The drive to work seemed shorter this morning. There was a thick blanket of clouds in the sky that gave an ominous hue to the cobblestone square outside the bookshop, but none of this bothered Kate as she unlocked the door and made her way inside the dark shop. She felt light and had a spring in her step as she moved about the shop, turning on lights and straightening books on their shelves, humming a tune she had heard on the radio on the drive there. Her boss wouldn’t be in until six, so the shop would close for an hour when Kate left at five. This would give her enough time to leave the shop without being detected by her boss, especially since she was out of uniform today.
The minutes ticked by as Kate waited expectantly. She knew it was highly unlikely that the dark eyed man would return to the bookshop, but it was possible. After all, nothing was impossible, or at least that’s what she had always been told. Maybe he would return for another book. A small trickle of customers came in throughout Kate’s shift, but none was the customer she was hoping for. Two hours passed without a single customer, so Kate picked up the book she had started reading the day before and began reading. It was five minutes ‘til five when Kate glanced up from her book. Not realizing how late it was, she hurriedly tidied the front counter space, grabbed her coat and scarf, and locked the shop. A few giggling teens dressed in costumes passed Kate in the square, reminding her of the town hall Halloween party that evening. Disappointed at not seeing the man from yesterday, Kate walked towards her car, glancing up at the dark sky where the clouds continued to gather.
The town hall was only a block away from Grammer’s, but Kate decided to drive just in case the clouds decided to drop the heavy load they appeared to carry. Half a dozen costumed teens and adults had already passed her on foot before she had even reached her car. A fine mist began to descend on the windshield, as Kate turned onto the street adjacent to the square.Glad I didn’t walk, she thought to herself.
Two minutes later, Kate pulled into the parking lot behind the town hall. She looked for Elise or another familiar face as she hurried for the back entrance. The rain had started to come down heavier now, causing a sudden rush of pedestrians who were trying to save their costumes and makeup from the inclement weather. Kate had already decided that if she hadn’t spotted Elise in the first few minutes, she was heading home.
Various vampires, zombies, and witches flooded into the town hall, grazing Kate as she intermingled with the crowd, asking the occasional bystander if they had seen Elise Bennett. She was about to approach a familiar looking pirate when a hand grabbed her arm, swinging her around in the opposite direction. Kate’s look of shock faded when she saw her friend standing before her dressed as the bride of Dracula.
“That’s your killer costume?” Kate laughed as Elise posed in front of her.
“What, you don’t like it?” Elise whined.
“It would be better if you weren’t a carbon copy of three other brides of Dracula that I passed on the way in. Dracula certainly wasn’t monogamous, was he?”
“Well, I look better than they do. Blood red lipstick looks better on blonds anyways, don’t you think?”
“Sure, Elise, whatever you say,” Kate answered playfully. “Where’s Paul? Did he have homework again tonight?”
“Paul is history. It’s like you said, why waste my time on a high school guy when I can waste it on a more mature man.”
“So, he was cheating with Sarah after all?”
“Yeah, well. I’m not surprised. I was right not to trust him. Anyway, I’m over it. The night is young and I intend on making new conquests, so let’s see who’s here.”
Elise led the way in her tight black gown, while Kate followed hesitantly in her street clothes. She found herself scanning over the crowd looking for someone who couldn’t possibly be there. After an hour of combing through the crowd, Elise found a vampire to flirt with, so Kate decided to make her exit. Parties weren’t really her thing anyway. She preferred a more intimate setting, or at least one that wasn’t crowded with hormonal teenagers.
The rain had stopped and Kate decided to take her time walking to her car. She was pulling her car keys out of her pocket when she heard someone shout from across the parking lot. Thinking the shout was directed at someone else, she didn’t bother looking up until she heard the shout again.
“Hello!” the voice shouted as Kate turned her head to discover the instigator.
Kate’s jaw dropped when she found the origin of the shout. The dark eyed man was waving at her from under a streetlight, clearly trying to get her attention. Kate waved back, took a deep breath, and made her way towards the man.
“Hello, again,” the man spoke gently this time as he closed the distance between himself and Kate.
