Chapter 14: Twist
After a few busy weeks passed by followed by the near-death experience at the Lopez Hotel, Anya Romans suddenly realised the event that occurred between herself and the Gran Mago.
The moment felt like it would last forever when their gazes lingered more than once and wondered how soft they’d be against each other...
Anya furiously shook her head. She refused to be like one of those women in romantic novels who suddenly had an urge of lust for someone, in a spur of the moment between life and death.
Over my dead body!
Realising that she might have scrubbed on the white oak wood countertop a little too hard, Anya sighed deeply and did a stretch on her torso.
It was a slow day at Home’s, with very few customers even during lunch hour. Brown eyes looked up at the man who had a while ago, lingered in her train of thoughts. With his back facing her, Aidan was in the midst of training two newly hired staff. As if he could feel a pair of eyes on him, Aidan turned around and grinned.
Anya’s face turned beet red due to being caught by a surprise. She was about to march into the kitchen when the front bell rang, a customer walked in.
“Welcome to Home’s! How many people－”Anya’s eyes grew widened at the new presence of a customer. Her breath taken away and her knees suddenly grown weak.
“E-Ethan! What brings you all the way here to my humble abode?”
Behind her, she could hear the two new staff snickered at her chosen words. None of that matters to Anya however, when Ethan Carters’ handsome features broke into a big smile.
“They’d told me I could find you here! Sorry if I’m intruding while you’re at work.” He took a few big steps to a nearby empty seat and allowed himself to be seated.
“Oh, not at all! Please, take your time here. Do you want coffee? It’s in house.”
Ethan nodded. “Thanks. Coffee, it is.”
Anya nearly skipped her steps while making her way to the counter and prepared his coffee. Heart fluttering, she didn’t realise the strange glare Aidan has given her the moment her crush walked in.
“Is it okay if I take few minutes of your time, Anya? I actually have something that I’d like to discuss with you.”
Anya served his coffee and nervously pulled out a seat across him and sit down.
“Sure. How can I help?”
“It’s about the upcoming play…” Ethan pulled out a script book and his notebook with lots of sticky notes in it.“We’ve encountered a problem with the main cast, the Prince. The student who was supposed to play the role had an accident and broke his leg. He’s fine now though, but with the play’s a month away, it’s hard to find a replacement. Which is why…”
Ethan turned to Anya, with seriousness in his eyes.
“Would you like to consider playing a reversed role as the Prince?”
“A Prince? He’d literally asked you to play the role of a Prince?”
“Ethan asked me out that question out of the blue. How was I supposed to react? I wasn’t ready!”
“So, what did you say?”
“Well... I’d say yes, but I haven’t give him a confirmation answer yet. I told him I needed to give me some time to consider.”
A disappointed sigh came from Josh Campbell, who stayed over while Rosy was out of town participating for a bakery conference for a week.
“Look, Anya. Do you want him to look at you as a young available woman or as a reliable friend?”
“Both! What the hell this has anything to do with that?”
“You don’t like any of those stuff. You’d even slept through Cats’ Broadway once and they were not cheap, Anya. Freakin’ Cats’ Broadway where people were singing and meowing to the song, and all I heard were your loud snoring in my left ear. How are you suppose to performance in a play when you couldn’t even barely hold your eyelids together!”
Anya pouted, stabbing a bowl of salad in front of her with a fork in her right hand. Though Josh had made a point, it still hurt her pride. But watching a Play and acting on it were totally different stories altogether!
Frowned, she lifted her fork in the air and pointed.
“I will rock this Play, Josh. You’ll see.”
Josh shook his head inconveniently by her words.
“You can’t have both, Anya. It’s unfair, but you just can’t both. For me personally, I’ll support whole-heartily in whatever that you want to do as long as it isn’t shitty. Most men are unfortunately, an ass. They’ll either see you as a good and reliable friend or a woman they may want to fuck－either for fun or the real deal, it’s up to the situation. Right now, if you choose to accept this male role, Ethan would see you as a reliable friend he could relies on in time of troubles. Would he be able to see you as a potential date and girlfriend? Who knows,” Josh shrugged, cleaning his plates and took them to the kitchen for washing.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t help him if it makes him sees you as a woman. I’m just saying if you want to help him, do it for the right reason. In the end, you’ll do you, Anya. I don’t want to see you get hurt by the end of the day if things didn’t go the way you hoped for them to be.”
