"It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable" - Socrates


The Visit

The rain poured dismally against the panes of the bus window. The woman's fingers trailed against the condensed glass, stopping on a drop that was waiting, just for the right moment to fall. She looked at that drop fondly, like she would a reflection of herself, with a bit of sadness.

The summer heat had dissipated, and the slow chill of winter had set in. The bus rattled once or twice, the fragility of the years-old vehicle shining through. The woman brought her hands up to her ear, rattling her old beaten up earphones, eyebrows pinched, trying to force out the music.

She smiled bright as a frail old man boarded, he wore a giant top hat, a thick brown stick in his hand. The man slowly trudged along till he found her, smiling, his wrinkles pronounced, a boyish charm still left on what was his once youthful face.

"How is my little girl doing today?", he nodded, taking a seat right beside her.

She looked up then down again, fiddling with her headphones, "Im good Mr. Valentine, just…you don't have to call me that y'know?" she sighed, swallowing a little before somehow composing herself. "I'm not that young anymore."

The old man's face softened as he regarded her. His mind takes him back to the little girl he met, moving into town with her grandmother, hand gripping hers, the other fiddling with her dress. He remembered her laugh, the way she clutched her belly, eyes scrunched. His memory fades often, but this was not one of them. He also never forgot that he hadn't heard that laugh in years.

He shifted in his seat, coughing twice. She looked up and smiled knowingly, although it didn't reach her eyes. He lifted his arm, and pulled out a red cloth from his hat, placing it on her open palm in her lap. She tilted her head and grabbed onto it. Not saying a word.

"Get a good gramophone, '' he said, coughing once again, this time with a little bit of weakness. "Those thingamajigs are going to hurt your ears''

She giggled looking down at her headphones, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "That is exactly what I expected you to listen with, I sure will go buy one…but right now I'm headed to the primary."

"Oh honey, haven't you stopped running around yet" coughed once more, "you just need to put ya time into that bakery of yours, it's running-"he coughed again, a few more times, much harsher.

Her brows wrinkled as she leaned forward, putting an arm on his shoulder,"Are you okay?"

She paused as her hands touched the worn fabric of his coat, it was old and frayed, but she remembered the feeling of that coat around her shoulders, like taking a hot shower in the winter.

The bus came to a standstill and shook slightly, causing her to grip a little tighter on his arm. She did it for his benefit, because he was sick, but something in her told her that she was the one who needed the support. She stood up, slowly grabbing 's hand as she moved forward, waving a cheery goodbye to the bus driver, who for the first time in his morning, smiled back with fondness.

"You need to get yourself a woolly hat, old man,"she said with a huff. "That top hat is not gonna do you any good with all that coughing" she tapped his hat twice.

"Hey now", he swatted her hand slowly."A magician should always look his best" He said as they came to a standstill in front of his home.

"You never know when you have to perform" he grinned slowly, reaching out for the red cloth clutched in her hand, shaking it slowly as he brought it up as a veil. Slowly he pulled out a single rose from behind it, the redness stark against the paleness of his hand. She smiled, this time it reached her eyes. He tucked the rose behind her ear, where it nestled amongst her chestnut curls.

"Chin up sweetheart," he tipped his hat once, disappearing into the thick, neglected bushes surrounding his house, whistling a broken tune.


"Did you guys like the pink icing or the orange icing?" She grinned as she lifted up the last two cookies, tilting her head to the side as she peered at the giggling kids.

A mix of pinks and oranges resounded from the children who were dancing around her as she tickled the bright green eyed Ronnie, the newest arrival to the orphanage. He was a celebrity, all the children were fascinated by this particular shade of green. The child had never felt more loved.

"This is the first time he's smiled since he's been brought here", the manager, whispered to her assistant. She was a plump lady, with round kind eyes and a small smile, she took in Isabella with fondness. The little girl hasn't skipped a sunday at the orphanage, always making time to come visit the babies and putting smiles on their faces.

"I think I've gotta head out Adah," Bella smiled slightly as she dusted off the flour from her jeans. Her wrists ached from the endless hours of baking and icing and dusting and whatnot. She wanted a hot shower desperately. And a bowl of soup. Her heart warmed at the thought, then it would have never been happy with such trivial things as a child. She'd dreamt too big.

