By the next day, it was challenging to hide our relationship. In comparison of how rigid our relationship before, it was a poor excuse how lax we’ve become now. The first crack on our façade was on Julian’s account.
During our morning meeting with the marketing and design team, he gave me a secret wink of amusement when someone from the design department kept on fumbling with her words, nervous on her presentation. I prayed no one noticed it but me. The second time was a bit bold. Though he remained professional and dignified, he unconsciously reached out and brushed away a lock of hair covering his view of my face. I turned in surprise. It took him a moment to react and process what he did. In a last attempt to undo what he’s done, he imaginatively flicks something away.
“You’ve got something…” He stated lightly before returning his attention to the speaker in the room, which hadn’t noticed our brief exchange.
However, it didn’t go unnoticed by other people’s wandering eyes. Especially Julian’s sister-in-law, Kyla, who seemed to keep an eye on us a lot more.
I briefly caught her gaze, which she arched his eyebrow in reply. I gave her a tight-lipped smile in response. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention to one of our colleagues.
Julian wasn’t the only one who slipped up as well. And I’m ashamed of myself on how I’ve neglected with holding myself back a little when we’ve only been together – officially – a day ago. Plus, three days ago, I could easily have walked side by side with Julian with a poker face and be his shadow. But not anymore. I kept a steady pace beside him. Somehow, unknowingly, I found myself smiling whenever we slipped around a blind corner and made small talk. We both gushed about lying in bed in each other arms, talking until we fallen asleep. It made my face flush at the memory.
I was in a bubble, of course. This wasn’t a foreign feeling. But it’s been long that I forgot how obvious you’d look when you are in love.
“So tell me, when did he finally asked you to be his girlfriend? It wasn’t yesterday noon, because you two were still holding yourself back.”
Startled, I pushed back on my desk and glanced up at Kyla, who was beaming at me.
“Ah, hi. How may I help you, Mrs. Hawksley?” I asked, ignoring her question.
Kyla leaned a bit closer and smirked. “I saw you walking back here with Julian.” She paused and peered briefly at Julian office. He hasn’t noticed her yet since he was busy looking at his computer monitor. “So?” She asked again when I didn’t respond.
“Uh?” I asked, looking lost and innocent.
“You’re really not going to say anything, aren’t you?” She finally asked when I kept my mouth shut.
“Say what?” I lightly asked.
Kyla pursed her lips and leaned away. “I know you don’t want people to know about your relationship with Julian… I’ve been in your shoes once…” She started, but I held up my hand, stopping her.
“Please, call me Kyla, Zoey.” She insisted.
I smiled to keep the mood light. “I know your intentions are good for inquiring about… ah… this. But, I want it to be our choice…”
“Oh! You said our,” Kyla gushed, making me stop short.
She giggled. “Okay. I’ll step back for now. But, I want to be frank with you, Zoey. You can’t hide this for long, especially in the office. People have noticed and will start noticing more about you two. And the way you act around each other, they’ll question it some more. If you keep on dismissing it, something might happen which you won’t have control over. It’s better to do it early when you have all the cards on your side.”
“Thank you for that advice, Kyla. I’ll keep that in mind.”
It was then we were interrupted. Both of us turned as Julian’s got out of his office. He stopped a step when he noticed Kyla and I talking.
“Kyla, are you asking Zoey more uncomfortable and delusional questions…?”
“No need to pretend, Julian. I already know.” She cut him off. “And I won’t be snooping around anymore as well. I promise for real this time.” She added.
Kyla turned to me one last time. “Let’s have an actual chat over lunch next time, Zoey.” She stated rather than asked.
Not sure how to reply so I nodded.
“Well, good day you two.” She beamed and started walking, but then she abruptly turned like she remembered why she was actually there for. “Oh yeah, Julian. Jensen said he can’t have lunch with you today. So you’re free to spend it with whomever you want.” She said with a coy smile and winked at me.
We both could only gap at her retreating back as she headed to her office.
It took me a second but I peered my eyes in Julian’s direction. He was still by the door, holding it open. His eyes were studying me.
“You heard her. Am I free for lunch?”
I cleared my throat, feeling my cheeks giving away my emotions again. “Ah, yeah. You are, Mr. Hawksley.”
