Please Be Okay
Warning: This chapter has two breaks in it. I hope it isn't too much for guys but it was the only way I could fix this chapter after cutting it in two. Otherwise, I would have had to remove the last part, put in the next chapter which would lead to that chapter being cut as well...You guys get it. Anywho...happy reading. Looking forward to your feedback. This is long so I'm stopping now.
The hands on the clock standing on the wall inside the conference room at the Bright Industry and Technology building couldn’t crawl any slower towards five o’ clock.
Lucas might be the only one of the group of six seated around the large, black, oval glass table who is bothered by that.
So long as his discomposure remains hidden beneath the cloak of invisibility his confidence in these types of settings provides, it’s fine. Everyone will likely assume that his obsession with the time has something to do with the other meetings he has to attend today.
To confirm that what he is looking at is indeed the correct hour, he moves his attention to the watch on his wrist and then the phone lying on the smooth surface in front of him. As with most things in his life, the timepieces are perfectly synced. It will be another hour before he can call Alaine as he promised.
Even so, the thumping in his heart becomes a little bit heavier the more he thinks about her and the closer the time edges towards five o' clock. Whether it’s from fear or eagerness Lucas doesn’t know. All he is aware of is that he wants to talk to her.
But what exactly is he going to say?
When he told Alaine he would call, he hadn’t thought of that. Since she is the first woman he’s wanted to talk to for the sole purpose of hearing her voice, he has no clue where to begin.
Should he tell her that? That he simply wants to hear her voice?
If he could steal a few minutes in between the next two meetings he’s squeezed into this slot, he could at least think of something suitable – like an appropriate greeting, perhaps.
What will she appreciate? Hi, Alaine? Hello? Not knowing what to do or say is nerve-racking. And he is distracted enough as it is.
After giving the clock on the wall another baleful glance, Lucas returns his focus to the people gathered around the table.
“Mr. Bright,” the woman sitting on the opposite end of the table addresses him. “I know we’re only a small start-up but if you look at the trends you will see that…”
“Please,” Lucas interrupts her like his mind hadn’t just sauntered down an avenue in Queens. “I have seen the trend. I’m looking at it right now. What I want to know is, if you are so certain that you are going to be the next big thing, as you said. Why sell?” he questions. “And why to me? Good business requires patience. Do you not have faith in your own product?”
“I do,” she confirms proudly. “But faith has nothing to do with the bottom line. This is why I’ve come to you. Because I’ve done my research,” she tells him. “You sold your first project. That’s how you started all this,” she explains, gesturing to the glass walls around them. “And it could not have been easy letting go of your baby. But I understand the sacrifice. I’m not looking for an early retirement fund. I’m looking to make something bigger. I know that selling to you is the right choice because as raw as my application might be at the moment, you can turn it into something bigger and better. Something I’ll be proud to say I started and I will retain that right. I won’t be silenced like you were.”
Lucas grinds his teeth in irritation. Yes, as a foolish teen, he’d made a deal where his name would not be associated with software he’d designed after selling it to a particular branch of the government but he was hardly silenced. It was a choice on both parties’ end. Obviously, if it was such a big secret, she wouldn’t know about it. Because it’s a petty argument that he hasn’t the time nor patience for, Lucas forgives the slight.
“I’m not sure where you got your information, Ms. Sanders,” he says. “But your research should have also told you that I’m not in the habit of purchasing start-ups. This preliminary information is nothing. It is no guarantee your project will be profitable in the long term and that’s what I deal in. Long term, profit, and guarantees. However,” he adds when she opens her mouth to interject. “This is not a definitive no. Lucky for you, I’m always willing to invest in young talent and I’m sure we can do better than buy your 'baby' from under you. Unfortunately, that’s all the time I have at the moment but I will be in contact,” he says dismissively, although it’s not meant to be rude. “Ms. Ingram,” he says to his administrative assistant sitting to his left. “See Ms. Sanders out.”
“What about Judah Gaines, sir?” Natasha asks calmly, despite the way her heart skips when he says her name.
“I’ll see him in my office,” Lucas directs. “That’s all,” he adds when she lingers by his side.
“You’re not the only one I’m pitching this to,” Erin Sanders announces when she stops beside his seat. “You’re only the first because I have great admiration for you and I’ve been looking forward to this meeting for almost a year.”
