"No, no, no… No!" she cried out in desperation a moment after her discovery, rummaging through her bag, frantically searching for the item she hadn't even thought about half a minute earlier. "It has to be here! I put it inside this morning, and I had it with me at the University, it couldn't just disappear. It must be here, somewhere!"

But it wasn't.

Feeling herself on the verge of tears – again – Astrid grabbed her purse in both of her hands and turned it upside down, letting her belongings fall on the soft surface of the sofa, still fooling herself that it would allow her to find the wallet that was otherwise escaping her notice. She threw the empty bag on the floor right after and focused on going through its contents once more, and every next second just made her more convinced that it was indeed just another hopeless business.

"Alright, Hofferson, calm down," she ordered herself eventually, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply, hoping to at least get her own nerves under control. She wouldn't resolve anything in a state of such panic anyway. "Did I really put it in my bag in the morning? Wasn't that yesterday? I don't use the bus and I didn't visit the library today, so I really might have missed the fact that I didn't have the wallet with me. Oh, and I haven't eaten anything for the entire day, either -"

You did down that huge coffee in the afternoon, though, and it certainly wasn't Ruff who paid for it.

"Oh, shut up," she answered her own mind that apparently decided that she didn't deserve that last resort of hope she was clinging to so fiercely, as she plopped down on a chair and slouched, hiding her face behind her trembling fingers.

She knew she was naive to think of it in this way, but it was just too much. Why did it have to happen to her? Now, when she had finally found some peace, when she had allowed herself to relax a little, this had to happen, shattering all of the prospects of spending at least a few idle hours without stressing over how pathetic she was. Now, however? No chance she would get any of that.

Her money, her tickets, her ID cards – they were gone, all because she couldn't have crossed half kilometre long distance without losing her balance and falling on the ground like the miserable idiot she was.

She jerked up her head, eyes wide in astonishment.

Certainly, she must have left it there! Just a few hundreds metres away, where her bag strap had fallen off. Maybe she was being childish and naive again, but if she hadn't noticed the wallet lying anywhere close to where she'd stood, it was more than possible that no one else had. It must have landed between the rotting scrubs that she knew grew next to the footpath in that particular place, and, apparently, neither she or her saviour was perceptive enough to have noticed it earlier.

Of course, her own silly agitation at the time didn't help with that.

In a sudden rush of energy, Astrid jumped from the chair and hurried to the door, barely remembering to put on her shoes and coat before she left. Her hair was still wet and tangled, and she still didn't have a hat to put on her head, but it didn't matter. Right now all she cared for was her phone, her keys and this little bit of luck she needed so much.


Still, her wallet wasn't there.

Not on the pavement, not in the bushes, not anywhere close to either of them. Like with her bag earlier this evening, she searched and searched, checking every inch of the ground twice, praying that she would at least find her ID cards if nothing else.

Screw the money she thought, pretending like she didn't care, screw the tickets, the photos, the slim, flat flash drive I never used anyway.

Screw the green-eyed, handsome jerks that made her lose her common sense.

"What is wrong with me?" she groaned as the realisation dawned on her, making her despise herself more than ever before, clenching her fists and kicking the kerb, indifferent to the pain that spread over her foot in result. "He took it. Of course he took it. He played his role of a decent guy, gave me back all of the worthless notes and pens and kept the only thing worth keeping. And to think I was grateful to have met him today!"

Oh, she wasn't pathetic. She was just plain, plain stupid.

"Did I really blush and stutter for this?"

Or maybe she simply was both.

She groaned for what felt like a millionth time that day and returned to massaging her temple, desperate to at least soften the pounding headache that was only growing with the passage of time. She no longer tried to fight her anger, knowing that it was the last thing that still kept her from giving up to the final frustration – frustration that meant nothing but tears and resignation, not to mention even worse physical condition. So she kicked, and she hissed, and she kept cursing the previous encounter that had undoubtedly lead to her current state.

