Elegant Deception

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I was muddled with two contradicting emotions. It was a cliche competing sides between my heart and mind. Most main character of a romantic movie goes through a lot of challenges in order for them to find an answer to that dilemma. This wasn't that. However, I found a foolproof method to get the answer I wanted.

Firstly, I had to come to terms with my real intentions. What do I really want out of this relationship? Secondly, I had to take control of how to act after making a decision. If I don’t, what was the point of making that promise to myself? And lastly, I had to see it through the end.

A romantic relationship wasn’t something I wanted right now. And I’ve said this many times over. It hasn’t changed still.

By Friday, per Zoey’s intuition, word got around about Dean and me. And she was right. I hadn’t cared what they thought about us. Though it was a different thing when people actually talked about it in front of you. When Sean arrived for his shift, Greg didn’t hesitate to let know about the office gossip. For once, I wasn’t the one dishing the news instead I was the news.

“What’s this? Is it true, Amy?” Sean asked when Greg finished doing his brief recap of everything that happened since Tuesday.

I glanced away from my computer monitor and peered at the two. Sean was grinning from ear to ear, and Greg's mischievous smirk wasn’t making it easier for me to ease up the spotlight.

I sighed in defeat. “Yes. It’s true, though Greg is wrong about the dating thing. We’re just friend.”

Greg snorted while Sean arched his eyebrow. “Really? Friends?” Greg's condescending tone annoyed me.

“Yes, Greg. We’re just friends.”

Thankfully, when we're discussing these, Dean wasn’t in the reception with us. He and Albert were out with Julian for a business meeting. Greg was tasked to stay with Zoey.

“Sean, do you believe what she’s saying if you have seen what I saw these past few days?” Greg argued.

“I don’t know, Greg. I have to see it for myself.” Sean said.

I bit my lips to hide my grin on this victory.

Greg dropped the topic when I diverted Sean with more desk work.

For the rest of the afternoon, I had a brief meeting with Zoey in regards to the office lease list. She was quick to inform the secretarial staff about screening the offices. So, we were to halt the search while she focused on the list. Although I didn’t expect she’ll appoint me as head of operations and tasked to do the leg work.

“I know I’m asking you isn’t in your job description. If there was a way for me to walk out in public without paparazzi lurking and crowding everywhere I go, I would do this,” she said.

I held up my hand and stopped her there. “It’s okay, Zoey. I’m happy to help. And besides, it’s been a while since I walked around the city.”

Zoey laughed. “It’s not a rewarding task, Amy. I suggest that you wear flats for this... I’ve done this before when I was training for this job.”

“Don’t worry about me, Zoe. I’ll handle this and get back to you after reviewing these places.”

“I trust your judgment, Amy.”

“Thank you, Zoey.” I smiled. “Then, I’ll head back to my desk and contact the realtor to view two offices today that are close by.”

“Of course.” She nodded and got up as I did. “Just call if you need anything, okay?”

“I will.”

When I returned to my desk, I easily reached the real estate agent for the office leases within a good five-block radius from the office. Zoey listed two that she found acceptable.

After that phone call with the agent, I turned over to Sean the remaining task for the day while I waited for the real estate agent’s call. Not half an hour later, I made my way down the lobby. It was easy to pinpoint who I was meeting from how fidgety the person looked.

The petite brunette met my gaze and somehow too the chance and guessed I was who she’s meeting.

“Are you Amy from Hawksley Holding?” She asked.

I smiled and held out my hand to her. “Yes, I am. And you are?”

“I’m Trish Harrison, from D&D Real Estate.” She shook my hand. “Are we just looking at the option today, or would you like to check more if we still have time?”

I check my wristwatch. It was mid-afternoon. We have the time to finish viewing all of the locations and it’ll still be bright out.

“Let’s see if the sun is still out by the time we’ve check these two locations,” I replied.

She smiled and nodded. “Okay. Then, let’s start walking to the first place on the list and make the most of our time.”

It was a good ten-minute walk to the first office lease. On the way there, she started idly chit-chatting about me. At first, she was inquiring about my job, but then her question started getting closer and closer towards about Julian and Zoey. Thankfully, before it got to the intrusive questions, we’ve arrived at our destination.

She reverted back to talking only about business as we stepped inside the empty office space. After she did her piece on selling the place, there was a brief moment of silence before she finally asked. And I expected it.

“I’m sorry. But can I ask? What kind of people are they?” Trish said.

I pretend not to know what she was talking about. “Who?”

“Julian Hawksley and his girlfriend.”

I kept my cool and kept a straight face. “They’re lovely people.”

“But what are they really like? And is it true about that incident with the paparazzi? That must have been troublesome.”

“It was. But I wasn’t there and witnessed it happened.”

“That was really awful. I mean, don’t these people have manners.” She said in disdain. “And, what does Julian Hawksley look like? Does the photos of him do him justice?” She grinned and asked with more interest.

I bit my lip, trying not to smile. I get this question a lot through the years since I worked under Julian. Yet it stopped after I returned to Chicago and got the position as a head receptionist. Though I still entertained a lot of strangers with an eye of interest about the Hawksley family, the feeling of being behind the desk and at the office where a good mood breaker for them to not initiate that conversation.

