ONE MONTH A.D. (After Duncan)
Courtney was walking along the snow-covered sidewalk of Chicago. Her genuine fur boots sent out small crunching noises with every step in the packed-down snow. Her fists were shoved in the deep pockets of her new fur coat that her daddy had bought her. The harsh winter wind was blocked by all the people crowded around her on the sidewalk.
They come across an intersection, and look both ways up and down the streets. Chicago looked like a winter wonderland. The streetlights had small piles of snow on top of them and there were a couple carolers about, traveling to various apartment buildings. The sky was gray and green pine wreaths hung from practically every available window. Courtney strides across the street with a mass of people.
She steps over the curb and into a small candy shop that specialized in mints this time of year. The air was warm and immediately melted the snowflakes that had landed on her soft brown hair. Courtney unwraps the scarf from around her neck and hands it to the coatman. Then she unbuttons her fur coat and hands that to him as well. He gently hangs up her belongings and asks, “Merry Christmas, Miss Pembrooke. We’re just a few days away from Christmas, aren’t we?”
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Charles Baker. I love this time of year,” Courtney gushes. She stomps her fur boots on the thick carpet by the door and small chunks of snow fall off. They’re reduced to a puddle of water in mere minutes.
“Most definitely. Did you come here for some peppermints, or some homemade gingerbread?” Charles Baker asks, leading her into the quaint candy shop. The store looked more like a small log cabin, even though it was on a busy intersection of Chicago. A roaring fire warmed the whole room from a wall in the back corner. Rows and displays of candy, cookies, and taffy gave the air a light, sugary smell. The floors were a dark hardwood, as well as the walls. A staircase led from behind the counter to upstairs, where Charles Bakers’ mother and grandmother baked in a large kitchen.
“Well, I originally came here intent on buying a bag of peppermints, but now that you mention it, some gingerbread sounds pretty appetizing,” Courtney replies. Charles Baker nods and he heads behind the candy counter, retrieving a large glass jar of peppermints in various shapes and sizes. He takes a plastic bag and fills it with the mints from a metal scoop until the bag on the scale weighed a half pound. Charles Baker expertly twisted the bag and put a golden bow on it.
“There you go,” he says, handing the bag over the counter. His and Courtney’s hands brush as they exchange the bag. Ms. Baker chooses that moment to walk down the stairs with a steaming tray of gingerbread. Her mouth opens in disbelief and she sets the tray down on the counter.
As she pulls the cooking mitts off both hands, she exclaims, “Why, Miss Courtney Pembrooke! What a pleasant surprise! Are you here to try some of our famous homemade gingerbread?”
“Yes, of course, Ms. Baker. And I wanted to get a bag of your tasty peppermints,” Courtney answers, raising the bag of peppermints in the air a tad for emphasis. Ms. Baker nods in understanding and begins shoveling the gingerbread off the tray with a metal spatula.
“Yes, well, I do so love our peppermints. Here, Charles Baker, why don’t you give lovely Miss Pembrooke a free sample of our gingerbread. Right out of the oven!” Ms. Baker tells her son. He takes two pieces of gingerbread and hands one to Courtney. She takes it and takes a dainty bite from the cookie.
“Mmm,” she gushes, “I love fresh gingerbread. I’ll take a half pound bag of it, please.”
Charles Baker nods and gets to work, half of his gingerbread cookie hanging out of his mouth. His mother finally returns upstairs when he hands a full bag of gingerbread to Courtney, with the gold bow. She places the bags on the counter and opens her white clutch purse, revealing a crisp $5 bill.
“Five dollars? Am I correct?”
“Right as always, Miss Pembrooke,” replies Charles Baker with a slight smirk. Courtney had been to the candy shop so many times throughout her lifetime that she had memorized the prices. As Charles Baker places the bill in the cash register, Courtney takes her coat and scarf from the coat rack and dresses herself in winter-wear. “Have a nice day.”