It had taken good few minutes and a couple of snorts before Astrid calmed down enough to make any sort of decision. She looked around in the last impulse of hope. Nothing was there – and she painfully realised that it would remain in that way, no matter how much she wanted it to change.

Her sigh was almost theatrical this time.

"I really should stop that," she muttered under her breath, tucking her lose hair behind her ear, brushing away her fringe that was getting in her eyes. She was surprised it hadn't frozen by this time but then again, not much made sense on this sad winter evening.

Some December that was.

Refraining from scanning the area again, the girl turned around and, slouched under the heavy blasts of the howling wind, she took the first of the many steps towards her apartment.

Alright, she thought as she walked past a group of students who must have just finished the last of their classes. Alright. If that's how it must end, then so be it. The best I can do is to get back inside and call the bank, the police, or whatever institution that could take any interest in me losing my documents. And then it's bed, and it's for real this time, and I am not letting anything else get in my way again -

Goodness gracious, she almost sounded as if she'd had anything to say about this.

"I do," she drawled through her gritted teeth, gaining herself a startled look from a very surprised passer-by. She ignored him completely. "I might be talking to myself, but that doesn't mean I've lost my mind, and until that happens, I'm the one deciding what and how to do about my life. And since I can't do more than those calls, I won't worry about it, not for a second longer. Good Lord, I really need some sleep."

She reached to the pocket of her jeans in search of her phone, curious to see how much time this unplanned escapade had taken her, only to feel it buzz in her hand before she'd had a chance to have a good look at the screen. She frowned at the sight of her mother's photo.

Ingrid Hofferson never called without a good reason.

"Mum? What's wrong?" she asked in lieu of a greeting, already sensing the familiar knot in her stomach that appeared every time she got nervous. Normally, a call from her mother would result in nothing but her surprise but feeling the way she did that day...

...she had already come up with the most terrifying scenarios.

"What happened?" she repeated before the woman on the other side managed to answer.

She heard her mother sigh in response. "Really, Astrid, can't a mother call her daughter without a reason?"

"You never do," was Astrid's quiet answer. She tried to sound calm but at the same time she was almost perfectly sure Ingrid already knew she was not. "We both know we're better off texting and you're always busy at this time of day. So, what's the matter?"

"Don't you be so sure, young Lady, or I'll make sure to call you every two days just to stir that confidence of yours. I may be getting old, Astrid, but it doesn't mean I don't know how to surprise my family. You should ask Dad."

"Mum," Astrid interrupted, the corners of her lips twitching. Her mother was way too cheerful - and naturally so - to be herald of any bad news and the girl felt herself relax at last.

"Fine," her mother muttered in a mock-offended voice. "There might be a reason this time. But I could still call you if there wasn't and there would be nothing special about it."

"Of course not," Astrid mumbled with a smile. "So, mum, are you going to tell me what that reason is or are you going to keep me in the dark until I burst with curiosity and beg you for details myself?"

She almost heard her mother grin. "That would not be an unwelcome change, you know. But as much as I'd love to hear you plead for anything, I don't have as much time as I wish, so I'll get straight to the point - do you or do you not recall meeting any tall, dark-haired, ridiculously handsome young man today?"

Astrid stopped in her tracks, astonished, unable to utter a word of response. Her mind was blank, except for one thought that kept ringing in it.

You've got to be kidding me.

"I - I don't" she stammered, somehow managing not to stop in her tracks as she did; again, the teasing expression that undoubtedly appeared on her mother's countenance was almost audible. "I mean, yes. What?"

"Well, well, looks like after twenty years of trying I've finally succeeded in rendering my daughter speechless," came Ingrid's merciless comment. "Even though I suppose it's mostly the man's in question doing."

"Why would you even ask me that, mum?" Astrid tried to regain some of her lost dignity. "This question itself is ridiculous, not to mention, awfully specific. So, why?"

