"Phew!", he exclaims, as we cross the checkpoint line. "That's five laps! We're finally done with today's exercises."
"Are you sure?" I complain. "It's such a nice day, let's go for another one..."
I could feel Alex stopping behind me and giving me THAT kind of look. "Are you crazy!? No way!"
I easily spin on my left leg to face him: the figure in front of me is a tall, muscular man. It would be hard for me to guess his age, if he wasn't my best friend. I'd say he is at least ten years older than he actually is. Why? Well, even though he is nineteen, he works with his dad full time, dealing with all the paperwork and contracts. And that means business suit, appointments, meetings, discussions, decisions, stress... For the whole week! Because of all that, his facial expression is sometimes much more serious than an ordinary nineteen year old should have. His hair is soft and fluffy, and his ordinarily cut mustache are jaundiced on the lower edge because of the smoke. "Aw, come on, you're working for yourself, not for me..."
"Or you just want to see her again!"
I hate his sharpness.
"Look, kid..." He approaches and raises his hand towards me. "If you like her, you should have talked to her, normally", he speaks, while patting my shoulder."You've got your chance, and you blew it..."
"It's different this time!" I assure him... And myself. "I've got something up my sleeve!"
"Like what, you'll show her a magic trick?"
"You know you're not allowed to do that. Come on, little man. We've kept it a secret for all this time... Why would you give all that up now?" He sighs. "I mean, I would understand if she was at least somewhat beautiful, but..."
"Shut up!" I cut him with sharp tone, throwing away his hand. Alex knew how to get under my skin.
"Fine", he quit, "but don't forget that today, the new maid is coming to your house", he turns around, and walks slowly, yelling: "Don't be late, or else I'll get to her before you." A talented girl passes by: "Well, hello there..."
I don't even try to snort at his stupid teasing. Before he was done, I am already facing the other way to start another lap. I am not too interested in my new maid. "Yeah, whatever..." I hate that kind of attitude. He is in a relationship, and yet, he acts macho, all mighty around woman and stuff. Why does he have to be like that!?
I start running. Damn it. A small sigh clears my head. Mi>'My bro, however, did get us nice dates every time we had an appointment, or needed an escort, but still... I steal a glance at the blueness of the sky. This time, it's not like that! Just watch me. I don't need you anymore, I'll do it myself. Today. Yeah, I'm all confident. Nothing can stop me now!'</i>
'Right... The tree.'
The park is full of blossomed flowers. Carrying it's gracious smell, a soft wind whistles his song through the verdure. Colorless sun rays pierce through the leaves right in my eyes. You can actually breathe the positive energy.
Yeah, it is a great day...
"Mommy, mommy, I just saw that..."
"It's rude to point with your finger!" The woman stops him, but still takes a look at who... Or better what is he showing at. She sees a... Man? Holding firm, with wide mouth, and cat-shaped eyes. He has wide shoulders, but very thick black hair, which made him look ridiculous.
That ugly thing over there... That studies two medical colleges, at the same time. Without breaking a sweat. That will be a great doctor. That is a true friend to someone, a good brother. That over there: that isn't a comedian. Nope, no talent at all. That made choices, had successes, failures, was tricked, and betrayed, was alone and was loved. That over there is just another ordinary human being: that is me.
Ordinary? Not quite...
I am one of those people who are so rich, that could buy everything they wish for: a big house, with maids and butlers, a few cars, including a limo, a boat, expensive jewelry as gifts... Anything and everything. Money makes it so easy for me to find good business partners and woman who would spend their time with me. I simply have everything... Or do I? A very smart kid once said: being rich means you can buy buy buy, but, in the end, you'll still miss something.
You cannot even begin to understand how right he was. No matter how much you have, or how much you own, you want more. It's in human's nature: we are greedy. All of us. So, in order to fulfill my greed, I, Kenji Lee, am running through the park everyday to find what is making my life complete. And right now, under that same oak, I meet those eyes again...
FEW WEEKS AGO
I never really thought about it, but if you translate my first name, it means "study two". Well, it kind of makes sense since I... Wait... How could my parents know I was going to study at the two coll... Never mind.
Thinking about random things doesn't help. I am not used to this tempo of training. I cannot even finish the second lap, because my eyes are completely dry. I feel a spasm in my stomach, and stress in my chest. Everything tells me I should take a break. Stupid body of mine...
