Everything Has Changed

On a rainy Valentine's Day amidst misery and tears, Erin Barnes, who wouldn't know love if it knocked her over, stumbles upon a beacon of light in a stormy sea.

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1. Changes

 

Tuesday February 15th, 9 AM

The apartment was darker than usual, the particularly thick layer of clouds preventing the sun from making a much anticipated appearance.  I sat at the grey marble countertop, hunched over my bowl of tasteless cereal with a jade blanket wrapped around me, freezing from the mid-winter air that entered through the slim cracks in my window pane.  My dark brown hair was still thrown up into a messy bun, with a red polka dot bandana tied round my head from yesterday.  My freckle-dotted cheeks were red from the cold air.  I felt my heart flutter lightly in my chest when my Blackberry vibrates across the table from me, bringing light to the entire room.  I stretch my arm across the counter, reaching for it eagerly and clicking on to the new message.  

Same place, same time today? x - H

* * *

18 Hours Earlier

Monday February14th, 3 PM

I stormed into the warm coffee shop, angrily throwing the door open.  A few eyes turn towards me as the bell on the door jingles, signaling my entry.  Droplets of water dripped off of me, soaking the floor of the Starbucks.  My wet tights hugged my skin uncomfortably and a low moan escaped my lips.  It just wasn’t my day.  I originally figured I’d stop in for a cup of coffee to cheer myself up, but today even the store seems gloomy.  It was as if the pink and red hearts strung along the wall were mocking each and every lonely person in the shop.  The smell of burnt coffee invades my senses and I crinkle my nose.  My scarlet kick-pleat skirt was drenched and instead of falling gently against my thighs, it stuck.  I pulled off my black peacoat and let it hang over my arm carelessly.  

My black pumps click rhythmically against the linoleum wood floor as I walk to the register, but the beat is interrupted as a body barrels into me, knocking me onto the hard floor.  Ouch.  Stars clutter my vision as I try to gain back my equilibrium.  Every eye in the cafe is turned towards me, sitting on my butt with my purse and all it’s contents sprawled across the floor.  Great, I’m the star of the show.  A sharp pain shoots through my tailbone, aching from the force of the blow, only adding to the fact that I’m already livid.  Tears form in my sea blue eyes, but I hold them back.  

I snap my head up abruptly, ready to tell off whoever just made my day even worse, but my own eyes lock with a pair that practically make me lose my train of thought.  They’re a stunning green, with flecks of blue painted throughout them, and I can’t help but stare.  The boy’s eyes stare right back into mine, glassy.  I finally break away from his eyes, forcing myself to absorb the rest of his appearance.  His brown hair cascades in flowing curls that frame his chiseled features.  He’s gorgeous and I can barely peel my eyes away.   I look him up and down, my eyes passing over his grey peacoat, scarf, skinny jeans, and Chuck Taylor’s.  I’m able to convince myself to actually have a normal conversation with him and the syllables begin to spill out of my mouth as I stumble over them.

“I-I-I-” I stutter, not knowing what to say.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, sounding sincere.  I’m taken aback by the sound of his deep and slow voice, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s extremely attractive.  He gets to his feet and holds out a hand to help me up and I’m about to thank him, but I remember that I’m supposed to be angry.  

“Watch where you’re going,” I hear myself spit back at him.  Ouch, that was a bit harsh.  He runs a hand through his hair, smoothly sweeping it to the left just before bending down to help me gather my things off the floor.  He doesn’t say anything indicating he was offended by my rude display, which makes me feel a bit better.  

“I really am sorry.  Are you alright?” he says, staring into me with those eyes again.  I don’t even think I could possibly be rude to him again, not with the way he’s looking back at me.  For a moment I think I’ve seen his face before, but I dismiss the thought quickly because I would remember someone that gorgeous.  I forcefully peel my eyes from his absolutely magnetic gaze, looking down to gently smooth out my skirt.  

“I’m fine, I probably just have a bruise,” I say in a much kinder tone than before.  I reach up to straighten out my bandana, opening my mouth to speak again.  “Sorry about my attitude, I’m just not having the best day right now,” I apologize, putting one foot forward to step past him.  He steps in front of me.

“At least let me buy you a cup of coffee, I feel terrible,” he says enticingly.  At this point I’m almost positive that he’s figured me out because his eyes soften as they stare at me again; I can’t resist his offer.

“Alright,” I say giving in and smiling for what I think is the first time all day.  We walk toward the register together and wait on the line that’s three people deep.  He looks over at me and appears to be pondering something.  