Glancing up at her, Lucas answers, “I appreciate the consideration. You are free to take it elsewhere,” he challenges. “I’m not trying to break your spirit, Ms. Sanders,” he assures to her crestfallen features. “Only ideas which are worthy of note make it into this room. I am willing to take a longer look but if you haven’t the patience, that’s fine.”
Pleased with the compliment and the prospect, Erin Sanders smiles before bidding him a pleasant afternoon.
Eager to knock off the next item in his calendar, Lucas turns to the head of his research department.
“I want someone on this immediately,” he directs, handing off the file. “And where are we on that server farm in the Caribbean?” he asks. “I’m talking economic and logistical viability by now. From where I’m sitting, I’m not convinced. I would hate to waste more of my time on it if it’s not.”
Noting the man’s broad response, Lucas huffs. “I work seventy-hour weeks, Mr. Sharp,” he says to the older man. “I know you can’t possibly think that I have the time for stonewalling. The next time I ask, I expect a solid answer,” he says before leaving the conference room for his rescheduled meeting with Judah Gaines in his office.
Quite uncharacteristically, in his haste to sit with the aging gentleman, Lucas forgets his phone where it is on the large, oval conference table.
Shortly before five, he notes the time on his wrist and pats his pockets. A sense of urgency to find the missing device has him rising from his seat behind his desk. He doesn’t want to delay in keeping his promise to Alaine.
“I’m sorry,” he directs to Mr. Gaines. “I just realized I left something in the conference room. Would you excuse me for a moment?”
He walks across the room, opens the door and steps right into Natasha.
Although it’s too late to save the items that go flying out of her hands, Lucas reaches out and grips her upper arms to keep her on her feet.
“Oh,” she says her face flushed. “I’m so sorry. I was...”
Dropping his hands to his side immediately when she leans into him, Lucas asks, “Are you alright? Let me help you with those,” he offers and kneels with her on the carpeted floor.
Natasha enjoys the moment of closeness. Discreetly, she inhales the smell of his cologne and whatever shampoo he’d washed his hair with this morning. Ever so often, she lifts her eyes hoping to catch his attention.
To her disappointment, Lucas sticks firmly on the task.
“I found your phone in the conference room,” she tells him but leaves out the detail that she’d tried to unlock it in the ladies’ room.
It’s one of the items that suffered from her collision with Lucas. Where it bounced away from them and landed near the wall, the phone screen lights up and buzzes his reminder to call Alaine.
Before Lucas can reach for it, Natasha’s fingers close around the device. Her eyebrows furrow as she reads the notification then involuntarily shifts her gaze to her boss.
Call my little fairy, it says.
On its own, her mind develops a picture of Alaine. But that can’t be right. Lost in her thoughts, she doesn’t notice Lucas handing her the disorganized folder. Not until he pries the phone from her tight grip.
“I was just going to find it,” he says while making the trade. “Thank you for being ever so efficient,” he adds before slipping into his office.
Both out of fear of calling her and an unwillingness to further disrupt the proceedings with Judah Gaines, Lucas decides to send Alaine a text.
Although she was hoping to hear his voice; when the phone she’s been staring at all afternoon buzzes, Alaine is just as happy with his prompt and short message that she receives.
Lucas: As I expected, Alaine, I’m still tied up. Where are you? What are you doing?
Alaine: At work. Leaving shortly. It’s been a slow and boring afternoon. No more billionaires to make it interesting. Thank God Mona came by.
Lucas: Will dropping by your apartment when I’m done lift your spirit? If you’re still okay with dinner, that is. And I’m glad your company is a forty-something female florist and not tall, blond, blue-eyed delivery guys.
Alaine: I would like that. Going to get the train. Also, ha! Do you have a secret crush on Angus?
Lucas: Who said anything about Angus? And no, Ms. Knight. I have a secret crush on you.
Lucas: I guess it’s no longer a secret.
Lucas Bright has a crush on her? Ridiculous!
It’s too absurd a thought for Alaine’s brain to even conceive it as a possibility. While her mind tries to play catch up, her heart takes off to the races, dancing excitedly in her chest.
To keep from being sucked up by a vortex of nirvana brought on by his words, she remains grounded in the reality of the situation.
He’s joking, Alaine tells herself. Of course, he’s only joking. He’s joking because of the joke she made about Angus. Is he not?
How can he not be when he’s made it so plain that he has no desire for a relationship? Why else would he say that if not for laughs?
