All because of a piece of paper. (or around 20)
It had been raining all day. Raindrops left trails on the cafe windows where Rhydian Merrick was busy scribbling on a piece of paper. Other papers surrounded him, all filled completely with minuscule writing. A half-drunk cup of black tea sat on the table, cornered against the wall by a pile of crumpled up papers. Ink stained Rhydian’s hands after a good two hours of furious scrawling. He chewed on the end of the pen as he stared at the last sentence he had written, silently debating whether or not he should keep it, finally deciding just to leave it there and continued on for another hour.
By around 4:00, he looked up from writing and shifted his gaze to the window, which was still dripping with precipitation. It’s raining even heavier than before, he thought to himself, a ghost of a smile on his face.
After a quick, much-needed stretch, he took off his glasses and cleaned them with the hem of his grey tank top, listening to the sounds of the Mad Hatter Cafe as the employees and customers went about their business. It was Rhydian’s favorite place to be beside the tearoom on Dove Street. It wasn’t only the name that he loved, but the air about the cafe made him relax. Not to mention the fact that it was almost entirely devoid of the technology that most of the nation relied heavily upon. It was a nice change. And, he didn’t have to worry about the annoying dogs that roamed around the rich- as some people called it- neighborhood. Despite the fact that they belonged to residents of the neighborhood, it infuriated him that the canines were just let loose. Sure some were friendly and didn’t jump up to murder you but others could be vicious little monsters.
Rhydian put his glasses back on and raked his leaf green eyes over the paper-strewn table. I should clean this up. The waitress wouldn’t be able to find his teacup if he didn’t.
Carefully, he began to search through the piles of crumpled papers for the cup, not wanting to knock it over, spill cold tea on his work, and watch as it bled the words together into meaningless ********.
He found it and drank the remaining dregs, not really minding the temperature. Feeling both slightly defeated and strangely pleased with the number of crumpled papers he had managed to accumulate on the table that day, he began to sweep them into his bag to be recycled later.
Once he finished, his eyes rested on the pile of papers that had luckily survived his chaotic thinking process.
Taking out his pen again, Rhydian grabbed the paper at the bottom of the thin pile and began to scrutinize his work. The plot still needs more development…
Finally, after scratching out a few more sentences and suggesting suitable replacements, he put his pen down and cracked his knuckles. The sound of his fingers cracking in unison placed a smile of satisfaction on his pale face before he stood and gathered his writing together. He swung his bag over his shoulder and inhaled the smell of coffee before letting out a sigh and beginning to make his way out of the cozy coffee shop.
To his surprise, the rain had lessened to a light drizzle as he stepped outside onto the cobblestone sidewalk. His light blue-purple hair blew into his eyes as a breeze made its way past, causing the pages of writing to flutter. Just as he brushed the strands of his bangs away, a couple caught his eye. They were across the street, holding hands and being all happy and smiley. That’s, what, the fifth couple I’ve seen today? Rhydian grimaced at the two, their cheerful voices making his skin prickle in annoyance. He didn’t know if he was envious or jealous or just downright disgusted by relationships in general, but he knew for certain that he couldn’t be around the bloody things. He had never been in a relationship himself, but he had been near enough of them to know he didn’t want to be within earshot of one. The pale boy had absolutely no patience for relationships.
They’re just so… tiresome, Rhydian thought bitterly to himself, wishing the couple would walk faster. He finally just rolled his eyes and adjusted the small stack of papers sitting in the crook of his arm.
As if Aphrodite had heard his thoughts and decided to punish him for thinking poorly of her work, a strong wind blew from behind Rhydian and his papers flew from his arm, scattering through the air and across the sidewalk. Panic quickly shot through him and he had to bite his tongue to keep from cursing before running after his papers like a distressed and flailing goose. **** **** **** **** **** **** ****- only me, I swear- the frantic 16-year old’s shoe then decided to catch on a loose stone, tripping the boy with a yelp.
Rhydian’s elbow connected sharply with the rough concrete as he landed on the ground and he hissed in pain. Elbow now throbbing, he looked up dejectedly to see the pages of his messy writing blowing further away from him and in all directions.
A book snapped shut in Oscar Gilbertson’s hands as a scoff left his mouth. He put it on the floor beside him, next to three others.
“Do all books have to toy with the reader’s feelings that way?” Oscar muttered, casting the book a glare mixed with hurt and irritation. “That was a horrible ending.”
Excitement mingled in with Oscar’s sense of deflation, however, despite the fact that he had just finished an extremely compelling read.
