Lex barely heard her own name being called across the reception of the five star hotel. It took a second shout until the words penetrated her overstretched brain. It was ridiculous as usual. She was in the almost palatial building by default, and she was desperately trying not to look like a fraud. But as usual, the reason for her apprehension, for this lack of preparation, for her being plonked a million miles outside her comfort zone was her father. He’d asked her to be there, in his usual insistent manner, he had a way of pleading more manipulatively than a child, and as usual, unable to say no, she was sat there, woefully underprepared. But her father always got his way, and she’d spent every second since she’d left home, the less than twenty four hours notice that he’d given her, reading up on the plans for the next few days.
Oliver Carmichael had been Joan Collins obsessed in his younger years, and had named his daughter after her Dynasty character, as most people seemed to guess with glee. The name had been the bane of her life, and she’d loved the last few years in University where she’d dropped the full name and been called Lex. Lex seemed a little less attention seeking than Alexis, and it had allowed her to hide in the relative background for a change. Lex had struggled through her teenage, formative years, being too tall, too gangly, and the last in her school to need a bra, but somewhere over her time in university, things had changed. She was the product of a tall blonde man and a curvaceous Spanish mother, and by nineteen she’d measured almost six foot and had developed a full hour glass figure that was the envy of her friends. The name Alexis would have been a bigger handicap then, so she was relieved that she’d changed to Lex those few years back.
And that was why someone calling her by her real name confused her. Gathering up her files, she waved in the direction of the voice, all the while making sure she had all her belongings together.
Standing with a shudder, at the icy wind blowing through the door, she cursed Oliver Carmichael again. It was his fault she was here, in snowy, cold, expensive Stockholm. She’d booked to go to Mexico with Steve her boyfriend. Her father hated him, and she knew this was a deliberate sabotage of her plans.
Her father was a well respected Economics lecturer; over the years he had produced cutting edge research that had changed the area for good. For the last twenty years he’d had been the head of the best Economics school in Britain, and a very successful author and consultant. He now travelled all over the World consulting with huge companies, even governments. Alexis had shied away from the field, but had just graduated in medicine, and was planning to take a year off to find herself. She had a few tentative ideas lined up for the year, but she’d planned to travel in Mexico first.
She’d been pondering what to pack for the sun when her father had called. He had a famous politician contact him, and he needed to see him urgently for some sort of consultation, but he was due to pick up an award at a huge conference in Stockholm, step in dutiful Alexis. He’d begged her to attend in his absence, and despite her protests, her holiday plans, her OWN life, he played the emotional blackmail card. Her older sister Henrietta (Joan’s middle name) was pregnant with her first child, so ‘couldn’t possibly’ go. So it left her, she was the only one he could trust. Steve and a few other friends were flying out the same day as she’d arrived in Sweden on their trip of a life time backpacking in Mexico, there was a strict itinerary, and even if she left as soon as she’d finished in Stockholm, she’d miss the majority of the places she wanted to visit. She couldn’t think about it all. She’d worked harder than hard and was a straight A med student. She’d done everything ever asked of her, yet it wasn’t enough. Her father still wanted more from her, and ironically, it took her away from Steve, someone he’d been less than pleasant about.
"Alexis Carmichael?" the voice shouted again. She shook herself from the self pity she’d cocooned herself in, and waved again to acknowledge the elderly gentleman carrying a large parcel.
He nodded, "This is good!” He held out his arms and offered her a box. “This arrived for you today!"
Lex smiled appreciatively and took the box, tipped the gentleman, exchanged pleasantries, then took it up to her room to open.
Representing the guest of honour, she had an executive suite on the top floor of the hotel, it was spectacular. She looked forward to when the event was over, when she didn’t have to deliver a speech on his behalf on a subject she had no clue about. Then she could make use of the facilities.
Placing the box on the bed, she pulled away the tape sealing the lid, pulling open the flaps and gave a little sigh. Inside was a boxed bouquet, opening the attached note, she half smiled. It was from her father.
"Thanks for this again Alexis, the French Government, and indirectly the people, are also extremely grateful to you for relieving me! Enjoy the five star luxury. I’ll see you next week!"
