What the hell do you mean they bought the land?" Serena exclaimed during one of their town hall meetings. It was odd why they even had these meetings in the first place when none of them lived on this strip of land. Serena did have a penchant for the middle of nowhere.
"Exactly that, look the new owner will be coming by to check out the area and see what your businesses are, that's all I know." The balding man, Mr. James, tried to calm down the other owners.
"Will they shut us down?" One of the men asked, his wife chewing on her nail beds.
Mr. James scratched his head and shrugged. The new owners just said they would come by to check out the business and the successes. "I don't know, let's just calm down and wait for tomorrow. No one's going to throw anyone else out. We are all steady business people. There are rough years, but not enough to shut down. Our ambiance alone draws in steady business."
Serena glared at the paper in her hands. She was going to kill that son of a bitch of Shields Corp.
Darien looked at the old street. It wasn't as modern, but it had old English charm with it's cobblestone walkways and connected buildings. There still needed to be some renovations. He sighed and made his way towards the main building. Today was the day he met the tenants of the little street. All he was told about the tenants were that they were all unusual. It was an unwritten rule for surviving in this business street, the more of an oddity you were the better. No wonder she fit in so perfectly.
"Mr. Shields, it is nice to meet you." Mr. James greeted with a shy smile.
"You're Mr. James?" Darien questioned. He looked down at the picture he received in the pamphlet. "You don't look anything like this picture."
Mr. James scratched his head, "Oh that old thing! That was from 1986. I thought we took a new one."
Darien blinked a few more times than necessary, "You haven't updated your information brochure since 1986?"
"Of course not. There's just not much to change. Business has been pretty much the exact same people. We get a few new tenants here and there and occasionally someone inherits the business, but other than that not really anything new." Mr. James explained.
"Isn't that bad business?"
Mr. James shrugged with a nervous smile, "You see this isn't like most business places. We're a bit of a family you see. We have town hall meetings and we all plan festivals together. If someone tries to make a business here, but they don't clash well with our family it doesn't do well. It's always been like that."
Darien arched an eyebrow, "Your tenants don't purposely push them out of your family?"
Mr. James shook his head, "I know there are some questionable characters here with shady backgrounds, but they would never. Well there's Mr. Reynolds, but I don't think he would. I don't think that's even his real name."
"Let's meet them." Darien cut off Mr. James's rambling. The older man nodded leading Darien out of his own office and on to Main Street or the only street. Mr. James was sharing the brief tedious history of the street that was once supposed to be a town, but then the city came along and the only thing built was a street. The first building had a cartoon figure of a man holding ten animals.
"They are all very good people; rent is always paid on time and…" Both men cringed when they heard a loud bark coming from small building next to them. Mr. James laughed nervously.
"That's Dr. Smith's office, he specializes in animal dentistry." Darien's eyes widened when he heard a loud crash and a couple of colorful words followed.
"Spot, stop it. The tooth has to be pulled." They watched as a golden lab ran out of the room and the owner chasing after it.
"Doctor, are you settled?" Mr. James asked with an easy smile.
"Yes, you must be the new landlord." Dr. Smith stated, his Scottish brogue strong as ever.
Darien nodded and moved to introduce himself, "I'm Darien Shields."
"Well Mr. Shields, how do you feel about my business?" Dr. Smith questioned, growing suspicious of the man in front of him. It was hard to be intimidated by a man who obviously never glared in his life plus bright blue hair.
Darien stifled a laugh, "I don't really see many animal dentistry businesses. Good for you."
"Honey, come meet Mr. Shields." Dr. Smith called out and in came a woman who was more reserved than her husband. Her dark brown hair was up in a tight bun that seemed to stretch her face into a permanent scowl. She had been scowling her entire life.
"I am Petunia." She introduced herself; Darien forced a smile at the cold woman. She reminded him so much of most of his friends' mothers.
"Come now Mr. Shields, we have more to meet." Dr. Smith waved at them fondly before getting back to his patient while his wife glared at him suspiciously and shut the office door once they left.
