"I can't believe you managed to take me out to town."
"Correction, I dragged you out of your gloomy little den. You were covered in spider webs and a thick layer of dust." My friend laughed at her own joke. I managed a grunt, trying not to give in to her attempts at shaking me out of my melancholy.
"No, Melinda, I was working." I narrowed my eyes. Of course she wouldn't know, she lives with her parents, who always dote on her like she is a little princess. She didn't notice my quick glower and carried on.
"Work work work. Can't you have a little fun from time to time?" I was about to protest, to tell her my time was precious, but she cut me off. "Please, Liv, live a little." She chortled at her new joke. Her laughter was clear and spoke of carelessness and summer.
We couldn't have been more different, Melinda and I. She was always outgoing and popular, her clothes were always in fashion and the boys always noticed her. Her long blond hair and blue eyes surely helped.
I was her shadow, always trying to hide behind her glamour. It was as if I was afraid of being seen by anyone. I somehow always managed to make a right fool of myself in front of strangers. Especially good-looking strangers. I wasn't as lovely as Melinda. I was rather short, thin and pale. My hair and eyes were dark, but I always looked at the floor. I wasn't very attractive, nor quite fashionable. I barely talked to anyone, while Melinda was the soul of the party. And my best friend. Which is probably the only reason I let her try to "socialise" me.
The waiter came to bring our orders, which disturbed my train of thought.
"Thank you!" my friend beamed up at the waiter, while I just nodded, looking at the table the whole time. I did notice the waiter's hand though, white and delicate, with long elegant fingers. A young woman, perhaps?
The waiter left. "Liv, you should have seen him, such a sweetie!"
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. So, a young man? I glanced furtively in his direction, but he was just disappearing behind a door. From the back, he did indeed appear to be a tall, lean young man. I remembered that hand and regretted not looking at his face.
"This is exactly why you're still single." Melinda rolled her eyes. "A nice guy walks by and you don't even glance at him."
"He wasn't interested in me anyway." I waved my hand to dismiss the very idea of it and picked up my drink.
I couldn't even take a sip, when my friend pointed at something that had been covered by the glass. It was a slip of paper.
"Oh, but maybe he is!" She smiled teasingly and unfolded the note. She looked at it for a while, then handed it to me, looking puzzled. "I don't know, it makes no sense."
" 'Great adventures, unforgettable. Find your prince charming and the new sunrise... 24 White Street, basement.' " I read. Was this a joke? "Do you think maybe it's for you?" I tried, looking at Melinda.
"No, silly, it was under your glass. It sounds like fun though. You should go."
"No, I have work to do..." I protested.
" 'No, my work, my deadline!' " she mocked me. "This is officially your day off. Maybe it's a cruise, wouldn't that be exciting? I'll come with you, let's go!"
She grabbed my arm, left some money on the table to pay for our drinks and led me out of the coffee shop.
It was a lovely day and I almost felt like agreeing with her about taking the time off. Almost.
We reached our destination quickly and found a little door with the address written on it. I hesitated, so Melinda knocked for me. The door opened slightly, but it was too dark to see inside.
"Yes?" a deep raspy voice asked from behind the wooden door.
"My friend Olivia is here to meet her prince charming." Melinda chirped. I gave her a scolding look. The man might think we're crazy. I immediately felt sorry that we'd come and was about to turn around and leave.
The next few moments happened extremely quick. The door opened and a strong hand showed up from the darkness and pulled me inside and then the door closed after me. A thought crossed my mind. Melinda was still outside and I was probably trapped in there. The street sounds died out as soon as the door closed and I found myself in a dark and quiet place.
Alarmed, I tried to reach for the door, but, even if I fluttered my hands towards it, I couldn't touch anything. I took a step further. And another. Still, there was no door, not even a wall around me. I bitterly berated myself in my mind. I'd been too naive.
"Help! Get me out of here! Is anyone there?" I yelled, my heart racing.
"You don't have to shout, you know. I'm right here." the same voice that greeted us at the entrance said from somewhere to my right. I followed its sound.
"I want to get out, please." I tried.
The man flicked a match and lit a candle on a table, then several others. As the place lit up, I began to distinguish a large room, elegantly furnished, full of candles, on table tops and shelves. The man continued to light them, one by one.
"You can't get out. Not yet. And not through the same door that you came in." he replied, not turning to look at me.
"What is this place?" I asked, more and more frightened.
A short pause. "Some people usually call it purgatory. Others call it wonderland. But you can call it whatever you like."