“You big fatty,” I lie in the moonlight on the carpet with Mr. Fox, my head by his as we gaze into each other’s eyes, “Do you even know how fast you grow? You eat all the time.”
Mr. Fox purrs loudly and reaches out a paw until it touches my cheek. I’m already giggling like an idiot. Gosh, I love him so much. He made me smile, he was so affectionate and not all cats were as affectionate as him.
“Who needs men, when I have my favourite kitten in my life –” Mr. Fox is startled, as am I, when my phone rings on the carpet by my head.
I reach for it, hands quick as lightening. A call just before the huge charity party for Theo’s return could be an emergency of some kind –
My eyes widen at the caller ID.
Thank god, it’s my best friend, Rhea.
I thought it might have been someone else...
“What’s up, homie?” I answer, grinning.
“Are you ready? I’m outside. It’s freezing, bloody Melbourne weather, oh my god, it just started to pour –”
“I can hear it –”
“Hurry up! I barely have shelter, let’s go.”
“I think I’ll just lie a little longer on the floor, thank you very much,” I whine into the phone, nerves just surfacing now under my skin. They were slowly shattering my wall of self-assurance I had built up over the last two months. It had been so long since I had felt so rattled. I knew why, however.
Theo’s return... I was so bloody nervous to see him.
“You can’t avoid your boss forever, come on, get up off the floor. You have me anyway.”
“I know... but Rhea,” I try to think of an excuse to delay it, “What if he’s a jerk to me?”
“Then ignore him and talk to me. He’ll be too busy talking and catching up with everyone anyway. Now get your ass up off that floor and come outside.”
“Heh... okay... I’m getting up.”
“Are you even dressed?”
“Yes... oh shit, I don’t have a jacket to match the dress though. I didn’t think it’d be raining tonight.”
“Do you forget we live in Melbourne, girl? This weather is as indecisive as your thoughts on your hunky boss... one moment you’re excited for his return, the next you want to avoid him at all costs. Don’t worry, it’s a quick walk, now hurry up.”
Psshhh, did I really ever call him hunky? Yeah... yeah I did.
“Alright. On my way!”
Just about as soon as I’m inside the reception hired out for this charity ball for Theo’s return, I’m literally whisked away from Rhea. I see her fade into the distance, we both lock eyes over the crowd of guests and she rolls her eyes at my look of distress.
An usher was taking her to a different table.
I felt like I was being forcibly removed from my last defence of my emotional safety. My best friend was gone, out of reach.
This was bad.
“Um, excuse me,” I try to get in front of the usher, “I thought I was on her table –”
“Last minute changes,” the usher snaps at me, he seems flustered because so many people were arriving at once.
I’m utterly confused what is going on, so I follow while I look around at how busy it has become.
Everyone had arrived about the same time, there was a huge dance floor and tables set up around the area. Chandeliers seemed to hang over every table and purple and white flowers adorned almost everything.
I try to look for Theo over the crowd but I can’t see him. I try to pull my navy blue dress down, flattening it out as I prepare for anything.
God knows, Cynthia might be here.
The end of the dress gets caught on my silver bracelets and I stop walking, trying to unhitch the dress. When the fabric comes out of a little nick, unharmed, I breathe a sigh of relief.
When I look up, my usher is gone.
“Shit...” I mutter under my breath and look around, anxious to find where he ran off too. Instead, I see myself surrounded by the richer families. They were clearly more wealthy by their designer outfits, with well-known groups sticking together. Almost every girl has a man on their arm.
Then there was me.
I feel the glances of people looking at me, alone, out of place and anxiously trying to find my usher or at least where I would most likely be seated.
Wren, you’re imagining judgement from these people. They probably just wonder what the hell you are doing, looking so confused.
I do a nervous 360 –
I do not notice the man standing behind me until I’ve literally barged into his chest.
“I’m sorry!” I squeak out, putting my hands up in surrender. My eyes finally travel to the man’s face and then blood is instantly rushing to my face, “...Theo?”
“What are you doing, Wren?” he asks me calmly.
“I don’t know where I’m sitting –my usher – I don’t –”
“He dropped you off here,” Theo’s eyes sparkle with mild amusement as he takes in my flustered stance... I still have my hands up in the air, as if to keep him away from me. I quickly drop them by my side when I figure I must look like an idiot, “You’re sitting here.”
“Oh,” I glance at the table of unfamiliar men and women. A small group, “Uh – cool. Also, welcome back, Theo.”
There is a pause, as he stares right through me, unfazed.
Was he challenging me with that look? Mocking me? Assessing me?
He turns and reaches out to my chair, pulling it out for me.
“Sit down,” he waits for me to approach.