“Hi,” Kate returned nervously.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to give you a fright. I didn’t want to walk up behind you and startle you, so I thought a shout would be more subtle,” the man joked.
“How are you enjoying your book,” Kate asked, not knowing what else to talk about.
“Well, I finished it, so I may be making another visit to see you soon,” he said with a smile. “I’m Aidan, by the way. I don’t think I introduced myself the last time we met.”
“Hi, Aidan. I’m Kate.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kate.”
“Same here, Aidan,” Kate smiled shyly.
She could feel her cheeks flushing again and silently gritted her teeth. Aidan seemed to notice as well, hiding a small smile. The rain was starting up again and Kate knew she had to act quickly if she wanted to prolong her unexpected meeting with Aidan.
“I think the rain may drown us if we stay here. Would you like to come to the bookshop with me? I think we have coffee and hot tea in the break room,” Kate offered as confidently as she could.
“Sure,” Aidan replied, “I thought the bookshop was closed though. I passed it on my way here.”
“Oh, it is, but I have a key.”
Kate hoped that her invitation didn’t seem too forward to Aidan. She didn’t want him to think that she would invite just anyone to the bookshop after hours.
“Ok then,” Aidan smiled, making Kate feel like she was beginning to melt under such a smile. Her face already felt like it was on fire. She just hoped it wasn’t too obvious under the streetlights.
“Do you want to ride with me, or did you have a car close by?” Kate asked with a sudden boldness.
“I actually walked from the hotel, so a ride would be great, if you don’t mind.”
Kate couldn’t believe her luck. She was doing her best to suppress the smile that wanted to radiate from her face at that moment. Finding her keys, she unlocked the driver’s side and then reached over to unlock the passenger’s door. The drive was too short for any real conversation, so Kate hurried to the shop door, trying to unlock it before the next burst of rain began. The last thing she wanted was to be soaked in a downpour.
Once inside, Kate turned only the recessed lights on, hoping that no one in the square would notice the interior lights being on, especially her boss, who might still be having dinner at the restaurant in the square. Kate led the way to the small break room that she had cleaned earlier that morning.
“Tea or coffee?” she asked Aidan, who was close behind her.
“Tea, please,” he answered, his soft Irish accent sending shivers of delight down Kate’s spine.
“Tea for two, then.”
Kate heated the water in the microwave after setting two mismatched mugs on the café table where Aidan had now seated himself.
“So, I take it you’re a local,” Aidan offered when Kate sat across from him.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that. I’ve lived here with my mom for the last four years. Before that we lived about thirty miles from here.”
“Do you have friends and family here as well?” Aiden asked as he steeped the tea bag Kate had handed him.
“I have a handful of friends here, only one close friend, really. My mom is the only family I have here, or at all, other than my dad. He left a couple of years ago, though, so I’m really not sure where he is. He moves around for his job.”
“You have no extended family, then? No grandparents, cousins?”
“Uh, no. My dad is an only child, and so is my mom, so I don’t have any cousins. And, I’m an only child, too.”
“That sounds a bit lonely,” Aiden replied.
“It can seem that way, but it’s all I’ve ever known, so I suppose I don’t miss what I never had. What about you? I’m almost positive that you aren’t a local,” Kate joked lightly.
“What gave me away? The accent?” Aiden joked. “I’ve tried so hard to get rid of it, but it just won’t go away.”
“I think it’s nice, personally. It would definitely be to your benefit to hang on to it if you intend to stay around here. The girls will love it, believe me.”
“Well, that settles it then. The accent stays,” Aiden laughed.
“You said yesterday that you were on business here, right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Aiden nodded, “and by the looks of this weather, I may be here longer than I expected. The bus lines have closed until the flood warnings are over. I may have to find a rental car if I’m going to go anywhere”
“Yeah, torrential rains are pretty common around this time of year. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were stuck here for a week or more if you’re waiting on the bus line.”
“Well, that’s fine. I’m not in a hurry to get back, anyway,” Aiden replied, taking a sip of his tea.