Before the emotionally exhausted bookworm could take another dusty book off his pile of waiting-to-be-read volumes next to the large, rain covered window, he heard his mother calling him from downstairs.
“Oscar, do you mind doing me a favor and stopping by the grocery store? We need more flour and sugar!”
Oscar’s lip curled at the sound of his name- the one that he loathed with every fiber of his being, but stood and made his way down the spiral staircase that led to the second floor, the one above the bookshop. He found his mother in the kitchen, looking over a recipe with the kitchen light on overhead. Oscar couldn’t help but scowl at it, his hatred of the thing making his blood boil.
“Okay, first of all, Mom, you do realize that it’s still light outside, right? You should really use daylight when it’s there,” Oscar explained, walking over to his mother. Her short ginger hair was clipped on the side with two blue hairpins. She let out a sigh. “It’s darker when it’s raining, Oscar. The overhead light helps me see better.”
Oscar crossed his arms. I would be able to work just fine in this light, but I guess she’s older so it’s different for her. I’m going to hate being an adult. “Alright, if you say so. Anyway, milk and sugar? Are we running a bakery now?” Oscar asked jokingly, giving his mother a slightly tired half smile. Mrs. Gilbertson rolled her eyes, but smiled all the same. “No, I’m just trying something new, that’s all.”
Oscar shrugged. “Okay, well, I won’t be long, then.” His took the money from his mother’s outstretched hand and waved before continuing down the spiral staircase to the main floor, where he worked after school.
His blond-haired father was talking to two customers; a woman who looked to be in her late thirties to early forties and a girl with dark hair that was pulled back into a short ponytail. The latter of the two immediately spotted Oscar, the girl’s eyes sparkling with interest.
Mr. Gilbertson looked up as Oscar paused on the staircase. “Going out?” He asked, his light brown eyes flickering hopefully. Sadly, Oscar had to disappoint him. The teenager wasn’t going to hang out with some friend he had met in the very short amount of time he was outside, no matter what his father thought.
“Running an errand for mom. She’s baking who-knows-what and asked me to get her some ingredients,” Oscar said cooly. Mr. Gilbertson’s hopeful expression faded. “Alright, well don’t be too long, I hear a bad storm is coming.”
Oscar nodded before setting off outside into the haze of rain. His shoes splashed through the shallow puddles that covered the sidewalk as he made his way toward the grocery store. The buzzing of a passing drone made him tense.
There were only a few places in the town that had little to no technology at all, including Oscar’s family bookshop. He was afraid that soon it would become the only place without it. The government wouldn’t be able to stand not being able to spy on everyone, even a simple little bookshop. Agitation coursed through Oscar at the thought, and he shoved his hands in his pockets to calm himself down somewhat.
As soon as Oscar turned around the corner of Hazel, he was smacked in the face with a flying piece of paper.
“That’ll be 20 yuan,” The cashier told Luca Drâgan, giving the 18-year-old a polite smile. Luca gave her a small smile back and held his wristband over the small electronic box, waiting for the familiar chime of acceptance before taking his bag.
“Thanks,” He said and quickly walked out of the grocery store. He walked along the sidewalk as rain poured down onto him, soaking him to the skin and making his inky black hair stick to his face.
I should have brought my camera after all… Luca thought, biting his lip. He kept spotting brilliant photo opportunities, but he had left his camera at his apartment, thinking that it would be too much to carry for a short trip to the grocery store. I’ll come out here after I drop this stuff off. The photographer quickened his pace, now desperately wanting to get his camera.
He reached the apartment in a few minutes, unlocking the door with his wristband and going inside. His heart racing, Luca put away the groceries and took his camera off the counter, smiling at the feeling of it in his hands.
Just as Luca was about to leave, he glanced at the bottle of medicine sitting by the sink.
“I… I’ll be fine for a half-hour or so,” He mumbled to himself. I’ve lasted longer than that, too. The truth was, he didn’t know when an attack could hit. But he was going to take his chances today. He wouldn’t be out that long, anyway.
If Luca could see a million photo opportunities before in the tech-filled area, they were making sure to hide themselves now. Even his sharp blue eyes couldn’t catch them. Dammit.
For the next hour and a half, Luca tried to find something to spark inspiration of some kind in him, but he was unsuccessful. Soaked, cold, and a little hungry, Luca finally admitted defeat. I guess I came out here for nothing, then.
That is until he saw several pieces of paper flying around the corner. “That’s perfect!” He whispered excitedly, lifting up his camera and beginning to take photos.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Those were the only things Reuben Gridley could hear in the clock shop as he continued to work on his 3rd clock of the month.
