12 immortals of shadow

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Camellia was an ordinary young woman, like everyone, she had dreams, a job she hated as a waitress in a shady restaurant, and a drive to better her life. What she did not expect, was to fall into the darkest of rabbit holes, and have her whole life turned upside down.

Fantasy / Other
Age Rating:


My footsteps gently cracked the fresh snow as I rubbed my hands together, trying to create enough friction to warm them up. I longed for the warmth of the sun, but night had fallen long ago. The double shift I got called in for had caught me off guard as I had been unprepared for it, and left me exhausted as I had to work through my usual sleeping time. The other waitress had called in sick last minute, and that’s why I’m walking back home in the dead of a snowy windy night.

There wasn’t even a car driving down the street, nor a stray cat scuffling. One could say the entire town was frozen in time perpetuated by the loneliness of the snowy night. I kept moving forward, looking for a small corner to hide from the wind so I could warm up just enough to keep going. Up ahead, I saw a familiar corner I would sometimes hide in to warm up. It was the locked doorway to the television store that kept his televisions on all day and night for potential customers.

I briefly stopped in front of the display window with several different televisions showing the latest in a series of brutal murders. I’d seen the news channels talk about this before and it seemed to be the only story they had been reporting on for the last several weeks. There was a special about the injuries and disfigurations, but nothing about the person or persons responsible being caught. I continued to watch the news with a brief amount of interest, hoping with a frown that something else would be reported on.

My frown became a scowl when I saw the message scroll down from the screens ‘Be careful, don’t go out alone at night!’ “Ah! Like I have another option?” I muttered with teeth chattering from the cold. I turned away from the display and made my way home. With nothing else to distract me from the cold, I started to think about my latest shift at work.

A familiar customer caught my attention at the start of my shift. It was a man who had been absent for several weeks who prior to his disappearance had come in every day like clockwork, ordering the same thing every day at the tables I attended. He was very polite and always gave a big tip for the small tabs. It was weird… very weird. But not the kind of weird that sets off danger bells in your head, the sad kind of weird. He always came alone and always ordered the same thing, like he was trying to recapture memories from long ago that always seemed just beyond his grasp. I’ve always wanted to ask him why he seemed so sad, but never can seem to get the chance too. Every time I think I have a chance to make small talk, the serving bell would ring, alerting me to the fact that another customer’s dishes were ready to be taken out or a table needed cleaning for the next guests ready to sit down.

I finally made it to my apartment, but fumbled with the keys several times. It was a struggle for my numb fingers to pick them up after dropping them because the metal would try to stick to my fingers. Grumbling, I rubbed my hands to warm them up enough so I could unlock the door. My snow-laden boots masked most of the noise I made coming into the refreshingly warm apartment. As soon as I shut the door, I could feel the warmth embracing my body like a badly needed warm hug. I felt bad that the noise I made struggling to unlock the door probably woke up half the complex, but that concern redoubled in my mind as I tried to be quiet inside the apartment so as not to disturb my sleeping roommate. Luna, my fuzzy terror cat, meowed several times demanding my attention and made sure to stay a step in front of me while I moved to get to my room.

I gave Luna several quick pets to shut her up when I heard Jessica turn and roll in her bed. She worked the same job as me, but different hours. She had the day time shifts, unlike me, who was stuck working the evening and now the night shifts. I worked to quickly undress myself out of the many layers of frozen water starting to melt. First the coat, then the boots, followed by everything else until only my work clothes remained. But even those did not last long as I quickly moved to undress and threw them into the hamper to be washed too. I stood before the mirror, naked for a moment and realized how tired I looked. My green eyes barely seemed half open, in the dim light, one might mistake them for hazel instead of the almost turquoise color they really are. My brown hair, which I had spent a good ten minutes getting perfectly into place before work, was disheveled and looked dismal to say the least. My body seemed pale in the poor lighting, whereas my cheeks and nose seem to be the only red I had on my body.

With a frustrated groan I turned away from the mirror and took my robe off of the back of my door, putting it on as I walked into the kitchen not caring that I was exposed to the windows briefly while tying the belt in place. As soon as I got to the fridge, I pulled out a little yoghurt cup and peeled the top off while getting a clean spoon from the drawer next to the fridge. I stuck the spoon in it, then poured myself a glass of juice, and looked at Jessica’s door while eating and drinking just enough to make sure I didn’t wake up starving later. I glanced at the path leading to the shower, but the fatigue of the day left me too drained to find such a thought enjoyable. Besides, the noise would piss the neighbors off and I didn’t need them banging on the door disturbing Jessica at this hour. I was hoping Jessica would come out of her room to say hi, but she didn’t. I cleaned up my small dinner and put the glass and spoon in the sink and filled it with water to clean later.

Returning to my room, I removed the robe and put on my Pajamas and narrowly avoided kicking Luna as she jumped up on the corner of the bed at the same time as I was crawling on top of it. I pulled the fold of sheet and blanket on top of me and sighed in relief as the cool sheets and pillows slowly began to warm up and my aches of the day began to melt away as sleep embraced me moments after closing my eyes.

