1: Art Deco
“This layout is all wrong,” Ruby remarked as she stepped into the dining hall of the Regency Hotel. I watched her reach up and pull off her sunglasses as I followed her. She pursed her plump lips, “First, these tables are far too close together. The wait staff will never be able to move through here without bumping into customers. Make a note of this, Noelle.” She turned when there was no response from me but grunts, seeing I had yet to actually make it into the room, “Noelle! Hurry up, we don’t have all day. This is only the first room on our list.”
“I’m coming. I’m coming...” I came through the door, huffing, arms still full of the notebooks that Ruby demanded I bring with us from the office. I dropped them down on the nearest table with a loud thump, reaching up to wipe away the sweat that had built up on my brow. It was the middle of July in the city and the cab I had gotten into, with my wonderful luck, had a broken air conditioner. I could have avoided the cab ride if Ruby hadn’t decided when we got to the car that I should run back into the office to grab the blueprint notebooks. She also, couldn’t let the driver wait the extra fifteen minutes it would have taken me to go in and come back. Apparently, that would have been rude. Thus, my sweaty cab ride.
Ruby eyed me with a slight look of disgust, which wasn’t new. We had always had that type of relationship, practically from the moment, she laid eyes on me, “You look like you’re about to have a heat stroke. Perhaps you should sit down.”
I waved off the false concern hidden beneath the not too subtle insult, “I’ll be fine. You were saying something about the tables?” I took that moment to look around the dining room. The Regency hotel was a beautiful building, a lot of the interior design was old Art Deco. It definitely fit within the period that it had been built. I had a fondness for old buildings, it was a shame that the new owner wanted to turn it into a carbon copy of another modern hotel.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing? They’re too close together.” Ruby replied as if an idiot could have figured that out, “Honestly, you wonder why my mother doesn’t give you the larger accounts.”
I gritted my teeth together, “I’ll just make a note of that.” I grabbed the pen that I had stuck in my bun, clicking it open as I reached for the appropriate notebook. This wasn’t exactly the life I had planned for myself. I had always assumed that I would inherit my father’s company when he retired, only he had never made it to retirement. His heart had given out on him at the early age of forty. After that my step-mother Josephine, a former investor in the company, seized control.
At the time, I had only been sixteen, running the company wasn’t really an option. Josephine had promised that once I finished college, got my degree, and had some experience under my belt that she would consider releasing the company into my hands. That was why I was playing the part of personal assistant to Ruby instead of actually being the interior designer and decorator I wanted to be. I was biding my time, honestly. It had only been three years since I got my degree. Three long years, mind you, but still, I had a feeling that my opportunity to be realized was fast approaching and it would make all of this, slaving away, worth it in the end.
“God, this carpeting is hideous...I feel like I am in a cheap movie theater.” Ruby mockingly gagged, “Make a note that it is to be torn out. Possibly burned.” I rolled my eyes, it wasn’t that bad. It added to the character of the room, all it need was a good cleaning and proper care but I noted the changes that she wanted to make. God, forbid I should forget to write one of her genius ideas down. I’d never hear the end of it. “We’ll replace it with a dark hardwood. Perhaps get a Persian runner for the main walkway...”
“I don’t know. I think that might make it look a little busy...if you’re going for the modern look, wouldn’t keeping things simple and clean be best?”
Ruby turned to me with pinched lips, “I’m sorry, did I ask you for your opinion?”
I tongued my cheek, trying to keep back the sharp retort that wanted to leak out, “No, but...”
“Here’s a thought, I think you should stick to what your good at, and I’ll stick to what I’m good at.” She added before I could finish formulating my polite, yet forced response. I stared her down, a part of me wanted to stab her through the eye with my pen. I could envision the moment clearly in my head, along with the satisfaction it would fill me with. Instead of acting on the violent impulse, I lowered my head and started making the note. This was my major flaw, I hated conflict. Which made standing up for myself a real issue. My desire to be kind often turned me into a welcome rug for people like Ruby and Josephine.
“The giant ceiling mirror isn’t terrible...we might be able to keep that. Get rid of all this metallic gold and it might actually look classy.” Ruby continued on as though nothing had happened, it was a talent she had picked up from her mother. She knew how to be a conniving bitch one moment and professional the next. It was hard for me to keep up at times. A real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type.
“What about my chandelier?” A deep voice interjected from behind us, startling us both out of our work.
Ruby twisted around on her heels with the grace of a dancer, face lighting up with a charming smile, “Oh, Mr. Weston, it’s a pleasure to see you again.” She moved quickly, trying to maneuver through the tight walkway to get closer to him, “Your assistant said you would be out today when she dropped off the keys with my mother.”
