Seroje sat outside her boss’s office. She’d not only missed his earlier meeting request since she’d been with Craig flying back from Tennessee, but the ten am one she’d set up because she’d lost track of time sitting in her car thinking of Craig. Now she waited while her boss finished a phone call.
His secretary across the hall was pretending to work, moving the same papers from side to side. She had a look of intense concentration like she was working on something important.
A man entered the hallway, then stopped, staring at Seroje. He turned around the same way he came. Seroje neither looked directly at him nor gave any indication she saw him.
She could smell scented candles down the hall, and burnt coffee. Someone was talking about taking the next week off and discussing holiday plans.
A woman peeked down the hall, but upon seeing her, stepped back.
Many were freaked out by her uncanny abilities and they all figured out that they couldn’t hide anything from her. She was reminded of her interview here three years ago.
Her resume was a little weak. The man, now her boss, had asked her what gave her an edge over any other candidates.
“I am very detail oriented,” she’d said. “I can note very small details.”
“Humpf. What’s my secretary wearing,” he’d said.
“Pink blouse with a gray skirt. Pink and black earrings, but they’re clip-on despite the fact she has pierced ears. She has brown eyes and dyes her hair blond. Her natural color is brunette. She’s about thirty-five and not married. She’s painting her nails when she thinks you’re not looking. I can smell the nail polish,” she’d said.
“There’s a bookcase beside her...” he’d started to say.
“There are forty-nine books. There is one book on how to do spreadsheets, another on how to do...”
He’d stopped her at that point, and she’d gotten the job.
Seroje sighed, a relaxed sigh, enjoying the empty hallway while she waited.
“Seroje,” her boss said with a stern voice, causing her to tense. His name was Hank, but everyone called him boss, if they called him anything at all. He didn’t look like a Hank since he was skin and bones with sharp features. Seroje thought Hank was more of a country bumpkin type of name.
She stepped into his office, shutting the door. There was only one other chair. She sat stiff and upright while she stared at the stapler on his desk.
“I’ve not gotten the report from the hotel,” he said in his usual gruff manner.
“Check your spam filter,” she said. “My encryption causes my emails to get stuck, and IT hasn’t figured out how to fix it yet.”
He turned to his computer screen, typing and moving his mouse.
Seroje could tell he’d argued with his wife that morning. Part of his collar was curled under wrong. Some dried shaving cream was on his ear.
“The hotel said they paid...”
Seroje handed him the envelope given to her by the hotel manager.
Hank took the envelope.
“I got your pictures on the other job,” he said. He always sounded as if he was unhappy with her even while confirming she did her job.
She found him annoying.
“Department store is pleased. But, the HR results of your holiday are dismal,” he said.
“I have a boyfriend,” she said. “You can stop worrying.”
“Yeah, right. Who?”
“Craig Manor,” she said.
“Ha. Yeah, right. In your dreams,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I am attending a party this evening at the art gallery. I know you’ll have someone there. Have him check it out,” she said.
“Being seen with him does not mean you are dating him,” Hank said as if he was stating an absolute fact.
“We went down to his place in Tennessee. He has a thoroughbred farm there,” she said. “Why I was late this morning.”
She didn’t like revealing personal items about herself, but this seemed a good dig at Hank.
“Right. You just hopped on an airplane and went down there,” Hank said in disbelief.
“He has the Citation Hemisphere model jet,” Seroje said. “His pilot is named Pete.”
Hank pretended to stare at his computer screen as if he wasn’t paying attention to her and what she said was insignificant. She knew otherwise.
“You know he’s a billionaire?” Hank said, throwing the question at her.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said in a low voice, which caused him to stiffen.
“You’ve not put in enough time at the shooting range. Make some time. You’re on standby for today,” he said, almost growling, which meant he was going to give her some sort of work on the weekend. “The department store will probably have you back over the holiday weekend. Don’t go anywhere.”
There was the work.
She stood and left, taking the stairs down to the first floor. The guard at the door nodded at her as she left. A few shops lined the street, reminding her of the party and making her wonder if she needed anything else.