"What's that smell?" The scent of burning…just something burning filled their nostrils. Mr. James laughed and casually walked to the backdoor of the next building. Darien froze at the sight; a young woman was on the floor trying to clean up a white liquid, the room filled with mason jars.
"Donna, is that a new incense?" The woman looked up at Mr. James and smiled.
"Well it's new recipe, what do you think?" Donna questioned. Darien's nose crinkled at the strong odor and winced.
"What is that?" Darien muttered, Mr. James however was unfazed by the interesting scent.
"Grape Surprise. Still don't know the surprise." Donna exclaimed and began to dip the tips into the wax.
"Oh right, Donna this is Mr. Darien Shields the new landlord." Mr. James introduced, the woman finally noticed Darien and stared at his hand. Darien's smile fell as well as his hand when he met the woman's glare.
"I'll have you know my business maybe not common, but people love my candles. I've been in this business ever since the early 1800s. You want to make all of us leave I'll have you know this street is a family. We shall protest." The fiery woman exclaimed, Darien's hands going up to defend himself.
"I'm not going to evict anyone." Darien replied, watching as Donna fists slowly unclenched, but her jaw remained stiff.
"Are you joking?"
Darien shook his head rapidly, "Shields Corporation wants to rebuild the area because of our new investment. They want to open a cafe but I have to check out the business before we can start the renovations."
"Very well, I accept your explanation." Donna then proceeded to push them out the door and shut it behind her.
Darien froze then exclaimed, "You're Donna?"
"I believe so." Donna replied slowly, looking at her new landlord warily.
"What the bloody hell are you talking about?" Donna
Mr. James cleared his throat, "Well let's go meet some of the other tenants."
Darien met an extremely eccentric group of people: a beautiful bookstore owner who was married to Mr. Reynolds the one with the fake name, an ice cream shop owner with a dark sense of humor, a therapist with a mean cat, and a travel agent, who was probably the worst one Darien has ever met in his life.
"Last stop today." Mr. James opened the door and the bell chimed. The decor was subtle but still exuded in happiness: walls a light blue with white strips, mahogany tables, one of the walls was a window with a view of the sea next to the area, and paper cranes in an assortment of colors scattered throughout the space. He noticed a young woman sitting on one of the desks, typing away. She turned and smiled when she saw Mr. James.
"How can I help you today Mr. James?" She didn't notice Darien behind the man and Darien wasn't sure to feel relieved or not. He had gotten a number of tongue lashings today after he met Donna.
"Gwen, where is she?" Mr. James asked in an almost scolding tone. Gwen shrugged her shoulders.
"Probably at Donna's, they are both angry people." Gwen finally noticed Darien and gave him a warm smile, "Who's your friend?" Mr. James looked at Darien and placed a hand out to introduce the man, "This is Mr. Shields, the new owner of the street."
"Pleased to meet you, I'll get you both some coffee." Gwen rushed to the back room to make the men their beverages. That was the nicest greeting he got today.
Darien took in the information he obtained today with a sigh. Wow, this was the most exhaustive group of business employees he ever had the pleasure of meeting. Well there wasn't ever anyone that acted in such a manner. He looked over at the large green sign that had nothing written on it on the side of the road, "Mr. James may I ask why this street has no name?"
Mr. James scratched his head trying to remember, "I don't really know why but I've heard the many stories. One of them was that the one that opened this street a while back was on his way to tell the officials the name and the man was quite clumsy, they say he bumped his head and just lost the name like losing his keys. That seems pretty far fetched to me. Another is that this little street was supposed to be the foundation for the city, but the builders made a mistake and made this area outside the city. They didn't believe it was important enough so why bother in giving it a name, a name holds power you know. I don't particularly like that tale, but it's what probably what happened. Everyone's got a favorite."
"Which story is your favorite?"
