Julia watched as the rain drops trickled down the car window, tracing their path with her index finger. She had always found solace in the rain. She liked to listen to it on a evening as she sat by the window reading a book, but right now the rain was not welcome and she wished it would go away. It had caused a crash on the Brooklyn bridge making her late to the fundraiser and caused her fringe to stick to her forehead. The windscreen wipers swished back and forward every second, Julia's cab driver was hunched over the steering wheel trying to see his way through the relentless downpour.
She impatiently checked her watch. She was already fifteen minutes late to the fundraiser. Julia hoped she could slip in unnoticed through the back, grab a glass of wine, maybe a cheeky second and survive through the night. She often found these events socially exhausting and full of fake sincerity. The rich business tycoons weren't there for the cause but for the publicity, which was usually there in abundance snapping away and twisting their stories. If it weren't for Harry she wouldn't be here. She could never say no to him.
The traffic began to ease off, and soon Julia was at her destination. She payed the cab driver and stepped out into the bitter November air. She pulled her black velvet coat closer to her chest as she made her way up the steps to the entrance of the building, a tall ominous, glass tower. The foyer looked warm and welcoming compared to the noisy, damp New York air; Julia pushed through the revolving doors. Opposite the entrance stood a well dressed man and a set of double glass doors. He smiled dutifully at Julia's arrival.
"Name please," the doorman asked.
He took a cursory glance across his list and smiled again, more genuine this time. "May I take your coat, Miss Jones?"
Julia shrugged out of her black velvet coat and allowed the man to take it. "You may go in now." He pulled at the silver door handle and held the door open for her.
Julia ran her fingers through her short, black hair in an attempt to sort out the mess the rain had caused. She would give anything to be back at her small, cozy flat snuggled up on the couch instead of about to walk into a room full of societies richest and most powerful. But Harry was expecting a full expose on his desk tomorrow afternoon. Julia didn't want to disappoint him.
She hesitantly stepped forward through the door and down a set of marble steps. Her black heels made clicking noises against the polished floor over the sound of Frank Sinatra. Julia looked around and felt as if she had walked into somebody else's life. The fundraiser hadn't began yet and the guests stood with expensive wine glasses, chatting and sipping. Julia thought that they were no doubt discussing the ludicrous amounts of money they were going to spend this evening, each challenging to top the other. The women wore long, satin gowns that hugged their frames and diamonds dangling from their ears. The men were equally as expensive with black, fitted suits. They all looked like a million dollars. Julia was handed a glass of white wine from a silver platter. The daunting thought made her take a large sip of wine. And then another.
"Slow down otherwise you'll end up buying something you'll regret."
Dressed in an emerald green dress stood Julia's friend Kelly. Kelly worked for a rival newspaper so their paths often crossed. Although they were competitors a friendship had blossomed between the two.
Julia smiled gratefully. "It's nice to see a friendly face."
"Or a face that hasn't been injected with Botox," remarked Kelly in way that suggested she had been there too long already. "Bar?"
Julia nodded and they made their way over to the bar. It was busy, as Julia expected, and it took them a while to push their way to the front. All the while Julia couldn't help but feel out of place. Even Kelly, who was on the same pay-rate as her, looked striking. The brightness of her green dress contrasted well with her ebony skin tone and her dark, shimmering hair was pinned up with butterfly clips. On the other hand, Julia had slipped on a plain, black dress that was gathering dust at the bottom of her closet and had brushed hastily through her black curls to straighten them out. She felt almost guilty for not making the same amount of effort as Kelly for the fundraiser, but she had successfully convinced herself earlier that day that she didn't need to make an effort when in reality she loathed to be here.
"I'll have a white Russian," Kelly said to the bartender. She directed her attention towards Julia. "Want anything, Jules?"
Julia rubbed her neck. "Just a vodka tonic."
The bartender quickly prepared their drinks with practiced rhythm. Julia took a sip of her drink, relishing the bitter feeling of the vodka sliding down her throat. They made their way around the room, soaking in and perceiving the atmosphere. Kelly was here for the same reason as Julia. They both had to write an article on what happened at the fundraiser; who was there, who bought what, how much they bought it for and if possible who was secretly having an affair with who. It was the latter which would really sell big time.
The fundraiser was about to start, and the guests were lounged about on chairs and standing in groups chatting with their hands firmly gripped on their wine glasses. No one looked drunk yet but as soon as the important charity event had been dealt with the night would continue into the morning.
