Chapter 4. // Birthday Greeting
It was already December. Grey wanted to be excited; hers and Ash’s birthday was tomorrow. Her family had come to visit her about a week after her interview, and left the week after that. Even now, she missed them terribly.
Yet, she didn’t want to leave Val and Mr. Rossellini alone during the holidays, since it was the busiest time of the year; she decided not to go home for Christmas. It would be the very first time that she spent Christmas without her family, and a part of her was dreading it.
The digital clock on her phone changed to 10pm, and she stifled a yawn as she read over a paper. After the celebration, she and Mr. Rossellini stayed behind to do paperwork. Taj took a drunken Val home, so tonight, it was just the two of them. She sat on the couch in his office, surrounded by stacks of papers, and he was at his desk, barely visible over the mountain of papers that were ready to drown him. She almost chuckled at the sight.
“You know, Grey, you could always head home.” he said, his deep voice muffled by the papers. Grey shook her head. “And leave you alone with all this paperwork? I don’t think so. Besides, I already told my cousin he could go home, and he’s probably knocked out drunk by now.” Grey heard his chuckle, and saw the top of his head moving to and fro.
They continued in a comfortable silence, the only sounds were that of the rustling papers and the muffled city noises outside. It went on like this for God knows how long; Grey was becoming restless, and her body was cramping.
Placing the paper she had completed reading in the ‘Approved’ pile, she stood, stretching out, and letting those little screams slip off her lips. Relaxing, she rolled her shoulders and rotated her neck, a feeling of satisfaction growing as she heard the little cracks and pops. Grey looked to the man behind the mountain of papers, and her bare feet tread softly on the carpet. Arriving behind the desk, she propped one hand on the desk for support, and the other on her waist, and watched him until he looked up at her, an emotion she refused to place swimming in his cool blue eyes.
No, no, no. It couldn’t be that; anything but that.
In the back of her mind, she could hear Sidra sigh in exasperation.
“What?” he asked, as his eyes flickered over her form before locking with her brown orbs. Grey gestured for him to stand up and he did, after sighing and putting the paper he was holding down in the ‘Pending’ pile. She noticed that the ‘Unapproved’ pile was as tall as the ‘Approved’ pile.
Grey’s eyes shifted to the massive man, a sheepish smile growing on her face, and her cheeks flushing slightly. Raphael smiled as he stared down at her, his hands itching to wrap around her waist again and pull her even closer to him. He didn’t know how long they stood there, smiling at each other as if they were long-time friends sharing a memory. He didn’t mind at all; he wished that they could stay like this all night. He adored her smile.
“C’mon now. Stretch those muscles.” Grey finally said, taking a few steps back. Holding her gaze, Raphael did as he was told. From this distance, he could see her pulse fluttering at her throat, and the animalistic side of him wanted to do nothing more than sink his teeth into her flesh; to taste her sweet blood, to overload his senses with her. He gulped, shifting his gaze away from her throat. He caught her pulling her bottom lip into her mouth, and suppressed a groan.
Sidra was filling Grey’s mind with memories, and she felt that at any moment she would jump him. Building up her self-control, Grey shook her head, breathing deeply.
“Sidra…” Grey groaned lowly, and the person in question screamed in exasperation.
“I want my man, Katherina. Stop making this difficult, and let me take over.” She sounded much better, much stronger.
As happy as Grey was, Sidra was becoming more persistent in wanting to jump Mr. Rossellini. Grey looked at him and found him already staring at her. Licking her lips, she nodded and walked away on unsteady legs towards the mini fridge in the corner of the room near the couch.
Raphael watched the way her hips moved as she walked away from him, gnawing on his lip. She bent over to rummage through the fridge, her skirt raising dangerously high, and he began to gnaw on his closed fist instead. His companions were annoyed with the leggings she wore with her skirt. “Rip it off her.” They both chanted, and Raphael sat at his desk again, diverting his gaze away from Grey, and they groaned.
Taking a few deep breaths, Raphael picked up another paper from the ‘To Be Read’ pile, and continued to work. Once he trusted himself enough, he looked up, and found her sitting on the couch again, her blue, square-framed glasses slowly sliding down her nose as she read.