“What?” I say, starting to get annoyed at the staring.  I mean, even though his gorgeous eyes are on me of all people, staring incessantly is just plain inconsiderate.  

“Calm down, I was only about to ask to know your name,” he says jokingly, cracking a smile.  Dimples form on opposite sides of his dazzling white smile, con-caved into his perfectly pigmented skin.  My bitterness crumbles and disappears under his sweet disposition.

“Erin.  Erin Barnes,” I say smiling at him.  “And what would your name be, Mr. Mystery?” I joke, adapting to his lighthearted nature.  He laughs before revealing the answer.

“Harry.  Harry Styles,” he says stretching his hand out to meet mine.  I notice a warmth to his soft skin that I must’ve missed before and color floods my cheeks.  Our hands disconnect from each other and I find myself wishing that they were together once again, just before I mentally reprimand myself for even thinking that about a stranger who knocked my soak-and-wet butt onto the hard floor.  I’m jerked to attention as the Starbucks barista asks what we’d like to order.

“Pick anything you want, it’s on me,” Harry says, pulling his wallet out from his peacoat.  I think for a moment before deciding what to order.

“I’ll have a chai latte, grande please,” I say politely to the woman who stares up at the boy next to me, seeming shocked.  I hope that I didn’t exhibit the same deer-in-the-headlights expression when we locked eyes a few minutes earlier.  She continues to gape at him, waiting for him to order and I feel the slightest pang of jealousy in my chest.  Why?  I’ve only just met the guy.  Slow down a little.  

“I’d like a peppermint tea, grande as well,” he mutters, not making eye contact with the still starry-eyed brunette.  “Put it under Will,” he says before she gets a chance to ask his name.  I’m positive that my expression must match that of the confused barista.  I have no idea why she’s confused, though.  

“Why’d you say Will?” I ask quietly after he pays for the order and we step to the side.  

“I just don’t want them yelling my name out when our order is ready,” he says as if it’s the most obvious fact in the world, failing to clear up my confusion.  He raises an eyebrow at me after taking in my expression.

“Huh?” I utter, wondering why it would matter if a bunch of strangers heard his name.  

“I don’t want to draw attention...” he continues, searching my face for a sign of understand and not finding one bit.  It’s my turn to raise an eyebrow at him.  He leans in closer before speaking again.  “Do you know who I am?” he questions me, but the inquiry doesn’t sound obnoxious, only curious.  

“You said your name was Harry, right?”  I say, still not understanding.  He looks down at the ground, pondering the situation.  Our exchange is interrupted by one of the male baristas shouting out the name William.  Harry grabs both of the drinks and hands mine over to me.  The warmth of the paper cup sends a warm shiver through my drenched body just before I take a sip of the comforting liquid.  I close my eyes as I tip the cup back, ignoring the scalding temperature that practically fries my tongue.  Harry’s eyes search the shop for an empty table and he gestures to the one in the corner farthest from the door.  When he offered to by me a coffee, I didn’t think he meant that we’d actually stay and talk, but now he’s caught my curiosity and I happily make my way over to the chair.  

He pleasantly surprises me when he pulls out my chair for me and waits for me to sit.  I can’t remember a single boy ever doing that for me and the thought puts butterflies in my stomach.  I think back to twenty minutes ago when I walked into the shop drenched and aggravated.  My mood has completed a complete 360 in the time since then.  We both sit down facing each other.

“So, you said before that you weren’t having the best day, everything alright?” he says, surpassing me again.  The sympathy in his voice is so genuine it’s almost too good to be true, but honestly I’m just thankful to have someone who’ll listen.

“Not really,” I mutter, looking downward.  

“Tell me,” he says looking at me with bright interested eyes.  I give him a look that says are you sure? and he nods.  All his attention is focused on me, something that would normally make me feel pressured, but in this case it’s comforting.  In that moment, it didn’t even bother me that I was about to tell someone I’d just met all about my day.  

“Well, this morning I left the house in a perfectly good mood.  I’m a paid intern at a fashion magazine here in London, but I’m originally from New York.  My job is really intense and I spend so much time on it.  In my opinion, I do a good job at it, too.  Anyway, one of the girls above me quit her job a few days ago and they needed someone to fill the spot, so I thought there was at least a slight possibility of me being promoted and that’s why I was in a good mood,” I explain, searching his expression for the slightest sign of disinterest, but he’s still all ears.  I ease into my chair a bit and place my hand on my palm while leaning on the table.  He mirrors my position and our faces are only inches apart.  Butterflies course through my stomach again and I do my best to ignore them and continue the story.  “So I got to my job and found a note on my desk that said ‘I need to see you in my office’ and it was from my boss.  At first I didn’t get my hopes up about being promoted, but the note made me excited.  I thought that my prediction was coming true, so I went to my boss’ office and upon seeing me, her smile faded.  Her tone became serious and she told me I was being let go.  I’ve been interning there for free for over a year so I was obviously really upset.”  His eyes softened and his face looked sympathetic.

