Disclaimer: I do not own Wizards of Waverly Place. No profit is being made from releasing this fictional story.
Author's Note: Woot woot! Another chapter! Thank you to everyone who reviewed. Your encouragements are really well-appreciated, and, like I mentioned before, hearing how much YOU like the story makes ME write faster. If you hate the story, criticism is also welcome. Although, I'll probably just ignore you if you say mean things. :P
Stay with me, guys! Justin and Harper will be together again soon. I promise!
Let's read on!
A Familiar Pattern 26
Harper crossed her arms over her chest and huffed. She had driven to her studio early that morning so that she could work on a lot of things. Stacks of paperwork, order forms, and proposals to go through; boxes of fabric samples to test; designs to finalize; phone and video meetings to attend to; etcetera, etcetera… But she was too distracted to concentrate on anything. Five cups of coffee and a cream cheese bagel later, and she was still on the first proposal that she picked up three hours ago. No matter what she did, she still could not escape from being irritated, annoyed, frustrated, and down right pissed. A spared glance towards the vase of white tulips that was sitting on a table across the room reminded her of the very reason why she was so distracted.
It had been weeks since the eventful night of her reveal… or, at least, what she had planned to be her reveal to the public. But no, that plan went down the gutter when Alex had purposely led her eldest brother (and Harper's first love) to the fashion show. Everything just went down hill from there. Her plan of finally becoming public and of sharing her engagement to the world, which took FOR-E-VER to plan, by the way, was ruined. Now she was back to square one: hidden from the public (again), and no engagement announcement.
She and Alex had an argument immediately after that had happened. Although… Harper supposed that it wasn't really an argument if she was the only one yelling. Alex merely sat on a chair with an infuriating smirk on her lips. No, it wasn't an argument at all. Harper had screamed with flailing gestures at her best friend, cursing and accusing all sorts of things. In fact, if she wasn't such a good-goody, she might have even punched the growing mirth in Alex's eyes away.
Afterwards, following the multiple yelling sessions that occurred after that initial "argument," Alex had the nerve—THE NERVE!—to ask her if she would be willing to meet with Justin! Harper scoffed at the thought. No! Of course she would NOT like to meet Justin! She's already engaged, thank you very much! And to a great guy too! Why would she ever want to even look at another man? An ex-boyfriend, nonetheless? Her first love, moreover!
Harper's conviction wavered as she glanced at the tulips again…
"Damn it," she muttered as she rose from her chair and walked towards the menacing flowers. Her fingers graced the petals before her eyes fell to the card that it came with, still taped to the lip of the vase. Her gaze maintained the graceful curve of the 'J' before appreciating the entirety of the name. Despite years of not seeing his cursive penmanship, Harper could still recognize the work of his hand.
To imply that Justin was resilient was an understatement. Even after receiving continuous rejections to the multiple invitations for a meeting, Justin still did not give up. He had succumbed to sending daily gifts instead. This started over a week ago, so Harper's studio office now had a table full of gifts that she refused to acknowledge. There were five vases of flowers, one of which was already starting to wilt, and at least three boxes of chocolate-covered almonds that sat almost undisturbed on her table of gifts, each accompanied by a tall cup of caramel macchiato coffees. There actually used to be four boxes of chocolate but Alex ate through one, much to Harper's protests. Andy had questioned her about the seemingly romantic gifts, to which Harper just answered, "Business associates, that's all." Why Harper didn't just tell him the truth, she could not even fathom.
And that morning, when she arrived at the warehouse studio that she had bought merely a year ago, the vase of tulips were already sitting on the floor near the warehouse gate. Justin's name almost came crashing in her mind as she glared at the beautiful set of flowers that seemed to smile innocently at her. How did he find out where I work?, she remembered thinking when the very first gift arrived all those days ago (a vase of sunflowers and a cup of coffee). Her warehouse was only fifteen minutes away from her modestly tiny apartment, which were both located in a farming town west of France. A head lock and a threat of wand-breaking later, Alex provided that she was the one who told Justin where she lived. Harper's retort were a colorful mix of "You traitor!" and "Magic sucks!"
A loud chiming echoed through out the room, pulling Harper away from her thoughts. She walked in wide strides towards the monitor mounted on a far wall and smiled as she saw her fidgeting Atlantean of a fiancé, who stood anxiously by the gate. She pressed a button on the keypad mounted beside the monitor. "Sweetie, you have keys. Why don't you use it?"
Andy looked up at the security camera, and eyed her theoretical self through the monitor. "I try not to pry in your sanctuary. Respect of privacy and all that."
She giggled before pressing another button to let him in. She watched as her fiancé disappeared from the monitor.
