The one and only...
The party was in full swing before we even arrived. Dad was mingling with his friends when Roger and I entered. His eyes dazzled when he called out.
“Kiddo.” Almost leaping and hopping, dad panted, nearing us. He seemed like those commercial guys who loved making kids laugh with their funny theatrics. Knowing dad, this was one of the happiest I’d seen him. He was practically glowing from all the smiling.
“Hello Charles,” Roger held out his hand.
Dad raised his hand sifting through the air and breaking Roger’s words. “Dad or nothing.” He placed his hands to his hips, waiting for Roger to comply.
“Dad,” I intervened, asking him to knock off the new rule he whipped up for Roger. Before dad could speak in his defense, Roger decided to state his stand.
“Ohh, don’t worry, Arin. I’d love to call him dad.”
I eyed both men who decided there was no need for me to help them anymore. Grabbing a champagne flute, I walked over to Mrs. Rose who stood hand in hand with her husband.
A million-dollar smile flashed on her face as I watched them hold hands as if they were some newly married couple. My heartstrings were pulled in happiness. I wanted that with Roger, the commitment which transpired beyond age and decorum. The butterflies in the stomach even after ages of marriage.
“Are you enjoying the party?” I asked her. She tapped my shoulder, nodding.
“This is splendid, Arin. Did you organize it?”
“Oh, no. It was all my dad and his happy helpers. I did not help one bit.”
Upon that question, I turned to look over to face the crowd. Roger was mingling with the office people but a part of me even in this closed arena missed him. I wanted to be next to him. Before I had the chance to turn back towards Mrs. Rose, I felt his presence near me.
“Hello gorgeous...” his voice floated across and his hand coiled around my waist, appearing from nowhere before he tugged me onto his chest. Mrs. Rose was beaming with joy, watching us act goofy.
“If only you’d have done all this earlier.” She mocked him while I laughed at her retort.
Roger held onto me before leaning closer to Mrs. Rose. “It was all part of the plan Mrs. Rose. I always liked her since day one.”
He moved back as I nudge him with my ankle.
Ouch. He cried happily before whispering, “You will be so sore for this?”
“Sore or sorry?” I mocked, watching his smile reappear. He placed his index and middle finger in the air, showing a trembling movement of what seemed to be my legs. Sore it was.
God! I was already hot for him. A part of me wanted to pull him into the nearest room and take him on again.
Glass clang, making me break out of my state of daydreaming.
Dad stood at the elevated area, holding a flute. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he looked around. “We all know the merger and the success that both Murphy’s and Oswald will strive for. But today, I want you all to put your hands together for one special person. Without him, nothing would have been possible.”
I turned around watching as dad gestured his hand. “The man of the hour, Xavier.”
The crowd erupted into cheers and the sound of craps filled the air. Xavier got up where dad stood. Embracing him, dad reintroduced him to everyone before letting him with the mic.
After a bit of hesitation, Xavier tossed the device in his hands, walking around in circles. Roger stood next to me, his hand never left my body. With him, I always felt protected.
We watched as Xavier cleared his throat. “Umm... I don’t know what to say. Uncle already said so much. I mean I helped him but not as much as his own employees.” Waving a dismissive hand in the air, Xavier continued. “I had half the heart to come here today.” Roger and I exchanged a look. “A part of me wanted to miss it. You see, I was heartbroken. A girl broke my heart.”
As the crown awed, Roger whispered to me. “You know he is talking about you. Right?”
I shrugged, unwilling to accept his statement. Although the knot in my stomach grew with every passing second, I waited for Xavier to finish his speech.
Raising his glass, he looked around. “So cheers to everyone who is in love and to anyone who ever fell in it. And to my one and only,” he paused for a second. The dramatic effect had its final hit. “Babydoll.”
Roger turned me around, taking me to a corner. Without any hesitation, I walked with him. My mouth dried since the time Xavier called out my name. The name which was only known to Roger.
“Did you?” I looked at the dispersing crowd before looking back at Roger. He nodded swiftly.
“No. I thought you...” Roger stuttered.
Then who was it?
It was only one more person who was privy to this information. As we turned to watch Mrs. Rose who stood by her husband, we knew it wasn’t her. Roger looked around as his hands ruffled his hair and rubbed his face. His jaw twitched when he looked back at me.
“I swear, I’m going to punch that guy if he tells anyone about you.” Roger’s eyes turned red when he scanned the room. I grabbed his wrist, walking him to a secluded part of the lobby.
“Listen, you can’t do anything like that. So I want you to talk to others, make the employees feel welcome and let me go talk to Xavier.”
