When I finally found myself in front of April’s apartment, it was then the tears caught up to me. I felt bad for ruining April’s evening with my problems. But, as always, she was all ears. There wasn’t much to tell her about the argument that Ben and I had, though I wouldn’t classify it as an argument. He just blew up when he knew about what happened with my old job. Any boyfriend would. Though Ben was always extra.
“To tell you the truth, Zoe, I don’t completely like the guy.” April finally confessed after I pathetically told her what happened.
“What? Ben and I have been together for nearly three years, and you tell me this now.” I was appalled.
“Well, he has his strong points. He loves you, and he’s nice. But he really has a bad temper sometimes. At least, and I hope, he hasn’t actually struck you.” April stated, looking at me worriedly.
“No. Ben’s not like that. He just gets too emotional and irrational. I know he means well, but sometimes he says things he’ll regret. He does apologize for it at times. And sometimes, I do the apologizing. But, today he actually admitted he thought of me as a harlot, for the better word of it.” I grimly informed.
“And he’s an ass for saying that,” April said angrily and started soothing my back as tears started streaming down my cheeks. “You can sleep here for as long as you need, dear.”
“Thank you, April. And I’m sorry for…”
“No need to say anything, Zoe. I’ll be here if you need me.” She abruptly interjected.
Finally, I cracked a smile.
The next day I had to wake up a bit early to head back to my place and grabbed a few things. But I was hesitant to go knowing Ben would still be there. He wasn’t an early bird. However, when I sneakily entered the apartment, I heard nothing. I studied the living room and saw the broken vase from Ben’s outburst last night was cleaned up. With courage, I finally made the trip towards our bedroom. As my intuition told me, there was nobody there. Where was he?
I was able to man up and called out when I finally notice the sticky note on my vanity mirror. I got it and read through the familiar handwritten note.
I know you’ll come back since you hadn’t taken any clothes or your laptop with you. I left early to catch a flight to Los Angeles. I know it’s sudden. I was going to tell you about it last night before things went sour. But I will be back in a few days.
Let’s talk then.
I want to make it right.
I love you.
As I was processing the message he left, I jumped in surprise as my phone started ringing. I took it out with a heavy heart and check the caller ID. Seeing Rufus’s name flashing on the screen, I pushed aside my cluttered emotions and put on my mask. Here we go again.
Every day it was like an endless cycle of work, eat, sleep, and repeat. After the fiasco with Ben, April and I hadn’t met but talked on the phone. I told her about Ben’s note, which she didn’t receive well.
“He’s being a coward. Work my ass! He’s making excuses like this before. How about this time, don’t be the first to apologize? It was his fault anyway. Do you hear me, Zoe?” April preached. And she sounded pissed.
“He left me the note, April. It’s already…”
“Ah. Ah. No. Don’t say anything and let him beg and make amends. Do you hear me?” She interjected, not letting me finish my sentence.
“No, buts, do you hear me?” She commanded.
I sighed in defeat. “Okay.”
“Call me right away if he shows himself again, okay?”
“It’s for your own good, Zoe. You’re too lenient with him. Harden yourself a bit. Like what you did with Mr. Hunky?” Suddenly her good humor returned.
I nearly choked on my own saliva. “Who?”
“You know who, Zoe?”
“Right. I hear you.”
“Good, I have to go. Love you, Zoe. Stay safe.”
“Love you too.”
Other than those occasional phone conversations with my best friend, those errands and long hours on my computer seemed bearable. The week passed, still no signs of Ben, and my training drawing to a close. Then I got another formal meeting with Rufus, whom I hadn’t seen since my first day, and Julian, who hadn’t bothered me since our phone conversation. At one point, I thought the two had forgotten my presence other than the mountain of e-mails I got from Rufus the further the week got.
Once I arrived at our meeting place, which was a restaurant a few blocks away from the Grand Hotel, the maître d’ greeted me. I didn’t hesitate to give her the name under the reservation I was in, which was Julian’s. The woman gave me a quick once-over before smiling too coolly and escorted me to the reserved seat. And to my surprise, it wasn’t empty though I was early. It explained the sour look I got.
“Mr. Hawksley, you’re here early,” I remarked rather than giving him a standard greeting.
Upon seeing me, Julian stood up from his seat and smiled. “It’s nice to see you again as well, Ms. Curtis.” He greeted with his signature smug smile.
