It wasn’t until we finished eating that Steve finally brought him up. Since he was our main link, which was why we became friends, I expected him to say something. But luckily, he got the hint, so he strode lightly on the topic.
“So, have you heard of him since last time?” Steve inquired.
I smiled bleakly. “No. I haven’t seen or heard of him since I’ve returned to Chicago.”
“Well, if you want to know, he’d also gotten promoted recently as head engineer.” He informed.
“Good for him.” I nodded.
“And he’s also seeing someone,” he continued off-handedly. “They’ve been going out for a year now.”
That sour my mood. Of course, he’ll tell me about his love life. “Good for him,” I said again.
“Amy, are you...” he was about to ask but stopped himself. “I’m sorry. I know it’s been five years. But you both ended it so abruptly, and not in good terms, don’t you want some closure?”
I sighed heavily. “I don’t know, Steve. But I think it’s too late to do that now. And besides, he’d move on already, as you’ve told me.”
“But, have you?”
“I... I’m fine, Steve. Don’t worry. I did make it this far.”
“You know, even if it was all teasing your friends are doing, I saw they are genuinely concerned about you in that matter. Have you been with someone after Flynn?”
That was the first time I’ve heard someone mention his name. Steve should have known better. Maybe he didn’t notice his slip. So I kept a poker face as I replied.
“If you’re worried about that, yes, I have, Steve.”
“But have you actually been in a relationship after him?” He pressed further. He easily saw through me. I forgot I’m not the only one intuitive in that circle before everything ended.
I sighed again. “I don’t want to look like that affected me too much.”
“Amy, you know you can still talk to me about this, right? Our friendship didn’t end just because you broke up with him. Our friendship is a different factor from that. Well, unless it’s not how you think. I can only speak for myself.”
I chuckled. “Gosh, I missed these talks with you Steve. I mean I have Sean, but it’s not the same.”
“Well, you know me. But to tell you the truth, other than you and Hollie before, I don’t talk about things like this with girls. Usually, I’m flirting with them.” He pointed out coyly.
“I know, Steve. I’ve seen your so-called flirting. That’s not flirting. I taught you better,” I jested in reply.
“Cut me some slack. I’ve just been dumped half a year ago,” he defended.
“And would you care to talk about that instead of my brooding love life?” I inquired teasingly.
He pursed his lips. But got the humor of it. “I got it. Not talks about our failed relationship anymore.” He rolled his eyes in defeat.
We chatted a bit more after that but decided to end it once we saw the time. I nearly forgot to ask him about his interview with Julian, but I was able to do so before we parted ways.
“I don’t know. But I’m sure I’ve made an impression,” he informed.
“You’ll be fine, Steve. And I’ll vouch for you, if necessary. But no promises,” I stated with a grin.
“That’s all I want to hear from you, Amy,” he chuckled. “Well, see you soon - I hope. And don’t be a stranger.”
I laughed and nodded. “You too.”
With that, Steve and I separated ways.
Talking about the past made me remember my drunken dream last Saturday night. After five years since that incident, I have allowed myself to think about other choices I could have gone. I knew back then how I’ve been too absorbed on possibilities of a future working for a giant business company like Hawksley Holding. I hadn’t considered how it’ll affect the lives of the people around me. I was as guilty of that choice as he was guilty of giving up on us.
But that was then. There’s no use feeling sorry for myself now. We’ve made a decision. And we have to live with it.
As I was halfway back to the office, I got a message from Zoey. She asked me to do a little errand for lunch. So I took a detour and stopped by a convenience store before heading to the bistro to get their take-out meal order.
The store wasn’t located in my usual route to work. So I wasn’t familiar with the place. As I entered, I took a quick tour to check where everything was placed. I grabbed a couple of things for myself as well before getting something from Zoey’s list. When I was about to head towards the cashier, one of the staff in the store nearly bumped into me. He was carrying two boxes, nearly blocking his view. But he wasn’t completely hidden since I quickly recognized him. And from the look on his face, he recognized me as well.
“Well, hi, birthday girl. How’s nursing the hangover yesterday?” He inquired with familiarity like we were close friends.
I smirked and shook my head. “It was hell.”