“I don’t want you to go alone.” He protested. I smiled at his concern. Holding his hand, I kissed his pale knuckles.
“I promise, if I need you,” I flashed my phone. “I will call you.”
Shifting his weight on both legs, Roger contemplated his next move before proceeding to place a kiss on my forehead. Watching him walk away was heartbreaking even if it was into the party. I was badly smitten by him.
Although I moved into his house and we both loved each other, after Roger’s initial words on our engagement, he went quiet on the topic. I wasn’t one to rush him for anything but somewhere I longed for an assurance.
Doubts crawled in my mind every night. What if Roger thought we were only dating? I wanted more from him, more than dating. I wanted to be with him. I wanted this role play to be a real play. The real contract deal.
“There she is.” Xavier’s voice boomed from behind. I turned to see him striding down the hallway towards me. His smile enveloped his face when he stood in front.
“What the hell?” I was livid to be reacting normally so I shoved him.
He announced my secret identity to the guests who came today. What was he thinking? Hands raised in the air, Xavier hung his head low.
“I am sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Yes, you shouldn’t.” Still fuming, I punched his arm. He groaned before moving back a step. “How did you know about Babydoll?”
Straightening, Xavier pulled up his lapel. “I saw it as part of due diligence. It was accidentally placed in our stacks.”
I paced around the marble lobby as his explanation unfolded before me. “Who else saw it?”
My eyes brimmed with tears. Anyone could have seen them. It wasn’t an undercover operation that I was running. It was right there. My name was on all forms, documents from the call center.
Xavier held my hands, running them up to my shoulders. Nailing me in place, he stared me down to calm. “I am telling you. I was the one to open the stacks and as soon as I realized, I took them off.” Air rushed back to my lungs at his explanation. A sense of calm filled me when he nodded with assurance. “Also, I am sorry about this mess I made,” he whispered.
Xavier’s lowered gaze and voice converted his sorry state. When I clicked my tongue, letting this one slide while moving ahead, he held me back. “Come with me?”
For my, “where,” he pointed up. The place where we first met. The rooftop.
“Xavi, I have to go. People are waiting,” I said. He rattled a packet of cigarettes near me, his eyes widened in anticipation, begging for company. “Since when have you started smoking?”
He shrugged at my question. Pressing the elevators button, his eyes remained glued onto me. My mind was directing me to go back, it was my heart that made me succumb.
Walking into the elevator, we reached the top in no time. Xavier walked ahead, opening the double doors. “You know, my company comes at a condition.” I giggled.
“What is that?”
“I will tell you horrible things about smoking so you quit.”
He gestured his hands for me to begin while he tented his hands close to his lips, weathering the wind away. At the third click, smoke danced up into the night sky. I dragged my phone out of my clutch, googling things about smoking.
“Did you know one in ten men have cancer because of this?” I said. He nodded, releasing a perfect round puff through his mouth. I watched as the doughnut-shaped ring danced in the air before disappearing into the night. Only the ashy scent remained. “Did you know that it reduces your sperm count?”
He laughed, continuing his drags.
I shivered even under the coat I managed it pull over before walking out. The slit dress and the cleavage couldn’t bear the freeze even under the warmth of the coat.
“Can we please?” My teeth clattered as I danced on my feet. Xavier removed his coat from his body and hung it over mine.
“You will end up having hypothe...”
He cut my words, placing a finger over my lips, taunting me to speak. The cigarette smell lingered on his index as he watched me with hooded eyes.
“Say something...” He removed his finger, closing out the distance. I could hear my heart beats in my chest. Any minute now, I could go into cardiac arrest. Leaning closer, Xavier’s eyes turned dark.
I stepped back, only to be pushed onto a wall. With the corner of his lips rising, revealing his crooked smile, Xavier breathed through his smoky breath. “Leave Roger before it’s too late.”
He moved inside as I shivered under the cold open air. His words resonated in my ears as I stood under the night sky, confused. What did he mean? Why was Xavier acting strange?
Stepping in, I saw no signs of him. When I rushed back to the party, all I could see was a large gathering. Pushing and waddling through people, I made my way to the center of it to find Roger in there.
Disheveled clothes, unkept hair and a heaving chest was nothing as compared to his bloodshot eyes and knuckles.
I walked over to him, holding his bruised knuckle in my hand. “What happened?” I was scared to ask the question I may have known the answer for.
I looked around the crown, all of whom watched Roger in horror. Roger turned to me, his eyes teared up, uttering the abomination that was the name, “Brandon.”
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