Apprehension about the party and the irritation caused by Hank didn’t help her mood as she got in her car and drove home. She didn’t want to go to a party, but she wasn’t the sort of person who backed down once she said she’d go.
Seroje showered, shaving her legs and washing her hair. She dressed back in jeans and a t-shirt. There was more than enough time before she had to meet Craig at the prearranged location, but she set an alarm on her phone to remind her since she’d already phased out and lost time today.
She used to lose a lot of time in high school and miss classes. Everyone kept thinking she was on drugs. Most of her classmates were scared of her and they avoided her. She avoided them. Once she got her phone during her junior year in high school, she used alarms to fix her problem of losing time. Despite everyone’s belief that she took drugs and didn’t go to classes, she had no problem getting straight A’s.
There was a sculpture that covered most of one wall in her living room. Real water dripped down the whole piece, creating a relaxing sound and visual effect. She could go into a trance just watching it, and she did as she sat on her sofa, facing the wall.
Her alarm sounded. She felt as if only a few minutes had passed since she’d sat down. Seroje brushed her teeth and brushed out her hair, now dry. She felt refreshed as if she’d slept.
Rush hour traffic was still in full swing, but she knew the streets to avoid. Still, since this was Friday evening, traffic wasn’t light on any street, but she reached her destination at the designated time.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek after she’d gotten out of her car in the parking lot.
She was somewhat surprised at how well he was dressed. His black suit had fine purple stripes. He wore a lilac silk shirt with a calm matching tie, straight and tied properly. He was newly shaven; she could smell his cologne.
“This way,” he said, indicating a salon nearby. “They’ll help dress you,” Craig said.
Seroje’s apprehension increased at the mention of people dressing her. She read between the lines. They were going to make her up like some doll. She frowned at the thought.
The salon smelled of hairspray and perm solution. The floor had remnants of hair clippings even thought the salon looked upscale. There were no other customers and only two stylists stood waiting. They both smiled too much and had on too much makeup. One had a streak of blue through her hair, while the other had pink. They smelled as if they’d been at the salon all day.
“Hello. Come this way,” the blue streaked woman said.
Both women looked as if they wanted to talk, but they didn’t, continually hushing themselves. Seroje figured Craig must have talked to them. She found them annoying as they led her to a dressing room behind a screen and handed her the dress.
The dress was light red in color with tinsel woven in the fabric. The hemline ended just above her knee. The dress was cut to show her figure. The spaghetti straps up the front laced down to the middle of her back. The dress wasn’t tight, but there was only one way to wear it, stark naked underneath.
“Damn,” one of the ladies said as Seroje stepped out in the dress. “You got the figure for this one.”
“Please, sit,” the pink streaked lady said, waving at a chair.
“Make up light,” Seroje said with some authority, noting the counter in front of her packed with makeup, brushes, and combs.
The pink streaked lady handled the makeup, darkening Seroje’s lashes and adding a splash of color on her eyelids. She powdered with a light touch around Seroje’s face, then did a highlighting liner around her lips.
The blue streaked lady brushed and fluffed Seroje’s hair with hairspray.
Shoes completed the outfit—silver straps with a moderate heel.
“All done, darling,” the blue streaked woman said, allowing Seroje to rise and step around the screen. The woman handed her a bag with her other clothes.
Craig said nothing as he opened the door for her. He nodded and smiled at the ladies as they left. Seroje tossed her bag of clothes into the back area of his car.
“Holy shit,” Craig said in a low whistle once they were in the car.
His eyes moved up and down her body.
“What?” she said again.
“You need a few more accessories,” he said, taking out a large jewelry container. He pulled out a pair of what looked like dark, red ruby earrings. “Here try those.”
He lowered the visor and flipped open a mirror.
Seroje took out her own tiny diamond studs and put on the ruby ear rings.
“And this,” he said, taking out a matching necklace. He fastened it around her neck.
He stared at her.
“Holy shit what?” she said.
