Beyond the Pines (Part 2)

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[02]

Lost dreams. That’s what I was made of.

So many dreams I’d lost throughout my life, and I’m not talking about dreams that were ripped away by an external force. Those were like dreams that I’d given up on, that I knew were hopeless, that I knew would never come true even if I tried going for them. Dreams that were like water; try to hold it in your hands, and it will pour through the cracks. For me, there were two prevalent ones that I had to leave in my past. Dreams that weren’t meant to be accessed, that were far from my reach.

But, as I ate lunch in an Italian restaurant downtown and my coworkers were chatting away, my eyes were glued to the TV screen hung on the other side of the room. It showed a rerun of some singing contest, and while the sound was muted, I just couldn’t look away. The contestants’ faces were full of hope, full of pride. They were doing something for themselves. They were trying to make it big.

My stomach churned as melancholy washed over me. I’d once dreamed of that, too. But dreams were meant to only stay the night, not haunt you when morning came.

“...Walker’s son. I heard Nola used to date him.”

Shaking my head, I tore my eyes away from the TV screen and returned my attention to the conversation at hand. “Which Walker are you talking about?” I asked.

“Orlando Walker,” Gabby said, smiling. “Son of Larsen Walker. I overheard Nola talking to him on the phone as she passed through my turf.”

Gabby’s “turf” was the lobby’s reception. “I thought his father is the one we’re organizing that birthday party for,” I said, glad that I could focus on something else now. “Why would Nola talk to him directly?”

“For various reasons,” Quinn said with an air of wisdom about her. She was the “veteran” of the company, having worked there the first day Nola opened for business. “First, as a part of taking over the company from his dad, he’s expected to handle big events, so that’s why he’s in charge. Then there is the thing that him and Nola dated a few years ago, which I believe is self-explanatory.”

“So you think Orlando wants Nola back?” Madison, another receptionist, asked with a frown.

“Who knows?” Quinn responded, shrugging. “I’m just saying it’s all very convenient.”

Gabby sighed dreamily. “It sounds romantic. The two of them crossing paths like this, rekindling their long-lost love…”

I rolled my eyes as the other two giggled. “I doubt that’s the case.” If there was one thing I absolutely didn’t believe in, it was going back to the love you once lost. Because if it was lost in the first place, it should probably remain lost.

Later, when we were back at the office and I took my position at the desk right outside Nola’s office, my boss and friend came out and sat on the desk, nibbling a toast. At thirty, she could’ve passed for eighteen with how well groomed she was; her strawberry-blonde hair was short and lushly curled, shining from how impeccably neat it was, carefully-applied makeup made her large hazel eyes pop out, looking more gold than green, and the pencil skirt and blouse she wore made her slender, form seem more accentuated, while the heels at her feet made her legs look longer.

What I really loved about Nola, though, was that she never expected any of her workers to dress up to work like she did. She would be completely fine with me if I chose to wear jeans and a tee, but since I took this job seriously, I never did; instead, I always wore tailored trousers, a modest shirt, and a pair of flat heels, since I was tall enough as it was without them.

“I’ve got an emergency meeting in half an hour,” she now told me, crossing her legs as she pulled the toast out of her mouth. “Please clear my schedule for two hours.”

“On it,” I said, pulling up Nola’s busy schedule. “Give me the deets.”

She grinned. “You know that app, Workeen?”

“Of course,” I said, surprised. “Gabby said that’s how she got the job here.” Workeen was kind of a new player in both the labor market and the matchmaking world in the past two years. It basically combined Tinder and Linkedin, but with a twist; the employee was to be anonymous, without a name, an age, or a picture uploaded, and the only thing that was visible was their resumes, while the employer put in all the details possible. The point of this app was to erase prejudices; the employer would have only the resumes for reference and only after they match with the potential employee, a chat would open and more details would be given.

“Yes, that’s the one,” Nola nodded, an excited gleam in her eyes. “Since I’ve been one of their first clients, since I was starting out myself at the time, they want to hire me to organize an event.”

“It’s great!” I said enthusiastically as I put in the details of the upcoming meeting. “What kind of event?”

“Ah, that’s where it gets interesting,” Nola’s eyes brimmed, and I knew that what she was about to say would be a game changer for her company. “They’ve just signed a deal with Facebook. The app’s already worth hundreds of thousands, but now it’s about to be worth millions.”

Holy shit. “And they’re going to be your client,” I summed it up, feeling awed. I’d always known Nola was a bulldozer when it came to advertise her business and make a name out of herself, but to snatch an up-and-coming game-changer in the labor market and social media world, it was above and beyond anything else. And it was all Nola and her brilliant business-oriented mind.