The morning sun’s warmth filtered through my bedroom window and made my bed uncomfortably warm, which told me it was roughly about 10 am in the morning. I opened my eyes to be greeted by the butt of my fuzzy terror and with a grunt realized she’d been using me to keep herself warm. As soon as I began to move, she quickly turned around and meowed at me in an annoyed manner. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I forget to feed you last night?” I said as I scratched her behind her ears and she began purring. “Don’t worry I’ll take care of you soon.” And proceeded to wake up and prepare for the day.

I decided to make Luna happy, filling her food and water dishes, before tending to my own personal needs. The first thing I did for myself was taking an extra hot shower to work out any kinks the sleep did not take care of. After that, I cooked myself a hot breakfast, which I enjoyed in my bathrobe waiting for my hair to dry, before going to put on some warm comfortable winter clothing to go outside and enjoy the day in.

While putting on my boots, I glanced at the stack of photos that were decorating my desk, and wrinkled my nose at them. They weren’t inspiring me as they had been for my school project. I picked up my camera from my night stand, threw a couple of treats on the bed for Luna to find while I made my trek to the door to lock her inside. Once I knew the cat was secure, I did not need to worry about her getting outside again. I walked to the park with a slight spring in my step, the sun was out, the people were all around. It didn’t look nearly as drab as it had been only a few hours before. I made my way to my favorite spot to take pictures from.

My favorite spot is an old tree with a thick branch that I can sit comfortably on and take pictures of anything around me without too much trouble. There is a good portion of the trunk and other branches that I can never see around, but having nearly 300 degrees of angles to take pictures from is nothing to complain about when looking down and around. I have a park on one side, a portion of a street and the city on the other side, and further away there is a mountain and a forest. Most of my ‘inspirational’ pictures come from the city. Like the punk teenager currently dressed as a giant hot dog using his middle finger to pull down the skin under his eye while flipping me off with his tongue sticking out. I couldn’t help but laugh as I took several pictures of that moment.

I take pictures of other people, animals like squirrels and birds, pets, strays and so on. I never know what the day is going to let me capture, sometimes a day can be a dud.. but considering my hot dog punk teen gave me a laugh at the start of my session, my mood was bubbly. I continued to look around, and noticed the uncommon but recognizable snow-white hair of a refined gentleman moving his red scarf from his neck to his lower face while he seemed to be waiting for someone in the park. As my camera zoomed in on him, I noticed his ears were also red with cold. He was looking in the opposite direction from me until I took the first photo of him, at which point he seemed to turn around, as though suddenly aware of my presence. The thought gave me a funny chill as I scolded myself for being paranoid, even though he seemed to be looking right at me.

It was then that the usually dull color of his eyes caught my attention. The sunlight and the camera zoom allowed me to see their true natural color. The purple hue akin to amethyst was something I had never seen before, and definitely caught my attention. Normally, he kept his eyes down in the restaurant and I always thought they were a dull unimpressive color, but then I saw the surprise register in his eyes as he recognized me, and then smiled, waving at me as the surprise turned to understanding when he realized I was taking his picture. It almost struck me that he had taken a pose of some sort, like models do when they know a camera is flashing in their direction.

I took several pictures in a row before he turned again, surprised by something. He leaned over to dodge a snowball that crashed further into the park, I barely caught the tail end of it in the last picture I took of him. I leaned over to try and see his ‘attacker’, but the branches obscured the area too much for me to see who it was. The white-haired man quickly retaliated by making his own snowball to return to his ambusher, laughing in a ‘you dare to challenge me?’ kind of way.

Finally, I managed to see who initiated the snowball fight as they changed locations to get closer to the white-haired man. Dressed in black from head to toe, with jet-black hair and bright leaf green eyes… I briefly sat in stunned silence before I wrinkled my nose and narrowed my eyes watching and capturing photos of the two men exchanging snowballs like hardened war veterans of snowball fights. The superior ‘snow-ball warrior’ seemed to be the man in black. After I felt satisfied I had captured enough moments of the event, I got down from the tree, and walked over to the man dressed in black. I lifted my boot, gently connected it to his butt, and pushed with all my might and struggled not to smirk when he landed face first in a pile of snow.

The black-haired man pulled his head from the snow, spit out some of it while shaking the snow out of his hair and brushing it off of his coat at the same time, a look of anger on his face as he turned around sputtering. I crossed my arms and looked at him with pursed lips to hide the fact that I wanted to smile for ‘kicking his ass’ by making him eat a bank full of snow. “Hey! What the he-” He stopped himself as he suddenly recognized me. “Cam?! CAM!” The two of us embraced in a hug moments later, though the strength of his hug left my feet dangling in the air for a moment.

“Ah! It’s been what… two years since I last saw you? You know that our Christmases have become painfully boring without you, right sis’?!” My brother asked as my boots found the ground once more.

“Am I the only one who will never end up drunk or tipsy while making Christmas fun? We got off to a bad start if that’s the case…” I replied with a smirk.

