A Second Tomorrow-- Excerpt
“I’m an idiot,” Mayara Redders told herself as she flipped a page of a travel book rather roughly, which caused a tearing sound. Her eyes widened as she examined the glossy page and then breathed with relief when she saw that the pages had rubbed against her jeweled ring to cause that sound.
“You sure are,” Nikki said, entering the room and turning on the lamp beside the desk. “What are you doing in the dark and in my dad’s office?”
Mayara let out a moan and closed the book. Putting a hand under her chin, she let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m a coward.”
Nikki raised an eyebrow and fluffed her brown curls. “Kind of.” She shrugged and adjusted the strap of her white lacy gown. “You ruined my plans.”
“You shouldn’t be playing cupid for an idiot, anyway,” Mayara groaned. “I can’t do anything right.”
“You're way too harsh on yourself," Nikki said and removed her pocket mirror. She ran a finger beneath her mouth and then dabbed her lips. "Low confidence will get you nowhere. Now, will you stop hiding and go and talk to him."
It was Nikki’s birthday, her best friend of seven years. It had been her ploy to get Mayara and Kanvar in the same room so that they could talk. But things hadn’t gone according to her plan. Mayara had arrived late because of the rain that had caused a major traffic jam. Nikki was called away to talk to her aunt on the phone and Kanvar had begun talking to Siba, the prettiest girl in the class.
Her crush was talking to her for over an hour now and ruthlessly breaking her heart.
Not that Kanvar Handers knew that a girl in his class had had a crush on him for two years now. Mayara couldn’t say for sure he even knew she existed. The dilemma was that school was almost over. In a few months’ time, she would sit for her exams, graduate, go off to college and never see Kanvar again.
Reminding herself that high school crushes never upgraded to proper long-term relationships, didn't work on her. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't convince herself that what she felt was a fleeting infatuation.
“He’s talking to Siba,” Mayara said dejectedly. “He’s never going to want to talk to anyone else now.”
“Yeah, because Siba is such a charmer?” Nikki rolled her eyes.
“Look at how confident she is. The way her hair is always in place and her clothes...they’re so fashionable. And she has that flirty laugh, ugh. Kanvar hasn’t taken his eyes off her. She’s sweet and smart and funny.”
Nikki relented. “Well, yes she is. But you’re amazing and cool. And you can be funny. Sometimes.”
Mayara put up her thumbs. “Thanks for the pep talk.”
Nikki made a frustrated sound. "Fine. Just forget about Kanvar. Maybe you'll get a chance some other day. But not every day is my birthday. Now, will you come out of your cocoon? I have to cut the cake."
“Yes, of course. It’s all about you today,” Mayara said, biting down on her smile.
“As it should be.” Nikki took her hand and walked to the door.
“It’s only just...” Mayara paused and pulled her hand away. “There isn’t much time left. There’s the prom. The exams and before we know it, graduation. I’ll never see him again. I overheard from a teacher that he’s been looking at a college far from here. With his grades, he’ll probably get anywhere. You know he’ll do well in his exams.”
Nikki looked down at her shoes and then gave her a tiny smile. “You really like him, don’t you?”
Mayara could only nod, trying hard not to cry. She couldn’t understand what had come over her, only that the thought of never seeing Kanvar again was breaking her heart. She barely knew him, couldn’t remember a time when she had spoken to him, and still, he had become the most important person in her world. How would she ever get over the way he would smile when he would enter the school gates, even though everyone else would be still groggy, including her. His dark hair, his kind brown eyes, the shadow of his stubble. He was tall, had a lean body, wore clean and ironed clothes.
But his appearance wasn’t what had drawn her to him. It was the way he was always being helpful toward other students if they weren’t doing well in their classes. Or the way he would always be serious in class; a small line would pop up between his eyes as he listened to the lectures. She liked how his hands were always steady and sometimes, during lunch, he would be sketching with a ball pen on his notebook.
“Then what is stopping you from telling him that?” Nikki stroked her arm, rousing her from her thoughts. “Come on, Mayara. Just do it. Don’t overthink it. Just go up to him, tell him you want a word in private and just tell him. It’s not that hard. What are you afraid of? That he’ll reject you?”
