The happy chatter of people echoed around me. Laughter and giggles pierced the air. I silently fiddled with my charm bracelet; the tiny teddy bear charm trinket pressed between my fingers. I brushed over each tiny trinket, a dove, a closed book, an ice-cream cone and a star. Each one holding a precious memory.
My eyes lowered at the empty wine glass sitting on the table. Tom was forty-five minutes late, and I finally allowed myself to think that my date was not coming at all. I tried to overlook my disappointment but couldn’t. I checked my phone one more time, thinking, hoping he might have messaged an excuse.
But deep down I knew there wasn’t.
Maybe he had seen me?
I shook the bad insecurities away.
My glazed eyes absent minded glanced towards the restaurant’s large windows across me. A tall man strode past, his sleek black hair whipped by. I thought I had almost seen Eric for a split second. But I was used to him in his business suits, not a black leather jacket and jeans.
Gosh! Can I not think of my boss? Am I so engrossed in my job?
I sighed, feeling like a jerk for agreeing to this in the first place.
The waitress walked to the table and collected my wine glass. I smiled weakly. Feeling quite embarrassed. She probably could tell my date ditched me. I bit my bottom lip preparing to ask for the wine bill. There was no way I would eat alone, even though my stomach grumbled in protest.
I looked straight ahead and blinked.
None other than Eric Bolton marched towards my table in a determined step. The waitress still stood patiently at my table waiting for my instructions. But my eyes were glued to my good-looking boss with a cloud of irritation that hung over him. His eyes focused on me.
I swallowed hard.
“Eric?” I said frowning. “What are you doing here?”
He took the wooden chair and sat down opposite me in a huff. The waitress startled by his sudden appearance. Her gaze slightly too long on him for my comfort.
“Bring a bottle of white wine for the table. Thanks!” He ordered abruptly.
The waitress crinkled her freckled nose and nodded instantly and dashed off.
Eric grabbed the menu and briefly scanned the list of seafoods and sushi, he looked agitated.
He took a deep breath and dropped the menu down on the table.
He looked at my still unanswered expression. Anger, irritation and sadness glazed his eyes.
“Tom couldn’t make tonight. He had a family emergency and called me.” He began. “So, I decided to come and let you know that.”
“Oh... is his family okay?” I asked confused.
Eric waved his hand as if shrugging it off. “He didn’t tell me the details and I didn’t ask.” He said quickly. “He would’ve been miserable company anyway.”
I nodded slowly.
“I thought you had something on tonight with your friends? I hope I’m not keeping you from it.” I said.
He shook his head. “Don’t worry about it Harper. It’s not a big deal.”
I lowered my eyes, my face turned solemn.
“Hey Harper, Honestly it’s okay. I’m way better company anyway. Tom would’ve been a bore, believe me.” Eric said with disdain edged in his voice.
But wasn’t he the one that set me up with him? Something didn’t feel right. But I didn’t enquire further.
Eric’s focused jaded eyes softened as he looked at me. His gaze travelled from my eyes to my chest, my cleavage slightly exposed. His roaming eyes made my cheeks warm.
“You look pretty tonight Harper.” He said smiling weakly.
I returned his weak smile. “Thanks.” I murmured.
The waitress came just in time breaking the weird moment between my boss and I. She plopped the bottle of wine on the table.
Eric ordered a sushi platter for the both of us, requesting numerous options.
The waitress jotted down the order, took the menus, and marched off.
“We don’t have to stay here Eric. The date’s a bust.” I sighed.
“Nonsense Harper. Who cares about the stupid ass date! We both hungry, let’s not let the evening go to waste, I’m not going to let you get all dressed up and pretty just to go home.” He insisted.
“I am starving.” I whined out.
His words made me smile. I tried to hide it, but I couldn’t and he made me giggle. Eric smiled, pleased with my reaction.
“I can’t say no to the boss now, can I?”
“No, you can’t. I’m happy you know that.” He mused.
