Never Been In Love
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That fateful afternoon, during her flight from Lucas’ apartment, a battle had ensued between Alaine’s grieving heart and woebegone mind. She'd mustered all of her might to convince herself that her actions were a mistake. She should stay with him. With Lucas is where she'd wanted to be -- where she still wants to be.
Leaving him had meant playing into Angus’ game and giving him exactly what he wants. She'd known that. Staying, however, had felt too close to playing Russian Roulette blindfolded. The problem with that had been, and still is, that it's Lucas’ life hanging in the balance. In the end, her valiant and short-lived battle with herself had been lost to love and logic.
Lucas will survive this. He has to.
Since then, however, she’s been on a hunt for any reason - anything at all - to see her leaving as a mistake. Anything that would at least warrant reopening the lines of communication with him. In that five day long struggle, her usually agile mind, had failed to imagine anything worth risking his life over.
Today, Alaine is willing to believe in divine providence. She chooses to accept this as a sign or as an answer to a silent prayer. She interprets Seth’s appearance on her doorstep this morning, and his choice of words, as an intervention on the behalf of her dying heart by a supreme being. Seth's presence provides the perfect excuse to drop her defenses -- even if it is only for a little while.
Though Seth may be ignorant of the significance and impact of that little term of endearment -- goddess -- that single word begins patch work on her bleeding heart. It tells a tale of another time in her fledgling relationship with Lucas -- a time when they'd just started testing out the waters before diving in completely.
The first time Lucas had used it to refer to her was the night that she'd given herself over to him, both body and heart. It also serves to remind her that their relationship is not over. This is merely a necessary intermission and when it's over, she has every intention of going back to him. Hence the reason, she cannot allow Lucas to do this foolish thing. If any harm comes to him, then her world will truly be over.
She takes a deep breath while her fingers move swiftly over the keys on the phone to construct a response to his message. While doing so, she reminds herself of why her actions are necessary in order to prevent herself from saying something like, I'm sorry.
I want to come home.
I love you.
Alaine: What are you doing, Lucas? Why isn’t Seth with you?
She hits sends but doesn’t know that Lucas’ heartbeat falters when his phone buzzes on the conference table in front him and he sees her name on the screen.
Thinking that he might just be seeing things -- that his foolish mind is playing tricks on him -- he stares at it for awhile and expects the image of Alaine's name to fade any second. Lucas blinks, watches again and feels his heart lurch more violently than it had the first time.
Both excitement and apprehension threaten to throw him into a tizzy while he imagines what the subject of Alaine's text could be. He's hoping for, I love you or I miss you or anything close to that. Any of those would be enough. Because it could also be a worst case scenario situation and he's in the middle of a meeting, he pushes his chair back to stand up lest the entire room stands witness to his pitiful break down.
While still staring down, in shock, at the phone, he says absently to the men and women around him, "Excuse me, I have to take this."
As he leaves the conference room, he finally opens the message. It's silly to imagine that the words he is reading mean anything other than what they say.
Who reads emotion into a text message? Lucas cautions himself.
But apparently, he does because, his heart convinces him, on the merit of those words alone, that Alaine still cares.
Would she have bothered with a reply to his text if she didn’t?
With that rationale circling around in his mind, he begins typing a response and hopes that he hadn’t hesitated too long before sending it.
Just when he's about to hit the send button, his aimless wandering feet sends him crashing into someone.
"I'm sorry," Lucas says quickly as he looks up at his victim. "What are you doing up here?" he asks when he realizes who it is.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Bright," Natasha says.
Her flustered look makes Lucas scowl. Then again, he can't remember a time when Natasha had ever not been a little piqued in his company.
"Well?" Lucas presses.
"Oh," she says. "I left a few personal items up here. I thought I would come collect them."
"Only now?" Lucas challenges. "You were transferred how long ago?"
"HR keeps me on my toes," she informs him. "It's really busy over there. I've just never found the time. Your new assistant said it was okay."
"Right," he tells her with a nod.
