Zayne closed his eyes and savored the sharp taste of the alcohol as it passed his lips. It was cold and smooth with the perfect amount of ‘kick’. Damn, this is the best wrench I’ve ever had. He thought to himself. I’ve gotta come here more often.
Of course, he knew that the moment he headed to the bar to close out his tab, he’d remember exactly why he didn’t. Zayne usually reserved The Cornerstone for serious girlfriends (not that he’d had many of those) or when he was hoping to score.
In this case, it was the latter. Zayne wasn’t normally one for hooking up on the first date, but he’d been caught in a dry spell for months now, and it was driving him crazy. Ever since he broke up with Amy, he’d been striking out on the dating scene. It seemed like every girl he met was so shallow and full of herself… And unfortunately his date this evening was no exception.
This is the last time I let Dom try to hook me up with anyone… Zayne thought to himself as he took another sip of his drink, glancing the young woman up and down for a moment as she continued droning on. But at least she’s hot.
“I just thought he was so rude, y’know? Like, he was just obsessed with himself or something.” The girl shook her head. “I just wanted to be like ‘Um, hello? I’m your girlfriend. You should be obsessed with me!’ SO glad we aren’t together anymore!”
“Heh. Yeah.” Zayne tried his best to look interested. Who the hell bitches about their exes on the first date?! “My last ex and I were together for like eight months… She ended up being kind of psycho.” Like you, he almost said. “Sometimes things just don’t work out though, huh? But I guess –”
“Oh my God, totally!” She interrupted, nodding enthusiastically. “Like, okay, get ready for this one. This one time when I was like… I dunno. Eighteen, maybe? This guy asked me out and he –” His date stopped abruptly, lifting her softly vibrating phone from the table in front of her. “Ooh I should take this. Do you mind?”
Zayne shook his head. Please, for the love of God, go talk someone else’s ear off for a while. He wanted to say. I’m losing brain cells just sitting here! He watched in relief as she rose to her feet and walked away with her phone to her ear, probably in search of a quieter spot for her conversation.
Relishing in the calm, Zayne allowed his eyes to scan the crowd of faces, his mind beginning to wander once more. And then he felt it – that strange feeling that creeps up on you when there’s someone staring in your direction. His gaze traveled even more quickly then, searching for the pair of eyes he felt watching him.
For the briefest instant, he found them – two big dark eyes, glancing sideways at him from one of the couches in the corner. The next thing he knew, they were staring at the floor. But one glance had been enough for Zayne.
The moment he set his eyes on the mysterious woman, Zayne found himself extremely certain of two things – One, this girl was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen in his entire life. And two, he had seen her before. But where?!
Try as she might, he could not will her to catch his gaze again. Maybe she wasn’t even looking at me after all… Maybe I was imagining things. Still, he could not take his eyes off of her, wishing he could catch a better glimpse of her face, just one more time.
He watched curiously as she spoke with the man beside her. He appeared to be about twice her age, but Zayne knew from his aunt and grandfather that that meant nothing – he could easily have been her boyfriend. No, he decided, watching her body language. That isn’t it… Is it? He studied her intently for a few moments. The girl held herself quite stiffly, and seemed almost on-edge. Why? He wondered.
A few minutes later, when Zayne’s date still had not returned and the man beside the mystery girl headed for the bar, he decided to make his move. He took a deep breath, cleared his throat softly, and crossed the room to the couch where the young woman sat.
“Entschuldigung.” Zayne said softly as he approached. “Tut mir leid für die Unterbrechung… Ich weiß, dass ist merkwürdig, aber…” His voice trailed off for a moment as he studied the girls’ face. She hadn’t even glanced at him. Instead, she lifted her glass from the table in front of her and took a sip.
Maybe she doesn’t speak German? He cleared his throat again. “Excuse me.” He repeated, this time in English. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt almost self-conscious of his heavy accent. I bet I sound like an idiot. Zayne did his best to chase his worries away. “Sorry for interrupting… I know this is weird, but I really feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before. And it’s kind of driving me crazy.” He laughed somewhat awkwardly as he waited for her to reply.
It was a few moments before she did. “Oh, were you talking to me?” She shrugged slightly, never quite meeting his gaze. “I don’t know… Maybe you’ve seen one of my ads or something?” The girl’s discomfort was apparent as she began sipping on her drink once more.
That was when it hit him. Her face. Her voice. He had met her before. How had he not realized it sooner? “Hope?!”
She just stared at him.
“It’s me… Zayne.” He continued, his eyes lighting up as the memory of their first meeting all those years ago came rushing back to him. Zayne sat beside her as he tried his best to spark her memory. “We met like six or seven years ago? Maybe you don’t remember. But you were having dinner with your family and I cleared your table and then afterward, we got to talking…” The words came pouring awkwardly from his lips. “What was it you called me? Oh! ‘Mr. Worldly’… Remember?”
To his surprise, Hope narrowed her eyes at him as he finished speaking. “Oh, I remember.” She assured him. “I even remember the last thing you ever said to me… That you’d see me at eight.” There was no warmth or kindness in her tone. “I think you’re a little late, Mr. Worldly.”
