"You save your soul by saving someone else's body."
I whipped Mark's butt with a towel. "If you call me that again, I will kill you," I growled.
"How do you let the Prince of Veronacall you Annie but not your best friend?" He whined, rubbing his behind.
"Because if I physically assaulted him, I'd be in jail. Believe me, I want to, but I exert self-control."
"Does he like you or something?" Mark asked, snatching the towel out of my hands when I attempted to hit him again. I tried to regain it while I said, "No, I think I'm just another prize he wants. Now give me back that towel!"
"I beg to differ. Didn't you say he's been eating breakfast with you and James ever since he came down one morning a few weeks ago?"
I sighed. He had a point. William had joined James and me for breakfast almost every morning since I first shared the meal with him. At least he didn't bother me much on the job. I could get my chores done within seven hours if William didn't decide to pop in and ask if he could stay and talk. I always promptly told him no.
"That means nothing," I said.
"Liar." Mark casually lifted me from behind and carried me to the front of the bar. I thrashed my legs in an attempt to get him to set me down without any luck. When he finally placed me firmly on my feet, I slapped him on the arm.
"Never do that again," I warned.
"Are you PMSing?" he inquired, quickly jumping out of kicking distance as my leg extended out to nail him in his shin. I rolled my eyes before wiping down the counters. I almost felt grateful there were no customers in here to see that episode until I saw my old man friend in a corner booth, nearly out of sight.
He had turned into a highly loyal customer; he came in almost every night. It took me a few tries, but I learned his name was Smith.
"The usual, I presume?" I said when I reached him. He ordered nothing but milk and apple pie. I didn't understand why but didn't question it. One night he ate eight slices, which equates to one whole pie. Where he stuffed all that food, I don't know.
"Yes, please. Thank you, Miss Annalise," he replied. I glanced at the reading material he'd brought this time: Wuthering Heights.
"How's the book?"
"Interesting. Heathcliff is probably my favorite character."
"He was mine too. I'll be right back with your order." I left him alone and entered the kitchen. Mark whistled a merry tune while cooking some soup; he ignored me. I pulled out the apple pie I'd been baking. My mouth watered at its delicious smell, and I refrained from making a piece for myself. I brought Smith's order to him, which thanked me graciously for before sticking his nose back into his book.
Later that evening, the restaurant was packed, I checked on Smith again. He had changed from Wuthering Heights to a magazine. I couldn't tell which one.
"What's the article about?" I inquired, clearing the plates in front of him.
"It's probably about him drinking again."
"Actually, quite the opposite. He hasn't been seen drinking at all. Odd, isn't it?" Smith mused.
"Very odd. He's usually partying every chance he gets. I don't know why he feels the need to do so, but oh well. It's his life. He can choose to live it however he wants."
"Do you like him? William, I mean." The question struck me as peculiar. Why would he care if I liked William? Maybe he thought my answer would be like practically every other girl's in the Verona, which would be 'Of course! He's gorgeous!' He is gorgeous, but he's not my type and never will be.
"No, not really," I admitted.
"Why? Most girls your age are… what's the word? Fungirling?"
"Fangirling," I corrected with a chuckle. "And no, I really don't. Don't get me wrong, he's handsome, but he's too much of a partier. I don't get why he drinks so much. I understand he wants to have a good time because he's young but every night? It's ridiculous."
"Maybe he has some deep inner troubles that he escapes from by drinking," Smith suggested.
"Are you defending him?"
"No, just offering a reason. The pie was delicious tonight. Who made it?"
Nice change of subject… I thought.
"I did. I'm glad you liked it," I said bashfully. I couldn't cook, but I could bake. Go figure. "May I get you anything else?"
"No, I believe I've eaten enough tonight." He pulled out 90 pounds. His meal (if you could call nine slices of pie a meal) cost seventy-two-dollars, leaving me with an eighteen- dollar tip. I'd slowly been able to convince him to stop giving me so much money. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, but my conscience weighed too heavily on me if I kept accepting so much money. I'd been able to reduce having him give me a three hundred percent tip to a twenty-five percent tip, thank god.
"Thank you so much, Smith." I gave him a sincere smile that he didn't see. "If you need anything else, just let me know."
After that, he didn't order anything, although he stayed practically until closing time. I had just put on my jacket when I noticed Smith getting up to leave. Either he had the most impeccable timing, or he was purposefully going at the same time I was. That's not creepy at all.
That's extremely creepy if it's the latter.
I tried to ignore it but kept my eye on him. Maybe he'd been secretly plotting to follow me home this entire time, and I'd been encouraging it. Or maybe, he was like Hugh Hefner and went for the young girls.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I needed sleep and badly. Maybe then my thoughts might not be so disturbed.
I walked outside into the chilly air, hunching my shoulders to block the wind but to no avail. The cold seeped through my coat like water and a broken dam. There was just no way to stop it.
I had my hands in my pocket while my purse stayed loosely on my shoulder. I silently thanked the fact my flat wasn't too far away from Donaldson's, only a few blocks.
I had barely made it down the end of the street when someone ripped my purse- or tried to- from my shoulder. My hand being in my pocket prevented the thief from actually getting it, but the guy refused to give up. I snapped my leg out, aiming for his crotch, but the guy jumped out of the way.
His fist connected with my cheek. I let out an involuntary gasp as I fell unceremoniously to the ground. Rage boiled up in me; I kept a hold on my purse, letting a growl escape my throat.
I finally got a look at the guy attempting to rob me; he had black hair and eyes so brown they looked black. He glowered at me, causing no words needing to be said. His expression clearly told me if I didn't give up my purse, this would not end well for me. Instead of doing the smart thing and letting him have it and calling the police later, I kept fighting. Why did this guy feel that of all people he could rob, he could rob me? Was it because I'm a girl walking by my lonesome? Did he think I was weak?
Well, he had a lesson to learn. I might be alone, but I am not weak. I kicked upwards again; this time, my foot connected with his jaw. He grunted and let go of my purse. I scrambled up, getting ready to defend myself when a fist-definitely not mine- flew out of nowhere, hitting my attacker on the side of his head. The guy went down in a nearly-unconscious heap. I stared in shock as Smith lifted the guy by his coat and slammed him up against the building.
"Anna, call the police," Smith ordered. I nodded, unable to speak as my mind still tried to wrap itself around what just happened.
The call to the police was quick, and within five minutes, a cop appeared. They made me and Smith write a quick statement about what happened before we could leave.
As the police were loading the guy into the car, the criminal lunged at Smith. He thrust his legs at Smith's face, but only grazed the old man's hair. The weird thing was that Smith's hair seemed to… move?
The police quickly shoved the guy in the car, apologizing for what happened and making sure me and Smith were okay. We assured them we were. I watched as the cop car pulled down the road, turning left and disappearing from view.
"Are you okay, Annalise?" Smith inquired, resting his hand lightly on my shoulder. His startling blue eyes were etched with concern, and they were strikingly familiar, but I couldn't place why.
"I'm fine. Might have a bruise, but that's okay. Are you all right?"
"Better now that he's going to in jail."
"Good. Um, this is going to sound weird, but when the guy kicked you, it looked like your hair moved," I admitted. "Or maybe he just hit me so hard that I'm imagining things."
Smith rubbed the back of his neck. "You didn't imagine anything. This isn't necessarily my real hair. I, uh, haven't been completely honest with you about who I am."
I narrowed my eyes. "What do you mean?"
He took off his hat. His silver hair came off with it. Smith proceeded to peel off his silver beard, and soon, a young man stood in front of me with black hair. Now I understood why his eyes seemed so familiar.
"William," I breathed.