending a message across.
Mrs. Hart looked at her watch. "Dear, it's still early. You haven't even had breakfast."
"I'm taking care of breakfast Mrs. Hart." Jayden said.
Kim turned to Jayden. "Yeah. He is. Alright, bye Mum. Have a great day."
And with that, Kim practically dragged him out of the house.
They stepped out and walked side by side to where his dark blue Jeep Wagoneer with wooden paneling was parked. He'd had the car since he learnt to drive. An old make, but an absolute unique beauty to him. He felt Kim stop dead beside him.
"Please, please tell me this is not your car."
"Yes..." Jayden turned to her. "Yes it is. Is that a problem?"
Kim shut her eyes with dread. "Oh great. Look towards the window. Mum's watching isn't she?"
Jayden directed a sideways glance towards the house and sure enough, Mrs. Hart was staring out the window in their direction.
"She is, isn't she? Perfect. Just perfect."
Jayden opened the passenger door for her and watched her climb in. He took his place at the driver's seat and drove in silence.
"I'm sorry about Mum. I can't imagine what sorts of questions she must've asked you before I materialized."
Jayden kept his eyes on the road. "No, don't apologize. She’s quite nice. I mean, she made me coffee."
Kim chuckled. "She also made you take off your shoes and grilled you. So, honestly, what do you think about Mum?"
Jayden stopped at a red light and turned to her. "Honestly?"
Jayden exhaled loudly. "She is terrifying. Thanks for getting us out when you did." He smiled.
"Well, you introduced yourself to Mum as my friend. I had to play the part." A genuine smile lifted up the corners of her lips and left Jayden staring. He grinned. She matched his grin.
A honk from behind snapped him out of it. Embarrassed, he quickly turned back to the road.
"Mum's great though. She just has high standards. And an expensive taste."
"I could tell. Nothing looked cheap at your place. And I don't think I've actually ever stepped into a home that neat. I was afraid to even breathe. I'm sure the place is as germless as an operating table. The only thing missing was the smell of detergent."
Kim sniggered. "Yeah, Mum is a neat freak. She’s lucky the cleaners do a great job."
Jayden turned to her for a second. "I don't imagine you know what chores are, little lady."
Kim made a thinking face. “Chores? You mean the day-to-day boring household tasks peasants have to engage in?”
Jayden pretended to gape at her. “My, oh my. I dare say, Miss Hart jokes! She actually jokes. And she is making good jest of us! Isn’t she just full of surprises?”
He heard Kim laugh. Truly laugh. And the sound made him feel lighter…hopeful.
“Look who’s talking. You’ve practically been all over the world. I think Mum was impressed.”
“She wasn’t so pleased to know that I was a photographer who also works in a clothes store. And can’t even begin to imagine what she would’ve thought about my car.”
“I think it only bothered her so much because she thought maybe we might be a little more than friends. She was just being protective.” Kim turned to him and rolled her eyes.
Jayden stopped at a red light. “Protective?”
Kim shrugged. “Yeah. She’s always been a little scared that her daughters might end up dating guys who can hardly fend for themselves. I guess she wanted us to be taken care of. You know, have more than enough. I don’t know why she worries though. It’s not like I’d ever date a photographer –“ She stopped short and met his gaze, as if she’d just realized her mistake. Her eyes grew wide. A mixture of embarrassment, discomfort and utter shame crossed her face.
“That sounded terrible, didn’t it? I am so sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. There’s nothing wrong with being a photographer, really. It’s just…”
“Hey, hey…” He reached across and touched her hand so she could stop talking. “Don’t worry about it. You can date or not date whomever you like.”
She looked down at his hand over hers, and he quickly removed it.
Kim gave a nervous chuckle. “Well, at least we know we would never date each other. So, we’re even.” The embarrassment still gave itself away through her eyes.
Jayden turned back to the road as the signal turned green. “Look, Kim. I owe you an apology. Actually, several apologies. I should never have said I would never date you. That was out of place. And so prideful. It was a stupid statement based off of what I knew of you when we were younger. I really never should have said that. Not even as a joke.” He quickly turned to her, hoping she would see just how sincere he was.
She watched him in surprise.
“And I also want to apologize for the dreadful things I said yesterday. Calling you jealous and unkind. I was way out of line. I’m usually not that much of a horrible person. And I promise you it won’t happen again. I hope we can put that behind us and start over as friends?”
He saw her nod from the corner of his eye, as she fiddled with her fingers in her lap. “Sure.”
He pulled into the parking lot of a café, parked and turned his full attention to her. “Thank you.”
She shrugged. “Jayden, you were right. Those things you said. I am vain. I even just proved it by saying I wouldn’t date a photographer. That’s me.”
