“Zoey, please, allow me to explain,” Ben begged as he took another step closer. However, I wasn’t in the mood for any of his excuses anymore. April was right. He was a prick.
“To explain what, Ben? I’m not blind. I know how to connect the dots. And you haven’t even answered my question.” I harshly replied.
Ben opened his mouth, yet come up with nothing. “Thought so.” I noticed the crowd watched us with interest. “When you get back to Chicago, don’t expect the apartment to look the same or with me in it. Enjoy the rest of your night.” I added before grabbing Julian’s blazer by his elbow and tugged him towards the exit.
Without as much as a glance back, I could hear Ben pleaded again. “Zoey, please!”
Then another voice followed closely behind him. “What the hell? I thought you’ve already broken up with your girlfriend!”
Once we make it towards the pavement outside the venue, I could still hear his voice echoing in my ear. It wasn’t until he spoke I realized I still clung on Julian’s blazer. He offered me his gray handkerchief, which then I noticed tears had streamed down my cheeks.
I cleared my throat and muttered, “thanks.”
“Do you want me to call a cab?” He asked, studying my face. I was sure my mascara had smeared by now.
“No. I’ll get an Uber,” I replied and pulled out my phone.
“Do you want to go back to the hotel now?” he inquired, still looking at me. “Or would you rather we find some pub close by? I think you need a drink.”
“I’m not going out for a drink with you, Mr. Hawksley. That’s unprofessional in my book.” I muttered disapprovingly.
“Considering what just happened, are you sure you’ll continue with that excuse?” he challenged.
I pursed my lips.
“Thought so.” His coy smile was back. “Come on. My treat.”
I continued to look him.
He rolled his eyes and grabbed my hand. Surprised at the sudden contact, I couldn’t react fast enough as he dragged me a few steps away towards the busy streets. Once I got my barring, I tugged my hand from his grip, which he instantly let go. He continued walking a step ahead of me until he stopped and pointed at a bar, where a handful of people walked in and out.
“Let’s go.” He turned to me and nodded in the direction of the bar.
I kept quiet and followed until we got into the slightly cramped and busy space in the corner of the street, a few blocks from the gallery. Knowing what had happened, and Ben didn’t do much to stop me, it was unlikely I’ll be running into him again for the rest night. So I ordered a glass of beer, a Heineken, while Julian settled for a whiskey on the rocks.
“Are you sure you won’t need a shot glass?” He cheekily inquired as the bartender walked away to get our drinks.
“I’m surprised, though. I never thought of you as a beer kind of girl.” He remarked.
“I occasionally drink wine with my friend, April. But other than those occasional times, I like my Heineken.” I admitted. A smile tugged at the edges of my lips.
Julian saw the shift of my mood and smiled back. “So, tell me. What do you usually do when you aren’t busy making my life perfect?”
I snorted as my smile grew wider. “Don’t try and subtly flatter me. If you’re serious about that question, I’d say I’m usually at home catching up one of my favorite shows.”
“Oh, you’re the stay-at-home kind of gal. Great, would you like to come over to my place later? I’ve got cable and popcorn.”
“The young people actually call it as Netflix and chill now, which has multiple innuendoes I’m not interested in. But yours is very age appropriate,” I chuckled, shaking my head.
“Oh, wow! Really? That puts a dent in my ego. And here I thought I’m still on the young side.”
I laughed again and lightly punched his arm, which he over reacted like he was hurt. That got another chuckle from me.
Once we finished our drinks, we didn’t linger long as the bar continued to pack with people. It hadn’t taken long for our Uber to arrive. As we reached the hotel, we weren’t tired enough to hit the sack. With only one drink in our system, we weren’t drunk enough to do anything we would regret. Instead, we continued talking. And finally, Julian thought it was safe to ask.
“How long have you been together?” His voice was soft and timid as we both lay down on our respected bed, still dressed – though Julian had taken liberty and took off his blazer and vest, rolling up his sleeves to reveal his muscled forearm. I’d easily blame the alcohol in my system if ever Julian noticed my flushed face.
