Chapter Three: Something New
For the first time in a long time, Laura had dreamt of a man. And it wasn’t with any ordinary guy, it was with James fucking Harris.
“Why did it have to be him?”, she asked herself.
She got up as quickly as she could, in a desperate attempt to get him out of her mind. It was only 5.30 am, so she had to turn off the alarm that she had previously set for 6 am. Laura went to the bathroom and took a shower. She didn’t take more than five minutes long, because she still had James on her mind and that was already driving her crazy.
Laura went into her mother’s bedroom and saw that she was still sleeping. Since she had spare time, Laura decided to head downstairs a make a proper breakfast. Most times, she is always running so late that she just eats a bar of cereal along the way. But today, she wanted to make some avocado toasts.
It was still dark outside, and very foggy too, so Laura turned on the lights. She also decided to turn on the TV, but she muted the sound so it wouldn’t wake her mother. It didn’t take long to make the toasts, and, once she was done eating, she went back upstairs to get ready for work.
Once she was done and ready to head out, she decided to go check on her mother just one last time and made sure that she was still sleeping. It was 6.30 am now, and the bus left at 7, but she still had to walk all the way to the bus stop.
She took one of her spare keys and left it on top of the table, for her mother to use. She then grabbed her coat and headed out the door. The fog outside was already clearing up, but it was still a bit hard for Laura to see the way. She has to walk about a mile until she reaches the bus stop.
Currently, Laura lives in Westerford, a peripheric city that surrounds Coldlyn, which is the big city. She moved to her current home when she was 25 after she had gotten a job at a fast-food chain and managed to save up enough money to pay rent for a full year. Two years later, at 27, she got her current position at Gold Owl.
Laura was more than satisfied with her life. She didn’t really want anything else. She had enough money to pay for her home, for her food and for her favorite books, games, and movies. Her only wishes were to make more friends and who knows if she would ever want to have a boyfriend.
The bus-stop only had two more people waiting, so she sat down on the bench. One of the reasons that Laura chose to live in Westerford, was because it is way less crowded than the big city, and much safer too. Here, she is just one hour away from Coldlyn and she can still live in peace.
Today was February 14th, Valentine’s day. Laura hated this date. Not only was it just the day after her birthday, but she also thought this day was meant to make her feel inferior for not having a boyfriend. Even if sometimes she feels lonely, she doesn’t want a man in her life at the moment. Maybe because, deep down, she is afraid that they will end up like her father: lying to her and ultimately abandoning her.
She got on the bus and saw a marriage’s proposal. Of course, Laura immediately rolled her eyes over. She decided to go sit in the back, where no one ever sits, so she could stay away from everyone who was in love.
“This day is despicable.,” she thought.
Her job was stressing her out lately. There was too much work to be done, and they did not have as many staff working on it as they should. Thinking about it, that was all James’s fault. He was pressuring her team to get the work done in an inhumane time-span. It was ridiculous! Laura understood why no one at the company was willing to riot against them and ask for a bigger paycheck. Everyone was afraid of them. One letter from the board and she would most likely never work again in the same field. That’s the power of one of the country’s biggest companies.
She also did not want to lose her job, even if she sometimes felt that it was too much for her. She needed the money and she already had a routine in place. Changing everything now would just cause unnecessary anxiety.
After a 30 minutes bus drive, Laura arrived at her stop. Now, all she had to do was walk half a mile to the subway station. A lot of people didn’t like public transportations, but Laura was commuting this way for all her life, so it already felt natural to her. She even got used to the creepy people and now she easily ignores them. The subway takes 15 minutes to arrive at her Coldlyn station. Then, she has to walk another five minutes into the tall Gold Owl office building.
The streets at Coldlyn were more crowded today than usual. But today was also not a regular Friday anyway. There were even people selling flowers and roses at every corner, and a lot of people were buying them. Laura couldn’t understand the concept of the flowers. She would much rather prefer to be offered some wine or even a nice book. Flowers can be pretty, but they quickly die off.
Laura arrived at the office just a few minutes earlier, as she always does. She doesn’t want to give them extra hours, not only because they won’t pay for them, but also because she doesn’t want to give them that benefit.
At everyone’s desk this year, there was a single and perfect red rose. It was something unusual at the office, so Laura wondered where the flowers came from.
“Good morning!”, greeted Emma.
Emma was one of the few people that talked to her here, but Laura still wouldn’t call her a friend. Maybe she could try and get closer to her, but she didn’t even know how to do that since she has never made any friends before.
“Good morning.”, replied Laura. “What’s up with the rose?”
“Oh, it was James who bought one for all the girls at the company. People were saying that this is the first time that he doesn’t have a date to take to his family dinner.”
“So, he wants to take someone from the office?”, Laura asked, disgusted with that idea.