Jayden stared at her. “No one’s perfect, Kim. And that’s coming from the jerk, remember?” His lips curved into a small smile. “I’ll be right back. Wait here.” He disappeared into the coffeehouse and came back with two paper cups.
“I thought we were going to breakfast?” Kim turned to him, perplexed.
Jayden handed her a cup and placed the other in the cup holder. “That, we will. Just not here. They make the next best thing to my pumpkin spice latte though. Thus, the coffee stop.”
He drove a few more minutes, then parked in front of the antique store, aware of the look of confusion on Kim’s face. Still, she followed his lead and stepped out of the car.
“What happened to getting something to eat? Cause I’m still hungry.” She stood in front of the antique store staring at him with raised eyebrows.
“Breakfast awaits inside, my lady.” He stuck the key in the door and turned.
“You’re being cheap, Jayden Finnegan.”
“Well, I am just a mere photographer after all. I can probably only afford a meal a day anyway.”
He held the door for her and watched her pout.
Kim followed Jayden up the stairs leading to his photography studio feeling her empty stomach growl. Why would he pick her up so early just to buy her coffee and bring her back to his studio?
He pushed the door open and she stepped in. The place looked much like the last time she’d been here. With his stunning framed shots lining the walls and his equipment set up on one end, ready for a shoot.
She saw the center table that usually sat in front of Jayden’s leather couch when she turned towards him. Instead of occupying Jayden’s photography books or magazines, the table was adorned with a white table cloth. It was set with two empty plates, with a glass cup and fork and knife propped beside. A skinny vase with 3 purple salvia flowers stood in the middle of the table. A basket containing bread and croissants sat on one side beside a plate of ham and cheese, with honey and jam close beside. A jar was filled with orange juice. A bowl contained cut fruits. What made her grin the most were the Oreo cupcakes that sat in another oval basket. She found herself giggling with delight, hand over her mouth in surprise.
“I gather you like?” Jayden’s soft smile could have made her melt.
She nodded. “I’m sorta working on getting over being speechless right now.” She faced him. “Why?”
Jayden ruffled his brown hair. “My way of saying sorry for being a jerk.”
“You know I couldn’t possibly eat all that, right?”
He smirked. “That’s why I’m here.”
He sat on a mat on the floor in front of the table and she followed his cue sitting on the other side.
He bent his head, closed his eyes and she listened to him say a quick prayer, thanking God for the meal and for his "new friend". He said amen. But she said nothing and proceeded to finish her pumpkin spice latté. He was a Christian. She should've known
"Everything OK? Your smile's gone." Jayden stared at her.
She shook her head. "I'm fine. Just thinking."
She went first for an Oreo cupcake, first eating the Oreo in the icing before digging into the pastry. "Where did you get this? It's delicious."
Jayden looked up from spreading honey over his bread. "That came from my kitchen."
She gawked at him. "You didn't make this. You could not have made this."
He bit into his ham and bread and took his time before answering. "Yes and yes. The big bro felt like baking very early this morning so I suggested we make Oreo cupcakes for the Oreo Thief."
He seemed to find the question funny. "I cook and bake, yes. Love doing it actually. Comes second to taking pictures."
Kim stared at him incredulous. "Wow. You're actually really good at it. Your Mum taught you?"
A comical smile crossed his face. "Uh...No. No offense to Mum but she's not the world's best cook. She's better off with a hammer. She loves DIY. Dad on the other hand, he could live in a kitchen. The best cook I know."
"That's what he does for a living?"
Jayden shook his head. "No. He's always treated it like a hobby. But he taught my brother Eric and I from when we were young. Just like he learnt from Granddad." He met her eyes with a shy grin. "The men do the cooking at my house."
Kimiko tried to remember the last time she'd seen Dad in the kitchen. Usually, he and Mum loved cooking together but since the accident that turned their lives upside down, they'd barely done anything together...except argue.
"Alright, you said something yesterday. You said I didn't know anything about you. Well, I want to know. With your help." He put some fruit in his plate and stared at her.
"Not sure what you'd like to know." Kim shifted, uneasy.
She chuckled. "I dunno, gray?"
"Gray is said to be a color without color."
She rolled her eyes. "Red then."
"...like your lipstick. Suits you." Before Kim could respond to the compliment, he continued. "Favorite book."
She watched Jayden's forehead crease and an eyebrow shoot up. "What?" He didn't have to look so surprised.
He cleared his throat. "It's just I didn't think..."
"That I'd be into the classics?"
He looked down into his plate and shoved a strawberry in his mouth as if to avoid answering her question. "Why? What's it about Emma?" He finally asked, his eyes holding her gaze in an intense stare.
Kim heaved a breath and found herself slightly smile. "Emma is probably one of the most unlikeable main characters in classic literature. Spoilt, bossy and so on. Yet despite her selfishness, stubbornness and the fact that they had their disagreements or arguments, he still loved her. Despite her great big flaws that are so obvious from the pages, Mr. Knightley still readily loved her for her. He was the one person who knew her so well, so much that everything wrong with her should’ve made him give up on her. Yet he was always there, loving her.”
