It was a lukewarm vivacious blue Wednesday with no wind, urging throngs of people onto the streets of St. Austin.
This was, of course, Lydiana's favorite day. Not because of the polite weather. She would go outside even if there was a typhoon. It was because of the people. And they were everywhere.
"Okay, runts," she whispered through her smirk, "you choose."
A few small, dirty children accompanying Lydia knelt behind a crumbling, stout, gray stoned wall that curved around the main street of St. Austin, observing the bustling scene before them.
Wealthy ladies with frilly parasols gossiped wickedly amongst each other, making sure not an inch of their porcelain skin was grazed by the golden sunlight. Men in solid colored suits and high hats used their gloves to sternly shake hands before climbing into their personal carriages. Even their servants were dressed finer than Lydia's group was.
She glanced down at her fellow mischievous friends. They weren't the most striking in appearance-she would admit to that.
Wyatt wore rumpled tan overalls with dirt smudged across his face. Roel disregarded the mud his knees dug into, well aware his new mother would throw a tantrum once she saw his appearance. Ty was the smallest of them all-the one always to stand in the front, his raccoon eyes blazing eagerly. Lydia protected Ty like a younger brother, dreading the day he was to be snatched out of her life.
Kylee, the only other girl involved with their escapades, was on the other side of Lydia, ignoring Wyatt as he whined to switch places with her. Although she was just as dirty, Lydia knew if Kylee had a decent bath and wore the proper clothes, Kylee would be just as beautiful as those privileged ladies with their silly anti-sun shields and cotton dresses.
Kylee's smoky quartz eyes always sparkled with irritating optimism while her curly dark chocolate hair bounced perfectly against her shoulders, curving against her tender face.
Kylee secretly yearned to be a girl with lace gloves and matching parasol, but as time wore on, that dream became less likely to come true.
The ring leader did not long to be one of those women. Lydiana had been close enough to see what they truly were like: focused solely on money and what it could buy.
If they could buy the sun, they probably would. But only so they could stuff it away and walk without worrying about tinging their porcelain flesh.
Lydiana was not accusing the wealthy for their vanity. She was grateful for their presence. If they never came to St. Austin, Lydia would suffer with endless ennui.
"What about that one over there?" Kylee suggested, pointing delicately to a stiff man with a slight potbelly. His carefully combed, gray speckled mustache and black silk chimney hat made him a good option.
Before Lydia could react, Ty said with his squeaky voice, "How about him?"
"Over there?" she asked, making sure she was looking at the right victim-of-choice.
It was a young man wearing a brown vest and pants of matching color. The beige colored shirt beneath his vest had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, revealing tanned muscular arms. His silky caramel hair flopped over his angular face as he bent down to pick up a suitcase, covering his expression as he gracefully placed it on the roof of a black carriage.
"The footman" Ty explained further.
But there lay the problem. Lydia had a strict policy of never harassing those who labored hard and earned weak pay. Although she wouldn't mind getting a better look of his pretty face...
"He is attractive," Kylee agreed. "I would make an exception this once. I doubt he has anything on-"
"Oh, come on. You are willin' to toss the fun out the window for the rest of us just for a boy!"
"Wyatt!" Kylee snapped harshly.
"What? You don't even know if he's good lookin'. You can't even see his face," Wyatt spat vehemetly.
"Ah," Roel finally joined in, voice light, "the fat man has left."
Lydia turned back to the crowd and saw the wealthy man's carriage set into motion. Without hesitation she hopped over the wall and broke into a run.
Behind her, she heard a faint and familiar thump.
Lydiana dodged the clueless people, racing towards the coach with as much energy as she could muster.
There was no way they would be able to hear her, and it was not like she could exactly jump into the coach without causing any alarm, either.
There is only one way.
Lydia took a shortcut only the residents of St. Austin could have known existed and appeared in front of the traveling box just in time.
The horses, terrified by her sudden appearance, kicked and reared to a wild halt.
She stepped to the side as the driver tried to calm the animals and waited beside the coach door for the wealthy passenger to look outside for the cause of commotion.
He pushed open the door that he had climbed through and yelled at the driver, assuming the sudden stop was his fault. Just then Lydia snatched whatever caught her eye: a black wallet situated in the low right pocket of the passenger's jacket.
As the horses settled down the man nodded in satisfaction and closed his door, leaving Lydiana standing smugly.
As she neared the stoned wall where her friends eagerly awaited her successful return, she sensed a pair of eyes boring into her.
Lydia turned to the direction of the substantial heat and saw the boy Ty suggested she steal from gazing suspiciously back at her. At least she assumed it was suspicion. It appeared to be a mixture of many things. Maybe, in the end, it was a look of curiosity.
But that shouldn't be possible. No one could see her in THAT form.
