Chapter 2 - A Close Call
“YOU WHAT?” gasped an infuriated Harley.
“Are you nuts? You fought with a customer? Why don’t you just walk up to HR and quit! You could get fired! Correction, you WILL get fired!” she blasted off at a silent Layla.
Layla sighed as she rubbed her hands on her face. She didn’t regret the showdown she had earlier but she admitted it as a reckless move on her part. “I wasn’t planning on getting fired, alright...I just lost my cool. I tend to get a little too emotional sometimes.” she brooded.
“You think?” Harley mocked, “You just don’t think, Layla. That’s the problem! That jackass is gonna put your ass on the line and you know this place doesn’t take even the slightest complaint lightly!”
At this moment, Layla didn’t care if she lost her job. All that mattered to her was her integrity and if sacrificing her job is the price to pay to defend her honour, then so be it. It wasn’t even a full thirty minutes since the incident when a knock came on the door. Harley had dragged Layla into the coolroom earlier.
“Um, Miss Griffiths, the hotel manager’s here to see you.” informed a familiar voice.
Harley glared at Layla one last time before forcing the door open to reveal a tensed Leroy.
“What does he want?” she barked. She noticed a short, plump man pacing by the kitchen’s entrance.
“H-He just said to send Miss Griffiths out...” Leroy stammered as he stepped out of Harley’s way.
Layla pushed Harley aside gently as she made her way up to the pacing man. “Layla, what are y--” Harley attempted to pull her back. Layla approached the man and cleared her throat, “You asked for me, Carl?”
Carl Simpson was the Imperial’s trusty manager. His ambition outsized his short stature. He was nicknamed the ‘White Rabbit’ from one of the characters in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ because of his plump figure, white hair, punctuality and impeccable attire. He wasn’t very old, probably around his fifties. But despite his overly professional manner, he had a soft side towards the people he was closest with. He and Layla had formed a special bond since she first joined the Imperial. She looked up to him like a father and he her daughter.
“Oh, Layla...” he sighed, “I’ve been notified of the happenings at lunch. Was that really necessary?” he asked in a calm voice.
She narrated her side of the event, explaining why she felt she wasn’t wrong to do what she did. Carl nodded once she had finished and patted her arm.
“I see...well, I suppose he was being a bit unreasonable. But, you should’ve sent him to me in a civilised manner. You don’t understand the seriousness of what you’ve done. That wasn’t just any old customer who you spoke to, that was the son of the Imperial’s owner.” he explained.
Layla didn’t respond immediately to this new piece of information. “You mean he’s...ugh, well so what if he’s some rich dude’s son? He still spoke like an idiot. No amount of money’s gonna make him any wiser.” she defended.
“Well, what’s done is done, the kid’s in my office now and he requested to have you there. He probably wants to settle this directly. So, no matter what happens, I want you to stay calm and not snap back. We need to try and steer him away from getting you sacked. Sass mouthing’s not going to make the situation any better.” he advised as he guided her out of the kitchen and towards to lobby.
They made their way through the many levels of the hotel until they reached the floor of hotel management. Their corridors were not as fancy as the rest of the hotel, it had a dull yet contemporary design. Layla followed behind Carl as he lead her to the door of his office. Just as the door was opened, a familiar face was seen standing by the window. He whipped his head around to see Layla cautiously making her way to the middle of the room. He managed to discreetly eye her from top to bottom. They caught each other’s glances and each were trying to study one another. Layla broke contact first as she cleared her throat and clasped her hands.
“This is Layla Griffiths, Mr Deighton. The Imperial’s Head Chef.” Carl introduced.
“Yes, I believe we’ve met.” said the man with a hint of sarcasm. Louis Deighton. Nice to see you again.” he added as he extended his arm out to her.
Layla thought he was mocking her, thinking his choice of words made it apparent. She shook his hand with hesitance as she challenged his gaze. “I wish I could say the same.” she blurted out.
Carl immediately pulled out the seats by his desk for the both of them and tried to change the subject. Louis couldn’t help but to smirk when she responded and sat down after her as they took their seats. She caught his smirk and found it confusing. He seemed to be undisturbed by the whole situation.
“Mr Deighton, I would like to apologise on behalf of Miss Griffiths’ behaviour. I understand it was uncalled for and unprofessional. But, I would also like to add that she is one of our best and longest standing staff at the Imperial and has always provided the best of her services. Her qualifications are unquestionable. Unfortunately, today was the first of an unforseen incident and I promise you that it will not happen again. Might I also add that losing Miss Griffiths would be a great loss to the hotel.” Carl recited without a pause.
Layla was appreciative of Carl’s speech, but she didn’t want anyone begging or bargaining for her. She didn’t want Carl apologising for something he wasn’t involved in. But, before she could get a word in, Louis began to speak.
“That was quite a mouthful, Mr Simpson. I admire your allegience towards your fellow staff. But, for future reference, it would be best for the person of interest to speak for themselves before we begin on the accounts of others. Now, I had given you a brief description of the conversation between me and Miss Griffiths. But, we had not discussed about the aftermath of this situation. Why would you assume that we’d be losing her?”
Both Carl and Layla were confounded by Louis’ question. Carl faltered with his words before he finally gave a response.