"So, who do you think is the richest asshole here?" Kelly asked playfully.
Julia smiled. "Define richest asshole. Do you mean, who is the richest in general? Or who is the richest and most narcissistic?"
Kelly pursed her lips in thought. "Hmm. Richest and narcissistic is more fun isn't it?" she asked rhetorically.
Julia agreed and began to scan the room. There were a lot of beautiful women, young and old, and although Julia didn't have a keen eye for designer clothes she already knew instinctively that the dresses they wore cost more than her car. The men were handsome, and some more beautiful than the women, and they wore suits which Julia guessed were probably Armani. The men however were more intimidating than the women.
Julia recognized a lot of the faces at the fundraiser. Most were business tycoons who had monopolized areas of the market. Most were people Julia would hate to talk to. She could just imagine the conversations; starting off asking who she is, what she did and then cutting the conversation short when they realized she wasn't worth their time or was only talking to them because she was a snooping journalist. No, Julia had decided she was going to gather her information by keeping an eye and an ear out.
"Come on, Jules. It can't be that hard to pick someone out."
Julia focused and then her eyes set on someone she hadn't seen before.
She instantly said, "that guy." Julia pointed to where she was looking and Kelly followed her gaze.
"Very nice choice," she praised, appraising the man who Julia had pointed to. "You chose him quickly. Why?"
"His stance. He's standing on his own; he's not mingling, not drinking like the rest of them and laughing about how much money they have. He's not smiling, not laughing or joking with anybody. It's like he's not even there. He doesn't want to be."
Kelly nodded in agreement and took a sip of her white Russian. "He's also extremely handsome too."
Julia mentally agreed. His hair was dark brown, straight, short and perfectly styled to one side. The paleness of his well-defined face was almost alien to the suntan-bed tanned skin of most of the guests, but was not necessarily bad in comparison. Julia noticed that his suit wasn't perfectly neat, and that there were a few buttons not done on his shirt and that his collar was skewed. However from the way he held himself Julia had noted that he was probably the richest man in the room, and as a result the most self-absorbed man in the room.
"Yes, he's quite good looking, aaand probably most narcissistic."
Kelly giggled and hit Julia playfully on the arm. "Such a prude sometimes, Jules. You're not even appreciating him."
Julia shrugged. She already had someone on her mind.
Suddenly the lights dimmed and the conversations came to an abrupt halt. At the end of the room a man cleared his throat into a microphone and forcefully beamed to the crowd.
"Welcome to the third annual New York Children's Fundraiser!" he greeted with a polished presenters voice. "We have with us some lovely collections from local donations, museums and collectibles..."
Julia droned him out. She didn't care much for the introductions and embellishment, as that wasn't her job. When people started to bid, that was when she would start to pay the most attention. Kelly however was happily listening and Julia felt pity for her. She probably wouldn't remember most of the fundraiser, and she doubted any notes that Kelly makes would make sense to her.
Finally the introductions had been done and various items were being presented to bid on. Such things as unique, priceless paintings (that tonight would receive a price), one-off designer dresses and antique collectibles were among the list of items. One thing in particular caught Julia's eye. It was a diamond necklace, classy but also modest. A pang of envy swept through her. What she would give to be able to wear something like that. She looked around the room to see who was bidding on the necklace and caught the eye of the man she had earlier pointed out to Kelly.
He was looking at her from across the room. Or was he? Julia wasn't sure. She quickly looked away. He couldn't have been staring at me, she thought. If anything he was probably checking out Kelly. Yes, he had probably become captivated with Kelly and I'm just standing next to her. But for some reason, Julia looked at him again to make sure. Her eyes met his again. She was sure of it this time, and now he was sure that she had noticed too. She flushed under his gaze and the corner of his mouth curled up in amusement. Pull yourself together, Jules, she told herself. She felt ridiculous. Julia turned her attention back to the necklace she had been admiring.
"Any higher bidders than 50,000?" the man called out. "Anyone for 55,000?"
"55,000," one woman called out in the crowd.
She was challenged by an older businessman in an Armani suit, "60,000."
"100,000," a deep, smooth voice called out. The voice belonged to the man who Julia had been annoyingly connected to this evening.
The other bidders, knowing they had been outbid, backed out and a round of applause filled the room for the man who had bid 100,000. "Thank you, a most generous offer!"
Julia looked over to him. He was nodding his head in acknowledgement, his facial expression stoic. At least he isn't looking at me, she thought.