Mr. James smiled and allowed himself to imagine his version of the events, "My personal favorite is that this street is all that was meant to be. A street. Not a town or the foundation of the city, but just a street. The man that funded this project was a cold, cruel man. His goal was to make a street leading towards the city like the yellow brick road. One day he met woman that was hired to be his housekeeper who was the kindest woman in her town. He was cruel to her, but she saw good in him like she did with everyone else. She didn't give up on him and they slowly became friends, she saw him as a lonely man who used money as his only companion. They fell in love, but when he had to make a choice between his power and her, he took the easy way out and chose his power. He fired her and kicked her out, but she took his heart with him. He regretted it, but she never came back."
"Wow, kind of depressing." Darien noted, "Why that one? I kind of like the clumsy man."
Mr. James chuckled, "I don't know. It gives heart to some people who devalue our little neck of the woods. It's gorgeous here. There's the view of the river, that's only calm near our street. None of the sidewalks are concrete, but wood and cobblestone. Even the buildings express our owners' vision."
Darien smiled, "You really love this place."
Mr. James shrugged, "We're family. As odd as we all are, we stick together. Even that criminal Mr. Reynolds."
Darien chuckled, "I haven't met him today."
"He's still in Juno, taking his son to visit colleges. You only met Lucinda."
"Gwen, how do you feel about pomegranate cheesecake, the scent is quite lovely." The voice rang out; Mr. James came back to reality and smiled at the newcomer. Serena stared at the men in front of her especially at the dark haired one.
"How dare you?" Serena exclaimed, talk of candles gone the minute she laid her eye on her new landlord.
Just because they were co-parenting, that didn't mean he had forgotten the embarrassing crap he had to deal with. Revenge is a dish best served cold, he grinned evilly, "Well I am Mr. Shields of Shields Corporation and as of yesterday I own this land including you."
Serena glared at him before comprehending the statement, "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Mr. James this is completely…"
"Serena, he is right. His company bought the land, we do not own this land and we have never, legally he does in a sense own you. Not in the sick fetish kind of way." Mr. James replied playing with his hands nervously, watching the angry blonde go off.
"Ms. Tsukino, I have left my terms and conditions on your desk. I shall return for a signature after you process this information." Darien smiled victoriously, his revenge shall now come, the planets are aligned on his side, and the universe is done punishing him. This is a good day.
"Rei, there has to be a loophole or something." Serena begged, arriving at her friend's apartment shortly after her conversation with the new landlord. Rei reread the documents and the contract and shook her head.
"This contract has no hole in it at all. You have to honor it or you're evicted. Shields Corporation is infamous for their impossible to break contracts, they leave no loopholes." Rei explained, outlining the details to her friend.
"You work for the biggest lawyer in history and you can't find a tiny loophole." Serena exclaimed.
Rei's eyes narrowed, "You forget my boss and his entire family make the contracts for Shields Corporation, they made this contract you have to obey."
"Why is he so giddy?" Zane whispered to Kael, who shrugged as the two began to stare at their friend.
"He's been like that all afternoon." They watched as Darien finished reading a paper and began to laugh to himself.
"Darien, I run a business, a very successful law firm and you are one of my best clients, what do you want me to do today?" Kael asked in his usual monotone voice. Darien looked up from the contracts, "Just some specifications I have on that contract and Zane what are you doing here?"
Zane pointed to himself and explained the situation, "I have every right to visit a friend, but if you must know I am to be a witness for one of Kael's clients."
"What?" Darien's head shot up at the explanation.
Zane shrugged, "Nothing too bad, just that he was cheating on her with one of the nurses and I saw them, which I did by the way, there is a pre-nup."
"What is up with you and divorces?" Darien asked rhetorically, but he got an answer anyway.
"I specialize in contracts, marriage is a contract and I mostly serve the rich, who all need a pre-nup. It's quite enjoyable actually, seeing them fall apart as they battle for grand pianos."
Zane shook his head at Kael's cynical view of marriage, "So why are you so happy?"
Darien smiled eagerly taking the papers from Kael's hands and read the black ink, "This is perfect. Completely unbreakable?"