“Sorry. You’re gorgeous,” he said with a smile.
“You suit up pretty nice yourself,” she said as she followed the stripes on his suit.
“No,” he said. “You...are...gorgeous.”
“Thank you,” she said, feeling uncomfortable.
He leaned in.
“One kiss, please,” he said.
She kissed him.
“I will say this again,” he said. “You are beautiful. Do you know that?”
“I’ve heard some sort of comments,” she said, not sure of the proper answer.
“May I give you a present?” he said.
“Yes, I guess you can,” she said.
He gave her an unwrapped box. She opened it to reveal a ring. The silver gold metal was twisted into the infinity symbol and dotted with tiny sparkling gems. He slipped in on her ring finger on her left hand.
“It fits,” she said in a monotone voice, hiding her surprise.
“I’m good at noticing things too,” he said with another smile.
“Are we engaged?” she said, “For the party?”
“No, but that might slow a few guys down,” he said, starting the car.
“So you’ve put your mark on me,” she said, not sure what this meant.
He smiled at her comment.
“You okay with that?” he said.
“I think so,” she said, feeling like she was prepping for one of her stakeouts.
There was valet parking at the art gallery and Craig pulled up right in front of the gallery. The valet, looking no older than her, looked wowed with the car as he opened the door for her. Craig handed him a twenty. Seroje thought the valet wanted to screech the tires as he drove off, but he proceeded slowly.
Craig took her right hand, and they walked up the steps into lights and color. Seroje blinked, feeling overwhelmed.
A waiter in black pants and white shirt approached with a silver tray of champagne glasses, but Craig handed him a bill and whispered. The man left and returned, handing her a champagne glass with water in it.
’Thank you,” she said, but she meant to Craig.
“You are welcome, miss,” the waiter said as he continued on through the room.
“No, thank you,” she said, whispering to Craig.
“Anytime,” he said, whispering back.
The first room felt like a staging area where people checked themselves out before stepping into the main room where they make introductions or greeted people they knew. Seroje felt like a débutante being introduced to society. She could hear the murmurs that included Craig’s name as they entered.
Her eyes jittered across the room, registering every person. Most were older with money. The few younger people looked bored. She picked out the OSLO employee who was assigned to the gallery for security, and she ignored him.
“Craig, darling, so glad you could come,” a large bejeweled woman said. She was positioned so she’d be the first one to greet everyone.
“Evening, Sonja. This is Seroje,” Craig said introducing her.
“What a pleasant name,” Sonja said with a big smile that was far from dazzling and smelled of cigarette smoke.
Seroje thought the woman was too old for how she was dressed and too obvious about her desire for attention.
“Sonja is beautiful name,” Seroje said with a smile, playing the social game.
Sonja beamed with pleasure and Craig guided Seroje into the room.
He nodded and said hi to a few people, but she could tell he was aiming for a specific couple.
“Bill and Amy,” Craig said as he approached them.
“Craig. How nice to see you,” the couple said together. “Who is this lovely young lady?” Amy said. She was a full foot shorter than Seroje and her hair was dyed a light blondish red. Bill was about Seroje’s height with a full head of hair.
“This is Seroje,” Craig said, making the introduction.
Seroje smiled, keeping her gaze between Bill and Amy.
Bill and Amy looked of money, but they weren’t flamboyant. They were much older than Craig—probably in their fifties, she figured.
“How nice to meet you,” they said, not saying anything about her unusual name.
“Have you seen the paintings? We loaned two, but when you crowd them together like this, they don’t seem so nice,” Bill said.
“Poorly staged,” Seroje said. “There needs to be a few feet between each painting. And the light is too strong. Even the sunset over Versailles seems rather paled.” She found it easier to make a statement of fact rather than make up some small talk.
“Exactly,” Amy said, sidling up to Seroje as if they were now best friends.
A man gently brushed against another man, excused himself and moved on. The movement was so quick and elegant that it looked choreographed. Seroje knew what she’d seen in an instant. She’d just watched a pickpocket in action.
