Elegant Deception

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Eight

I tried to be nonchalant, but that’s not happening with our history.

“I heard you’re back from England. How long as it been? Two years?” he pointed as he approached the reception counter. “Yet you didn’t even drop by at least once to say hi.”

I scoffed. “Let’s not point fingers here, Steve. You know that’s not happening after what happened…” I trailed off, unsure how to plainly say it. ’After he and I broke up’, how do I say that without flinching.

I hastily shifted the conversation. Not liking where it was going. “Anyways, I wasn’t sure it was you on this list. Why are you looking for another job when you’ve already got one?”

“As I’ve said to my co-worker…well, ex-co-worker as he put it, I’m looking for a better opportunity in the city. You know me,” he replied. His coy smile still in place.

“Well, good for you to still be so positive and motivated.” I stood up and walked around to give him a proper greeting.

He hugged me briefly before leaning away. “How are you? Really?

My smile faltered a bit. “Well, I’m fine. You know. Same as usual.”

Steve realized his honest mistake. “Right. Sorry. I didn’t mean to open up any dark past.”

I chuckled in dry humor while returning to my seat.

“No. I’m fine. I just don’t want to discuss that past. I’m happy where I am now. It’s all good.” I firmly stated, but somehow my words sounded off. I saved face by changing the topic. “And you? How are you doing?”

He didn’t notice my brief stumble. “As you’ve heard, I’ve made junior partner at the firm I’m working,” he replied.

“Is this the same firm you worked for before?”

“Yes. Same place.”

“That’s good news. Congratulations.” I genuinely felt happy for my old friend.

“Yeah, well, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, as you’ve witnessed. Looks like this is my chance to have a better work scene. My firm had been sucking the life out of me. Even my ex-girlfriend told me so.”

“Ex-girlfriend? Do you mean Hollie?”

He gave me a sad smile. “We’ve broken up half a year ago.”

“After dating for two years? I’m sorry to hear that… but wow, I’m happy that you were actually in a long term relationship.” I said in a lighter note, feeling a slight tension.

“What do you mean? I’ve had long term relationships before I met Hollie…I think.” He pointed out confidently but fell short. He knows he hadn’t, and I knew as well.

I snorted. “Oh please. I know you, Steve.”

“Well, as usual, nothing gets past you.” He chuckled.

We chatted a bit more but I had to excuse myself and returned to work. From the stare we’re getting from his fellow applicants, they weren’t happy to see that one of them knew someone in the company.

The remaining six candidates, who all arrived on time, didn’t have to wait long. Julian and Zoey arrived half an hour later, looking stressed from the events that raveled downstairs. I couldn’t blame them. From Kyla’s narration this morning, it wasn’t like the usual commotion these paparazzi had done over the year.

Albert’s comment made it clear as he approached me. “I’ve advised Mr. Hawksley to hire temporary added security. This was beyond my expectation.”

Greg closely followed and nodded in agreement. “Thank god the building security were cooperative this time. It’s insane.” He sighed heavily before taking one of the empty chairs beside me.

Albert walked back to where Julian and Zoey greeted the applicants. When Zoey approached us, he didn’t move an inch and waited for Julian, who stayed a bit longer.

Zoey briefly paused by my desk. “Amy, thank you so much for handling everything here. But I’ll need a few more minutes to get Julian’s office ready for the interview. Can you look after them for another few minutes?”

I warmly replied, “Of course, Zoey. I’m glad to help if there’s any more than you need.” I offered.

“That will be all for now. Thank you again, Amy.”

“My pleasure.”

With that, she hastily excused herself and left.

Upon a bit more observation, Julian looked unaffected by the conflict this morning. He was all smiles as he apologized and chatted with the applicants. He also managed to keep a straight face as he finally broke away and paused briefly by my desk.

“Thank you for handling everything here in the office,” Julian said.

“It was nothing, Mr. Hawksley. All in the day’s work.” I kindly replied.

“Also, can I ask? Where’s...?” From the look he had, and a complete lack of attendance by one man, I knew who he was asking.

“Oh! Sorry about Mr. Baron. He wasn’t really up to the task today when he heard he had to wait a couple more minutes. So he let himself out. I tried to work it out to the best of my ability to make him comfortable. But he was a lost cause.” I informed while trying not to smile remembering the incident.

But Julian didn’t hold himself back. He said while muffling his chuckles, “I heard a couple of rumors about him. Thought I’d like to see it myself, but good thing I get one less person to interview. Well, send them in once Zoey’s ready. I think she’ll call you.”

“Got it. Also, please let her know to ease up today. I’ll help any way I can.” I affirmed.

That got me one of Julian’s rare genuine smile - that Zoey always tells April about.

“Thank you, Amy. I’m glad you’re still here with us. You know, I’ve always thought that Rufus and you were a package deal. I haven’t said this before, but thank you for staying.” It was a rare compliment from Julian.