“As I expected,” He pointed with a chuckle.
Remembering the conversation this morning, I hastily thanked him. “Oh, yeah. Thank you for escorting me home last night. Though I have no recollection of it in the morning, my sister and friends told me what happened. I hope I wasn’t heavy.” I shyly said.
“You shouldn’t be worried about your weight. You should focus on not letting strangers take you home.” He lightly teased.
“I should. And thank you for not taking advantage of me as you escorted me home,” I added in jest.
“You’re welcome. And I’m not that kind of guy…” he trailed off at that awkward admission. He cleared his throat and quickly recovered. “Well, speaking of guys, have any luck getting a date from all the men you’ve talked last Saturday night?”
I groaned as he mentioned it. “I can’t talk about that now. People have been bugging me about dating,” I admitted. For a second, I’m surprised how forthcoming I was with him now there was no alcohol in the mix.
Was it because he already knew about my troubles? I don’t know.
“I’m sorry. I won’t ask you about that anymore. It was rude of me.” He gestured at the box he’s carrying. “Well, I’ve got to put this away. My aunt’s eyeing me now for talking with a customer.”
I quickly peered at the register and he was right. The woman was looking at us sternly. “So, other than being a bartender, you also worked here?” I asked as he made his way towards the back of the store.
He stopped and peered back at me one last time. “I’m just helping out. Just like I was also helping out that night at the bar.”
However, I didn’t have time to ask some more as he disappeared around back with the boxes. So I made my way towards the cashier, who was still looking me with curiosity.
It took her a moment. But she finally asked. “So, how do you know my nephew, Dean? You don’t look like any of his old colleagues.”
“I don’t work with him. We just met when he was bartending at my birthday party.” I informed.
“Oh! I didn’t know he was getting a sideline job as a bartender. And I thought he’s already got his hands full.” She stated with a smile. “So, did he ask you for your number?” She continued like that was part of our conversation.
It caught me off guard. “What?”
She chuckled and shook her head as she scanned my purchases. “I know he doesn’t have the guts to ask. He’s always been timid around women.”
I wasn’t sure what to say after that. So I nodded in response.
She said the total amount of my purchase and I hastily handed her the money. I didn’t stay long after getting my change. I wanted to talk some more with the bartender guy- Dean. But I was in a time constraint, and his aunt was making me nervous.
As I was about to cross the street, I heard someone calling out my name from the direction of the store. I turned and found Dean standing by the entrance.
“Hey! I’m sorry for what you whatever my aunt said. She’s just being nosy,” he said apologetically.
“It’s okay.” I smiled.
“Actually, what did she actually say to you?” He timidly said.
I bit my lips to hide my amusement. “Well, it’s not something that’ll concern you,” I coyly replied.
He snorted. “Oh, please. I know her. Since you’re not telling me, I’ll just assume the worst, you know.”
I chuckled at his obvious ploy. “She said you’re timid around women.”
“Have I came across as timid with you?” He inquired, arching his eyebrow.
“Depends. Since you haven’t asked me out for coffee, yet, I presumed you might be?” I asked playfully.
That made him crack a smile. “So, even sober you’re just as confident.” He muttered to himself. “Would you like to grab some coffee when you visit the store again?” I finally asked.
I paused to add a bit of thrill, which only made him more amused. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Was that a yes?” He pressed with more interest.
“It’s a maybe,” I stated and slowly backed away.
“Okay. I’ll take a maybe.” He playfully nodded.
I laughed and slowly walked away.
“I’m glad I get to meet you again, birthday girl.” He called out.
I stopped and called out in reply, “It’s Amy.”
“I know!” He shouted as I backed a bit further.
He remained standing as I jogged away. I got one last glimpse of him before I turned around a corner. Yet still, he watched me. He caught me peering back, which only made his ego burst and gave me a flirty wink. I turned away and shook my head, disappearing in his view.
As I entered the office, I hadn’t noticed I still looked giddy from my encounter with Dean, the bartender and occasionally store clerk.
“You look happy. I presume that lunch date with hunky, corporate Steve had gone well?” Sean’s words trailed into a question.
“It was okay. We talked about some stuff. And for the hundredth time, it’s not like that with Steve. He’s just a friend.” I stated dryly.
