I was walking my dog thirteen months before the world detonated. People rushed by without a single care for the ground they trampled over. Apparently it wasn't important to them that they were stomping over a fault line, precariously due to thrust apart at any moment and break the world that they knew of.
It was strange what the world had become. It had changed for us and because of us, and yet we never thanked it, or showed our gratitude; I guess catching the bus or buying a coffee held higher priority. Perhaps people were ignorant and selfish enough to figure Earth didn't care. It was just a floating ball of rock, it didn't have feelings; it didn't expect anything in return for what it gave us. However, history and current events that were considered less important than a bridge toll, said otherwise.
It was a balmy August day, and the fresh sea breeze was doing nothing to purge the sweltering heat. I led my dog along the coastline of Vancouver, enjoying the briny smell. It was the first of many walks that we would take—so long as the people stopped being so rude to my dog. Newt, of the Newfoundland breed, was an extra large dark mass that looked frighteningly similar to a bear. It was understandable that people would avoid him, but that was all they needed to do. They didn’t have to give me dirty looks or make rude comments, and they especially didn't need to tell me to go away using that colourful 'f' word.
But perhaps I was just being sensitive. I wasn't used to confrontation, and I really didn't know how to deal with strangers. Until last week, I had lived in a small cabin overlooking a lake so northern it wasn't mapped. It didn't even really have a name. I just called it my Aunt's cabin on Green Lake, or home for short. Home consisted of a few hundred people, and even more animals and bugs, mostly those despicable horseflies. The people were friendly and always willing to lend a helping hand without question. More appealing was the amount of trees that grew between the space separating the residents. Something that was impossible in an overcrowded city like Vancouver.
The glare from one skyscraper shone bright in my eye, and I shaded my eyes with my hand to get a better view of what was now home. Tall glass structures that housed dozens of people reflected off the dark water. There was a large difference between the cabin on the lake and this new home. It wasn’t just the obvious physical environment that was going to take some adjusting to; I’d have to find a way to deal with the financial burden that came with living in the city. But it was worth it for a new life. I had escaped the friendly and familiar clutches of my old home for an adventure, and I prayed this was the right decision.
My biggest concern was housing. One literally needed a fortune to even consider renting a decent sized apartment. So, that left only tiny run down apartments in my meager price range. I swear I looked at some suites smaller than Mr. and Mrs. Tolland’s boat, but cost the same as a small island. Luckily, I found a miniscule studio that wasn't astronomically priced. Of course, it wasn't on the ground floor, but I miraculously cultivated a crop of grass on the tiny balcony for Newt.
"You like your new home Newt?" I asked the large creature.
He whined in response, desperate to go in the water.
"Yes, I know Newt," I murmured, stroking his ear. "As soon as we find a spot that's not crowded, I'll let you off your leash. Don't take it personally, the people here are just… different.”
I recalled the surprise I felt after encountering the mass amounts of people in the streets. At first I thought there was a convention in town, or something that would bring people in droves, but after a week of settling in, they didn't go away. Most alarming was the sense of urgency everyone seemed to have as they rushed everywhere they went. It was a shame it was so busy here. Vancouver truly was a beautiful place, and I feared people took that for granted while they sped through their day.
Ignorance seemed like a big issue here, but I wouldn't succumb to that. I hoped. Although, the city had changed me already; within several minutes I realized the people here didn't smile at strangers, and I quickly dropped the habit. I understood that with coming here there would be some big changes, I just didn't realize the smallest ones would feel like the biggest.
It was a difficult decision to move to the city, but it had to be done. I couldn't hole myself up in an unmarked part of the world for any longer. I needed to get out, experience the world, live life to the fullest, and find romance—especially romance.
I smiled to myself at the thought. This was the beginning of a wild adventure, and it made me happy I was finally walking it.
Newt and I came across a small sand bar, hidden behind the trees, and I figured this was as good a place as any to let him roam free.
"You wanna go swimming Newt?"
His ears perked up in response. I unhooked him from the leash, and he bolted towards the water —straight through a man. My stomach lurched in response, and I sucked in a large breath.
“I'm so sorry!" I yelled, racing towards him. "Sir, are you okay?"
By the time I reached him, he was on his feet wiping the sand from his pants, looking very unimpressed. I reached to take the sand off his back, but he brushed me off, refusing the help.
