Chapter 3. Fifty New Dates
“Look. Please. I came here to apologize. I’m so sorry about before.”
He untied his apron and threw it down on the bench, stepped out from behind the counter and strode over to me. “I don’t care. I almost lost this business because of you.”
“It was an accident. I’m so sorry.” I narrowed my eyes and continued. “Wait. What do you mean?”
He shook his head and ran his hands over his tired face. “Nothing. I’m busy. You need to leave. Please.”
I nodded and gave him a gentle smile. “I really am sorry.”
Before I turned away, I could have sworn I saw a flicker of guilt in his eyes. I kicked my heels and opened the door, hearing the bell before I stepped onto the footpath.
Looking down at my phone, it was still early enough for me to grab some coffees and morning tea for the office.
Might as well do something right today.
She looked up from her computer screen and raised her eyebrows, pointing towards the earpiece again. “I know. It’s not right.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Sorry. The new girl just came in. God, she’s annoying.”
I shook my head and made a beeline to the door leading to the main office. I swiped my access card and pushed my way in with my back, while my hands were occupied with food and hot beverages.
Looking around, there were a lot of people already seated comfortably at their work stations. The taps from the keyboards drowned out the sounds of chatter coming from Mr. Cross’ office.
After learning where everyone was seated yesterday, I placed their coffee down at their desk.
“Thank you. You remembered my order?” Tom smiled.
“Yes, I remembered.”
Tom’s grin widened and exposed his extremely pearly teeth.
I turned my head to avoid the awkward gaze. My attention shifted to Mr. Cross’ office and I noticed that he was alone. After making my way towards him, I lightly tapped on his door and waited for his response.
His voice echoed and I stepped into his large and well-presented space.
“Good morning, sir.”
He lifted his head up and a smirk played on his lips. “I see you’re taking that conversation we had yesterday to heart.”
“Yes, sir.” I walked over to his desk and placed the takeaway cup down next to his keyboard. “Long black, no sugar.”
He looked back up and smiled. “Am I supposed to be impressed that you remembered?”
I shook my head slowly. “Just bringing your coffee, sir.” Smirking, I picked up his beverage again. “I could always take it back.”
He pressed his lips firmly together and I saw the wrinkles appear on his forehead. “Put it down.”
I obliged and noticed Aaron’s eyes travelled to the small brown paper bag in my grasp.
Lifting it up, I smiled. “Oh, this? It’s just a croissant.”
He furrowed his eyebrows. “With almonds?”
“Leave it on my desk,” he demanded through his softened tone.
“Yes, sir.” I reached over and placed the bag next to his coffee, smiled and went to turn away.
“There are a few things that Jane needs your help with today.”
My shoulders slumped automatically at the thought of even spending a minute with that woman. As grateful as I was that she hired me, I knew she was bad news. Something I didn’t pick up on during the interview.
I shifted my attention back to Aaron. “I’ll do whatever she needs.”
“Don’t tell her that.”
“I won’t.” A smirk played on my lips. For the second time, I turned away from Aaron and stepped out of his office, closing the door behind me.
“You’re here!” Amelia exclaimed, before she pulled me in for a hug.
When she moved away, she lifted up a large white paper in front of me. “Do you know what this is?”
I shook my head. “No. What is it?”
“It’s the list,” she beamed.
“Wait. THE list? Are you checking it twice?” I joked.
She chuckled lightly before she tapped me with the paper. “Very funny, Ciara. Okay. So, at the end of the year, the whole office participates in a group New Year’s dare thing.”
“Sounds interesting. Go on.”
She linked arms with mine and we both made our way to our desks. We sat down and her excited voice lowered to a whisper.
“So, everyone writes something down, and we all put it in the hat. Whatever you pick has to be something you commit to doing for a whole year.”
“A whole year?”
She nodded her head eagerly and grinned. “We only started this last year, so we’re still trying to iron out all the kinks.”
“Yeah, okay. Give me an example of something someone picked out last year.”
Her smile widened.
I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to be part of. At least not until I knew what the stakes were.
“Well, last year I picked out that I had to give up chocolate. Well, more like all sweets.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Dawson had to do something embarrassing every day.”
Yeah, that one sounds bad.
“Wait. So, every day for a whole year he had to do something embarrassing?”
Amelia nodded. “Yep.”
“Yeah, not sure if I want to do this.”
“You have to if you want your bonus.”
“Hold on, I don’t get paid, remember?” I grinned.
“Yeah, but even the interns get a bonus. It’s been like that since forever.”
A bonus. Something I definitely needed. But how desperate was I for it? I mean sure, money sounded great, but at what cost?
I took a deep breath and thought for a moment while I chewed the inside of my lip.
“Okay. I’m in. Put my name down.”
Amelia squealed and clapped eagerly. “Oh, you won’t regret it. It’s going to be so much fun!”
