Gabriel was running late.
He checked the watch band over his right wrist and tapped his foot impatiently. He was supposed to have met up with his wife and son a good twenty minutes ago, and his driver was running late.
This was the inconvenience of calling for a driver. He’d told his secretary he could hail a cab, or perhaps even walk to the restaurant - yes, he’s walked places before. But she’d insisted on a driver, as Gabriel Curell needed to arrive to a late lunch with his family in style, and not hot and disheveled after a walk.
Reluctantly, Gabriel had agreed, and had needed the driver to pick him up at exactly ten till Three. It was now twenty after.
He knew these sorts of things were not his secretary’s fault - and more so the driver’s - but it was all still highly annoying.
Taking his cell from his pocket, he pressed the speed dial button for his wife’s number and waited for her to answer as he went ahead to hail a cab like he’d originally wanted. At this point, walking was completely out of the question, even if he did enjoy the fresh air.
A black cab with a yellow stripe pulled up to the curb, and Gabriel slipped into the back just as Amber’s voicemail kicked on.
"Hello, love. I apologize for running late. I should be there in ten minutes. If you and Mason have eaten without me, no need to worry. I can grab a bite later on. See you soon."
He hung up the phone, his arm resting on the panel of the door beside him, just as the door on the opposite side of the cab opened and a woman slipped into the seat.
She started speaking to the cab driver, and Gabriel looked across at the woman in disbelief.
"You do realize, ma’am, that this cab is taken, don’t you?"
The woman turned to Gabriel and seemed to instantly hold her breath.
For a moment, Gabriel did not recognize her. Not with the way her hair was cut in a pixie style, or those dark shades covering her eyes. Not with the way she wore those faded skinny jeans and that V cut t-shirt.
He’d never seen her hair so short, nor seen her wear such style of clothing.
"Bree?" The girl breathed, and instantly the world stopped for Gabriel.
"Ashley," he answered, and the cab driver glanced at them from his rearview mirror.
"Hey, you two - where am I going? Time is money!" he barked, and Gabriel forced himself to turn ahead to the driver, tossing him a fifty just to get him to shut up.
He had a destination in mind, but did he really want to go there now?
Ashley was here.
And then the door opened and the girl ducked out of the cab, and Gabriel found himself in distress with her sudden absence.
"Forget it," he muttered in response, opening up the door beside him as he jumped out of the cab to rush after Ashley.
The day was bright. The day was hot. Why had he not thought to wear his shades?
"Ashley!" he called after her, watching her retreating figure as he tried to catch up, and only stopped on the other side of the sidewalk when he saw her run into the arms of another man.
He held back, trying to listen. But the commotion of the people and the city around them was too much, and all he could make out was that Ashley was distressed. She was looking at the man she was with, and his eyes were scanning the crowd.
Quickly, Gabriel ducked into the nearest building before he was seen by the man, leaning against the wall adjacent to the door and trying to make sense of what just happened.
One, Ashley was here. Two, Ashley was with someone else.
Now... that shouldn’t bother him, because he was with Amber. He had a family. But it did - because he’d rather be with Ashley. Always.
Obviously her distress was because she felt the same. She’d rather be with Gabriel than whoever that was who was she’d run into the arms of.
And now that Gabriel knew Ashley was here, on Earth, what was keeping them apart?
Nothing. Nothing at all that couldn’t be taken care of.
The rational part of his brain started to kick into gear again, and at the same time spurred him in the gut for even letting such a thought slip through. He had to be smart about this.
Ashley was no one. She used to be someone, but Amber was who he was with.
In a burst of adrenaline to use his rationality over his emotional side, Gabriel left the building and headed down the sidewalk towards the restaurant where Amber and Mason were.
His message was false. It’d taken him close to a half hour to walk there, and by the time he reached them, Mason and Amber were stepping outside. Gabriel’s hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat, and he gave his wife a lopsided smile.
"Sorry... I’m late. I know." He ran his right hand through his hair as he slipped his left hand into his pants pocket. Subconsciously, his eyes turned to the sidewalk across the street and scanned, as if he could see Ashley again, wishing she’d followed him.