“No. I don’t know.” Mayara clenched her fists and turned her head away. “I don’t know why I like him. The same way I don’t know why I can’t tell him. It’s like, something is stopping me.”
“You’re stopping yourself,” Nikki said. “It’s just nerves. If you don’t do it tonight, then you’ll never be able to do it. And you’ll keep thinking forever that you wished you had had the guts.”
Mayara leaned against the desk and let out a sigh. “Sometimes, I think things would have been so much easier if I was born hundreds of years ago. When things were simpler, you know. When everything was decided for you. Your parents would decide who you should be with, the men would woo the women and all our concerns would be about pretty dresses and flowers and our wedding day.”
Nikki made a face. “Things weren’t as simple as you imagine. You’ve just been reading too many classics and romance that glorified a bygone era. Do you know how many diseases there were? How many people died because proper treatment and medication hadn’t been invented yet?”
“That’s the medical student in you talking,” Mayara replied, teasingly.
“And that’s the English literature student in you that’s daydreaming. Now, come on. I’m missing my own party.”
“Fine.” Mayara joined her reluctantly. “But I stand by my statement. Things would have been so much simpler years ago. Love wouldn’t have been so complicated.”
September 12, 1876
Arianna coughed as some of the dust flew over to her face. She was perched up high on a ladder, her legs dangling and dusting old books high on the shelf of her father’s bookstore. Dusting the rag away from her face, she sneezed and then rubbed her nose.
Her light pink frock was now covered in brown streaks. She moaned. It was going to take a lot of time to scrub away the marks. And that would be after she received a scolding from her mother.
The door opened then and the small bell on top tinkled.
“Why is it so dark in here?” She heard a grumble.
“Hanson? Is that you?” The rag dropped from her hands in surprise.
Her little brother brought a candle up to her and he frowned when he raised his arm. "What are you doing up there?"
Arianna dusted her dress and looked down crossly at her brother who was two years younger to her. He had straight dark brown hair that almost fell to his shoulders and dark gray eyes, just like her. Dressed in a dark coat, Arianna guessed he had come directly from school. “Doing your chores.”
Hanson picked up the rag and handed it to her. "Nobody asked you to." He looked like he was in a bad mood as he put his satchel on a table and then sat atop it.
“I couldn't let the books gather any more dust. You know father is coming in two days and has left me in charge of the shop until he arrives." Arianna went back to dusting the books. "Imagine how frightened he will be when he sees that the whole place is dirty."
Hanson kicked up his feet, still frowning. "He shouldn't have left the store in the care of a fifteen-year-old in the first place."
Arianna sighed and got down from the ladder. “One day you shall inherit this all. It is good practice for you.”
“You could keep it,” Hanson replied. “After all, you were the one being a responsible adult. If you hadn’t given up school this week, I would have been the one tied down to this shop. It’s so gloomy in here.”
Arianna smiled and started to plait her wavy dark hair. “That’s because I like it in the dark. Just hiding away from the world, among all these glorious treasures of books. Sometimes I envy father. He is surrounded by such lovely things all the time.”
Hanson scoffed. “While he’s traveling around the country, we are the ones taking care of the store. And the house.”
“But he must travel,” Arianna argued. “It is because of it that he finds such amazing, priceless books. All of them unique.”
“When I own the shop, I’ll stick to the traveling bit. You can stay here with your beloved books,” Hanson teased.
“I shall be doing more travel than you, then,” Arianna said, winking. “Books can take you places you cannot even imagine. They awaken you, they make you desire a world where everything is so magical and peaceful. And everything is simple. The places in it, always go further than any one person can ever go in one lifetime.”
“You mustn’t speak so loud,” Hanson said, jumping down from the table. “People will think you’re mad and send you to an asylum.”
Arianna dropped her smile and stuck her tongue out at him. “Do not test my patience. I found a wonderful book on the top shelf that a gypsy gave father. It has spells that can turn one into a toad. With warts.”
“As you wish." Hanson smirked. "Turn me into one and I'll annoy you every day. I shall sit on your head and give you warts. I won't let you sleep, and I’ll croak in your ear."
“You're a nuisance already as a boy. As a toad, you will be even more so." Arianna tapped a finger on her chin. "But it will be easier to toss you into a well."