“Then, lunch it is, Ms. Curtis.” He said before returning to his office like nothing happened.
I feel my heart elated with both excitement and worry. The last time I was on a proper date with my poor excuse of an ex-boyfriend, Ben, was Valentines the year before he started his ongoing project around the world. From then on it had gone downhill. Whenever he’s in town, we’ve always stayed in our apartment under the sheets or in the living room eating take-outs while watching re-runs. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’ll be great to at least make an effort to go out for a special evening to a restaurant – even a diner would be fine – or watch a movie.
However, I felt like I’m getting my hopes up and could be the only one who think it’s a date. It would be unfair to Julian if he had other plans on how our first date would be. When lunch came around, I gathered my wits and gauge out those words from my mouth.
“I’m… I… I’m not being a prude or anything… I just want to be sure that we’re seeing eye to eye about… uhm… this… ah…” Every time I got the word out I get choked and paused.
“It’s a date, Zoey.” Julian confirmed with confidence, smiling at my attempt to ask him. “No need to be formal about it. Though last night was fun,” he briefly paused and winked at me, “I’d rather have a proper date with you. One where I could spoil you with expensive food and drinks.”
I flushed and cleared my throat. “Okay.”
After that, Julian didn’t think twice and insisted we have an early lunch later in the afternoon. With that in mind, the anticipation of our upcoming first date made it difficult for me to focus on work. But I’m professional enough to not make visible mistakes, though I caught myself sometimes spacing out while I typed out documents and filled out reports. I kept on glancing at the clock by the edge of my computer screen. When it was quarter to noon, I watched as Julian got up from his desk and made his way out of his office towards my desk. Automatically, I gathered my purse and hastily made a quick note on where I left off with the report I was working on.
“Let’s go. I already called Jeffrey and he’s already downstairs.” Julian informed.
“Okay,” I replied. “And where are we dining exactly?”
Julian gave me an answering smile. “You’ll see. I think you’ll be impressed by how quick I made arrangement for this lunch date.”
I pursed my lips at his response. “Should I be prepared and wore something more… appropriate?” I hesitated. It was the first time since I’ve met Julian that I was conscious of having seen with him.
“Why are you worrying about what you’re wearing now? You look great, as always, Zoey.” Julian assuring answer made me relaxed a bit. However, I wasn’t convinced for some reason.
“Thank you for the compliment. But if we’re going to eat at some four-star restaurant where you need months ahead for a reservation or at least know the owner personally enough to get a table under such short notice…”
“Wow, did you spy on me when I called the manager…?”
“You better not!” I nearly yelled but held back when I realized we were still in the office, surrounded by my colleague who was still sitting by their desk, waiting for their noon break. It was then I finally met some of their confused and some scrutinizing gazes, especially from the women, as Julian and I headed towards the main reception area.
“I’m just kidding. That’s not the plan.” Julian grinned mischievously, unaffected by the stares as I am.
Maybe I’m reading into it too much now things were official.
My heart was still beating fast with anticipation. As we made got to the car and drove towards the city rush noon traffic, my impatience might have been more evident since Julian had to reach out and grab my hand. He gave it a light squeeze for assurance.
“Don’t worry. I won’t do anything you’ll be uncomfortable with,” he said.
I took a deep breath and settled my nerves. “Okay. I trust you.”
From his expression, Julian might have been the one who wasn’t anticipating on my reactions. He looked slightly stunned. So, it was my turned to assure him.
“Hey, are you okay? I’ll be fine, as long as you keep your promise that it will be fine,” I said.
“I’m,” he paused to clear his throat. “I’m flattered with your trust in me, Zoey.”
I smiled. “You know what I learned from my last relationship, I might have trusted Ben – which he abused that trust – but I didn’t show or told him how I trusted him. There was a lack of communication between our last year leading to the… you know…” I trailed off, still feeling a bit sour from the memory of it.
“I’m honored to have your trust, Zoey. Even after knowing my history with women and all,” he added with a jest.
I rolled my eyes at his response. “I know what I got myself into. No need to remind me.”
Julian turned serious. “All jokes aside, Zoey. I’m not going to be like your last boyfriend. I hope you understand that.”
I felt my heart swelled. A part of me felt guilty for already comparing the two. However, Julian didn’t seem like it bothered him as much.