“I-I’m sorry, sir...I assumed such unprofessionalism would not be tolerated by the people who run this hotel, especially with its fine reputation.” Carl gulped, not being too confident with his answer.
“Mr Simpson...” Louis chuckled, “you strive too hard for perfection and order to a point where it’s making you mechanical. Just because it’s a five-star hotel with a bunch of million dollar paintings lining its walls, doesn’t mean it can’t go through a little rough and tumble. My father and I may own this building but we’re not the ones giving it life. The reason why people love this place so much is because of you. For years you’ve been loyal and nurturing towards the Imperial and you built its reputation. My father and I are grateful of your services.” he explained.
He then turned his gaze toward Layla and gave her a small smile.
“And as for you, Miss Griffiths, I didn’t come up here today with the intention of taking away your job. I admired your honesty and grit. I did want to clarify whether or not you were right and found out you were. Evidently, the customer isn’t always right. I respect the passion for your work and the lengths you would go to defend it. You are the kind of person every fine establishment requires...”
The moment was interrupted by the ringing of a phone. Louis reached into the pocket of his jacket and put the phone to his ear.
“I’m sorry but it looks like my attention is needed elsewhere.” he apologised as he shook Carl’s hand before getting up from his seat.
He was about shake Layla’s when his phone went off again, waving at her instead as he scowled at the caller. Layla, who was dumbfounded by his speech, watched him as he made his way out of the office. Her body was glued to the chair as thoughts rushed through her mind, still staring at the wide opened office door. All of a sudden, a strong sense of realisation struck her as she bolted out of the room.
Layla ran past the corridor, desperately not wanting to lose Louis. She slammed the button for the elevator and pushed herself inside as soon as the doors opened. She pressed for the ground floor and paced restlessly as music played in the background.
“C’mon, c’mon...” she mumbled to herself.
The last thing Layla expected was to be running after some guy today. But, it wasn’t just any guy - it was ‘the guy’. His hair, his skin...it was all too familiar but it never occured to her. This was the man from her visions. When Louis walked away it was a trigger. She was confident it was him - at least ninety-nine percent. The doors slid open and a gush of cool air and voices surrounded Layla as she jogged her way in between people. Her eyes searched desperately for the man in the mahogany suit. It had been a full five minutes and she was losing hope until there he was - his body leaned against a pillar with his head lowered down to his phone. She left out a sigh of relief as she approached him from the back, her nerves bottlenecking at her throat. Could this be? Could he be the one?
“Um, hi...Mr Deighton?” she gulped as she poked his shoulder lightly.
He peered over his shoulder to see a breathless Layla looking up at him from behind.
“Oh, hi, Miss Griffiths. Wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. Is everything alright? You look dazed.” he noticed some sweat on her neck and face.
“No, everything’s fine. I just...wanted to say thank you for, you know, what you said earlier. I also wanted to apologise for the disrespect I’d shown you today.” she tried to say in a stable voice.
“You’ve shown no disrecpect to me, Miss Griffiths. To be honest, I was a bit tickled by it all.” he joked, “Just don’t make it a regular habit, though. You might not be able to get away with it with others.” he winked playfully.
Layla couldn’t help but melt internally at that gorgeous wink. She tried hard to not blush. She also couldn’t help wondering about what he meant when he used the word ‘tickled’ to describe how he felt.
“Don’t worry, Mr Deighton, I won’t. Still, I would be delighted to offer you a special meal here at the Imperial, on the house, just for you. Something that’s off the menu.” she offered just in case.
He stared at her for a brief moment, as if he was making a plan, before responding to her offer. “Tell you what, I’d be happy to accept under a few conditions.” he smirked. “First, you stop calling me Mr Deighton because it makes me sound like an old geezer...besides, that’s what everyone calls my dad. Call me Louis. Secondly, I’d like to take you elsewhere for that special meal, preferably dinner. And I’d like it to be my treat since I was the idiot who started all this. What say you?”
Layla gaped at him in disbelief before blinking a few times.
“You’re bold. What makes you think I’d wanna go out for dinner...Louis?” she sneered as she crossed her arms.
“Because something made you run all the way down here and it wasn’t just for a sorry and thank you...” he said in an almost whisper, “the dinner is an opportunity for us to find out why. And besides, you’ve already accepted my first condition.” he smirked.
Layla could feel her pulse rising with anticipation. He was good. She felt she had a challenge on her hands. But, how did he know she had more on her mind? She cleared her throat as she corrected her posture.
“Alright, you’re on. When and where?” she smirked back.
“The venue will be a surprise. I like keeping things mysterious. I’ll send for a car at half past six. Don’t worry, I’ll look up your dress--I mean address!” he blushed with a nervous chuckle as he rubbed the back of his neck.
Layla raised an eyebrow at his mishap. She stifled a giggle as she nodded her head in approval. “Looks like I’ll be wearing a pantsuit.” she teased with a seductive smile as she turned around to head back toward the kitchens.
Louis couldn’t help but ogle her as he watched her fade away into the crowd. He could have sworn he saw a slight skip in her step. With a satisfied smile, he stuffed his hands into his pockets as he too started to make his way back out to the entrance.
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