Luckily, I spot a great shade next to the track, formed by a nature's miracle: a hundred years old oak. Quickly approaching, I lean my back to it and let my it drop on the soft grass. I close my eyes. Slowly, legs stops pulsing, and my breathing normalizes. 'I so need to train more...' goes through my mind, before someone trips over my clumsy feet and falls right on top of me.
At first, the only thing I could feel is the light weight of a person falling over me and the strawberry perfume. I open my eyes. It is blurry. Her long hair is messing my sight. Our faces are close. I think her eyes are hazel. She moves her hair away. It makes me realize I was wrong. Her eyes are actually nature green. She has a long neck. I don't mind her narrow nose. Our eyes meet and for a heartbeat, we are motionless.
"Well well, what do we have here?" an unexpected provoking voice interrupts us.
'Damn. I kind of enjoy it, meeting a stranger like this...'
A few meters away stands another woman, in a pinkish Nike tracksuit. She looks like a doll: not too high, not too short, long black curly hair, clean face. Her body looks like a perfect combination of sizes and shapes. Maybe she's a model?
"It's not what you think!" A mysterious woman jumps off of me, and nearly sprints towards her friend. I like the mixture of fear and embarrassment in her voice. Her hair shines through the air. Wait, what am I thinking? I shake my head and stand up.
"Um, about what happened..." She somehow manages to get in front of me and almost bows. "I wasn't looking where I was going and I fell over. I'm sorry."
What a chance! A woman starting a conversation with me! That doesn't happen everyday...
"I..." 'No, no, no! Why did my brain suddenly stop? Okay, relax.' I take a deep breath. 'Remember your dialogue with Alex...'
'There are two ways' Alex was saying 'to get to the woman.' He sat in his chair, and childishly spun around. 'The first one', he raised his finger, 'and usually more effective, is to be an ass.'
I raised an eyebrow. 'Excuse me!?'
'Provoke her, just about enough to get her attention, and when she becomes interested, start ignoring her. Play along, be aggressive, and then all of a sudden...' His hands flew up. 'PUFF! Play dumb and indifferent.'
I wasn't convinced. 'Does that really work?'
'Of course it does.' He jumped out of his chair. 'Woman are simple.'
'All right, but you know I can't and won't do that...'
'Yes, I know. I told you you're too kind for your own good. That's why there is a way number two.'
"What?" she curiously asks.
"I, um..." 'Come on, think!!! What's the second thing...?'
'The second way is even simpler: just flatter her.'
I was taken aback. 'Just like that?'
'Yes. As simple as that.' He raised his sight and proceeded cautiously. 'But, don't overdo it, because it can sound a bit awkward and too straightforward, and then you'll scare her away.'
"I like your tracksuit!" I blurt out. "It's the nicest one I've seen all day."
She raises an eyebrow. "Excuse me!?"
'Wait, what?' I shut my mouth as fast and hard as I could, but it is too late: I already said something ridiculously stupid. Damn it! I am loosing the good conversation we had.
"No, no, I mean that as a compliment" I try to get away with it. "I think it looks good on you..."
"I mean, you would look good without it as well."
'Great, I'm back to banging nonsense... Get a grip!'
"Oh crap, I didn't mean... Ah, shit..."
'WHY AM I TALKING TO MYSELF!?'
"Listen." She places me back to reality. "I have to go, my friend is waiting for me", she says cautiously, as if she's talking in front of a judge. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience." She forces a smile. "I hope you'll forgive me."
"Yeah" I lower my head. There's no use in fighting anymore. I had my chance, and I blew it. "Sure, see you." I have just defeated myself. How embarrassing.
Her movements are so simple. Her body looks as easy as feather. This time she wears a cute violet shorts, which doesn't hide the beautiful shape of her athletic legs, and a green sleeveless shirt, which matches her eyes. I pretend that I can't hear her playing one of my favorite songs on her headphones.
It looks like she doesn't notice me. Her sight is lost somewhere behind my left shoulder... 'I can't believe it! After so much searching... I have finally found her!' Am I glad? Yes. But then, it happens again: My mind freezes once I've been caught in her mysterious gaze.