“You too,” Courtney calls over her shoulder. She opens the door, and the golden chimes above her head twinkle in the wind. She clutches her purchases and her purse to her chest and joins the fast-paced crowd on their journey along the sidewalk. The cold air causes her cheeks to flush a bright pink color, and her nose instantly begins running. Sniffling, Courtney walks along until something catches her eye. She takes a look over her shoulder and sees shaggy black hair.
Shaggy black hair.
Shaggy. Black. Hair.
Courtney suddenly stops in the middle of the sidewalk, causing a middle-aged man to side-step around her to avoid collision. He grumbles at her along his way, but she ignores the profanities. She begins shoving her way through the crowd, trying to catch up to the person with the black hair who was trying to walk away.
Her scarf had come loose from it’s stylish knot and was just dangling from her neck, and the wind from this direction was probably tying her hair into knots, but she didn’t care. Courtney had to catch up to the person with the black hair. The person who had saved her from being run over. The person who was a notorious gangster.
In other words, Duncan.
But when she walked out into the middle of a crosswalk to see him, it wasn’t him. Once again, Courtney stops in her tracks. Not Duncan. Not even close to Duncan. The man was a teenage boy, yes, but he was much shorter than Duncan, and he had crooked teeth. The teen looked about ten pounds heavier than Duncan, and his complexion was no where near Duncan’s smooth, tan skin.
A car horn beeps, bringing Courtney back out of her reverie. She hops back onto the sidewalk and lets out a heavy sigh. That had been happening to her a lot. As in, so much that it probably wasn’t healthy to keep thinking about a boy who so clearly kicked her out of his life. But she couldn’t stop thinking about him. It had been a whole month, yet every time she saw a Crest-white smirk or heard a low chuckle, her mind snapped to Duncan.
Could she not forget about him?
Before she knew it, Courtney was in front of her apartment building. She walks up the stairs, into the lobby, up the elevator, and on the penthouse level. She takes the key from her purse and opens her apartment door, stepping into a large kitchen that smelled like sugar cookies. Courtney drops the peppermints and gingerbread on the kitchen counter right before running up to her room.
She closes her bedroom door shut and snaps the lock on the doorknob. She scrambles to unbutton her fur coat and swiftly tears her scarf from her neck. She tosses them on her bed and she sits on the floor, next to her desk. Courtney opens the cabinet underneath her desk and takes out a pencil case. She digs to the bottom and takes out a handkerchief wrapped into a ball. She gently unwraps it and takes out the skull carving.
Courtney clutches it in her hand and lays with her back on the plush carpet, staring at the ceiling. She took out the tiny skull whenever she was really missing Duncan and she couldn’t get him out of her mind. Her French-tipped fingernails follow the trail of their initials, carved into the base of the skull.
C + D
Courtney and Duncan my ass, she thinks remorsefully. They were never going to see each other again. He didn’t want anything to do with her, even though his last words to her were ‘I love you’. Yeah, that’s love, all right. Ditching the girl who cares so much about you. Courtney lets out a sharp sigh, puffing her bangs up into the air. They slowly float back down and land on her forehead.
“Courtney!” her mother calls across the apartment, “Will you get the mail? I forgot to get it when I was running errands earlier.”
Courtney shoots up into a sitting position and quickly wraps the skull back into the handkerchief. She buries it in pens and pencils, zips the pencil case shut, and replaces it in the cabinet. She walks out of her room, down the hallway, past the living room, and through the kitchen. “Be right back!” she calls to her mother before slamming the apartment door shut and walking down the hallway.
She gets to the elevator and lets out a groan. An ‘Out of Order’ sign was crudely taped to the metal doors. Now I have to walk down about thirty flights of stairs, she thinks to herself. Courtney shoves the metal bar and opens the heavy metal door into the stairwell. She shivers in the cold, unheated stairwell before placing a foot on the first step.
Just then, two arms roughly grab her around her waist and tug her off the stairs, behind the metal door. A hand clamps over her mouth as Courtney tries to scream. The fingers smelled like cigarettes. A conversation between her and Duncan: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, sweetheart. Pause. Rewind. Did you say you’ve never smoked a cig before?’
A smile breaks out over Courtney’s face and she slowly pulls the hand off her mouth, turning around to look at the face of who just lured her into the stairway.