“If you manage to catch me.” Hanson put up his chin defiantly. “I’ll slip through your fingers and ruin your dresses with my slime.”
Arianna wrinkled her nose. “You’re disgusting.”
Hanson ran a finger on a dusty shelf and then marked her cheek with it. “Now you are as well.”
Arianna squealed, picked up a book and hurled it at him. Hanson dodged it and it flew to a shelf, knocking down a few books. She picked up another one, a heavier one and tossed it at her brother who was hopping around the shop with a teasing grin.
“You are a pest!” she cried and picked a heavier book. She threw it and watched disappointed, as it flew over her brother’s head and hit the door. The door shook, then the little bell over it chimed as it opened.
A young man, dressed in a proper black coat and trousers, entered. He got down on one knee, picked up the book and looked at it, mildly surprised. “Were you planning to discard it?”
Arianna, stunned that it was a customer, quickly smoothed her dress and looked at her brother who looked equally surprised. Coming up from his hiding spot behind the shelf of philosophy books, Hanson adjusted his tie and went forward with his hand out.
“Welcome!” he greeted.
The young man looked at the hand and then gave it a brief shake. Then he ran a hand through his hair that was combed back, and then looked at her.
“I am looking for Mr. Cobwill,” he said and Arianna saw he was holding a hat in his hands.
“That’s my father,” Arianna said, coming out of the shadows. “He’s away at the moment. Is there anything I or my brother can help you with?”
He looked hesitant, and Arianna noted how deep the color of his dark gray eyes were. “Never mind.” He turned to leave, but stopped.
“You did not introduce yourself," Arianna said. "What shall I tell my father, who was looking for him?"
“Renaud So-” He paused again and gave a small smile. “Renaud.”
Arianna smiled back. “Can I ask what work you have? In his absence, my brother and I handle the family business.”
Renaud looked around the store, nodding. “Don’t you go to school? You look young enough to be in school.”
“As do you,” Arianna said. “I am taking a break from my studies until my father returns. I have never seen you before. Are you new in town or just passing?”
Renaud didn’t answer for a few seconds and picked up a book, examining it. She was about to repeat her question when he spoke, “My father is based here. I was born here too but went to the city for my studies. Now I am back to help my father run his business.”
“And what business does he run?” Hanson asked.
Renaud opened the book and flipped through the pages. “Such a peculiar book.”
Arianna came over to his side and peeked at the book he was perusing. “It’s a book written by a gypsy,” she said. “That is what father said. It’s all about her life, her encounter with a witch, the spells she learned and how she relinquished her witchcraft when she found true love with a traveler. It’s a beautiful book, although I didn’t read the spells. They seemed dangerous to even read in my mind.”
“You’ve read it?” Renaud seemed surprised. “It is such a thick book.”
“I love to read.” Arianna smiled and felt a flutter in her stomach when he looked at her in admiration. “I’ve read almost all of the books here.” Her eyes widened. “I don’t mean to say that these books are second hand. I read them with utmost care, so they are mainly as good as new.”
“You’re blabbering,” he said, sounding amused.
“Oh.” She bit her lip and glanced at Hanson who was watching the stranger with a frown.
“I’ll buy this,” Renaud said, reaching into his pocket. “How much is it?”
Before she could answer, Hanson came over and asked for a price double the value of the book. Arianna was horrified, but before she could stop him, Renaud paid for it and tucked it under his arm.
“I shall take my leave now. When did you say your father would come?” he asked.
“In two days time. Perhaps.” Arianna gestured to the window. “It would depend on the rain.”
Renaud gave a brief nod to both her and her brother, then left.
As soon as he was out of sight, she put her hand on Hanson’s shoulder and made him turn. “Why did you do that? Asked for such a high price?”
“He was from out of town and could afford it. So why not?” Hanson asked.
“We don’t cheat our customers,” Arianna admonished.
“We need the money and he was willing to pay.” Hanson turned to watch Renaud through the windows. “He seemed like an odd fellow.”
Arianna felt the flutter in her stomach again as she watched Renaud help an old woman cross the road, then give her a warm smile. “I think he’s rather interesting,” she said.
