The morning breezed through in my favor. Not once had anything remotely exciting happened after the talk we had with Kyla in Julian’s office. However, during lunch, it was a different matter. Since Julian didn’t have any meeting until three in the afternoon, I was free for a peaceful lunch. From how Julian walked towards my cubicle while peering him in the corner of my eyes, he was about to ask me out. But then, he got a call.
He lingered in front of my desk, making it easy to eavesdrop.
“Hey, what’s up?” He casually answered. Considering the tone of his voice, it had to be his brother. My intuition was proven a moment later. “Yes, I’m free right now. And Jensen, this time don’t ask your wife. She crossed a line this morning and I’m not in the mood having lunch with her right now…” he trailed off, listening to his brother’s response.
“So you heard from her… you know, before you met her, you weren’t the type to get into gossip.” He remarked dryly before ending the call with the note.
“I’ll be having lunch with my brother today, Ms. Curtis. If someone needs me urgently in the office, just call me on my phone.” He briefly instructed before making his way out.
He didn’t even bother waiting for my reply. Once he was gone, I thought I had a peaceful lunch for a change when April called.
She got directly to the point once I placed the phone was by my ear. “Hel…”
“Let’s have lunch. Since you haven’t called me this morning, I presume you were otherwise preoccupied to make the call. Well, enough about me… so, how was he? Was it more than you could imagine?”
“I’m well, April. How about you?” I evasively replied and pursed my lips, debating whether to answer in public or find some time to meet up later in the evening.
“Wait. Where are you right now? I thought you’d still be in Mr. Hunky’s condo.”
“I have a job, April. And he’s the boss.”
“Yes, I know, which makes it easier for you to stay in bed longer seeing as he knows you aren’t neglecting your job, meaning giving more amiable pleasures…”
“And I’m hanging up now.”
Since she didn’t have her last say, April texted and urged me to meet her for lunch. I could hardly say no to her, so I got my things and hurriedly made my way out. As I passed by the reception area, I offered Amy to join as well but she already took an early lunch. So it was April and I, which makes me more susceptible to pry on. When we finally met up at a compromising location between our workplaces, April didn’t hesitate and asked again. She dropped it after I gave her an icy glare.
Our lunch didn’t take too long as April got a call from work. So we made a haste goodbye and promise to meet up tonight if we got the chance. As soon as I got back to the office, Julian was already in his desk and chair, focused on something. Peering down at my wristwatch, I knew I wasn’t late for anything. I’ve been timely checking my phone if he texted. Yet nothing. Curious why he was back early, I knocked on the door. He looked up and arched his eyebrow in wonder.
I opened the glass door and kept the door ajar, positioning only half of my body in the office. “Do you need anything? You’re usually out for at least an hour and a half for lunch.” I observed.
“Really? That’s very keen and specific of you to notice how long I take my lunch.” He countered before peering back on his desktop computer.
I asked again out of professional courtesy.
“No, Ms. Curtis. I don’t need anything right now, unless you need something from me.” He coyly retorted.
I regarded his words for a moment. “Am I missing something here?”
“Are you sure you just had lunch? You always catch on…”
Once I got what he meant, I felt my cheek flushed and made a quick exit. Behind me, I could hear Julian’s amused laughter muffled by the glass divider. After that, I kept as minimal contact with him unless it was necessary – like going to another meeting.
By the time Julian and I finished the day’s work, the office was still crawling with over-time workers. He offered we both visit my old apartment to see if the moving crew hadn’t left anything. Julian spoke aloud about having a dinner meeting as we walked past the open work-area in order not to raise curious mind why we were heading early together. Though in my opinion, he was planting a seed of suspicion in which weren’t there in the first place. Now, people looked up and peered at us with more interest.
His excuse was he’s convinced Kyla was still doubtful of us from his brief lunch with his brother. He was able to extract some information from him throughout a quick meal.
“He told me Kyla wasn’t entirely ready to let it go. She’s sorry, but guarded.” He mumbled under his breath as we descended down the lobby an empty elevator.
“Let her be wary. As long as we don’t give her any credibility to substantiate her suspicion, we’re in the clear.” I argued.
