Chapter Fourteen - Bitter Candy
Gary arrived at the café a little earlier than planned.
He looked at his watch - it was one o'clock in the afternoon, right on the dot. They agreed to meet up thirty minutes later.
He could feel his palms perspire, his black tie suffocating him every second. He grabbed hold of the knot, and quickly loosened it up. Even the trench coat started to bother him now.
"Can I get you anything, sir?"
It was the waitress; her hand was holding a notepad on one hand and a pen on the other.
"I'll get a coffee - black," he answered. "And maybe a glass of peach iced tea," he continued. "Get some scones as well."
The waitress nodded, diligently writing his demands. "I'll be right back with them."
Gary nodded, and he watched as she walked away. He tilted his head a bit, his eyes straight to the hourglass figure behind the woman's apron.
"Not bad," he thought.
He looked at his watch again. 1:05 pm.
It had only been five minutes since he last checked, but it felt like forever to him. Waiting had never been Gary's thing - he was usually on the other end. Gary turned to his left, to the glass window outside the café, where he observed the crowded city bustling in the afternoon sun. It was a regular Thursday, yet Gary thought there were more people than normal.
Or maybe it had to do with him never going out in the first place; he was always inside that skyscraper building, all cooped up inside his office with paperwork to finish. Though most of the time, he was usually out of the country.
He sure led a shitty life, in his opinion, but it wasn't as if he had any control over it in the first place. Being a Dean meant, well, he was nothing more than a puppet - everything he did was for a reason; his every movement were calculated and controlled.
Except maybe this one.
"When did you arrive?"
He looked up to see a pair of blue eyes eying him like a cat. He didn't know the woman in front of him, but he recognized that tone of voice.
"Who are you?" He asked her. Of course, he knew exactly who she was, but they both knew what complications could arise if her real name was said out loud.
The woman chuckled, and she sat herself on the chair across from him.
"Christina," she answered him. "Does it suit me?"
Gary looked at her - and he hated it.
Those long, auburn locks she used to have had been chopped off to reach just a little past her shoulders, and transformed to look like the color of cornfields. She almost never wore makeup before, but her eyes were lined with what seemed to be black kohl; it extended a little past her almost-shaped eyes - a style he saw in many other women. She wore a white, off-shouldered long sleeve which complimented her white skin, straight-down black pants and a pair of six-inch stilettos. The innocence she once carried had been changed; she just didn't look like herself anymore, and Gary hated that.
"They said I looked good blonde," said Erin.
"You look like every woman I sleep with," he said simply.
"Let me take that as a compliment," she answered him.
Tension rose fast between them, but broke right after the waitress came back with his order. She smiled at Erin, and gave her the glass of peach iced tea. "This must be yours. He ordered it before you came."
"Ah, thank you." She grabbed it, and sipped through the straw almost immediately. Erin had always fought with Gary about trivial things, but today's meeting was different. And he was being harsh.
Gary waited for the waitress to leave before facing Erin again.
"Am I allowed to see you?" He asked her. "You meeting me here, will it hurt you at all?"
Erin shook her head. "Gary, people believe I'm dead."
"You know what I mean," he replied as he casually scanned the room for any eyes looking in their direction. Whoever she was hiding from, could be spying on them at this moment.
"It's okay," she said to him, her index finger touching his forehead softly so he would look at her instead. "Gary, I need to tell you something."
"Does it have anything to do with why you have to pretend you're dead?" He asked her, his blue eyes slowly turning into a hue of red.
"Not quite," Erin answered him, "it's about your grandfather."
"Yes," Erin replied. "Will you believe me if I tell you that he was the one responsible for sending those men who tried to kill you?"
Gary almost immediately nodded. "I'm surprised he didn't do it sooner," he continued, "he hates me."
Gary imagined his grandfather in his head - and felt a shiver pass through his body like strong shots of electric jolts. Michael Wilfred Dean was the founder of the Dean industries.
It all started from a small lounge back in the 70's; supplies were scarce back then, but as a rich man, money wasn't a problem. He pulled through in no time, and every year he expanded his business from hotels to other several investments that ranged from automobiles, factories, lodging, restaurants and much more. The single conglomerate attracted other businessmen that they became allies; some got in and were spared, while the rest went bankrupt.
He was a scary man in the business, and only had one son.
Gary's father, James Dean, was a bright man. Michael loved James so much, but after he married a small-time businesswoman, everything went downhill. From then on, Michael cursed both James and his only grandson, Gary, for having the blood of 'that woman.'
But who knew his own grandfather would try to kill him. Can he really believe her - especially when the life she leads is unspeakable to begin with?
"I can't tell you all the details, Gary, but believe me when I say that I will do everything in my power to make sure you don't get too involved," said Erin. "You're one of my only friends."
Gary thought back to the first time they met - and remembered that exact moment where their friendship started. He prefers to call it 'partnership,' he did fell for her at first sight, after all.
But that moment wasn't exactly romantic. It was more in the tragic end of things.
