Alaine has to pry her eyes open, she is so tired. One lid strains upward reluctantly before the other. She shifts aside the curtain behind the two-seater sofa she slept on last night. It’s her new designated sleeping area for the foreseeable future unless something changes.
Her neck is aching from the awkward position she had to curl herself into to fit in the small space and her back and hip are throbbing. She whimpers, rolling onto her back, stretching stiff achy muscles, with joints that crack and pop disturbingly.
The sky is a shadowy gray, which means it must be after five in the morning. It’s later than she was expecting to wake up. With all the tiredness in her bones, it’s no wonder that she forgot to set the alarm clock last night.
Rising from her torture chamber, she peeks into her small bedroom at the glowing numbers on the bedside clock. 5:31. The numbers taunt her. She would have no time to perform her morning routine which means it would be a shitty day with a two-way commute by bus and train.
Loathe to wake her sister and the sleeping toddler beside her, she tiptoes into the small bedroom. They must be tired. A small smile tugs at her lips at the tight yellow curls appearing over the top of the blanket. That’s all that’s visible of her four-year-old niece, but it’s enough to warm her heart.
Alaine still hasn’t gotten over the fact that she has a four-year-old niece, or that her sister is a mother and back in her life after so many years of estrangement. She slinks over to the small closet, chastising herself for wasting time.
“You look nice.”
6:30. The small white clock sitting on the white vanity in the bathroom warns that she will be cutting it close.
Alaine regards her sister’s reflection in the mirror and scoffs. Even after waking from sleep, Delah looks perfect. Her complexion is clear except for the fading bruise on her left cheek and her curly hair is a glowing halo about her classic features.
"You look nice,” Alaine counters with a scowl.
She studies her own plain-Jane reflection in the mirror. She’s always thought of her looks as very generic. Except maybe her eyes. Those she’s been complimented on before, but they seem muted when compared to her sister’s brilliant blues.
“I’ve been here for the past twenty minutes,” Alaine says. “And I still look like me and I can’t get this to behave.” She points to her mass of gently waving hair. “I need to make an impression.”
Delah chuckles and comes into the small bathroom, running long fingers through her baby sister’s heavy black mane, her expression wistful. “You’ll make an impression regardless. You’re gorgeous.”
Alaine grunts in reply. She’s never compared herself to other people. People are different unless you have an identical twin. But it is confounding the stark contrasts between her sister and her. Delah’s fair head of hair to her dark. Her blue eyes to Alaine’s own gold and green coloured irises. Delah’s clear alabaster complexion to her, what? Honey hue? Then there is the height difference. Delah had won the height lottery. Meanwhile, Alaine is scraping somewhere at the bottom of the barrel. They are polar opposites in every sense of the word and it is still hard to believe they were sired by the same people. Switched at birth. One of them had to be.
“And maybe I can do something with this too,” Delah offers, running two thumbs over Alaine’s overgrown eyebrows.
During the everyday humdrum, her appearance is inconsequential. Her goal is to remain inconspicuous. But today, more is required. By some insane miracle, she has an interview with The Lucas Bright himself. How had that happened? Alaine doesn’t know and quite frankly, doesn’t care.
When his receptionist called three days ago, she’d nearly experienced heart failure. The goal is simple – Impress him enough to hire her.
She remembers him from three years ago. It's impossible to forget him and the way he eyed her up at the wedding reception. Eye fucking, she believes Bethany had called it. She certainly hasn’t forgotten the way he whistled at the rear view she’d unwittingly given him. She tries to taper her building excitement at the thought of seeing him again. But she’s not excited to see him. She’s just nervous about the interview.
If she lands a job at Bright Industry and Technology, well, she doesn’t know what would happen but it would be pretty darn awesome.
I wonder if he remembers me. Probably not. Alaine shakes her head trying to dispel the thought.“They say it’s going to rain today.” Alaine hands Delah a little black hair tie. “I need to tame this beast or I am going to look like I got electrocuted before the end of the day.”
Delah laughs again but takes the hair tie, scooting Alaine over to the stool under the sink. Alaine needs it around the apartment to make up for her height deficiency. They put it under the sink for Isabella when she needs to wash her hands or brush her teeth.