"Good looking and generous," Kelly whispered to Julia. "After this is over we are going over there to talk to him."
Julia shook her head. "I don't want to."
"Why not?" A playful grin was plastered to her face. "He didn't come here with anyone. I bet he's a bachelor."
Julia shrugged. "He's not my type." Although this wasn't wholly true, she did find him attractive after all, but the way he stood and the way he looked at her made her skin crawl. She didn't feel comfortable under his gaze.
"Pssh," Kelly waved her hand dismissively. "Not for you, silly. I want him." Kelly gave her a defiant look that was hard to turn down. There was no arguing with her when she was in this mood.
"Okay, but I'm not staying too long. I have work in the morning."
The rest of the bidding went by without another word from the man who was now the owner of the necklace Julia had noticeably admired. When it ended, the sound of Frank Sinatra and guests happily chatting filled the room once more. Kelly finished her drink, set it aside and grabbed Julia's hand.
"Come on." Kelly led her to where the man was standing. A few guests had gathered around him to congratulate him on the bidding. Kelly waited till they had said a few words and left before she walked towards him.
"That was very generous of you to bid so much money," Kelly said and smiled. "It's for such a great cause."
To Julia's surprise he returned the smile. "Thank you. It was such a beautiful necklace. I couldn't possibly pass on the chance to have it." His eyes settled on Julia for a lingering second, and then returned to Kelly. "I'm Vincent Stryker," he introduced himself.
"Kelly, and this is my friend Julia," she replied, gesturing towards Julia.
"It's a pleasure to meet you both." His gaze remained on Julia as he said this however.
Julia smiled slightly in acknowledgement to be polite, but she didn't say anything. She shifted where she stood, hoping that she didn't look too uncomfortable. Vincent seemed to notice though, and he picked up two red wine glasses passing by on a serving tray and handed them to Julia and Kelly. He picked up a third for himself. Red wine was not Julia's favorite; she rarely drank it. She didn't like the way it stained her teeth and lips, and she would wake up with purple lips the next morning. Vincent was looking at her intently though, as if waiting for her to either drink it or admit that she didn't like it. She unwillingly took a sip.
"What did you think of the necklace, Julia?" Vincent suddenly asked. "Did you think it was worth 100,000?"
Here it was, she thought. It's always about money with these people.
"It was beautiful," she admitted. "And it's for a worthy cause." A cop out, she thought. She didn't feel as if her reply was quite what he wanted.
"I agree," Kelly supplemented. She was drinking her wine at a steady pace, oblivious to the exchange that was happening before her.
"Do you want it, Julia?" Vincent Stryker asked.
"Do I want it?" she repeated, making sure he was serious and that she hadn't fabricated the question.
His lips twitched with amusement. "Yes. The necklace. I'll give it to you if you want."
What was with this guy? Was he crazy? She couldn't possibly accept something so expensive, especially from a man she had just met, and didn't like. "No thanks. I couldn't accept something like that."
He shrugged. "Money isn't an issue. I saw you admiring it and I have no need of it; I only bought it for the fundraiser. Give me your address and I'll send it to you."
Julia shook her head. She was starting to get irritated, and angry that he didn't understand why she was uncomfortable accepting it. Did he think he was an amazing philanthropist? "I already told you. I can't accept it from you."
Kelly laughed. "I'll have it then. A free necklace? Yes please!"
Vincent smiled at Kelly's remark, but his dark brown, almost black eyes remained fixed on Julia. She noticed a flash of annoyance in his face. Before he could insist further, she handed her glass of red wine to Kelly, thinking that she would want it anyway, and said goodbye. "It's getting late now and I have work in the morning. It was nice to meet you," she directed at Vincent. "I'll talk to you later, Kelly." She lightly squeezed her friend on the arm and walked away, not even thinking of looking back over shoulder. All the while she felt the piercing gaze of Vincent Stryker on her back.
Julia arrived home forty minutes later. A small, cozy apartment was all she needed. Tonight had made her appreciate her simple life, her good job and the love of her life - her cat, Larry. She did feel slightly guilty though, she had left Kelly at the fundraiser by herself. Hopefully Kelly hadn't broke decorum and flung herself at Vincent Stryker. His persistence had really annoyed Julia. It was one thing to have money and flaunt it, but to not accept someone else's opinion on such matters was the height of ignorance.
At least she felt as if she had got a story: 'Rich, narcissistic asshole tries to pawn off necklace'.