It Had To Be You
Jess took a deep breath, and flicked to the last slide on her PowerPoint presentation, “and I really do believe that this is the most effective use of roof space like this, actually, as you can see from the documents in front of you, this is not the first project like this that I’ve undertaken, and my other clients were more than happy.” She smiled at the room of directors, “thank you for listening.”
Michael Webster stood and shook her hand, “thank you Miss Summers that was a refreshingly uplifting presentation.”
She smiled, relief at the success in the afternoon taking her to a place a million miles from the nervous place she’d woken in that morning. This was the accumulation of a lot of hard work and desire, she’d spent a month perfecting the designs for this pitch, a potential new client. These men, this company had plans to convert an old warehouse into apartments and wanted pretty, hassle free rooftop gardens that would increase the living space, and so the price. And this could be the first of five or six similar projects.
This was the perfect contract for her landscape business and could well push her business from small successful landscape design to the big time. This was a huge contemporary refurbishment company, part of a huge group of companies, all involved in different aspects of renovation, design, rebuilding.
The boardroom was full of company directors, and she had felt stifled in her sharply cut suit. With every movement the stiff fabric felt restrictive. Jess was as likely to wear a business suit by choice as she was the three inch heels that crippled her feet. She spent all her time in work jeans, dirty vests and steel toe-capped boots. But as out of place she felt physically, she was never more confident than when she was explaining her ideas. She knew that the people gathered had become infected with her enthusiasm, and hopefully this was a successful morning.
Smiling, she left the room, and strolled out into the fresh winter day and dug her phone out of her bag.
“How did it go?” Evelyn her best friend screeched down the phone.
“Good I think!” Jess was unusually confident after the successful presentation, and stepping out into the sunny but cold afternoon she had a bounce in her step.
She heard her friend ‘whoop’ in an animated way, “so you’re ok for supper tonight?”
“I’ll be at yours by half seven!”
“Is this really necessary?” Jess watched Evelyn dragging clothes from her wardrobe, hang them in front of her friend then with a shake of the head, toss them over her shoulder, then nose dive back into the floor to ceiling closet rammed full of clothing.
“Tomorrow is an important evening darling, there will be SO many eligible men there, come on, you need to glam things up.”
Jess huffed, regretting agreeing to go anywhere with her friend, but then she looked down at her worn jeans, fitted football t-shirt and holey socks. Maybe Evelyn was right, she had never been that bothered by how she looked; never felt that her appearance was that important. But Evelyn her polar opposite wouldn’t answer the door without wearing her full make up.
“Eve, come on!”
Evelyn turned to her hands on hips, “YOU may find your one and only drab trouser suit smart, but we’re talking the crème de la crème here Jess. There are rumours of Hollywood stars, royalty.....I may have to buy you something new!”
Evelyn drifted off into her own little world as she obviously thought of possible solutions.
“Earth to Eve, Earth to Eve! Since when have Hollywood stars been interested in the Garland Architecture International Presentation dinner? Eve, are you listening?”
Evelyn slowly turned to look at Jess, “yup?”
“Can I just wear a plain black dress?” Jess picked up a conservative black number from the pile of clothing on the bed.
“That.....” she hissed dramatically, “....is my funeral dress!”
Jess chuckled as she dropped onto the bed, lying on her back next to the discarded items, “ok. And my appearance is important why?”
Eve shook her head, “because you are there as my plus one, and this is an important party for me, I’m about to be recognised as one of the UK’s most up and coming architects,” she smiled and looked more nervous than Jess had ever seen her, “and my ex-lover and his new wife are going to be there.” She added quietly.
“Shit Eve!” she sat bolt upright, “You never said!”
Evelyn nodded slowly, “maybe I’m trying not to think about it all!”
Jess rolled onto her stomach propping her chin on her unturned hands, “he was never good enough for you darling, you know?” She’d never liked Martin; he’d sucked the life out of Evelyn when they’d been involved in a clandestine affair. Eve was such a vibrant person, extrovert and so much fun. But in the six months she’d been with him, she’d lost weight, lost her energy and lost her fun. The break up was so painful to watch, and it had taken months to coax her back to where she was now.
The thought of him stepping back into Eve’s life was almost scary.
Eve beamed at her, “I just want to show him what he missed out on.”
“So why the hell are you worrying about what your tomboy mate wears tomorrow? You’re the one who needs glam!” Jess groaned as she spotted the look of pleasure waft over her face. “Oh no, I’ve opened a can of worms haven’t I?”