I stood off to the side, doing my usual of pretending to be invisible. This was obviously the new owner. He was a lot younger than I had been expecting him to be. He couldn’t be more than thirty-five. It made sense why the girls in the office seemed so fluster the day he had opened an account with us. He was very appealing. He looked like he could be an Italian mobster with his olive complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes. All he was missing was a fedora and maybe a cigar. The only problem I could see with him was that he was a little on the short side. Of course, most people were on the short side when I compared them to myself, being that I stood at five eight, which was why I rarely wore heels.
“Yes, that was the original plan, but something came up...” He replied without much inflection as his gaze trailed away from Ruby to myself. I watched as a curious smirk pulled at the left corner of his mouth, “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, yet? I’m Richard Weston.” His dark gaze wandered lazily over my body as if he were slowly undressing me in his mind.
I wasn’t sure what to do for a moment. It wasn’t that I was the shy type but I also wasn’t the type of person who often entered into conversations with strangers—correction: with strangers of the male variety who happened to be above a six on the scale of hotness. Most often those males seemed to not even know I existed. They just floated right by me, not that I blamed them. I was sitting at a heavy six, sometimes seven on the scale of hotness. So, when Mr. Weston greeted me, looking at me with what seemed like actual interest, I completely forgot how to speak.
“This is one of the girls from the company, Noelle Price.” Ruby answered for me, not missing a beat, “Since there was so much to go over I thought a little extra help would be nice.”
He held my gaze for a moment longer before turning his attention back to Ruby, “The more the merrier, as long as it gets the job done. Actually, while I have you and Miss Price here, I was thinking that you might have a look at the club that I purchased downtown. If I’m going to be shoveling out the money to make these changes, might as well do everything at once.”
“Anything you like, Mr. Weston,” Ruby answered in a dreamy voice, eyelash extensions fluttering.
“Wonderful. I’ll have my assistant forward you the address.” He gave her a courtesy smile, nodding his head as he put his hands into his pockets in an almost lazy manner. I had a feeling that Mr. Weston knew the power of his appeal and used it often to his own benefit. His dark eyes moved back to me, “So what do you think of my hotel, Miss Price? Needs a little work but your firm is known for turning trash into treasure.” I glanced toward Ruby, finding her looking to me with a fake smile plastered on her face. To anyone else, it would have seemed like we got along well but I knew how to translate. While her smile seemed encouraging, the look in her eyes said that I better watch my mouth.
I shifted my gaze awkwardly back to Mr. Weston, feeling stiff, “To be honest, I don’t think it’s trash at all. I think it’s lovely. I’m a fan of older designs, though. I think they have more character and make buildings more memorable...” I could already see from the thoughtful expression on Mr. Weston’s face that I had probably said too much. I didn’t need to look to Ruby to know she was silently cursing my existence. “Of course, I’m certain the changes that we will make for you will make it just as memorable,” I added, smiling brightly to add to the sale’s pitch.
The sound of high heels clicking against tile broke the tense silence, making me forever grateful to have the attention off of me, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Weston but Mr. Kessler is on the phone for you.” We all looked at the petite blonde standing in the entryway, glasses sliding down her nose.
“Right, must be about the final sale of my new business. Thank you, Cassandra.” He turned back us with a friendly smile, “Looks like I’ll have to excuse myself, Ladies. Cassandra, please make a note to forward the club’s address to Miss Ruby Santos.” He held Ruby’s gaze as he made the request. I could only imagine how she was melting on the inside, any girl would under that smoldering gaze.
“Of course, Mr. Weston.” The blonde replied obediently.
“It was nice to see you again, Miss Santos. And you as well Miss Price. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to discuss your fondness of my hotel in the future.” He shot me a charming smile as he turned and waltzed out of the room, guiding his assistant to follow after him.
Ruby didn’t turn to me until Mr. Weston was well out of earshot, couldn’t risk people knowing how terrible she actually was underneath all of her pretty, “Are you a complete idiot?” Her eyes flashed with her contempt, “You could have ruined everything by opening your big mouth. Honestly, Noelle...if you were running this business you would drive it straight into the ground.” My cheeks burned with embarrassment as Ruby brushed past me, strutting through the crowded walkway toward the large floor to ceiling windows.
I really wished I wasn’t so nice all the time, then maybe I could have given Ruby the earful she deserved. I had gone to school for just as long and studied the same thing. Except while Ruby had been out partying and enjoying the college life, I had been studying and working hard to prepare myself for my dream. I had sacrificed a lot of my time and energy to make sure I was ready to take over my father’s company when the time came. There was no way I would drive it into the ground.
“Noelle!” Ruby shouted my name, snapping out of my internal frustrations.