'Just say hi.' Goes through my head. 'It's been a while since that incident, she probably forgot all about it. Nothing bad is going to happen.'
I open my mouth. It is dry. Nothing comes out. 'Oh my god, she's getting closer.' My mind is blank. The little saliva I had in my mouth chokes me. I can't breathe. She notices my idiotic behavior, and takes off her left headphone. 'A chance!' It feels like I am going to faint. 'Come on!' I try again. 'Okay, here it goes...' My muscles stop responding. I can't do anything else but stare.
'Um, what was that I wanted to say again?'
An eternal moment later... Still nothing. 'Coward' I try to provoke myself. 'Just do it!'
But, my shyness and fear of repeated embarrassing moment overpower my will, and I cough a few times, while passing by her side.
Five minutes later, I stop cursing myself. How could I be so useless? I just had to start a conversation. How hard could it be? My anger doesn't drop. I keep moving my grumpy legs with pure rage of my failure.
'Told you.' I heard Alex's voice in my head.
'Just give up.'
'No! Go away!'
'Damn you're persistent.'
'No way! Third time's the charm, so watch me!'
Stuck in my mind, I don't notice that I am about to finish another lap. 'She'll be here.' I reassure myself. 'I mean, come on, why wouldn't she be here?' It sounds like a fair logic. But then, I remember: I still have no freaking idea what I am going to say...
Interestingly, we met only twice, both times under this oak. It is very old. Some say over a hundred years. I don't doubt. The tree still looks good: it has a lot of sturdy bark, and it's so wide, that five people can hug it. It definitely defies it's age. Branches are spread through the air, like they want to hug the sun.
'Hello my friend.' I approach it. 'You're looking good.'
Our shadows became one. I reach towards it, to touch the part without the bark. I feel... Warmth, strength, and full power of life force that tree possesses. A shiver goes down my spine. I breathe in slowly. Truly, the power of this tree is amazing! It makes me calm. It slows my pulse down. It makes me think...
It makes me know what I am going to say.
There's no time to lose! I say goodbye to an old friend and get to action. My legs don't hurt anymore. My mind is clear, because I know what I have to do: to run. To run once again, and find that last piece of puzzle that was making my life incomplete.
Meanwhile, not far from there...
"Ben, get off of that tree!" A man shouts, and taps with his foot nervously.
Far up, in the leaves, there is a sight of a young boy, not older than ten years. He has the same black curly hair as his father and his black eyes. "But why?"
The man is loosing his patience.
The boy sighs. "Aw, come on, dad, I'm not going to fall..."
"Benjamin, get down. NOW!" He snaps.
"Ben, if you come down, I'll take you to some ice cream." A third person came in. Her voice is sweet, but threatening. Ben felt it.
"All right then, let's race." He says with a cheerful voice. " First one to get to dad wins."
"Don't get yourself hurt." The woman smiles and leaves.
'Come on, where are you?' I practically fly through the park, desperately searching for... Well, you know. A loud child's scream frees me from the iron prison of my thoughts. 'It's probably nothing. Just kids playing.' I selfishly think. 'I have better things to...'
Again, a scream. My body stops. I'm all ears. It is quiet again. 'Just as I suspected. It's just kids fooling around.' But, before I make another step, I hear it again. 'Damn it.'
A minute later, I appear on the scene. 'Something bad has happened...' There is a big commotion, and a lot of people are around the source of those terribly painful screams. I cannot see what's this all about. Murmur everywhere. Nobody's talking anything that makes sense. "Poor boy." I hear a woman in front. "And he's so young..."
That's it. I have to get through. "MOVE!" I yell, and grab my way through the crowd. "I'm a doctor!"
A man turns around and gives me a doubting look. "Tsk, who do you lie to kid?"
I go around, totally ignoring this stupid bastard, and keep on going. I don't need to justify myself to him. The crowd is getting thicker. "Let me through!"
Finally, I bump into the police barrier.
"What took you so god damn long?"
I don't answer to all too familiar voice. He points towards me gives a signal to policeman to let me through.
"He fell of a tree." Alex sadly says. "He looks very hurt. What do you need?"
"Time..." I turn to him. "And isolation. Can you do that?"
"Consider is done."
In this awful situation, I manage to smirk. Alex's dad is a chief of the police. That means Alex has certain authority, and a little something in his pocket that makes the crowd go away.