Terrified, Lydia raced away and leaped over the wall to her friends, where she perceived an additional member lying unconscious on the ground. A young girl with ratty long black hair and flushed skin covered in scrapes, bruises, and dirt. She wore a worn lavender dress that twisted around her ankles, and Lydia knew that the girl had been waiting for her.
Lydiana collapsed onto the girl's body, sinking into her like she was water until Lydia found herself staring at the sky, her spine digging uncomfortably into the ground.
She blinked for a few minutes, taking in the sight of her friends who leaned over her expectantly.
"What did ya get?" Wyatt demanded impatiently.
Lydia rubbed her left finger against the wallet she had clasped so desperately within her sweaty, panicked hand.
She narrowed her eyes at Wyatt and demanded: "Why didn't you and Roland catch my body? My back's killing me."
"Sorry," Wyatt shrugged sarcastically. "I thought ghosts couldn' feel pain."
Destery glanced around, taking in the empty red and gold velvety lounge.
"How was it?" a familiar, light voice asked from behind.
"Where's Kasey?" he asked, facing the intruder with a flat face. He was tired, irritated, and aching for a shower. Not small talk.
An ethereal girl with long ivory hair attempted to hide her bruised pride by fixing her sleeveless cream dress fitted carefully until it swept out in ripples like ocean waves.
Of course she was breathtaking, but Destery had never felt a raindrop of romantic inclination towards her.
"I don't know. He was supposed to be here. I have a ball to attend to, with or without him." Felicia revealed her killer smile before gracefully abandoning the ash-stained boy.
He held his hand out, preparing to contact his friend.
"Emblaze Kasey," he ordered. There was no response.
Destery sighed and searched by using other more mundane means.
He pushed through the countless doors entering and exiting the lounge.
Destery yanked open the third door connected to an eerily similar maroon room, and poked his head inside.
Ignoring the twin decor that mirrored the room Destery was in only moments ago, his eyes scanned the area, prepared to move on, until he saw a young man sleeping carelessly on a imperial crimson velvet couch.
As Destery walked closer, he chose not to wake the sleeping prince immediately. Destery only mused on how his socius managed to sleep so comfortably.
The slumbering boy's midnight kissed hair was loose under the crinkled pale ribbon he used to make a sloppy ponytail. Long dark eyelashes skid over the soft sunburns on his cheek. He wore a very expensive black suit with a cream colored bow tie, appearing as if he had some place to be, but didn't intend to go there anytime soon.
Destery shook his head that had some ash trapped within it over his friend, intending to wake him.
"Wha-Destery?" Kasey shot to a sitting position and looked wildly around before crinkling his nose at Destery's appearance.
"You look awful. Like an ashtray." Kasey sneezed and some of Destery's ash flew off him.
Dismissing his friend's comment, Destery inquired politely, "Did you go somewhere?"
"Huh?" Kasey glanced down and paled. "Damn. I had a ball to go to with Fel!"
"She already left."
Kasey attempted to stand when he hovered halfway and asked, "Do you think I should go?"
"Well, she did leave me..."
"It is your decision," Destery answered plainly. "Honestly, I could do with a little peace and quiet."
Kasey's face brightened. "Right! You had a mission today!"
Destery was tempted to roll his eyes. Kasey pretending to be oblivious was not in the least amusing.
Kasey collapsed comfortably back onto the couch and patted beside him.
"Come on, I want to hear all about it."
His friend hesitated.
"What? You are going to tell them before you tell me?"
"It's not that." Destery plopped beside Kasey. "I just don't know where to start."
"Well most people start at the beginning."
Destery shot Kasey a sour look.
"You know I am not a good storyteller."
"I might make this disappointing."
"I could care less." Kasey shrugged.
Kasey groaned and threw up his hands. "Just tell the story!"
Destery exhaled in surrender.
"Well, I was disguised as a valet today. I was putting suitcases on a coach-"
"This gets interesting, right?"
Ignoring this comment, the storyteller continued, "-and I see a girl."
Kasey leaned forward, intrigued. "An attractive girl?"
Destery pursed his lips together in dissatisfaction.
"Do you want me to tell the story or not?"
Kasey leaned back and waved his right hand wearily.
"I can see her as plain as day, but no one else can. And when she sees that I can see her, she is petrified. Before I can follow her, she disappears."
"Into thin air?"
Destery considered this option. "It is possible."
"So you saw a ghost," Kasey concluded, half-joking.
"You think so?"
"Of course!" Kasey exclaimed, intrigued. "Think of who we are, what we do."
"But ghosts do not exist."
When Kasey saw that Destery was still hesitant, even after everything that they had gone through, he added, "Maybe what you saw was someone just like us, then."
Destery only snorted in response.
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