He laughed loudly at my retort, briefly hugged me again, bouncing on one foot then the other. Then with a sudden seriousness that left me somewhat surprised, he firmly gripped my shoulders and twisted me to face the white haired man while turning himself in the same direction. “Caim, I present you with my little sister Camellia! Camellia, this is Caim! An… old friend.”

“You hesitated…” I said, turning my head to him to give him a stern look that usually made him nervous. It still did.

“What? No!” He tried to wave off the accusation.

“Yes… you totally hesitated.” I said calmly as I pushed his hands from my shoulders and started my older brother down.

“It’s… complicated…” He said meekly, clearly not wanting to elaborate.

“I thought you were already engaged…” I said, hoping to get him to slip up on some details.

“I AM engaged! With Mathilde!” He grumbled at me. I playfully nudged him to let him know I was joking and not to get so carried away.

A car honking made all three of us turn to the source, a moment later, someone yelled Caim’s name through an open window. “Ah, it looks like I have to go. Glad to have seen you again Noah … and glad to have officially met you Camellia.” Caim nodded slightly and turned on his heel to leave, exiting the park, and entering the dark car, which started moving moments after he entered, and quickly disappeared around the corner.

Looking up at my brother with a frown, he returned my gaze with an expression of incomprehension. “Officially met? What does he mean by that?” he asked.

“Oh! That…” I hesitated briefly “That’s because he’s been coming for a drink in the evening at the restaurant where I work for the last several weeks, though he was gone for a spell but I just saw him again last night. He always manages to get one of my tables, even if they’re not available he will just wait for one.” I explained quickly while feeling awkward as I did so.

I saw my brother frown and purse his lips together as he turned his head to look at the street the car had disappeared on moments ago and then he sighed as he looked back at me. “Don’t worry, he has his little habits, that’s all. He likes to have an organized routine. He must appreciate your professionalism… Besides, I’m willing to bet that if he takes a tea, it’s mint tea, and if he takes a drink, it contains mint.”

I paused and thought about what my brother said, my eyes staring at our boots as I did. Thinking back, he always did ask for mint in one form or another… A mojito with ginger, orange and mint… his tea always had mint in it, he always requested the chocolate mints with his tab too. I looked at my brother, nodding, not really sure what to respond with so I remained silent.

Noah smiled warmly at me with a nod. “He likes his habits, it gives him a sense of comfort and a feeling that he’s in control, I think. Something he can hold onto in these troubled times…” He then looked down at the camera in my hands, and made a grab for it.

He knew I enjoyed taking pictures and he’s one of the few people I trusted not to break my camera so I let him look. “By the way, does he wear contact lenses? I know I can be a little crazy but…” I didn’t want to finish my thought out loud.

“Contact lenses? No, Why?” he responded casually while glancing up at me, then went back to going through my most recent pictures taken.

“Well…” I briefly paused but then with a roll of my eyes, I decided to just say it. “I might be a little tired but I could have sworn he had purple eyes.”

Noah stopped fiddling with my camera and turned to look at me with an expression of disbelief, as though I’d suddenly grown a third arm. He shook his head, and we both looked at the digital screen of my camera together. “You must have imagined it.. look see, his eyes are as blue as they have ever been. The sunlight must have put a glare on your screen or something.” He explained to me as I looked at the pictures and saw he had a pair of greyish blue eyes. We both examined every picture I took of him, and no purple to be seen. Could it have been a trick in the light, like my brother suggested?

I wasn’t so sure, and yet, my proof was taken with my own camera “You’re right… Maybe it was only the sun.” I said in a defeated kind of way. I had been so sure of what I had seen, and I knew my lens didn’t have a glare on it when I took the picture, so why did I see purple when I should have seen blue?

Noah’s hand was suddenly messing with my hair as he smiled at me. I wrinkled my nose and took a moment to put the camera in its case, before throwing a punch at my brother’s arm. I smiled when it connected, his attention had been elsewhere, and he knew I hated it when anyone messed with my hair. “What the hell?” He exclaimed, rubbing his arm.

“Still a wimp, letting a girl kick your ass into the snow then acting like a punch in the arm hurts.” I said with a smirk and picked up my gear, making sure nothing was missing.

While I was checking my gear my brother responded with “This coming from the woman who enjoyed breaking things with her head in high school.. then again, you were a carpenter’s dream back then.”

“A carpenter’s dream?” I asked, not bothering to look up.

“You know.. flat as a board.. easy to nail.” It took me three seconds to register that insult, and two more for me to get a swift kick which my brother narrowly dodged only because he’d been expecting me to kick him. “Haha sis… you’re getting old and slow!”

“I was NOT flat as a board!” I said, making a half assed snowball to throw at him, which he dodged, running and laughing as he went wherever he was going. I threw the strap to my camera gear over my shoulder with a glare at my brother. I was going to get him back for that, but I had to admit.. he got me pretty good with that one. Not that I’ll ever admit that to him.