“Where’s Mr. Fletcher?” I asked while we both remained standing.
Julian gestured towards the seat across from him before he answered. I sat down the same time as he did. “Rufus would be running late. He’s busy settling things here while we will be away.”
“Away?” I inquired with alarm.
“Hasn’t he told you? We’re going back to England next week.”
“England? Wait! Next week? What am I supposed to do while you are both away?” I’m more alarmed about their absence because whether I hate this job or not, it was the only thing in my life that wasn’t complicated. And finding solutions to all of Rufus task for me was near child’s play. Without it, I’ll be forced to face reality again, which I’m not mentally capable of from how little sleep I had these past few days.
“You’ll be here, handling whatever Rufus needed you to do.” Julian’s response was so nonchalant, it makes my question sound less trivial, which was true. “Why are you troubled about this?”
“I’m not. I’m just concerned if I’m actually right for this job.” I mask my concern with a white lie.
“From what Rufus tells me, you are doing a great job already, Zoe… Ms. Curtis.” Julian quickly hid his slip with a brief cough.
“Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Hawksley,” I genuinely said, giving him a forced smile.
“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong? You looked a bit tired and drained… Have you been…?”
Julian couldn’t finish his sentence as Rufus interrupted our conversation. I was glad the man appeared so timely. From how Julian stared at me, we were treading towards uncharted waters again. And I feel too vulnerable at the moment. I might give in and start talking.
When Rufus took his seat, I’m glad there was a change of mood. Having the workaholic Rufus mediating the conversation was comforting. It kept my thoughts distracted with work. Finally, Rufus informed me about their week trip to England, which was the reason for meeting today. Julian looked sheepish when Rufus found out he spilled the beans before he told me, which was a sight to see. It made me genuinely smile seeing their interaction. And for some unknown reason, my good mood made Julian more comfortable and started directing the conversation too much lighter and personal one. However, not once Julian asked me about why I was glum. He asked me about my college background, about my family and my friend April, who was Amy’s little sister. Even Rufus joined in, and before I knew it, I was the center of their attention. It was like I was in another interview. And when Rufus concluded our conversation after he paid for the meal, which I’m sure he billed under one of Julian’s account, my guts was right.
“You’ve passed your training, Ms. Curtis. It’s been a pleasure having you work with me, and I hope you’ll continue your work as dedicated and driven as Julian’s assistant.” Rufus stated.
His last few words got me confused. Julian’s assistant? But I didn’t address his mistake. “Of course, Mr. Fletcher. I’m glad to be a part of this team. I’ll do as much as I can,” I avowed.
“I hope you’re able to keep Julian out of trouble,” he added but more softly, which I could have misheard.
Not sure what to say, I smiled and nodded. The old man looked a bit down for a moment before smiling back in reply. “Well, I’ll be sending you an e-mail pertaining about your task next week by tomorrow. I’ll leave the rest up to you.”
“Of course.” I nodded confidently.
With that, we all headed out. I watched as a luxurious looking car pulled up on cue. Julian had offered to drop me off anywhere I wanted, but I didn’t want to impose.
“Are you sure? It’s not a trouble.” Julian pressed.
“It’s okay, Mr. Hawksley,” I affirmed.
Julian lingered by the opened door for a moment, regarding my expression. “Okay. Then, I’ll see you after a week or so.”
I nodded and smiled. “Until then, Mr. Hawksley.”
He beamed and shook his head before ducking down, getting in the car. I waited by the pavement, watching the car drove towards the busy street of Chicago. One week of not seeing those two might not be bad. It wasn’t like I saw much of them throughout my week of training.
After the meeting, I decided to find other things to keep me distracted. I hadn’t heard from my family since my sudden visit last weekend. So I took a different bus route, one that led to my parent's home. When I rang the doorbell, I didn’t think they had anyone over. But to my surprise, as my father opened the door and escorted me to the living room, the family were all in attendance. Even Kathy was here with her husband, Jeremy.
“This is a full house today. I didn’t know you guys were visiting. Glad I dropped by,” I stated and headed towards my mom, who sat in the middle between my older siblings, to give her a warm hug and a light kiss on her forehead. “What’s the occasion?”
“I’m always visiting mom and dad than you two. I don’t have to explain my presence,” Mateo defended and held up his hand.
