The next night, Nola booked us Raver’s private room for celebration. Because today, she finally got Workeen to sign with Wayla to organize their celebratory event for signing that deal of collaboration with Facebook.
“Cheers!” Everyone called and downed the tequila shots in one go.
“I can’t believe it!” Nola said from next to me, excitement written all over her face. “We got Workeen! Paige got Primal! We are on the freaking track!”
Everyone laughed and cheered again. I smiled, just as excited as everyone else, but I was also more anxious than usual. Because ever since my conversation with Orlando yesterday, he started texting me.
At first it was work-related. When I was just about to get off work for the day, he texted me, ‘I might need Nola next Wednesday. Can you book me in with her in the morning?’ To which I replied, ‘Sure’.
I thought this meant he got the message in the car, and that we were back to a purely working relationship that wouldn’t last longer than the date of his father’s birthday party. But then, when I arrived at home, he texted me, ‘What about you? Can you book me in with you next Friday?’
There was so many ways one could reject, and so I used the simplest one and sent him, ‘No.’ With a period.
But today, I woke up to a text from him that read, ‘Come on, Paige. I want that fire I saw yesterday. Can you give it to me? Please?’
Which almost triggered a stream of memories I really didn’t want triggered. So I sent him back, ‘What part of “no” you don’t understand, Mr. Walker?’ Because I would be damned if I called him Orlando. He should be reminded he was our client, Nola’s client, and not just some random dude who was trying to hit on me.
Yet he wasn’t dissuaded at all, because he wrote back, ‘Damn, that’s hot. Friday, eight o’clock, my place?’
I didn’t bother to respond. But my mood had officially plummeted, and while all I wanted was to celebrate Nola’s and my accomplishments - even if I was sure mine wasn’t more than stupid luck - I couldn’t get rid of Orlando’s insistence that we should sleep together, because it made me feel like I’d done something wrong, when in fact I didn’t do anything at all.
Because I knew I should tell Nola about it. She deserved to know. Yet she was into him, still. I didn’t know why they’d broken up all these years ago, but I just knew that she wasn’t over him. One would be blind not to see that, and I didn’t want to hurt her, or make her turn on me. So here I was, undecided, trying to have a good time, while feeling guilty as fuck -
“...Was so hot, I could lick them up!”
I turned, bewildered, to look at Nola, whose eyes were dreamlike. “What did you just say?”
She giggled as some others laughed at my stupidly surprised face. “Just that I thought those Workeen people are really hot,” she said, grinning. “Damn, you should’ve seen them, Paige. They’re so good-looking, it’s not even funny - “
“Especially that tall, dark, and hottie,” Gabby said, sighing as she fanned herself. “Damn, but I would tie him to my bed and never let him go.”
Other women around the table hummed in agreement, including Nola, who seemed even happier at the thought of having whoever the hell that was tied to her bed.
Did I misread her? Because when a person was in love, they didn’t act like that. They certainly didn’t fantasize about other people. Maybe she didn’t have any feelings for Orlando, then. Still, it didn’t mean that I wanted to have sex with him, or that having sex with him was right.
Just then, as if on cue, my phone rang. I looked at it to see it was the object of my worries. “Excuse me,” I muttered and took off the table just as the girls started detailing what they would do to “tall, dark, and hottie” if they got their hands on him. I went out of the bar and onto the street, preparing myself for the talk Orlando and I were going to have.
“Mr. Walker,” I said as I answered. “Please don’t call me if it’s not about work.”
“You didn’t answer my text from earlier,” he murmured, his voice intimate.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Don’t you have some other woman to hound?” I asked, reaching the end of my patience. “I can’t be the only woman in your contacts.”
“You might not be the only one,” he replied, “but you’re the only one who resists my charm.”
And since he was a rich, condescending ass, he couldn’t handle being rejected. “Orlando,” I said slowly, “listen to me. I don’t give a fuck if my rejecting you got your panties in a twist. I don’t give a fuck if it turns you on that I said no - which is completely creepy, to be honest with you - but get it into your thick head that I’m. Not. Interested.”