"And how is my favorite, world-renowned designer this morning?" Andy greeted as he entered the room. She grinned as he approached her and held up a brown paper bag. "I thought I'd surprise you with muffins."
She gave him a peck on the cheek before take the bag in hand. "Chocolate, right? Not blueberry?"
"Of course," he answered sheepishly. "I learned from the last time."
Harper smiled. "And that is why you are my favorite fish in the sea."
He grinned at that, but upon noticing yet another addition to her table of gifts, he frowned. "Another one of your associates sent you a gift?"
She stopped abruptly from biting into her muffin to turn to him. Over a week ago, he only looked at her with curious eyes. Lately, however, his curiosity was slowly turning into suspicion, and Harper was starting to notice it. "Yeah. These business types… they think they can charm a contract out of me with flowers and sweets," she said, laughing nervously.
Andy, though unconvinced, simply nodded. "Right. Well, I was wondering what time I should pick you up tonight."
"Tonight?" she asked with a mouthful of muffin. "What's happening tonight?"
Andy stared at her incredulously. "You're kidding," he told her. "My parents. You're meeting my parents tonight."
Harper gasped slightly. "That's tonight?" she asked. "I—I'm sorry, sweetie, but I have a meeting with my shareholders in California tonight."
He sighed in exasperation as he ran a hand through his hair. "Harper, I love you, but you always do this. This is the fifth time that you've forgotten. My parents are starting to wonder if you really exist."
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry I forgot.," she pleaded as her brows furrowed. "How about we go to your parents' after the meeting? The live feed starts at six o'clock. It should be done in an hour or so."
Andy shook his head. "You know as well as I do that those shareholder meetings lasts longer than that. The last one you had—the one for New York?—went on for over five hours."
"Well, that one was… intensely detailed. I didn't expect for us to actually look through the quarterly sales of every boutique within the eastern chain. I'll cut this one short. I promise!"
Andy stared at her, disappointment evident in his eyes. He heaved a sigh before sitting down on one of her fabric-cluttered tables. "Babe, we've had this argument before and my counter response is still the same. You have accountants to handle that kind of stuff for you, but you just insist on taking the unnecessary load on yourself." He looked at her sternly. "You, my love, are a workaholic, and I love that about you…"
"But, I did hope that some of that fire will transfer to our wedding once I proposed. We've been engaged for over a year now, and still nothing has changed—"
"What do you mean nothing has changed? I'm buried to my neck with appointments for the wedding," she countered. "That's why I've been so busy."
"And yet again, I will challenge that with 'Don't you have secretaries to deal with that kind of stuff?'"
She cringed. "Details. Details are important. If I leave things to my secretaries, things could go wrong."
Andy sighed heavily again. He stood and approached her slowly, the expression on his face was one of uncertainty and sadness. Placing both hands on either of her cheeks, he guided her gaze to his own eyes. "I'm starting to wonder if you're more committed to your job than to me."
Harper pulled away gently as her eyes hardened. "Don't start that again."
He stared at her, though she, in turn, avoided looking at him. "You promised that you'd announce our engagement," he said quietly to her. "That alone should've encouraged your shareholders to back off a bit. But you didn't, did you? I've been checking the tabloids and the newspapers. There had been nothing about Finkle's creator coming out into the limelight, or about any sort of engagement, or otherwise."
Harper groaned inwardly. A few choice words passed through her mind as she thought of Alex.
Her mind momentarily flittered to the secrets that she was withholding from her fiancé. Why she didn't tell Andy about what had happened that night, she wasn't sure. Maybe it was because mentioning Justin's name was almost like admitting defeat to the fact that Justin may actually be becoming a part of her life again. But… So what?, she thought. She had long let go of what they had in the past. Andy was her life now. Andy was her future.
A future that was slowly falling apart as she stood under his scrutiny whilst defending herself to accusations that, deep down, she knew to be all true.
The silence lasted for over a minute as she contemplated an answer for him. She couldn't even maintain his judging gaze. Staring at a crack on the floor became more bearable than looking at him. After another minute or so, she heard, rather than saw, him walk away. The door closed gently, but not before a soft "I'll tell my mother not to expect you," reached her ears.
Harper sighed. "Dammit… not again…"
Shamed and guilt-ridden, Harper slumped down on a chair and buried her face in her hands. She and Andy had been having the same argument over and over again for the past few months and not with lack of evidence either. Every complaint that Andy throws at her was almost spot on in its accuracy; but Harper felt strongly that Andy should be able to understand why she devotes herself so much to her work. He, of all people, should understand. Finkle was her creation and Andy was, after all, the encouragement behind it.