My other consciousness reminded me of reality. Like a fool as I’ve been, I allowed to have doubt and be wary. Also, I’m allowed to love and trust someone who I’ve grown to love no matter how short or long I’ve known them. That’s part of the effect – the effect of falling in love.
When Jeffrey slowed down, I peered at the window and saw the familiar hotel, which was under the Hawksley Holding Inc. business. The Grand Hotel. The first time I was here had been my interview with Rufus Fletcher, Julian’s then executive secretary. Now, I’m back here not only as his secretary but also his girlfriend. It was a huge step-up. When Jeffrey parked the car on the pavement by the entrance, it was evident we were going in the hotel. My curiosity grew alert. He got some confidence having our first date here since his younger brother was managing it. And I’m sure all the staff knows who he is. What was he thinking?
As we made a full stop, it was then Julian clarified his plans for this afternoon.
“I know this is a date. And I promise I won’t be talking business during our lunch here…” he started.
“We’re here to check up on the new restaurant on the top floor across Le Petit Lieu, aren’t we?” I interjected before he got to finish.
“The restaurant will open next week. So I had the chef cook us the menu list… we’ll be having the place to ourselves.” He hastily pointed out when he saw my expression.
I scoffed. “Weren’t you supposed to be having this lunch meeting with Jensen instead?”
“We are supposed to have it… but I suggested that we do away with it as a date… the place would be pretty exclusive… even under such short notice, I was able to come up with something like this.” He carried on explaining his peace when I hadn’t reacted to his first excuse.
I rolled my eyes at this sad attempt the find reason. “It’s okay. Somehow, I’m not truly surprised by it.”
“Well, don’t get too down… if we’re free this weekend?” His words dangled into a question with uncertainty.
“No. We are not. You have a meeting with the head engineer and architect early in the morning. And another meeting with the design team as well. We need to get the advertising right, as you’ve said from the last meeting.” I casually informed, not even looking at my hard copy notebook of Julian’s daily work schedule – seeing as most of his personal schedule involved with me these days.
“Right… I’m sorry,” he said.
“No need to be sorry. I know what kind of relationship I got myself into. Now, let’s go and eat. I’m famish.” I stated and gestured for him to get out of the car since he was on the side facing the entrance of the Hotel.
As we both exited the car, I gave Jeffrey a brief goodbye before Julian took my place and gave him a swift command on when to pick us back up after lunch. We didn’t wait for Jeffery to drive off as he headed inside the Hotel. No one other than the footman greeted us as we entered. I’m relieved Julian didn’t insist on walking hand-in-hand, like most couples who were checking-in the hotel around us. At the same time, I was disheartened as well. The atmosphere between us didn’t feel like we were on a date but in another business meeting. However, all of my childish emotions were shoved aside as we entered the elevator.
Though a few people were joining us on the lift up, Julian took this opportunity for the two of us to stand in the back as he finally grabbed my hand. I peered quickly up to him as we stood side by side. He then met my gaze and gave me a playful wink. I had to bit my lips to hide my goofy smile.
One by one people were piling out to their floor until it was only the two of us left. The Le Petit Lieu restaurant is a bit exclusive, which you need an advance reservation to get in. When we reached the top floor, we noticed there were more than a handful of people dining already. However, across the restaurant, it was empty but everything was set and ready for business. The name of the restaurant, The Chateau, in a golden metallic plate, was placed above the entrance. Like the restaurant across, it had the same modern French theme to it.
“Over a year ago, this was a viewing deck for the guest, but no one really used it. So Kyla suggested we made use of it. She taught of a restaurant and bar. The place will be serving food indoors, and the outside would be a mini bar, where at night people could relax and drink with the city view.” He explained as we both walked hand-in-hand towards the new restaurant.
“It’s lovely. And I know about this place… I didn’t expect that this would be here. I thought this restaurant was located at the New York branch.”
“So, what do you think? I wasn’t completely being inconsiderate, right? This is a decent date, right?” He inquired, sounding a bit worried, which was unexpected at how confident he was a few minutes ago. It might have something to do with how little I’ve reacted to it all.
I smirked. “Well, I’ll let you know when we’ve sat down and eaten. You did promise a good expensive meal this time,” I jested.
He quickly relaxed. “I did.”
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