“How do I end up with all this hair I can’t manage? When it’s short it’s even worse. Who designed me?”
“I’m not sure your tie is sufficient. Alaine your hair is beautiful and thick and the blackest I have ever seen and I would know, I am a salon expert.” Delah chortles cynically. “You’re beautiful,” she adds, working the brush through the heavy strands. Wrapping the tie around, she arranges Alaine’s hair into a loose chignon with the few bobby pins she managed to scavenge out of the vanity dresser. “Why not wear some lipstick?” she asks.
“No,” Alaine responds shaking her head. “No add-ons, thanks.”
“Lip gloss then.”
Delah reaches into the drawer under the sink and pulls out a strawberry-flavoured lip gloss. “If it does rain it’s going to be cold today. Your lips will chap and bleed. I remember how sensitive you are.”
The pause that settles in the small space as they stare at each other's reflection is heavy with regret. It's mirrored in both their eyes. Even if they hadn't had the best of relationships, it's been too many years since they've seen each other. Too many years, for which they are both sorry.
Since Delah’s arrival two nights ago, there has been a myriad of emotions cycling between the two of them, but regret is the most poignant. Things could have turned out so differently for them both. Still, there was no judgment. Besides, Alaine is kind of grateful for the company. As much as she likes being by herself, sometimes it got downright lonely.
She has no time to broach an argument. With the momentary awkwardness forgotten, Delah swipes the syrupy light red strawberry-flavoured liquid over her bottom lip, then uses her pinky finger to clean the edges where it went outside the line.
“Fine,” Alaine relents. “Not too much.” She allows her sister to swipe over her top lip. Alaine turns to face herself in the mirror.
“Gorgeous.” Delah kisses her cheek.
Alaine’s reaction is a disinterested grunt. I don’t want to be gorgeous. But today she needs to be.
“Now for your eyebrows.”
“Isabella still asleep?”
Alaine follows Delah out of the bathroom, rubbing her eyebrows, still stinging after being plucked.
“Yeah, she is tapped out,” Delah replies. “I wanted to go around school hunting for her but I think I’ll just let her rest for the remainder of the week and start fresh on Monday.”
Alaine nods, regarding her sister with tenderness, noting the shadows moving across her face. “It’ll be fine Dels,” she says, trying to offer her some comfort and maybe a little hope. “New York is a big and crowded place. He won’t find you here, but if you are worried you can go to the police like I suggested.”
Delah grimaces and takes a deep breath nodding her head. “I’ll think about it.”
“I have to run, or I am going to be so late,” Alaine says picking up her rucksack. “I spoke to the landlord and his wife. They know you’re here and they are cool with it so just relax today and we will start working out the rest tomorrow.” She walks to the door.
“Thank you for taking us in, Ali.”
“I’m glad you came, Delah.”
Her haunted look doesn’t fade, but Delah smiles slightly. A quick kiss on the cheek and Alaine is out the door.
She’s fallen on a stroke of luck since landing at JFK airport four years ago, with ten thousand dollars of her mother’s guilt money in her pocket. Well, in her bank account.
Somehow she’d gotten a job at Mona’s fruits and flowers gift shop and the owner, who is now like a mother to her, set her up with this apartment in Far Rockaway.
The building belongs to Mona’s longtime friends, Mr. and Mrs. Liu. In exchange for solving their computer problems, both software and hardware at their various busniesses, they let Alaine stay there almost rent free. The only problem is that Far Rockaway is really far from everything.
This morning she has an almost hour-long commute to Manhattan and that’s if the bus and train are on time. But it is high time she engaged the real world of work. She has a college degree in software engineering and her bank account is getting to be pretty slim.
Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! And Damn it all to hell. The weather report said it would rain in the afternoon. How do they always get it wrong? As soon as she steps off the bus in lower Manhattan, thunder claps seem to split the sky open and she is drowned by an unrelenting downpour and gusty winds threaten to lift her tiny feet off the ground.
Alaine is drenched through by the time she makes it to the gallery of a small café a few feet from the bus stop. Her gimp, gained from sleeping on the couch the past two nights, hinders her escape from the rain as she limps across to shelter.