Lately though, and she hated to admit this, she had become obsessed with her company. Not just dedicated or devoted… she was borderline obsessed. And this was because her not being public and only operating behind the scenes came with many possible consequences. Maintaining her hidden identity meant that everything she did had to be very careful and precise. She had to go through numerous loops of communication to get certain things done, she had to choose employees, shareholders, and partners cautiously (only those who could keep her existence a secret could be allowed into her tight-knit club). Most importantly, she had to always be on top of her game. Being a woman in the industry meant that she had to be more aggressive, more stern, more… Everything! She had to mature, from a soft-spoken, giggly girl to the business-type, don't-mess-with-me-or-I'll-fire-you alpha female. Did she like being that way? Of course not! But she had to do it, and she did a great job of it. She had worked hard over the years: transforming herself and building Finkle from scratch. She was proud of her accomplishments.
But now she was getting married. Finkle will soon become the embodiment of not only herself, but also another person. And she wasn't sure how she felt about that.
She loves Andy, no question about it. She had agreed to their engagement will great enthusiasm. Although… the initial proposal was over a year ago… A lot has happened since then. Finkle's reputation blew out of proportion, and, as a result, her future suddenly became unimaginable. The promise of success took over. Before she knew it, she was spending every day and night on designing, reviewing numbers, and attending meetings.
Now that she thought about it, when was the last time that she and Andy had gone out on a date? A more troubling question was: when was the last time she and Andy had spent more than ten minutes together in the same room? Kissing, arguing, or otherwise.
Harper glanced at the clock on the wall. 12:11 pm. She remembered glancing at it when it was exactly noon, which was around the time that Andy had arrived. Yup, ten minutes.
She groaned as she buried her face in her hands again.
Was it weird that she barely missed him whenever he was not around? That wasn't normal, right? She's supposed to always want to be with him for every minute of the day.
Add to that the constant whisper of Justin's name in her mind. Harper had been trying to push that fateful night in the back of her mind. Her life was already complicated; she didn't need a ghost from her past to cause even more problems.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch*
What the hell is that noise?! she thought as she growled out loud. Looking up, her eyes widened as she saw none other than her devil of a best friend, staring curiously at one of her mannequins while her hand fished inside a bag of chips.
The noise continued as Alex stuffed her mouth with a handful of potato chips.
"Wha—how long have you been there?" Harper stammered.
Alex turned to her as if she didn't even notice Harper until that very second. "Oh! Hi, Harper!"
Harper just stared at her as Alex dipped her hand into her bags of chips again. She lifted a chip to her mouth daintily, and chewed with bared teeth.
Alex swallowed exaggeratedly before answering. "Long enough. I was gonna, you know, say hi and all. But then you guys started getting all serious and stuff, so I just stayed hidden. Or invisible. Whatever."
The crunching commenced as Harper just stared at her suspiciously. Finally, Harper turned to her desk. "I'm busy."
Harper tried to ignore Alex as she reviewed the pile of paperwork on her desk. She could still hear the crunching though. It moved around the room. It remained by her mannequins for a good five minutes, then it moved to her display of new designs for the next ten minutes. She tried hard to concentrate on next month's fabric orders, but her concentration started to dwindle when the crunching seemed to move closer to her. Closer, and closer still, until she heard it right next to her right ear.
"What'cha doing?" Alex asked in between crunches.
Harper sighed loudly. "I'm doing somersaults. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Hmm. Hmm-mm," Alex mumbled as she nodded, still chewing on her potato chips.
Harper tried to ignore Alex and the obviously loud crunching by her ear.
Finally, Harper gave up and heaved a sigh. She turned from her work to face her best friend, who was now chewing with her mouth open. Harper grimaced and figured that she was doing that to deliberately make her crunching sound louder.
"Do you have a purpose for coming here?" asked Harper.
Another loud crunch. "Maybe."
"Are you… going to tell me about it?" Harper asked, enunciating her words slowly.
Alex just looked at her, and shrugged.
They stared at each other; one trying to measure the other up. Finally, Harper let a defeated breath out. She turned to her desk, stacked her papers neatly, and stood. "Come on," Harper said as she started walking to the door. "Might as well get some coffee or something."
Alex grinned. "Oooh yay! That is actually why I'm here!"
Harper looked at her warily.
"What?" Alex asked with a shrug. "I can't just drop by to hang out with my best friend?"
Harper rolled her eyes as she held the door open for her.
Twelve minutes later, Harper glared at the champagne flute she held in her hand, all the while cursing inwardly for letting Alex choose where they would 'hang out'. "I was actually implying that we have coffee at the café across the street from my studio."