That was another down side, the conference was lasting five days, and her father wanted her there for every day. She had a list of lectures and presentations that he wanted her to attend, take notes, then there were dinners, breakfast meetings, she was supposed to be part of it all. She appreciated the flowers, and the note, thought there was no mention of him RUINING HER LIFE! It was moments like this that she felt as though she’d regressed to a teenager and she wanted to scream and shout, jump up and down in anger. Her phone bleeped in a timely manner, and reaching for it, she did lose the plot. It was a text, from Steve.
“Sure you can’t come? Two hours till the flight?”
What was worse? Not going on this trip, or the fact that he didn’t mention how much he’d miss her on the trip they’d planned for months? He’d assured her that he understood her predicament, that he realised she had to do this for her father; obviously that wasn’t how he really felt.
Frustration and anger duelled for supremacy and Alexis was tempted to walk out of the hotel and never come back. But she was never one to back down a promise, and right or wrong, she’d agreed to do this, she couldn’t back out now. Her conference information did say that there was nothing but an informal evening of drinks on the first day, so she changed into cycling shorts and a short sports top and headed for the gym. She ran a few miles, cycled a few more, then did a basic circuit program. By six o’clock she was rejuvenated, relaxed and coping, so she headed back to her room for a shower.
At half past seven she entered the cocktail lounge, and accepted a Cosmo from a waitress, slinking into the crowds as discreetly as she could. She was glad she’d worn her favourite cocktail dress; it did give her confidence when she was alone like this. It was grey and white chiffon, soft floral in pattern, sleeveless with a thick darker band just below her breasts that tied in a bow behind her. She wasn’t a great fan of heels, at five feet eleven; she was taller than some men. Because of her height she’d spent a long time trying to make herself invisible but for this occasion she wore a pair along with some pull up stockings. She’d always been tall, but somewhere in her Uni years she’d got over it, she no longer felt like the freak of her teenage years, now carried her head higher. She was no oil painting in her eyes, but with dark almost black thick hair and deep blue eyes she was more intriguing than she gave herself credit for. Deep down she still saw herself as the geek that she was in her teens, but that was a lifelong problem, tonight she could pull on her mask and circulate. Couldn’t she?
Taking a deep breath she walked across the lounge. Her head up, eyes avoiding any eyes seeking hers, she cursed her father for the umpteenth time, but as much as she rued agreeing to this, she also knew that what her father wanted, he invariably got, but her mother, she and Henrietta found it impossible to say no. They’d all learned it was the easiest way to get through life.
Her father was a flamboyant man, very sociable, so fortunately she recognized a lot of the people there from holidays, dinners and other functions from her past. So, perched on a stool near a bar, she was glad to see a familiar face smiling as he approached.
"Uncle Bob!" she announced as Bob Mattison an Economics consultant to the major universities on the East coast of the USA, enveloped her in a hug. He was a similar age to her father, and they’d been good friends and acquaintances for years. They’d both worked in the same university in Australia back in the 70’s and had been close ever since. She’d lost count of the times they’d visited his family in Massachusetts, and equally how often they’d visited her family home. Bob’s daughter Sammy was a year younger than her, and Mickey his son three years older. They’d been good friends, though apart from Mickey’s wedding in Florida a few years earlier, she hadn’t seen any of the Mattison’s for a while. Thankfully facebook kept them loosely in touch, but that was as far as it went. So she was ecstatic to see the patriarch of the family.
"Can you drop the Uncle bit now?” Bob asked holding her at arm’s length to study her. “You are the most beautiful woman in here and now everyone thinks I’m a bit pervy!"
She laughed, "you are always going to be my Uncle, sorry."
He smiled pulling a bar stool next to her, "Ollie did email me last week to say he was bailing, I didn’t know till today he was sending you in his place."
"For what use I am!" she shrugged. "Think it was more a chance to interfere with my plans." She turned to him and with an exaggerated look added, "I don’t think he approves of my latest beau!"