"All right everyone!"
"Park is now closed." BANG BANG! "Move it!"
His father's revolver can be heard a mile away... The birds fly away, as well as most of the annoying viewers. Only policeman and four person remain: Alex, the kid, me and...
Alex raises his gun. "Wasn't I clear enough!?"
The man doesn't move. He stands still, and observes us with his empty eyes.
"Will you please leave?" I ask nicely. "I need to perform a surgery."
"I..." He sobs. "I...
Alex is losing his patience. "WHAT!?" He tightens his finger on the gun.
"I'm his father..."
My eyes met with Alex's. He puts the gun down. The boy starts shaking uncontrollably. 'He's going in a coma!' That brings my guard back up. "Alex, get him out of there, NOW!"
"Oh my god, Ben..." The man's voice is getting lower as Alex and the policeman take him away. "How will I explain this to your mother...?"
"He is the best student on med college. He'll help!" Alex turns to me and winks. "Now do what you have to do."
The sight is... Horrible. The poor child is... In a pool of blood. Yelling. Screaming. His skin is pale, his eyes are lifeless. He is in an agony out of pain. Ben breathes heavily, coughs blood, shaking, while fear is tearing him apart from the inside. His eyes are wide open, and his mouth looks like a fountain of red liquid.
My heart shatter, and my soul freezes. The bone... It pierced through his flesh and skin... On both legs. I can't breathe. My stomach feels like it is turned around. Feeling sick, I take a deep breath. This isn't the first time I see an open bone fracture, but... He is just a kid...
'Okay, think!' I try to clear my thoughts. 'What pieces of the equipment do you need...?' Time is running out. My brain finally starts to work. I saw everything through: leave for a brief moment, visit the college equipment office, come back, and do the surgery right here. I sit on the ground. This requires high concentration and a little time I didn't have.
'Think of the office' I think to myself. 'Concentrate!'
My legs are usually the first place where I could feel the warm sensation. It quickly spreads through my body. It feels hot. It feels... Good. My body burns in the blue flames. I love using my little piece of magic. Teleporting is a useful thing to know.
The third floor of college. Second door to the left. through the firm wooden door, in the office. I appear in front of the great window, which gives the most beautiful sight in the city.
But, there is no time for me to enjoy the view. In a second, the lights go off, and the only thing left in the office is a pile of shiny black dust on the floor, the only trace of me being there a moment ago.
AN HOUR LATER
"All right, that's it", I say, as I put the last piece of my medical tool back to the box. "How do you feel?"
The boy doesn't respond. He takes a scared glance at me, and then suddenly shifts his eyes to somewhere behind me. "Dad!"
The man runs to him, hugging him tightly. "Jesus Christ Ben, do you see what happens when you don't listen!?" His voice is angry, but also worried.
I watch the small father-son reunion. I am glad the boy pulled through. A scintilla of hope forms in my chest. I manage to smile. His legs were severely broken, but he's young. It will heal. Everything will be alright.
"Ben!" I hear another scream behind me. I can feel abomination in her voice. 'It's probably his mother.' Sounds like a logical explanation. 'The father knows their boy is going to be fine. My work here is done.' I don't want to interrupt the painful family reunion, so I turn my back to them and leave, satisfied. But then...
"Thank you." She says. "I guess I misjudged you."
I can't stop myself from turning to the source of that surprisingly familiar salve for my ears.
'No...' That familiar wide nose. 'It cannot be...' That long neck. 'Why?' The strawberry perfume. 'of all the people...' And finally... Those eyes. Those beautiful olive orbs, which dazzle me with it's mysterious power.
The fact that I never stood a chance finishes me off. Nothing matters anymore. I've reached my limit. I can't think straight. My heart stops and my mind goes blank. I fail to take a step back, and I fall on my bottom. 'Why did it have to end like this?'
I just want to run, to get away of my kryptonite. I don't care that she'll find out about my secret. I don't care about the consequences. I just have to leave. My reasoning is crushed by my emotions.
She tries to approach me. "What's wrong?"
"No!" I snap. "Stay away!"
Blue flames are bursting through my whole body, and before they understood what's going on, I was gone.