“You don’t know my sister-in-law.”
“And you do. So why aren’t you trying to find some way to hide it from her?”
“I am, okay. I’m not going to slip… again.” He added the last words when he met my cold stare.
Once we were in the car on our way to my place, Julian stripped down some wall and relaxed a bit.
“Do you think your ex-boyfriend would still be there, Zoey?”
I pursed my lips but didn’t correct him about addressing me informally again. “It’s his apartment. Since he’s back from work and,” paused to check the time again, “it’s nearly dinner time, he’s home.”
Julian look apprehensive as he asked. “Would you like me to come up with you?”
“If I say no, would you stay in the car?” I countered.
He snorted. “No.”
“Then why bother to ask.”
“I’ll take note not that next time.”
I didn’t press on that idea and changed the subject. “I hope those guys you hired to pack my things are credible.”
It was then Jeffrey cleared his throat and spoke up. “If you’re worried, Zoey, I was the one monitoring everything. I also brought my wife with me to help out this your garments, if you’re wary of stranger’s touching some of your sensitive personal belongings. We packed them as coordinated and neat as we can.”
I gapped at Jeffrey, surprised by this information. “Why didn’t you say anything this morning?”
“You seemed preoccupied. I didn’t want to stress you out. And yesterday night was rough for you, dear.” Jeffery replied.
“Thank you, Jeff. I really appreciate you doing this for me. And please extend my gratitude to your wife as well. May I ask what is her name?”
I briefly saw him beam in the rearview mirror. “Her name is Bethany.”
“Bethany, what a lovely name. Please let her know I’m grateful that she helped out on such short notice.”
“It’s not a problem, Zoey. Glad to help.”
The cool breeze of Chicago night greeted us as we’ve reached my old apartment building. There were no traces of the moving crew in the pavement, which raised an alarm.
“When did you finished packing? And where are you taking my stuff?”
“You’ve finished everything by four in the afternoon. Mr. Hawksley instructed us to have your things delivered to his apartment… for now.” Jeffrey replied, adding that last tidbit as I gasped and peered at Julian, who seemed a bit distant with our conversation.
“Why didn’t you tell me anything? I told April this afternoon briefly what happened, so she offered her for me to stay.” My voice rose in annoyance.
“Your friend’s apartment can’t surely accommodate your things. And I already offered for you to stay in my guest room. That’ll be enough space for you.” He replied.
“You can’t just assume I would agree to this, Mr. Hawksley.”
Julian arched his eyebrow as I addressed him formally. “Really? You’re still calling me by my last name after what happened last night.”
I gasped, afraid Jeffrey would take a hint. Without as much as a word, I got out of the car and marched my way towards my old apartment building. I faintly heard the car door closing before I entered the building premises. As I climbed up the stairs leading to the apartment, I finally heard Julian calling out.
“Zoey, come on! Wait up!”
I ignored him until I reached the apartment door. With the key that I have, I entered without knocking. Understanding my mood, Julian silently followed a few paces behind me. There was a brief silence as I opened and entered towards the living room. I could overhear him watching his usual favorite sitcom. Ben sat there with take-out carton spread on the coffee table. He looked up upon from my entrance without a hint of shock.
Ben broke the silence after pressing the mute button on the remote. “I expected to see you soon, but not sooner than this.”
Then he saw Julian. He stood and sized up Julian for a moment before addressing him. “What do you want, Mr. Hawksley?” There was a bitter edge to Ben’s tone.
Julian just had to answer, unable to hold back. “Depends what you’re giving away now, Mr. Courtney.”
I watched Ben’s hand balled into a fist as he took a step closer. This was a side of him I’ve gotten too comfortable, which I’ve gasped wasn’t healthy at all.
“Don’t get so high and mighty, Mr. Hawksley. Just because you’re one of the benefactors of the gallery I’m having my artwork displayed doesn’t mean I won’t say anything that might ruin that relationship.” Ben countered back.
“Then, you’re not very smart, Mr. Courtney.” Julian snorted.
Ben took another step closer to us. His intent growing more palpable.