I cleared my dry throat before replying. “We’ve been together for nearly three years.”
“How did you two meet?”
“One of his friends was my classmate in College. It was the same guy who helped me get my first job here in New York. We were friends first, really, until he got the balls to ask me out.” My eyebrow furrowed as I remembered the memories that led to that day. Ben had always been friendly with girls, even before we were together. But he hadn’t made any advances towards them. Though, April had once said I used to be dense about Ben’s friendliness towards the opposite sex.
“Had there been any signs… before you know… what happened today?” he stammered a bit, uncertain how to rightfully phased it. I couldn’t blame him. Even I don’t know how to make the question less hurtful.
“No. Well, not really… I don’t know.” I admitted. “Ben had been busy this year since he’s making a new portfolio for his art exhibit. You see, he’s an artist, a photographer. He’d been traveling a lot for the past few months and just got back last week. Though it didn’t go well the night he arrived… we had a fight. Ben has a short temperament. He sometimes lashes out when he’s frustrated about something…” I trailed off as I noticed Julian suddenly sat up in his bed.
“Had he ever hit you?” He suddenly looked annoyed.
My eyebrow creased and I sat up as well. “No. No. Ben’s not that kind of guy. He never did anything like that with me. However, there was that one time… but I was being harsh on him.” I said, unsure as I recalled the memory. “Wait, no. He hadn’t hit me. Though he had grabbed my arm really tight, my wrist started to go a bit numb. But I was being an ass to him. We were having an argument…”
“Zoey. You don’t have to defend his actions. It’ll only glorify that what he did to you is okay. It’s not okay, even if he hadn’t intentionally hit you. He should know better than hurt you in any way.”
I gapped at his words. April has said those words. I’ve seen the same look she’d given me, which was how Julian looked right now as he did his piece. I don’t know how to respond so I gave him a timid smile and briefly said ‘thanks.’
“If ever you need any help, I mean anything at all, just tell me. I’m happy to help,” he paused and slide off his bed. “And besides, even a week you’ve worked for me, you’ve done enough for me that I haven’t expected out of you. I was wrong when I said you couldn’t handle the legwork with fear of breaking a nail since clearly, you cut your nails short.” He gestured at my hand in emphasis.
I glanced down and studied my fingertips for a moment, and smiled how he noticed something little like that about me.
Our conversation abruptly halted as Julian offered the bathroom to me before making an exit towards the living room.
“I have to finish reviewing a few of those deals we’re having tomorrow.” He informed when I haven’t moved an inch. “I might take a while. So, go ahead.” He added and gestured towards the bathroom.
“Do you need any help with…?” I trailed off as he interjected.
“I’ll be fine. Take your time.” He insisted.
He got his laptop and closed the door behind him. I then rolled my whole suitcase in the bathroom with me, locking the door. Once I placed the case in an area that was dry, I started unpacking a pouch full of daily facial and body products. It nearly took me half an hour to finish my night rituals, which I did twice as fast than I used to. However, the room was still empty and no signs of Julian as I walked out in my University of Illinois shirt and sports short. I had considered bringing along with me an array of night lingerie. Considering my current situation, it’s not very appropriate. This was a better choice.
As I settled myself for sleep, I lay there thinking whether or not to check on Julian. For the last minute, I considered not going until I heard nothing – and sometimes silence speaks volume. So I got up and shyly opened the door towards the main room. It took me a second to find him until he cleared his throat. Julian was by the kitchen counter with a cup in hand. My guess would be the in-house coffee. He stared at my choice of outfit, which got me conscious a bit. I timidly tugged my slightly oversized shirt liked it helped cover most of my exposed leg.
When he continued to stare and not say anything, I cleared my throat in response and straightened my posture. “Is there anything you need for the rest of the evening, Mr. Hawksley?”
Julian snapped out of his trance and walked back to the small dining table. However, before he got to the seat, he accidentally bumped his knee on the ajar chair, which made him cussed from the pain.
“Oh! Are you okay?” I walked a few steps closer but halted when Julian held up his hand. I’m in awe the glass in his hand didn’t fall, though he spilled nearly half of its contents.
