“Oh, I’m sorry. Where were my manners?” He stated a bit smugly. “Please come in. Would you like something to drink, or eat?”
“I don’t –” I started but abruptly stopped when I heard a female voice called out behind him. I felt like I was hosed down again with cold water in the middle of winter. And the smile on my face slowly turned sour. By the time this conversation ended, I might get sick.
“Julian! What are you doing? Your food’s getting cold!” The female’s voice called as she got closer and closer until finally came to view. “Who’s this?”
Hearing her, Julian turned around, giving me a view of a blond bombshell. Beautifully curled hair, and shimmering healthy skin, she looked like she just got off a Victoria Secret runway. Typical.
This was another of those situations I’m proud to have the experience of going through those job as a secretary for sleazy men. I could easily mask my emotions on cue. “Good morning, ma’am. I’m sorry to interrupt you and Mr. Hawksley. I’m only here to give him some work related paperwork. I’m Zoey Curtis, Mr. Fletcher’s assistant.”
The woman gave me a once over before turning to Julian. “I didn’t know Rufus hired an assistant. Does he even need it?”
“Rufus might be the only other person besides myself who have the most hectic schedule, Grace.” Julian finally addressed the woman’s name.
So he has a Grace. The tabloid hadn’t said anything about him being in a relationship right now. And thinking they weren’t even in any relationship other than physical wasn’t helping in changing my opinion of him.
“Speaking of Rufus, where is he? Usually, he doesn’t leave your side,” she stated. Now she had completely ignored my presence altogether.
“He’s handling the office right now, which is why I’m still here with you,” he pointed out.
“Right.” Grace rolled her eyes and briefly studied me. “Come join me in the dining room once you’re done.” She said before turning back around.
Feeling like I’m no longer wanted, I cleared my throat, getting back Julian’s attention. “I think I’ll be going ahead now, Mr. Hawksley. And I’m also late for my next appointment.”
“What appointment?” He asked, arching his eyebrow.
“Mr. Fletcher…” I started but he didn’t let me finish as he pulled out his phone from his pocket and tugged away the towel that still lingered on his shoulder.
On the first ring, the person on the other end answered. “Rufus,” He gave me a hint who he had called. “Do you need Zoey this moment?” I was taken aback as he said my name for the first time. I ogled at him as he listened to Rufus' response.
Suddenly his eyebrow creased to whatever Rufus had said. “I’ll give the phone to her than,” Julian muttered before handing his phone to me.
I took it. “Good morning, Mr. Fletcher.”
“Ms. Curtis, glad you got to Julian before he left for work. I’m sorry I hadn’t given you a call this morning. I have a short errand I need from you. Do you have a pen with you? I’ll dictate the details. Also, I have some documents I need sorting.” Rufus didn’t waste time in getting straight to his point.
“Of course, Mr. Fletcher,” I replied while balancing the phone between my cheeks and shoulder while grabbing my handy notepad and pen. “Go on, sir,” I started when I was ready.
Before Rufus started dictating me the information, Julian suddenly grabbed back the phone, startling me.
“What are you doing? We were still talking… sir,” I added the last tidbit to not sound too aggressive and rude.
Julian held up his hand and placed the phone back to his ear. “Rufus, I’ll write it down for her. Is there anything else you need, old man?” Julian sounded genuine. It was nice of him to offer, which put me back into a complicated cycle.
Once they’ve finished their conversation, Julian put his phone away and held out his hand. “Give me those. I’ll write it down for you.”
“I could have written it down…” I started but trailed off when he hadn’t waited for me to finish and got the notepad out of my hands. Without much words, he scribbled down what I needed and handed it back. Studying his script handwriting – which looked artsy than senseless scribble, he had written down Rufus’s other contact number, email, and even a P.O. box address along with some errands, which was manageable than yesterday.
“I already know his complete information. And there wasn’t much he wanted you to do.”
“Right. Thanks.” I muttered shyly.
“Your welcome, Ms. Curtis.”
I felt like I’m slowly getting roped in by those pair of blue eyes as he said those words. But I didn’t let myself get caught up and cleared my throat, fishing myself out of the imaginary trance.
“Then I’ll be leaving, Mr. Hawksley. Enjoy your breakfast and have a lovely day,” I said while slowly backing away from the door, which I hadn’t realized I’ve been standing for the past five minutes now.