Once I got back to the apartment, I looked at the photos with my laptop, his eyes were still blue… I had them printed with my photo printer and even those came out blue.Not even a shadow of purple in them. I frowned, as the eyes looked touched up in the printed photo of them. You do this kind of thing long enough you eventually have a good sense to spot when something’s been photoshopped or edited… and I had that sense now looking at the photos.

Luna climbed into my lap and looked at the photos before meowing and extending her paw out to pull them all to the ground. “What, you don’t like him?” I asked in amusement as Luna meowed again and sat down on the photo with both Caim and Noah in it. Luna always recognized my brother, and had a love-hate relationship with him. It was very strange, like two old acquaintances that could barely get together. I leaned down to pick up the photos from under my cat’s butt to retrieve them and was rewarded with an annoyed meow from Luna as her tail flickered about in a dangerous manner to indicate her annoyance.

Looking through the photos, I decided they were more interesting for my project than the previous pictures I had taken before. Those had taken me a while to get the right light and composition, but these seemed like they would be more of a challenge, which is why I decided to keep them, as I knew I’d find a place for them in my project eventually. Luna jumped up on my desk and licked her front paw, which amused me because it almost seemed smug for my cat. I rewarded her with a scritch behind her ears as it made me laugh. However, my efforts to concentrate on my project ended up with me staring at the pictures of Caim and Noah, hanging on the cork board. No matter how I looked at those pictures, something always seemed off to me.

After a while, I forced my attention elsewhere. I had two good pictures of Mr. Hotdog, one with a completely jaded air as his soul was slowly wasting away, while the other we could see his anger and bitterness at being immortalized in the form of a giant hot dog. Both had their own appeal, and thus, I would keep both for different reasons. The people in this town could be colorful at times, the thought made me smirk to myself. I knew I’d eventually find a place for them in my project, however I was coming to realize that as my project was becoming more people focused, that I should have been less picky about the photos I had been taking. As I sat back in my chair and thought about what I needed, I found myself groaning in frustration. Thinking that I might need some help to finish this on time, and wondered if maybe my brother had other friends who might be interested in helping me. A glance at the clock made me groan again, louder this time, as I realized it was soon time to go work another hellish shift that I agreed to take on. I wondered why I kept saying yes instead of no to take other coworker’s shifts. Maybe if I get to a point where I’m not desperate for money, I can enjoy sleeping more and working less.

I finally got up and went to get ready, putting on my work clothes and fixing my hair. I glanced at my camera, hesitated, then put it in my bag to take with me. I gave Luna a quick loving pet and scratch before ensuring she had food and water. Jessica, who was my roommate, friend, classmate and co-worker could probably help me with my project, and if not, I could always take pictures on my breaks or after work during the night.

As I walked into the restaurant and hurried to the back to dress down from the cold to work, Jess hissed at me from behind. “Camellia, you’re almost late!”

“I know!” I whispered back while putting things in the locker. “There’s no need to ‘yell’ at me right away, save it for when I’m really late.”

A quick glance told me she was glaring at me. “Tch!” She retorted, not having anything else to add since she knew I was right.

“Go deliver table 4, her order is ready!” the head chef then barked at me, as Jess turned on her heels to go back to tending her own tables. It was a struggle not to stick my tongue out at the head chef as I pursed my lips. Not only is he the boss, he’s also the owner, so I forced my ‘waitress smile’ out as I picked up table four’s order and carried it over. After briefly introducing myself, and taking orders, I quickly made rounds to check up on the rest of my tables and their customers, ensuring everyone was happy and drinks were topped off. However, it was the evening hours, so I found myself at the back in the bar area mixing drinks with the bartender, who was swamped himself. Initially, I was supposed to be bartending with him during the busier nights, but they needed more waitresses, and I couldn’t say no, which is something I really need to work on. I shouldn’t have accepted the waitress job, but at least I could still go behind the counter and mix cocktails now and again.

The restaurant bartender was named Ryan, a high energy, quick paced man who was fit with muscles that just didn’t quit. His personality was flamboyantly bubbly, and he loved to chat, and always seemed to make time for every customer, even the ones he didn’t like. There were rumors he might be gay or had a secret lover, cause none of the female staff ever saw signs of a girlfriend or him leaving with any of the customers during closing time or quitting time. And any attempts to ask him about such things he expertly changed the subject without you noticing until you forgot what you were intending to ask him about in the first place. He is the resident man of mystery that every woman loves to gossip about in the ladies room.

“Oh Caaam!??” The sing-song voice of Ryan from nearby when I was behind the bar yet again.

“Yes?” I asked, concentrating on the drinks at the moment, but I quickly glanced at him in a worried way, concerned a customer might be upset about something.

“Your regular is back. And it looks like he brought a hottie with him, goody for you no?” He said smugly, and walked away briskly to the back to get the good stuff for one of his regulars.

