The Agrestes were business people.
So naturally, if someone wanted something from then, they’d have to make a deal. It was so obvious.
“I beg your pardon?”
Bridgette held up a finger, a smile on her lips.
“One date with me. If you still don’t want to be with me after, then it’ll be the last you’ll hear from me. You can pick any place you want to go. What do you say? Deal?”
He peered at her, skeptical. She waited patiently, ignoring the emptying hallway.
She continued to smile.
“…you’ll cease your little chase?” Félix confirmed.
“Mhm.” Bridgette’s smile grew. “If I don’t win you over by…” She glanced at the clock hanging on the wall nearby, “by eight tonight, then I’ll stop asking you out. No more surprise presents either.”
Six hours seemed a little much (or maybe not enough, for what she was going up against) but she knew if they didn’t leave now immediately after school, he’d only find more excuses before ultimately changing his mind.
“And you’ll allow me to pick the place?”
“Anywhere you want to go,” she promised. “I won’t complain or try to convince you to go somewhere else.”
She offered him her hand.
“What do you say?”
The clock ticked obnoxiously behind them before he reluctantly took her hand.
“I say we have a deal.”
A smile broke out on her face as she lightly squeezed his hand.
“Then let’s go.”
He was sure this was a mistake.
Bridgette Cheng didn’t admit defeat easily. He was a bit concerned that she actually considered this a victory.
On the upside, it would be a short-lived victory. He had no doubt that she would lose interest in him once they were actually together; like everyone else, she’d find his hobbies boring. And he had the advantage, picking the location.
“Grayson Book Keep?” Bridgette read, peering up at the sign.
He hummed in acknowledgement, opening the door and stepping inside. The door nearly shut on her, making her jump, and he mentally scolded himself. He was trying to push her away, not make her think he was an asshole.
“Welcome back, Monsieur Félix,” greeted the cashier, waving a bit at the pair. “It’s been a while. Sorry to say we haven’t had many arrivals though.”
“It’s alright, Monsieur Addams. I’m just looking,” said Félix, stepping towards the shelves and ignoring the insistence to be called Alexander.
Dusty old books that no one has heard of: that would surely bore her away. She seemed to be the type who would be into those modern romance novels. Not that they were necessarily awful, but certainly not to his taste.
“Oh, Bridgette!” Alexander perked up, spotting the dark-haired girl. “Your books came in; you looking for another sale?”
Félix stared in surprise as his classmate smiled and shook her head.
“No, no sale today.” She took the bundle of books he placed on the counter. “Oh, wow. You actually found it!”
“Of course.” Alexander grinned, pushing his sunglasses further up his head. “An original leather-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo for the little lady. Now, you know the value of this is pretty high buuuut since you’ve been a regular for so long, I’ll give it to you on the house.”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” said Bridgette, a frown marring her face.
“Come on, Bridgette.” Alexander leaned forward, probably in an attempt to keep quiet but Félix heard anyways. “You always spend so much on books you give to that boyfriend of yours; the least I can do is give you something back when you get it for yourself.”
Her cheeks turned pink.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said quietly. “But at least let me pay for the other books.”
“Nope, too late.” He leaned back, slapping the counter with his palm. “It’s an off-the-record transaction; can’t take it back. Consider it an early birthday present.”
Bridgette sighed, hugging the books to her chest.
“Alright,” she agreed, albeit a bit reluctantly. “Thank you, Alexander. I appreciate it.”
He gave her a thumbs up as she turned back to Félix, who had been unable to do anything other than watch.
“You shop here?” He asked, surprised. “This place has nothing but old classics.”
“Well, yeah, that’s why I come here,” said Bridgette, as if he should have known. “The best, older editions are here.” She held the books closer to her. “Isn’t that why you brought me here, to show me that?”
It wasn’t exactly the reason, but still; he didn’t expect her to know about this place, nevermind like it.
“I changed my mind,” he said, turning towards the door. “There’s another place I want to go.”
“Oh, okay.” Bridgette furrowed her eyebrows, clearly confused, but didn’t argue as she followed him outside. “Where then?”
Félix didn’t answer her, mostly because he actually had no clue. This ‘date’ was off to a good start, or maybe a bad one. Either way, he hadn’t expected her to be interested in the bookshop.
He would have to come to up with something else to shake her off.
He stopped in front of a gourmet chocolate shop, the golden letters shining in the afternoon light.
“Devilish Delights,” he explained, “is the most elite confectionary in the city; a small building, but a mighty, well, delight.”