He couldn’t stop staring at her. Her dark brown hair was pulled up in a high ponytail, a few curly strands falling near her face. Her lip was pulled into her mouth in concentration, and she twirled an unsharpened pencil around her fingers.
Grey breathed deeply, placing her final paper in the ‘Approved’ pile, and stood up, raising her hands. “Finally!”
Raphael breathed out a laugh, and she stared at him with a small smile that turned into a frown. Walking towards his desk again, he stared at her, wondering what she was thinking and what she was going to do. Grey picked up his ‘To Be Read’ pile and separated it in half, before returning to her position on the couch. Raphael pulled himself out of his shock and resumed reading, wanting to finish before she did this time.
About an hour passed, and finally, Raphael placed his last paper in the ‘Approved’ pile. He sighed heavily, copying Grey’s movement. “Finally!” Grey laughed and shook her head as she looked at him, before returning to the paper in her hand. Raphael checked the time, and noticed that Grey’s birthday was only ten minutes away.
Silently opening one of his drawers, the little black box sat there, staring at him. He flicked it open in the confines of his drawer, and the necklace glinted in the fluorescent light. Another, more rectangular box sat next to it, and the three bracelets sat next to each other, reflecting the light dully. He checked the time again. Four more minutes.
The nerves were driving him insane.
He wanted to give her the gifts now, but he didn’t know how she would react. He asked for Val’s help to pick them out, and when he met her that day, she was with a woman he didn’t know. The woman introduced herself as Grey’s aunt, and they spent almost three hours picking the items out.
“Just relax. Hopefully she’ll accept. And if not, then we’ll kiss her.”
“Nice planning there.”
“Was that sarcasm?”
Raphael rolled his eyes and checked the time again. Two more minutes.
He glanced up at her to see her head still bent, eyes skimming over the paper. His eyes averted quickly as she looked up from the paper, placing it in the ‘Pending’ pile. Grey rose, sighing deeply and stretching out her muscles. Raphael looked away with difficulty to check the time again.
11:59pm changed to midnight, and he stood from his desk. Grey watched as he rounded the desk and walked closer to where she stood.
His arms were around her, pressing her to his body. Her hands quivered slightly as they went around him, heart rate speeding up. It took a while before he actually spoke. For what felt like two minutes, they just stood there, embracing each other and revelling in each other’s warmth. “Happy birthday, Grey.” Raphael said, slowly running his hands across her back. “Thank you, Raphael.” Grey whispered before stilling again.
Raphael gave her a light squeeze, ridiculously happy that she finally addressed him by his first name, instead of calling him “Mr. Rossellini” or “Sir” like she usually did.
He didn’t want to let her go, but he did, slowly. The approaching sound of a screaming person made them pull away completely, and stare at the main door. Grey slowly bent down to retrieve one of her heels, which Val insisted that she buy and wear to work. Her grip tightened around the shoe, heel pointing outwards. It was the back door that burst open, and Grey was about to hurl the shoe at whoever it was, but dropped it.
Val tackled Grey to the ground and she wiggled about on top of her. She groaned, and Val shouted, “Happy birthday bestie!” Laughing, Grey thanked her and gave her a squeeze. Val stood up, pulling Grey up with her.
Over the time she worked with Lini Co, she and Val really did become best friends. Every day after work, if she wasn’t staying in late with Raphael, they would spend time together at Grey’s apartment, or at Val’s house, and slept over almost every night, to come in to work together the next morning. On weekends, they would walk around the city, stopping at the cafes, and Val would shop her heart out at boutiques and malls. Grey would always politely decline Val’s offer to buy her stuff. She would just buy books or send money to her mother. Val resisted the urge to tell her that with Raphael, “No” is not an answer.
Grey heard an annoyed huff, and looked towards the door to see a tired and pissed off Taj, who shuffled his way towards Grey and shoved Val aside, eliciting a scream as she fell to the ground. Raphael burst out laughing, and a shiver ran down Grey’s spine. Taj noticed, and wiggled his eyebrows, causing her to roll her eyes at him and her cheeks to flush faintly. He opened his arms out for a hug, and the two embraced, Taj murmuring “Happy birthday, Luna” to her, and Grey, after smacking the top of his head, thanked him with a smile.