Nola smiled smugly. “Clear out both my and your schedules for the evening. We’re going out to celebrate!”


“Cheers!”

Nola and I clanked out glasses together. We were at Raver’s, our usual drinks-after-work bar, which was only a block away from Wayla’s office. Usually, we were joined by a few others every time Nola landed a deal, but since she hadn’t got Workeen signed yet - something which would happen in a couple of weeks, she said, since apparently, it required the signatures of the founders of the company as well as the CEO, and they were out of the country at the moment - she didn’t want to jinx it, and took me out to celebrate privately instead.

“God,” she said after downing a shot of tequila. “I’m so happy I could die.”

“Please don’t,” I said, grinning, “I kinda like having you around.”

She rolled her eyes and ordered some wine for both of us. I never liked wine, but over time, and ever since I started working for Nola, who was a wine-lover, it started to grow on me. But it was still bitter and somewhat disgusting on the first sip.

As we were nursing the Chardonnay, I decided to try and pry a little. “So I heard you’re in talks with Walker’s son about his birthday party.”

Nola sighed. “News travel way too fast around the office,” she said, and gave me a half-smile. “Orlando only does this for his father. He doesn’t do this with any ulterior motive.”

Busted. “I never meant to insinuate that he might,” I said, although it was exactly what I did. “I’m just... “

“Paige,” she said kindly, putting a hand on my shoulder. “We are friends, you know. You can stop being so careful and guarded around me after working with me for two years. Say what you want to say.”

I seriously loved her. “It’s just that I care about you,” I told her sincerely, sipping my wine and trying not to wince at the bittersweet flavor. “I don’t want to see you getting hurt over some old flame.”

She gave me a full smile this time and then attack-hugged me. “You’re so effing cute,” she said, rubbing her face against mine, smearing her makeup all over me, as if she was a cat. “But don’t worry. I have no feelings for Orlando,” she leaned back, giving me a reassuring smile, “it’s been almost six years since we broke up, you see. Time does its thing.”

It’d been almost six years for me, too. “Of course,” I said, putting a little more force into my voice. “After being apart for so long, I bet your feelings were wiped clean.” And maybe I would’ve believed it if I didn’t know better.

“‘Wiped clean’ isn’t the right term, I think,” she said, thinking it over. “I will always feel fondly toward him, but it’s not feelings as in love, or something. You know?”

No, I didn’t know. “Well, just take care, you know?” I said, giving her a serious look. In the time I’d known here, I never saw Nola dating anyone, let alone getting into a serious relationship, which was really strange; she always spoke about how much she wanted family and children. I didn’t know how she was like when she was with someone, or having feelings for someone, and since I really did love her, I didn’t want her to get hurt.

“You’re such a cutie,” she said, grinning at me. “I’ll take care, Paige. Don’t worry. Now,” she leaned toward me. “What about you? Did you take that guy on his offer?”

“That guy” was someone who hit on me a week ago here at Raver’s. He gave me his number, winked, and told me to call him, but the moment I got home, I threw the piece of paper in the trash and forgot about his existence. Until now. “Yeah,” I lied, forcing on a smile. “Banged his brains out.”

Nola snorted out a laugh. “Ah, I love you, you hoe,” she wrapped an arm around my shoulders. She was a very tactile person. “Honestly, though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you long-term with anyone. But hookups are great,” she said with a secretive wink, “and you’re young. You should have fun.”

I laughed while my insides crawled with unease. In the past, I had no problem keeping my friendships shallow. But this time, with Nola, it was getting really hard to do so. Lying to her, twist the truth so she wouldn’t suspect anything was amiss… But on the other hand, I didn’t want to talk about anything substantial. I preferred my relationships to be surface-level, as they’d always been. And no matter how sweet and amazing Nola was, I couldn’t change it.

So I’d rather have her think I was the one-night-stands kind of girl, that I had no skeletons in the closet, that I was just as easy-going as she was, that I had no issues. And Nola, being the sweetest woman on Earth but also the most oblivious one, never thought something was wrong. She chose to believe the best in people, chose to see the good, and while it was a naive way to see the world, it was beautiful, pure, and enviable, and all that good, all that light and trust was aimed at me, even though I knew I didn’t deserve it.

In my case, time didn’t do its thing. Time didn’t change me. Time only made me more cynical, distrusting, and pessimistic. Time didn’t heal me.

It only numbed everything so I could, at the very least, exist.

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