Chapter 1: The World's End
It might have been the end of the world. Because the rain was pouring like it was daring another Noah to build another ark.
Except, there was no Noah, just a bunch of pissed off people running around, looking for shelter. Mia fled to the nearest bar, the sound of thunder chasing her off the streets.
She had a love-hate relationship with rain. She loved it while she was running barefoot on the beach, savouring the cooler air. She hated it now, in the middle of September in the streets of a dirty city, smell of asphalt filling her nostrils.
A wise observer might notice it wasn’t the rain she hated. It was the city. It was constantly gloomy and dark, clouds blocking the sun and buildings blocking the clouds.
Mia fixed her auburn, now completely wet hair and entered the bar. It was cosy enough, she thought as she watched the leather seats, outlined with dark wood. The smell of beer and scotch lingered in the air and it was surprisingly empty. Windows were covered with thick, burgundy curtains and provided the kind of shelter she didn’t know she needed.
Mia ordered the drink at the counter and carefully chose a booth in the furthest end of the bar, even though all the tables were scattered around, offering rare privacy. All the customers seemed to be in their own worlds, as well. Some reading newspaper, some reading books, others talking quietly amongst themselves.
No one was on the phone, she realised.
It was just what she needed, a quiet place to drink her beer and contemplate her life choices, a perfect way to end a shitty Friday evening. A ruined Friday, the worst type of day.
She was supposed to go downtown tonight, but all of her friends were too busy chasing their careers to have a night off. Which made her feel somewhat inadequate, considering she wasn’t enjoying her career at all. At twenty four years of age, she still behaved like she was sixteen, waiting for something big to happen to her and turn her life around.
What a foolish, childish dream. But no matter how hard she tried, she simply couldn’t let it go.
Her mind drifted to when she was sixteen, full of hope and ideas, thinking she was going to be someone special, thinking something brilliant was out there waiting for her. She took out her phone and called her boyfriend, Jeff.
First ring. Second ring. Third ring.
Mia sighed and waited. You weren’t supposed to let a phone ring more than three times if you were expecting a business call. But this wasn’t business calling.
Fourth ring. Fifth ring. Sixth ring.
She never enjoyed calling him like this. She always felt like a burden, or like she interrupted him doing something important. A needy girlfriend calling again.
Seventh rings. Eighth ring.
“Hi, Mia, what’s up?” Jeff answered.
“I’m at this bar, wanna come join me? I’ll send a location.” Mia asked. A long pause followed on the other line.
“I can’t tonight. I’m at this business dinner with potential partners, we talked about it yesterday.” He sounded somewhat sorry. But rain was falling and Mia was feeling alone, so sorry didn’t cut it.
“Yeah, I know, I just thought you might want to escape the everyday life with me for a moment. It’s a very cosy bar.” Mia smiled, knowing it would do absolutely nothing.
“I’d love to, but I’m really busy today. But we’re still going to lunch tomorrow with that high school friend of yours, right?” Jeff asked.
“Yes, of course.” Mia said, unable to stop the disappointment clawing at her heart.
“I gotta go now, I love you.” Jeff said.
“Love you, too.” Mia murmured in the phone and hung up.
She felt awful, because Jeff was a genuinely good man. He loved her, he took care of her, he supported her which made her finally finish her last year of law school. He even helped her find a job in the law firm she was currently working in.
The problem was, she hated the job and she hated lawyers in general. So now she felt like an ungrateful piece of shit, but she couldn’t help herself.
Not knowing what to do, she dialled her best friend, Lucy. Mia was desperate to find someone to escape with her to this gorgeous bar. Maybe because she wanted to run away and projected her feelings onto everyone else. But the truth was, people were satisfied with their lives, building their careers and not needing to run away.
“Hi, Mia! Please, tell me you’re drinking tonight and not working your ass off like the rest of us.” Lucy chirped on the phone and Mia smiled instantly.
“Actually, yeah.” Mia looked at the glass of beer in front of her. “But I’m alone. Please, come and save me.”
“I’d love to, but I really can’t. I’m stuck at work. Where’s Jeff?” Lucy asked.
“Blowing me off for a business dinner.” Mia said.
“Hey, don’t be mean, you know he’s not blowing you off. He’s working really hard.” Lucy took Jeff’s side and Mia understood it.