So hearing it again was nostalgic.

“Yes, it does him justice.”

We didn’t stay long on the first location and headed to the next. I noted my pro’s and con’s for Zoey to read later.

On the second location, it had a better impression for me, however, it didn’t feel right for me. We still have more time so I asked Trisha to show me another location.

On the way there, noticing the familiar scenery, I felt my stomach churn. When I finally saw the office building, I knew my gut feeling was right. I nearly halted on my tracked as Trisha gestured towards the main lobby.

“This is a lovely building as well,” she said. “I know this from the first experience since my fiance used to work here.”

“And does it fit the criteria?” I asked, not letting my gut feelings get the better of me.

“Yes. It had everything you needed in terms of security and office size. Also, there’s an office here that’ll be on lease soon - by the end of the month, to be precise. And it’s on a higher floor, with its own key card security. They can also add more to best fit your needs as well.” Trisha informed.

“Can we view that office while it’s still leased?”

Trisha perked up even more when she saw my interest in it. “Yes. I will make it happen.”

She didn’t hesitate and walked up towards the receptionist in the lobby while pulling out her phone to make a call. When we got a go signal from the lobby security with a visitor pass in hand, I was thoroughly impressed with Trisha’s capabilities.

Since the office was still leased, it took another couple of minutes before we actually got in. And Trisha was right, the security was great. Plus, it had a better reception area and even it’s own security desk - I smiled while I imagined Albert and Greg finally got a proper work desk.

The inside open work area, lightly tinted conference rooms and offices had a near identical setting as our current office. If we were to take this office, in terms of the work environment, I felt a little change and vibe from it. It’s like an upgrade of what we have now.

“So, what do you think? Isn’t it great?” Trisha after our brief tour and exited the office. “If you wanted a similar office look, this is one of the closest ones I know that had high standard security.”

“Yes, it is. Thank you. I’ll take note of it.” I replied. “Do we still have another one that we can look that’s close by?”

“Yes. There’s one about four blocks from here. Are you’re up for the walk?” She asked.

“That would be great.” I peered down on my wristwatch again. “We have some more time.”

Trisha was walking in front of me once we reached the lobby. So it took me a second too late to notice who was approaching us. Trisha was waving enthusiastically. She briefly turned to excuse herself. I stopped in my tracks as I saw who was waving back at her.

“Honey, what are you doing here?” Trisha asked after giving the man a brief hug.

“I have a meeting here with one of our branch offices.” He replied before his eyes peered over in my location. Like me, it took him a second to realize who I am. His eyes widened in surprise once our eyes met. “Why...?” He trailed off as I approached the two.

Trisha hadn’t noticed his expression and quickly introduced us. “I’m sorry. Ms. Amy, this is my fiance, Flynn Stanton. He’s the one I told you about that used to work here.”

I hold out my hand towards him with a forced smile. “Mr. Stanton, it’s nice to meet you.”

It took a moment for him to compose himself. By the time Trisha turned back to check him, Flynn recovered and put on a farce. His smile was devoid of emotions. It didn’t even reach his eyes.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Ms. Amy.” He grabbed my hand and briefly shook it. Before he let go, he gave my hand a little squeeze. Without missing a beat, he let go and asked. “Are you here for something that I can be of use?”

My cheeks slightly ached from keeping the smile on my face. “We’re fine, Mr. Stanton. Your lovely fiance is very capable. I’m safe in her hands.”

“Well, if you need anything...” he offered again, but I cut him off.

“We’re fine, Mr. Stanton. We were just on our way to another place.”

He nodded and turned to Trisha. He leaned down close to her ear. “I’ll be home early today. I’ll text you and see if we can dine out today.”

Trisha grinned before lightly kissing him on his cheeks. “Good. I'm craving for some Chinese food today.”

Flynn kissed her forehead before excusing himself and made his way towards the elevator. Trisha looked sheepish when she realized about the public display of affection.

“I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Where are we?” She paused and snapped her fingers in realization. “Yes, let’s go and check the last office.”

I smiled and gestured for her to lead the way. Thankfully, she felt a bit embarrassed to continue our idle chat. So I was left with my thoughts. And all I could think about was that exchange a minute ago. How we pretended to be strangers and looked surprised for my disregard of our past. Though, I’m as guilty as he was.

I won’t allow this incident to cloud my judgment until I’ve finished my work today. To my luck, it was a quick trip around the last office lease. Yet it wasn’t as great as the last office. And noted as I did. After we finished, Trisha and I went our separate ways.

It was a good seven or so blocks away, I knew I needed to pace in order to think clearly. Since I was too absorbed with my thoughts, it took me a moment to realize I was walking back to where he was. I was about to turn back or find a different route. Then I saw him walking out of the building. Like I called him, he turned and met my gaze.

Once our eyes locked, a bubbling feeling of familiarity, frustration, and despair washed over me. I didn’t let it get to me. I walked away and found a quick escape. But as I turned, I heard his voice muffled by the passing cars.

“Amy! Hey! Wait!”

I tried to let his voice get drowned out by the sound. And that only made him call out louder.