Alex shrugged. "Well, I wasn't in the mood for coffee. I wanted champagne."
Harper glanced at the panoramic view in front of her. A cold wind nipped her hair as she looked onto the vast horizon of the busy Paris streets. "Champagne. At the top of the Eiffel Tower?"
"I was craving the scenery too. Ooh look! You can see Aunt Megan's apartment from here!" Alex gleefully said, and then shrugged under Harper's scowl. "What? You said 'or something'? This counts."
Harper gritted her teeth. "You had better not leave me stranded here again. This is three hours away from my studio by car. And I am, may I add, without a car."
Alex snorted as she placed a hand on the metal cage of the balcony. She leaned her head forward to look at the ground below. "Man, those people look likes ants from up here. Mes gens! I am your God! Me m'incliner!"
The other occupants of the balcony turned their heads towards the yelling teenager. Harper cringed as she smiled helplessly at them. "Alex, knock it off!"
Alex laughed. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Okay, okay," she said with hand held up. Then, with a devious glint in her eyes, leaned on the metal cage again and yelled, "Bow to me! Me m'incliner!"
Harper covered her face as she walked away, "I don't know her. Crazy. Les American fous, eh?" she offered to anyone who glanced her way, while accentuating her French accent as to complete her 'I'm not American' guise. She dumped her champagne into a trash bin and squeezed her way into the crowded elevator. At ground floor, she exited and quickly strode to an open area. She wasn't surprised at all to see her best friend, champagne flute gone and chatting with one of armed militia that frequently guarded the historical monument.
"Are you sure I can't take a picture of you?" Harper heard Alex say to the annoyed-looking soldier.
"Miss, pleez zu not azk agayin. Non. Non."
With a determined frown, Harper grabbed Alex by the arm and pulled her away. "Alex! I know that this is regular behavior for you back home, but, here, the military will not hesitate to shoot you for acting stupid! Plus, they hate tourists here. So please, please stop!"
Alex laughed. "Alright, alright. I'll stop! Seriously. Promise. I'll stop," she said in between giggles. "That was fun though, right?"
Harper glared at her before releasing her. "Okay. You came here to talk to me, right? You always do. You never show up just to show up. So… what is it about this time?"
Alex stopped laughing and bit her lower lip. Her brows furrowed as she looked at her sincerely. "I wanted to see how you were doing. Honestly. Just… wanted to check if you were okay."
"Is this an indication of a sincere apology for what you did?"
Alex nodded. She took Harper's hand in hers and pulled her gently along as she started walking towards the street. "Is it safe to ask about what happened… um, back at the studio? You know, with you and, uh, Aquaman?"
The corner of Harper's lips twitched as she remembered the argument. "Stop calling him that. And… ask me again tomorrow? Not today. Please."
"Hmm-k. Will do." Alex nodded, although the troubled look on her face revealed her worry.
They walked aimlessly for a some time, silently crossing the crowded bridge towards the Trocadero estate. Harper just stared forward, her eyes blank as she took in the site of the Palais de Chaillot. She had read much about the palace but never truly took the time to visit it. It was a magnificent place, rivaled only by the complimenting garden that they were slowly making their way towards.
Harper wanted to appreciate the entirety of it, truly; but she couldn't keep the marvel of the structure from going unheeded as her mind raced from one issue to another: her failed reveal, her rocky engagement, Justin… Her frown deepened while Alex walked alongside her, quietly giggling with a huge grin on her face. Harper didn't pay much attention to the seemingly growing beam on Alex's face until a familiar figure caught her eye.
He was turned away, however it was still unmistakable. As soon as her feet landed on the green grass of the Trocadero garden, her eyes immediately recognized the man who stood stationary by the garden's main pool. His broad shoulders, his unkempt hair, even his clothes and his stance… Harper would know him even without having to see his face.
As if by some form of traitorous coincidence, he turned around; and Harper's breath caught. It hadn't been long since she last saw him; a little over a week, and that moment had been frantic. This time though, her eyes lingered longer on certain parts of him that she had trouble denying she actually missed. The way he stood so impressively erect, with his legs at a perfect distance apart and his chest outward, even when relaxed. His hands were in his pockets, like he always did whenever he was waiting for something, or her on their dates. He was clean-shaven; the last time she had seen him, he looked like he had just awoken from sleep. Today, at that moment, he looked so clean and polished; just like she remembered. His jeans and t-shirt made him look like a simple man, and not at all the professor that he was now. He was still as handsome as she was when she left. His skin looked lighter, possibly from always staying inside his office or lab all day (from what Alex had provided her), but nonetheless, his face still exuded that boyish charm that Harper had been in love with all those years ago.