Clearing his throat, Gabriel straightened his tie and stood a bit straighter, finally collecting himself together as both hands went into his pockets.
He stepped up and leaned down to Amber, giving her a peck on the cheek. "I hope you enjoyed your lunch together," he whispered to her.
Bree. Fear overwhelmed anything else, and she ran as fast as she could, just as far in her panic. It was a fast act to escape, and she knew it, too.
"Ash, what are you-"
"Abel, we need to leave," she hissed once her arms were around him and she’d buried her shock in his chest. He still smelled like the coffee shop they’d just been in. "We need to leave, now."
"What’s going on?"
She hesitated a moment. "...Gabriel. He’s here."
"Dammit, I just said that," she snapped, and looked up at her brother. He regarded her with his green eyes, and she challenged him with her brown ones, daring him to make a snide remark. It’d been, what, fifty years? No, she knew the precise times - she knew it all too well. She wasn’t about to remind herself of sleepless nights imagining him in the arms of his wife.
Stop it, Ashley. Besides, she didn’t go by ’Ashley’ anyone - she’d taken on her middle name, and people on Earth called her ’Marybeth’. Hearing it from another’s lips, after so long... and the way he shaped it along the soft melody of his voice... Stop it. The only one she didn’t enforce it with was her brother. He called her what he liked - he’d certainly earned the right to.
Giving up their home, he’d sacrificed everything, even his fiancée, to go with her to Earth in her banishment. To think, Gabriel had been here all along, as well. It was the most disgusting form of punishment, so close and yet so far.
There had been nights where she’d been determined to crack open his marriage and run with him without repercussion - those nights, she’d hated herself all the more for such vile thinking, and the pursuit of broken happiness for Amber. It wasn’t fair - it wasn’t right.
If only he’d met her before marrying. And, all of this would’ve been solved. Dammit, she’d waited. She’d known all along, she’d find something in life. Whether a friend, or a husband. She just hadn’t known that what was supposed to be hers had had the potential to be promised to another.
Bitterness was welling against her tongue, and she leaned against her brother for support. He’d found his Mate- his friend for life- long before any of this; before they’d left. He’d died when they were children; an accident in water. Her brother had not even been in the vicinity when it’d occurred. A childhood friend lost; a kindred spirit, lost - a Skaa lost.
It had made little impact when he’d left his fiancée, and Georgina hadn’t put up a large protest, either. They were not meant to be together for life. Marybeth and Abel only had each other, it seemed. Their Mates were not to be their’s.
But that didn’t stop Abel from his own sleepless nights.
"All along," he murmured, rubbing her back soothingly. "He was with us all along, and you knew none of it."
"What am I supposed to do?" she whispered harshly, quivering. "I can’t be here. We need to leave - we need to move."
"When you just got promoted?" he replied, snorting. "Do you really want to start over in another design firm?"
"It doesn’t matter," she said darkly. "We have decades at our disposal. I don’t know how I’ll react if I see him again. I barely held on this time."
Abel sighed. "I don’t know why you do this to yourself."
"I shouldn’t be!" she declared in a rage. "They said they were going to separate us. They said we’d never see each other again."
"Well, you did. So, what? It’s not like you haven’t dreamt him up before." Her brother knew - he’d done similarly. "Pretend this was another hallucination, and get on with it - don’t let him screw your life up any more than it already is. After all, still living with your brother? How old are you?"
"Shut up," she scowled, but she was grinning again. Abel was good at that sort of thing; swerving subjects, changing lights. He didn’t utilize his talents, and worked as an stuntman in movie sets, risking his life for fifteen seconds of half-forgotten feats. He had a face and physique that blended with popular actors, with a lack of popularity that let him do his job quietly. He never missed an opportunity to brag on his official degree in the field, or the fact that he was more than capable of doing his job correctly. His pride was contagious, and often he cheered her in her pain.
Often, she forgot her brother ever experienced his own suffering. Thus was his talent.
"Let’s catch a cab, then," he said, and let her go to drape his arm around her shoulders. "You don’t want to miss your meeting."