The evening turned out better than expected, even though it started out rough. It ended being a lovely and pleasant dinner with Eric. Who knew! I was so used to doing work with him, this reminded me of our time together in Miami where he proposed to help me date.
I popped a whole Californian sushi roll in my mouth. The smoked salmon burst with flavor. It was delicious!
We talked about work mostly however, but there was a lot of work to discuss. We had just finished our sushi meal and the conversation flowed and turned more personal.
“Now for some Saki for you! What do you say?” He said, as he ordered a round and a glass of water for him.
I tilted my head. “Why Saki just for me?” I asked confused.
Eric grinned. “I’m trying to let you catch up on all those moments you missed out at parties trying to get your drunk friends’ home safely.” He chuckled.
I slapped my hand on my cheek. “Okay, why not!” I laughed.
I took a sip of the semi sweet drink. The fruity and nutty aroma trickling up my nose.
“I really like a guy at work.” I blurted out.
Eric raised his eyebrow. “Oh.” He said, his eyes looked soberly at me, curiosity brewed behind them.
I bit my bottom lip and nodded enthusiastically. “Yip.”
Eric smirked. “I hope it’s not me?” He teased. “Since I’m the only man in your life.”
“Oh no. You might be powerful and sexy, but absolutely not! Even if you were the only man on the planet.” I replied quickly.
He winced. “Ouch Harper. I usually don’t get that kind of reaction.” He said and cleared his throat. “So, you think I’m sexy huh?” He gave a cheeky grin.
“Oh come on, like women haven’t told you already.” I replied, recounting the numerous sexmails I’d seen Eric received. “You have so many women you can choose from. You don’t still need my attention.”
He smiled weakly.
“So, who’s the lucky guy?” He asked with narrowed eyes.
I hesitated to let him know. But decided to tell him. I could need his help anyway.
“It’s Jake!” I shrieked.
Eric’s thick brows knitted together. “Who the hell is Jake?”
“Jake Walker” I said. “The IT guy!”
“The IT guy?” Eric said thinking. “Are you shitting me right now? The guy that comes once a week to the office?”
I nodded excitedly. “I shit you not! Yes!”
Eric’s lips twitched to a brief smile.
I became all giddy and filled with purpose. “I think I’m going to use your advice and put myself out there. You know Rule no. 1. And see if he notices me.” I said gleefully, clapping my hands like a stupid schoolgirl.
Eric chuckled. “Fuck me. Hey that’s what the rules are for. He’ll be stupid not to notice.”
I smiled, feeling suddenly good. Eric made me feel good tonight. The evening almost turned to shambles, but he rescued it. I smiled at the thought. He was a good boss. A good man. And I was happy we had a good working relationship.
“Let’s call it a night. I’ll drop you home.” He finally said.
The drive was smooth as usual in Eric’s luxury vehicle. I looked out the shimmering night sky, the moon dimmed by light clouds floating by. Smooth jazz softly played the whole journey home making my body and mind relaxed. It made me feel almost sleepy. I hadn’t even realized we stopped in front of my apartment building fifteen minutes later.
I looked up the second floor of the building to my apartment. The light still shining through the curtains. Stacey must be still up, I thought. Probably wanting to hear all the details, unfortunately for her it won’t be juicy.
I turned to Eric and found him staring at me again. His expression harden. My heart startled. And I smiled awkwardly.
“Home sweet home.” I muttered. “Thank you for dropping me home safely.”
He nodded. “Your personal designated driver.”
The atmosphere in his Merc shifted. It felt warm. It felt personal. Too personal. Intimate. Like we had just arrived from a romantic date. I felt slightly awkward. Eric shifted in his seat. I couldn’t shake the feeling he might have felt the same way.
He didn’t say anything further, but good night.
I stepped out of his car and shook the intimate thoughts away about my boss. This was Eric Bolton we were talking about. The man had no feelings or emotions when it came to commitment or relationships. He was detached and reckless when it came to women. I reminded myself as I walked up the apartment building stairs.
I turned around and Eric already drove away, his metallic Mercedes-Benz trailed in the distance.