Evelyn marched out into the hallway, and returned with a dress bag. She slowly unzipped it to reveal the dress inch by inch, and Jess gasped.
“Wow!” Inside was the most beautiful dress Jess had ever seen, the lightest gold fabric gathered tightly into a strapless body, secured by a bronze silk band, then falling in soft gentle folds to the floor. She knew that the style would suit Eve’s tall willowy figure, and the gold would compliment her alabaster skin and white blonde hair. “You are going to look divine Eve!”
She smiled nervously, “I hope so!”
Jess raised her hands in surrender, “Ok, hit me with your worst, what do you want me to wear? If you’re going to look that good I’m going to need all the help I can get!”
Evelyn smiled, loving the victory, “few women are as naturally beautiful as you darling, but you do nothing to enhance the packaging. Now this...”
Jess gulped, it was what her mother would call a sheath, a red straight, clingy dress that would coat her body from top to bottom, draped from a hanger.
“Try it!” She turned on her doe-eyes, “please?”
Groaning Jess reluctantly slid out of her t-shirt and jeans, then pulled the slinky lycra over her head. She was right, to say it clung to her was an understatement, she wasn’t shy of her curves, she had no opinion on them, but this dress made her breasts look huge, her waist tiny and her hips curvaceous. It seemed indecent, but Evelyn’s eyes were on stalks.
“I love it!” her friend gushed.
As she moved, the thigh high split revealed far too much leg, the scooped back was far too low, “I feel naked!”
“It’s more classy than that, I can assure you!” she circled Jess head nodding in appraisal. “You look a million dollars, you’ll need a better bra, and slinkier knickers,” when she caught sight of her legs she gasped, “and you’ll need to wax those!”
Jess laughed at her disgust, “are you not appreciating my stubble?”
“Yuck! You are a real disgrace Jess Summers! It’s no wonder you are an eternal single!”
Jess laughed, “I work outdoors, it’s January, there is NO need to shave my legs!”
Evelyn was tutting, shaking her head, “I give up! I really do!”
Jess slid out of the dress and found her jeans and t-shirt, “so is this fit new trouble shooter going to be there?”
Slithering on to the bed and swooning, Evelyn smiled, “who knows?”
She’d talked about nothing but this hunk who’d come over from the New York office a month or so ago. Now Jess was concerned that she was playing it all down.
“Don’t want to think of him and Martin in the same room?”
She nodded, “how do you always know what I’m thinking?”
“You’re my oldest friend, and the one I’ve known the longest......I know everything about you!”
Evelyn smiled, “ditto!”
Jess had met Eve five years earlier; she’d been employed by Eve’s parents to landscape their garden. Then her part time job, her love, her hobby, had become her livelihood over the last five years, but at that time it was her dream. One Sunday she’d been planting a row of fruit trees when she’d heard an exciting vibrant voice breaking into the most contagious laugh. Evelyn had introduced herself, and they’d been best friends since. Most of her success was due to the well placed recommendations that Evelyn had made to various clients over the years. They were both now successful women, Evelyn was thirty, and the most successful young architect her company had ever nurtured, four years younger, Jess running her busy and productive landscaping business specialising in urban designs.
Later that night, Jess lay on her bed looking at the slinky dress, the ridiculous heels, she’d always been a tomboy, even as a child....she hated remembering those times, and no sooner had her life pre nineteen flashed into her mind, and she was thinking about her parents, she was more than overdue a visit. But the thought of the oppressive regime of her devout vicar father, and doormat mother filled her with pain.
Jess was finishing a job on the outskirts of the City the next day. The early part of a job was generally the heavy part, lifting, digging, rebuilding or excavating, but the end was planting, trimming, presenting. She was so relieved that is was a lighter day today.
Everything was going to plan, it was a beautiful day, so she did an unheard of thing, and finished early. Evelyn had insisted that she have her hair done, and had also booked a manicure (for a gardener!), a pedicure, a list of areas to be waxed. Jess sighed, was it really all worth it? But she knew she’d do it for her friend. And it would take time to be ready for half seven. So an early start was essential.
At seven forty, she was waiting for Evelyn to collect her, stood in the red dress, her dark hair piled up onto the top of her head, her body scrubbed, painted and waxed, the slash of red that enhanced her full lips a contrast to her dark hair, feeling like a fish out of water.