Her blazer and bag are also soaked which means the phone in her pocket and laptop in the bag will most likely be ruined. Not to mention she’s somehow lost her hair tie. She mutters unintelligibly, taking the phone out of her coat pocket to glance at the time.
A woman dressed in an expensive looking raincoat, holding a large umbrella, exits the café. Alaine is tempted to ask her to borrow one of the items, but this is New York City. Instead she pinches her nose bridge in frustration. She has ten minutes to make a block and a half dash in the blinding rain. Silently cursing her old injuries, Alaine darts across the street in the direction of the building with Bright Industry and Technology stamped in heavy, quicksilver blocks over the front door.
She climbs the steps, still pummeled by the heavy rain. Her cold fingers close around the steel handle and she tugs with immense effort to pry the great glass door open. You’d think that as a tech genius he’d have them automated.
Water drips from her hair down her body and onto the slick floor to form a puddle. In her haste to make it to the counter in the lobby, she slips, yelping lightly. The sound bounces off the walls in the large, quiet space, drawing much regrettable attention to herself. Oh no. Everybody probably thinks she is a crazy person.
If she could shrink to mouse size she’d find a hole to crawl into. Still, she approaches the daunting white counter with trepidation.
A perfectly coiffed brunette, a woman and her counterpart, a man, equally suave, raise eyebrows at her approach, confirming what she already knows. She is late and looking like this. There is no way she’s getting this job. But forfeiting without trying is not an option. Perseverance, Alaine. This is your dream.
“Good morning, I’m Alaine Knight. I have an interview with Mr. Bright today.”
“ID?” the man requests clearing his throat.
She reaches into her bag for her social security card and hands it shakily to the gentle man. He studies it and her a little too intently, causing her nervousness to escalate. It has to be because of her current state.
The AC in the room is working really well. Alaine wishes they would hurry up before she turns into a human Popsicle here in the lobby. The man hands the card back to her, this time, keeping his eyes trained on the countertop when the woman nudges him with and elbow.
“Take the first elevator on your left. It will take you directly to the top floor,” the lady tells her. “Mr. Bright said he will see you despite your tardiness.”
Hope. There is hope. Alaine smiles, accepting the visitor’s pass from perfectly manicured hands, feeling somewhat diminished when she considers her own dull and gnawed fingernails.
“It will also open the elevator doors,” the lady adds.
Alaine nods, moving along swiftly from their belittling stares.
The elevator is large and at least not so cold. She uses the quiet space to talk herself down from the nervous ledge that she is on. She’s already late and wet, so obviously she needs to impress him with her presentation. The doors open and she steps out. Another perfectly coiffed woman, this time blonde, sits at another white and even more daunting counter. She looks up at Alaine. Her eyes narrow but she stands.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, my name is Alaine Knight. I have an appointment with Mr. Bright.”
There is a pause as the woman peruses her. She smiles sweetly, though it doesn’t reach her eyes.
“You’re late,” she offers coming around the desk. “My name is Natasha, Lucas’ personal assistant. He doesn’t like tardiness. Wait here. I’ll see if he is willing to accommodate you.”
Alaine nods while her heart hammers against her chest. Lucas Bright. He and the blonde must have some kind of relationship. Alaine is left to her thoughts and nerves as the blonde slips past her with a snide sidelong glance.
“Your 8 o’clock is here, Mr. Bright.”
Lucas glances up from the tablet he is scrolling through with a stylus, though not really seeing the screen in front of him. He’s been lost in thought since his eight o’clock appointment hadn’t shown up.
He pushed back two meetings just in case she decided to make an appearance because he needs her. That sweetheart charity dinner is really busting his balls. How did he come up with this idea again?
For someone in her profession, he expects a little more professionalism. Under other circumstances, she would have been dismissed for her truancy. But she is here now. A tingle of excitement runs through him. Excitement and nervousness that he doesn’t want on displayed, so he sets his features with phony stillness.
Her cousin hadn’t offered much by way of description, other than she is beautiful, but he is a good looking chap. If the genes carry through the family, then this girl shouldn’t disappoint.