“Now where did I put the 8-tooth gear- aha! Found you!” Reuben exclaimed, spotting the small piece hidden behind his small jar of tools.
Reuben was just finishing putting the 8-toothed gear into place when the door slammed open and Caio and Moren came inside, making him look up from the half finished clock. Reuben raised an eyebrow at the two, watching them drip rain onto the doormat. Both of them were soaked through.
Finally, Reuben started to laugh and hopped off of the stool behind the counter. “You two look like wet dogs,” He commented, grabbing two towels from the hook by the door and throwing the smaller of the two at his twin brother, Moren. Caio got the much bigger towel, which Reuben dried his younger brother’s hair with before wrapping it around him.
“Did you get the iron Mr. Kedi needs?” Reuben asked, crossing his arms at them. They had been gone for more than an hour, so there was a decent chance that they had managed to get something done this time.
Moren held up a rough cloth bag that bulged in certain points and grinned at his brother. “Are you proud of me?”
Reuben rolled his eyes but couldn’t help a grin in reply. “Annnd the copper?” His pale blue eyes flickered to Caio, who lifted a bag similar to Moren’s. “Yep! All 27 pieces.”
The 16-year-old smiled at Reuben, who ruffled the boy’s dark purple hair. The same hair their mother had. Reuben’s grin faded as his gaze shifted to Moren. His twin brother’s hair was a mix of ashy blue and deep purple, having both their parent’s hair. Reuben himself had only his father’s, though it was much darker than Derec Gridley’s greying mane.
The only thing Reuben had of his mother’s was her eyes; pale sapphire blue flecked with a minty green. Caio and Moren had the eyes of their father; light amber. I wish mom was here.
Reuben felt someone put their hand on his shoulder, snapping him out of his thoughts. Moren smiled sadly at his brother. “Come help me clean the back room, yeah?” He asked softly, squeezing Reuben’s shoulder. Reuben nodded slowly as the tight, uncomfortable feeling in his chest began to loosen a little.
Their mother had died in an accident almost a year ago, but the wound still seemed fresh, as if it was only yesterday someone had picked up Clara Gridley’s half shattered phone and shakily told Reuben what had happened to his mother, only three days away from Caio’s 16th birthday.
Reuben had weakly handed the phone to his father before running out of the clock shop, Moren on his heels and trying to get him to stop. But Reuben had kept on running, he had kept on running until he reached the site of the crash and saw the car that didn’t even look like a car anymore… and his mother. The sight of his mother, crushed inside the car, her body bleeding and still, her skin shredded by the glass from the windshield. He barely heard his brother make a noise between a whimper and a sob as his eyes found the horrified woman holding what had been his mother’s phone and talking into it. To his father.
“Reuben!” Moren’s voice brought Reuben back to reality to see his brother in front of him, holding him by his shoulders.
Reuben shook his head, trying to clear the unwanted memories away. “S-sorry,” He mumbled quickly, stepping away from his brother, feeling a slightly embarrassed at himself. Moren’s eyebrows furrowed, searching Reuben’s face. He took a step forward, as if he was going to hug Reuben, but then seemed to reconsider and turned around to continue cleaning the workbench. Disappointment fell in Reuben’s stomach.
“Just try to focus on work right now,” Moren said, tossing Reuben a cloth. “You can think about… about her later.” His voice broke and Reuben’s chest clenched with guilt.
“I’m… I’m going to go get the screws you guys forgot. Leave whatever you don’t want to clean for me to do when I get back,” Reuben said, trying to make the atmosphere more cheerful. He heard Moren chuckle a bit and his twin glanced over his shoulder at him. “Sure thing, Reuben.” Moren smiled, but it was forced.
“Tell Caio I’ll be back within maybe 20 minutes. I won’t be long!” Reuben saluted with two fingers to Moren before dashing out of the back room. He grabbed his messenger bag to carry the supplies in and headed outside.
We’re lucky that tool shop still even exists here, Reuben thought to himself, glancing down at the wristband that held all of his personal information.
He pulled up his hood to shield his face from the drizzle and walked along the sidewalk, observing the area around him as always.
I should pick up lunch.
After Reuben had bought more screws, he started to make his way down to the Mad Hatter Cafe, home to the best sandwiches Reuben and his brothers had ever eaten.
Soon, the cafe came into view, along with several flying pieces of paper. Before he could fully process what was happening, he had to jump out of the way of a bike speeding after a particularly fast piece of paper. “Sorry!” They called with a short wave.