"Well there are certain conditions that make the contract null and void, but I believe I have sealed up all the possible loopholes." Kael explained, taking the contracts back from Darien's tight grip and took out a fluorescent highlighter that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
"That little land granddad bought for the deal he made with Nate's parents and he asked me to go 'modernize' it, well little cupid is one of its tenants." Darien grinned evilly before snatching the contracts from Kael, stuffing them in his briefcase and ran off. Zane watched his friend run off resembling a small child, it was amusing to see his friend act in such a way.
"What have you been up to?" Zane rose an eyebrow at his friend suspiciously, "You never exchange pleasantries, Kael what are you up to?"
"You look too relaxed and little too pleasant, forgive me for being concerned." Kael muttered, but he was not very quiet. He continued to type away on his computer allowing himself to relax in the chair across from Kael.
"Well, Ami finally stood up for herself. It was a momentous occasion." Zane stated.
Kael raised an eyebrow, before resuming his neutral expression. "You like her." It wasn't a question.
"What?" Zane choked on his water. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his scrubs, "What are you talking about?"
"Ami. You grin a little too widely when talking about her." Kael observed.
Zane shook his head, "Ami's my best friend aside from you guys. We're just friends."
"Does she know about Marina?" Kael asked watching as Zane tensed, his hands curling into a fist.
"This has nothing to do with Marina." Zane said slowly.
"I know you like Ami. You've had feelings for her ever since you met." Kael stated remaining unaffected by his friend's cold look.
"You sound as crazy as the other guys." Zane moved towards the exit, "I'm going to go."
Kael sighed, "Ami's amazing."
Zane stopped, turning around to face his friend. "Just friends."
"Sure." Kael replied before turning back to his computer.
Zane rolled his eyes before stomping away. Once in the elevator, his phone vibrated in his pocket. He took it out to a picture of his female best friend and her failed attempt at a selfie. He chuckled, this has to be the most awkward she ever smiled. The tiniest flutters came from his gut causing him to groan. Damn it.
"The lighting in here is just awful."
Serena sighed heavily, her new landlord was the devil incarnate. Pretty much since he bought this place, he had been dropping by every single day. He meant no harm and she usually snapped back at him until he waved the contract in front of her face. Where did he keep the damn thing? Were his pockets Mary Poppins's purse?
"I hate you."
Darien smirked, "I can fire you."
"You'll have a protest and a riot on your hands. Good luck with that. That'll be the third one this year." Serena replied as a matter of fact.
Darien's eyes widened, "Third?"
Serena nodded with a sly grin, "First one is tradition for the new year. The second one was when some sketchy company tried to dump toxic waste in our river. Donna set that man's car on fire. Kick me out, that'll be the third."
"You're all insane." Darien finally said after a few seconds of silence.
"It's business, you wouldn't understand." Darien replied in mocking condensation then ducked when something flew in his direction. Serena stuck her tongue out then turned back to her computer, which was the latest model.
Darien pouted, "It's still to dark in here."
"I'll open the curtains."
"It's 8:00 at night. Honestly do you own a lamp?"
Serena took a breath, mentally counting down to calm herself, "I thought the lights provided were just fine, my mistake. I'll have Gwen buy some in the morning."
Darien waved her off, "Not necessary, I already bought you some and the delivery should come by tomorrow."
Serena rolled her eyes, but said nothing and continued with her work trying to ignore the man laying on the couch with one leg over the edge. It had became 9:00 and the paper pile on Serena's desk seemed to be getting bigger. How is that possible? Darien groaned tossing another paper ball in her recycling bin. His position on the couch had changed dramatically with him hanging upside down from it.
"You can finish tomorrow."
Serena gave him a pointed look, "You're welcome to leave."
Darien stood up, "I can't! Your sister will kill me if I let you take the bus this late."
"I'm a big girl Shields. I've taken the bus at midnight plenty of times."
Darien scoffed, "No you haven't! Your bus ends at 9:00 and Donna takes you home. It's astounding how I've just met this girl."
Serena began laughing for no reason. Darien raised an eyebrow puzzled, "What are you doing meatball brain?"
