She frowned. He couldn't have been alive.
But the man she had seen seconds earlier in the corridor looked exactly like him. Yes, his appearance was different. Maybe it was the blue jumpsuit and the long, messy hair, but she saw through it. She almost said she sensed his spirit.
She reached for the refrigerator handle to lift herself up when two arms carried her torso. Startled, her legs worked faster. The woman hid her suffering under her curls as she hurried toward the water faucet. Her make up washed off, trying to rid of the evidence of her despair.
What was she thinking? As the owner of the Wellington Family Farms corporation, she made a big mistake showing weakness at her workplace. Reporters were everywhere.
"I'm sorry. I've never had a lady cry in front of me, so I'm not sure what to do in these situations."
Allie turned the water faucet off and stood still with her eyes wide open. She began panting. His voice echoed in her mind. Something inside her feared showing her face, but her heart needed to corroborate her findings.
She whirled and gripped the counter behind her. Pressure built in her head as her eyes sought to identify a particular person—anyone, surely not him; he passed eight years ago.
"Should I give you some privacy?" The man in the blue jumpsuit rubbed his palms on his hips. "But then I won't stop thinking I left a lady crying, alone."
"Please, don't leave." She aimed for his wrist, blocking him from touching his cleaning cart.
The electricity of his body ran through hers, and his features became the face of the youthful man she once loved. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
He froze and never touched her, letting the taste of his lips take to a brief love story in a little apartment in the Kirby Heights.
"I love you, Dean." Her fingers ran through his honey-colored hair.
As Allie's tears dried up, the mother with responsibilities inside her snapped her back to reality. She lusted at his drooping eyelids, wanting more, then made a distance between her and her employee. Her eyes followed her hands as they pulled down on her beige satin blouse, trying to cover her cleavage.
The man hummed, searching for words.
"Oh, God." She shook her head. "I'm so embarrassed. That was inappropriate."
"It's okay," he said reluctantly. "You were clearly going through something."
"That is no excuse for my behavior. Even less at a place of business." She raised her palms and held her forehead.
"Hey, I won't tell if you don't. Don't worry. You won't get fired. We’ve all been there."
Allie glimpsed at his eyes and got lost in them. She took a deep breath, wondering if he didn't recognise her and questioning her own sanity. She knew he couldn't have been him, Dean Freeman, the love of her life. Why would he be working there?
"Well, I can't really fire myself." She cleared her throat.
"Oh, you're, like," he paused, "head of H.R."
"Actually, I own the company."
"Woah." His eyebrows raised.
His expression made Allie think of the consequences of her actions. The words 'sexual harassment lawsuit' came to mind. Insanity was a small word compared to her symptoms.
"Listen—" She was about to call him Dean, when she stopped herself. "I'm sorry, I'm the owner but I don't know your name."
"Clyde Jacobson," he smiled. "And that's okay. Rolanda hired me."
"From the workforce department? Sound familiar?"
The boss lady's eyebrows imploded, retrieving the memory of someone named Rolanda.
"Never mind." He cringed.
"So, listen, Mr. Jakobson, I apologize formally for my behavior and I can assure you this won't happen again. Here." She shoved her hand into her slacks pocket and pulled out a business card. "Call my assistant at this number. I would like to discuss this further and compensate you for what you had to endure."
He frowned at the rectangular piece of paper.
"You can do it during the Christmas break or before that," she added.
"Sure, yeah, I'll do that."
"All right, you have a pleasant weekend, Mr.—"
"My friends call me C.J."
“Jacobson," she finished the sentence, gave him a half-smile, and glided out of the break room.
During the ride home, Allie’s brain swirled with a million reasons that turned Clyde into Dean.
"Penny for your thoughts, Ms. March?" Her chauffeur jerked his head back, then focused on the road.
Allie hadn't spoken a word the entire trip.
"I need to call someone about something that happened, but I haven't talked to them in a while. I'm not sure how to start the conversation."
The driver simpered. Having worked for the family since he was fifteen, he was used to this quiet behavior from the Wellington ladies.