“Amy! Please!”

I stopped in my tracks and turned. “What?” As I’ve guessed, he was a couple of paces away from me.

The bustling sidewalk of downtown Chicago didn’t stop a beat at our confrontation. There was a brief stray glance in our way, but they carry on as nothing happened. When he hadn’t continued, I prompted to turn away again.

“No, wait. Can we talk, please?” He finally asked.

“Sure,” I gestured him to continue. “Talk.”

He looked a bit uncomfortable. “Please. Not here.”

“I’d rather be around people when we talk, Flynn.” I clenched my hand as my nerves slowly bubbled up in my chest.

He considered my offer for a moment. “Then, how about we talked at the coffee shop over there?” He pointed at the shop across the street.

I briefly assess and regarded it as a safe place to talk. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Once we reached the shop, Flynn offered to get coffee but I wasn’t in the mood at all. Though I knew he was only offering to stall me, which was unsettling. Why did he felt he wanted to stall this conversation?

About five years ago, we said that we wanted to say to each other before I moved out of our shared apartment. Five years ago, he told me what we have no longer mattered, and I agreed. That day, I made up my mind not to be in a long-standing relationship with anyone until I’ve settled down professionally. Even after that, I knew I didn't trust anyone enough to give them a chance. It was more than our professional lives that created a rift in our relationship. It was us. We created that rift.

After Flynn got his cup of coffee, he joined me by the window seat close to the door. It was a strategic place to sit if I wanted to get away quickly from this conversation.

“How have you been, Amy?” He asked as he sat down.

I rolled my eyes. “Let’s go straight to your point, Flynn. What is it that you want to talk to me?”

He sighed and shook his head. “You haven’t changed, I see. Still the same ‘direct-to-the-point, no-bullshit’ person I once knew.”

I pursed my lips. “Yeah, thanks for that compliment,” I said sarcastically. “And congratulations, by the way, your fiance just told me you’re getting married.”

He arched his eyebrow at my tone. “You don’t have to be condescending about it.” He sighed. “Well, anyways, thank you. And I’m sorry about Trish, she doesn’t...”

“I know. You haven’t told her about me.” I interjected.

“I’m sorry.”

“What’s to be sorry about? That’s none of my business.”

“Right. Of course, it wasn’t.” He took a brief sip of his drink. “But I want to defend myself why she doesn’t know about you.”

I sighed. “As I’ve said, it really isn’t my business.”

“I know. But I want my conscience cleared.” He argued.

“Okay. Okay.” I sighed in defeat. “Why didn’t you tell her about me?”

He bit his lips to hide his amusement, yet quickly composed himself. “I didn’t tell Trisha about you for two things. One, she knew that I was in a long relationship but not gotten engaged.”

Then I got it. “So this isn’t about us being together, but about the one-week engagement that ended quickly before we even started formally celebrating.”

“Which connects with the second, she’s not comfortable - more like aggressively against it - with a man who was engaged. To her, that’s more or less married. She has a twisted logic about that,” he said in defeat.

“It’s a bit out there, but I get her worry. But did you at least try and explain it to her?”

“I vaguely did, but she’s not very forgiving about it. And I love this girl.” His admission brought a dead silence in our conversation. He did recover, yet the tension was still there. “So, are we good?”

I regarded him for a second and asked. “Does she know that I’m the girl you dated before her?”

“Uhm... no. She wasn’t interested to know your name, and preferred it that way,” he said. “She’s her own character, really. If you get to know her...” He started gushing about her, but I stopped him.

“I don’t want to know nor I cared enough to know, Flynn.” I grabbed my pursed and stood up. “Well, I think you’ve said what you wanted to say and I see there’s no need for me to stay long.”

“What?” Flynn stood up as well. “You’re going... but isn’t it time for you to get out of work?”

“It is. However, I still need to drop by the office to get a few things.”

“Then, how about we grabbed something to eat and catch up a bit more? We haven’t talked for long since...” he trailed off as he was about to mention the break-up.

It’s great to see it wasn’t only me who was bothered by it after all these years. The circumstance of our break-up, no matter how long ago it was, was unsettling. Though we had cleared all bad blood we had, it still felt there was unfinished business between us - no matter how long ago it was. He was something from my past I may have regretted not fixing.

But that was then, and this was now. There’s no point brooding about it.

And I see it now.

“Flynn, I think it’s better this would be the last time we’ll meet in a formal setting. It’s best we left as acquaintances or strangers, whatever makes you feel better. There’s nothing more for us to talk. And I’m sure we agree that we don’t want each other to be apart of our lives from this point on.”

“Amy, I don’t think...”

“Don’t lie to me, Flynn.” I interjected.

He sighed. “Yes. I agree.”

I held out my hand to him as my last and final goodbye. He gripped my hand and shook it. He squeezed it before letting go.

“Then, I’ll see you when I see you, Amy.” He said.

“See you, Flynn.”

I didn’t turn back as I walked out of the coffee shop and strode in the direction of my office. For once in the last five years, his existence didn’t left an urge for me to go back to him. In that instance, time had caught up and heal what wounds that was left. Now, my heart was free.

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