Bridgette raised an eyebrow at him, but shrugged as they walked inside.
“Ah, the young Agreste,” greeted the cashier, his wrinkled face lighting up in surprise. “Always a pleasure to serve you, Monsieur Félix. What can I do for you today?”
“Good afternoon, Monsieur Bale,” returned Félix, glancing around the shop. “Just browsing today. Do you have any new arrivals?”
“Alas, no.” Bale rested his elbows on the glass counter, a sigh leaving his lips. “We are not as busy when the holidays are so far away. Only lovers and people seeking birthday presents come in nowadays. A shame, really. Desserts, especially chocolate, should not be limited to just a special occasion. Not to mention, when it's made by an absolute genius.”
Félix hummed, silently agreeing, though glanced over when he heard Bridgette quietly giggle. Evidently though, it was loud enough for Bale to catch sight of her.
“Ah, well, if it isn't the brilliant mademoiselle herself!” He exclaimed, surprising Félix. “Come to critique our chefs and make them cry again?”
Bridgette’s smile grew as she approached the counter, leaving her ‘date’ with a sense of dejavú.
“I did not make them cry,” she protested, tapping the counter with her nail. “I only suggested that they tweak the recipe a bit to achieve ultimate perfection.”
“And perfection they achieved!” Bale grinned at her, leaning forward. “Because of you, our sweets were flying off the shelves! Take that, Madame Beneish! An old grandmother’s family recipe has nothing on a recipe made by true love!”
He gave her a mischievous smile, and she groaned a bit.
“Speaking of which,” he began, “I hope that mystery lover of yours appreciated the chocolate you made him!”
He lightly slapped the counter and glanced at Félix, who never felt more lost.
“This girl comes in, begging us to teach her how to make our chocolate because the person she likes happens to like it, only to dump our recipe and make it herself! What dedication, really.”
“Stop,” whined Bridgette, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. “And I didn't give him the chocolate; I used it in my cookies.”
“Even better!” Bale kissed the tip of his fingers. “Your cookies put our chocolates, as excellent as they are, to shame, Mademoiselle! Put them together, and that boy surely must be wrapped around your finger! I can't imagine the appreciation he showed you!”
Félix couldn't help the grimace that crossed his face as the room suddenly became awkward. He closed his eyes, anticipating her correction and the even more awkward reply.
“Oh, of course!” Her voice was suddenly so bright and cheery, just like how she usually greeted him in the morning, but somehow it was different. “I sure couldn’t imagine it either.”
Bale was beaming now.
“So what really brings you by?” He asked, and Félix was grateful for the subject change. “Surely you're not accompanying Monsieur Agreste here, mm? Perhaps…” Bale raised an eyebrow, “Monsieur Agreste is your mysterious amore?”
Félix frowned, but only slightly. He knew Bale meant no harm by it, but his words were only a reminder that he and Bridgette Cheng were complete opposites. They would never be seen together, nevermind date each other.
“Well, you see...oh, Monsieur! When did you get these?” Bridgette pointed at what he assumed was a random display behind the glass, “I don’t think I saw them in your shop last time.”
As the two struck up a conversation, Félix allowed himself to wander off in thought.
Hmm, perhaps a chocolate shop was a poor choice after all. While Félix might enjoy it, so did most people; of course Bridgette would like chocolate as well, especially since her specialty was chocolate chip cookies.
He just hadn’t considered she would be so familiar with this shop, since it wasn’t as local or commercial as other shops.
He needed to step up his game and shake her off.
Without as so much as a goodbye, Félix stepped outside the shop, needing fresh air to think.
Where to go, where to go?
He checked the time on his phone, and he blinked in surprise. Had an hour passed already? It had seemed shorter than that. Still, he supposed it didn’t matter in the end. She could have all the time in the world and she still wouldn’t win him over.
It would be nice to shake her off before the deadline though.
Félix placed his phone back in his pocket, looking around the quiet street. He caught sight of a poster for an old theater, and a lightbulb went off in his head.
A play, or a show of some kind, would surely bore her. She seemed like she would prefer those sappy romance movies or the brightly animated children ones.
It would be perfect.
As if on cue, Bridgette stepped outside. In her hands she had the bag from the bookshop but now a new one from the dessert shop as well.
“So did you decide on somewhere else to go?” She asked, her voice light and cheery.
It made no sense to him; she knew he didn’t want to be with her, so what in the world could make her so happy right now? Especially after that conversation?
