The next day, I walked into the building holding my head up high behind the girls who a few days ago I had worked with. I wasn’t an idiot, I knew my promotion really had been a case of ‘last on, first off’ but with a twist. Still, working for Tobias Clarke hadn’t turned out to be as frightening as almost everyone on the second floor seemed to think it was.
Yes, he was a cold, and after four days I hadn’t once seen him smile, but he also wasn’t the worst man I’d ever known.
I walked into the elevator and stood to the side. The girls from the second floor looked at me but said nothing. The doors opened on the second floor and everyone piled out, everyone but me.
When I made it to the top floor I walked down the corridor to my desk. I noticed a small piece of paper folded in half on top of my keyboard. I frowned. It didn’t seem like Tobias’ style to leave notes, and I really didn’t know anyone else at all. I swallowed hard and nervously picked up the piece of paper.
Rubes, I love you. Lets try again. Ben.
My back stiffened and I looked around the office, careful not to move to much. My stomach rolled and suddenly felt the very real need to vomit. I had been careful not to leave a paper trail behind me when I had moved to Worthington and even when I’d started work, I’d made sure to be careful. In fact, part of the reason I took two buses and a train to work was to make it harder for people to find me… To make it harder for Ben to find me. Obviously I had failed, because a note with his handwriting on it had been sitting on my desk. I closed my eyes.
He held me down, like a police officer holds a felon down. Arms behind my back, with his knee in the back of my neck. I had tried to run, but I’d tripped and he had taken advantage of my clumsiness.
“Stupid bitch.” He laughed.
“Get off me Ben. Please.” I begged, I’d spent the last year begging. I was sick of begging.
“You can’t tell me what to do woman.” He shifted a little, digging his knee further into my neck. I yelped in pain, but he didn’t care, he never had.
He moved finally, pressing his lips to my ear. “You’re mine. Don’t forget that Ruby. You will never leave me.”
He grazed his fingers over my back, before hooking them under the collar of my shirt and yanking me up off the ground. “No one will ever love you like I do.”
I wanted to spit in his face and hit him, but then I would be no better than him. Instead I just nodded and walked passed him, back into my room. I packed my textbooks into a bag while he watched, and I could sense his anger rising again, although I ignored it.
“Where do you think you are going?” He laughed.
“School. I have an early marketing class.” I lied. Ben had abused me for the last time. I was going to get out this time. I was going to run as far from him as I could.
I had let him into my life when I was lonely, and like the flea he was, he had sucked the life from me. Not anymore. It was over.
I opened my eyes, thankful to find myself back in the office, still holding the offensive note between my fingers. I threw it to the side and struggled to breath steady.
“Ah, back with the land of the living then?” Tobias’ voice boomed from in front of me, I looked up at his disapproving face and bit my lip.
“I’m sorry sir.” I replied.
“I’m not paying you to daydream Ms Moritz.”
I nodded, he was right. I’d brought my past into the office, or more to the point, my past had found me. Daydream or nightmare, it didn’t matter. A part of myself I had hoped was long gone had resurfaced.
“I have three meetings today, I need you to prepare for all of them. You’ll be taking notes.”
“Yes.” I squeaked back.
Tobias shook his head and picked the noted up off the desk. I was about to ask for it back, but stopped. I didn’t want to explain it, I didn’t want to have to tell him that the note was very much unwanted, that Ben’s words filled me with a dread I hadn’t felt in a long time.
“Well.” He said dryly. “Isn’t this lovely.”
I swallowed hard, thinking about Ben in any context was not lovely. I wanted to make it so I’d never seen the note, I wanted to forget he existed.
“I don’t give chances Ms Moritz, so you’d do well to understand that your private life has no place in this office. First meeting is in twenty minutes.” He dropped the note, and I watched as it floated back down to my desk.
Tears pinched at the corner of my eyes. Ben knew where I worked and for whom I worked. He had been in here, he’d left a note. Suddenly getting fired had a certain appeal to it.