“He doesn’t really care about the company so I am not surprised.”, Emma commented.
That was probably the most extensive conversation that Laura ever had with someone inside the office, and it felt nice. Maybe Emma was a good person, and, who knows, maybe Laura could try to become her friend.
However, at this moment, Laura was thinking about James. She was aware that every year his family has a tradition to host one of the most important dinners in town. Fun fact, Gold Owl was funded at Valentine’s day, so his family takes this day way more seriously than everyone else. The famous dinner was always jam-packed with celebrities, important business people and it usually gets tons of media coverage.
It was also very notorious that James, as the bad boy he really was, would take a different girl with him every year. Where he meets them is unclear, but with his charm, it’s probably wasn’t that difficult for him to find a date. Laura wonders why he wasn’t able to get one this year.
Nonetheless, trying to seduce the women at the office, in Laura’s opinion, was a low blow. She was not pleased with this whole thing at all. Or, maybe, her feelings were, in fact, just jealousy. Laura literally shook her head, in a failed attempt to get rid of such thought. Why would she even be jealous of him? They don’t even know each other that much.
Unexpectedly, James passes right in front of her and heads directly to his office. Her heart was inexplicably racing now. He locked the door in his office and closed all the blinds. Everyone was staring. It was very unusual to see him at his office, especially on a day as important as today. Something was going on.
“What if we’re all getting fired?”, said Emma, concerned.
“I don’t think that’s what’s going on…”, assured Laura.
But she wasn’t entirely sure. It could happen, but it was very unlikely. In Laura’s opinion, he was going through personal issues.
James opened the door and called out Laura’s name. She looked at him and he made a hand gesture signifying that she should get inside. Her heart was beating so much that she couldn’t even feel it anymore. She got up and started walking. It was looking more like a walk of shame. Everyone was watching her and she could barely move. She was feeling her body shivering, but she couldn’t understand why she was so nervous.
She got inside his office and he told her to close the door, and so she did it. He was sitting at his desk and made another gesture expressing her to sit in the chair in front of him. She kept obliging. Why did he call her over? He typically never did anything like that.
“How are you, Laura?”, he asked.
“I’m fine.”, replied Laura. She was surprised that he even remembered her name.
“I need to ask you a favor.”, he said.
“I would like if you kept our last night encounter to yourself.”.
Laura found his request quite odd, but it was none of her business to intrude.
“Sure. I won’t tell anyone.”, she assured him.
His eyes locked on Laura’s and she could tell that he wasn’t that convinced.
“It’s really none of my business…”, she added, following it with a forced laugh, in a failed attempt to break the tension in the room.
“Thank you for understanding. It’s just that… I’m going through some problems and they can’t find out that I was in that neighborhood.”, he explained.
“As I said, it’s really none of my business.”, she kept saying, hinting that she did not want any more information. But, secretly, she was curious. What was he hiding?
“Thank you.”, he said.
During the entire conversation, James was always looking right into Laura’s eyes. On the other hand, she was so nervous with his presence that she kept trying to look away.
“You can get back to work now, that’s all.”, he said smiling.
Laura nodded and got up. Then, James stopped right in front of her.
“If someone asks, just say that I wanted to ask you out to dinner tonight.”, he said.
She was even more nervous now. How would she tell people that James asked her to be his date on the most important event of the company? And why would he ask her, of all people? In her opinion, that would put people talking about the two of them, and she didn’t want that. And, why would she refuse such an invitation?
Her pause was obvious and James noticed that she was having doubts.
“I will wait for your answer.”, he clarified.
“What do you mean?”, she asked him.
“That I actually want you to be my date tonight.”.
His quirky smile at the end, right before he opened the door for her to leave, made her both angry and excited at the same time. For starters, she was thrilled that the invitation was true, but she also knew that he only did that to ensure that she kept his secret. In fact, Laura was so angry that she could just tell everyone about it right now. But she wouldn’t do it.
“What did he want?”, Emma asked her, as soon as she sat down at her desk.
Quickly, Laura realized that she was incapable of breaking her promise, so she only told Emma about the invitation. Emma was shocked by such news, but so was Laura. The two of them went on talking about it for hours and, before they knew it, it was already lunchtime.
“Where are you going to have lunch?”, asked Emma.
“I just bring my own and I eat it here while I work.”, replied Laura.
Emma got up and said: “Well, today you are going with me to the sushi restaurant.”
“Oh, no. I’m fine, really.”, Laura refused.
“Nonsense. I’ll pay!”, offered Emma. “I always go alone so I would appreciate the company.”, she said.
Laura didn’t really want to go, but she felt sad hearing about Emma eating alone every day, so she wanted to keep her company.
“Okay.”, Laura agreed. “But I’m not letting you pay.”, she added.
“We’ll see about that…”, said Emma.
They both laughed and went to the restaurant.