“Thank you again for these,” he said while raising the folder that he still held. “So I guess I’ll see you when I see you?” His words somehow dangled into a question.
“Yes. See you.” I nodded and gave him a timid wave.
Before he closed the door, he showed me another genuine smile. When I felt weird sensation on my cheeks and stomach, I sheepishly turned around and nearly sprinted towards the elevator. I continued walking until I was out of the building. Once the cool breeze hit my face, I let out a heavy sigh before headed back to the bus stop.
After finishing the errand as quickly as possible, I reached the confines of my apartment before noon. I then studied Julian’s personally handwritten memo in my hand. Curiosity got the better of me and called the number he had scribbled. I already got Rufus’ number and thought he had put his personal contact, considering he might have a phone for work and personal use. However, it wasn’t Rufus on the other end at all.
“That took you a while to call.” Julian voice sounded a bit different on the phone but I didn’t need to be Sherlock to know it was him.
“Did you just trick me and wrote down your own phone number? That’s –” I huffed in frustration as I listened to Julian’s chuckles on the other end of the phone. “This isn’t funny. Is anything real you’ve written on this piece of paper?”
“His personal email and address are real, I swear. And I’m sorry for tricking you like this to get your number. Why do you think Rufus had two contact number?” He assured, still sounding upbeat.
“I don’t know. Maybe he has a separate number for work and personal use…” I breathed, realizing I shouldn’t be explaining myself. “You know this was very unprofessional, Mr. Hawksley,” I firmly stated, however, I couldn’t deny how my heart was beating right now.
“How else am I supposed to get your contact info?” He defended.
“The normal way. I would have given it to you if you’ve asked like any normal person would,” I pointed bluntly. But the moment I said it, I bit my lips at the blunder.
“Would you?” He asked, almost surprised.
I briefly paused, trying to make my excuse believable. “Of course. You’re my boss, Mr. Hawksley.”
“You can call me Julian when we aren’t in the office, Zoey.” He suddenly offered.
If I thought my heart was in a frenzy before, it doesn’t compare to what I’m feeling right now. I’m scared he could hear it on the phone how loud it was. He caught me. How is that even possible? He just said my name.
“Zoey, are you still there?” He asked when I haven’t responded.
I cleared my throat, trying to salvage what I could. “Mr. Hawksley, I think it’s not appropriate to be addressing you so informally even outside of work. That’s just my professional opinion, sir.”
“Then what do you personally think?” I could imagine his coy smirk from the tone of his voice.
“What I personally think doesn’t count, Mr. Hawksley. And I want to separate my personal and professional life as much as I can. And you aren’t really helping your case right now on changing my first impression about you, as you’ve wanted.” What the heck I’m mumbling about. Then I remembered, Ben. And another glimpse of the woman, Grace, in the apartment with him shut down whatever confusing feeling I had. And just like that, the bubbly feeling I felt disperse in the thin air. It was just a childish admiration anyway.
“Right. I’m sorry for being such a shameless flirt, as you put it, Ms. Curtis.” His playful tone was gone.
“No worries, Ms. Hawksley.” I kept my voice professional. “Good day, sir.”
I didn’t wait for him to end the call and ended it myself. I clinched my phone and groaned in defeat. “What the hell am I doing?” I muttered to myself.
Not a minute later, my phone chimed. My heart squeezed while rereading the short message.
I’m sorry for tricking you. I’ll act professionally now.
When I got Rufus e-mail for work, I was back to reality. I didn’t have the time to feel like a young crazed teenager getting noticed by a rock star. So I focused on work. Rufus didn’t hold back as he sent me piles of tasks. I was knee deep by mid-afternoon, and as I finished typing out everything and clearing out some schedule for Julian next month, I noticed the sky was dark out already. It was then I realized how I skipped a meal today sitting on the computer. Driven by hunger, I crawled myself out of my desk and apartment towards the small bistro right across the street. One of the perks of living in the city was the easy access to things you need, and this moment I needed sustenance.
After I had my fill, I decided to hit the bed for a much-needed rest. I reached the floor of my apartment when I stopped on my tracked and a saw a familiar silhouette. Like a vitamin, my energy got back up and I ran towards him, my arms wide open.
“Ben! Your back!” I squealed as I crushed him in a tight embrace.
“Zoe, hey.” He put down the duffle bag he was carrying and reciprocated my embrace. “Where have you been? Did you just get out of work?”
