Author's Note: A huge thank you to IChimpz and ChrystalineRose, who were kind enough to beta this chapter and put up with my one-handed typing!
I do not own any of the characters or Twilight, you know the drill.
Rosalie heaved a sigh. An MBA from the University of Illinois, 6 years of experience, all of those years with the same company, and absolutely nothing to show for it. She had been passed over yet again for a promotion, this time it was the disgustingly unqualified Jessica who took the position as project manager. Watch THAT crash and burn, Rose thought to herself. Everyone in the building knew what a twit Jessica was, but the CEO Royce King had a thing for vulnerable and pretty. He liked girls who slept their way to the top, and Jessica was certainly one of those girls. When Rose first began working for King Industries, she fell victim to Royce's charm and silver tongue. Rose was beautiful, tall, and voluptuous, with gorgeous flowing blonde hair and vibrant blue eyes. She was perfect arm candy for the up-and-coming CEO of a booming software development company; they went well together publicly. Privately, Royce was an abusive drunk, taking every opportunity to bully and throw her around and she quickly left him. Unfortunately when she ditched him, he made sure her career went nowhere, blocking her from promotions and high profile clients, keeping her isolated in her little cubicle doing the same grunt work day after meaningless day. Bastard. He propositioned her often while dangling a tempting offer in front of her but she refused. No matter how many times she turned him down though, he just kept coming.
The day dragged on through the same boring paces as always. File this, run this report, answer the phone, repeat. It was time to check Facebook. There was a message from Alice, her best friend. They met in 10th grade, made it through college together, and were now neighbors in the same little apartment complex off Hyde Park Boulevard. They had been through a lot together. While Rosalie stagnated in the ranks of her mundane cubicle hell, Alice used her degree in Art History to work part-time at the Museum of Contemporary Art. That left Alice plenty of time to pursue her true passion, painting her own pieces.
Maybe Alice has good news for me, thought Rose.
Head to my place after work! We're going out tonight and I have a surprise for you!
Rose rolled her eyes and smiled. She had no inkling as to what Alice was up to but she was never one to disappoint. Rose checked the clock. 4:48. She could probably sneak out now as long as no one saw her. She was about to sneak a quick look around when Jessica popped her head into Rose's face.
"HI!," Jessica squealed, "Did you hear I got the project manager spot? I'm SO stoked!"
"I heard," Rose said drily.
"Isn't it exciting? It's like I'll be your boss now! Except not really because the project is only going to take three months. Then I'll go back to being a regular ole working drone, just like you!"
Rose stared at her blankly. Suddenly three months seemed like an eternity. She wasn't paying attention, but Jessica was still blithering on about her new position.
"Yeah, Jess, that just rocks, but I've got to get going," Rose interrupted.
"Oh. Ok. Well, I'll see you tomorrow!" Jessica flounced off towards Royce's office.
Rose checked her phone. 4:59. Perfect. She grabbed her purse, shut down her computer, and grabbed the elevator. Thankfully, she rode down alone. She doubted she could handle anyone talking about Jessica's "big break".
When Rose arrived at her building, she gave it a good hard look. A boring brick building, a few shrubs, nothing special. Now that the snow had finally melted, the flowers were starting to poke up through the mulch on either side of the walkway. By the end of the month, she thought, this place might actually be nice again. Unless it snows again, of course. She didn't want to think about more snow in May though, so she made her way inside. People were scattered throughout the common area. Some of the men stopped their conversations to stare as she walked by and Rose prayed no one decided to approach her today. She was not in the mood. She was not that lucky. As she was about to hit the elevator button, someone hit it for her.
Rosalie sighed. "Hello, Ben."
"Hi, Rosalie," Ben said in a sing-song voice.
"Ben, I swear to God, I will punch you in the face if you don't back off. I don't want to deal with you today."
"Geez, Rose, YOU'RE in a pissy mood! Need some Midol?" Ben backed up but was still too close for comfort.