Bob swung an arm over her shoulder, "what father does?" Chuckling he started to fill her in on the latest escapades of his own children, before pulling out a few snapshots of his new grandson. It was the most relaxing half an hour Alexis had spent in ages, catching up with someone who was closer than family. She almost forgot why she was there!
They were still chatting at the bar when they were joined by two other eminent men in this field, John Murphy from Dublin and Mike Nesbit another British representative. Each again treated her like a long lost daughter, and the four of them chatted together amicably. Oliver Carmichael had always prided himself on his daughters, they’d been well socialised since they were babies. Both were well read and could converse on most subjects, for this reason the three middle aged men barely acknowledged that she was a twenty two year old girl, as they discussed golf handicaps, prominent golf courses they’d played and of course the upcoming football World Cup.
A lot of younger less experienced attendees looked on with envy, most not knowing who she was, but willing to lose part of a limb to be able to converse so amenably and effortlessly with three such prominent field leaders.
Peter Marlow stood and surveyed the room. He hated the pomp of these occasions, but it did his career good to fraternise with these guys, and it was always good to keep his hand in with the academics. The usual suspects were there, all laughing raucously and sloshing the free alcohol down their necks. He’d hated this sort of set up since he’d first decided to pursue Economics, and the abusers of these occasions made him resent things even more. But then he wasn’t your typical career driven man that graced these events, but in all reality he knew he had to attend. His reputation did influence his success obviously, so he bit the bullet on rare occasions.
He’d rather be skiing, and the snow and cold only brought that back home. A waiter passed by and he took a glass of champagne, he’d rather beer, but this would do. Rolling his eyes, he managed to dodge the approaching Mrs Levison, a lecturer from Oxford. The last time he’d been on one of these conferences he’d ended up sitting next to her at dinner. He’d been drunk through boredom, she was flattered by his apparent attention, though he’d done little more than listen to her describe the breakdown of her marriage. If she hadn’t been at least three decades older than him, and the complete opposite of everything he liked in a woman, he wouldn’t have taken things any further. He was selective with any casual flings and had the immediate idea that she wasn’t looking for temporary, and he had no interest in anything more, not with someone who he wasn’t’ attracted to. He’d escaped once, he was determined not to get himself into a position that she could conceive as leading her on. With a sharp deviation to the left, he headed from the dining room to the adjacent bar.
He sipped the champagne, and again perused the room. His eyes landed on a group he knew from college days, not his idea of a good evening, but nice enough. Then he spotted Bob Mattison, he and Oliver Carmichael had been his educating mentors in the early days, he hadn’t seen them in a few years, and he had so much respect for the two men, who were never far apart. As he started to walk towards them he stopped dead, there was no sign of Oliver, but sat between Bob and a man he didn’t recognize was someone he did know. Alexis! He’d know her anywhere, even though the last time he’d seen her she’d been sixteen, a lanky, geeky but friendly kid. When did she become this...this vision!
He knew his mouth had fallen open, but he couldn’t help but stare. He’d know that face anywhere, but the slim and angled cheeks had somehow become all smoothness and soft curves, and lips that had pouted at him many a summer month were fuller, deeper in colour. He couldn’t see her eyes they were hidden by her long dark lashes and the tilt of her head, but he remembered their clear almost piercing blue colour. She was taller, but she’d always been tall, but gone were the gangly limbs that she struggled to control, always reminding him of Bambi, and it it’s place were elegant arms that moved naturally with her conversation, and long shapely legs. And she had curves that made Sophia Vergara look unfeminine. Poor Oliver, he must be heading for an early grave looking after her. Keeping her safe.
The three men were captivated by her as she laughed along with them, but as he managed to break his eyes from her for a moment, he realised it wasn’t just the three old codgers who were entranced, most of the room was. He felt completely floored, unprepared for this, he’d never imagined seeing her again. They’d spent so much time together that he should be overjoyed at seeing her, and a large part of him nodded, it was just Alexis! But the other p-art remembered in clear details how difficult things had been that summer and he groaned. But if she was staying for the whole of this conference he could hardly pretend she wasn’t there. So, taking a deep breath, he mentally gave himself a shake then headed across the room.