Somebody tried to attack her on campus one day, and he happened to pass by. It was college, and his curiosity started after seeing the small, pretty brunette be chased all over the site by men in black almost every night. On their third encounter, Gary made sure the attacker see his face. They didn't dare go near her again. When he asked Erin who they were or why they were after her, she didn't say a word and even begged him to forget about everything. She wanted to live a normal life.
He quietly swore to protect her ever since.
But clearly, he didn't do a very good job.
"If you rose from the dead to help me, forget it." He grabbed her hand. "But if you're doing all this to do something for yourself, I'll help you."
She carefully removed his hand from hers. "Gary, I have something I want from you - that's why I'm here. Nothing else."
"Then use me."
Derek blinked several times to see normally again after watching a ten-minute fireworks display - the grand opening for the event's supposedly 'humble' evening garden party; it was led by Senator Dunkley, the hospital's major shareholder and Vienna's father.
"Every night is precious," he said as he ordered for a formal toast. "We must enjoy every minute, no, every second of it."
However, having the entire event at West Central Plaza was already a few steps away from modesty. Every table was enveloped with silk linen, and man-made crystal chandeliers were found in every corner. He wondered how they even managed to keep those things up, maybe chords that were invisible through human eyes, or maybe black barbed wires that were concealed by the night. Then he wondered how much money they had to spend on it. Derek knew these rich people were bored, and had nothing else to spend money reasonably on, except for one - it's because of the people around him now that his own private health projects managed to keep going every year.
The pair of slender arms surrounding his own held it tighter. "You sure look bored," said Vienna, " it's offensive, when I look this good."
He looked down to see what she was wearing - a flaming red strapless lace gown that dropped all the way to the floor, and heels as high as any other footwear he ever seen. Her blonde hair was formed into a complicated updo, and he could smell a strong scent of flowers coming off her skin. She even complimented it with red lipstick, the kind of color that looked as if she plucked a real rose to put in her mouth.
"I'm getting something to drink," he dropped her hand.
"Get me one too," she ordered before he left.
Derek let out a short sigh after finally getting some space. He wanted to see the former Chief Jacobs today, but he was later told that he wouldn't be back until a few days later.
As Derek grabbed the ladle for the punch, his hand bumped into another.
"I'm sorry," said the man as he backed his own. "I didn't realize you were using that." Derek looked up in surprise to find the Dean heir in front of him.
"Oh," Gary exclaimed in realization, "you must be Derek Matthews, the head Chief of Greenwood Hospital." He extended his hand. "It's finally great to meet you."
"Pleasure is mine, Mr. Dean." Derek replied, extending his own.
"Call me Gary, we seem to be the same age," Gary flashed a smile. "My father tells me all about you. I fully support your project."
Derek tried to observe the man. He seemed to have met him somewhere else before, but he just couldn't remember where. The man, just like his father whom he saw constantly on the news, had the same short brown locks - but tonight it was prim to make him appear more sharp; more clean - like a real gentleman. He wasn't skinny either, his physique looked almost like his own, although Derek was taller.
"May I?" Gary signaled to the ladle.
Snapping back to reality, he nodded. "Please, go ahead."
He noticed as the man held two cups. He quickly filled them both with orange punch.
"For your date, perhaps?" Derek asked in simple curiosity.
"True," Gary replied, "although I'd like it to be much more."
Like pushing a trigger, a woman suddenly appeared behind Gary.
"I said you didn't need to get me a drink," she said to the man, her face flushing red.
"We just got here. Having a glass of punch is inevitable." Gary flashed a smile at his date before handing her a glass. "Oh, by the way, this is-"
The woman's eyes widened after saying his name, as if she was suddenly caught in a mousetrap. "I... I heard you talk to Gary just now," she quickly added before drinking the punch in one go. She looked like a good drinker.
But he remembered her.
She was the same woman from the bar. The same one who asked him if he preferred blondes to brunettes, the same one who accused him of lying as he chose the latter; she was the same one who looked at him with those sad eyes - those eyes he couldn't just quickly forget.
"Who are you?" He asked her as he moved forward "What's your name?"
Before Erin could talk, Gary blocked him. "You seem to be scaring my date, Derek."
"What's going on?"
The three turned to find Vienna standing behind them.
"Gary!" Vienna's eyes lit up when she saw Gary. "It's been a long time!" She gave him a hug. "How was Toronto? We heard some things."
"It was a rumor," Gary replied, "things just got heated up, but the production was a success."
"Excellent," she replied before taking a good look at Erin.
" Ah," Gary pulled Erin in front of him. " This is Christina, my date and long time friend."
Erin felt the heat coming from her pair of sapphire eyes as she looked at her from top to bottom. After taking Aris' fashion advice, she wore a long, white, open-back halter dress that she paired with simple, three-inch open-toe heels. She also had on a pair of white gold earrings (a gift from Gary which she adamantly refused at first) and she even let her hair down.
A complete 180 degrees from her oldself.
"Have I met you before?" Vienna asked her, her tone more demanding than normal.
"We haven't," Erin replied. "I came from Toronto. I own a small restaurant there, where I met Gary."