Lucas leans back in his chair. That’s his appointment’s name. He likes it. It’s pretty and seems prominent. Like it holds some value. It’s 8:18 now. But he will see her. He doesn’t have a choice.
“Show her in, Natasha.”
His assistant hesitates, looking at him confused. It’s not surprising. He’s refused seeing people for a lot less than being almost twenty minutes late. Still, it irks him that she doesn’t simply comply. “Is there anything else?” he asks, growing rapidly impatient with her.
“No sir, I will get her for you,” she mumbles softly.
Lucas sets the tablet aside as he continues to stare at his assistant. He sighs and shakes his head. She thinks she’s caught feelings. He huffs heavily. The evidence is there in her eyes. Unmistakable attraction and the hope that he might return it sparkle in their light brown depths. She’s new. She’s only been with him for four months but he would have to cycle her out if that is the case.
It’s just inconvenient timing since his company is on the cusp of a few major dealings and acquisitions. Breaking in a newbie at this time would be bothersome.
She is attractive, blonde, tall and older, the way he prefers women. More’s the pity, but never an employee. That is cause for all kinds of trouble if recent media coverage is any indication. He is a tainted soul, but one with some scruples and he’s just too smart for that.
“Then get her already,” he commands softly.
Natasha nods curtly and exits his office. He takes the time deciding what should be done concerning Natasha Ingram while he waits for his appointment to come in.
If he doesn’t address this soon, she would start imagining his interest in her went beyond a professional level and she would misinterpret every action as a nonexistent show of affection, which she would discuss with other staff. It’s happened before. He needs to remind her what this is, today. Later. Right now there is a girl outside waiting for him.
Lucas straightens, glancing at himself in the mirrored wall ahead of him, before meeting his now 8:19 appointment.
He doesn’t like tardiness, but since he doesn’t have the time to vet another participant for Saturday evening, she’ll have to do.
Alaine is still soaked through as Natasha ushers her into the office, a sight no different from the décor in the rest of the building. It is clean black and white, glass and chrome with little splashes of colour here and there. It’s all so very new age. She is cold but determined, stepping over the threshold, with butterflies at play in her stomach.
He pushes back his chair and stands. She admonishes her nerves to calm down, only the effect of looking up at his face is as instant as it had been three years ago. Cognitive function short circuits temporarily. That’s only the second time this has happened to her in her twenty-one years, both occasions involving the roguishly handsome Lucas Bright. She takes a bold step forward despite her fraying nerves and scattered equanimity, and finds her voice in greeting.
She reaches out, both surprised and impressed at her ability to stave off the nervous tremors in her voice, and outstretched hand while meeting his gray eyes. Oh my.
He narrows them at her. Alaine is not sure right now whether or not she wants him to remember her but it doesn’t seem like he does.“It’s pouring outside,” she offers meekly as an explanation for her current appearance.
“I can tell.”
His voice, rich and smooth and flat, maybe a little disinterested, bears the faintest accent. The obvious comment makes her feel stupid. His floor to ceiling windows are plate glass. Of course he knows it’s raining.
“Call me Lucas.”
His voice turns from slight annoyance to inviting like he flipped a switch. It plays like the caress of a soft breeze on wind chimes over her nerves, calming but disquieting her simultaneously.
Why would she call him Lucas?
Her nervousness is magnified now because, in the presence of this man, she knows that she must look worse than a wet cat.Secretly she loathes the receptionist for not giving her at least a minute to make herself more presentable. Hopefully, Lucas Bright is not the type of man who judges a book by its cover or how late said book is. Still she will not be deterred. Not by her appearance and certainly not by his. My God he is handsome.
Handsome devil, she remembers she thought of him all those years ago. A man’s good looks has never unsettled her so much as it does right at this moment. In the confines of his office, with just the two of them and the only distraction the pounding rain against the thick glass floor to ceiling windows, it is hard to not focus on him this time.
Still learning my way around Inkitt. If you have any advice, I am willing to hear it and have a conversation.
Again, please share the love with a comment every now and again... :) Smiling my thanks.