Behind the Lights is Soap Hub’s exclusive fanfiction, set in the bustling metropolis of Genoa City… and you, the reader, have the chance to influence the story! If you have an idea for how things should progress, leave your suggestion in the comments. Then, come back for the next installment to see how the saga takes shape!
Halloween decorations adorned every corner of the coffee shop, which was surprisingly packed with people, especially given that it was still the middle of the workday. Individuals from all walks of life sat at tables and in booths, many of them sipping from steaming mugs that were emblazoned with the Crimson Lights logo. A counter at one side of establishment seemed to be the main hub, and Simone approached the blonde-haired woman behind it with a friendly smile.
“Hi, there!” she said “Is this the right place to order?”
The woman offered her own smile, along with a tilt of the head. “Well, it certainly can be! What can I get you?”
“Uh,” Simone stammered, craning her head in search of a menu. “Sorry, I probably should have decided before I came up here. Hunger does funny things to a person’s head, huh?” As excuses went, Simone felt that it was an acceptable one. After all, it would have been far too awkward to directly admit how hungry she had gotten on the walk from her apartment.
Something in Simone’s demeanor seemed to communicate more than she had intended, because the woman’s smile only broadened. “Is it your first time at Crimson Lights?”
“It’s actually my first day in Genoa City,” replied Simone. “I just moved here.”
Affected surprise colored the woman’s face, though the warmth of her smile remained genuine. “Oh, well, welcome! Let me get you something on the house!”
“Are you sure your boss won’t mind?” Simone asked.
Just for a moment, a flicker of sadness crossed the woman’s face, but her smile returned soon afterward. “I’m the owner, actually,” she said. She extended a hand across the counter. “I’m Sharon.”
“Oh, I’m Simone!” The two women shook hands, and Simone felt her face growing slightly flushed. “So, I’m curious: Do you ask everyone that question?”
A brief moment passed as Sharon appeared to consider this. “Sorry, what question?”
“You asked if this was my first time in Crimson Lights,” replied Simone. “Is everyone else here a regular?”
“We do get a lot of regulars,” Sharon answered. “There was just something in the way that you carried yourself, though. Kind of like a fish out of water. No offense!”
Simone shook her head with a grin. “None taken. Actually, I’ve been feeling that way since I got off the plane. Everyone is so friendly here!” Well, almost everyone, she thought to herself, remembering the receptionist.
“People aren’t friendly where you’re from?” As she spoke, Sharon set about filling a mug. She placed it in front of Simone, then retrieved a matching vessel for herself.
For a few seconds – a bit longer than seemed appropriate for such a simple question – Simone sat and considered. “It’s not that they were unfriendly, exactly,” she said. She picked up the mug, nodding her thanks, and tried an experimental sip. The coffee inside was still too hot to comfortable drink, but dark aromas of chocolate and hazelnuts drifted up through her nostrils. “I spend a long time working at a company that was trying to make a positive difference in the world, but a few too many of the employees had bad attitudes.”
“How so?” Sharon sipped at her own mug, peering over the rim with a neutral expression.
“It’s just…” Simone paused mid-sentence and sighed. “Well, it’s not my place to judge, but it often seemed like the people around me thought they were better than everyone else, just because of where they worked.”
Once again, a look of sadness crossed Sharon’s face, this time tinted with something like a deep, quiet anger. “I know the feeling.”
Sensing that she had strayed into uncomfortable territory, Simone quickly rushed to change the subject. “Still, all of that is behind me now!” she said. “A job offer came from out of the blue, and it was too good to pass up!”
Sharon nodded, then slid a plate – Simone hadn’t even seen the woman preparing it – onto the counter. An expertly prepared croissant sandwich waited there, begging to be eaten, and Simone felt her stomach begin to growl. She offered another thankful nod of her head, then bit into the offering, doing her best to keep from seeming too eager.
“It’s always nice when life gives you those little surprises,” said Sharon. “Well, usually, anyway. Where are you going to be working.”
A moment passed as Simone swallowed. “Jabot Cosmetics,” she responded. “I’m the new…” Sharon’s eyes went wide before Simone could finish her sentence. “Is something wrong?” she finally asked.
“No, no, nothing!” Sharon quickly replied. Her smile had remained, but it suddenly seemed more forced… almost frantic, in a way. “They’re just a big company, that’s all! You must have impressed someone!”
Simone nodded. “I only hope I can live up to their expectations.” She looked down at the sandwich in her hands. “This is really good.”
“Oh, well, thank you!” Sharon beamed – although once again, it seemed forced, at least in part – and took a step back. “Listen, I should probably stay on top of things, but just wave me down if you need anything, okay? Welcome to Genoa City!” Without waiting for a reply, she hurried away, then busied herself in another corner of the café.
“Huh,” came a voice from over Simone’s shoulder. “So much for my ordering anything, then.”
Simone turned to watch as a tall, slender man slid into the seat next to her. He looked to be about her age – maybe just a bit younger – but beyond that, there was very little that she could tell about him. His clothes could have marked him as being just about anyone from an office worker to a well-off businessman, although the lack of a tie (and the undone top button of his shirt) spoke to something a little bit more casual. He smiled cheerfully and extended a hand.
“I’m Darryn,” he said.
“Simone.” She shook the man’s hand with a firm grip, feeling somewhat wary about his presence. Her caution apparently came across more evidently than she had intended, because Darryn pulled back with a sheepish smile.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I, uh… I don’t usually approach random women having their lunch.” How many times have I heard that line? Simone internally scoffed. “It’s just that… well, did I overhear you saying that you work for Jabot Cosmetics?”
Simone’s thoughts went back to the mysterious package she had received, and the strange album of photographs that it had contained. Unless “Darryn” was an alias, she doubted if he was the enigmatic “V.N.” who had sent the parcel… but maybe he had been sent to make the “proposition” that the note had mentioned. She decided to keep from voicing her suspicions, and instead responded with her usual, upbeat tone of voice.
“Yep, you heard right!” Simone said.
Darryn nodded. “Are you worried about any of this… well, you know. That bad business.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied Simone carefully. It was completely true, after all, but she didn’t need to make the complete scope of her naivety obvious.
“The stuff that started at Brash and Sassy?” Darryn pressed. “Come on, it’s been all over the news!”
It wasn’t on any of the channels I watched thought Simone. Out loud, she asked: “What, are you a reporter or something?” She kept the humor in her voice, but made sure that the veiled accusation came through loud and clear.
Darryn smiled coldly. “I can see when I’m not wanted,” he replied. “Sorry for bothering you. Maybe, uh… well, maybe we can try to redo our first meeting another time.” The sound of a chair sliding on wood accompanied the man’s departure, and Simone had to resist looking over her shoulder as he left.
She went back to her sandwich, but her mind was still turning Darryn’s last sentence over. “First meeting, huh? she thought. It sounds like he expects there to be a second one…