Raphael had stilled, snapping his head towards a grinning Val with wide eyes. “She sings at this bar. It’s her stage name.” she mouthed to him, and he nodded, relieved. He made a mental note to actually go out more as he was very intrigued by this new information. He always heard her humming or singing softly to herself, and thought she was a fallen angel come to bless his life. Although, that name did sound familiar…
Space Unicorn! Soaring through the stars! Delivering the rain-bows all around the world!
Taj burst out laughing, and Grey glared at him. “It’ll always be funny.” Rolling her eyes, Grey swiped at the screen to answer. Her family appeared, and immediately began singing Happy Birthday to her. She tried to hold back the tears, but a few traitorous ones rolled down her cheeks, and she sniffed. It’s been four years now, but still. The lack of her father’s deep baritone still pulled at her heartstrings. That, and this would be the first year she’s spending her birthday without her family; without her twin brother. Even while she was at the university, she still had majority of her siblings with her, save for Violet and her parents.
“Thanks you guys. I miss you so much.” Grey said, her voice cracking, before she cleared her throat and wiped her cheeks. The hearts of the three other occupants of the room clenched. A sad Grey was a heart-breaking sight; she deserved all the happiness.
“Yo, cocksucker! Happy birthday, and I miss your crazy ass.” Ash grinned. “I miss you too, Kitty Kat.”
Taj peeked over her shoulder, and saw the choir that sang to Grey, noticing how weirdly familiar one of them looked, and the sets of twins, pointing out Grey’s, and his heart just about stopped when his eyes met sleepy green ones. The owner of those eyes cocked their head, and nodded towards him.
“Chi e’?” “Who’s that?”
Grey turned her head to look at Taj, who wiggled his eyebrows at her, and she chuckled, turning back to her phone.
“Sono Taj. Il signor Rossellini fratello minore.” “This is Taj. Mr. Rossellini’s younger brother.”
Taj was still trying to get used to the fact that Grey and her family were in his home country for years, and he never met her. The first time he heard her speak Italian was when she was arguing with Val about what movie they would watch when they got back to Val’s house.
The people on the phone waved and greeted him, and he did the same. Val came up behind Grey, waving frantically at Grey’s family, and chirping a greeting to them. They all smiled and greeted her, before the woman Val came to know as Grey’s mother asked, “So, you’re still at work?”
Grey nodded sheepishly, looking away before her eyes drifted back to her mother. “Yes, mommy dearest.” the woman shook her head disapprovingly. “Grey Katherina Artemis Augustine!”
Grey winced, while her siblings snickered. “Yes mother. I know that I must sleep, but there was work to be done.” Grey said sweetly, daring her mother with her eyes to say more. Sighing in defeat, the woman shook her head and walked away without a word, leaving the line of sight. Her siblings watched the woman go, then they turned back towards Grey. “G, just listen to mom and try to get some sleep, okay?” Sage, the eldest of the group as Val remembered, said, a plead lying in the undertone of his voice.
Val squeezed her best friend’s shoulder, hoping that she would comply. She remembered the countless times they had argued whenever Val woke up at four in the morning, to find Grey still awake and on her phone or laptop, working, with the television playing softly in the background. She never got to know why, no matter how much she pried; Grey was adamant on keeping her in the dark. Eventually, she dropped it, hoping that one day, Grey would be comfortable enough to tell her what was wrong.
Grey nodded dejectedly, sighing as she scratched the back of her neck. The siblings said their goodbyes, promising Grey that they’d see her soon, maybe before the year ended. Val bid them goodbye as well, secretly winking at Sage, and him to her, before Grey hung up, oblivious to the action.
They had never met before in person, even when they were visiting Grey when she had just started the job. They did, however, plan a surprise for Grey over the phone, and hoped that she wouldn’t catch wind of it. The day was finally here, and they couldn’t be more excited.
In a house on the Italian countryside, the Augustine family finished preparations for their flight later that morning.
Sighing, Grey pocketed her phone, and for a while the office was silent, save for their breathing. Grey was contemplating her brother’s words; Raphael was fighting with the other occupants of his body on whether or not he should give Grey the presents now, or later. Val was going over the plan for the day; and Taj was still trying to calm his rapidly beating heart and reign in his other occupants, as that girl with the sleepy green eyes was meant to be with him for the rest of his life, and he was meeting her today.
~Kind of a filler chapter, but yeah.