While she holds on to that notion and the rules of their engagement, she begins typing out a message that is quickly discarded when her phone vibrates again.
I guess it’s no longer a secret.
This one makes her faintish. Her heart is too light with delirium to pump adequate blood to her brain. Alaine stares at the screen, reading each message, again and again, to search for context. It’s a little difficult to concentrate when the rest of her fights logic in favour of a fantasy.
To express her confusion, she sighs. Why would he try to complicate things?
Today, she’d finally reached a place of acceptance. A place where denying the obvious attraction between Lucas and her became silly.
That’s the reason she’d tried to kiss him back. Granted, in the face of how excitable she becomes in his presence, the experience must have been horrifying for him.
Maybe that’s why he only texted. Sidetracked from her earlier train of thought, Alaine focuses on that one.
For all her rationalizing, this seems the most plausible. She slows her steps as she walks to the little back room where Mona is happily humming a tune.
Still occupied with her deep thinking, she pauses at the entryway. If he texted instead of called because her poor excuse of a kiss sent him running for the hills, then why would he testify that he has a crush on her?
Since Mona is a woman of experience and wisdom, despite her quirkiness, she considers asking the shop’s owner for advice. Hesitant to involve more outlandish dreams than what her foolish heart is already concocting, she changes her mind.
“I’m heading out now,” she says to Mona.
“Sure thing honey,” Mona replies while she straightens from the bags of fertilizer she’s organizing against the wall. “Any plans tonight?” she asks, feigning innocence.
“I might be having dinner with Lucas,” Alaine answers honestly.
"Hmmm," Mona hums. "Oh to be young again. I’d like to say that I am a good judge of character, but I'm not,” Mona admits. "That's why I have three kids with three different fathers. I see a pretty face and I’m done for. Just keep your wits about you, hmm?”
“Sure thing,” Alaine fires back at her in a fake New York twang. “I’ll lock the front.”
“You do that,” Mona answers.
Taking her rucksack with her, Alaine walks into the oncoming twilight. It’s unusually warm for mid-February but there is not a person living in frosty conditions who would complain.
While she strolls towards the subway, her brain’s rationalizing cannot keep her feet from being swept up by a cloud. Lucas has a crush on her.
As unbelievable as she finds it and in spite of all the roadblocks she wishes to erect to keep him out, Alaine smiles up at the darkening sky.
Suddenly, she gasps.
It just occurs to her that she actually hasn’t responded to his last two messages. What must he think?
Panicked, she reaches into her phone and behaves like all the other people she’s secretly scorned for being hooked to the devices. Like them, she loses herself in her phone screen, bumping into quite a few disgruntled pedestrians moving in the opposite direction.
“Watch it, girl,” one man growls.
The threat in his tone is enough to make Alaine pause at the corner of a building to reply to the text. Sadly, before she is able to hit send, her phone makes good on the two warnings it gave her earlier that her battery was about to die.
Alaine groans and frets over how he must be feeling. Weighing her options of running back to shop to charge it quickly or proceeding on her trek home, she bites on her lower lip.
From across the street, hidden beneath the hood of a heavy parker, he watches her. The sight of her little tick is sensuous. He’s wanted to kiss those lips for the longest while but she’d awarded the prize to Lucas Bright.
It’s a lucky thing his coat is long enough to hide what he feels. before Lucas, those urges weren’t as persistent. He’d been content to just watch her, follow her, film her. Since then, those needs overrun him. If he can’t have Alaine soon, he might lose his mind. There’s no way he can trial her all the way home in this condition. No, he needs a bathroom and quick.
This disruption in the routine is the responsibility of one man.
Angus swears under his breath. And her sister.
Before they came on the scene, he would accompany Alaine home, even if she had no idea he was there. When she got inside, he would watch her. Late at night, he would climb the fire escape to admire her while she slept in her bed. On lucky nights, she wore that see-through t-shirt and he could easily relieve himself to her image.
Since her sister took over her bedroom, he has not been able to do any of those things. That contributes to his angst. He wants to get rid of them. All of them. Once he does, it will only be him and Alaine.
As she moves away from the wall, Angus enters the nearest building.
Oblivious to his eyes on her and desperate to get to her apartment to inject life into her phone, Alaine continues to the subway station with thoughts of Lucas as company.
At seven-thirty, after closing up his last transaction for the day, Lucas still doesn’t know what he should do.
Those two text messages were probably the worst things he could have said. What the devil had possessed him to not only type but proceed to send them?