"Because he's sitting in the other room as we speak. He came in about five minutes ago, claiming that he'd found your wallet on the pavement."

Now was the time for Astrid to halt.

"What?" was another educated exclamation of hers. "How?"

"He would not share any details except that he there when your bag fell on the ground and that even though you managed to gather most of it, you somehow missed the wallet - and that you'd left the spot before he noticed it himself. Now, I won't pester about how it's possible you didn't check for the wallet in the first place, because I know that things like that happen sometimes. What I want to know, however, is: how the heck could you run away from a man like this?"

Against herself, Astrid burst into laugh. "Mum, I swear, you're worse than Ruff sometimes."

"I suppose she already shared her thoughts on the subject?"

"Yes, and she was very straightforward about it, too."

"I knew there was a reason why I loved that girl."

Astrid chuckled again, and sighed. "Alright, your comments apart - why is he there? It doesn't make sense."

"I suppose he followed the only clue he had, which is the address on your ID. And as it happens, it's still your home address."

"Of course. But -" Astrid hesitated, feeling the sudden pang of guilt as she remembered all the accusations she had already made towards the guy who truly had done nothing but helped her. "You want to tell me he drove all that way to the suburbs just because of this?"

"Seems like it."

"Oh, brother."

She pressed her hand to her forehead. She felt so happy, and surprised, and a little lost for words, not to mention, more and more ashamed of how easily she had judged the chivalrous young man. And she still needed to decide what to do with the fact that said man was comfortably seated in her mother's living room.

"Okay mum, listen," she said eventually. "This is all wonderful news but if we don't make some decisions now, I will collapse on the ground from exhaustion in moments and nothing good will come for it anyway. I am too tired to come home today - so would you please just ask the guy to leave it with you for now and I'll come and pick it up tomorrow after classes? I'm sure he's dying to get rid of it, too."

"See, that's the problem," her mother opposed. "He seems determined to only give it back to you, personally."

Astrid felt her good mood die again. She did not feel like spending two more hours in a bus today. "Mum, it doesn't make any sense. Even if I wasn't tired, it would still take me way too much time for him to wait. I'd have to go back to the flat, get some money - I am sure he has better things to do."

"He doesn't want you to come, but to bring the wallet back to you."

"To me? Wait, you didn't actually give him my address, did you?"

"Of course not," Ingrid as well as snorted. "But he says there is no point in your coming here, since he needs to get to the centre anyway; he's pretty stubborn, you know. So... Maybe just name a place and I'll tell him to meet you there? Although honestly, he seems like the kind of guy that you could safely meet in your own flat. I wouldn't mind you seeing him like this, anyway."

"Mum!"

She heard her mother laugh openly then and only shook her head at her wonderful parent's antics. She resumed her stroll towards her block. "Okay mum, I'll tell you what: today has been horrible, and I feel like garbage, and I'm definitely not going anywhere right now - so if you could just send the guy to my flat, that would be great. And if he turns out to be a serial rapist and killer... Well, at least you'll know exactly how to describe him to the police."


Author's note: Hey, guys, guess who's alive.

Yep. It's me. As crazy and unbelievable as it seems - and feels, really - I am still here and even though I had made myself an over 3 month long break from hiccstrid (!) I think I'm ready to go back - and let this chapter be a good omen of that.

I still can't promise you when I'll be able to share another chapter with you but I promise I'll try not to make the wait this awfully long again. Thank you all for you support, you kind words, follows & faves - even though I still don't quite understand the popularity of this story, I surely do appreciate your enthusiasm.

You're amazing and God bless you all,
Margaret

PS News! One of the reasons for not writing that much hiccstrid is the fact that I'm very much into Anne of Green Gables / Anne with and E right now. That means I'm writing for it, too - I've already posted some works under the name of AnnewithaGee, so if you're into Anne too, feel free to check them out.

Love you all!
MH