The temptation to scream was strong. How on earth was I supposed to embody calmness when on the inside, I was anything but? Isy’s note. Rogers text message. It was all too much. Everything was happening all at once and yet here I was, dressed to impress and making my rounds at The Rosalie launch party. Investors, colleagues; they all demanded my attention, giving me no option but to engage in meaningless conversations. On more than one occasion, I attempted to leave, but would make it as far as two steps before being stopped. People had no consideration for my current affairs, nor my toilet needs for that matter. Twice I had expressed my desires to use the bathroom but had John likes-the-sound-of-his-own-voice listened? Had he shite!
“I must say, what a lovely venue. I’m impressed.”
“It’s wonderful what they’ve done, isn’t it?” I smiled, edging closer to the ladies.
“And those canapes. Such flavoursome little things.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake!
“They’re a delight!” I snapped, in serious breach of pissing my pants. “John, I must dash.”
“What catering company have you used?”
Before I could reply, a tray of smoked salmon topped with cream cheese came floating by, prompting John’s eyes to widen. His greedy hands snatched up two before shovelling a third in his mouth; all signs of physical restraint long gone. Crumbs fell from his moving mouth and I took this moment to escape by making a beeline for the exit. I quickly locked myself in the nearest bathroom, pleasantly surprised by its appearance. It was a wide space with stylish deco and rich, ivory walls. Classical music spilled softly from hidden speakers, because who didn’t require a beat whilst pissing? The scent of cherries was present throughout, though such a thing made my stomach turn in an instant. The stench was overpowering and far too artificial for my liking. Still, it beat chatting with John.
“Bloody John,” I mumbled, relieving my bladder.
A quick bleep sounded from my bag, signalling an incoming text message.
SAM: Where the hell are you? Some chirpy fucker called John won’t leave me alone. SOS!!!!!
I instantly laughed, amused by the image of my brother stuck in the exact position I was in only moments ago.
JESSICA: Hang tight. I’m coming. xx
Before I could swoop in and save the day, I quickly freshened up, deciding another layer of lippy wouldn’t go amiss. I was in the middle of searching for it in my bag when I came across Isy’s note folded neatly at the bottom.
Moments past and all that was with me were my heavy breaths and mild panic. I stared at the note as though it were able to provide answers but unfortunately, no such thing occurred. Instead, I was left as clueless as I was when I first discovered it only hours beforehand.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you could take your seats. The speeches are about to begin…”
The muffled sound of people’s chatter simmered down, prompting my immediate return. Scott and I worked hard on the Tuscany presentation and I wanted to see him bring it to life. The project so far had been challenging but one in which I was proud of. The site itself is where Spencer and I first acted upon our attraction towards each other and for that, it would always hold fond memories for me. We shared our first kiss in Italy and what a moment it was.
“There you are!” expressed Rosalie, looking truly fierce in a silk gown and high heel shoes.
Her baby bump was noticeable, though surprisingly little for a woman mere weeks away from giving birth.
I smiled. “Here I am.”
“Scott’s about to go up, come on!”
She dragged me towards our table where everyone else appeared already seated, eyes set firmly on the stage in front. Sam shot me a ‘where the fuck were you when I needed you?’ glare, to which a shrugged, followed swiftly by a smile. I threw one in Dad’s direction too and noted he had a protective arm flung around Karen’s shoulder, looking proud as punch. Tonight saw the return of his smile and I was glad to see it. Since losing Mum, he struggled. Things that often made him happy were no longer present; the only constant in his life now being myself, Sam and Karen.
“Good evening, everyone. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves so far.” Began Scott, commanding the venue with his amplified tone.
I took a seat beside Rosalie and offered Spencer’s thigh a firm squeeze, seeing as it was positioned to my exact left. He looked handsome in his pressed suit and better yet, fully at ease. Seeing him in such a state of relaxation was nice for a change. Lately, his frown had become second nature due to the situation with Alister and Isy. But that was soon to change. With any luck, this note was the beginning of the end. For all our sakes, I hoped that were the case.
“Apologies for interrupting. Nobody likes sitting through these pretentious speeches, so I’ll attempt to keep it short.”
Scott’s honesty was met with muffled laughter throughout, prompted by the many people attending this evening’s party. Calvin chuckled from his position opposite and proceeded to heckle the shit out of him, ever the joker. “Get one with it!” He laughed, causing the tot sat on his lap to clap with all his might. Teddy–Lucy’s two-year-old son–was infatuated with his mum’s boyfriend/ dom and refused any other seat that wasn’t his bouncing thigh.
“So eager, Calvin. Perhaps I’ll drag it out,” retorted Scott, giving as good as he got.
I laughed at the pair’s pathetic bickering and smiled as I watched Leila play with a restless Teddy. Calvin attempted to appease the situation by rocking him back a forth but in the end, it was Leila’s careful attention that kept him occupied.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for coming this evening. If you received an invitation tonight, it means you are not only valued by the company, but by my family and me,” he continued, briefly looking to Spencer. “This past year has been tough for us. As most of you know, Spencer has been recovering from surgery. However, it gives me great pleasure to announce that as of next month, he’ll be back to work as usual.”
This news came as quite the shock but before I could question the matter, Spencer squeezed down on my thigh and smirked. “Surprise.”
The little fucker!
“I can’t wait to have you back, brother,” added Scott, smiling from ear to ear.