I tried to hide my expression by clearing my throat and changing the subject. “Thank you, Mr. Hawksley... Also, I think it’s about time you go inside. I’m sure Zoey’s waiting patiently for you.”

Julian nodded and thanked me once again.

Beside me, Greg was all smile. He eavesdropped on our conversation. Albert settled himself by the small security booth beside the elevator, which was a rare sight.

“I don’t know how you’re not charmed by that, Amy. Not even a small blush or fidgeting.” Greg lightly teased. “The boss is such a charmer, even though he already has Zoey.”

“Well, I’m grateful for Mr. Hawksley’s compliment. But he’s not my type.” I blatantly informed.

Greg scoffed at my response. “You have a type?” He turned to Albert. “Did you hear that Albert? Amy has a type.”

“I heard her,” Albert said comically.

“Does your type have anything to do with that bartender from your birthday party last Saturday?” He teased. His eyebrow wiggling suggestively.

I kept my expression passive at that. There was someone in the room who might be interested to hear more. My eyes briefly peered at Steve’s direction, and my gut was right. He was grinning from ear to ear.

“No. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I quickly shut that topic down before he started raising questions like Rhea did this morning.

Greg chuckled at my obvious ploy and kindly changed the topic for my sake. “Well, since you’re not in the mood to talk about that, how about telling more detail about that Mr. Baron guy? I know you did something, Amy.”

“Well, that was partially my fault.” Steve finally interjected.

Since we were technically speaking out loud, plus he was an old acquaintance, it didn’t seem too intrusive how he interrupted- for me. But Greg and Albert seemed off when they glanced at Steve.

“Pardon?” Greg asked.

“I was partially the reason why Mr. Baron left, which why we are one person short.” Steve replied casually and gestured to his fellow applicant, who didn’t seem to want to be a part of this conversation.

Greg was about to say something I know might be rude, so I got up and hastily introduced Steve to the two.

“I’m sorry about his manners.” I coyly smirked at Steve, who was looking at me innocently. “That’s Mr. Steve Crawford. He’s an old acquaintance of mine.”

“Really, Amy? I still think we’re friends.” He remarked playfully, looking a bit hurt.

I bit my lips to hide my smile. “In the divorce Steve, you sided with the other team. So you’re being moved to the acquaintance list.” I said a bit too callous.

He feigned a dissatisfied gasp. “That’s harsh.”

This time I couldn’t hold back my smile. “I’m sorry. But I’m open to making friends again.” I offered.

“How about getting a few good words for me to the big boss?” He said. He looked unafraid if his own competitions have heard him loud and clear. But that’s who Steve had been. And I’m happy to see he was still the same man that I knew.

“You don’t need me to give you luck, Steve. You’ll do fine, as always.” I stated. Not bothered as well.

Steve beamed triumphantly. “You heard it, people. Lady luck just gave me her blessing.”

Beside me, Greg kept on peering between Steve and me like he’s trying to piece something that wasn’t there. I not going to fuel whatever delusion he’d concluded through that exchange. Thankfully, we were cut short when Zoey ring me up to escort the applicant inside an available conference room beside Julian’s office, then ushered the first interviewee to his office.

When I got back to the reception area, Albert had transferred and sat by his usual seat beside Greg.

“So, tell us, what’s the story with you and that Steve guy?” Greg asked not a moment longer before I settled back on my seat.

“He’s an old acquaintance, as I’ve said,” I replied.

“Really? Because from that exchange, there seem to be a bit more between you two...” he trailed off.

Albert hadn’t said anything yet, but I knew he wanted to know as well. If I’ll skirt around this topic, he’ll start asking too.

“Okay, fine.” I sighed in defeat. “Steve was - well - still is my ex-boyfriend’s best friend.” I finally admitted.

“And you got together after you broke up with your ex?” Greg pressed further, which now just him teasing me.

I rolled my eyes at his question. “No, Greg. I don’t do that to people. Steve was just a close guy friend while I was dating his best friend.”

Greg snapped his fingers in dramatic displeasure. “Damn! And I thought this will be it. Then, it’s just the bartender from your birthday last Saturday that’s left.” He playfully said.

I groaned. I didn’t know he’ll bring it up again. “Can we not talk about that? In truth, I hardly even remember what happened that night.” I partially admitted.

Greg laughed at my reply. “Do you know why people didn’t walk up and bother you while you hang out at the bar last Saturday night?”

I arched my eyebrow. “Was there a reason to that? Rhea told me that my sister kept people away.”

Greg chuckled. “It’s true. She didn’t want anyone to bother you flirting with the bartender.”

I looked at him in disbelief. “I did not flirt.”

Now, it was his turn to be condescending. “Right. Whatever you say. It was pretty clear what you were doing. And everyone in that party knows it.”

