The Face of Reality

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Chapter 3

Completely unresponsive to me giggling and standing 6'2 feet tall in front of me, he looked me over with the most passive face in the entire universe, tongue tucked against his cheek. And just like that, I lost my smile for the hundredth time in his presence.

Dragging his eyes up from my feet to meet mine, he said, "Hmm. Miss Swann?"

A voice with a unique subtle drawl laced with a low devilish rasp, calling my name (last name to be precise), blew my mind away and I felt a tug in my chest.

Wow.

He cocked at eyebrow at me when I stood there wordless and utterly bewitched under the magic of his desirable voice. "3:30 is it?"

"Umm." I cleared my throat a little. "Sorry. I took the bus. Didn't think it would take me this long. Then, I also walked pass your house which might have cost me at least a minute or. . ." I stopped when he just stood there watching me as though I was reciting a poem to him.

Vaguely pursing his lips and almost cracking an amused smile, he opened the door wider and beckoned me in, motioning with his head. I stepped in as he stood waiting at the door. He closed the door behind me and I followed him into the living room.

"Take a seat," he offered more like an order as he headed up the stairs.

I settled down on one of the three black couches in front of the TV and waited whilst looking around the room. Like a reversal of paints, the walls were painted white and the pillars with gray unlike how the walls were dark gray unlike on the outside where the walls were gray. It was a pretty spacious room, neat and organised with sparse furniture and decorations. Then, when my eyes caught sight of those tiny bookshelves on both sides of the TV, I instantly fell in love with the whole house.

Moments later as I stood there skimming over the list of books in the shelves, I heard Mr. PuddinPants (?) return downstairs. I looked up the stairs with a smile ready on my face assuming that the very Princess would be with him. And there she was in his arms, hugging a white stuffed doll to her side. A cute little blondie, the same platinum blonde as mine.

When she and I met eyes, I chirped, "Hi there!"

Immediately cupping her small hands around his ear, she whispered something to him.

"Mrs. Calloway has moved town. I told you, remember?" He whispered back to her, gently pressing his forehead against her head, and for the first time there, I saw his face softened. "I'm sure you and your new friend will make a great team."

"But I don't know her yet!" She whispered back again loudly with wide, worried eyes. "Do you think she'll be nice to me like Mrs. Calloway?"

"Of course, she will be, Princess. If she isn't, you let me know at once. Okay?"

The girl nodded.

Once they reached the foot of the stairs, I took a step forward to meet the Princess, whose name I was yet to learn and who was soon to be the center of my universe every evening.

Okay, Sophia. This is it. Warm up.

I mentally, I began jogging and doing some squats.

"Why don't you introduce yourself to your new friend, Princess?" Mr. PuddinPants insisted softly when they reached me.

"I don't want to." She sulked at him in a low voice.

"Come on, Princess. You're a smart girl. Show her how you do it." PuddinPants insisted, tipping her head lightly with his forehead.

With a deep sigh, Princess looked a me. "My name is Arizona. Nice to meet you." So saying faintly, Princess slowly offered her left hand to me.

"The other hand," I heard PuddinPants quietly correct her in her ear.

Arizona immediately changed her hand and then beamed at me warmly with the most gorgeous green eyes, that seemed to be too mesmerizing to be true, to cover up her blunder. I couldn't help but stare transfixed at how beautiful her eyes were and how adorable her small, plump lips like that of a doll looked on her tender, baby face. I'd never seen a toddler so beautiful.

I reached out to take her hand and gently shook it. "Nice to meet you too! My name is Sophia."

Arizona vaguely nodded with a trace of sadness in her eyes as she leaned back in PuddinPants' arms. He set her down on the couch where I was sitting and squatting down beside her, they continued to speak to each other in hushed voices. PuddinPants was wearing a pair of black sweats and carrying a backpack behind him. From what I heard, it seemed he was going out somewhere and Arizona didn't want him to go.