“Sorry, what were you saying?” I grabbed the notebook and pen as I navigated across the room toward her.
We spent the next three hours walking through the Regency, by the end my hand was beginning to cramp from all the notes I had taken. I was more than happy when Ruby suggested that we finish the rest of the walkthrough on Monday morning. When we got back to the office I had gotten straight to typing up the notes that I had taken, knowing that Josephine would want to look them over during the weekend to make her own suggestions and changes.
“Hey Elle, want to go out tonight?” My friend Jean whined at me as she leaned against my desk, “It’s been forever since we’ve gone out. Don’t you miss having fun?”
I smiled at her teasing, “Fun? What is this fun you speak of? I know not of it.” I glanced up from my computer to meet her blank face, clearly, she wasn’t a fan of my jokes. I let out a small sigh, turning my attention back to my computer screen “I can’t tonight. Family dinner.”
“Just send them with a cardboard cutout of your face, it’s not like they’d know the difference.” She let out a soft laugh as I kept on typing. I was almost finished, which meant I would have time to go home, feed Prince Charming, and shower before dinner.
“Seriously, I need a wing woman. I need to get laid, Elle. I have serious Vag rage. Hell, we both could use a good dicking. What’s it been? Like a hundred years since you’ve had sex? Are you sure your lady bits haven’t shriveled up and grown cobwebs?” Jean continued. I couldn’t help but blush at the crass comments she was making. I looked around, hoping no one else was listening to her dirty talk. I lifted my eyes to meet her pleading gaze, scowling. I was true though, what she had said. I hadn’t been with anyone for almost two years, and the last time I had been with someone it had been unremarkable and unmemorable.
“Noelle, can I talk to you for a moment?” Ruby poked her head out of her corner office, interrupting our conversation. I watched with silent amusement as Jean sneered in Ruby’s direction. I was happy that someone disliked my stepsister almost as much as I did.
“Be right there,” I called back, watching Ruby’s face disappear.
Jean heaved a sigh, “I don’t see why you have to answer to that bitch. You have more of a right to that position than she does. I mean this is your father’s company, making it yours if you ask me. Just cause her mommy runs the joint doesn’t mean she’s earned shit. You work harder than anyone else. That corner office should be yours...”
I shrugged my shoulders, “It’s only for a little while longer. Josephine promised that...”
“Yeah, yeah. I know what she promised...” Jean waved her hand dismissively, “You’re too nice, Elle. And way too naïve if you really think she is going to give you this company.”
I pushed up from her chair, stomach twisting at the possibility that Jean could be right. It had been a fear in the back of my mind from the beginning, but I wanted to believe in the goodness and fairness of others. Sure, Josephine had never really treated me like a daughter but she was a businesswoman. There had to be some part of her that saw it was only right that I take over the company, that it was what my father would have wanted. If there was one thing that I leaned on in moments of doubt it was that I was certain that Josephine had truly loved my father and she would want to see his only child fulfill her dreams.
“Good luck with the evil witch 2.0,” Jean commented under her breath as I brushed past her on my way to Ruby’s office.
I gave a knock on the open door before I entered, “You wanted to see me? Is it for family dinner tonight?” We had monthly scheduled family dinners. It was the one night of month that I absolutely dreaded because it usually turned into them insulting me at every turn. The only reason I still went was because some part of me believed that is what my father would have wanted. Plus, without them, despite how awful they could be, I wouldn’t have any sort of family left. Both of my parents were dead and I had been an only child until Ruby came along.
Ruby was scribbling down something on a sticky note, “Actually, there has been a change of plans. My mother suggested we check out Mr. Weston’s club tonight.”
“Tonight?” I would get to avoid family dinner but I wasn’t entirely enthused at the thought of more work after everything we had done this afternoon.
“I suggested that she give this job to you and she agreed, isn’t that great? This is a big privilege, Noelle.” She ripped the sticky note free and held it out towards me, “Don’t make me regret sticking my neck out for you.” It didn’t feel like a privilege to me. It seemed more like they had shucked this one onto my plate because they didn’t want to do it. I was always getting the things they felt was below them.
I let out a silent sigh as I walked forward, grabbing the note. I glanced down at Ruby’s horrible handwriting, trying to decipher it. I turned it around in my hand, eyes narrowing. I needed to remain positive. See this as the opportunity it could be. I was going to do my very best with this job and afterward Josephine would have to hand over the control of the company. This was my real shot to prove that I was the right girl to be in charge.
I looked up and smiled at Ruby, feeling a little more excited and energetic, “Thanks, Ruby.”
“Uh-huh.” She looked at her computer, “We’re done now. You can go.”