"Sir, I'm so sorry. I didn't think my dog would run through you, I thought he would go around." I bit my lip and wrung my hands. "I'm so sorry."
The man gave me a strange look when I said 'sir' and grimaced when he responded, "It's fine."
Just looking at the man made me sweat—and no, it wasn't the high cheekbones or the strong jawline that sat on that long neck. It was his choice of black clothing in the sweltering heat. His jeans were tighter than anything I had ever worn, or even seen for that matter. And his shoes looked like they belonged in a trophy case. The black contrasted against his pale skin, and his neon belt glowed from below. Large sunglasses covered the remainder of his face, and his wild hair proved a distraction.
"Look, can I get you a drink or something? Maybe a new pair of jeans?" With one wash the jeans would be as good as new. But with my luck today, he would probably laugh at the suggestion or make some rude comment. So, I opted for extra generosity.
The stranger let out something between a huff and a snicker. "I really don't think a drink will compensate for ruining a 200 dollar pair of jeans."
This guy spent how much on denim that barely fit around his legs? I was aghast, and I desperately hoped it wasn't showing on my face. All logic slipped my mind and I responded with a very intelligent "damn." I cringed as soon as the word fell out. As fate would have it, I was making a miserable fool of myself. In front of the first person who had taken notice of me in this brand new city no less.
Maybe I was the one with the problem.
The stranger let out an easier laugh than before and put his hand out. "Parker Dee."
I shook it with a much less forced smile on my lips. "I'm Andy."
Perfect. Someone who wasn't surly. He did, however, use a tone I've only ever heard car salesmen use, but it was probably just confidence. Confidence is attractive. Right?
As though to save the awkward silence that was threatening to swallow us whole, my dog bounded happily towards us. He dropped a ball that was now more saliva then rubber, right on Parker's shoe. I winced. Must my dog ruin everything? It wouldn't bother me, I was used to this. This fancy looking guy right here, on the other hand, probably owned something neater, like a cat.
Or some fish.
He probably had servants that looked after them for him as well. Too bad they couldn't dress him properly for a day at the beach.
"Is that a dog or a bear? It's the size of Alaska," Parker remarked, taking a step back.
"Yeah, his weight could match several dogs together," I said, looking down at the mass of fur dancing around us. "I think he wants you to throw the ball."
"Oh… interesting. I won't get E. coli if I touch it?"
"He's a domestic animal—not some hound found in the woods, raised by wolves, surviving off of human flesh." l laughed.
He seemed hesitant to touch the slimy glob, so I reached down and chucked it towards the water. Newt bounded after it, kicking up large amounts of sand. I looked back at Parker, but I couldn't read his expression. I prayed I wasn't making him uncomfortable. Making small talk with strangers wasn't my thing, and this conversation seemed to be going nowhere.
But he'd stayed here this long, so maybe he didn't totally despise me.
I found myself in a trance as I walked along the busy streets. I didn't have a direction in mind, but someone had once told me if I head towards the mountains, I would find a safe place. After everything that had happened recently, the mountains seemed like more than just a safe place.
My life had been on a steady tread uphill as success after success came my way. I had been highly involved with two films and a television show, all before the age of 22. I was banking good money and had myself a wonderful penthouse with the woman of my dreams. Unfortunately, in the past two weeks everything had gone south. My girlfriend decided I was no longer her everything and left. She was gone for good. Lost somewhere in a city full of millions, probably holding some other man’s hand by now.
Now my life was a dark cloud of misery. I hadn't eaten a proper meal or had a restful night’s sleep in days. My life was in chaos.
Today I found myself wandering again. Perhaps it was to clear my mind, but it just made things worse. I would pass by couples, or a blonde woman that reminded me of her. Without meaning to, I searched for her in every crowd. And when I thought I heard her laugh, I stopped dead in my tracks for a solid minute before I realized I was in the middle of an intersection. I had turned into a danger to myself and I needed a safe place. It was only then that I had enough sense to head to the mountains—before I found myself in a worse spot.
It was the briny ocean breeze that brought me back down to earth. For a moment the ground was solid again, the air a little thicker. I took a step onto the small patch of sand and gathered some rocks. I shuffled them in my hand as I walked down to the edge of the shore and began throwing the pebbles in one by one—one for each thing I had lost:
My one true love.