"Just a long day. I want to go upstairs without being hassled or hit on, is that too much to ask?" Rose asked.
"Ok, fine, that's all you had to say. But when you do want to go out-" Ben began.
"Ok, Ok!" Ben left just as the elevator arrived.
Please, no more today, Rose pleaded silently. She rode the elevator to her floor. The doors pinged, opened, and someone came flying at her.
"You're home!" The flightless-pixie attacker wrapped her arms around Rose.
Damn, it's just Alice. "Alice, what the hell is wrong with you? I almost had a heart attack! And what if I was someone else? You would have hugged a perfect stranger. Or worse, Ben!"
Alice scoffed. "I knew it was you. Besides, who else would you have been?"
"Good point. Now what is this awesome surprise you have to show me?" Rose was eager to forget about work and focus on bigger and better things.
"OH! Yeah that. By the way, I'm sorry you didn't get that project manager thingy."
"How do you know I didn't get it?" Rose was baffled.
"I just do. Now come on!" Alice flitted down the hall and Rose followed with slightly less enthusiasm and a lot less pep. Then again, Rose mused, you'd have to be on some pretty good drugs to be as peppy as Alice. They made it to Alice's door and Alice threw it open.
"Surprise!" She said excitedly.
"Oh my God! What the hell are you doing here?"
Standing in Alice's kitchen was Jasper, Rose's brother and Alice's long-time boyfriend. He was supposed to be in Gainesville finishing med school and he hadn't visited since Christmas. Alice had flown to see him quite a few times but Rose never wanted to interrupt their short time together.
Rose charged him and they embraced tightly. "It's been so long!" She exclaimed. "But why are you here now? Don't you have finals?"
"Wow, Rose," Jasper laughed, "You must be completely out of it! We had finals last WEEK! What's up with you?"
"It's been a long week. And it's only Thursday."
"Which means we need to get out there and party!" Alice was eager and ready to go. "I already have your outfit and shoes in my room, now go change so we can leave. I want to beat the crowd!"
Rose rolled her eyes but drudged off to the bedroom. Hanging on the back of the door was a gorgeous bright blue wrap dress. Rose shimmied into it. The dress came down mid-thigh, hugged every curve, and the bright blue made her porcelain skin look impeccable. She slipped on the silver sandals Alice put out for her and put her hair into a quick updo. Very close to perfect, she thought as she examined herself critically in the mirror. She straightened her shoulders and opened the door, ready to face the club scene yet again.
They left the apartment, fighting their way through the college kids in the common room. It was one of the hazards of living so close to the campus, Rose supposed. They grabbed a quick dinner at a little diner down the street then caught a cab. Alice slipped the driver an address, determined to keep their destination a secret from the others. Even still, when the trio pulled up in front of Ontourage, Rose was shocked.
"Al, how long have you been planning this? No one gets in here without a reservation!"
"Rose. You know me. I know a guy who knows a guy." Alice grinned at her then said, "Out, out, out! I'll pay the cabbie."
Rose and Jasper hurried out of the cab. Alice soon followed, taking a moment to smooth her dress and fluff her hair. "Onward!" She bounced to the front door, dragging Rosalie and Jasper with her. They got past the doorman and entered the club.
It was packed. Rose made her way to the bar and was immediately approached. She dismissed him with one cold look and found the bartender. She ordered a Long Island Ice Tea, found a table in the far corner of the club, then turned to watch the crowd. Alice and Jasper were easy enough to find, Alice loved being in the spotlight and tonight was no different. Rose smiled to herself as Alice danced fluidly and Jasper tried to keep up with her.
"Can I buy you another?"
Rose was jolted out of her thought cloud. She looked to her right to see a scruffy brown haired man staring her down with piercing green eyes. He was otherwise nondescript, but his confidence made up for what he lacked in striking good looks. He leaned in uncomfortably close so Rose edged away when she turned to answer him.