I scanned the restaurant quickly to see which “regular” he was referring to, as I had several. I spotted the familiar snow white hair of Caim, and with him was my brother, and another slightly shorter man with ice blue hair. As Ryan returned from the back with an unopened bottle of something, I glared at him, and hissed “Did you just call my brother a hottie?”

It was one of the few moments I got to see Ryan surprised, but a smartass smile spread on his lips quickly after, and he barely paused in his steps to retort “ooo.. forbidden fruit.. the best kind” before briskly moving away before I could whisper my retort back at him. I had to dash to bring my customer his drink before getting Caim, my brother and the blue haired stranger settled into one of my clean tables. The blue haired man had eyes as blue as his hair, a deep navy-blue. My brother and the stranger were loud in their conversation, where he briefly introduced us as my sister and I did my own introduction as their waitress for the evening. However, I noticed that Caim was silent as a tombstone with what looked like a forced half smile as we exchanged hellos. If I had to guess, Caim seemed sad, not his usual happy self, but I didn’t have time to investigate further as I could only get their drinks before promising to return after they had a moment to examine their menus.

I knew Caim usually preferred one of the more secluded tables in the restaurant, but none of the tables he liked were available at the moment, and he seemed to be more interested in getting seated quickly rather than waiting for a change, which I am guessing is because of my brother and the blue haired man they were with. I quickly did a round of my other tables, which usually took about five minutes. I kind of overheard my brother and the blue haired man having a loud “discussion” which could have been a heated debate or argument. They were definitely louder than many of our other customers in the area. Caim looked like he was a referee that wanted to be anywhere else, his eyes like a pair of ping pong balls flickering between my brother and the blue haired man. His hand moved to his head, holding it in a way that made it look like one had a headache.

I approached the table slowly, taking a moment to pull out my pen and notepad to watch this exchange. I’d never seen Caim look bored or miserable before.. I wish I had my camera for this moment. “May I take your order?” I yelled at them slightly to make sure they could all three hear me.

The heated ‘discussion’ briefly came to a halt as Caim lifted his head, visibly pulled from his languid agony and his hand moved away from his head as he smiled at me. His blue eyes lit up, whereas moments ago they looked glazed with boredom. However, during the change in the demeanor I could swear I saw a brief flicker of purple again, which made me narrow my eyebrows a bit at him. Upon closer inspection, he had shadows beneath his eyes which made me think he had a concealer or some kind of make-up to hide… something.

“Sorry.” Caim said quickly, cutting off my brother and the other. “It looks like I’ve brought you two noisy clients.”

I tightened my lips as best I could to try and hide the smile forming on my lips as I looked pointedly at my brother “I’ve dealt with worse.”

“Hey!” My brother tried to chime in but Caim cut him off again with laughter

“Ahaha, I don’t even doubt it.” Caim said, his mood quickly improving.

“So, I assume you’d like your usual mint tea? What would you like to eat with it?” I said, enjoying the brief moment of ignoring my brother, watching him slouch back in his seat as he waited his turn to speak.

“Hmm…” Caim replied thoughtfully.

“Something.. fried?” I said, watching his facial expressions. “No? Maybe something sweet?” That got a smile from him “How about a small shortbread to go with the tea?”

“I’ll let the shortbread tempt me, and I’ll let you know if something else strikes my fancy.”

“Perfect!” I said, glad I got him to get something to eat with his tea, and scribbled it down. “Now.. how about you… Brother?” I paused, normally, I would say ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ but the urge to kick my brother into the snow bank again had resurfaced.

“I didn’t know you’d be working tonight Cam!” He said with a lie so obvious that even the blue haired man’s eye roll didn’t escape my notice.

My professional demeanor dropped as I put a hand on the table to lean on it and poked my brother in the cheek with the eraser head of my pencil. “When are you going to learn you’re a sh… terrible liar? You look as innocent as a fox in the hen house. Now, I’m going to get you six chicken wings and a cheeseburger with a long island iced tea. Would you like a side of getting your butt kicked into the snowbank again?”

My brother’s sour look made me smile and want to giggle, but I suppressed it. “That sounds perfect, and no thanks to the sides.. gotta watch the sneak attacks or it goes straight to my waist. Wouldn’t want to get top heavy, like you.” My brother’s retort was somewhat out of character for him. I was taken aback, particularly the triple insult where he was referring to me being nerdy as well as my boobs and their size, which he knew was a sour subject for me back in highschool for… various reasons.

My mind was completely blank. I had no smartass retort to his insult or clever way to twist it. Instead, I turned to the stranger with a forced smile to try and hide the fact that I just got burned by my brother. “And you sir?”

“I’d like some full barbecue ribs half as spicy as your brothers retort, a margarita as salty as you feel at this moment, sweet potato fries and some nachos on the side. For dessert, I’d like an ice cream turtle brownie that smells sweeter than you… look.” he briefly paused at you before adding ‘look’, which i took note of, but the compliment made me smile a bit as I scribbled down his order. I noticed the table move slightly and the blue haired stranger jerked at about the same time, my eyes went from Caim to my brother.. I wasn’t sure which one of them kicked him, but I’m positive one of them did.