“I’m so sorry,” he said “that must really be upsetting.”  He moved his hand across the table and accidentally skimmed mine, causing my breath to catch in my throat.  

I continued on, explaining how I packed up my things and left for good.  I continued on to explain the other terrible details of my day: having an argument with a close friend, forgetting my jacket at my job and having to go back for it, and getting drenched in the cold pouring rain.  I failed to mention that he was the only good thing that happened to me all day.  He listened intently the entire time, giving me attention that I’d never really had before.  He nodded, made comments, and reacted to everything I said, letting me know of his unfaltering interest.  He made me feel important, a feeling that I’d wished for practically all day.  When I was finished, we spoke a while longer about everything that had happened to me all day as Harry tried to comfort me.  Little did he know, the simple fact of his presence was comforting enough.  After almost over an hour had past, it was Harry’s turn.  

“To be honest, I didn’t have the best day either,” he muttered.  

“What do you mean?” I said, a bit puzzled.  He’d seemed fine when we’d met earlier, but I should know appearances aren’t everything.  Harry looked hesitant to elaborate on the details of his day at first, but he seemed to open up to the idea after thinking it over.

“Well, before you said you didn’t know who I was, right?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.  I’d forgotten about that exchange after being wrapped up in the conversation we’d just had.  

“I’m still puzzled about that actually.  You said your name was Harry and then William, are you having an identity crisis or something?” I joked.  Harry gave a light chuckle before his face grew serious and he leaned in, speaking quietly.

“Have you ever heard that song What Makes You Beautiful?  How about One Thing?  Maybe Live While We’re Young?” he asked.  I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but I went along with it.

“Yeah, I don’t listen to music much because of work though.  Well at least I didn’t before.  The majority of the music I listen to is pretty much runway beats when I’m at shows.  Otherwise, in my free time in the rare moment that I have some, I’m kind of into Indie Rock,” I explained, still unsure of how this related to his bad day.  His eyes lit up a bit when I said Indie Rock, so I assume he’s a fan as well.

“Well, I’m kind of a member of the band that sings those songs,” he said cautiously, obviously unsure of how I was going to take it.  I was a bit shocked and just nodded.  He gave me a questioning look.

“Wow,” I said, stuttering a bit “that’s really cool.  Now I get the whole ‘William’ thing and the barista being speechless,” I said and he laughed a bit.  

“Wow,” he said.  “To be honest, it’s really nice to meet someone who just treats me like a normal person for once.  You’re not even that shocked, or at least you don’t sound it.  I’m not trying to be cocky,” he said, stumbling over his words “I’m absolutely serious.  Thank you.”  I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that.  

“I wouldn’t know how to act any different,” I said, blushing at the fact that I was oblivious to the presence of an internationally famous star.  He laughed a bit, lightening the mood.  

“Anyways, I was mobbed by fans today.  I had snuck out of the recording studio for a walk by myself without our security.  You know, I just needed a little time alone,” he explained.  “It was nice when I left, but then it started pouring and then a few fans spotted me and the girls kept multiplying.  I love the fans, but it was just over the top.  I ended up having to call the studio for help and they had to come break everything up.  I was soaked, frustrated, and on top of it all I was in trouble for leaving.  I mean it’s nothing compared to your day, but still,” he said looking down at his hands on the table.  

“No, I understand.  It must be hard to be famous.  Everyone needs time alone, it makes perfect sense.  Then again, too much time alone isn’t that great either,” I said, thinking of my lonely apartment and how I wasn’t talking to my friend.  He looked at me with enlightened eyes.

“Thanks for understanding,” he said with a smile.  “You’re right, though.  It’s nice to have someone to talk to as well,”  he thought for a moment before smiling to himself, then up at me as if he had an idea.  He reached for my Blackberry on the table, pushing a few buttons and putting it back on the table as I observed silently.

“What was that?” I pondered.  He simply continued smiling and looking at me with those sparkling eyes.

“It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” he repeated with a wink.  

* * *

 
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