"Have I ever told you, you have your mom’s face?" He had a deep voice with a Coastal Swahili accent.
Allie shook her head and rolled her eyeballs with a smile.
"I do not look like my mother, Mr. Baye." Allie was right. She was the female version of her father.
"I realise you call me Mista Baye when you don’t appreciate my advice, and Furaha is okay only when I say something agreeable."
"I've seen her pictures. My curls are the only traces of her."
"Pictures speak a thousand words, but not necessarily the proper ones. Very deceiving."
Allie gave him another smile through the rearview mirror then dropped on the headrest.
"You run from your mother. You run from this person you have to call. You run from the past."
"The past is too much, Furaha."
"I'm from Burundi. I know, but the more you escape it, the sooner it will catch up to you." Furaha swallowed and fixed his tie with his left hand.
Allie looked at her lap and turned on her phone screen. She opened her contacts and tapped on the name, 'Jay.'
There was a lengthy ringing before the call went to voicemail. Allie closed the door of her company SUV and waved the driver goodbye. She stood silent in front of her house with her device to her ear. There was a beep.
"Hey, Jay. This is Allie. Sorry, it's been a while, but I hope you could understand why I was avoiding you for so long. To see Dean's mom was painful enough. I didn't even go to his dad's funeral when he died. Can you believe that? Anyway, I saw this man today. He looked exactly like him." She stopped, remembering the kiss. “I’m calling to see if you want to catch up. Tell me about your life. I heard you and your wife had another baby. Congratulations. Um, I'm not sure what else to say so I'll just hang up."
The woman sighed, staring at the oak door. Every moment she opened it, she felt happy because she knew her children would be on the other side. Not this time however. Twins, Andrew and Daniel were on a holiday vacation with their grandmother, so behind the wood panel awaited painful solitude.
At least it wasn’t an enormous mansion. The media judged her for opting to live in a gated community in an average middle class home. In an interview, she said it was all and her children needed. But huge places made her feel lonely. She didn't want to cook in a giant kitchen while her children were far in another room. She preferred to hear them laugh and watch them make a mess.
She put her key inside the doorknob when her phone vibrated. Jay was calling her back. She smiled and swiped her finger on the screen. But her smile started slowly fading. There was crying on the other line. The voice of a woman could barely utter words as Allie remained holding onto her keys.
As soon as the door opened, Wayne sang, "surprise," in a seductive tone. He was carrying two glasses of red wine in his hands and his shirt—Well, he forgot to wear one. He had worked out hours before that to make the details of his six-pack and his biceps more pronounced. His pure black hair had a bit of gloss in it and his teeth could get him an ad on a toothpaste commercial.
He wasn't just handsome; he was rich-handsome, and a generous man.
He stood by the entrance of the dining room with a smirk, waiting for Allie to react to his presence.
"I thought you would spend Christmas with your family," she said.
"It's not Christmas yet. I choose to be with my girl." He scurried toward her, presented a wine glass on her right hand, and began kissing her neck. "Ms. Amazing-Hot-C.E.O."
Allie sniffled, lowered her head, and jogged him.
"Wha—what's going on?" asked Wayne.
Allie's shoulders jerked as she cried.
"Aw, come on. Today's a special day. Our stocks are through the roof and we beat profit margins by two-hundred percent. What's there to be sad about?"
"I'll be okay. I just need some time to myself." She waved her hand.
"No, not this again," he lifted her jaw and wiped her tears. "Don't shut me out, babe. I'm your boyfriend. We're supposed to be there for each other, remember?"
Allie sniffed again.
"I'm miserable, Wayne. I received some terrible news. An old friend of mine died in a car accident three weeks ago."
"I'm so sorry, babe," he pressed her between all of his muscles and pecked her on the forehead. He took her wineglass and set it down on the dining room table. Then, he pulled her toward the living room and sat her on his lap.
He rubbed her back and sucked on her lips. He was an excellent kisser, but the action only made Allie try to compare him to Dean, or as he said his name was, C.J.