Fearing for any something that these two might soon regret, I held up and hand and stop their testosterone feud. “Okay, you two. Stop it.” I hissed. “And Ben, sit back down before you do something you’ll regret. We’re not here to pick a fight. I just want to make sure all of my things have been packed.” I added with clenched teeth.
Ben scoffed and scurried back to his seat. I redirected Julian with me towards the bedroom, annoyingly pointing him to stand in the corner while I rummaged the closet and cabinets.
I moment later, he finally huffed in frustration and spoke. “You know I came up here with you to help.”
I snorted and pulled another cabinet when I found one of it already cleared out. “From what you did a few minutes ago, you weren’t helpful at all.”
“What? Are you siding with this prick?” He inquired in anger.
I briefly stop to look him in the eye. “Do you really think I’d side with him after what he did? But you weren’t commendable as well. What were they heck you thinking trying to provoke him? What do you think you’d get out of it?”
“Some semblance of contentment, maybe, after hearing what he’s been like with you.”
“I know well enough what he did. But that doesn’t mean I’d stoop to his level. It’s best to walk away sometimes without a word.”
“Well, I don’t think you know me to be someone who doesn’t give the last word, Ms. Curtis.”
“Now I do,” I muttered mostly to myself before returning to check the drawers.
We didn’t take long. Once I’ve finished through the bedroom and bathroom, I hastily checked the living room with Ben’s prying eyes on us at all times. However, after another firm warning – more like a threat – from me, he stopped talking altogether. Julian and I didn’t stay long and made our quick exit. However, Ben wasn’t ready for me to leave.
“Zoey, please wait. Let’s talk this out…”
I held up my hand to stop him. “Ben, we both know there isn’t anything we’d say that’ll make this work anymore. Not after that display, you pulled in New York. We both know that this relationship was going downhill. One month being away stood a testament to how far we’ve come as a couple. And I know you have no plans whatsoever to settle down at all…” I know the marriage talk was a low blow. But my mother had been asking and we used to have the talk before things turned sour. “We’ve just gone our separate ways. It’s better we end it now before we create more drama.”
“And you think you’ll be happy with him? You know who he is, Zoey. You’re better than fornicating with your boss.”
I pursed my lips at his remark. “Didn’t you once said that I might be the one seducing my bosses, which got me such a track record of sexual harassment? Maybe this time I just went along with it because – really – compared to you, Julian’s a better shag.”
That got him. While he tried and process my comeback, I walked out of the apartment and followed Julian, who lingered by the stairs. I’m sure he overheard our conversation from his goofy grin. As we reached the landing on the floor below from my old apartment, Ben had to walk out and shot his response.
“No one says shag anymore, Zoey!”
I stifle my laughter and bit my lips. Closely behind me, Julian laughed. “I can’t believe you said that to him. I thought you wanted that to be just between us.”
I pursed my lips before considering my reply. “I do. And I hope it’ll stay that way. No one would believe Ben if he starts spreading rumors.”
“So, I’m just a shag to you? Well, a good shagging as you’ve said.” He chuckled.
“Don’t push it, Mr. Hawksley. I’m only going to say that once.” I lightly warned.
“Well, I’m flattered that I’m better at shagging than he is.”
“Can we stop saying the word ’shag’ now?”
He snickered. “Sorry. I can’t help myself. You look so cute trying to escape embarrassment for using that term.”
“It wasn’t intended. And I now regret using that term.”
“Your reaction seizes to amaze me, Ms. Curtis. How about I buy dinner tonight? To show my gratitude for yesterday’s delicious dinner and dessert.” From the way he said the word and winked, he didn’t mean anything edible.
I sighed but the smile on my face hadn’t gone away. “I should be the one buying you dinner for what you did for me today. And Jeffrey as well.” I added as we reached the car. The man himself had gotten out yet again and gallantly opened the passenger door for us.
“Okay. I’ll let you buy… but just this one time.” Julian’s reply was a surprise.
I waited until we were in the car before voicing out my idea for dinner.
“What do you boys think about burgers and beers?”
Jeffrey diligently drove to the addressed I asked him. This was an interesting night.
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