My room is dark. I didn't bother to turn on the lights. I'm sitting in the corner for some time and stare helplessly into the darkness of my room. My chest hurts. Same questions rage through my head: 'Why? Why did it have to be like that? Why didn't the magic happen? Would it be otherwise, if I was braver? What did I do wrong to deserve this kind of pain!?' I squeeze my eyes shut. It doesn't help. My hands start to shake. I feel them shivering as I cover my eyes with my palms.
I hear a click and the door opens. "Are you all right?" I don't look up. I know it's just Alex. He holds a glass of water, and a worried facial expression. I don't respond. "Look." He comes closer and sits next to me. "You did a good thing today. That boy could have died if you weren't there. You should be proud of..."
"Proud of what!?" I interrupt him. "Not being able to start a conversation!? Having to rely on you and my money to get a girl, every single time!?" I look him in the eyes. "She saw me Alex. She knows that I'm a Blinker. Now the secret is out, we're all fucked." Again, my head sinks in my arms. "I'm a failure. Just one big... Failure."
"She doesn't think that." He takes a remote. "Look, I recorded it."
The big TV in my room flashes. It's the news. On the screen, there is a beautiful reporter, interviewing...
"Standing next to me are Mike and Kate Jordan, witnesses of today's awful accident. Tell me, Kate, what happened out there?"
"Ben loved to climb the trees very much. He did it all his childhood." Her voice was obviously disturbed. "When I heard that he fell, I felt..." A small tear slipped down her cheek. "like a part of my life has been ripped off..." She sobbed. "I didn't know what to do. I felt so helpless." She made a pause. "But then... A man came. I've heard that he was a doctor and cured him." She wiped her tears. "I know this doesn't sound like much, but whoever you are, thank you and bless you stranger."
"I can imagine how hard it is for a mother, when her own son experience such terrible injury..."
She caught her in a surprise. "Oh, I'm sorry, you've got it all wrong. I'm his aunt, Mike is my brother."
The reporter cleared her throat. "Well, little Ben certainly had luck this amazing man was nearby. Thank you, Kate..."
Alex turns the TV off. "I guess she doesn't think about revealing your secret, huh, my friend?"
I am speechless. 'I can't believe it!' My heart races, like it is going to jump out of my chest. 'This isn't happening'
"Oh, and by the way, your new maid is in the lobby." He gets up. "Don't make her wait." He winks and leaves the room.
Unknown mysterious energy blazes through my body. 'It's not over yet! Whatever happened, I still have a chance! Maybe not today, but tomorrow for sure. I'll find her again, and talk to her!' I jump out of a corner. Changing my clothes is not a problem now. Who would have thought that a single statement on the news can make so much difference. She didn't tell anything about my powers. I feel like I have strength for everything! I carefully choose my shirt. 'It's important to look good for the first meeting. I don't want to make the wrong impression.' I clear my face in the bathroom and enthusiastically hurry down the stairs.
The mansion has a great, 10 meter radius wide living room. On the front, it is connected to the grand main entrance, and on the back, with a half-hidden passage to the kitchen. The walls are coated with the finest wallpaper and windows are decorated with red silk curtains. In the middle of the room is a grand square table made out of the rare exotic wood, surrounded with two big sofas and and an armchair.
Alex sits in sofa that is facing the stairs. He doesn't notice me because his sight is lost in a bunch of papers.
"...Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction..."
Oposite of him, in the second sofa, sits a woman. That is probably my new maid. I only see her long smooth hair. I put on a smile. This is an interesting event after all.
"It is a magnificent CV, I must say."
It takes some time until I notice... 'Oh my God!' My hearth skips a beat. 'No way!'
"It seems to me that you know what it takes to..."
I feel a... Strawberry mint? "You!"
Alex slowly raises his sight and makes a smile. It looks like he's glad because I interrupted his reading. "Ah, Kenji, you're finally here." He clears his throat and continues. "Let me introduce you..."
The woman stands up and turns around. "I'm sorry I didn't recognize you before, Lee-sama." She bows. "My name is Kate Jordan, and I will serve you from today on."
I am stunned. This isn't happening. "B-But how is this possible!?"
She puts a smile on her face. She goes around the sofa and approaches me. She stops not too far, not too close, constantly keeping me frozen in place with her breathtaking gaze. She raises her left arm, covered with the blue flames.