He cleared his throat and put down the glass. “I’m fine.”
“Okay.” I looked at him worriedly. “So, do you need anything…?” I trailed off as he replied.
“I’m good, Ms. Curtis. You may go to sleep now.” He briskly said.
“Are you sure? I think it’s hardly appropriate that I left you here to work…”
“It’s past office hours.”
“But that doesn’t stop you before from sending me an e-mail in the middle of the night.”
“Which most of them would be needed by the next day.”
I studied his expression, which was masked with a poker face now. “Again, are you sure?”
“Positive.” He nodded. “Good night, Ms. Curtis. Sleep well.”
“Good night as well, Mr. Hawksley.”
As I turned and close the door, which I kept ajar, I heard a faint muffled sound of frustration. “Damn.”
I covered my mouth to stifle my giggles.
In the morning, I saw no signs of Julian in the other bed beside me. The faint remains of the ruffled and poorly fixed sheets and pillows were the only evidence I had the man actually got some sleep.
I waited for another moment, listening to the silence and pinpoint where he was. I heard nothing in the bathroom, which gave me a sense of relief. Rather than bringing everything with me, this time I unpacked only the necessary thing I needed and headed straight there. However, as I was about to open the door, the bedroom door opened and walked in Julian, looking refreshed in a new suit.
My eyes were wide as I gapped at him. “What time did you wake up…sir?” I nearly forgot my formality.
It took a moment for Julian to reply as he glanced at my appearance from head to toe. And I knew what he was seeing. Me in a ruffled bed hair, wrinkled clothes, and probably puffy face. If I ever had any chance of seducing my boss, all of that had now been burnt to ashes and blown by the winds of humiliation.
“What?” I asked when he kept on ogling. “Is there something on my face?”
“Do you always look like this when you wake up in the morning?” He sounds amused.
“You’re lucky to see only a bare minimum of what I look in the morning, Mr. Hawksley. If it’s was a wild night and more drinks were involved, I’m sure you won’t recognize me the next day.” I humored.
He laughed and shook his head. “Take your time to get ready. It’s still early and our first meeting won’t be for another two hours or so.”
I hastily peered towards the digital clock on the bedside table between our bed and got a sense of rush at the idea. Now, I need to quickly finish my usual morning routine to get by morning New York rush hour in order not to be late for our first meeting. “You should have woken me up when you did, Mr. Hawksley.”
“You looked tired. And don’t worry about the time. Mr. Hudson is a friend. He’s not strict if we’re late for a few minutes.”
“Still…” I pursed my lips but didn’t continue arguing. I was already wasting precious time.
With a speed I thought I couldn’t possibly do, I showered and got dressed in under half an hour. Studying myself in the full body mirror in the bathroom, I nodded in approval at my navy pants suit and white silk shirt ensemble. Then I walked out to grab my three-inch heels – to be safe. I gathered my work laptop, my small handy schedule plan, and notepad with the folders for today’s meeting. After which, I placed them all orderly on my satchel. I’m surprised everything fit in the bag.
I expected to see Julian outside in the living room or kitchen working again, but he was nowhere to be found. I called out yet no response. In a slight panic that he might have left without me, I pulled out my phone and found a text from him.
I got hungry so I decided to head to the breakfast buffet downstairs.
I’ll get us a table.
With a quick response of ‘okay’, I hurriedly headed out the room and check twice that everything in the room was neat and the door locked. Confident no one’s breaking in without proper access, I got to the elevator and reached the hotel’s breakfast buffet, which was offered for free on all their guest. And looking at the time, it was still early – even for me after a rough night. The hall was nearly empty except for a few women and men in business attire. It seemed we weren’t the only one who had to be early for a meeting today.
As I given the maître d’ my breakfast coupon, I searched for Julian. He wasn’t hard to miss, especially when he wasn’t alone in his table. Sitting across from him, looking radiant and loud, was none other than his last week’s fling, Grace. From the smile she sported and Julian’s forced one, this wasn’t a planned meeting. With my head held high, I matched to their table ready for whatever shades of insults I know this woman would throw at me.