"I'll get out of your hair, now," she says before scurrying off.
Lucas watches her go but remembers what he'd been about to do.
Lucas: To look out for you
Again his text has no baby, nothing personal. It's just these generic words of someone who is no more than a friend.
As she reads it, Alaine has to tell herself again that it is for the best.
Alaine: And who’s looking out for you?
Lucas: Do you really care ,Ali?
Alaine: Of course, I care.
Lucas: Then why did you leave? At least give me a reason so I know what to do to fix it.
Lucas: Give me a chance to fix it and I will. Please.
Alaine: I can’t do this now, Lucas. I don’t want to cry on my first day at work. Please keep Seth with you from now on and please be safe.
Neither one of them is satisfied. They both wait to see if the other will say anything else and though they are grateful for the brief respite from the torment of being apart, somehow, it still manages to further splinter the fragments left of two broken hearts.
Like she noticed on the first day she'd stepped into the lobby at AeroTech, Alaine notes that it's nothing like Lucas' office. The environment here is far more traditional and speaks to the era that the business had been founded. That may be so, but there's something about it that she likes. Or maybe what it is, is that, she's too stoked about starting her new job.
She puts on her most professional face and walks up to the reception desk.
"Ms. Knight," the lady who she remembers had introduced herself as Lorna greets.
That's something else Alaine likes about this place. The people here are actually less uptight than the uppity Natasha she'd met at Lucas's office.
"Good morning," Alaine greets.
"Mr. Gaines is already in," the woman informs her. "He's charged himself with the responsibility of showing you around the office," she smiles warmly. "You remember where he is, right?"
"I do," she answers and accepts the company I.D as it's handed to her.
"Well that's it," Lorna tells her. "I'll be the first to officially welcome you to AeroTech. Have a great first day."
Alaine grins at her. "Thank you," she says before walking off to find her supervisor.
She finds the traditional wooden door to Ian's office standing wide open and him sitting behind his cluttered desk examining his face in a small miror.
"Good morning, sir," Alaine greets.
She watches his features brighten up as he pushes back his chair and stands up immediately all but tripping over himself.
"You're early," Ian notes.
He comes around the desk, sizing her up from head to toe with a critical eye, offers her his hand and says, "welcome to AeroTech, Ms. Knight.
Alaine gives him a light handshake but hates how his hand seems to trail along her palm as he lets go.
Telling herself that it could just be her over active imagination stimulated by her current situation, she tries to ignore it but wipes her hand discreetly over the back of her skirt.
"Shall we?" Ian asks her.
Does he always make it a point of duty to show new employees around?
She wants to ask the question. Doing so might land her in the man's bad books. On her first day? She would prefer to avoid that situation, so says nothing.
Dutifully, she steps out of the office with him and upon his urging, walks by his side.
"I don't always do this," Ian tells Alaine. "Usually, someone in HR would show you around but, I don't usually say who should be hired either," he explains. "Also HR's responsibility."
Alaine cringes. It's just as she'd feared. Maybe she had been hired because of Lucas and not of her own merit.
Sensing her discomfort, Ian rushes to put her mind at ease.
"Don't get me wrong, your resume is impressive and you are qualified to fill the position," he assures her. "I'm not merely hiring you as a favour to Lucas. Favours are always bad for business," he points out.
Alaine nods and takes a deep breath. His explanation doesn't relieve her of all her disappointment but at least she knows there is room to prove her worth.
As they walk around from one department to the next, Ian studies her. He can tell that there is something very different about Alaine compared to when he'd first met her. If his memory serves him correctly, it's something that, as a man always on the prowl, he can easily put his finger on.
Though they'd met only briefly, during that one encounter, he'd read on her the imprint of someone who had been happy and deliriously in love.
That's not the case today.
She may be putting on her best face for appearances sake and doing a good job of it but, but he can tell that she carries the weight of heartbreak with her and all the signs of a woman on the rebound. They're his favorite kind because for a man like him, with both money and looks, most times, situations like these are too easy.
