I have a strict No Overtime policy; blend in, don’t overachieve. At six o’clock, I get off work, regardless of how many papers lay scattered on my desk. I’ll get to them on Monday.
“Have a pleasant weekend, Dr. Brent,” Karla says from the receptionist's desk, teeth whiter than milk.
She leans a little too far over the counter, batting her eyelashes in a “come hither” manner. There was a time I would have answered the call with unabashed enthusiasm, but the last time I slept with a coworker he pointed a musket at me. Good thing the weapon’s success rate was shit, otherwise there would have been a hole in my chest and I would have been in a hole in the ground. Lesson learned.
“Goodnight, Karla.” I strut past her, waving at her and any others in the hospital who catch my departure.
Jerry observes my entrance to the stairwell apprehensively. You’d think a physical assistant would know better than to judge. There are many who see my cane and assume I’m incapable of much more than just walking. I’d beat them with this damn cane if they were worth the effort.
After heading down two flights of stairs, I take the short walk to my favorite coffee shop. It’s the perfect distance from my house so that my coffee is the ideal temperature to drink when I walk through my front door. I’ve been going here every day for the last three years, and there’s a different barista almost every three weeks. This one’s name is Hayley, and she’s a mess, “What can I, whoops, didn't mean to spill that, ack, erm, where was I? What can I get for you Sir?”
She’ll last a week. Tops.
“A clover brewed coffee,” I reply.
“Alright, uh, name please?”
“Ach—” I bite my tongue.
You’d think that after so many centuries I’d be used to it; the aliases. After a while, they blend together and my true name almost slips out, as if wishing to be free of the farce. I have to repeat it sometimes; Adrian. I’m Adrian Brent. Physical therapist and coffee addict. But in the back of my mind a voice whispers, no, I’m Achilles, warrior of legend… and still a coffee fiend.
“Adrian,” I tell her.
She scribbles the lie on a cup. I wait a few moments until I’m called, then head for the bus stop. I have a vehicle, but have always preferred walking as often as I can, then taking the bus when my ankle gives me a hard time. There’s no one waiting at home and there never will be. With no place to be and no one to see, I take it slow and enjoy the view I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of times. Literally.
As the sun sets, the lights of shops and cars grow brighter until they’re blinding. My eyes squint, recalling the moment I came to this unfamiliar world with nothing but the clothes on my back. That was over a thousand years ago. So much time has passed, I doubt I’d remember the time before I arrived here, even if I could. No one could explain who or what I was or where I came from. That’s when the legends and stories began to circulate; that I was dipped in the river Styx and I was invulnerable, save for my heel. Terribly exaggerated. I’m merely a bit stronger, faster, and sturdier than the average person. The injury to my ankle and… well, a few things are somewhat accurate. The tall tales forced me to go into hiding, although I don’t much mind the stories now. It was pretty cool when they cast Brad Pitt to play me in Troy. Thanks, Hollywood.
The bus stops across the street from my apartment complex. It’s an upscale building along the edge of the city, styled in tan stone and arches. I’m almost disappointed there aren’t gargoyles guarding the entry. Modern architecture lacks creativity. The Parthenon, now that was, and still is, a genuine work of art. Modern architects should take note.
Ingrid sits at the front desk, chewing a sandwich obnoxiously loudly while watching a movie on her desktop. Why we have a security guard that doesn’t so much as lift her head is beyond me. A tank could drive through here and she wouldn’t blink. Unless it shot her computer; then there’d be war.
I wait at the elevator doors. While I do enjoy walking, eight flights of stairs are killer for anyone. My ankle would break apart from my leg, take on its own form, and kick me to death if I even dared to try.
The elevator arrives. I step on, pressing eight. A voice suddenly shouts, “Hold the doors, please!”
I stick out my cane in the knick of time, narrowly stopping the doors. A half man, half box creature stands outside, stumbling from side to side. He shuffles in, arms filled to the brim.
“Uh, could you hit the eighth floor for me?” he laughs, settling his back against the handle bars across from me. “My hands are kinda full.”
“Already hit,” I answer.
“Oh, do you live on the eighth floor?!”
I nod until I realize Box Boy can’t see me. “Yeah.”
Box Boy turns slightly to reveal a man around my physical age, though of course chronologically I’m much older. Slightly shorter and on the leaner side, he dons a charming smile set beneath alarmingly dark green eyes. I thought I’ve lived long enough not to be stunned by someone’s appearance, but I’ve been proven wrong. He’s the human embodiment of a perfectly sculpted piece of art.
“We’re at least floor buddies, then!” the stranger chirps, voice as bright as his sunny blonde hair. “I’m Harper Holmes, like the detective!” he declares, making the horrendous mistake of offering his hand to shake.
Harper yelps, the pitch of a dying pig, as he loses control of the mountain of boxes. They tumble forward and around, and so does he, while he frantically attempts to catch them. His elbow bangs against mine during the scuffle. The world goes into slow motion as I witness my exquisitely crafted caffeine in a cup splatter on the floor.
Well, it isn’t everyday I meet someone both so dimwitted and so attractive, and the idea of him living nearby is a bit unsettling. I don’t need distractions.
My thoughts freeze when Harper, still scrambling, slips on the spilled coffee, and lurches towards me. I instinctively reach out, bathing in regret as soon as his chest presses against mine. Our eyes lock. His widen, eerily vibrant. I swallow hard, trying not to breathe, as Harper’s lips hover mere centimeters from my own.