“I know, I know. I’m just bummed out because it’s raining and it’s Friday.” Mia tapped on the wooden table with her nails.
“I get that, hun. Oh, I can’t wait to be finished with this project. Then we’ll go out and drink our asses off! Or maybe we’ll just get drunk on my wedding in a month!” Lucy screamed on the other line and Mia couldn’t help but smile.
“Okay, go! The sooner you get back to work, the sooner you’ll be finished.” Mia said, deciding she could enjoy her refuge alone, if no one else wanted to join.
“Talk to you tomorrow, bye!” Lucy hung up.
Mia smiled and shook her head. Lucy was like a breath of fresh air in the otherwise very stale world and Mia enjoyed her company. But tonight, she would have to enjoy her own company. Which was unmeasurably harder when you weren’t satisfied with who you were.
Mia couldn’t quite pin-point what her problem was, because everything seemed to be going well. She finished college, found a good-enough job and had a wonderful boyfriend. Except, she couldn’t shake the feeling that time was passing by and she was watching it, waving a handkerchief at it. There was nothing to complain about and that made it so damn difficult. There was no way to explain the plain discontent she felt.
Mia closed her eyes and leaned into her booth, wondering how come it was so quiet in here, with all the rain pouring outside. Would it be too rude to listen in on other people’s conversations? She put her ear to the ground and tried to see if anyone else was having a bad night.
She realised the people in the booth next to her were arguing.
“That’s very unprofessional and quite a bit offensive! We’re out of here, come on, Lincoln!” A woman raised her voice and Mia was suddenly curious to see what was so offensive.
“Truth isn’t offensive,” a man retorted, his voice full of underlying smug, “and I am honest before anything else.”
“Excuse me, Mister! There is no way in hell you can simply call my wife and me bad people!” Another man’s voice joined the argument and Mia had to open her eyes.
The husband and wife were very formally dressed, he worse a suit and she wore a very nice, white blouse and grey pants. They stood up, ready to leave.
“I’m not calling you bad people. I’m just saying that if we were in Nazi Germany, you probably wouldn’t be hiding Jews in your basement.” The other man said, the one still sitting. Mia tried not to be too obvious, so she didn’t glance in his way, but she smiled at his sentence despite herself.
The couple smirked and dramatically walked out in the rain, not bothering to say goodbye. Mia turned to the man in the booth who seemed equally satisfied and flabbergasted. There was a uniqueness to his face once she paid attention to it. His jaw was strong and clean-shaven, but his black bed-hair and the mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes added a boyish touch into the mix.
“I don’t know. They really seemed like the type of people that put their life on the line in order to save others.” Mia commented, catching the man’s attention.
“Definitely a Mother Theresa and Gandhi, right there.” He lifted his cup, saluting in their direction. Luckily for him, they were already gone.
“I hope they weren’t family members.” Mia smiled.
“Worse. Potential business partners.”
Mia burst out laughing, a bit against her will and the stranger joined her. He chugged down his beer and gathered his stuff.
“I should get going.” He said and walked over to her table. “But I’m glad to know someone understands the irony of human certainty in their own higher morals. I’m Xander.” He offered a hand, a scent of earthy cologne coming off him.
“Mia.” She took his hand. Xander turned to leave, when the waiter interrupted him.
“I suggest staying here, Mr., the trees are literally flying out there.” The waiter said, picking up Xander’s empty glass.
Mia remembered she walked to work today. She would probably have to stay here until the rain stopped. So, she immediately took out her phone and texted Jeff. He would be worried if he returned home and realised she wasn’t there.
“Well, Mia, how about I buy you a drink, then?” Xander asked and Mia opened her mouth to protest, but she really had nothing better to do. Would it be too pretentious to say she had a boyfriend immediately? She didn’t want to leave a wrong impression.
“I’d like to, but my boyfriend will be worried if I’m out during this rain.” She decided this was the best way to break down the information about the boyfriend.
“That reminds me I have to call my girl and tell her I blew another meeting with my otherworldly charm.” Xander put his finger on his chin, a smug smile escaping his lips.
“I suppose we can have a drink.” Mia smiled, realising he caught her not so subtle mention of a boyfriend.
Xander sat down and so the conversation began.