It was the beginning of November, and Nola had yet to sign the deal with Workeen. “One of the founders got held up,” she told me in a hush during lunch when I asked her about it, “so it was postponed to the beginning of next month.”
However, the energy in the office was high, because preparations for Larsen Walker’s birthday party were now in full power. I was busy following Nola around as she hopped from one department to another, making sure everything was organized as best as possible, and then, one morning, she announced, “We’re going to find a catering company today.”
I was in the middle of answering email inquiries, but I stopped at that. “Do I need to join in?” I asked, because she said ‘we’ and usually, that meant just that.
“Yup,” she said happily, “Orlando will meet us there. He knows his father’s taste best, you see.”
Nodding, I made sure to rearrange my to-do list so I would have time to answer as many emails as possible before joining them, and when it was time for lunch, we drove to the catering company’s place in South Boston.
Since it was November, the weather was already getting chilly, and trickles of rain made the drive an annoyance. However, we arrived just in time, and we got into the tall, industrial building that held the company’s main office.
We reached the fourth floor and got out into a nice, colorful lobby, that was completely different from the main lobby of the building, which was white and colorless. When we reached the reception desk, however, I saw a tall, fit man, who must be Orlando, was already there, talking to the receptionist.
It was, indeed, the man himself, because Nola called, “Orlando!”
He turned around and I got the full impact of his looks. He looked like a model, with dark blonde hair, sleekly pushed-back and full of natural highlights, a pair of shocking electric-blues, a square jaw saw clean shaven, there wasn’t even a stray bristle in sight, and he was tall, wearing casual jeans and tee that were nothing casual, since they looked to be designer-brands, and fit him so well, I suspected they might’ve been tailored just for him. He was over six feet, with athletic physique that showed he frequented the gym often, and there was a slight tan to his skin, as if he’d just returned from basking in the sun, even though it was almost winter and this was Boston, not LA.
I could see Nola with him easily. He was impeccably looking, and so neat and orderly, that he fit messy, vibrant Nola like a glove - at least, looks wise. As for his personality… It was soon to be determined.
Orlando smiled at Nola, and the two of them hugged like old friends. Or at least that’s how Orlando looked. Nola proved the time did shit not for her feelings, no matter how much she said it did, because she couldn’t quite mask the longing in her eyes when she looked at him once they let go of each other.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said, and she sounded completely natural and friendly. But she couldn’t fool me; that look in her eyes was still there. I knew that look. I saw it in the mirror sometimes.
“It’s good to see you, too,” Orlando said, his baritone voice smooth, and smiled at her, which made dimples crease his cheeks. “It started to get a little weird just talking on the phone.”
Nola laughed. “True,” she said, and then remembered I was there. “This is my PA, Paige Harper.”
He turned to look at me and shook my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Harper.”
An old kind of pain cut through my chest. “Please, call me Paige, Mr. Walker,” I said, trying not to sound too insistent.
“Then call me Orlando,” he said, letting go of my hand. “Mr. Walker makes me feel as old as my dad.”
Nola chuckled. “Well, you are taking after him,” she said, glancing at him with a fleeting spark of appreciation in her hazel eyes that she quickly hid with a teasing grin. “I did see your childhood photos that one time, you know.”
Orlando groaned. “I wish you hadn’t found that album.”
“And I wish I’d found more,” Nola sighed. “Anyway, let’s get going.”
Since we weren’t the only ones considering buying this catering company’s services, they brought us to a large dining room, where there were about six tables, each meant for four people. Orlando, Nola, and I were led to one of the tables near the window, and afterward, the waiters came with the dishes, explaining what each dish contained, and gave us paperwork to write comments, or simply mark a dish we particularly liked.
Because it wasn’t my job, I refused the sheets and simply focused on eating. That, I could definitely focus on.
Throughout the tasting process, Orlando and Nola were busy catching up. I felt left out, but I was also glad that I wasn’t required to socialize. I was there as Nola’s PA and nothing more, and it meant I got to eat good food for free, and could enjoy just looking out of the window to the city beyond.
When lunch came to an end, Orlando, Nola, and I walked together to the parking lot, and there, Nola and Orlando hugged again. “We should catch up over some coffee once this whole birthday party is over,” Nola said when she let go of him, her smile friendly, but her eyes hopeful.
Orlando smiled back. “Sure,” he said, and I searched his face. Could he have feelings for her still, too? But all I saw was an amicable look that told me nothing. He then turned me and gave me another handshake. “It was nice meeting you, Paige.”
Since we didn’t talk the entire time we were here, I highly doubt that. “You too,” I said with a fixed smile.
“I’ll send you Paige’s number later,” Nola told Orlando, “since I’m going to have to start working on another project, I want you to have direct access to my PA if you need me. She’s basically an external limb of mine,” she winked at me.
“Sounds good,” he said, gave Nola another smile, and left.
Back in the car, Nola hummed to herself, being her usual cheerful self, but there was a spring to her step that wasn’t there before. I truly hoped this wouldn’t come biting her in the ass.
What’s broken, I believed, should stay broken.
The lasagna was ready. “Peter!” I called, taking it out of the oven and putting it on the counter. “Food’s ready!”
