After the bellboy helped carried the luggage to our room, Julian and I were finally alone. And to think I’ve insisted this was not – and ever – going to happen, somehow bad luck on my end had strike again. Julian looked like he wasn’t bothered about this mishap at all. In fact, he looked a bit enthused at my discomfort. Julian grabbed his small metallic luggage and rolled them towards the bedroom, which was located on the right side of a spacious living room. As for me, I lingered another minute, studying the overly excessive space – which any other day I wouldn’t need – and now I welcomed.
The presidential suite was quip with its own living room, a small dining area, and kitchen but without the stove. It even has its fridge in the corner. The hotel room could easily look like a normal apartment with the same price tag attached. It felt very New York-ish, which wasn’t a surprise considering we were actually in New York.
It was then Julian finally called my attention. “Come on, Ms. Curtis. I won’t do anything! You have my word.”
“Like that ease up my anxiety,” I muttered dryly and slowly followed him towards the bedroom.
Once I entered, I stayed by the arch away for a second, taking in the spacious room. Julian had settled himself on one of the bed by the floor to ceiling window, overlooking the city. It even gave us a glimpse of central park, which was a few blocks away. When he noticed me, he welcomingly gestured towards a separate bed beside the doorway to a bathroom.
“See? You get your own bed.” He stated as if it solved my dilemma.
“This works if I’m Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Hawksley. And obviously, I’m not him.” I sarcastically informed.
“I’m not blind, Ms. Curtis. And I’ve said, I won’t do anything. Not after you telling me the awful lasting impressions your previous boss left on you,” he replied conversely before grabbing his luggage and place it on top of his neat bed.
I pursed my lips, unsure how to argue back.
“So, what kind of party is it we’re going tonight?” he inquired, reminding me of another frustrating thing.
“No. You’re not going with me.” I firmly said. “Why don’t you just go meet Grace tonight? You two seemed friendly a few weeks ago. You can’t have ruined that under such short notice.”
“Then you haven’t known much about me, Ms. Curtis.” He coyly quipped.
“I know enough, Mr. Hawksley,” I muttered. From his lack of response, he either pretended not to listen or he hadn’t heard it at all. However, I wasn’t transfixed on him overhearing that response. Instead, I cleared my throat and continued with my firm argument against him going with me to meet Ben.
I straightened up as an idea crossed my mind. “Mr. Hawksley, I don’t think you should go with me. For sure, I will be staying with Ben once we meet. And I’m sure you’ll be bored socializing with the art scene.”
“As I’ve said, you don’t know much about me, Ms. Curtis. And how sure are you I’m not fond of art? Haven’t you seen the art nouveau painting hanging in my apartment living room?” He inquired haughtily as he pulled out a fresh powder blue polo shirt.
I pursed my lips again, trying to find some sort of leverage. But Julian beat me to it. “Whatever you’re thinking for an excuse, I’ll have a response for that, Ms. Curtis. Why are you so against me going to this party? Wouldn’t any normal person be thrilled to introduce strangers that you work for the CEO of a business conglomerate?”
“Normally, yes. But, I don’t feel like being normal right now.” I dryly answered and rolled my eyes. I let out a dramatic sigh. “Fine, you can go with me. And you haven’t told me why you’re avoiding your girlfriend, Grace.” I grumbled, trying to get on his nerves.
But nothing. Julian remained passive at the sound of his last conquest’s name. “I just don’t feel like seeing her while I’m in town, that’s all. And we aren’t in that kind of relationship” He informed.
“Right.” I snorted and turned back around, grabbing my things and rolling them towards my side of the room.
As the sun had completely set on the horizon, Julian and I were getting ready to head out. There was a lot of mild cussing on my end, whenever I’m alone either in the bedroom or the bathroom while I changed. And still Julian remained unaffected by my mood at all. At one point, I felt childish with my foul mood. But I neglected to act otherwise when I stepped out of the bathroom, dressed and ready to go. I tugged my powder blue, chiffon knee length dress as I exited. It was then I heard Julian let out a suggestive whistle of appreciation.
“Why don’t you dress like this at work?” He asked playfully and winked when our gaze met.
“You’ve just provided my answer by that reaction.” I monotonously responded. With a quick look, I noted his well-fitted three-piece dark gray suit, blue polo, and silver tie with dark brown oxford shoes, which might be the death of most female population in that event. Considering the situation, it was a welcome response to keep him away until I surprised Ben.