“Ms Moritz.” Tobias voice called out. I looked up, forcing the tears wanting to escape back, just a few minutes longer. I could cry when Tobias was back in his office. Tobias’ own eyes were dark, he frowned and placed his hand on the frosted glass door of his icebox.
“Yes sir.” I said dutifully.
“Are you okay?” his voice was soft, and confusing. One minute he had been scolding me for being distracted and now he seemed almost concerned. I looked down at the errant piece of paper and nodded. Except I wasn’t okay. I was scared.
I looked back up, only to see the doors of Tobias office close behind him.
The note was still playing on my mind when I walked with the men for Tobias’ first meeting into his office. I sat in the corner of the room and took notes on a small laptop while they all talked. In between talk of acquisitions and money my mind wandered and I couldn’t help but wonder how Ben had found me, and why now... almost two years later. I had moved cities and colleges to avoid him. I had wanted a fresh start. I thought I’d won.
“Ms Moritz.” Tobias gruff voice again brought me from my thoughts. I looked up at him to find his office empty. “Clearly you have more important things on your mind. How about you head home.”
“Sir, please. Don’t fire me..” Not yet. I needed money, enough to run away with.
Tobias folded his arms across his chest. “Twice today you’ve been distracted. I don’t give chances Ms Moritz and you’re testing my patience.”
He was right, I was being unprofessional, Ben had that effect on me, but I didn’t want to go home, I was safer here than I was there. If Ben knew where I worked, then he knew where I lived too. I needed time to figure out what to do.
“Please.” I begged again.
Tobias let out an exasperated sigh.
“If I didn’t have meetings to attend to Ms Moritz I wouldn’t even consider it. Get out of my office and get back to the desk. Collate those notes for me as well.” I nodded and stood up, scurrying toward the door like a little mouse. “Ms Moritz.” Tobias voice called out. I stood and swallowed hard. “Where did the girl who showed up on day one with the sass go?”
I was a fraud and he knew it. I didn’t answer his question. I gathered it was rhetorical anyway and walked back into my own office and over to my desk.
I sat down and placed my fingers over the keyboard. I was skating on thin ice. One more slip up and I was sure to be a goner. I sighed and looked at the notes from the meeting, but before I could fully focus on the work in front of me, a chill ran up my spine.
“Rubes.” My blood ran cold. I didn’t look up, I knew the voice, I didn’t need to see his face. “You know. Its real easy to get up here. Those security doors stay open way too long.” Ben’s voice moved through the air, assaulting my ears with it’s presence.
“Why are you here.” I squeaked.
“I’ve been looking for you for a while now babe. I’m here to claim what is mine.”
Fire burned through my veins. I wasn’t his babe and I wasn’t his. I stood up and walked around the desk. I pushed my finger hard into his chest and curled my lip up. “I’m not yours, I never was. You need to leave. Now.”
Ben laughed at me, like he had many times before. He grabbed my hand without a second thought and yanked it away, pulling my entire body close to his. I tried to wriggle from his grasp, but he was stronger than me. He pushed me, hard into the wall, hard enough that one of Tobias expensive paintings shifted and fell with a loud thud onto an empty seat beside me. I closed my eyes, bracing myself for whatever was coming. But nothing happened, the weight of Ben left me with force. My eyes flew open and I was shocked to find that Tobias had Ben on the ground.
“Who the hell are you?” Tobias yelled, holding Ben down like Ben had held me down the day I ran away. I gulped and cowered back. My job was surely gone, but Tobias had saved me.
“Her boyfriend.” Ben choked back, his voice was crackly due to Tobias’ knee in the back of his neck.
“That’s funny you little shit. Because she’s my girlfriend.” Tobias spat back. “And if you ever show your face around here again… Well. You don’t want to know what I’ll do.”
Tobias’ lie took me by surprise, but I was even more surprised to find that I didn’t mind it. Maybe it would scare Ben away.