“Coming!” my brother called back.
The moment I finished preparing the small table, Peter came to the living room and sat down, looking at the lasagna with a dreamy smile. “Damn, but I love your cooking,” he said as I put a slice of the greasy good on his plate.
I flashed him a grin. “Tell that to Pat. Last time he was here, he complained the risotto was too sticky.” I put a slice on my plate and sat down. “Risotto, by definition, is supposed to be sticky.”
“Pat has no sense,” Peter murmured, his mouth already full.
I rolled my eyes. “Swallow before you speak.”
He grinned. “Sounds dirty.” When I threatened to fling some sauce at him, he chuckled. “Fine, fine, I’ll stop.”
“Thank you,” I said, shoving the lasagna into my mouth. “Did you get your scholarship for next semester sorted out?”
Peter gave me a look. “What do you think?”
I thought he did. “Don’t give me that look,” I scowled, “I’m trying to look after you.”
“You’re being very mothering,” he said soothingly, “and it is heartwarming, really. But please trust me that I know what I’m doing, okay?”
It was more than just trusting him and he knew that. But I sighed, said, “Alright,” and left it at that.
We chatted throughout dinner about his school, a subject he liked to talk about most and I extremely liked to listen, because after his first shaky year at the university, he’d finally found his feet when he joined a nerdy DC comics club, where he met a lot of people who were now his friends, so it was always great to see him rambling on and on about his friends, his classes, the teacher. It made me feel that maybe there was hope, at least where Peter was concerned.
When we finished, Peter washed the dishes, and I went to take a shower and start my evening with a nice sitout at the balcony of our beautiful apartment in Beacon Hill. After the shower, though, I was just putting on my pajamas when my phone went off. Frowning, since I didn’t expect a call, I looked at the screen and saw an unfamiliar number.
“Hello?” I answered, cautious. If this was that annoying salesman again -
“It’s me, Orlando Walker,” said the caller, “am I talking to Paige?”
I was surprised. “Yes, it’s me,” I said, and checked the time. It was almost nine. “How can I help you, Mr., um, Orlando?”
He chuckled softly. “I know we’ve just met yesterday, but something urgent came up and I didn’t want to disturb Nola.”
But disturbing me out of my working hours is fine. Maybe he did have feelings for Nola after all. “What is it, then?” I asked, making sure I sounded professional and certainly not irritated.
“I’ll need her tomorrow afternoon to talk to an A-class DJ I found,” he said, and I wrote it down quickly on a piece of paper I found on my desk. “Make sure that she’s available then.”
I turned on my laptop and checked Nola’s calendar. “What time?” I asked.
“Eleven,” he said, “the DJ will meet us at Prudential.”
Nola had an important appointment at four, I saw with a grimace. “Can you make it a late lunch instead? Nola’s afternoon is fully booked.”
He didn’t say anything for a few moments. “Can’t you squeeze this in between appointments, then?” he asked, and I didn’t like his tone now. He sounded like he was talking to a degenerate and that pissed me off.
“Not unless you want to have her for five minutes, top,” I said back, keeping my voice even.
He groaned. “It’s really important, Paige. The DJ has to head to NYC tomorrow night. There won’t be another time to meet him.”
I took a deep breath. “I understand your urgency,” I said, “but I can’t move any of her appointments tomorrow. I’ll have to get Nola’s approval to - “
“But you’re her PA,” he sounded annoyed now. “Isn’t it your job to have initiative and take care of things?”
This attitude reminded me of someone, and suddenly, I forgot who I was talking to, and found myself biting out, “It is my job, but no when it’s not my office hours, and you call me out of the blue to press me into rearranging my boss’s schedule, which can’t be done as easily as snapping my fingers.”
There was a chilling silence on the other end, and I closed my eyes. Dammit. Dammit. I was doing so good, keeping my cool even though Orlando was acting like any other of Nola’s pompous, entitled clients, but that last thing he said, it was almost like…
“I apologize,” Orlando said with a sigh, and something in my stomach dropped, almost in disappointment. “You’re right. I should’ve waited until tomorrow morning. I’m sorry,” he said again, and this time he sounded sheepish. “It’s just that this DJ is a really big deal, and I want to book him in as fast as possible before he won’t have any space left in his schedule.”
This time, I sighed. “I apologize for my outburst, too,” I said, “and it’s alright. I promise I’ll take care of it first thing in the morning.”
“Thank you, Paige,” he said sincerely. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, then.”
“Sounds good,” I said, “have a good night.”
After I hung up, I walked back out to the living room to see Peter looking at me with a frown. “Who were you talking to?”
I heard the warning in his voice. “A guy from work,” I said flippantly, “we’re having a wild, wild affair.”
He scowled. “It’s not funny.”
Smiling saccharinely, I picked my notebook from the coffee table along with a pencil. “I think it’s hilarious. Have a great night,” I blew him a kiss and walked to the balcony. My baby brother - not a baby anymore - needed to get it into his head that, as much as he wanted me to leave him be, he needed to let me breathe, too. Same went for Patrick. Coddling could only go so far, and the three of us needed to learn how to let go.
Even if it was hard to do.