“You look stunning!” said the golden goddess sat inside the taxi.
Jess smiled as she tried to climb into the taxi with dignity, “this bloody dress!”
By the time she’d secured herself onto the seat next to Evelyn both were giggling like school girls.
The Hestraught Hotel was five star quality, and the Garland company as part of the larger Sarison Group could afford this level of lavish. Evelyn led her in a mass of swirling gold, turning heads male and female alike as she moved across the room, dragging the more reluctant Jess in her wake.
At the bar she signalled to a smartly dressed barman, “two mojitos please!”
The man, who was more of a boy smiled, then obliged.
“What am I suppose to do with this?” Jess hissed as she looked at the drink she was offered. “It’s got leaves floating in it and ice....”
Evelyn raised her eyebrows, and shook her head, “it is a delicious, ladylike cocktail....and the leaves are fresh mint! You cannot order beer in that dress. Jess, please have some standards!”
Jess knew a complaint would fall on deaf ears, so she sipped at the aromatic drink and said nothing.
Evelyn was the life and soul; everyone wanted a piece of her, once she’d accepted her award she was passed around on the dance floor like a prize toy.
Hanging out near the bar, Jess was happy to be an observer, pleased to just watch the night unfold. Each time she ordered a drink she was tempted to ask for a beer, but she heeded Evelyn’s warning.
Trays of canapés wafted past her, and she grabbed a blini topped with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and an artistically tied chive. She was starving, and the drinks were starting to have an effect. Looking around she realised no one was really watching her, so she slid the whole thing into her mouth, it didn’t dislodge her scarlet lipstick, so she wouldn’t have to reapply it, or rather be forced into reapplying it!
Turning back to the bar she smiled, “a bloody Mary with extra Tabasco!” she asked for with a smile.
“That’s a serious drink!” a voice announced from her side.
Turning with a start she suddenly panicked when she saw Michael Webster, the CEO who’d organised her interview/presentation earlier that day, “Mr Webster! How nice to see you!” She prayed he hadn’t seen her dispose of that supposedly dainty snack like a savage wolf.
He smiled genially, “you too. I am not speaking out of turn if I tell you that I will be talking to you tomorrow.”
Her heart started to race, “thank you SO much, I really look forward to hearing from you then. What are you doing here?”
“Sarison are our mother company!”
“You too?” She smiled when she saw his confusion, “my friend had the Young Architect award, that’s why I’m here. I knew you were part of a bigger company, I obviously didn’t do my homework correctly!”
He chuckled as he introduced his wife Cheryl. The three chatted amiably until he was monopolised by a young executive, and apologetically he disappeared off into the quagmire of the party.
She was on her third Bloody Mary when Evelyn finally found her.
“Hey Young Architect of the Year! How goes it?”
Evelyn smiled draping her arms around her neck, “I’m on top on the World. Now can I introduce you to this hottie I’ve been pestering about?”
With a sigh, Jess agreed and allowed Evelyn to lead her towards the foyer, a few metres inside the ballroom door stood a very tall, blonde haired man, his broad shoulders and back towards them. With a schoolgirl giggle Evelyn tapped his shoulder and chuckled, “Alex, this is the friend I was telling you about. Please meet...”
He spun around and for a moment Jess felt as though the World had either stopped moving, or was spinning faster than ever, she staggered slightly as he smiled at them both and finished the introduction.
“...Jessie Summers. Well it’s been a long time!”
Jess froze, her whole body starting to shake as she registered the voice that she’d blocked out for almost ten years. The accent was slightly more Americanised than she remembered, but he was still the same beautifully handsome man that she’d fought to stop thinking about for the last few years.
Eve on the other was surprised, her mouth fell open in a gasp eyes widening in wonder as she looked between them both.
Trying to breathe normally, Jess also turned looked up at him, and her heart stopped, her voice caught in her throat as she met the icy blue eyes of this tall, devastatingly handsome man. She staggered in shock, and with an enigmatic smile, he reached out to steady her.
“You two know each other?” Evelyn had found her voice, but couldn’t quite believe the sexual tension that was almost palpable between her unassuming best friend and this intriguing and exciting man.
Jess shook her head, begging him silently to say no more, but as she heard the words, “know her? Of course I know her! She’s my wife!”
She could hear the gasps of surprise from Evelyn as she felt the world start to spin, the pain lanced through her like a red hot knife, the fear, the anger, the desperation....Everything she’d fought to block out for years came crashing down around her.