“No. I went out to eat,” I replied and slowly let go of him, though I kept both of my hand on his shoulder. “Why didn’t you call me you were coming back? I could have picked you up at the airport.”
“I wanted to surprise you, actually. So, surprise,” he timidly said. Giving me a smile that would have me fall in love with him again. However, oddly it didn’t give me the same butterfly feeling in my stomach. Nonetheless, I was elated to see him back.
“So how was… Um… Asia?” I stuttered a bit, forgetting where his last country was. But vaguely, I knew he was visiting mostly in that continent, going from country to country in order to create his portfolio to submit for a possible art exhibit here in Chicago.
“Singapore was lovely, Zoe. You should have seen the city at night… no, even during the day, the place was breath-taking.” He remarked, his eyes zoned out longingly for a bit.
“How about you tell me all about it inside the apartment?” I gestured while glancing towards the hallways, who I was sure our neighbors might burst out anytime to tell us off.
“Right, of course.” He chuckled and allowed me to open the door.
My exhaustion was completely forgotten as I listened and immerse myself in Ben’s story of his trip. While he’d been away, he’d occasionally left me an e-mail with an attached photo of where he was. But hearing it from him, describing the details of what he’d been through and seen, made my heart soar. Then something like lightning hit me. Slowly the smile on my face faltered while watching his expression glow as he continued to talk about what he loved. For once, I wasn’t there with him.
“Oh, Zoe! You should have seen it for yourself! Maybe, next time you could go with me. It’ll change your perspective on things.” He stated, smiling still.
“I would love to go with you.” I avowed, being dragged by the moment.
“Would you? That would be nice,” He said longingly. “But you can’t leave your job and the city. Your family is here; you can’t just go with me out on a spur of the moment.”
Listening to him argue in my stead, it finally dawned on me. “Maybe you’re right, Ben. I should go with you on your next trip. I think it’s time I get out of this lifestyle and see the world.” I thought aloud.
“But, your job…”
“I could quit, again.”
“Again? What do you mean again?” It’s then I realized I haven’t told him about what happened on my previous job over a month ago. I watched as his expression shifted one-eighty. Gone was his smile and good mood. “What happened, Zoey?”
“Ah, yeah. About that, I think you should sit down first before I tell you.” I muttered, fearing for his safety. Whenever he was heated up, he usually paced around and started destroying a few fragile furniture, mostly vases.
“Don’t try and downplay it this time.” He warned in clenched teeth. “What did this one do to you this time? If by god he touched you,” he abruptly stopped once he saw my expression. “DID HE TOUCH YOU?”
I flinched at his outburst. “You don’t have to get worked up, Ben. I already quit a month ago. I got a better job now. So, please, don’t do anything stupid…” I calmly stated but trailed off as I watched him threw the small vase on the coffee table across the room. I hid my squeal and bit my lips. “Ben. Chill out, please.” I begged when he started pacing again.
“For goodness sake Zoey, this is the third time that had happened to you! Don’t you think maybe you’ve done something to seduce these ass holes?”
It was another thing being accuse of as a slut from strangers since those people don’t know me. Yet to be accused of by the man you trusted and loved, it felt like being stabbed by a blunt butter knife – not as deep as a sharp one, but still painful.
“You know what Ben, I always thought you’ll never admit it out loud what you think of me. You don’t have the balls for it. But here we are.” For once, I left my eerily calm voice wasn’t mine.
As he realized what I said, Ben abruptly stopped pacing and looked guilty. “Zoe, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it sound like that… I’m just angry and frustrated how these men have easily made you a prey for their malicious pleasure. You’re too unguarded sometimes. I’m just worried about you.”
“Of course.” I curtly said to end the argument. “I think it’s best I’ll sleep over at April’s house for the night. We both said things we don’t like, and I think we need to cool our heads a bit.”
“Oh, come on, Zoey. I’m not the only one who’s at fault here. Why hadn’t you told me about this? Why are you keeping things from me?” He defended like he was gearing up for another round.
It was then my body remembered the rough day I had as exhaustion slowly caught up to me. “I’m not, Ben. I’m just worried what you might do. I know you mean well, but you have to keep your temper in check. We can’t be civil and talk like this.”
I watched as Ben’s fist clenched again, his eyebrow creased from annoyance. Before I got to see him break another thing in our apartment, I was out of the door.
This wasn’t what I thought our reunion would be like. I wished things would have gone differently.