I groaned. “Can we leave it at that? Let’s stop talking about my nonexistent dating life.”

“Whatever you say, Amy.”

I knew I would be teased today. These two were there to witness one of my embarrassing – and regrettably – a poor choice in life. However, they knew when to stop – for now. Once my partner in crime, Sean, had arrived for his afternoon shift, the teasing resumed. No surprise there either.

“So, any word from your mystery man?” Sean asked as I was about to finish my morning task before lunch.

Before I got to say anything to keep them from talking about it, Greg interjected with a sly smirk. “Sean, we just found a new candidate today. One of the people Mr. Hawksley’s interviewing for a job was an old acquaintance of hers – per her excuse. If you see them this morning, I know you’d pick up the vibe. There was something there.”

“What? Another guy? Wow! Amy Nolan, on a roll, as she just turned thirty. You’re not wasting time anymore, I see.” Sean grinned coyly.

I groaned in disbelief. And thankfully, Albert wasn’t in the mood to join in today… well, that’s what I thought.

“She was beaming too. Don’t forget that. And they openly flirted as well, saying she’s his lucky charm,” Albert added. His serious and monotonous tone wasn’t helping my case either. It only made it true.

“Oh my gosh.” I huffed dejectedly and stood up. “I can’t believe your siding with them this time, Albert.”

“I’m just telling the truth as is, Amy.” He admitted innocently.

Now, I’m the one who looked prude for making that comment about him.

“I’m going to say it one last time. The bartender was nobody and nothing actually happened. And Steve is just a friend. It’s not happening.” I stated sternly.

Fate may have been listening to our conversation because, suddenly, Steve walked out. Counting the candidates exiting the office one after the other for the past hour or two, I guessed Steve was the last to go.

He stopped by the reception, studying our slightly cramped work station. Sean quickly noticed and stared back, waiting for him to say something to us.

“Amy, when’s your lunch break? Would you like to eat out and continue catching up?” Steve asked confidently. Not ashamed of the bystander listening intently.

“Steve, I’m not yet on my break,” I replied calmly.

Now, I could feel the piercing gaze off my co-workers.

“Well, I can wait. I don’t have to get back to my office until two in the afternoon.” He informed.

It was then Sean interjected. “Hi! I’m Sean, Amy’s fellow receptionist.” He held out his hand.

Steve briefly shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Sean.”

“Likewise.” Sean smiled and let go. “You can take Amy out of our hands. I’m here so it’s fine for her to take an early lunch break.”

I turned and glared at Sean. Then mouthed, ‘What are you doing?’

He smirked and lightly nudged me in Steve’s direction. “You can go, Amy. We’ll be fine.”

“What...” I trailed off as Steve called my attention. “Amy?”

I turned and gave him a feigned smile. “Well, it seems as I can go now.” I then turned to Sean, trying to turn back the tides in my direction. “But, are you sure you’ll be okay? You’ve just arrived yourself.”

Sean winked and grabbed my purse before handing it to me. “Yes. We’ll be fine. Go and rekindle with your friend.” The way he said that word had a double meaning to it. And I don’t think he means the non-romantic kind.

I pursed my lips and mouthed a threat, ‘you’re dead to me.’ But that only fueled Sean’s teasing. “And if you two needed more time to talk, don’t worry about returning early, Amy. Go and do your thing.”

Now I wanted to throw something at him. My annoyance can be interpreted differently. Plus, Sean already reading everything wrong from the start. This would only end up one way for me.

With a heavy sigh, I quickly instructed him to handle the remaining work I had. Then, Steve and I walked side by side towards the elevator. All eyes were in our direction. As we entered and the elevator door closed, I briefly saw Sean waving at us with a teasing glint in his eyes.

“You have such an interesting company,” Sean remarked as we descended down the lobby.

“I hope you didn’t assume anything by that. Sean was just teasing me, per usual.” I informed dryly.

“Really? I thought that maybe there was a thing there between us for a moment...” He trailed off and laughed when he saw my expression. “You’re too easy to tease sometimes, Amy. You should not let people get under your skin like that.”

“I usually don’t on most things in life,” I replied.

“Yet not when it comes to romance.” He plainly pointed out.

“So it seems.”

Steve and I found a good diner close to my workplace for lunch. As he said, we were only rekindling and chatting about things we missed in each other’s life. For the past five years since I broke up with his best friend, there was a lot I’ve missed because there were his friends. It’s one of the most difficult parts of relationships. When you clicked and shared a good friendly bond with one of his friends, you don’t know how you’ll handle the aftermath when you’ve broken up.

Was it right to sever the friendship with his friends because you weren’t in a relationship anymore? Or do you continue being friends with them with high chances you’re going to meet or hear news about your ex? Both choices have their pros and cons. But the underlying effect of it all, the friendship would never be the same.

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