Félix cleared his throat.
“Yes, I have. There is a theater across town, and I am sure we can make it in time for a show,” he replied. “There is a station nearby we can take to get there.”
He turned and began walking in the direction of the station. After a moment, he heard the soft clacking of her heels trail behind him.
It was a sound he had gotten used to after the last two years, but he was certain he wouldn’t miss it.
Bridgette leaned against the pole of the subway train, eyes on her shoes.
She had an idea of what he was trying to do, and it hurt to know that he was trying to get rid of her even on a date but she shouldn’t have expected anything else. Still, if this was her only chance to be with him, then she would enjoy it.
She was no idiot; she knew she couldn’t change his feelings in a single day, nevermind in a few hours. But if giving up on him meant she could finally get one day with him, then she would take that deal.
The train came to a sharp stop and she stumbled backwards into the empty seat behind her, blinking in surprise. In the seat across from her, Félix looked at her with a raised eyebrow. She flushed in embarrassment, fiddling with her bags to distract herself.
A play. They wouldn’t be able to talk during a play, which was probably his plan. Although they hadn’t been talking very much in the first place, so she didn’t see the point. Still, she had agreed to let him pick where to go so it wasn’t as if she could argue.
The trip was short, and the two of them were soon approaching the theater. They had made it just in time for the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so they shuffled into the dark theater to find some seats.
Of course, Bridgette had read the play the year before in her literature class. She enjoyed Shakespeare, but she wished Félix put even a little effort into the date. But again, she should have expected this.
She leaned forward in her seat, taking note of the costumes in particular. They were quite impressive, and looked difficult to get off. Of course, she knew better since the costume changes were so quick, but it was still impressive.
She watched as Helena ran from Demetrius, convinced he and Lysander were playing a cruel trick on her. Why wouldn’t she believe so? Lysander was supposed to be in love with Hermia, and Helena was in love with Demetrius who also loved Hermia who loved Lysander.
“Can you not hate me, as I know you do, but must you join in souls to mock me too?”
Helena was meant to be alone; her days filled with rejection, always dismissed by the man she loved who loved another. He was only showing interest in her because of some magic spell, and when it wore off, she would be alone again.
Bridgette leaned back, the grip on her bags tightening slightly.
She could relate to Helena in ways she didn’t want to think about.
This day was the magic spell, and once it was over….she would be alone. It wouldn’t be like Shakespeare intended, where Demetrius would still be under a spell and love Helena so. It wouldn’t be where Helena would allow herself to believe that his intentions were true.
Helena would get a happy ending, but Bridgette knew she would not.
The spell would be over, and Félix would still loathe her.
That was her destiny, and surely it was something Shakespeare would put in his tragedies. A girl destined to be heartbroken, forever chasing a man who wanted a wall between them if not a country.
Before she knew it, the play was over and Bridgette blinked as she and Félix stepped outside, the evening sun peering down at them. She glanced at the time: five-thirty.
Only two and a half hours left until the spell was broken.
“So what did you think of the play?” Félix asked her after a few moments of silence.
Oh, now he was attempting to talk to her. She was no idiot, as she had said. If his look of surprise at the last two places were of any indication, he probably wasn’t expecting her to be invested into this date.
She smiled sweetly, turning to him.
“I liked it,” she replied. “I mean there are just some things you miss when you’re reading a play, so watching it helped. Having Puck pop out of the trapdoor was a nice touch, really added to the comedic effect Shakespeare was trying to achieve.”
“I suppose,” he said, glancing at the time. “The visual did have a different effect than just the play itself.”
“Yeah, but story-wise, my favorite part remains the same.” She continued on, knowing he probably wouldn’t ask her to elaborate. “When Demetrius says he’s in love with Helena, so he does not care if Hermia marries Lysander….it’s just funny to me. I mean, he’s under a magic spell so it’s not like his love is real, but he compares it to suddenly being healthy. He was healthy, free of any magic, when he loved Hermia but now he claims he was sick before. It’s ironic, and a bit metaphorical I guess.”
Félix stared at her in surprise, clearly not expecting that answer.
“I suppose…” He repeated, “but does it matter when the two couples could marry happily? It isn’t as if Helena would know anyhow.”
“He’s trapped in a love he never wanted,” said Bridgette, looking up at the building they had just come from. “Although even if Helena knew, she probably wouldn’t do anything about it. She should take whatever she can get, right?”