"Take care now", was all Adah could muster as she smiled at the child. She departed with a parting wave to the children, hands tapping against her thighs as she walked down the long crimson coast of the beach towards the bus stop.

Coins clinked together as Bella shook the piggy bank. The paint had worn off. The poor pig had an eye and half a snout. She looked at it with a tinge of sadness, thinking of all the times she had put a coin in since she had been twelve, waiting. Those coins had long gone, and had been replaced, over and over. She shook out the money, containing a mess of notes. Counting and counting again she was dismayed, even forgetting the pain from her wrist.

"Shit", she whispered. She was fifty dollars short. Her eyes travelled aimlessly as she tried to come up with a solution. She had to open the cafe early, at least for an hour or two. And for a few more tomorrow morning.

She rushed out, gathering her hair up, biting her finger, twitching slightly. Her frame reflected against the cool black fridge, slightly frail for a young woman. She snatched the Open sign and hung it up, quickly checking the clock that read three pm.


Time ebbed slowly, Bella bit her lip and smiled at the departing customer. She had managed to sell only three cups of coffee and a box of doughnuts. They were the cheap and simple kind too. But she couldn't blame the customer. They were the best ones.

Stretching slightly she placed her palms on the marble countertop, pulling her body back and lowering her head tiredly.

A slight ding was heard, replaced by slow clings off the charm she had hung by the entrance. A gust of wind blew and she looked up slowly at a pair of italian loafers. Her eyes had no energy to lift, but she forced them up anyway. Her heart was doing a weird stuttering thing as she looked at the man, tall and imposing. His face stern.

His shoes tap tap tapped against the linoleum floor, his eyes fixed on hers.

"A cappuccino, no milk, no sugar", his voice was harsh, and she inwardly flinched at its lack of appeal.

"I recommend milk, we have the most fresh-" she started, forcing herself to be cheery as she glanced up at him once, before glancing away.

"No.",she hesitated at his forcefulness, "thanks", he forced out.

"Alright", she quickly answered before getting to work. A cappuccino it is. If she goes broke and can't make the rest of the money, she'll at least try to make the best damn cappuccino this man has ever drank.

She had her back against him, gulping slightly, something about him giving her an odd sensation. She didn't have the strength in her to face him head on at the moment, so she watched him through the shiny steel of the toaster, his pupils slightly glistening as he watched her fumble.

"So", she cleared her throat in a pathetic way to make conversation," I haven't seen you here before, are you new here?"

Silence.

"I must say the getup is a little odd for this weather", she pointed to his pristine suit. She had noticed it was pitch black, as if he could just fade into the darkness at any given moment.

He didn't take his eyes off of her as she turned, surveying her actions as she messily poured the coffee into a cup. What was up with her today? Maybe the pressure of making some more money, or maybe just the fact that she was tired. Either way she wanted away from this man.

"That'll be $3.99", She smiled cheerily as his eyes paused on the floor he was surveying, not normally by the way, but like he had a purpose. He lifted his eyes up to her face in one swift movement, yet his face stayed the same. Her pulse thrummed against her body, she could feel herself heat up. It was like he'd bewitched her.

"You like to extort from your customers?", his voice dripped out with disdain as he slanted his head to one side.

Bella's eyes flared in challenge as she clenched her fist. Yet she couldn't also help but feel acknowledged. Yes. She did indeed charge higher. But not for the reasons he could assume. She felt a surge of gratefulness, a completely discerning emotion, a contrast to what she should have been feeling at this man's contempt. The normal pity that exuded from every person in this town when seeing her was exempt from him, for which she was utterly grateful.

"It's not extorting if what I give in return is as valuable", she countered, chin raising a fraction. Despite this refreshing rebuttal she couldn't help but counter back, she couldn't just let the man walk all over her.

His bottom lip twitched once, eyes narrowing slightly.

He didn't respond but merely observed as he walked slowly around the cafe. Feet steady and shoulders broad, he was the epitome of all her wet dreams. She blushed at the thought of sexualising the insolent man. Suddenly she hated herself for that one fleeting moment where she desired to be selfish. That time was long gone.

She huffed as she saw him slightly finger the vase of yellow tulips by the entrance. She liked the blue ones best but decided it would be easier to catch the customers' eye. She ignored the fact that it was a ridiculous idea.

"Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?", her eyes flew to his fingers that stilled at her address. Had she offended him? He didn't seem much older than her. Possibly a mere twenty-nine, if she were pushing it. But then again he dressed like a Wall Street Banker whose favourite pastime was counting money, maybe he was older.

A steely determination came over his face as he looked up, his brown eyes the shade of dark honey as he gazed at her and then at the cup of steaming coffee placed on the counter. The cup had a giant red bow on it. And he looked at it with disdain.

"Yes." He spoke simply before producing a document and placing it by her, standing back and challenging her to open whatever it was.

Now Bella had met a lot of difficult people in her life, especially people who thought they could treat her as none the wiser for being a woman, and poor at that. But at this moment she had never felt more threatened as she looked at this beautiful man. Thunder rumbled in the background startling her but she couldn't look away. It was like looking at a fallen angel, ready to come take her away. He stood dark, menacing, fitting in perfectly with the slashing rain that started to fall across the glass panes.

She drew a deep breath, hesitating once before picking it up. The paper felt extremely cold against her warm fingers.

"What is this?" she asked in a low and trembling voice, as if her body knew whatever she was about to look at would change her course.

She read it slowly, gulping twice and lifting her hand to brush away a tendril of fallen hair, her senses were so heightened that she heard the pad of her fingers slide against her forehead.

"It's a sale deed.", the man folded his hands into his trouser pockets, head lowering a fraction and blinking with no emotion.

"W-what do you mean," she looked up in alarm, frantically scanning the papers.

"It means that I have acquired your building."

"But how is that possible? This is in my grandmother's name", she was afraid. Had nonna decided to sell this?

"She put it down as collateral for a loan, which had not been paid for a few years in fact." he grimaced hard, the first time any type of emotion was evident on his face.

"What the hell do you mean?" She clutched at the papers as they started to crumple in her fist. Her mind was reeling, she couldn't believe that her grandmother had any part in this. No way this had happened. This man is a scammer. That must be it.

"My incompetent employee decided it was not worthwhile to check for a section of the interest and loan repayme-"

"NO not that!" She interrupted harshly. This man was clearly mad. He must be. She could accuse him of not being some big shot banker, but his expensive clothes and snooty demeanour said something else wholly.

The man stepped forward and Bella's brows crinkled even further. If he was going to threaten her he would have another thing coming. Her eyes darted slowly to the wet frying pan that was resting on the counter, one swift grab and-

"Look", the man spoke impatiently, his head looking down at her. He wasn't too much taller than she was, but enough to intimidate her nonetheless. "It's been exactly five years, seven months and sixteen days since you've made any type of payment towards the loan." his jaw clenched as if he was in physical pain at the thought.

"I will allow you to keep whatever assets you have. I do not want to be reminded of the poor decision making skills of one of my employees. The reputation of-"

Allow? Bella decided she was going to show him no sympathy.

"Is that all you care about?!" She yelled at his stunned face…well as stunned as him frowning slightly looked."Im about to lose the only way I can make a living and all you care about is your stupid loan. I'm guessing from your hoity-toity suit and pink cufflinks that you're filthy rich", she paused to take a breath from her tirade while he looked down at said cufflinks in confusion and anger.

"And arrogant men like you just care about making more money! Can I ask you one thing? What is the need for all of this? You're already rich!" she flailed her arms around.

God. She thought to herself. That was the most exhilarating moment she had had since high school. She felt like high fiving herself. Her joy was quickly dulled by the prospect that she had just insulted the only man who could save her. What was she going to do now? Beg for forgiveness? Maybe give him his three dollars and ninety-nine cents back? Or maybe-

"Magenta" came a hard voice, disrupting her thoughts.

She slowly looked up from his black silk tie, and met his eyes. They were fixed on her, blazing with fury.

"W-what"

"My cufflinks. They are not pink. They are magenta", he gritted out."And listen", he spat menacingly, grabbing her forearm and shoving her up against him. His face was finally twisted in what looked like irritation. She couldn't even take in a breath, the cold hardness of his chest did nothing to dull the fire that woke inside her. She was going to faint.

"I am not asking anything of you. I am telling you. You will sign this place over to me, and you will do it without any questions."

"What if I don't?", she replied softly, out of breath.

His eyes became hooded and a knowing smirk came onto his face. Her eyes darted between his as they twinkled menacingly.