Silence invaded the room for several minutes, making Kate feel a bit awkward. She already felt like her body temperature had increased by several degrees just by being so close to Aidan. As they were talking, Kate had noticed that Aidan’s hair was an unusual mixture of dark brown with streaks of red that were barely noticeable unless the light caught them a certain way. He must get his hair streaked, Kate thought to herself. She had heard that the male European fashion sense differed from that of American men. She also noticed how black his eyes were upon closer examination. His irises were almost as dark as his pupils, which gave him an almost otherworldly appearance. Maybe he wears colored contacts, too, she thought. Kate had done her best not to stare at Aiden while he had been talking, but she was finding it hard to take her eyes off of his features. His face resembled that of a Greek statue, displaying a chiseled jaw line and delicate, yet very masculine nose. He was pleasing to look at, and yet there was something about his appearance that unsteadied Kate. She was trying to decide whether this was a good thing or bad thing. He looked to be in his mid to late twenties, but Kate was a terrible judge of age and thought it too rude to ask him outright.
Kate was about to ask Aidan about his family when the light in the break room blinked. Aidan jerked his head towards the door, inhaling sharply. His whole body went rigid as Kate watched in confusion.
“It’s probably just the weather,” Kate assured him as he settled back into his chair.
“Of course,” he muttered, “please continue with what you were saying.”
Kate could tell that Aidan had become distracted, and after glancing at the digital clock on the microwave, she decided it was time for her to end their meeting.
“It’s getting late, and I’m not sure what this weather is going to do, so I should probably head home,” Kate said as cheerfully as she could muster. “Maybe we could meet up later and continue our conversation?”
“I would like that. It is getting late, as you say.”
Kate led Aiden through the dimly lit bookshop until they reached the front door. Pulling the door closed behind her, she turned and almost collided with Aidan, who was standing a few inches away. He reached out his arms to keep her from running into him. The pressure of his hands on her upper arms sent a jolt of electricity through Kate. Aidan released her quickly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his black coat.
“Sorry about that,” he muttered nervously.
“It’s fine. It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention,” Kate returned.
“I was planning on stopping by the bookshop in the morning, if you’re going to be working, anyway,” Aidan said, changing the subject.
“Actually I’m off tomorrow. My Moms coming home from a business trip, so I have to pick her up, but I’ll be in Saturday morning,” Kate offered.
“Great. I’ll see you then. Have a good night.”
“Ok, see you later,” Kate answered.
Kate walked to her car as though she was under a spell. She felt euphoric and finally understood what it meant to walk on clouds. Aidan seemed perfect. He was like a dream come true. Kate sat down in her car and then decided to pinch herself to make sure this had really happened. What had been the chance that she would run into this man again? Slim to none. She knew it had to be fate that had brought Aidan into her life. She knew relatively little about him, but she would find the missing pieces to that puzzle on Saturday when he came to the bookshop.
The rain was coming down in torrents by the time Kate reached her house. She ran from her car to the front porch as fast as she could to avoid getting drenched. She turned the key to unlock the front door when the phone in the kitchen began ringing. Kate hurried through the hallway, kicking off her wet shoes as she made her way to the phone. A dial tone was all she heard when she placed the phone up to her ear. Confused, Kate hung up the phone and then raided the fridge for something she could fix quickly. She had forgotten to eat dinner, preferring Aidan’s company to food. She was beginning to feel hunger pangs as her stomach growled. A peanut butter sandwich would have to do until morning.
Finishing half her sandwich, Kate climbed the stairs two at a time to her bedroom. She felt so tired. Her normal routine was set aside as she stripped off her jeans and climbed into bed. Sleep came as soon as her head hit the pillow, followed by another strange dream.
Aidan walked towards her with an outstretched hand. Kate took his hand hesitantly as Aidan led her to the edge of the precipice. A sudden gust of wind swept them off the cliff. Kate was falling through the air—alone. Her hands reached for anything to break her fall, but there was only emptiness below and surrounding her on every side. Aidan was nowhere in sight. Kate was falling faster and faster, picking up speed the further she fell. A scream burst from Kate’s throat as she was hurdled headlong into the abyss.