Zayne’s heart sank at her words. Duh. He told himself. You stood her up. No wonder she doesn’t want to talk to you. But he had to talk to her. He couldn’t throw away his shot. Not again.
He forced a smile. “Hey, only about…” He glanced down at his watch for a moment. “Seven years, three months and thirty-four minutes late… Better late than never?”
Hope was clearly unamused. “Okay, well now I guess you’ve figured out where you know me from. So you can get back to your date or whatever.” She nodded vaguely in the direction of his table.
“Look.” Zayne’s voice was suddenly serious. He owed this girl some kind of explanation, didn’t he? “I was a stupid kid back then, and I never should have stood you up like that. It’s just…” He hesitated. “Something kinda came up at the last minute, and I didn’t know how to get in touch and tell you I couldn’t make it.” Part of him felt bad for not being entirely honest with her, but it was the simplest explanation he could think of. “Maybe if I’d tried harder I could have found a way to tell you I had to cancel, but… Well, it’s like I said. Stupid kid.” His lips curled into an uncomfortable smile as he spoke.
He could feel Hope’s eyes scrutinizing him for a few moments before she replied. “Well… I appreciate the explanation, I guess.” She said at last.
“I’m glad I finally got to give you one.” Zayne replied seriously. “I was so sure I’d never see you again… What brings you back to Windenburg anyway? Another wedding?” Before he even realized what he was doing, he found his eyes flicking down toward her left hand. He thought of the older man he’d seen her with, and wondered. He tried to suppress a wave of jealousy that threatened to wash over him.
Hope did not seem to miss his curious look. She let out a small laugh, and Zayne felt a rush of butterflies in his stomach at the sound. “Oh, no… God, no.” She shook her head, glancing down at her own left hand for a moment. “I’m here for business.”
“Business?” Zayne raised an eyebrow. What was it she’d said to him? ‘Maybe you’ve seen one of my ads’… He knew there was some big shot modeling agency in the city. And she was certainly gorgeous enough to be in front of the camera. Could she really…? “Are you… Like, a model or something?”
Hope gave a small shrug. “Or something.” Her voice was almost teasing.
“That’s… wow!” Zayne could not hide how impressed he was. “Like… Fancy photoshoots and stuff? Pictures in magazines?”
“Yup… Kind of in the job description.” The corner of her lip twitched into a smile, just for a moment. “Duh.”
“That sounds so cool. You must do a ton of traveling!”
She nodded. “A bit. I’m living in San Myshuno these days, but I’ve had jobs all over. Shang Simla, Monte Vista, Champs Les Sims…”
“Damn… That must be incredible.” Zayne marveled. “Maybe I’ve gotta give up my title, Miss Worldly.”
He smiled as a bright burst of laughter passed Hope’s perfect lips. “Oh, come on. You can’t just recycle your old nickname. Surely you can do better than that.”
“Maybe I can.” Zayne’s smile widened. “If you give me a chance.”
Hope’s smile vanished just as quickly as it had come. “What do you mean?” Her entire body seemed to tense up, just as it had when he’d first approached her. “Give you a chance to what?”
“To make up for what a fucking idiot I was when we were kids.” He said seriously. “I still owe you a tour of Windenburg, don’t I?” Zayne paused for a moment, bracing himself. “Well… How about tomorrow? Are you busy?”
His smile faded as he watched the beautiful young woman’s eyes widen. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Zayne shrugged helplessly. “Hey, I just want a chance to make things right.”
“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”
“It’s never too late.” He insisted. “One chance, that’s all I’m asking for.”
“Why do you even care anyway?” Hope asked skeptically. “Are you trying to get in my pants or something?”
“What?! No!” Zayne was sincere. There was just something about this girl… It was the same feeling he’d had when they first met all those years ago. He just had to spend time with her, get to know her… “You seem really cool.” He continued, hoping she realized he was serious. “And I’d really like to hang out with you — without fucking it up this time.”
Hope did not immediately reply. She appeared lost in thought for several long moments. “I don’t know.” She replied at last.
“Look, just meet me in front of the Von Haunt Estate tomorrow morning, okay? Ten o’clock?” Zayne struggled to hide the desperation in his tone. “I swear to God, I won’t leave you hanging this time.”
She still did not look entirely convinced. “Ten o’clock?”
“At the Von Haunt Estate?”
“Hmm… We’ll see.”
Zayne knew it was the closest thing to a ‘yes’ he’d be getting from her. His lips stretched into a smile.“Really?! Great!” It was all he could do not to bounce up and down in excitement. “I mean, that’s uh… Cool. Yeah.” He laughed awkwardly. “I should probably be heading back, but… I guess I’ll see you then?”
To his delight, Hope almost smiled.
Surprise! (Or not… Some of you already called that we hadn’t seen the last of Hope!) I’m thrilled to be able to share that yes, Hope has returned to my story again, this time for a longer appearance than last time. As most of you know, Hope is one of the Generation 10 heirs of ThePlumbob’s now-complete Bloomer Legacy (which you most definitely need to read if you have not already!)
I’m so excited to have the opportunity to help one of her characters live on a little bit longer in my story, and I thank ThePlumbob so much for letting me have that chance, and for all the advice and input she’s given me about how to write her character 🙂