My head throbbed with the dull ache of a thousand drums, the aftermath of a party the night before. As I lay cocooned in the warmth of sleep, a persistent sensation nudged at the edges of my consciousness. Someone was calling my name – "Sophia! Soph!! Get up!" – shaking me, and I wanted to throw bricks at the idiot.

Reluctantly, I peeled my eyes open, squinting against the intruding light from the window. The world blurred and swirled, refusing to settle. Disoriented, I tried to make sense of my surroundings. The room gradually sharpened into focus.

Then I saw Jessica leaning over me. I saw her nose first. It appeared so big and disproportionate up close, but I said nothing. I just wanted to sleep and disappear from the face of the Earth.

"You better get up now. It's past midday," she said.

Fumbling for my phone on the nightstand, I squinted at the screen, the digital numbers mocking me with their clarity.

"Oh, God," I groaned and pushed myself up on the bed. The room still seemed to sway. Thirst clawed at my throat and I swallowed hard. Jessica passed me a water bottle and watched me drink from it. I looked about me, taking in my dorm room.

"How'd I get here?" I asked her, sure I passed out somewhere last night, sorry and shit.

"Miracle. We were both drunk. I was still able to walk but you were dead and gone. Someone from the party carried you in."


"Strangers. Probably from college. They left right after."

I did recall being carried by someone really tall and feeling real nice and warm in my heart, especially after Bryce completely ignored me. Bryce Carter. That asshole.

Thinking about him sent tears pooling in my eyes again and I turned the other way, hiding my sorry state from Jessica. I hated being an object of anybody's pity right now. I remembered being over the moon when I got my acceptance letter to college here at Coasuta. To think I came all this way for him just to be treated like trash. Not a word, just cold indifference. He looked right through my head like I was nothing and kissed another girl. I was nothing to him.

"Get up. You better have something to eat first," Jessica said, not one to slosh around in misery. The best kind for me right now.

My head ached all the more as tears kept streaming onto my pillow. After drinking like a pig the night before and the ten thousand stabbings Bryce-asshole sent through my head, I seemed to have nothing left. Dead and dumb. That's what I felt like.

Still, I forced myself out of bed, cried more in the shower, got dressed and walked about Campus, attended a few classes, and in the evening, I found myself at the Department store where Jessica and I worked.

Outside the store, the sun was sinking and the world seemed to be floating in a vast atmosphere of yellow. And all day long, I hadn't thought of anybody but Bryce... and Bryce... and Bryce.

Then, snapping me back to earth from my retrospection, came two stacks of a dozen notebooks, pens and pencils, Nutella and cheese, shampoos, detergents, soaps, protein bars, protein powder, and energy drinks, a children's coloring book, Barbie pencils, and erasers in different attractive designs, heart-shaped candies, and God knows what.

Sporting a quick smile, I glanced up, anticipating a friendly encounter with a sweet-looking mom. Instead, I collided with the sharp gaze of a guy in gray sweats, staring right back into my eyes like... "get your job done".

"I thought you were a mom," I blurted and my smile dropped immediately.

His eyes narrowed, apparently confused, but he stayed silent. Feeling awkward, I tugged at my lower lip and redirected my gaze to my desk. With the scanner in hand, I started assessing his purchases, fully aware of his eyes boring into the top of my head. While smiling at customers was the norm, there were moments when a smile felt oddly misplaced. This was one such moment.

The store buzzed with noise from the growing crowd but for me, it was starting to feel oddly quiet. I could sense his constant gaze burning into my scalp as he waited. Standing as erect as a pole, hands jammed in his pockets, his presence made me feel like I was being monitored like he was waiting for me to fumble and then take that chance to rave his lungs out at me.

"220 dollars," I said, glancing up at him with a pluck of courage.

To my relief, he behaved like any other customer—no raving, no outburst. It seemed my imagination had run wild once again.

The scary stranger revealed a card as he pulled his hand out of his pocket and swiped it across the card machine. In that short fraction of time as he punched in his pin code, I, Sophia Swann, taken by utter curiosity, seized the moment to study his appearance.

Sharp features.

Tall and broad.

God, that jawline is delllllicious!! Slices my retina into a million pieces.

Swing swang swong!

His eyes flicked up from the machine, catching me momentarily transfixed. I blinked away and pretended to be busy, hoping I hadn't exposed myself entirely to him.

Once his payment was processed, I got to work packing his purchases into two shopping bags. Extending the receipt to him, his fingers, thick and rough more like tree roots, cautiously came to hold the end of the paper, making sure not to touch my hand.

Not quite sure what came over me, in that instant, I, clutching the paper in my hand, met his gaze head-on and quipped with a smile, "Thanks for shopping here!"

Just to get a response, a word. Hear how his voice might sound.

Only at that moment did he deliberately meet my eyes. The world seemed to stop rotating at once, time seemed to freeze in reverence to the reality of me, Sophia Swann, locking gazes with a pair of steely green eyes that seemed to hold an ocean of depth and mysteries. The world vanished from my consciousness, and all that echoed in my mind was a resounding "Oh, shit!"

Shit shit shit!

His piercing gaze and the sharp flashes in his green irises sent a clear message – no room for nonsense. Clearing my throat, I attempted to shake it off. He took the receipt from my hand, and what followed was nothing short of a surprise.

The steely look in his eyes softened, and this once-intimidating stranger, now exuding dignified confidence, offered a solemn nod in acknowledgment. Strangely, that seemingly small gesture left me stupefied, and I held my breath. Eventually, I found myself nodding in return.

He crumpled the receipt in his hand, shoved it inside his pocket, picked up the two bags from the counter, and left without a word. Not a single word.


In a few swift strides, he was out of the store, leaving me to simply gaze at his broad back, still dazed by the fact that he had actually acknowledged me and meaninglessly intimidated the shit out of me too. In hindsight, it felt weird and funny.

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Hermyne Khaling

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Hermyne Khaling

A Dreamer who explores the world and beyond through words. || Over 20M reads on Wattpad ||