“I can’t wait to be back,” he replied, raising his voice, “Besides, I’ve heard my replacement is excellent. I can’t have her stealing my job now.”
At this, he turned to face me and landed a brief kiss on my lips, essentially putting all suspicions about us to rest. I heard a few gasps but refused to let it bother me. Instead, I enjoyed the moment for exactly what it was. Our claim to each other.
“Which brings me nicely onto my next point. Many of you think I’ve been running things on my own in the absence of Spencer. That I’ve been juggling things to keep everything afloat. Well, that is simply not true. I’ve had help.”
“In fact, I couldn’t have survived these last few months without a certain person by my side.
I’m going to fucking kill him!
“Jessica. You’ve been nothing short of a saint and I can certain speak on behalf of the rest of my family when I say thank you for all you’ve done.” He paused, flashing me a mischievous smirk. “Not everyone can put up with Spencer’s shit.”
Once again, the room filled with laughter.
“I don’t belong up here on my own,” he continued, holding his hand out in the general direction of our table. “Spencer, Jessica. Get your arse’s up here.”
“YES!” hollered Catherine, clapping with glee.
She could hardly contain her excitement.
“You’ll need to be my eyes, Jessica,” warned Spencer, slipping his arm through mine.
“Always,” I ensured, directing us both towards the stage.
There, I hugged Scott for the sake of appearances and fed him my true thoughts when positioning my mouth next to his ear. “You’re an arsehole, Scott Michaels.”
“You love me really. I’m like that annoying older brother you can’t get rid of.”
“I already have one of those,” I laughed, gesturing to Sam immediately.
Before we could continue, Spencer felt for the microphone and gently encouraged me towards it, speaking down it himself. “Ladies first.”
I shot him my most cunning stare, though soon realised it was a fruitless attempt at intimidation. He couldn’t see my death glare, nor could he see the amount of people present, expecting me to deliver a note-worthy speech with a minute’s notice.
Talk about unprepared!
“Well, this was unexpected,” I laughed, breaking the ice by addressing my nerves. “I suppose I’m expected to say great things about these two men stood behind me? Paint them to be true craftsmen of their art?” The audience chuckled. “Of course, I don’t need to. You already know that. What you don’t know is how kind and considerate they are.”
The smiles I was gifted calmed my anxiety.
“It’s an honour to not only work for such an established company but a family who truly love and respect one another. James, Catherine; you’ve raised two incredible men and on behalf of this entire room, I thank you for that. To Spencer and Scott.”
“To Spencer and Scott!”
Catherine offered me an appreciative grin and began tearing up, prompting James to pull her closer to him.
He smiled at my invitation and held out his hand, casual beyond belief.
I grinned as I took hold of his hand and situated him in front of the amplified instrument. I was surprised to see how at ease he seemed and took a step back, watching in awe as he went on to deliver a killer speech. People laughed throughout the entire thing and even applauded his need to roast a few audience members. Poor John took a bloody beating but did so like a champ. Spencer went on to thank all staff members, his family and, last but not least, me. He concluded by stating how excited he was to be returning in the next few weeks and raised his glass, prompting another round of “Cheers!”
Afterwards, Scott took charge of the room again, allowing Spencer and I the chance to return to our seats. He shortly began running through the Tuscany presentation and did so with utmost confidence. The slides looked great and people loved the mock-ups our design team had created. All in all, everyone seemed excited which was a relief given the recent complications. Scott did a wonderful job at putting a positive spin on everything and concluded things with one final shout out.
“Before I go, I’d like to pay a special thanks to one woman close to my heart,” he shared, smiling fondly towards Rosalie. “My beautiful fiancée. For the best part of two years, you have been my everything and I can’t wait to blag this whole ‘parenting’ thing with you.”
Instantly, I let slip an almighty laugh, amused by his honesty. Rosalie looked horrified, being outed by her one true love. In a matter of weeks, they’d both be parents and with it came huge responsibility. Not that I doubted their ability in any way. They were more than prepared.
“I’m proud of you, Rosalie. Of us.” To my left, she started welling up. “Ladies and gentlemen, join me in raising a toast to the Rosalie Estate.”
“To the Rosalie Estate!” I chanted, setting off a chain reaction.
Scott made his way towards the table and out poured the catering staff, all loaded with trays of food. For a moment, I just watched, Each one moved with precision and filtered through the space as though the huge round tables weren’t obstacles in their path.
“Should I be concerned?” I asked, turning to face Spencer.
He shot me a look of uncertainty. “Why would you be?”
“For my job. Shall I start looking elsewhere?” I bit my tongue to hide the smirk begging to unleash.
“Actually, Scott and I were wondering how it would be best to let you go?”
“Very funny,” I chided, shoving gently on his chest.
He responded by taking my lips captive and only stopped upon food reaching our table. The smells were invigorating and each dish looked truly magnificent, tempting me with promises of great tastes. I hadn’t realised just how hungry I was but now with many options in front of me, I was ready to dig in. And so I did. Managing a few mouthfuls, I tasted various concoctions before my mind came racing back to reality. It was all fine and well sitting in my bubble, stuffing my face but that didn’t take away from the seriousness of the situation. Isy needed help and Roger had finally found Alister’s true identity. The two together seemed like great news for our defence but I couldn’t ignore my apprehensions. My instincts always served me well and I had a bad feeling about this.
A very bad feeling, indeed.