After dinner and cleaned up the dining table, Anya went to her room for a shower. Joshua’s advice lingered in her ears by the time she got out from the bathroom, and she sighed deeply.
Josh meant well and always has her best interest in his heart. What he said rang some truth. Still, despite her main reasoning wanting to accept the role hoping it would impress Ethan, Anya really wanted to try her hands on the play.
As for her concerns for always snoozing away while watching theatre, well, let’s just add strong caffeine coffee into her diet then.
Her phone vibrated and the light on the screen popped out a message. Anya read the message and responded quickly. She then put on a pale pink hoodie sweater on top of her night shirt.
“I’m going out for a bit, Josh!” Anya shouted while walking to the entrance door.
In the living room, Josh was doing push-ups in his bare muscular chest and a pair of sports shorts, shouted back, “Don’t stay out too late.”
WHEN Anya reached the lobby of her condominium, her face quickly lighted up at the sight of a man wearing a dark cloak whom she hadn’t gotten the chance to meet since the engagement party.
“Miss Anya,” Duke greeted her with a usual charming smile and pulled her in a warm embrace. “It’s been a while. You look as lovely as ever. If not, lovelier.”
“Right,” Anya pulled away from his embrace with a smile. “Working hard, Your Royal Highness?”
Duke smiled tiredly. “Indeed I am. My kingdom continues to flourish as ever! Soon, we will be holding an annual festival. But, that’s not why I’m here. ”
Anya gave him a questioning look.
Duke responded by pulling out his mobile phone.
“I’ve had the courtesy to exchange phone numbers with Miss Green and Mister Aarons during their engagement party, and we’ve been keeping in touch since then! They’d informed that Mister Ethan Carter was asking about your whereabouts at the school. Has he finally noticed what a great woman you are, Miss Anya?”
Anya lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, he did approach me earlier today. Their male lead got into an accident, nothing too critical, but they needed a quick replacement, and he thought I would be a great candidate for the male role.”
“Brilliant! Have you made up your mind?”
“I’d text him while on my way down that I accepted the role. Ethan was obviously happy and extremely grateful. He said that I could start practising the lines on my own and he’ll come and help out next week,” Anya grinned widely.
Duke could not contain his excitement and joyously lifted Anya up and swinging her in while congratulating her.
“Are you really that happy that I’ve agreed to the male lead role?” Anya chuckled once her feet back on the land.
“Of course I’m happy! I know that you’ll make a brilliant and charismatic Prince,” Duke smiled softly. “That being said, let us help you to rehearse your scripts!”
“Are you sure you’re okay to help? I mean, I don’t want to get you into trouble with His Majesty again…”
At this, Duke laughed. “Don’t worry your little head, Miss Anya. My father has permitted me to take a break once in a while. He allowed me to stay here not longer than five days!”
Anya pondered for a bit then let out a sigh. “If you said so. So when will we start the rehearsal?”
“Oh, we can begin now. Aidan?” Duke turned to his butler, who merely nodded.
“According to my trustworthy resource, the theatrical play will be taking place at a local community hall, which is only ten blocks away from here. Shall we head there?”
“RESOURCE, my ass.”
Anya stared up at a poster of the ‘Wishing Princess’ as they stood in front of the community hall’s main doors. There were posters all over the place and even a billboard advertising the upcoming Play on the way to the committee hall.
She’d be lying if she said that she wasn’t all that impressed by the great efforts that the marketing team had been working on in order to promote the Play.
“The door’s locked, obviously. Any way for us to get inside though?”
Turned to the Prince and his Butler, it came to no surprise to Anya at this point, to find a key of the community hall presented before her very eyes by Aidan.
Taking the key, Anya unlocked the doors and entered. She carefully scanned the darkness before entering the community hall and searched for the light switch.
As the lights flashed above them and lighted the scene, they were greeted by impressive the ongoing onsite decorations that would give anyone a real theatrical play vibe.
Gasped at the empty large stage overseeing the audience, Anya felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. She has never performed on stage before, only merely helping out at the backstage. Her nervousness winded down when a warm hand touched her back.
Duke smiled warmly, tilted his head to the stage.