“I thought of dropping by since we had those rare occasions we’re both off duty at the hospital,” Kathy informed, but her attention quickly averted towards me. “But enough about why we’re here. Since you are here, mind telling me the details of your job as an assistant for Julian Hawksley. Have you met the man? What is he like? Do the photos give him justice?” Kathy started bombarding me question after question.
“Hold up, Kathy. Don’t you feel bad talking about another man in front of your husband? Have some shame, woman.” Mateo interjected.
“Jeremy, would you mind?” Kathy turned to her husband, and not to our surprise, batted her eyelashes with a sweet smile. The woman might have been a succubus in her previous life with how much power she held with Jeremy’s heart.
“I don’t. You’ll just do it anyways,” Jeremy lightly stated.
“Jeremy, don’t give in to this woman so easily. Have some dignity,” Mateo remarked dramatically.
“Shut up, Matt. Unlike you, Jeremy is a gentleman and an understanding husband. All you do is sleep with women and run away when one of them wanted more.” Kathy countered.
“That was one time, Kathy. And I was in freaking high school. What do you expect I would have said? We were kids caught up in the moment. Besides, she never really loved me. The moment she lost interest she started sleeping with another man.” Mateo defended, which made the atmosphere more awkward.
“Because you didn’t have the balls to screw her first. She was a bitch anyways.” Kathy commented, her eyebrow creased at the memory. “I’m glad she showed her colors. And you really have shitty taste in woman.”
Though Kathy’s words had some sibling love to it, it ever lasts. She always added a rotten comment about Mateo’s love life. But it’s nothing new between those two.
“And Jeremy should have rethink about marrying you,” Mateo grumbled, which got Kathy to throw a pillow at him.
When Mateo was about to return the favor, mom finally talked and intervene. “Okay, that’s it you two. Watch your language when you’re in my house. And by god, you’re already professionals. Act like one.”
“Sorry.” The twins said in chorus.
“Anyways, where were we, Zoey?” Kathy turned back to me, like her conversation with Mateo didn’t happen.
“What?” I pretended I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Julian Hawksley? Is the man an eye candy or not?” She pressed.
I cleared my throat and pause to create silence, making them lose interest on the topic. But Kathy wasn’t about to drop that one.
To my dismay, I replied. “Ah, yeah. He’s easy on the eyes. But his arrogance is the size of the empire state building. A compulsive flirt as well. Sometimes, I think it’s his autopilot reaction when he meets a stranger, especially female, though it’s just my opinion. However, he does have some redeeming qualities. Even I'm surprised to find them in the short span I talked and spend time with him. He was a gentleman, considerate, and very caring towards his staff, especially to his personal assistant, Mr. Fletcher. I don’t think he noticed how he looks up to him…” I trailed off when I realized no one had interrupted me as I kept on babbling.
“What?” I asked when everyone stayed silent and stared at me.
“Zoe, do you like this guy?” Mateo was the first to open his mouth, which I wish he remained close.
“What?” I stared at him in disbelief.
“Honey, you were smiling when you started talking about him. I’ve seen you have the same facial expression when you eat your favorite dessert,” mom remarked.
“Wow, that’s some analogy you have, mom. I don’t make the same expression of eating cake when I talk about Mr. Hawksley.” I defended.
“Wow! That’s the first time I heard you called your boss by their surname outside of work.” Kathy chuckled.
“It’s not the first time. I used to call my other bosses by their surname before,” I argued again.
“No. You don’t.” Kathy abruptly replied.
“You don’t, dear.” Mom second.
“Nope.” Mateo echoed.
“You called your last boss a prick.” Kathy added.
“Okay, so I addressed him by his surname. So what?” I childishly challenged.
“You don’t have to be so defensive, honey. We’re just pointing out what we hear and see,” mom lightly said.
“Right,” I muttered and turned towards the kitchen. “I’m hungry. I’ll get myself something in the fridge.”
“Are you sure it’s food you want to eat, Zoe?” Kathy slyly commented.
“Shut up, Kathy!” I warned and cussed underneath my breath before entering the kitchen.
I grabbed the first thing I see, which was a cupcake. As I savored the delicious piece of pastry, I hadn’t noticed I was no longer alone in this room.
“Yup, I see no difference,” Mateo observed with a grin.
Looking up to his smug expression, I finished the rest of the cupcake and threw the small piece of wrapper at him. And here I thought I’ll get some piece of mind at my own parent’s home, not being the center of their entertainment.