Félix clearly didn’t know what to say to that, and she mentally chided herself. A first date was not the time to let loose her depressive thoughts, even when she knew she wouldn’t be getting a second date.
“So,” she said, trying to brighten up her voice, “where should we go next?”
“There’s a park nearby,” he said after a moment. “It’s smaller and quieter than the one near the school.”
“Sounds lovely.” Bridgette smiled. “Let’s go then; you know the way.”
He hummed, walking away and leaving her to follow. And of course, she did.
Félix wasn’t sure to make of the date right now.
Of course, he didn’t magically fall in love with her. He had known the possibility of that happening before he even accepted her deal, but he figured it hardly mattered.
There were only thirty minutes left anyways.
The park had been slightly successful, if only because they didn’t talk. She had spent her time reading her book under the shade of the tree, occasionally laughing or muttering something under her breath.
Of course, he hadn’t bought anything from the bookshop because of his surprise but it was fine. He had spare books in his bag; granted, they were textbooks and maybe a play from his literature class, things he had already read.
So he stared out at the kids playing in the park, a rambunctious little group chasing around a brightly colored ball. They couldn’t have been more than three or four, their parents watching as they chatted by the benches nearby.
Fifteen minutes into the date, the ball had rolled over and hit Bridgette’s legs. She had looked up, surprised, and before he knew it, she was off playing with them and laughing.
He had seen her with students and teachers, always so vibrant and cheery. Yet there was something….special about seeing her with kids.
It reminded him of how she acted around Monsieur Bale, and how she had gotten after the play. He always assumed Bridgette was happy-go-lucky at all times, but perhaps he was foolish in thinking people were so two-dimensional.
She was brighter with those kids, so upbeat, and it was perhaps the brightest he had seen her throughout all of their date.
Not that he had been paying attention to her, of course.
But as they sat in a nearby cafe, sharing a table over a cup of coffee, he couldn’t help but reflect.
Bridgette not once had mentioned his father’s company or hinted at wanting something. She had not complained once about where he brought her - albeit, the places he brought her to weren’t necessarily bad in the first place.
She had even surprised him, and that was as difficult to do as getting his father to notice him.
Félix poured another packet of sugar in his coffee, took a sip, and then poured three more. He remained lost in thought, not hearing the soft call of his name. Not the first time, and certainly not the third time.
Bridgette was beautiful. He wouldn’t deny that; it was a simple fact. She was also incredibly smart; aside from physics, they both had the top grades in their classes. She was insanely talented, from her baking to her knitting, and he appreciated each gift she left in his locker.
He knew that, yet he was surprised to be reminded today.
The last time he had been surprised by her, he had been eight years old and she had defended him from those kids who picked on him for his clothes. Her English had been broken and she stumbled over her words, but it didn’t take away from how genuinely angry she had been.
She couldn’t stand seeing people in distress, especially those she considered friends. And she had considered him a friend.
She probably still did.
Félix took another sip of his coffee, eyes trained on the flower pattern on the table.
He wasn’t in love with Bridgette Cheng. But….being in her company didn’t sound so bad, especially after today. She was kind and funny, and it was nice to be able to talk to someone about his books without being seen as pretentious.
He nodded to himself.
No, he didn’t love her. His heart was with someone else. Still, having a friend didn’t seem so bad.
And...maybe, just maybe, he would feel something more for her one day. He wasn’t so foolish as to believe he wouldn’t.
Félix places his cup on the table, ready to say as much to her date, but to his surprise, he found himself alone.
Eyebrows furrowing, he wondered if she had gone to the restroom or went to order something else. But all her things were gone.
Then he caught sight of the folded paper on her side and he gingerly picked it up.
Well….a deal’s a deal.
You seemed a bit out of it towards the end, and I know there are still twenty minutes left. But let’s be real. If I couldn’t win you over in six hours, how could I do it in half an hour?
Thank you for putting up with me. Not just today, but for all these years. I promise you won’t hear from me again. I’m sorry about everything.
See you in school,
She signed it with a heart, just like her usual letters that she left with the gifts, but this time she frantically crossed it out.
Blinking, Félix looked at the time. It was 8:16 pm. If she had left twenty minutes early….she had left almost forty minutes ago. And he hadn’t noticed.
He hadn’t really noticed Bridgette at all, while she had noticed him when no one else did. And now she would stop, because he was a fool.
Another thing about Bridgette Cheng: she never went back on her word. And she said it herself.
A deal was a deal, after all.