He sighed. “Why?” he asked, and there was a tone of seriousness in his voice that wasn’t there before.
But I still wanted to pull my hair out. “I’ve told you already,” I grated out, “you’re Nola’s - “
“And if I wasn’t?” He cut me off.
Exasperated, I said, “In how many ways do I have to say ‘I’m not interested’ for you to get the point?”
There was silence on the line. Then he said, “Fine. I get it. You’re not into me.”
Thank fuck. “This is very true.”
“Then let’s hang out instead,” he said all of a sudden.
My heart froze. “Hang out?”
“Yeah,” he said, and there was more conviction in his voice. “If I can’t fuck you, can I at least have you as a friend. You seem to be cool and I...”
But I didn’t hear the rest of it, because the memory came to my head. A memory of a pub, a woman called Siobhan singing in the background, and a man sitting before me, looking at me with eyes of darkest brown...
“Then does it mean we’re friends now?”
“Yes,” I smiled. “I guess we are.”
“No,” I said, abruptly cutting Orlando off mid-sentence. “We can’t be friends. Have a good night.”
“Pai - “ he started to say but I hung up, feeling so cold, and so very alone.
I turned to look at Patrick, who was now drinking from his beer. We were at Cosmos for our Saturday night hangout, and Peter was off to flirt with some cute guy he’d spotted at the bar, so it was just him and me at the table.
“I’m just… thinking,” I said, sipping my virgin cocktail. I was in no mood for alcohol.
He glanced at me. “About what?”
I shrugged weakly. “Stuff. Work, for once. Did I tell you Nola landed a deal with that app, Workeen?”
Patrick’s eyes widened. “No, you didn’t tell me about it. That’s amazing.”
“Told you Nola’s great,” I said with half a smile.
He frowned. “You don’t seem happy, though,” he noted, his eyes peering at my face, searching. “Is everything alright?”
Everything was fine. Orlando tried to text me a few times, but I never responded. Nola was on cloud nine with all the recent successful deals. Larsen Walker’s birthday party was looming near. Everything was as it should be.
But I was in this weird funk that I couldn’t seem to shake since that night we went to Raver’s to celebrate the Workeen deal. That night, after hanging up on Orlando, after having that glimpse of memory from what felt like another lifetime, I realized that my life was…
Dull. It was dull, and colorless, and it felt like I was just surviving each day instead of living. I’d been aware of it, of course I had been, but never like this. Never to the point I realized that I was just… fading away.
“It’s fine,” I said, giving my worried older brother a small smile. “I’m fine. Promise.”
“You’ll tell me if you’re not,” he said, and it was an order.
I chuckled. “Pat, stop worrying too much.”
“Never,” he said, that one word loaded with meaning.
My smile vanished. “Patrick…”
“Don’t,” he said, his face suddenly grave. “After what happened, there’s no chance in hell I’m not going to be worried. This is why I moved here, to Boston,” he turned to look at me with eyes that were now haunted. “I needed to be closer to you, Paige, and keep being close to Peter. I will never stop worrying.”
I dropped my gaze. “I understand,” I said quietly. “Believe me, I do.”
Because the truth was, we would never be the same after what happened all these years ago. It wasn’t in the cards for us to be ordinary siblings with no care in the world. This was why Peter lived with me, instead at the MIT dorms or in his own apartment. This was why Patrick, as he just said so himself, moved to Boston. We needed to know that all of us were doing okay. That we weren’t drowning in memories. That we weren’t going to put an end to this, an end to us.
All we had in this world was each other, after all. Even when Dad was still alive. Even when we were as much apart as possible. It was only us, and we needed to deal.
But looking at Patrick now, who already moved on from the topic and whose eyes were following a woman who’d just entered the pub, and Peter, who was now taking the guy he was hitting on by hand and dragging him away from the room, and me, who almost lost it when some guy suggested we should be friends… Were we really dealing? Or were we just existing because there was no guiding light, no alternative?