My house—she got to keep it, although without me I didn't know how she would afford it.
My faith in others.
My faith in myself.
My jaw stiffened as that last one sunk heavily. There was a lot of permanent damage left by her. There was no way I could fix it all. It was especially difficult now that I was waking up to a ratty apartment and disgusting pull-out couch. It felt like a slap in the face. I didn't know what I did wrong, or why I deserved to live in filth, but perhaps Tessa would change her mind and take me back. Maybe she needed to miss me first to realize just how much she needed me.
I sighed. She was headstrong, one of the reasons I fell in love with her, and I doubted if I would cross her mind again. My eyes scanned the ocean that was full of all the life I was missing. And then without warning, the sea turned into the sky, and I landed flat on my back with a loud 'oomph!'
There was a barking dog and a screaming girl. I crawled to my feet not being able to comprehend the situation.
A girl rushed to my aid, but I wanted nothing to do with her. Girls broke hearts and this one tried to break my back. But she kept saying sir, and I didn't know whether to rejoice in it or cut out her tongue. Then, of all things to say, she offered me a drink to compensate for the sand all over my jeans, and I couldn't help but laugh. It wasn't a joyous laugh and it didn't feel natural. But the shocked face she replied with allowed a much more natural laugh to escape my lips. For some odd reason I felt compelled to introduce myself.
Her name was Andy and she had shoulder length plain brown hair. Broad tan shoulders contrasted against her white tank, and her brown eyes looked like a shattered galaxy. There could have been a hint of Asian ancestry in them, but I could have been mistaken.
I didn't have time to ponder the thought anyway because that large creature approached us and dropped what might have been a ball on my very expensive shoe.
She explained it was a dog and that I wouldn't get a disease if I touched the ball. I didn't have the heart or energy to explain I was trying to make a joke.
Did Tessa steal that as well?
Andy seemed comfortable with the mass of fleas and slime, and grabbed the ball without hesitation. I almost hurled when the dog’s breath wafted my way for a moment. Thankfully, the ball was thrown and the animal chased after it.
I looked back over at Andy as she smiled and watched her pet. She and her companion seemed so foreign to Vancouver, but I couldn't tell what made it seem that way. The girl looked young, but seemed old. It was something about her aura. Perhaps there was a story hidden in those brown firecrackers that aged her so much, but playing with her dog brought out her youth. I could physically see the love she felt towards that monster and suddenly I was very sad again.
No one would give me that look anymore. No one would laugh and smile and have fun with me. I was on the bottom of her list, while she remained at the top of mine. Suddenly I found myself wishing I was a dog, everyone seemed to love them. Or a cat, as despicable as they were, people still found ways to adore those creatures.
But when I looked back at Andy, and the smile that erupted on her makeup-less face, I sensed a new beginning there. There was no way she would be Tessa's replacement, but that was because I still held hope and thought I had a fighting chance with her. Andy, on the other hand, could prove to be a welcome distraction, or better yet, the knock out punch that would send Tessa back into my corner. Either way, Andy was a breath of fresh air, and I found myself breathing a little easier than I had in weeks.
Our conversation was at an awkward standstill and I didn't know where to go from here. "So… how about that weather hey?" I rocked back on my heels and bit my lip. I actually hadn't been paying attention to the weather for the past month—considering I was in the eye of my own storm, but the words escaped my mouth before I could think and now I had to commit.
"Yeah, blame it on the warmer than normal sea surface. You know this past May was the driest on record for most of the province?" Andy's eyes briefly looked into mine before they went back to her dog who was charging toward us.
"The what?" I hated to sound stupid, but her response caught me so off guard it messed with my whole vestibular.
She recognized my confusion, and dumbed her answer down, but not before I caught the rising colour in her cheeks. "Yeah, some weather."
Now colour was rising in my cheeks, and before I knew it we were back in awkward silence. Was this my cue to leave or was there a way to save this? Did I even want to save it? I wasn’t sure I had the energy to even make the effort.