I try to breathe normally and come forward to take my seat. As I get closer to Theo, I try to just focus on the plates and cutlery. Before I even know it, there is a warm hand on the small of my back, guiding me down as I sit.
I glance up at Theo, nervously questioning him with my gaze. For once I don’t blurt out an anxious ramble.
“A bit of guidance doesn’t hurt,” Theo says quietly to me and I instinctively know it’s only meant for my ears.
I watch him settle into his seat next to mine and I find myself glancing at everyone, wondering who they could be.
“This must be Wren,” one of the older women welcomes me, smiling. I smile back, having no idea who the heck I’m smiling too, “My name’s Joy, I’m a lecturer at Melbourne University.”
“Oh, nice to meet you,” I nod and smile and then everyone, one by one, introduces themselves as lecturers from different universities. They were representatives for the night, interested in our charity.
Once the formalities are over, the older ones talk among themselves. Which leaves Theo and I. I had spent two whole months preparing for Theo’s return. Now I had to accept that I couldn’t change who I was. In fact, doing so seemed to make me more nervous.
“Is there an issue?” Theo asks quietly and I glance up at him to see him looking down at me. Yep. He was definitely assessing me now.
“You could have told me about this. I’m not prepared,” I say it quietly back, picking up my fork and fiddling with it.
“This isn’t work, not tonight, other people are running the show. Just be yourself,” he pauses as I continue to fiddle with my fork and think... I’m imagining things. He couldn’t have said ‘just be yourself’, could he? When I had just been thinking the same thing.
You want to be yourself because you want him to like you for who you are. You don’t want to change into Cynthia. It’s not like I could ever be as graceful as her anyway. She was practically born into the modelling industry. But, why did I even care?
I realize I’m zoning out about the same time Theo leans in real close. I guess he was going to say something personal?
“Any reason why your dress and hair are both wet from the rain?” he asks it, irritated. I turn to glare at him and at the same time he has grabbed my hand which was holding the fork.
Without even having to say it, I drop the fork, knowing he wants me to relax.
“I didn’t have a coat...” I admit, while glancing at the fact Theo is holding my hand a bit longer than he should be for a professional relationship, “Theo, I better go check on my best friend,” I put on a ridiculously forced smile, “See you soon! You can tell me about your holiday – I mean, break, later. Whatever it...was,” my rambling had progressed to broken sentences.
Nope, I was outta here.
Theo raises a brow at me as he turns to face the other people at the table, I think I hear him say... “Don’t be gone long.”
But with the noise of the crowd increasing, I could put down his words to being most likely improbable. It was more likely to be my imagination.
As I get up, I scurry away into the crowd to find Rhea. She is on the opposite end of the hall, talking to people she doesn’t know. People were already loving her. Her brown Indian skin was perfect with her red lace dress.
When I finally run into her side and grab her arm, she immediately sees my panicked expression and excuses herself from the group.
“What happened?” she asks, “Was he a jerk after all?”
“No... yes... no, I bumped into him. He put his hand on me and my hand and freaking surprised me by moving me to his table. I don’t know what to do, fuck, Rhea, you got to help me,” I plead with her, “Is there a way to avoid him all night?”
“Oh my gosh, you are really into this guy, aren’t you?” she asks, seriously.
“No!” I nearly snap it at her, truly flustered, “I’m confused.”
“Oh?” Rhea grins when I just gape back at her cool, un-frazzled nonchalant responses.
“Okay, honestly, you just need to breathe. You can get through it. Go back there and kick butt,” she urges me to be on my way and I nod and smile.
I glance at Theo and...
I head to the bathroom.
I go quickly, now self-conscious about my appearance.
Lucky for me, the bathroom is empty. When I check the mirror above the marble bench I see fuzzed up straightened hair. It was slowly going curly. So much for all that hard work at home.
Other than that there are goosebumps all over my arms. When the nerves wear off, I feel cold. I stay hidden in the bathroom for quite a while before I hear a voice over the speakers.
It was starting! Whoops!
I walk quickly out of the bathroom to head towards my table with Theo once more.
“There are so many reasons we are here today,” some older guy is the M.C. to host tonight, “One of which is to welcome back the man who started this whole thing...”
Just as they are about to mention Theo, I have finally reached the table and sat down.
“I believe he’d like to say a few words.”
I watch as Theo pushes back his seat, suddenly looking over at me he has a sly look in his eye. I don’t trust that look.
Before I know it, he has snatched my hand again and makes me stand with him.
I try to pull away from him, but his grasp has tightened. There is no way I can get out of it.
He pulls me up to the stage while I pretend I know what I’m doing – by smiling.
The M.C. passes the microphone to Theo.