“You say that now. But most relationships started out from friendship,” he winked suggestively.
“Not this one, Sean.”
“Whatever you say, Amy. But if something happens, I’ll be the one to tell you ‘I told you so.’” He cheekily said.
“And if not, I’ll make you eat those words.” I challenged, knowingly he doesn’t know my promise with Dean.
Our banter didn’t last long as we got back grinding through emails and paperwork around the office. It took me a moment to notice the absence of our other co-workers. Sean briefly pointed out their whereabouts after I asked.
Albert had left most of the afternoon to interview new recruits for Julian and Zoey’s security staff. And Greg had a meeting with building security. The afternoon felt a bit empty without the two. However, the piles of work and Sean was enough to distract me from missing them.
By the end of the day, we were too tired to talk about anything and quickly headed home after the lobby was cleared out yet again with paparazzi and reporters. It took another hour for Zoey and Julian to leave the building safely.
And I prayed in tomorrow would be better.
But it wasn’t.
I arrived at work the next morning a little later than usual. I made a quick trip to grab some coffee, anticipating another hectic day. Without Sean, Tuesday through Thursday are mentally exhausting. And I have to power through those days with some caffeine.
However, as I reached the building, I was able to safely made it in the lobby minutes before I heard sirens. Like any bystander, I watched in confusion and surprise as a police officer with a familiar looking man walked out of the elevator. They towed a man between them with his hand on his back and cuffs on his wrist.
What the heck happened the few minutes I wasn’t here?
As the group walked passed me, the man I recognized noticed my gaze and caught my eye. It was him. It was the bartender or the store clerk. But this time, he was neither of those. He was wearing a black suit and tie, with a lanyard hanging on his neck, which I presumed was an ID. He was about to call out to me when other police officers entered and caught his attention.
I didn’t linger any longer and made my way towards the elevator while no one bothered to use it. Everyone in the lobby were too engrossed to hurry their way up their offices. I know I’ll get my story soon enough. And I was right when I saw Albert and Greg talking to another police officer as I reached my floor.
My stomach plummeted as I come up with theories as to what happened.
Did something happen here? Is this about Julian and Zoey? Are they okay?
When I approached them, it was Albert who noticed me first before the rest did.
“Amy, I’m glad you were a bit late for work,” He stated in relief as he reached out to me for a hug.
I reciprocated and embraced Albert briefly before asking my questions. “Albert, what happened? I saw two men towing someone in handcuffs downstairs.”
Albert excused himself with the police officer and asked Greg to take over before answering. “Let’s talk while I check the boss at his office,” he gestured inside.
“Okay,” I nodded and briefly stopped by my desk, placing my purse, before following him. I took the cup of coffee with me, for sure I’ll be needing it.
“Did something happen to the two of them?” I pressed as we walked side by side towards the end of the hallway. Since it was still early, there was hardly anyone in the open work cubicle. And those who were there looked rattled as they huddled into a small group.
“Yes. But they are fine, Amy.” He reassured before addressing the story. “Yesterday, Julian suggested arriving early for work to lose the paparazzi. But of course, these people have their own sources – somehow. So when we arrived here, there were still a couple of people we had to handle. But we were able to enter the premises through the main entrance. However, we didn’t anticipate that someone had the guts to get in the building and in the office. So when we exited the elevator, there were three paparazzi waiting for us. But we were caught off guard and our exit was blocked. We had to get the two somewhere before apprehending the trespassers. It was a mess.” He finally finished with a frustrated sigh.
I was speechless at the story. How could this happen?
“I’m glad I already hired someone yesterday, and he was available to check in for work today. If we didn’t have the extra help, I can’t imagine how we’ll manage to keep those three away from Julian and Zoey,” he added. “And she’s still pretty shaken.”
Timely, we reached Julian’s office. And then I got a visual of what he said. Zoey was sitting on one of the couches in Julian’s office with him beside her. Zoey had her head by Julian’s shoulder while he wrapped his arms around her, and rubbing her arm up and down in a soothing motion. Even if I was standing from afar, I could make out Julian’s lips moving – he was reassuring her that everything was fine.
For a moment, looking at the two, I felt my heart break.