Ben looked up at me, his eyes narrowed. “You fucking slut!”
Tobias yanked Ben to his feet and pointed to the door. “Get the hell out of my building. Now. Before I call the cops.”
Ben brushed himself off and ran for the elevator. I didn’t move, I didn’t want to see him ever again, even if it was just to watch him leave. I heard the bell chime and the doors close, and only once Tobias moved away from the corridor did I let myself relax.
“Ben… I take it.” he scowled. “The author of your love note?”
I looked up at Tobias, his face was dark, and flustered. “Yes.” I murmured. “I’m sorry… I didn’t know he.. I didn’t.”
I looked down, tears spilled from my eyes like a waterfall after torrential rain. I had thought this was all over, I had thought I had my second chance. I had all but forgotten about that facet of my past. Ben had returned though, and with his presence he’d brought all the memories. I knew that despite Tobias being threatening, he wouldn’t give up. Tobias placed his hand on my elbow and led me out of my office and into his.
“I take it that your distraction wasn’t one of pleasure.” Tobias questioned, he sounded concerned in fact, all anger was gone from his voice. I shook my head. It was all I could manage, telling Tobias about my failed relationship was out of the question. He already thought I was useless, I didn’t want him to consider me weak as well.
“I’ll increase security on the building. I’m sorry he managed to get up here.” He offered softly.
“I’m not fired?” I whispered, shocked by Tobias’ response to what had just happened. He placed his hand over mine, which caught my attention. I looked up at him, and for once his eyes weren’t cold or angry, instead they matched the concern of his voice.
“Ruby, I’m an asshole… But I’m not that much of an asshole.”
The way he said my name filled me with a warmth I hadn’t felt for some time. His free hand brushed a stray hair from my face that had been stuck to my tear stained cheek.
“Thank you.” I whispered. “I’m sorry.. My private life…”
I hadn’t wanted any of this to find me here, but it had. Tobias shook his head, his right hand still sat over mine and his left sat behind my ear. “I’m glad I was here.”
“I’m glad you were too.” I murmured.
Tobias opened his mouth and went to speak, but nothing came out. He sat up straight, pulling his hands away from me and tilted his head. “Collate those notes, and then head home for the day.”
I nodded and stood up before I walked out of the office, my heart was thudding hard against my chest. I didn’t ask Tobias why he had lied to Ben, because deep down I already knew. He wanted to warn him off for good, and pretending to be my boyfriend sounded like a pretty good reason for anyone to steer clear of me… But not Ben. He’d be back for me, maybe not for a while. But he’d be back.
I collated the notes for Tobias, and walked over to the office doors, before I could knock though the doors open and Tobias stood there. “Finished already?”
“Yes.” I replied. “I hope they’re good enough.”
I held the paper out to Tobias, he took it and glanced over the work. “Looks fine to me. Uh, I was just about to head out for lunch. Could I give you a ride home?”
I shook my head and took a step back. “I don’t uh, I live quite far from the office. But thank you.”
“I have time Ms Moritz.” He replied. “My next meeting isn’t until 2pm and I want to make sure you get home safely.”
I bit my lip, I wasn’t sure I could handle him thinking even less of me, which was sure to happen if he saw the slum I called home. I tried to think of an excuse to get me out of a seemingly impossible situation, but came up empty handed.
“Thank you sir.”
I followed him out of the office and into the elevator. He hit the basement button and we waited in silence as the doors closed. Neither one of us spoke as the elevator descended to the lowest floor. The doors popped open and Tobias ushered me out.
When we made it to his car, a matte black BMW i8. He’d clearly spent big money on it, nothing was stock. He pulled a small black key ring from his pocket and hit a button before opening the door. It opened up and out, butterfly doors I remembered my petrol head father teaching me when I was younger.
“Nice wheels.” I smiled. “Environmentally conscious or just enjoy the looks?”