I looked again at Andy as she bent down to pet her dog. It might be nice to have some sort of distraction. She was at least good for that. There was a restaurant down the road. Would it be too forward to ask her to dinner? I had been in a relationship so long, I forgot how to ask a woman on a date. Besides, she was probably on vacation from someplace else and would never return. She seemed too soft to have grown up here. It wasn’t worth it. So this was where I would slink away, never to return, and get Tessa back some other way
"Well," I shoved my hands into my pockets. "I'll see you around I guess."
"Yeah, of course," Andy replied turning to watch me shuffle away. "It was nice meeting you."
Without another word, I walked back the way I came, hands in pockets, shoulders tight; but with every step away, the air became a little thinner.
The rest of the month wasn't much better. The only time I seemed to fit in was when I was at work, where I researched seismic waves. I was an intern at BCIT, and helped the team conduct our studies. I had secured the job because of a paper I had managed to get published. I had related seismology to the ignorance of humans, where both would eventually result in humanity’s downfall. Surprisingly, the hiring committee was familiar with it and we spent half the interview discussing it. Once hired, I learned I would be working on a small team, and that I was the only female. Of course, no one really talked much, but at least I didn't feel like I was in the way.
My neighbours, on the other hand, had clearly forgotten to roll out the welcome wagon, or maybe the term was foreign to them. I had already been reported on twice about my dog because my nosy neighbours thought I had a bear on my balcony. After finding out it was a dog, they then complained about him not having a big enough yard. Newt was a couch potato. He didn't need a big yard, and the experts agree.
I was currently lost downtown, stuck in some place called Gastown. My plan was to splurge on a nice new outfit to celebrate being part of the city now. Of course it wasn’t really in my budget, but after receiving my first pay check I was feeling bold. Unfortunately, I was having no luck with shopping. It all seemed too impractical, and way too expensive. As well, nothing fit, and I was getting more and more frustrated with the hordes of people. In the past few weeks I had quickly learned that if you wanted to get somewhere, you went by foot. And, until I figured out the city's stupid one-way street system, I’d avoid being out and about in my truck unless I had to for work.
A lady with bright pink hair bumped into me, causing me to drop the drink I was holding. I looked back for an apology, but never got one. Rage surged through me, but I held back, counted to five, and collected myself. I picked the garbage up and turned back around, continuing on my quest for clothing, and now for a trash can as well.
This place was a nightmare. It felt like hundreds of people were congregating right where I wanted to step. When I first stumbled upon the area, I almost got run over by a herd of cyclists wearing tweed. If that wasn't enough, a group of homeless that smelled like cat pee insisted on drawing a portrait of me—for twenty bucks, of course.
The current experience didn’t get any better. A shirtless man with wild eyes came running up to me, stopping me right in my tracks. He was yelling mangled words at the top of his lungs, grabbed my shoulders and shook them violently.
"Get off of me!" I yelled, trying and failing at pushing him off.
"It's the end!" he yelled, certitude evident in his voice. "You need to be quarantined. You all need to be quarantined! The end! You don't belong here. Quarantine them! Quarantine them all!"
He shook me harder. The crowd that had gathered didn't make a move to help. The man's grip was solid as iron. No matter how hard I struggled, how hard I squirmed, I couldn't free myself.
"Stop! You're hurting me!" His nails were digging into the skin under my clothes. He moved in close, so our faces were inches from each other. His eyes were yellow and his breath smelt like methane and vomit.
"The warnings are everywhere. Blind people can see," he said in a rushed whisper. He reared back and let out a mangled howl. "It's the end!"
A hand slammed onto the back of my shoulder and tugged me from the insane man’s vice grip. I stumbled several meters until I managed to get my feet under myself. The rescuer was still holding my shirt, bunched in his hand as tight as a handcuff. He wouldn't relent as I tried to shrug him off. I was failing terribly at matching his thundering pace. I looked up to see, under a hat and sun glasses, the one and only Parker Dee. He kept his head down, and people seemed to instinctively get out of his way.
"What was that?" I asked.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he hissed. He stopped and I nearly ran into him. I again shook his hand off my rumpled shirt, and this time finally succeeded. "Someone who clearly hasn't been exposed to anything out of the ordinary doesn't belong in a city like this. And where's that mutt of yours?"
"I so clearly do belong! And Newt is not a mutt! He’s a purebred, as a matter of fact."