In retrospect, he had wanted to kick himself for his mistake. He still does. Especially since Alaine hasn't responded. He's waited for over two hours hoping that she would. Now he is mired in self-doubt. How could he have been so stupid?
Telling her that his words are simply a jest seems even more idiotic. As much as he would like to convince his mind that his words to her were not true, he can’t lie to his heart. He does truly like when they’re together.
She has him feeling like a teenager all over again. To be completely honest, it’s not a feeling he enjoys. Those years were the last time he’d been so powerless to fight what was happening to him -- under the constant abuse of his stepfather. Because of that, he'd promised himself that no one would have that kind of authority over him again. He would never feel that way again. Impotent.
That’s the main reason for his need to control the things he can.
Alaine is a wild card. She came at him from way out of left field. It's clear that something must be done about it.
Tonight, maybe he can re-stitch the fraying ends of his command over his sensibilities.
All he has to do is ignore the hurt from her lack of response. He should go straight home.
Except, over the last few days, he's learned some things about Alaine. One of them is that she isn't cruel. Because of that, he is unable to shake the niggling sensation that something else might be at work here. Maybe something might be wrong.
Or maybe you're just making excuses to seek her out, his mind cautions. What if he does go to her apartment and she genuinely doesn't want to talk to him?
Shaking his head at himself, Lucas tries to quiet his inner voice.
When he leaves his office and gets outside to the waiting SUV, it’s with one destination in mind.
Seth couldn’t get to Alaine's apartment fast enough. Lucas skips waiting for his driver to get out to open the door for him. He dashes out into the street and is thankful that her building is a busy hub.
As soon as he gets to the gated entrance, someone steps through. Lucas hurries inside and takes the steps two at a time. On the landing, he doesn't wait to catch his breath before knocking on the door.
When it opens, he drops his eyes to the little girl staring up at him with curiosity in her glowing eyes. He frowns. At some point, he’ll have to bring it up to Alaine that a toddler shouldn’t be answering the door.
The thought slips away from him when her sister enters the living room, seeming very surprised to see him standing there.
“Mr. Bright,” she says ushering him inside. “Alaine isn’t here as yet but you are welcome to wait.”
He refuses the seat she offers, his eyebrows drawing together in thought as the hairs at the back of his neck stand on end.
“That’s odd,” Lucas tells her. “She told me at five she was going home. You wouldn’t happen to know if she stopped along the way,” he questions while glancing at his watch. She’s two hours late.
Delah shrugs her response. The careless action rubs Lucas the wrong way and another tingle runs up his spine.
“I will try to get a hold of her,” he says while walking to the door. “But if she does show up after I leave, can you ask her to call me?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Bright,” she replies, walking him to the door. “Say bye to the nice man Izzy,” she adds with a chirpy voice that grates Lucas just a little more.
He can’t understand what she’s so jovial about when he just announced that her little sister is missing. Already on his phone, Lucas waves to the little girl.
Trying Alaine’s number fails. Every time he calls, he has the pleasure of being greeted by her automated voice message. Making a note to scold her personally about neglecting her phone, Lucas hustles back into the chilly air.
At his last attempt to reach her, he finally decides to leave a message. "Ms. Knight, this is the fifth time I've called you in less than so many minutes," he says, his voice registering his agitation. “Please,” he adds, his tone gentler. “Put me out of my misery and let me know where you are.”
“She tossed you out?” Seth rolls down the window to ask as Lucas approaches the SUV.
Too lost in thought to be perturbed by his informality, Lucas lets it slide. “I’m aware that you and Alaine are not close, but is there anywhere she would go after work?” he questions.
“Aside from you, Alaine is the most asocial person I know,” Seth admits. “It’s home to work and work to home, always.”
“Then why isn’t she here as yet?” Lucas asks. “Take me back to the flower shop,” he orders.
Each mile that brings them closer, the dread rolling in Lucas’ stomach intensifies. The little furtive, worried glances that Seth sneaks in his direction through the rearview mirror does nothing to help although he tries his best to ignore them.
If there is nothing wrong with Alaine when he finds her, she is going to be on the receiving end of a serious sit-down. If her sudden absence is over his texts then he will just let her know that the message has been received. Clearly.
But what if something is wrong? Fear licks at his spine when he tries Alaine’s number again.
“Please, be okay,” Lucas whispers to the darkness that’s descended over the city.