"I promise I'll be back early today, okay."

Arizona nodded gloomily, eyes on the floor and her fingers fiddling with the ears of her bunny while her big green eyes kept rolling up to peek glances at PuddinPants once in a while.

"Come on, Princess. Why so sad today?" PuddinPants lightly tipped her chin with his forefinger as he smiled at her warmly, suddenly looking like an angel in disguise as his steely green eyes mellowed to a pair of warm, sparkly lights.

The sudden shift in his tough exterior had me dazed there for a moment. The interaction between the two of them appeared to be filled with love and gentleness, as though he had strip away his mask, pull his guard down and was just being himself to the little girl.

I loved it.

He seemed to be such a softie inside unlike his tough, mysterious demeanor.

"Even Romeo will be home. He won't go anywhere today. I'll tell you what, you can even play costume with your new friend. I'm sure she'll love it too."

Right. Costume.

"Okay?"

Arizona nodded again.

He leaned in and planted a sweet, lingering kiss on the little girl's cheek. "I love you."

Then, Mr. PuddinPants stood up to face me. I came face to face with his steely eyes yet again.

Deja Vu.

We meet again, my old foe.

Apparently, he wasn't a softie to everyone else. I took a deep breath. He did too, turning his face down toward Arizona with a small frown and tongue tucked against his cheek, seemingly worried and lost in thoughts about her. After a moment, he looked back at me.

"Umm. I'm going out now. Just. . . Look after her well." He said, rubbing the back of his head with his right hand. "I hope you know how to deliver CPR?"

"Uhh what? . . . why would I need to deliver CPR?" I garbled.

He immediately gave me a confused frown. "Don't you already know?"

"No." I shook my head.

"Didn't he tell you. . . Romeo!" He shouted, looking up towards the stairs.

"Yeah!"

He suddenly seemed so angry that it scared me so, I quickly added. "It's totally okay if you don't want to tell me. I just want to know."

"My brother was supposed to let you know," he said. "She has a heart condition. Now, I would appreciate it if you at least know how to give CPR just in case."

"Oh okay. Yeah. I do."

"Tell me frankly if you want the job or if you think you can look after her. The last person I want is someone who freaks out in a critical situation although she's fine for now."

"I. . . I can handle it." For some reason, my heart began thudding like a racing horse.

Way to go with your 'I can handle it', Sophia.

He stared at me sharp in my eyes for a moment like he was assessing me to see if I was good enough for the job. And I stared right back. It was never in my blood to give up on things just because they had become harder or much more than I had expected. I fight through them.

"Don't let her out of your sight. If I find that you're neglecting, you're fired." He bore his eyes into mine.

I nodded willingly.

"Don't let her play too much. You have to be mindful of that because she's an active one. She won't stop if she starts playing. Make her sit down and do something else or better enough put her to sleep."

I nodded again.

"If she seems to be sick. . ." He abruptly walked past me toward a shelf, picked out a pen and a notepad from there and scribbled something on it. "This is my number. Call me here immediately." He said as he tore the page out and place it on the table beside me. "You can call my brother too. He's up in his room."

I nodded vigorously. "Right."

"Bathroom and kitchen's over there if you need anything." He added with a quick head motion towards the left.

"Okay."

"Good." With one nod to me, he bent down to give one more kiss and a hug to Arizona. "I promise I'll be back before you know it."

I stood by a little overwhelmed with the whole situation as he made way towards the door.

Pulling out a pack of orbit from his pants pocket and tossing some into his mouth, he looked up the stairs one more time and shouted out, "Romeo! Do your laundry before I'm back. At least half the load."

"Rogerrr!!"

"So, you're not Mr. PuddinPants?" I blurted to him at the last minute.

"Of course, I'm not PuddinPants." He rolled his eyes like I was the silliest creature in this whole universe for even asking that.

And that was all before he walked out the door, chewing his orbit, and I'm left staring at his back. Again.


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