Mayara was having a hard time concentrating on her studies. There was so much to do. Two tests to prepare for, an assignment that was due in three days, and the upcoming graduation…
That very word filled her heart with intense anxiety. She knew she would graduate, there was no question of failing her exams. But it was the other things that were weighing heavily on her. Nikki and her were planning to approach the same college, her parents were being supportive of her choice of career. She wanted to study Arts and they were okay with it.
The reason why leaving school forever was giving her jitters was because she wouldn’t have the convenience of seeing Kanvar on a daily basis. According to the rumors, he was heading to a college far from the college she had pinned her hopes on. And there was no question of following him there. It would be a complete waste of time going after someone who didn’t know she existed.
A book slammed on her table, and Mayara jumped in her chair.
“Thanks a lot!” Nikki sat down across from her and pouted. “I’ve been waiting like an idiot outside the bathrooms and here you are, daydreaming in the library.”
Mayara slapped her forehead. “Oh, no... I told you to meet me near the washrooms after your Biology class was over. I am so sorry!”
Nikki snorted. “Whatever. Ever since you’ve fallen for that guy, you’ve changed. Friends are important too, you know.”
“Yes, you are,” Mayara said, sincerely. She was filled with immense guilt instantly. What had gotten into her? Had she taken her friendship for granted and been ignoring Nikki? Her friend had given up her birthday celebrations to try and fix her up with her crush. And what had she done?
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am,” she said. “My mind is, I don’t know where.”
Nikki must have seen how sorry she looked because she acquiesced and removed her own textbook from her bag. "Okay, I forgive you. Just don't make me wait for half an hour. You weren't even picking up my call."
Mayara smiled sheepishly. “I forgot my phone at home.” When she saw Nikki roll her eyes, she grinned. “Oops!”
“You seriously need to tell Kanvar how you feel. You’re driving me insane and you’re driving yourself crazy. Tell him and get over with it already.” Nikki took out a highlighter and opened her textbook.
“I can’t.” Mayara swallowed. “I mean, I don’t want to. While I was keeping you waiting,” she winked, “I was reading a book in which the heroine realizes in the end that love is such a waste of time and she had made unnecessary sacrifices for someone who never loved her. In the end, he just ends up cheating on her. Her final note was, that love was simply not worth the effort. And love changes you. It makes you selfish until all you care about is yourself. That poor woman had no one with her in the end. Just an empty chair that she stares at, wishing she hadn’t dumped her family and friends for a guy.”
“What a depressing book.” Nikki cringed. “Are all classics like that?”
“No, that’s a novel published last year. Hey, I don’t read all classics, though they were the best stories.”
“Really?” Nikki looked doubtful. “Doesn’t sound like a story that would belong to this era.”
“Not all stories are like that nowadays,” Mayara defended and then bit down on her smile. “Fine, it was a classic but the new edition came out last year.”
“Ha! I knew I was right!” Nikki looked gleeful.
Mayara sighed. “I’ve decided to learn from that novel. I do have feelings for...” She turned around to make sure no one was listening and spoke in a lower tone, “that guy, but what I have must be temporary. Teenage hormones and all. He’s probably not the one I should be wasting my time on. What I am saying is that I’ve made the decision to not do anything about it. It would suck never seeing him again, but in a month or two, or even if it takes a year, I’ll get over him.”
“And what if you don’t? How do you know it’s not true love?”
Mayara smiled. “I don’t know. I’m more concerned with what if it isn’t true love. I don’t want to give up my time and energy going after someone who is probably not worth it. He’s an illusion of the man I want to be with. He may not be the guy I should actually be with. Besides, what is my so-called love based on? What do I actually know about him? What does he know about me? Nothing.”
“That’s mature.” Nikki tapped her chin with her highlighter. “It’s just that I wish you would get to know him before you make such a rash decision. He does seem like a nice guy.”
“Seems like it doesn’t mean it is.” Mayara breathed deeply. “I feel better already. I think I’ve made the right decision. It’s nothing but hormones that has got me feeling like this.”
Nikki looked behind her and frowned. “Good...”
“Are you paying attention to me?” Mayara waved a hand near her face. “Hello?”
“Isn’t that your brother? Rocky?”