We both headed down the lobby after I got an Uber – since this was an unofficial evening getaway. It didn’t feel right wasting company resources. Julian didn’t mind the choice of ride. In fact, he seemed to be having fun with the whole idea of having a normal night out. It wasn’t until we were in our Uber, slowly moving along the traffic of New York, I asked about his lack of normalcy.
He snorted. “You’ve seen my schedule. Do you really think I have time to idly do chitchat and get drunk at a pub at eleven in the evening?”
“You’re right. You’re much of a shut-in as I am. But don’t you at least have friends? I mean, even I have April.”
“I have my little brother and his wife. I think that counts,” he proudly informed, which in returned I blatantly shook my head. “My brother has his friends. I think they’re my friend as well…” he trailed off as I arched my eyebrow. “Okay, fine. I only have Rufus. Maybe back in college, but I haven’t gotten in touch with those guys since I started working for my father.”
“Really? How long ago was that?” I asked with interest.
“About nearly eight years?” He sounded uncertain.
“Is that why you’re insisting on going with me? You could have told me the truth, Mr. Hawksley.”
“Yeah… I don’t want to sound desperate.” He dramatically said.
I chuckled at his expression, which made him scoffed along as well.
It nearly took us an hour arriving at the venue. As I had expected, it already started. Looking at the packed entrance, people lining up to get in, my heart slowly sunk at the thought my plan would meet an end when I’m nearly close to the finish line. Guests were presenting an invitation to get in. Another bad luck to pile on my already awful day. When Julian noticed my defeat, he enthusiastically dragged me out of my stupor. He paid the Uber driver with an extra couple of dollars, and exited the car with a warm ‘thanks.’
“What do you think are you doing? You see there’s a list to get in the place!” I hissed beside him, keeping my voice to a bare minimum while Julian continued dragging me towards the entrance.
“This is one of those series of occasion you should be happy I’m here, Ms. Curtis.” He confidently informed as we finally reached the waiting staff who manned the front door with two security guards beside him.
“What?” I looked at him in confusion.
Before I got to ask what his plan was, Julian put on his work smile as his demeanor completely change. I’ve seen that expression many times whenever he’s on a business meeting or coming across anyone who might be a potential business asset.
“Good evening, sir. Welcome to Galleria de Belle. May I see your invitation?” The man asked, addressing Julian direction with nearly the same smile.
“Good evening as well. Actually,” he paused and peered briefly at the man’s nameplate. “Mr. Scotts, I’m sadly not invited to this event. I heard from one of my business partners that they’re having an art exhibit. I’m in New York for business and thought to stop by. I’ve been meaning to add some more art to my growing collection.” He paused again and held out his hand. “Oh, where are my manner? I’m Julian Hawksley, CEO of Hawksley Holding in the newly opened branch in Chicago.”
Upon hearing his name, the man didn’t mind his list and accepted Julian’s outreached hand. “Oh my, Mr. Hawksley, sir. I hadn’t heard someone like you would be attending a small gallery like ours.” I was surprised the man was able to keep a straight face without stammering. His eyes brightened up like he was meeting a famous Hollywood star. Of course, in the business world, Julian might be considered close to that standing.
“Oh, pssh! Please, I’m not someone worth noting.” There was a bit of a sarcastic edge to Julian’s reply, which Mr. Scotts hadn’t hinted at all. To him, he would sound humble.
“That’s so kind of you to say, Mr. Hawksley.” He smiled so wide I thought he’ll tear the edges of his lips. “Ah! Where are my manners?” He emphasized, using Julian’s words. “Please, Mr. Hawksley, this way.” He gestured inside the gallery.
It took Julian a moment to remember I was with him. Very typical. “Mr. Scotts, I have my secretary with me. Would it be alright?” He kindly inquired.
“Of course,” he nodded and finally noticed me. “Come in as well, miss.”
“Thank you, Mr. Scotts,” I said and held out my hand towards him. “I’m Zoey Curtis, as Mr. Hawksley had said, his secretary.”
He briefly shook my hand and beamed. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Curtis.” Without as much as a blink of an eye, he turned his attention back to Julian.
“Do you need someone to escort you around the gallery and guide you through the artwork, Mr. Hawksley? Or would you prefer to look around first?” He asked, smiling again.