His eyes widened as they met hers, and his expression was like a mirror of hers. The shock, the betrayal, the anticipation… all of those expressions passed by briefly in both of their faces. The look of surprise evident on his features only meant one annoying, irritating, and obvious fact that Harper knew she should have known all along.
"Alex…" Harper gritted through her teeth.
The wide smile on Alex's face did not waver. "So…" she started. "I was thinking, you know, because I do that now. I was thinking that maybe the best way to get Justin off my back is to have you talk to him. And, may I say, I think this is the best idea I've had in a while."
Harper spared a glance at Justin. He has not moved from his spot and he seemed to be contemplating how to approach the situation, just like she was. "Alex," she started sternly. "I want to go home. Now."
As Harper turned to walk away, Alex quickly moved to stand in her way. "Hear me out first. Please," she pleaded, more seriously this time. She took Harper's arm and led her a few feet away from where Justin stood. "Harper, I'm not stupid. I know things are a little… complicated, right now. For you. Not for me, 'cause, well, I'm good right now." She shook her head slightly to keep from getting off topic. "Youe job is getting harder, I think. I'm pretty sure. Well, no I'm not. I never pay attention when you talk about it, but—I mean, you have dark circles under your eyes! I'm assuming you haven't been sleeping enough? You never answer your phone anymore. I talk more to your voicemail than to you. And the only time I see you is when I pop in. Unexpectedly, mostly. You know, your mom is getting worried. Have you called your parents lately?"
Harper looked away guiltily.
"And the lack of sleep can't just be from work. Am I right? That argument that I heard earlier… you haven't even told me anything about that. And don't try to tell me that it's nothing, because it didn't look like nothing. It looked like something, like 'serious' something. How long has that been going on? Also, by the way, just as a side note, if he hurts you, I'm deep-frying him. Tempura style and all. I will not hesitate to do it, either."
A tiny smile escaped from Harper's lips as her eyes remained glued to a crack on the ground.
"And this Justin thing… ew, but whatever. Just… I don't know. Talk to him. Get some things off of your chest. You can even drown him in that pool over there, for all I care, as long as you talk to him. Just… get him off of that long list of frustrations that you've been having. Please?" Alex angled her head to meet Harper's eyes. "For yourself. And for me because, I swear to all that is holy, I am very close to dropping him in a volcano if he doesn't leave me alone."
Harper glanced at Justin. He was looking at them curiously. His brows were furrowed, probably wondering what they were whispering about.
She bit her lower lip as she felt a slight flutter in her stomach at his expression. She was familiar with that expression. She used to see it often. Back then, whenever he would visit her at her school, he used to stand afar from her work area before making his presence known. He always thought that she didn't notice him, but she did. He used to always just stand at a distance, staring at her with that same look on his face. His brows would furrow, his lips would press together into a thin line, and his gaze would sharpen with contemplation. It was his way of trying to understand what she does. Harper knew to pay attention whenever he gave that expression, because it usually meant that he had questions. She remembered savoring those moments when he was the one who held questions for her, instead of the other way around. Considering how much of a genius he was, those rare moments of his naiveté made her feel like they were on equal grounds.
She considered Alex's request, and with a slight nod, she expressed slowly and quietly, "I guess, well, it couldn't hurt to—"
"Great! Thanks for understanding!" Alex exclaimed. She clapped her hands together, and suddenly disappeared with a blinding flash of light.
Harper cursed under her breath as she tried to ignore that strange looks that she was receiving, possibly from people who noticed the flash of light that seemed to come from nowhere. "Should'a known she'd pull something like that," she muttered. She turned slowly, knowing and sensing that he was still looking at her.
As expected, he was staring at her, although with a more nervous expression on his face. He was standing closer to her now, as if he started walking towards her but hesitated, and then stopped all together. His hands were hanging loosely by his sides, another indication of his uneasiness. He seemed to be battling with himself over a decision that he couldn't make.
Finally, Harper took pity on him as she approached him. Her steps were slow and careful. She tried to maintain his gaze as she walked, but when she found that she couldn't, she let her eyes wander around. Cautious, brown eyes seemed to pierce through her, asking silent questions that she wasn't ready to answer.
When she finally reached him, that oh-so-familiar flutter in her stomach came back. And by the look on Justin's face, it was probable that he was experiencing the same reaction to being at such close proximity to her.
Harper swallowed the saliva that had built up in her throat. She took a deep breath before speaking. "I'm, uh, running low on my caffeine intake," she started slowly. "Would you like to, um—" she stammered, but stopped momentarily when too much saliva seemed to gather in her throat again. She cleared her throat. "Wanna join me for some… coffee?"