“Anything else?” I asked, looking between the three of them, wishing I could listen to whatever was about to be said between them when I left. When all of them shook their heads, I smiled and walked off to stick their order in the kitchen window, and turned back to look at them. Both Caim and my brother were glaring at the blue haired man, though I couldn’t tell who was talking to him at the moment, they had gotten notably quieter, much to my chagrin, I really wanted to know what they were saying to him at that moment.

With a disgruntled sigh, I moved along to do another round on my various tables, one of which required cleaning for the next customer, once done cleaning it, i managed to grab the drinks for my brothers table, and delivered them quickly, intending to leave immediately after dropping them off but my brother stopped me to ask a question. “Hey, by the way, what time do you finish up today?”

“Huh? Oh, uh… two in the morning.” I answered in a distracted way.. the window had plates waiting to be served, and the head chef often made thinly veiled threats about docking paychecks if the plates sat too long at the window.

“What?!” he exclaimed loudly enough to have some customers turn their heads toward us, which made me more antsy to get to the window. “Do you at least have someone to walk you home?”

I glared at my brother, his earlier insults still stinging a bit. “No, I don’t.”

“Then we will wait until you’re done. We will escort you home.” he announced, his voice still too loud for my liking.

Noah’s big brother routine finally made me snap. I leaned in close so all three of them could hear me but none of the other customers would. “Noah, you’re about ten years too late to be playing big brother. I’m a grown ass woman, and no mugger or rapist would dare attack me with the way I’m feeling right now. If you want to experience why, make one more dumb remark about how I need an escort tonight or any other night I go home alone. Now, I have a job to do, so don’t pester me unless it’s to pay the bill or get your drink refilled.” And before he could respond, I turned on my heel and walked away from him, rushing to get to the plates and see which table they needed to go to.

My brother, unfortunately, failed to heed my warning, they ordered more booze as the night wore on, and Caim stuck to his mint tea, which I was thankful for.. two drunks at the end of the night was going to be bad enough to deal with. I decided I might need help, so I stopped by the bar to talk to Ryan. “Hey Ryan.. my brothers pulling a big brother stink. You think you could help me deal with him and his friend at the end of the night?”

Ryan turned and looked at me with a smile that could make a girl melt or quiver. “Sure, which one do you want me to steal the keys from?” he asked in a way that made me think he was a little too eager for this.

“Erm.. both? I’m not sure if they came in together or not. And my brother’s not gonna listen to me as drunk as he is at the moment.” I explained to Ryan who only nodded.

“I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”

I thanked Ryan quickly and turned around to hide the blush that I’m sure came up on my cheeks after that statement. Cheeky bastard had a way with words. I was glad when customers started thinning out late into the night, and only a handful of tables were left. My brother, Caim, and the blue haired stranger had migrated to the bar at that time, waiting for my shift to end. As my shift started coming to an end, I made a rush to clean up my tables and dump the dirty dishes inside the kitchen for the cleaners to get too. I put my coat on, and finally approached my brother and his friends.

Noah, who saw me approaching in my winter clothes, stood up clumsily. “Ah ha.. she’s finally off, now we can go!” He announced it to his friend and Caim. “Lets go to the car” he said as he tripped on the stool he’d been sitting in moments ago, causing him to stumble toward me.

I barely caught him before he hit the ground, his friend laughing at him. “Noah.. NO! You’re in no condition to drive!” I struggled to push him back to the bar, where I saw Caim slip a large bill to Ryan, which went unnoticed by the two drunks.

Noah started to giggle, and turned to his friend and said “She thinks I’m driving..” Which caused him and the stranger to burst into laughter together. “He’s driving!” Noah explained, pointing a finger at Caim.

Caim rolled his eyes and shook his head as the stranger struggled to put his coat back on. Watching him, I knew the process would take him a few minutes as he had the coat upside down.. and both he and my brother were laughing about how dumb it was to struggle to put a coat on. “And that’s why I stuck to the Tea this evening.” He explained to me as I approached him and Ryan.

“I am so sorry about…” I tried to apologize to both of them.

Ryan cut me off first. “Ahh they’re fine.. I prefer the fun drunks to the angry ones. Had a few good laughs with them too.”

“I kind of suspected the two of them would end up like this.” He said, glancing at them to see if the coat had been put on yet. “Polariss, the one you don’t know, is a social drinker.” He explained with a wry smile. “If he finds a drinking buddy… well you can see it for yourself.”

I think I died a little inside when my brother gasped and laughed at a raunchy joke Polariss had made, my nose wrinkling at them in disgust. “They’re not going to be sick in the car, right?” I asked turning back to Caim.

“Oh no, they have strong stomachs” he said as though he was unconcerned about it even if they did get sick. “I do know they won’t make it past the locks on their doors or even to their beds tonight. I’ll be taking either of them to the various guest rooms at my place.” his casual demeanor remained unchanged or unconcerned about the current events.

“Guest rooms?” I giggled at Caim. “You make it sound like you own a hotel or something.” I said, trying to joke with him a bit.