I wasn’t sure how giving up sugar was going to be fun, but my curiosity was peaked.
“Great. When do we do this?”
She glanced down at her Fitbit. “Oh, probably in about an hour. I’ll write your name and add something funny for the hat.”
“Thanks. Mr. Cross mentioned something to me about Jane needing help today.”
Amelia rolled her eyes.
I knew how she felt. At the mere mention of Jane my insides churned and I felt sick. She was definitely not one of my favorite people.
“It’s Tuesday. She comes in late, so you can help me until then.
I nodded and smiled. It was already a good day indeed.
An hour had passed. After helping Amelia type up some memos, I found myself standing in the kitchen with my hot cup of tea in my grasp.
As I held on tight with both hands, the warmness from the mug spread through my arms and heated my entire body. My eyes closed as I enjoyed the taste of the English breakfast, while two people behind me discussed the upcoming dares.
“I don’t think it’s fair. I mean having our entire bonus riding on this resolution. We shouldn’t be forced into it. I mean remember what Jane had to do last year?”
Ummmm. I want to know what she did.
I took a small sip of my tea before I listened into their conversation.
“Didn’t she have to sleep with like someone every week?”
I choked, spat out the liquid, and turned to the young pair talking.So much for being inconspicuous.
“I’m sorry. What now?”
“Oh, yeah. Jane. She had to like sleep with one guy each week. Fifty guys apparently. Though I think she lied to use it as an excuse to tramp around. Who knows with her?”
Nope. Nope. Nope.
I wiped the corners of my mouth, opened up the dishwasher, and placed my cup upside down, before I closed the door. Storming out of the kitchen, I went to find Amelia.
“Are you kidding me?”
She looked up and narrowed her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Jane had to sleep with a guy each week?”
Amelia stretched her lips and sucked the air between her teeth. “Oh, you heard about that rumor, huh?”
I kicked my neck back and sighed. “Take me off the list.” This was definitely something I didn’t want to participate in. My self-confidence when it came to guys was lacking. I was a nerd and wasn’t interested in dating again for a number of reasons. I had only ever loved one person, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that again.
Amelia’s expression softened. “I can’t. Jane already took it from my desk and gave it to Mr. Cross. She ended up coming into work early just for this.”
I let out a harsh sigh and covered my hands over my face. “This is crazy.”
She reached over and gently touched my arm. “I’m sure you’ll be fine, love. Besides, we’re about to go into the board room.” My eyes locked with Amelia’s and she gave me a warm smile. “Come on, let’s go.”
Amelia and I made our way to the meeting room. A few people were gathered already, and the two of us stood up against the back wall. After the entire office turned up, Mr. Cross finally strolled in, with a large hat in his grasp.
“Okay, everyone. It’s time.” Aaron looked around the room, caught my gaze and a smirk played on his lips.
“Everyone should know how this works. Whatever you pick is the resolution you will be compelled to follow for a total of fifty weeks. Since we have a new starter, I would like to call her up first.” Aaron continued before his eyes locked with mine again. “Everyone, please welcome, Ciara.”
The entire boardroom clapped. My cheeks flushed, and Amelia tapped my shoulder and urged me to go to the front of the room, where Aaron was waiting for me.”
“Miss, Ciara,” he smiled, and reached out the large black top hat. “Pick one please and read it out loud.”
My racing heart was beating against my chest.
Please don’t be anything stupid. Or embarrassing. Oh, God. Nothing dangerous.
My trembling hands reached into the void. Mixing the resolutions with my fingers, I finally took hold of a small folded paper, and lifted it out of the hat.
“Remember to read it out loud,” Aaron whispered.
I nodded, and gently unfolded the corners before the resolution was presented to me.
Swallowing hard, beads of sweat were dripping down my forehead, which I wiped away with the back of my hand. My croaking voice was still shaking as I read the note out aloud. “Fifty new dates for fifty weeks. Your dare is to meet a new guy each week, and go out on a date. Oh my God. Sleeping with them and kissing is optional”
I felt faint. My heart continued to race and I tried to calm myself down with slow breaths, but it wasn’t working. I looked up at Aaron and blinked, trying to regain focus. He was smiling, but when the tears had pooled in my eyes, I knew I had to get out.
Dropping the note, I turned and ran out to find the ladies bathroom. Barging through, I swung the stall door open, leaned over the toilet, and emptied the contents of my stomach.
After a few moments, Amelia walked in and called out to me.
“Ciara, are you okay?”
I wiped the corners of my mouth, flushed the toilet, and stepped out of the stall.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I admitted.
She watched as I stepped towards the basin and turned on the faucet before I scrubbed my hands to the point that I almost peeled off my skin.
“You can always talk to Mr. Cross.”
I nodded. “I might have to do that.”
After cleaning up, Amelia and I walked out of the bathroom and stepped back into the office. Someone unexpected was waiting at our work station.
What the hell?
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