"No. I'm fine with this one, thanks." She replied coldly.
"Come now," he leaned closer and smiled, but his smile somehow was unsettling. "I don't bite. My name is James."
"That's lovely." Rose was not impressed with this overconfident dirt-bag.
He grabbed her arm. "It's polite to introduce yourself when someone gives you their name."
"James, you seem like a great guy," Rose's voice dripped with sarcasm, "but if you don't get your hand off me, I will end you."
His grip tightened on her. "Really? And what's a pretty little thing like you going to do to me?"
In one swift movement, Rose swiveled her arm out of his grip, grabbed his wrist, and wrenched it around his back. She slammed his face on the table causing him to shout and draw attention from a small group of people standing near them.
"You don't get to touch me. EVER." Rose emphasized 'ever' by grinding his nose a little harder into the table and spilled drinks. As she let go, she gave him a little push towards the wall. He whipped around and glared at her.
"You think you're really something, don't you." He glared at her as he walked off, disappearing into the crowd.
Alice appeared out of nowhere and touched her arm.
"What the hell was that all about? Are you ok?" Alice's eyes were wide with concern. The crowd was still circled, watching Rose.
"Some creep grabbed me. It was nothing."
"Oh. So do you want to leave? I think Jaz and I are all funned out too."
"Yeah, let's just go." Rose reached to grab her purse from her chair and realized it was gone. "What the fuck?" She hunted around on the ground for it, looked in surrounding chairs, but couldn't find it. "Some asshole stole my fucking purse!" Rose was livid. She truly didn't know how her day could get any worse.
"Do you still have your keys?" Alice asked, hopefully.
"Yes, they're in my pocket. Still, that sucks! I loved that purse! What a dick."
The girls found Jasper and grabbed a cab home. The ride was unusually quiet; No one really felt up to talking about the events of the evening. Jasper paid the cabbie when they pulled up in front of the building. Rose got out first and stretched. I'm getting too old for this. Even though it was only 10:30, it felt much later. She waited for Alice and Jasper and once again the three went inside. As they made their way to the elevator, Ben flagged Rose down, running to catch up to her.
"Oh God, Ben," she said, exasperated. "What now?" She motioned for Alice and Jasper to head up without her.
"Some dude left this for you. He said you dropped it at the club and that he'd see you later." Ben handed her the purse she lost in the club. Rose slowly took it from him but didn't know what to think. Who the hell steals a purse, then returns it? And this is a NICE purse at that; he easily could have pawned or sold it to make a good amount of cash. Must be one of those Good Samaritans the news keeps talking about.
"Thanks, Ben." She started to walk away, but decided to ask one more thing. "Hey, what did he look like?"
"Uh," Ben struggled to remember, "He was definitely a guy. Taller than you but shorter than Shaq. That's all I remember. If I knew you had a boyfriend, I wouldn't have asked you out all the time you know."
"I don't have a boyfriend." Rose was somewhere between angry and scared. She left Ben standing in the common room and ran to the elevator. As she ascended, she checked to see if anything was missing. Her make up, brush, coins and other junk were all seemingly untouched. She pulled out her wallet. All the cash was still there, including her lucky two dollar bill that she'd had since seventh grade. Her credit cards were there but her driver's license had a little piece of paper over it. The elevator stopped before she could pull it out, so she stuffed everything back in her purse and walked anxiously down the hall to Alice's door. She let herself in, locking the door behind her. Alice and Jasper were in the living room so Rose joined them.
"What did Ben want? A date?" Jasper poked at her as she sat next to him on Alice's overstuffed sofa.
"No," Rose said, brow furrowed. "He gave me my purse. Said someone gave it to him to give to me and that he'd 'See me later'"
"THAT'S weird. Did he take anything?" Alice was sending worried glances to Jasper.
"No, he didn't. Frigging bizarre. It's not a big deal though. Just some nice person returning a purse to its rightful owner without taking any cash or credit cards first." Rose tried to look confident in spite of her doubts.