“Both.” He replied.
“Impressive.” I said climbing into the low black seat. It was probably the most expensive car I was ever likely to sit in, so I resolved to enjoy it.
Once the doors were closed, Tobias started the car. “Address?” He murmured, his hands hovering over the GPS screen. I swallowed hard, and considered giving him a fake address, but somehow I knew he’d find out I lied.
“184 Wheaten ave, Weatherly.” I knew the moment the address left my mouth he’d know I resided on the ‘bad side’ of town. I heard him sigh, but he typed it in anyway.
“You don’t need to take me. As I said it’s quite far away.” I said, suddenly desperate to get out of this car and this situation.
“I told you, I want to make sure you get home safely.” He replied, his voice low and tight.
We didn’t speak again, instead he backed the car out of its park and left the underground garage. It was around Lester street when the neighborhood turned. Apparently it hadn’t always been like this, The city of Worthington had apparently been a hot-spot, a tourist destination. Somewhere the rich folks flocked to. Over time it had changed, Worthington was still a metropolitan, but now it was just like every other big city…. Flawed.
Tobias’ i8 stood out as we rode down the cracked roads of the lower Worthington food chain. I noticed the looks, but I guess he didn’t. He didn’t seem like the kind of person to care in the slightest anyway.
When he pulled outside of my broken down apartment, his sharp intake of breath told me what he thought of my abode. He turned the car off and looked at the broken concrete fencing, the boarded up windows and the discolored building. “You live here?” He said dryly. “In that?”
“Looks can be deceiving, my apartment is actually okay.” I replied, not pointing out that the only reason my apartment was okay, was because I had worked tirelessly to make it that way.
“What about security. What if that excuse for a man finds you.”
Ben knew where I worked, so it almost stood to reason he had found where I lived too. I pulled my keys from my purse and jingled them in the palm of my hand. I couldn’t run scared anymore. I had worked hard to be free of Ben. I needed to be brave, at least until I had enough money to start over again somewhere else.
“I’ll be fine. I have a deadbolt and nosy neighbors.” I said placing my hand over the door handle. I looked back at Tobias who nodded, but his lips were tight and his eyes were dark. “Thank you for the ride sir.”
“You’re welcome.” He replied, turning his face back toward the road.
I opened the door and hopped out. It was only once I closed the door that one of my aforementioned nosy neighbors called out. “Looky here. Miss muck getting a ride home from her sugar daddy.”
Mrs Ferris was elderly, and almost certainly a little crazy. I looked up at her and shook my head. She was joking, but I wasn’t even sure Tobias knew what a joke was. The guy hadn’t smiled once since I had started working for him five days beforehand.
Tobias drove off, and I stood there for a moment, confused about what had happened. To everyone else he was considered an ogre, a man without conscience, someone who lived only for himself. But I could see more than that. He was angry, strong willed and icy yes… but he cared.
I turned and walked up the steps into the apartment. I climbed the old stairs until I reached my floor, unlocked my door and stepped inside.
I put the deadbolt on the door, I was nervous about being here alone, especially after today but I only had myself to rely on.
Around 6pm I made chop suey, then sat down in front of my old almost broken laptop to eat it. Every night was the same, and had been the same since I’d started working at Clarke Industries. Come home, cook and eat while watching something trashy on Netflix. Only today I went onto google and typed in Tobias Clarke.
Tobias, unsurprisingly had a Wikipedia page. With a smirk I clicked on it. It listed his various career achievements and his qualifications and below that sat a heading that said personal life.
Tobias is the only child of the late Business mogul Jonas Clarke and late wife Evelyn Clarke (nee Horton). Evelyn Clarke was diagnosed with a rare cancer when Tobias was four years old. Jonas raised Tobias on his own, and after his death left the business to his son.My smirk fell and I blinked, hard. Both his parents were gone and so were mine. I knew what it felt like to be lonely and now I knew he did too.