His lips twitch with a little smile.
If, in fact, Lucas and her are broken up, it would be surprising. The two of them had felt like the real deal.
Bright must not be very smart, Ian thinks.
He should have had at least a little more fun with this beauty before letting her go. Since it works out well for him, he won't share with Lucas what an idiot he thinks he is.
From what he can tell, Alaine is the trifecta -- beautiful face, brilliant mind and bangable body that he can do all sorts of things with. Never mind her personality. He won't be keeping her long enough to learn anything other than those three things which he already knows about her.
He’ll bide his time, of course, before pursuing her – show her his best side, wine and dine her for a few days and then, make his move. She seems like an ornery one, like she requires patience and finesse.
Then again, she did date Lucas. So, he considers that maybe his assessment had been all wrong. Maybe she really is one of those ‘down for whatever’ girls.
Ian lags behind a little, pretending to converse with someone in accounts, so he can admire Alaine from a rear view. She isn't statuesque by any means but she fills out admirably in all the right places.
Then, she turns around and gifts him a megawatt smile.
He feels his heart stutter a bit but recovers from the shock quickly. Because he'd hate for his leering to become apparent or fall under the scrutiny of the few heads that perk up as the newest member to the tech team at AeroTech walks by, he hastens his steps to catch up to her.
Since the tech room is made up mostly of males -- the nerdish kind whom most, he assumes, have never had a relationship with anyone other than their own hands -- she is either going to be a welcomed addition or an uncomfortable distraction.
Ian clears his throat. "The final place we'll visit is the lounge and then we'll put you to work."
While they make their way back, Ian tries to pinpoint his possible competition for her attention in this pit. Then he chuckles to himself.
No one, of course.
He’s the son of the CEO and company founder, the tallest and best looking in the entire building. It’s a no brainer who would get Lucas’ left overs and that's not something that he has a problem with, at all. It just makes the chase all that much easier.
He remains uncomfortably close, leading Alaine around with his hand occasionally resting on the small of her back. If he notices that she stiffens with each light touch, he gives no indication because they persist and it takes every modicum of self-control that Alaine possesses, in her current state of despair, not to cringe at his nearness.
As they return to the starting point of their tour, she learns that her little cubicle is in direct line of sight of his office if he keeps the door open. The smile he gives her as he says, "here we are," sets her heart fluttering but with wariness.
Ian Gaines appears to be a pig and a creep of the worst kind. That realization makes Alaine even less sure about his reason for ensuring that she'd gotten this position.
At first, she'd thought he'd hired her as a favour to Lucas who is supposedly his friend. Now, she counts both these assumptions as a miscalculation. However, he will learn very quickly that she's not the type of woman easily toyed with. He'll be sorely disappointed if that's what he has in mind. With everything else she already has to deal with, warding off her supervisor's advances is an additional stressor that she doesn't need but she will lay down the law early.
“Is everything okay?” Ian asks.
His question lets Alaine know that she'd been frowning and that he'd noticed.
“You did not enjoy my tour?” he continues with a teasing smile.
Alaine holds off on telling him that she hadn't particularly appreciated his little touches and says, "I did, I'm just a little overwhelmed. But I'm grateful for this wonderful opportunity. You won't be disappointed in my work ethic or my abilities."
"Good," Ian replies.
He steps out of her way so she occupy her comfortable swiveling chair.
Alaine tests it out and smiles.
She has a job!
She looks up to see Ian still peering down at her. His attention almost makes her smile slip but she keeps it in place and she makes a mental note not to smile so often when he's around, lest he misconstrue her excitement over starting her job as an invitation for his advances.
“Well, as I said earlier, your resume speaks for itself,” Ian tells her. “Your first task is in the server room. We would like to take the system out of the dark ages but there seems to be an inertia about doing so among the stalwarts in this company. Which is why we are trying to hire fresh, young eyes who know this business. Hopefully, to bring some enlightenment. Look at the equipment, tell us what we need. Do you remember where it is?”
“I’m sure I’ll find it,” Alaine says softly.