“Hotel? No no.. I wouldn’t own something so drab. I live in a mansion. I enjoy my privacy.” he explained as he sipped his mint tea in a calm manner like one would when enjoying good weather.

“Really?” I asked, his ‘cool’ demeanor didn’t impress me, I’d seen plenty of men try these kinds of pick-up lines before. “Let me guess, ten bedrooms with different themes..”

“Thirty-six, and no, they’re quite ordinary. My home isn’t just mine, the few of us who live there are.. family through some extraordinary circumstances. Some of us have lived there for a very long time, and it’s grown over the years as people have added what they wanted or needed over the years. I even allow some of my longer term patients to “rent” a room as needed.”

“Thirty-six?!” I found myself dumbfounded by that number he dropped without even batting an eye. My brain was struggling to comprehend everything else he was saying, this man.. who’d been my regular for months, was loaded and I didn’t have a clue! The silence stretched on, I gave myself a quick mental kick, ask something stupid! “Patient… are you a doctor?”

“In a manner of speaking.” he answered ambiguously.

His answer made it harder to find another question to ask. “So.. thirty-six..” I said, feeling dumber for not finding something else to talk about. “Are you a royal or a celebrity or something?”

He laughed openly. “One could argue that I am a Noble, but… the royalty doesn’t exist anymore, if that makes sense? My family inherited the land and the mansion I live in, and we were always careful with our family fortune.”

“Wow… I never would have guessed. You’ve always been so.. grounded and humble.” I said, feeling so foolish at the moment. He acted nothing like one would expect a noble royal would. And he always insisted on having me wait and serve on him, but why? What was it he liked about me so much? Compared to him, I was a nobody, just like a thousand other nobodies.. struggling to live, desperate for money, wishing for a better life.

“I…” he paused, taking a breath as he set his mint-tea down on the bar. “I’m not one to flaunt my wealth, nor do I feel the need to own fancy things. I just get what I enjoy and what I like. Now.. think you can help me get these rapscallions to the car?” He said with an amused expression as he turned his head toward my brother and his drunken buddy.

During our conversation Polariss managed to get one of his arms in the coat, but was struggling to find the other one during a dance of him spinning around like an idiot trying to find it. I was reminded of a dog chasing his tail. I tore my attention away from the idiot duo. “Sure. I’ll help you out.” I said, hopeful that I’d get a ride to my apartment, rather than having to walk in the freezing icy cold, the idea that I could have a ride in a warm car was going through my mind.

Before taking the late shift at the restaurant, normally I’d ride the bus to get home. But since the last bus leaves at eleven, and my shift doesn’t end until three in the morning, I’d been walking home and not really telling anyone I knew would make a fuss, like my brother or my boss. I took my wimpy brother by the arm, and Caim took Polariss as we walked outside into the parking lot. There weren’t many vehicles left in the parking lot now. An old beat up dodge which Caim was walking toward, he wasn’t kidding about not wanting to flaunt his wealth. I looked around and saw a minivan elsewhere, a big black truck and beyond the old dodge was a sporty luxury car. I stopped at the truck and waited for Caim to unlock the door but… he kept walking, toward the luxury car.

“Sis… that’s not what caim drives.. you saw his car earlier!” he said, having enough sense to know I just messed up despite his drunken stupidity.

“Shut it you, I know.. you’re just so damn heavy.” I said elbowing him in the side, which I don’t think he felt as I pushed him with a grunt towards the Luxury car. As I got closer, I saw it was a red Corvette, and there wasn’t anything on it that wasn’t slick or shiny or expensive looking. I felt envious of my brother, getting to drive around in this thing. With some effort, we got the drunken idiots in the back seats, who started singing off-key, unsynchronized and generally god awful stuff to listen to. Nails on a chalkboard would have been more pleasant to listen to. Thankfully, I didn’t need to listen to them for too long, as they were asleep ten minutes after driving with the navigation system telling Caim where to go, not that he seemed to be listening to it.

“You said my brother was sleeping at your place tonight, right?” I asked, as the silence started to wear on me. Neither of them snored in their sleep.

“Yup.” Caim answered, his eyes staying on the road.

“Is it far from here?” I asked in a worried tone.. I didn’t want to walk that far in this weather.

“Erm, we have to get out of town and then take a relatively secluded road through the woods.. thirty or forty minutes.”

“oh… that’s pretty far.” I said with a frown, wondering what I had gotten myself into thanks to my brother, who was now resting comfortably against his new buddy. I pulled my camera out of my bag with a smirk, Caim glanced at me as I rummaged through the bag, and took a picture of the sleeping drunks in the back. A little bit of drool was coming from my brother’s mouth as they continued to sleep on, unaware of the amazing blackmail material I was going to have dozens of pictures of in mere moments. While I doubted I’d ever be able to use any of them in my project.. I found I didn’t care much about that at this particular moment. I almost fumbled my camera when the light turned green and Caim started moving. “HEY!” I exclaimed furiously, surprised by the sudden movement.