“Craig, who is that man?” she said in a whisper, leaning over to him, using her whole hand to point the pickpocket out.
“Don’t know,” he said as he leaned toward her, also speaking in a whisper.
“He’s a pickpocket,” she said, continuing to watch the man, who seemed to be scoping out his next pick.
Craig snapped his fingers twice and pointed at the man. Security was in and out of there with the man before anyone could register what happened.
“He wasn’t invited, was he?” Amy said.
“No,” Craig said. Nothing more was said about the incident.
A waiter walked by and both Seroje and Craig put their empty glasses on his tray.
They moved into another room.
“I love this one,” Amy said, standing in front of a large painting. She’d taken hold of Seroje’s arm, causing Seroje to stiffen because she didn’t know what to do.
Bill and Craig stood behind them discussing music.
“How’s your bluegrass band doing?” Bill said.
“Making money,” Craig said. “We saw them the other night.”
“I’m hearing more and more about them,” Bill said.
The painting made one feel as if one was looking through a door out onto a patio full of flowers and plants, showing the hint of a walk toward a larger garden. The colors were bright, but the brush strokes were large and heavy and there were fingerprints embedded in the work where the artist had gotten messy.
“Hmm,” Seroje said in an automatic response to Amy as she listened to all the conversations around her.
She heard very little was said about the paintings and more was said about the people attending the party. She decided she didn’t like this party or the smells. There was a hint of stale air peppered with paint. Amy’s perfume was too strong.
A photographer with a large camera floated by, snapping pictures. Amy released Seroje’s arm to step by Bill and smile as if posing. Craig stepped over next to her and their picture was taken as if they’d staged it, but it was happenstance.
“How are you doing?” he said as they moved to another room.
“Not my cup of tea,” she said.
“The art or the people?” he said with concern.
They were stopped by a very old, hunch backed woman. She was adorned with a little too much jewelry, too much makeup, and too much perfume, a sugary eau de toilet that tickled Seroje’s nose in an unpleasant manner.
“Craig. Where did you find this beautiful creature?” the woman said as she took a sip of a drink held by one hand and flared out her other hand in a dramatic way.
“Ms. Patty, this is Seroje,” he said, making introductions.
“She’s gorgeous, but bored with these paintings,” Ms. Patty said in an offhand manner.
“No, the light is too intense, and it hurts my eyes,” Seroje said.
“You lie well,” Ms. Patty said with a light laugh.
“I didn’t lie at all,” Seroje said, wondering why this woman thought she did.
“Oh, really?” Ms. Patty said, being too dramatic.
“Yes,” Seroje said.
“Why are you here, dear?” She now sounded patronizing.
“Accompanying my friend, Craig, because he asked me to,” Seroje said, feeling a little agitated.
“How long have you known him?” Ms. Patty said.
“Maybe an hour or so,” Seroje said with a straight face, lying on purpose, wondering if the woman would believe a lie since she didn’t believe the truth.
Ms. Patty laughed and turned to Craig.
“Where’d you find this one?”
“In a hotel lobby,” he said, causing Ms. Patty to laugh again.
“Seriously now,” Ms. Patty said, showing she didn’t believe him, not realizing he was telling the truth.
“We’ve been dating about four days,” Craig said.
Ms. Patty touched and lifted Seroje’s hand.
“And you’ve already given her a ring?”
“I like her and she likes me,” he said with a shrug.
“Humph. You never learn, Craig, dear,” Ms. Patty said, patting his arm and moving off.
“She’s the gallery queen here. She likes you,” Craig said while Ms. Patty moved into another room.
“I could tell,” Seroje said. “She drinks too much and her liver is failing.”
“You can see that?” he said with some surprise.
“Her skin is yellow, which is why she has the lights this way. It makes it harder to tell.”
Amy and Bill stepped over by them.
“We ready to blow this joint and get some food?” Bill said. “There’s a good Italian place around the corner.”
“Lead on, my good man. We’ve seen enough,” Craig said.