“I’ll look around first and have Ms. Curtis informed you if I’ll be purchasing anything tonight,” Julian stated.
That got Mr. Scott's smile even wider. And I thought it wasn’t any more possible. “Of course, sir.” He paused and briefly addressed me. “There are staff around the venue with a name tag if you need assistance.”
I nodded and smiled back. “Thank you, Mr. Scotts.”
He looked back at Julian one last time and excused himself to return to his position by the door. Once we were clear of prying ears, I couldn’t really avoid the primal look we’re – well, Julian – was getting from the estrogen-driven population within our visual field. And I don’t hold it against them. Julian looked sinful in a suit.
“So, what now?” He whispered towards me a minute after Mr. Scotts left us.
I peered around the venue, ignoring the stare and found no sign of Ben anywhere. “Well, for me, I need to find Ben. As for you, how about try getting a date?” I offered cheekily.
Julian arched his eyebrow in response. And then his all too familiar flirty smirk appeared. “I thought I have you for that.”
I snorted and slowly walked away. “You wish,” I called out before headed towards the opposite direction of the main door.
To my relief, Julian took a hint and left me again. In the corner of my eyes, I saw him wandering aimlessly, looking interested at the art hanging on the walls – which was a surprise. Maybe, he wasn’t bluffing. However, not too close behind him, I noticed a pack of female had gathered around and looked at a different kind of art that wasn’t for sale. To ease my annoyance at what I saw, I turned around and focused my attention on finding Ben.
Not too long, I found him standing idly on the corner of room with a beautiful young woman with chestnut brown hair in a black dress and white blazer. From the name tag on her chest, she must be a staff. With all smile, and adjusting my dress to make me look more presentable, I walked across a small crowd between us. My hand was nearly held up as a small squeak escaped my throat when I saw something that stopped me on my tracks.
Ben suddenly wrapped his arms around the woman beside him and planted an affectionate kiss on her hair as they talked with another companion in their midst. My stomach turned into a knot, trying to make some sense on his actions.
I hadn’t realized I’ve been standing there a bit too long until I felt someone lightly tapped my shoulder, pulling me out of my trance.
“Hey, are you okay? Have you found your guy?”
Hearing Julian’s voice, I tore my eyes away from Ben and the mystery woman in my line of sight and looked at him. It didn’t take him a second as he understood my expression.
“Where is he?” He asked, his voice sounded a bit hostile, but I was still in a trance to react. “Zoey, where?” He asked again, dropping the honorifics.
I sighed and turned around. “Let’s just go. I’ve already had enough bad luck for today. I’d rather have this last shred of dignity by not making a scene.” I dejectedly murmured.
“Are you just going to go without seeing him? After all the trouble I got to get us in?”
“It wasn’t really trouble for you.” I plainly pointed out.
“It was. You don’t know how much goes through my headspace trying to keep a smile and pretending like I cared about a stranger’s opinion about me.” He admitted with dry humor. “Now, where’s the guy?”
“I really don’t want to see him, okay? I just saw him with another woman…”
“And you suddenly draw a conclusion that he’s with this woman?” he interjected.
“Of course, any female would. He openly kissed this woman’s head affectionately, which he used to do with me. I would know. I’m his girlfriend… well, was.” I bitterly said.
Julian regarded my expression for a moment and out of nowhere he started shouting. “WHO HERE IS ZOEY CURTIS’S BOYFRIEND? ZOEY CURTIS! BOYFRIEND! WHERE ARE YOU?”
Stunned, I looked at Julian with wide eyes. “What the?!”
Before I got to cover his mouth, I heard another voice calling my name from the direction I’ve ogled. “Zoey?”
I stiffened as he said my name. With a heavy sigh, I turned around and finally met his gaze. There stood Ben who was a few paces away, looking confused at the sight of me. And not too far behind him was the mystery woman. Once Ben understood I wasn’t a figment of his imagination, he snapped out of his daze and let go the hand he held with the other woman.
“Zoey, what are you doing here?” he asked again when I haven’t said a word.
I pursed my lips. “I was going to surprise you. But it seemed you’re otherwise distracted.” My voice was eerily calm yet cold.
“Zoey, it’s not…” he started but I wasn't finished, not yet.
“How long, Ben?”
The bystanders had gone silent as they watched Ben and I. And for the first time, Julian kept his mouth shut.