And of course the rain hadn’t let up, Vivi groaned as she peeked out through the window of the taxi. If anything, it had become heavier, sheets of water dropping out of the sky. The whole world looked cloaked in blue, dripping like a whirling dervish got loose in a paint factory.
The taxi driver, perhaps sensing his client’s hesitance, turned to drape one hand back over the passenger seat. He frowned at her over his shoulder, his bushy black mustache twitching irritably on his face.
“Is the Metro Bank, yes?” he huffed. “Problem?”
I did my best to bat my eyes innocently at him. “Is there any chance that you can get me a little closer to the door? I didn’t remember my umbrella, and I’ve got all these documents…” I waved a hand at the stack of papers sitting on my lap, tried to look cute and appealing.
It didn’t work, of course. I’d never really figured out how to flirt properly; unlike my cousin Lissy, men seemed to just think that I had something in my eye. The driver of the taxi didn’t change his expression, but his mustache gave another twitch, and he didn’t make any move to put the car back in gear.
My shoulders drooped a little. Figures. I tried to repeat to myself that I was lucky to have this job, that Mr. Smithwick could have hired anyone to do this, and he was trusting me to get his documents to the bank and make sure that these transactions went through. Thousands of dollars rode on this happening. I should be thrilled that, after two years of taking notes and fetching coffee for him, he was finally starting to trust me with more duties.
But I knew, felt in the bottomless pit at the bottom of my stomach, that I was somehow going to muck it up.
I tried one more eyelash-batting at the cabbie, but he just flicked his eyes significantly towards the rear passenger door. Right. At least Smithwick gave me enough money, after a bit of convincing, to pay for the ride over here.
Might as well make a run for it. Clutching the papers to my chest with one hand, I opened the door with the other. I looked out miserably at the downpour, took a deep breath.
“You can make it, Vivi,” I lied to myself, and dashed wildly across the street towards the bank’s big, heavy front doors.
I barely made it half a dozen steps, my high heels slipping wildly on the wet cement, before my feet shot out from under me and I tumbled forward. Papers went everywhere, more than a few of them landing in puddles.
I landed on my knees, my shoulders slumping. There went any hope of promotion. Heck, Smithwick would probably let me go for this. I would have to go back to him, drenched and miserable, and tell him that I’d once again screwed it up…
A second later, it occurred to me that, very strangely, I wasn’t getting any wetter.
Had the rain stopped?
I glanced up – but instead of seeing a clearing sky, I saw stretched black fabric, pulled over wooden ribs. A worried face peered down at me, one hand wrapped around the handle of the umbrella he held over me.
“Are you okay, miss?” he asked in a soft voice.
I blinked up at him. No, of course I wasn’t okay! I’d probably just lost my job, torn my second-best stockings, and was on my knees in a wet street. I was about as far as I could get from okay.
But soft blue eyes looked down at me with concern from beneath a lock of golden hair that looked slightly out of place. Incredibly, my fingers twitched to reach up and tuck it back in amid its fellows! And there, in the street, papers scattered and soaking up water around me, a tremulous little smile flickered on my face.
“I think so,” I said, looking into those soft eyes.
Walking down the wet sidewalk, I did my best to watch the gait of the man in front of me. He moved so confidently, holding his shoulders back and his head up, umbrella resting against his shoulder at a jaunty angle. He didn’t glance left or right, but moved straight ahead, secure in his place in the world.
I tried to copy him, but the pose felt stilted and unnatural. After just a few steps, my shoulders drooped back down to their normal position, my umbrella held depressingly straight but still failing to keep a few errant raindrops from spotting my pants.
“You’re on the up and up, chap,” I told myself aloud, hoping that nobody around me heard the young man muttering to himself. “You’re the newest lawyer at Burns and Honeyside, and they’re a great firm! You’ve got it made in the world. You should be confident.”
The words were true, but they didn’t really seem to have the effect on me that I’d hoped. I knew that I ought to be happy about my career’s early promise, but it still felt… not real. After all, my father’s shipping business had used Burns and Honeyside for all its contract negotiations over the years. I felt like that small fact might have given me an unfair advantage in landing my junior position.
James, of course, would have advice for me. I knew what it would be, could even hear an echo of his voice inside my head. That kind of thing happened when you’d been friends with the same chap for close to two decades.
“You need to get out and land yourself a girl, Henry!” he’d proclaim, probably accentuating the comment with a slap on my back, right between my narrow shoulders. “The problem with you, chap, is that you’ve got the job, you’ve got the money, but you ‘aven’t got the confidence! And that only comes from success, from getting a cute little lady perched on your lap and laughing at all your jokes. Eh?”
James made it sound so easy! To hear him describe it, picking up a girl was as easy as heading down to the shops and picking up a packet of smokes. Walk into a bar, buy a woman a drink, charm her with sparkling conversation and wit, and then sweep her off for a bit of fun under the pretense of showing her your fancy apartment in one of the new high-rises.
I usually ran into issues somewhere around step three, I sighed to myself now. I remembered the last disastrous time that James hauled me out for a drink. I got to the bar, spotted a woman whose glass was nearly empty… and then, in my rush to do something, anything, I ended up pouring the better part of a pint into her lap.
James laughed his fanny off, but I spent the rest of the evening alone in a corner booth, slouching over my drink, my ears burning red with indignation. No, I didn’t have any shot with women, not like he did.
I dragged my attention back to the present – and nearly collided with a young woman bolting across the street. “Oh!” I exclaimed, pulling back as she charged forward, towards the entrance to the bank across the street.
She didn’t make it. With a little shriek, her feet went out from under her, and she tumbled to her knees. I winced for her as I saw papers slip from her grasp and go fluttering down into the puddles.
Without thinking, I darted forward, holding out my umbrella to at least cover her as she pulled her wits together. Closer, I could see that she was young, about my age. Reddish hair fell over a face and hid its details, blending into a red sweater that drooped as her shoulders fell. They shook, and I frowned. Was she hyperventilating?
No, I realized an instant later. She was crying, or at least trying not to cry.
“Are you okay, miss?” The words tumbled out of my mouth, and she glanced up at me.
Her eyes met mine, and I froze, hand half outstretched to pick up one of the papers she’d dropped. The auburn hair fell away to reveal a soft face with huge brown eyes, the color of warm cocoa. I felt almost as though I was falling into those eyes, drawn to them like a compass needle pulled north.
“I think so,” she said softly, but those eyes still looked worried, and she didn’t move to stand.
For an instant, I weighed being late to Burns and Honeyside versus helping this woman. It wasn’t any competition. She looked so in need, so helpless, that I couldn’t have left if I wanted.
“Let me help,” I said, dropping down to pick up more of the papers. My knee landed in a puddle, but I didn’t even feel the water. “I’m Henry.”
“Vivi,” she said softly. Long lashes batted at me. “Thank you.”
And then, her eyes still on me, she smiled – and the sun came out from behind the clouds.
*A very cute story! A nice break from the scifi epic I’m telling over in my sub, /r/Romanticon – but there are plenty of other short stories there, too, if you want more!*