“It’ll be all right, Miss Anya. I’ll be there to guide you all the way to the very end.”
With Duke’s hand rested on her back, they made their way to the stage and carefully observed the entire hall.
“I can’t remember the last time I visited this place, but it seems like they’ve expanded it a bit. It’s wider and spacious－perfect for a large crowd. It’s definitely nerves-wrecking when you think about it…”
“If we practice hard enough, there shouldn’t be any reasons for you to be nervous when performing on stage, isn’t that right, Miss Romans?” said Aidan, who had discarded the outer layer of his jacket. He rolled up his sleeves, revealed toned arms that immediately caught Anya’s attention.
Out of the blue, a sound of clapping hands broke her trance.
Sudden clapping hands broke Anya from the gaze. Turned to her left, was the Excalibell Prince who has also discarded the dark robe, and revealed to be wearing a Princely attire.
“Let’s us get started, shall we?”
The trio practised over the lines, movements and mannerisms for hours. When it was time for the dance scene, Duke’s mobile suddenly rang, Marian’s photo popped out on the screen.
“I’ll be right back!”Duke rushed to pick up the call and walked away from the two as quickly as his feet could carry him.
With Duke’s gone, the awkward air between the two acquaintances remained in the air.None of them has spoken to each other with exceptional work and school assignments since the night of the engagement.
Duke himself had been keeping busy over the past weeks, hunting down Motýl’s whereabouts in Excalibell. Unfortunately, the guy’s too slick to be caught and required more time to track him down.
While Motýl remained at large, Duke had ordered for Aidan to stay close to Anya, in case he decides for a counter attack. Which brought them back to their current situation.
Anya stared at the butler from the corner of her eyes. He looks different from before. There’s light stubble on his chin, and dark circles under his eyes.
“Hey, you’re okay?” Her sudden words somewhat caught the butler off his guard.
Turned his head at her, Aidan smiled politely. “What made you think I am not okay?”
“Your face. You look so worn out.”
“Oh? You’ve noticed little things about me now? Don’t tell me my charms finally have any affected on you after all these months,” Aidan smirked.
“This is exactly why I can’t have a normal conversation with you,” Anya sighed. “If you have this much energy to tease me, then you’re good. I’m just worried for nothing, apparently.”
Aidan smiled gently, unbeknown to Anya and reached out a hand to tousle her hair.
“Have I told you how lovely you look with your hair now short? It definitely suits your role for the Prince.”
Annoyed, Anya slapped his hand away. “For the record, I did look good with long hair! I’ve kept it for years. You were just too blind to notice my beauty.”
“Mmm. Perhaps I was.”
“I’m sorry for leaving you two!” Duke rushed over to the stage, apologising profusely. “Marian wanted to know if all of us will be available on Friday for a short getaway at her family’s cabin house in Dzulei. Do you know where it is, Miss Anya?”
“Dzulei? It’s the name of a famous cabin houses surrounded by beautiful mountains. It’s three hours away by car, though. Marian’s family owns one of them?”
Duke nodded excitedly. “We can continue practising your lines over there. Marian has volunteered to help out as well.”
“That’s sweet of her! I feel bad though for imposing it on her… I mean, I’m sure she meant to ask only you for a romantic getaway or something.”
Duke chuckled heartily. “Oh, Miss Anya. Both Marian and I enjoy very much theatrical play. When I heard from Aidan that there’s bound to be a Play in the neighbourhood, I’d asked Marian if she would like to watch it together and she immediately said yes. Coincidentally, the main lead had an accident and you were cast into the role of the Prince.”
“Coincidental, you say?” Aidan whispered softly. “Pardon me, Your Highness, but don’t you think it is oddly suspicious how Miss Romans here is being approached by Ethan Carter, out in the blue, if I may add?”
“Hey, leave Ethan out of your mystical business. I get that the Papillion freak is currently on the loose, and you’re doing your best to protect me from him, but I will not tolerate if you involve anyone else into this hocus pocus business. Ethan Carter is a hundred per cent innocent. Understood?”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Aidan sighed heavily. “It’s hopeless to talk you when your obsession with him is obviously clouding your judgement.”
“What the hell?!”
“Miss Anya, please－!”