Mayara turned to see her fifteen-year-old brother enter the library with his book bag slung over one shoulder. Dressed in a black jacket and jeans, she almost didn't see the bruises on the side of his face that he was trying to hide by keeping his head bowed. "What the hell?" She got up and rushed over to him. "Wait!" She grabbed her brother's elbow as he purposely walked past her.
“What?” he asked, brushing his straight hair from his face.
Mayara was taller than him by four inches. She bent a little and put her hand on his chin. “Someone punched you? Did you get into a fight again?”
Rocky pushed her hand away. “That is none of your business.”
He was moving past her again and Mayara grabbed him by the shoulder. She saw the librarian watching her with a scowl and then dragged her brother outside.
“Let go!” he said, pushing her hand away.
“What is wrong with you?” Mayara scolded. The door opened and Nikki walked out, carrying both Mayara’s and her things. “You were kicked out from the prestigious school our parents spent so much money getting you into. They thought you were gifted, and you are, but why do you keep acting out like this?”
“Have you ever thought that maybe all of it isn’t my fault?” Rocky retorted. “I was being picked on in that school. Those bullies never got punished but I did. Now, it’s the same thing. But of course, no one ever believes me because I’m the youngest and you’re the responsible older sister who has it all together.”
Mayara crossed her arms. "Oh, so you're the victim? You were caught red-handed beating up a junior. He was just an eleven-year-old kid."
“He had stolen a pencil from me!”
“It was just a pencil.” Mayara wanted so badly to scream, but the other students were starting to watch and she waited until they went on their way. Nikki stood in a corner, reading the bulletin board, but Mayara knew she was listening. “You don’t beat up someone for a pencil.”
“Whatever.” Rocky started to leave again, and Mayara caught his hand.
“No, you don’t get to behave like this. Now tell me what you did this time? Who did you pick on this time?” She asked.
“I'm not the bully. I'm the victim. But of course, you won't believe me," Rocky snarled and Mayara saw how much he looked like her. He had soft features, a delicate chin, and long eyelashes. He looked like a sweet little boy trying to act like a grown up wearing heavy boots and leather jackets. She really did want to believe her brother, but she knew he had a temper that he couldn't easily restrain.
“Fine, I’ll believe you this time,” she said, though she knew she wouldn’t entirely. If only Rocky could see how much potential he has, she thought. Why does he keep doing this to himself? Why does he want to ruin his future?
“These seniors were pushing around a kid and making fun of him. I stepped in and told them to back off,” Rocky said. "Those guys threw my backpack on the floor, stomped on it and then when I went over to retrieve it, punched me in the face."
“Seniors? You mean guys from my batch?” Mayara scoffed. “I know them. No one is a bully.”
“Shows how much you know.” Rocky grumbled. “Told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”
Mayara frowned. “Fine. Show me who they were.”
“Why? So you can treat me like a baby? They’ll think I tattled on them. Just forget it. It’s my problem.”
“No, it’s not!” Mayara said, angrily. “If they really picked on you, then they have to answer to me. No one picks on my little brother and gets away with it. Now, show me who they were.”
“I’m not little,” Rockywhined. “Fine. I’ll show you. But don’t go over. I don’t want them to think I’m a baby who went over to cry to my sister.”
Nikki came beside her as they started to walk and handed her bag. “Are you sure you trust him? You said it yourself that your brother is troubled and has anger issues.”
“Let’s see,” Mayara said. “I won’t know the truth until I get to the bottom of this.”
“There,” Rocky said, pointing down the corridor where the last class of the day was getting over and the students were pouring out and heading towards the exit.
Mayara looked through the crowds. “Who are you talking about?”
“That group of guys, near the chemistry lab.” Rocky looked up at her with his wide eyes. “The guy in the red and white shirt is the one who punched me.”
Mayara looked at the group of students walking out of the lab and her mouth dropped open when she saw who Rocky was pointing at.
“Oh...sh...wow!” Nikki said, behind her.
Mayara swallowed when she saw Kanvar in a red and white shirt, talking and laughing with his friends. She felt her mouth getting dry. “Do you mean that guy wearing a dark blue cap?”
Rocky nodded. “Yes. Is he a friend of yours?”
Mayara shook her head. “No. I don’t know him at all.”