“I’ll assign someone to go with you,” he offers.
Out of her eagerness to get started, she can't help but smile again.
Ian feels his heart respond that same way it had not too long ago. It's odd since it's been a while since a woman has exacted that kind of response from him. Not wishing to examine it or why, Ian stuffs his hands in his pockets and walks away.
A short while after he closes his door behind him, one of Alaine's new colleagues steps into her small work space.
"Greta," the girl says as she extends her hand. "Mr. Gaines asked me to show you to the server room."
"Alaine," she responds and grabs her company issued laptop, a pencil and notepad to complete the task.
They enter the server room and Alaine sets about doing exactly what her supervisor asked. She scribbles her notes for her report furiously and manages to lose her grip on her pencil in the process.
It bounces off the floor and, before she can reach for it, rolls beneath the equipment lining the wall.
"Oh shoot," she gripes.
Gingerly, in her clingy skirt, she rests her knees down and has to press her cheek to the cold floor to try to get an angle on the lost pencil. The little sucker found the smallest and tightest slot to get wedged under.
Even if she knows it's futile -- that as tiny as they are -- her hand isn't small enough to fiit, she sticks her fingers under the metal anyway.
"Darn it," she mutters.
“It’s just a pencil,” Greta says behind her.
She is right of course. It is just a pencil. There's something about losing office stationery on the first day of work that just doesn’t sit right with Alaine. It feels like a bad omen. Furthermore, she isn’t done with her inventory. She can’t make her report and recommendations if her survey isn’t complete. Hence the reason she needs the damn pencil to continue taking her notes.
As much as she dreads having to do it, she would like to hand her report over to Ian Gaines speedily as a demonstration of her seriousness about her work. Incompetence is not what she wants to display as a first impression and delaying here will do just that. Returning to the main floor to get another pencil is not an option either.
So while stretching her little fingers as much as she can, Alaine makes a few mental bullets of what needs to be done just in the event that her efforts to retrieve her pencil fails.
What she's noted, so far, are all solvable issues. She just needs some new equipment and one night and they’ll be functioning to full capacity.
Greta continues leaning against the door and popping her gum, much to Alaine’s regret and annoyance. At least now she is quiet. The girl hadn't stopped talking since they'd met. Alaine could tell from the get-go that she is one of those women who divulges any and everything to a person upon introduction.
With a sigh, she sits back on her haunches.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a pencil, would you?” she asks Greta and receives a chuckle and a shake of the head as a response.
"You could try to pull it out with your notepad or clipboard," Greta suggests.
Alaine looks at the equipment lying on the floor behind her.
"That could work," she says right as she grabs the items and gets back to work
Leaning idly against the wall, Great asks behind her, "so like, how soon after meeting someone can you tell if you're in love?"
The question hits her hard, like a well-aimed punch to the gut or face or anywhere that it would really hurt. Alaine's mind travels across time through all of her moments with Lucas. The first thing that pops into her mind as an answer is the word immediately. However, her companion seems like the type who would want details and she isn't in the mood nor the right frame of mind to offer any.
From her crouched position on the floor, Alaine hears Greta gasp. She adds dramatic to the list of things she's learned about her new friend since they'd met not too long ago
Still tackling the wayward pencil she doesn't turn around to find out the cause of Greta's theatrics.
The tall handsome man -- much handsomer than Ian Gaines -- who'd just appeared in the server room, renders Greta speechless.
He places a hand on her arm while he stares down at Alaine's backside in the air with amusement and intrigue and something far more potent in his gray eyes.
He places a finger on his lips and says to Greta, "shh."
Still stupefied by his good looks, she simply nods her head.
Then he mouths to her, "ask her again."
Greta takes a moment then asks, "so? How long?
Taking a deep breath to steady her voice Alaine replies, “I wouldn’t know Greta. I’ve never been in love.” And counts her lucky stars that her colleague has decided to embrace silence.
“Is that true, Ms. Knight? Never?
This time, it's Alaine's turn to gasp.