My sudden yell made my brother jerk out of his drunken sleep. “Wassamatta? Whosit? Huh?” He looked around bleary eyed and stupid as I guiltily moved my camera between my legs to hold it out of sight.

“Nothing! Nothing! Go back to sleep Noah, everythings fine I swear!” I said quickly, maybe a bit too quickly, as he stared at me suspiciously.

“Heeeey~!” he said as though he knew what had just happened. “Where’d the rum go!” He said, sounding like a particularly well known pirate, then giggled at his own joke.

I calmed myself down, realizing I could take pictures of him drunk and awake and he’d probably pose for a few of them. I kept one hand on the Camera to make sure it didn’t roll off somewhere in case Caim stopped. “Go back to sleep Noah.” I figured maybe ignoring him for a few minutes would get him to fall back asleep, and turned to Caim. “I should probably help you take my brother to one of your guest rooms…”

“It’s not your fault..” Caim said in a reassuring way.

“But I’d feel bad if I didn’t offer to do something for your kindness.” I said, being genuine with how I felt about this at the moment.

“And you’re not responsible for any of this either.” He spoke as though he’d not been interrupted by me, or bothered by any of the current events as they were unfolding.

“Maybe not.. but I still feel bad.. and.. we’re driving a long way away from my apartment. You did say you had thirty six rooms.. right?” I asked, hoping he’d invite me to stay for the night. In the back of my mind.. I imagined being able to soak in a tub rather than having to take a shower in a small cramped space.

“Yes, but you only have your work clothes, if I’m not mistaken?” he said, glancing at me as he asked his question before his eyes returned to the road ahead of him.

Damnit, damnit, damnit, damn my brother to hell! I bit my thumbnail lightly in thought. If I helped him and stayed the night.. we could all get some rest. But all my clean clothes were back at the apartment. And I’d feel so bad making him drive me back only to drive back to his mansion again. “Hey, we’re actually close to my apartment.” I said, recognizing one of the familiar landmarks.

“I know.. your brother mentioned you lived on Rosebush Avenue. I was taking you as close to your home as possible, save you a bit of a walk in the cold.” He said, smiling in a friendly way. “Sadly, I don’t know exactly where you live, so I hope you don’t mind if I drop you off…”

I cut Caim off before he could finish. “I’m at 556 Rosebush Avenue.” I blurted out loud, not caring if he knew where I lived or not now. “Just let me get a few things, and I’ll help you with my brother..”He frowned at me, driving slowly to look for the correct number. “I don’t mind taking them to my place and putting them to bed myself. It wouldn’t be the first time…”

I cut Caim off again. “No! I will help you.”

“It’s a long drive.. they’re heavy.” he said, trying to deter me.

“Oh no, I’m not letting my irresponsible big brother escape the hangover lecture after that ‘I’m not letting you walk home alone’ bullshit. It will allow me to read the riot act to my brother, and if he tries to talk his way out of it, I’ll break my foot up his ass after kicking it to the moon!” I got out of the car when he moved into a parking spot, but then turned around. “And you better be here when I’m back or you’re getting the same thing he’s getting the next time I see you!” I warned Caim, though I was mentally kicking myself as I did it.

Much to my surprise and relief, he put his lips together in a way that looked like he was trying not to laugh. He then shook his head at me as he put the car in park and then looked at me seriously. “I fear I must warn you, the people in my house get up very early, you sure you want to do this?”

“Don’t worry about that, I sleep like a rock. Even when my cat sits on my face.”

“How could you possibly know that?” He asked me dubiously.

“When you have a roommate in the same photography program as you, and she takes pictures of absolutely everything that happens in the apartment!” He started laughing at that, which made me grin. “Back in five, don’t leave!” I shut the door, and ran toward the apartment door, fumbling with my keys on the way to get the one to unlock it.

I rushed into the apartment like a nut, trying to go through the ‘wind-down’ routine as quickly as possible, but my roommate Jessica wasn’t asleep yet. She saw me and tore away from her school project to ask me how the last shift was. I quickly explained to her I was going to sleep at a “friends” house for the night and be back tomorrow. She started asking a lot of questions about this “friend” of mine at which I answered as evasively as possible, feeding Luna and grabbing clean clothes and stuffing them in a ready-to-go bag that I had to shake some dust off of from the closet. Once I had everything I needed, I gave her a quick peck on the cheek, thanked her for being a good friend, and promised to text her as soon as I woke up, before sneaking off into the parking lot.

I made it to Caim’s car and opened the door and saw my roommate standing in the cold with her arms crossed in shorts and a thin t-shirt, watching me with a worried but determined glare. With a smile, I waved at her, gave her a flying kiss and hurried into the warm car. Caim put the car into reverse, and I watched my roommate stare at the car I was in with a scowl. She took two steps outside, and it suddenly occurred to me she was getting the car’s tag information as we drove by. I suddenly felt really guilty, she was worried about me, like a good roommate would be. I’d make it up to her later… if she didn’t kill me first.

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