“Thank you everyone for being here tonight,” Theo speaks but does not let my hand go and everyone is watching closely, “As you all know it’s because of the huge success we’ve had over the last couple of months, in my absence, that we’ve been thriving. This girl beside me, I’d like to introduce you all to her. Wren, my new assistant – is the reason we’ve been taking massive leaps forward. I’ve been tracking our progress... literally everything you’ve done, has helped us grow,” Theo looks at me now and I beam with sudden unexpected joy. Being thanked I could handle, “Well done, Wren.”
Everyone applauds me and I’m dying of both an overload of happiness and shock.
“Thank you,” I whisper, as Theo hands the microphone back to the M.C. and he drags me off the stage towards our table.
Once we are seated, the M.C. announces food will be out shortly and the chatter starts up once again.
“Thank you so much,” I grin as I speak, “You didn’t have to do that. I feel pretty special after that speech. So... how was your break away from the world?”
“Just what I needed,” Theo pushes back into his chair, relaxing as he picks up a wine glass and sips it.
“Oh really?” I prod, wanting more details.
“Let’s just say... it cleared my mind. I sorted through some priorities. I know exactly what I want now,” Theo glances at me and I can’t help but smile warmly back.
I liked seeing him happy.
“Are you sure you know what you want?” I ask, not sure why I ask it, but I do anyway.
“Mmmhmm,” Theo sounds so smug, so certain, I guess that is why I was intrigued to find out more, “Crystal clear.”
“Okay,” I sit back and I do feel better.
Now I was more just hungry than anything else.
Someone eventually taps Theo on the shoulder and without further ado he is whisked away into numerous conversations throughout the night. In fact, I hardly speak to him as I speak to other people at the table. Theo ends up wandering around and only comes back to eat. Even when people are dancing, he is busy talking to everyone. As am I, people congratulate me, commenting on Theo’s obvious pride in his new assistant.
It gets me worried perhaps they were all insinuating something else. They all seemed intrigued by Theo holding my hand the whole way up there.
I didn’t really know how to answer.
I guess because it intrigued me too.
I end up having to stay really late, however. Rhea has to leave early for an early start for university tomorrow and I’m stuck behind with Theo.
I’m so tired by the end, that I just sit at our now empty table as people leave.
I rest my chin on my small bag as I snapchat Rhea ridiculous faces.
“Bye, Wren!” one lady farewells me, as do the last group of people I had met in the night, who were now also leaving.
“Bye!” as I call out, I watch Theo standing by the doors, shaking hands with some of them.
Eventually he spots me, the last one and I get up as he approaches.
“I’m so tired, but I had such a good time,” I speak up first while yawning.
“I see that. Your best friend left early,” Theo points out, “I’m not letting you walk back alone.”
“Oh shush, don’t be ridiculous –”
“It’s not happening,” Theo is final on this.
“You want to walk me back?” I ask, confused now. Is that what he meant?
“I got my car,” Theo swivels to the side and nods his head towards the exit, “Let’s go.”
I think about it for a moment and then realise I’d be stupid to pass up a free ride home.
“I wish I lived next to the beach,” I randomly blurt out as we exit the reception together.
“Why’s that?” he asks, sounding amused.
“I’d open my window and the sounds of the water would lull me to sleep every night,” I admit.
“You can experience it. My place has two bedrooms, you can sleep over and have my bed, it’s got the bigger window that I open to listen to the water. We’re not so dissimilar, are we, sweet cheeks?”
“I googled that,” I say it before I can think and I instantly regret it. I decide I may as well explain further as we stop next to his car and he opens the door for me. For the moment I stay in denial about him mentioning staying at his place.
Theo goes quiet and just gives me an amused smirk as I get in. Once he hops in the other side, I’m already blubbering again.
“Sweet cheeks. It either means, sweet girl or nice ass... um,” wow, Wren, why did you just say that? How do you make this situation less awkward now? “I don’t know why I looked it up, I guess I’ve never heard it before. But, I guess you think I’m nice or... something...”
“Hmmm, well Wren, I guess you’ll just have to deal with that endearment,” Theo starts up his engine. Did he just say what I think he did, or was I being delusional about all these semi-suggestive things he mentioned...? I choose to snuggle back into the seat and let out a long exhale, “Do you want to hear the ocean or not?”
I shrug, pursing my lips.
How did I answer this?
I didn’t want to say no.
But I should say no.
“Whatever,” I mutter, closing my droopy eyes.
“Since you’re about to fall asleep I’ll make the decision for you, sweet cheeks,” Theo smirks as he pulls out, far too pleased with himself for teasing me with the endearment. I glance over and he seems very happy but also... calculating? In general, he always had that look about him. Always the boss.
So I guess he could make the decision for me, just this once. Pssh, who was I kidding, he always liked to lead and make decisions for me.
“Which is your choice?” I ask, quietly.
“You’ll like my place.”