Ignored the Prince’s plead, Anya roughly pulled Aidan by the collar, now standing face to face with him despite the obvious heights. “The hell is your goddamn problem? Do you have a beef with Ethan or something?”
“My, my. Look at how quickly you came to defend the lad.”
“You two－stop it. Please!” Duke walled himself between the two and pulled them apart. “Miss Anya, I’m sure Aidan meant well. He’s merely reminding you to always be cautious of your surrounding.”
“Well, you should hope that’s what he meant!” Angrily, Anya gathered her sweater in her arms and stomped down the stage and exit the community hall.
“She’s upset,” Duke heaved a sigh. “It’s going to be tough to convince her otherwise, though.”
“Your Highness. About the reports…”
“I know. If the reports about a high-leveled Virtuoso caught sighted in this town appeared to be true, then we must increase our protection around the area.They may targeted Miss Anya, or worse, attacked anyone closest to her. Which is why, I’ve assigned her well-being and safety as your top priorities. Furthermore, Father has sent us backups should there be necessarily.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
WAS I being too harsh on him?
Anya pondered about the quarrel she had with Aidan at the community hall on Thursday night while waiting for the rest to pick her up at dawn, early Friday morning.
Of course not. The damn butler had absolutely no rights to accuse Ethan of something that is impossible, to begin with!
“It’s just a bloody coincidence and yet, he’s stubbornly refused to accept it,” Anya murmured lowly.
A sole figure slowly approached her from behind, kicked her legs off the sofa and taking a seat beside her.
“You’re okay, kid?”
“Maybe,” Anya leaned back, head hit Josh’s arm as she closed her eyes.
“If it’s about guys though, then you’d probably need to call Emma. Cause you know I suck at it. Unless there’s a guy you need this cool uncle to straighten his ass, then I’m up for it.”
“Oh, will you shut up?” A piece of small pillow landed on Josh’s handsome face. “I don’t even consider him as a guy ‘guy’ you know? He’s more like an annoying pest. A handsomely annoying pest who saved my ass a few times. Besides, I don’t look at him as a man I want to－”
“Hold it right there!” Josh quickly covered his ears, face turned bright red. “I really don’t need to know about that, Anya!”
“Oh, grow up, Josh. I’m a woman who has needs like any other women you’ve brought home to spend the night!”
“Are your friends here yet? Maybe you should wait at the lobby.”
No sooner than those words came out from his mouth, Anya’s mobile phone rang. Josh sighed in relieved at the perfect interruption. He watched his niece got up and headed to the front door.
As the front door opened, standing at the door was a charmingly handsome young man with the biggest smile plastered on his face. On his left, was a slightly older and taller man dressed in fitted long sleeves turtle-neck shirt and long pants.
Josh remembered the two as Anya’s mutual friend from the engagement party weeks ago. For some reasons, he felt like a deja vu while looking at them, as if he’d seen them somewhere before.
Shook his head, Josh got up from his seat and leaned against the wall with both arms crossed on his chest, observing from afar the comical conversation going on between Anya and the younger man.
“We have everything all set for the trip, Miss Anya. Do you have the Play’s script with you?”
“Yep. I have everything I need in my backpack.”
“Excellent. Marian’s driver will take us there. We should probably leave at once before the morning rush…”
“All right. Let me just say goodbye to Josh for a bit,” Anya turned and walked toward the older man who already had both arms lifted in the air for a hug.
“Thanks for looking after the house and Casey, Josh. I owe you one. Call me if there’s an emergency.”
“You have fun, kiddo. Don’t do things that I would do in an expensive cabin,” Josh smirked, then patted her back hard before sending her off to her awaited friends.
A few minutes after Anya had left, when Josh received a message on his mobile phone. It was by an unknown sender who sent him a photo captured in a close distance from the scene.
A photo of a young man with smooth, sun-kissed tanned skin and bewildered eyes, dressed in a royal garment being dragged into a police car. Josh couldn’t make out the number of the police car’s plate or the image of the officers who made the arrest as the images were purposely blurred.
His blood ran cold when he noticed the details in the photo; the background situated was at the lobby of this condominium. Josh’s head suddenly spun massively that Josh had to lean against the wall for support and inhaled deeply.
Three bold words appeared suddenly after the photo:
‘Remember this now?’