“Maybe… maybe I should help.” And with that, Reuben began to gather up any papers that were close by. I wonder what this is all about.
Ace typed hectically, sitting under an awning outside of the Mad Hatter Cafe. It was the place with the best service for him to work on developing a new software. The government had gotten rid of WiFi a few years ago- and it was a good thing they did because Ace had long been tired of either having wifi or not having it. You could get hacked by using a service that wasn’t secure, but the wifi that was secure needed a password, and few places were willing to give it up without payment.
The words low battery flashed across Ace’s vision and he grumbled, pulling out a cord from his pocket and plugging one end into the port on the right side of his head and the other into an outlet he was sitting next to. He hadn’t noticed his body’s tenseness until he felt it relax as it began to charge.
Sighing, Ace got back to work, inputting more codes and trying to perfect the software that he had been creating for about 4 months.
The rain didn’t really bother him too much, as long as he kept his hood up to protect himself from stray drops.
After about an hour or two, he finally took a short break, lifting his arms in a stretch and closing the screen of the computer from his wristband.
Full charge obtained.
Ace unplugged himself and stored the cord back in his jacket pocket. As he stood up, Ace heard a weird noise, like bird wings, but not quite, and he shifted his gaze toward where it had come from. Papers were almost everywhere the cyborg looked- flying through the air, getting caught on the fence that lined some of the sidewalks, laying on the ground in danger of getting soaked…
He could see other people trying to catch them, too. Well, except for the one taking pictures, that is. The person who must have been holding the papers was on the ground, a look of panic beneath a pair of rectangular glasses.
Leaving his bag where he had been sitting, Ace walked over to the teenager as he sat up onto his knees. Poor kid.
“Hey,” Ace said, putting a hand on the boy’s head. “Don’t give up so easily.”
“How does this look?” Jasmin Lloyd asked one of his favorite customers, moving out of her way so she could see herself in the mirror. A pleased smile appeared on the 35-year-old’s face as she admired the adornment of makeup on her face and her new hairstyle.
“Absolutely marvelous, as always! How you do it is something not even I can figure out, Jasmin,” Mrs. Zhilan praised him, making the tall boy of 20 grin in thanks. It always made him happy to see his customers smile at his work.
“You should be working on a movie set, not here,” Mrs. Zhilan said, looking at herself for a moment longer before standing up and picking up her purse. Jasmin shook his head.
“Nah, I prefer being here. A movie set would be too crazy for someone like me,” He explained, running a hand through his white blond hair. The quiet bustle of Julius Scissor’s Hair and Makeup never failed to put him in a cheerful mood. Not to mention, he loved the gossip.
“Besides, where else would I figure out if Mrs. Leclair really is cheating on her husband?” He asked quietly. Mrs. Zhilan nodded seriously before whispering, “You didn’t hear this from me, but she’ll probably end up divorced by the end of spring.”
Jasmin couldn’t help but smirk in agreement. He had heard everything about Mrs. Leclair, the French woman who had been seen with another man who was definitely not her husband. He himself didn’t trust the 26-year-old woman, who never smiled at anyone except those whom he figured were her type.
Unfortunately, that includes me.
Mrs. Zhilan reached up and pinched Jasmin’s cheek. “Alright, now stay out of trouble Mr. Handsome, we don’t want those perfect looks of yours to be put into jeopardy,” She said, making her way to the door. Jasmin laughed and did a little hair flip. “No promises.”
Since it was only a half day for Jasmin, he got to leave during what would normally be his lunch break.
He left the hair and makeup salon after wishing the other employees a nice day and hopped onto his bike.
Jasmin pressed his feet against the pedals, heading along the side of the road. He smiled as the wind picked up, relishing the feeling of it blowing against his face and through his hair. The tires bounced against the road as he pedaled faster, toward the cafe. His bike turned a corner and he nearly swerved into a fence as a piece of paper flew past him.
He could see more papers as he coasted to a stop next to the fence, seeing them all over the place. Other people were going after them, but not many were quick enough to catch them. Jasmin glanced down at his bike and a grin tugged at his lips. Guess I could help out. The feeling of wanting to show off flickered through his mind and he began to pedal again, going much faster than earlier as his eyes followed a piece of paper zipping around the street. As he sped up, he just barely missed another guy, who luckily jumped out of the way just in time.
“Sorry!” Jasmin exclaimed with a quick wave, glancing back for a moment before continuing to chase the stubborn piece of paper.
And this is how their story began.