Jayden cocked his head to the side as if thinking her words through, a small impressed smile forming on his lips. “Ok…how’d you find yourself working for Mum?”
She could sense her whole body tense up. She poured herself some orange juice and fixed her eyes on her glass cup. “I applied for the job.”
“The question’s why?”
“Your Mum’s business has potential.”
“I believe that. But I also believe big businesses in the city would be happy to have you.”
Kim looked up at him and sighed. “My sister died months after I started my MBA. I should’ve stopped the program but I needed something that would keep me busy. Except, her death sapped me of any motivation I had for anything. My grades were just OK. I didn’t get the summer internship I wanted. The topnotch career I planned for myself was going down the drain. And so while my classmates were applying for jobs before the end of the program, I had gotten to such a low morally that I couldn’t get myself to apply anywhere. And I couldn’t tell my parents. But then I ran into you at the forest the other day. And I don’t know – instead of going home and feeling like nothing was worth it, like I’d felt for so long, I went online and looked at job postings. I saw your Mum’s and applied.”
Jayden stared long and hard at her, “Did you eventually apply for jobs in the city?”
She shrugged, “I have a job now.”
“I like you working for Mum and all but if it’s a compromise –”
“Jayden, next question.” She cut him off, voice sharp.
Jayden hesitated, obviously wondering whether to push the subject.
She spoke before he could. “OK, I’ll do the asking.” Except, she couldn’t really think of anything to ask. “What happened to your glasses?”
He quirked a brow.
“You wore glasses in middle school. They were sort of…cute, in a geeky way.”
“Contacts.” He answered. “Glasses still come in handy though”.
“Ok, next question. What don’t many people know about you?”
He looked upwards towards the ceiling. “Let’s see….Erm…I’m of Native American descent.”
“I kid you not. From my mother’s side. Creek Indian. Irish ancestry from my Dad’s side but that’s obvious with the last name. We’re pretty crazy about family trees and old records in my family.”
Jayden shrugged, “If we’re talking classics, it’ll have to be Jane Eyre.”
Jayden seemed to stare into space, “Well, Mr. Rochester isn’t exactly proud of his past. And he’s tormented day and night by a secret he keeps. But then out of nowhere, along comes Jane into his life. And although he lies to her also and keeps his secret from her, he slowly falls for this girl who had thought she was incapable of love and emotion. He finds in her a friend like he’d never had. Like all secrets, his secret comes out. And he’ll do anything to hold on to her friendship. But in spite his secret, the fact that he had deceived her, she still finds her way back to him.”
His eyes seemed to regain their focus and he turned to her. “You don’t think our favorite books say a little something about us, do you Kim?” His eyes carried such seriousness and mystery. His voice, grave.
She chuckled but the sound came out strained. “I hope not. Because that would mean I was as spoilt, stubborn and unlovable as Emma. And you, like Mr. Rochester, would be keeping some big secret.”
Jayden’s eyes bored into hers for what appeared to be an eternity. Kim stared back, the beating of her heart the only sound she could hear in the still silence. A grin finally broke through his features and he laughed. Kim felt herself relax.
“The look on your face.” Jayden laughed.
“Shut-up. You scared me!” She picked up a grape and threw it at him.
Jayden’s laughter rang through the studio. When he finally gathered himself, he got up and picked up a large print on his desk.
“I believe this belongs to you.” He held up the print for her to see.
She immediately recognized it as the picture he’d taken in the forest. It looked even more beautiful in print. The vivid orange of the autumn leaves shone bright, contrasted by her flowing dark hair as she laughed while watching the leaves drop to the ground. She got up to take a closer look.
“Your hair looks amazing when it’s let down. Like right now.”
She met Jayden’s eyes and he quickly looked away.
“Thank you. For everything.” She hoped her smile would give away just how grateful she was.
He nodded, about to turn away. But before her brain had time to register her intentions, she swung her arms around him and pulled him into a hug. It took Jayden a second to respond. But then his arms awkwardly wrapped around her waist.
He pulled away the next second – uneasy. His eyes avoiding hers at all cost. He immediately walked to his desk then proceeded in placing her picture in a large protective cardboard envelope.
“Here.” he said, a tense smile on his face.
She took the print, after glancing at her watch. “Thanks for everything, Jay. It’s been a while since anyone did something so nice for me. So thank you. I should head on over to the store though.”
Jayden nodded, “Any time. I’ll drop you home tonight.”
Before turning away, she noticed the same intense look in his eyes. The seriousness and mystery that’d occupied his face as he spoke of his favorite book. The look of someone carrying a weight heavier than they could bear.
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