Serena's laughs subsided, her hand resting against her abdomen. "It's just that if you told me I would be co-parenting with you five years ago when you were my client, I would have sent you to a mental institution. I mean, I never realized how much time we spend together. I know pretty much everything there is to know about you."
"I doubt everything." Darien muttered before chuckling, "I'm sure I know everything about you."
"I'm mysterious." Serena replied hiding behind a fan.
Darien shook his head, "Where did you get a fan?"
"Magic just like your contract." Serena quipped, snapping the fan back in place.
"We've been friends for five years. You don't keep coming back to me for normality." Serena retorted folding her hands on top of her desk.
Darien grinned, "Do you remember when you moved out of your closet?"
Serena nodded, "As a present, you and the rest of your boys bought me furniture that matched."
"I hated your closet."
"Your face isn't any better."
"Wow, that's cold for the man that bought you this couch."
Serena laughed, shaking her head. "I doubt it."
"What?" Darien asked.
"You don't know everything about me."
Darien leaned back against the couch with a determined look, "Try me."
Serena bit her lip, "Favorite color?"
"Holographic." Damn him.
"Trick question, you have a top ten."
"What's number 1 in my top ten?"
"Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
"Emory Crabtree, 3rd grade." Darien smirked, "I'm an excellent listener. I grew up in a house of women. Try me."
"My first impression of Rei?"
"What a bitch." Darien replied, "Give me at least a challenge."
Serena crossed her arms, "Fine. What's my pompous quality?"
Darien smirked, "You're a pen snob. Only 0.38 mm or fountain."
Damn it. "You know me pretty well. Let's do you."
Darien smiled victoriously, "Favorite color?"
"Blood red. Not normal red because it's ugly. Even though I don't see a difference."
"It's darker! Movie?"
"Last year, the year before that or this year?" Serena challenged.
Darien's eyes narrowed, "Last year."
"Date Night. You have crush on Tina Fey."
"I'll find something." Darien declared.
"Face it Shields, we're together all the time." Serena kicked her feet on her desk, "Stop wincing."
"My grandma hit me with a feather duster whenever my feet were on furniture. You're supposed to appreciate them."
Serena stared him down before relenting. She leaned across her desk to turn off her lamp, "Let's go. I'm not going get any work with you around." She grabbed her backpack, waiting for him grab his stuff that her threw on the floor when he entered earlier.
"How's Madeline?" Serena asked once he started the drive back to her house.
"She's good. We've been talking about setting a date." Darien replied.
"Is she going to bail again?" Serena muttered not so quietly as Darien glared at her. "I'm sorry. She's charming, classy, educated, career oriented, and drop dead gorgeous. You lucky son of a bitch."
"Yes she is all of that and yes I am. It's complicated." Darien replied.
"That's what you've been telling since I've known you. A relationship doesn't work like that."
Darien sighed, "We've had this conversation."
"You've had this conversation with more people than me. I think you deserve better, I still do." Serena expressed, watching as Darien held onto the steering wheel tighter. "She makes you happy and I know you make her happy too. You don't smile at anyone else the way you smile at her."
The grip lessened, a small smile playing on Darien's lips, "You see that?"
Serena chuckled, "God you are hopeless."
"You're my friend. I bother you like being your landlord. I rebel against you with Rini, it's fun. I mean you irritate me like no other, but I do value your opinion and I like your support. You're like one of the bros. Like Sam."
"Bro? Seriously? You call Sammy bro?" Serena beamed, "You're an idiot."
"Call me that again and I'll leave you on this highway." Darien joked.
"My siblings will kill you. Including your bro." Serena retorted.
This bantering and witty remarks continued the entire time in the car. It didn't feel like 30 minutes. As Serena waved goodbye and closed the door behind her she let out a sigh. She placed her hand against her rapid heartbeat. Even after five minutes inside, that jittery feeling on the back of her neck didn't go away. It was worse than butterflies. There's no imaginary insect to crush, but tap dances against her nerves and random goosebumps at odd times. Serena leaned against the door, how can you not be over it after five years?