"That bag of fleas is as purebred as the meat from the fast food restaurants. Now why are you here?"
"I was looking for a good place to get bed sheets. Clearly I turned a wrong corner." I didn't know why I lied. But the fact he said I didn't belong here put me on edge and I felt too self-conscious to speak about clothing. I began walking again. Just standing there made me feel like a sitting duck.
"Clearly," was all he said.
He seemed annoyed. I couldn’t figure out why he was still walking with me.
"Well, Parker Dee. You do not need to follow me. I am just fine on my own." I bit my lip and held my breath.
He stopped and turned to face me. He took his sunglasses off. "First of all, call me Parker. Dee is my last name. Secondly, I am not following you, I am showing you the nearest store to get…bed sheets."
I raised an eyebrow. "Oh." God, did I feel stupid. Why did I think bed sheets was less embarrassing than shopping for clothes? I prayed my face wasn't turning red. I looked down at my toes, and hoped my hair hid my face well enough.
"You okay?" Parker asked in a rare moment of compassion, quickly adding, "about that back there." He gestured back to where the incident took place.
"Yeah, I guess so. I'm just not used to that." I rubbed my shoulder. "Am I gonna get used to that?"
I forced myself to meet his eyes, and a half smirk emerged on Parker's face. "You're really not from anywhere near here are you?"
I nodded slightly.
"You see some strange things, but I haven't seen that before," he admitted.
"What? A guy who clearly needs to be sedated walking around freely? Or someone being attacked and no one coming in to help?" I snapped. He was walking fast again, and I had to jump over chewed up gum on the street before catching up to him.
"Whatever, get over it—it really wasn't that big of a deal."
"Wasn't a big deal?" I exclaimed. "Then what is a big deal?"
"You ask a lot of questions. Did you know that?"
"Well what else am I supposed to do? Talk about the weather?"
"How about some silence instead."
"Kinda hard to find silence when there's this many people around. How do you get used to it?" I glanced over to gage his reaction as his pace finally began to slow.
"This is the only way I know."
"This isn't mine."
Parker hesitated for a moment before responding, "Then maybe, you don't belong here."
I was incensed. What a jerk. I smacked him upside the head. "Watch what you say. You're talking to a lady you know!" I yelled.
"Did you just hit me? Are you from this century!"
"Yes. I am. Thanks for asking."
"Now look who's showing the attitude. Do you know who I am?" He crossed his arms and looked down at me.
"A prima donna?"
"I'm Parker Dee. I'm the biggest thing in the film industry right now. Your favourite movie? Yeah, that probably has my name on it. Your favourite TV show? Me."
I should've kept my mouth closed, but like a fault line splitting apart, my next words tumbled out uncontrollably. "You know, you're gonna go bald if you stay so high strung."
His jaw tightened. "Fine then. You don't want my help. Good bye." He stomped off, almost like a child.
Yup, I was really beginning to doubt moving to the city.
I was in a terrible mood after seeing Tessa out with some other man. It was insulting that she went from me to that schmuck. How could she be so happy while I was still so lost? It wasn’t fair—what had I done to deserve this? I was so, so, angry, and the growing crowd in Gastown was not helping. But what made me boil over was seeing Andy so defenceless against some drugged out homeless man. I plucked her out like it was nothing and soon found myself taking my frustrations out on her. I can’t even remember what started the argument. Luckily, I walked away before I could make matters any worse. But once again, with each step away from Andy, the air became a little thinner.
When I stopped and turned back around, I saw Andy standing there looking like a lost puppy. Those brown eyes made me feel even worse about myself, and I searched them for some sort of answer. There was something about those eyes that I couldn't put my finger on. Maybe I was being too harsh, maybe this was why Tessa felt she had to leave… maybe I’m the problem. I needed to fix this.
Dinner. I could suggest we start over and I could ask her out to dinner. It was a way to make up for treating Andy so horribly. Plus, there may be a convenient way I could go back to the very restaurant where I had just seen Tessa sitting with that schmuck. The thought of going out with Andy and having Tessa see us together was even more enticing.
But, could I last a whole dinner with this crazy woman who just slapped me?
I sighed. For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t want this complete stranger to have the lasting impression of me as a complete and total ass.
Does Parker take Andy to dinner, or does he let her walk away?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.