"Yeah. Ok... Jasper," Alice ordered, "Take Rosalie to her place and check for creepy, skeevy people, just in case."
"What if there are people there who aren't creepy or skeevy? Can they stay?" He was smiling in spite of his deadpan tone.
"Seriously, Jasper, you'll sleep on the couch tonight if you don't straighten up!"
They all laughed, lightening the mood. Jasper stood and held his hand out for Rose to take. She let him pull her to her feet. Alice gave her a quick hug and said, "Just think, tomorrow is Friday. Maybe we can hit the movies or something. There's a new vampire movie out, you know."
"Alice, you know I hate vampires! All that blood and death. Ick!"
"You're such a wuss! We'll see what happens. Good night, sweetie."
"Good night." Rose and Jasper left the apartment. Rose was feeling a little better, and she had almost forgotten the note in her wallet waiting for her. Almost. Jasper reached the door first and took the keys. He unlocked it and walked in, Rose close behind him. He searched the apartment and returned to the kitchen.
"No people, creepy or otherwise!" He announced smiling wide. He gave her a big hug. "Just be careful, lock the door behind me. Don't need someone carrying you off now!"
"Ok, DAD," she said, mockingly but lovingly. She followed him to the door. He walked to Alice's, Rose shut the door and felt both locks slide smoothly into place. She decided to put the little chain on too, just in case two dead bolts weren't enough. Making her way through the hall, she grabbed her purse off the counter and sat at her tiny kitchen table to read the note. She pulled it out and began reading it.
Found this for you, hope you don't mind...
Shit. The last thing I need is a fucking stalker! Rose was slightly unsettled by the note, and rightly so. Chicago's a huge city with tons of crazies. She lived close to a large university, well within range of plenty of nut-job frat boys. There were so many people at that club, anyone could have taken her purse while she had her altercation with that James guy. She tossed her purse on the couch and started getting ready for bed. She stripped off the dress and put it on an empty hanger. She noticed a small stain and made a mental note to take it to the dry cleaners sometime the next week so Alice wouldn't have to. She debated taking a shower and decided she couldn't skip it. She gathered her clothes and towel and started the water for the shower.
The water felt wonderful as she washed away the remnants of the night's run in with James and the stress of the day. As she bathed, she began thinking about the day ahead. A meeting with Jessica to go over the new project. Meetings with two new clients to do a demo of the security software. Reports need to be filed. Jessica will probably want to have a celebratory lunch. I wish I could just fucking LEAVE. Go on a road trip, forget about work, answer to no one. That would be great. She paused. Wait. Why CAN'T I just leave? She thought on it further. She had enough savings, so money wouldn't be an issue. But her job. Could she really walk away from years of work, just like that? She knew she couldn't get another job in Chicago, Royce-Fucking-King had seen to that, but there are other big cities. Milwaukee. Minneapolis. Des Moines. When she was ready to settle back down she could always look for work in a place out of the reach of King Industries. The IT field was big enough that she wasn't pigeonholed in a specific skill set, so she could really do anything if she fudged enough.
This crazy shit just might work!
Rose suddenly realized the water had grown cold so she quickly finished rinsing off and hopped out of the shower. She dried off, slipped into boxers and a tank top, then jumped into bed. She laid there awhile, making a mental checklist of things that she would have to do before she left. Pay rent, get a car, put mail on hold, leave her job... She needed a creative way to tell Royce she was quitting. Maybe a bloody horse head? No, probably couldn't get that past security. She smiled as she drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow would be a good day.
He waited patiently on the street, opposite the main entrance of Mayfair. Once he was certain that Rosalie was inside and not coming out for any reason, he went inside the building. He rode the elevator up to her floor, located her door, and hung a single red rose from the handle. He walked quickly back to the elevator and back outside before he was noticed. He rode off into the night, weaving through Chicago's endless traffic with only one thing on his mind. This will be fun...