"Oh," Vienna exclaimed, her emotions a little more obvious than she wanted. The entire party knew she was only happy because she knew 'Christina' was no competition.
"Must be nice to see what a formal party looks like, huh." Vienna said as she drank a glass of wine she got from one of the servers.
"Vienna!" Derek scolded her quickly.
"What?" Vienna shrugged her shoulders. "I was just stating the fact."
"You're right," Erin replied, "It sure is nice. I mean, this is the first time I've ever since a chandelier without a roof," she continued, "how it's all suspended in air like that, man, I'll never know." Erin smiled sweetly. "Care to tell me more of the wonderful things about your garden party? Wait, where's the garden?"
Gary gave a small chuckle.
Vienna looked exasperated; no one had ever talked to her that way in her life. Her eyebrows furrowed; the girl had guts to cross her.
"Watch yourself, blondie," Vienna said in a lower voice.
"We're both blondes." Erin replied in a much lower voice. "But looks like your fiancé prefers brunettes."
Gary cleared his throat. "We should walk around, Christina. There are some flower pots I'd like to show you."
"I can't wait," Erin said with a straight face. "Flower pots - I've only heard of them on TV."
Gary pushed her away from the two, and led her near the man-made waterfall just behind the plaza, where nobody was around.
"You destroyed her," he started laughing. Gary never liked Vienna even though they were always forced by adults to be friendly with each other when they were kids. Rich people stick with rich people, others would say, but Gary simply thought she was a spoiled brat. She still is.
"She was asking for it," Erin replied. "But I had no idea Dunkley had a daughter."
"But were you able to recognize some faces?" He asked her. At the café yesterday, Erin had asked him if he knew anything about Alfred Dunkley, his grandfather's right hand. All he knew of him was his scaly head and his lavish ways of spending, so he brought Erin to the party.
"A few," she replied. " And..."
She felt tired, until a thought came to her mind.
"Why don't you seem surprise that I'm alive?"
He thought for a second. " Someone had been sending me pictures of you, well, the old you, and in them it said that you were alive."
"I don't know," he said softly. "But I don't care anymore. You're here."
Before Erin could respond, Gary's phone rang. "I'll be right back."
She nodded and he left.
Erin slowly took her heels off. She had been walking in them for a few hours now, and every second felt like hell.
But maybe she deserved it. She deserves to feel like hell every moment of her existing life. Right now, she's using Gary's feelings to her advantage; to get her closer to his grandfather, just like what her mother wanted. To get every detail, every information possible, all for her mother's revenge.
Erin smiled, expecting Gary, but instead Derek stood before her eyes. She was also holding her left shoe.
"...Hi." She quickly placed it down.
"It must really hurt, huh," he looked amused, "your feet looks pretty sore."
"What do you want, Dere-" she stopped midway, "I meant Dr. Matthews."
"So you know I'm a doctor."
"I heard Gary call you tha-"
"You weren't there when he mentioned it," Derek cut her off. "If you were, I would have noticed."
Erin finally stood up. "What do you want from me?"
Derek's face twitched, and she could see hesitation from his eyes.
"Do you know who I am?" He finally said to her, and she backed away, barefooted, when he walked forward; all the way until they were only a few inches apart. "Do you know who I am, or who I was?"
Erin stopped her track. "What are you talking about?" She was angry; she was completely infuriated. Derek had left her already, so what gives him the right to talk to her again?
"I woke up from the hospital three months ago. They said I got into an accident, and my memories were impaired," said Derek.
"But it's weird; I seem to remember everything. I know I've become the Head Chief, I know my practice, I know the people around me and I know where I live," he continued, "but I could feel that something is missing," he paused, "the people I'm close to seem to be hiding secrets from me, and I hate," he gripped his chest, "that my heart feels like it's getting trampled every single day because of it. I don't know what is missing," he looked at her, "I don't know who."
"...Why... why are you telling me this?" Erin stared at him, and her tears began to water. "You can't tell me any of this, you can't," she sniffled, "you shouldn't. It's not fair."
"WHY NOT?" He held her shoulders; they were shivering. "Why can't I tell you anything?"
"BECAUSE YOU CHOSE TO BE HAPPY!"
Erin screamed the words, both for his sake and hers. "You chose to forget who I am, Derek." She rubbed her eyes before looking at him straight in the eyes. "Let me tell you the truth - We met before, and we knew each other even before that. This makes it the third." She paused.
Their third encounter.
Their third life.
Their third chance.
"You chose to abandon me when I needed you the most, and now after everything, your curiosity has gotten you started again. You're dying to know me because you're curious, that's it." She whimpered. "Please stop getting my hopes up anymore, Derek. Live with your decision. There are too many people I need to stay away from, including you. Stay away from me, I beg you." She turned around.
Quietly, Derek left, leaving Erin alone.
"Now it's really over," Erin whispered to herself, unaware of Gary's presence the entire time.
A Third Chance at First Love - Chapter FourteenThe second arc continues.
By Ceres Erigo