Quite typical of a summer day, the dryness was perhaps sucking moisture from anyone who was present in the classroom. The lesson had only started for ten minutes; the little pupils were either lying flat on their desks with a more-dead-than-alive manner or draining their bottles, seeing how parched they must have been. Grey, their homeroom teacher, was just as exhausted as they were, but the tolerance he gained after a few years of educating helped in keeping an unaffected facade.
“I’ll hand out your test results, anyone who has a question about your mark come see me at the end of the lesson.”
The results were better than expected, so most of them were pleased. However; their faces darkened a little when Grey mentioned ‘giving the overall feedback and some constructive criticism’. Normally, the children would only show slight boredom, but that day, they just flat-out refused to listen through some horrendous facial expressions. Of course, the rare sight could not be unseen. Accompanied with an inward sigh, Grey suggested:
“How about we continue this next week?”
The ‘tension’ vanished faster than how it had appeared which was no surprise to Grey. He then proceeded to keep the mood lighthearted by pulling out the left drawer and revealing a big pack of kit kat.
“It’s hot today so maybe the chocolate is kind of melted.” he said as all of the students ran up to him and eagerly accepted the gift. They did not really mind and just ate at the spot.
“Remember to put the wrappers into the trash can, OK?”
Grey walked along the crowded street with long, rushed steps. It was no secret he was in a hurry. He would have just had a stroll if the last student in his class, Amber, had been picked up by her parents on time. After waiting with her, he also spent about fifteen minutes having a talk with her mother about how collecting her daughter so late can result in long-termed unhappiness.
Just from outside, he could see that the shop was crammed and the staff were exhausted, though it was only half past four. He entered, almost regretted it, as the noise seemed to burst his eardrums and the heat, again! He looked around, spotted a man around his age, much taller than him and had smartly cut fair hair.
“Ethan.” Grey called out to the person sat in the corner.
“Oh, hey. You’re late. Was it the parents again?”
Grey replied as he sat down:
“Yes, but, let’s talk about that later. What are you wearing?”
Ethan, perplexed at first, but quickly realised.
“Lizzie forced me to wear them, which look-”
“-ridiculous… Wait, what?.. Are you serious?”
“Yes, I really like them. Nice and casual.”
“And that is good?”
“Ethan, face it! Everytime you wear those suits of yours, you look like a host.”
“And that is not good?”
“How the hell can Lizzie feel secure even walking with you when you have that flirty, dirty look? Button-downs and jeans are more than enough if you guys only go to the movies or have Starbucks, right?”
“Ugh, I can’t stand her.” Ethan leaned back and said, as if he had a promiscuous lifestyle.
“If I recall correctly, it was you who was all fidgety when she forgot to text you back...”
“Okay, okay! Did the parents arrive late again? And how late?”
“Yes and… roughly forty-five minutes or so.”
“And I hope you gave them a lesson?”
“Of course, nicely though.”
“Excuse me” said the waitress wearily. “Can I have your order, please?”
“Oh, cafe au lait, please.”
“No, thank you.”
She did not even write it down and just strode into the kitchen.
“The staff are so stressed, right?”
Ethan nodded and took a sip of coffee. “They are recruiting more employees, so I’m thinking of applying for job here.”
Anxiously, Grey gazed at his friend. Ethan was ‘blessed’ with bewitching features: bright, brown eyes, luscious locks and the perfect smile. He was tall, athletic and popular with the opposite sex. And, he was a high school dropout.
“You will, without a doubt, get the job, but, are you sure?”
Ethan frowned in frustration.
“I can’t keep freeloading at Lizzie’s place, I need a stable job, one that...can provide her with some money.”
Ethan’s lips distorted into a painful smile.
“What are you saying sorry for?
After a dreadful long period of silence, Ethan received a call from Lizzie and had to leave right off. Grey sat at the shop for another hour; the coffee remained untouched and cold.
“Goodbye.” the manager sounded happy that Grey had finally left.
He turned on his phone as he vacated the shop, feeling slightly relieved there was no call from the parents and that it was only six o’clock. The bookshop next to the café he frequented was still open!
“Good evening, Grey.”
Grey walked in and was greeted by the venerable owner.
The second-hand bookshop was tiny and beyond old with a creaky door in great need of oil and walls without a new coat of paint. The books, however, are very well-selected and kept carefully.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t come, there are some new books today.”
Without further ado, he walked right up to the shelf beside him. He actually hated the feel of old paper but his resistance to their musty smell was close to zero. His hand swept the spines, expecting even a speck of dust but received none.
’Kill me and kill yourself’.
His eyes and hand, simultaneously, stopped at a book.
What a title!
He took it out, unable to fathom what the cover illustrated. Black and bold red, image of a shattered mirror, captivated him. Excitement and confusion piled up. He flipped the book over, stared at the blurb.
“Oh, good evening. How unexpected!”
“How are you, Mr.Floyd?”
Grey ignored the person who just came in and proceeded to read.
“Obsessed with killing female peers, he is being hunted down by the police force. His next target is Rebecca, the headmaster’s only daughter. But what will happen when the innocent sixteen-year-old girl, like in any ironic tragedies, fell helplessly in love with the bloodthirsty murderer?”
Grey had seen a lot of novels with a similar storyline, but had never intended to read any of them. He turned to the first page and started to skim over, only to find the eerie, uncanny writing style was to his liking. Only after he had finally decided to purchase the book did he notice the conversation between Mr.Floyd and the stranger.
“Are you getting better? You don’t cough as much today.”
Does he know about Mr.Floyd’s severe case of tuberculosis?
“After taking pills more regularly, this must be the result, I suppose.”
“Have you worked less these days, like taking the weekends off? That would really help.”
Mr.Floyd was known to be incredibly bad-tempered, eccentric, more so after having divorced with his equally weird wife. He did not talk openly about his condition to just anyone, only to a handful of people, including Grey, and perhaps this guy.
“I am trying to, so do expect me to close the shop earlier.”
“I’m fine with that.”
Grey realised he was eavesdropping. Abashed, he awkwardly took the book and walked towards the two.
“Oh, Grey, are you finished?”
Both of them looked at him, which made him feel embarrassed somehow.
“Yes.” said Grey as his hand put the book in front of Mr.Floyd.
“By the way, I think you’ve not met James here.”
“Hello.” said this so-called ‘James’.
“Hello, I’m Grey Holloway. Nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Mr.Holloway.” he extended his hand, expecting a handshake. “My name is James O’Hayren.”
One handshake. Two individuals. A start.
Let’s all walk on this dead end.