"Bella?" My head snapped up from the desk I'd been resting it on at the sound of the voice, and I hoped that I didn't look like I'd just been taking a nap at work. Apparently, I didn't succeed, judging from the amused look on the face of the woman stood in the doorway. "Were you sleeping? On the job? I'm ashamed to be your assistant."
"And if you want to keep that job, we'll keep our mouth shut, won't we?" I replied sweetly, though I wasn't able to hold back a soft smile as I spoke. I had had the same job ever since leaving high school, and I'd had my fair share of assistants over that time. Out of all of them, though, Alex was my favourite.
"I'm offended that you thought I'd tell in the first place." She shut the door of my office behind her and came to sit opposite me, looking outside of the huge window that was one of my walls. I followed suit, absorbing the beautiful view of London that this office offered me.
I loved everything about the city – I'd been destined to fall for it, I liked to think. It had offered me an escape from every terrible thing that had happened in my life back home, and for that, I would always be eternally grateful.
"So, are you all set for this interview tomorrow?"
"Bella. Seriously? You've had… what, two months?"
"I know, I know. I suck, whatever. I just… It's fashion. I hate fashion." It was true, too – when I had signed up for this job, there had been no mention of fashion. I doubted I would have reconsidered such a great offer, though, thinking about it. When you're eighteen, you don't get many chances. I had been amazed at my luck, but then again – I'd had so much bad luck in my life that it had had to even out sometime. "Besides, I'm not the sole interviewer. I'll be fine. I'll do the recording."
"You still have to look like you know your stuff. Otherwise you'll give the magazine a bad name." Yeah, that was what I worked as – a journalist. Who would have thought?
Certainly not me.
"Do you always have to know so much?"
"Yep. It's how I get by in life. And, luckily for you, I made you a list of who she is, how she got to where she is today, what to ask her and so on. Please, please read it before tomorrow morning." She handed me what looked like a pretty extensive file of notes, and I eyed it warily before taking it off her with a sigh.
"Is that all?"
"You're finishing soon anyway, aren't you? What time does your friend leave?"
"Her flight's at ten tomorrow morning. We're going out tonight as a sort of goodbye."
"Well, just make sue you read that. Please."
"I will. God, give me a break, Al." She left soon after, and, with a quick glance at the clock, I decided that I was never going to get any work done in half an hour and spun in my chair to face out the window once more. I loved this office mainly because of the view – it had caused me to be late turning in articles because I always used to get distracted.
I was still amazed, every day, that I had stumbled upon such an opportunity as this. I had gone travelling with my friend Angela (the same friend, in fact, who was currently staying with me), as soon as high school was over and done with. We'd ended up in London after a month, and, when I needed some more money, she encouraged me to write freelance for an up-and-coming magazine that she'd seen advertised. I'd gone for it, just wanting the money, and when they had offered me an apprenticeship, I had jumped at the chance.
Fast forward four years, and I was pretty high up in the media food chain. I wrote articles on pretty much anything – except for fashion. Unfortunately for me, however, the girl who usually covered that area was pregnant and out of action, and everyone else had something else to be doing (the result of us becoming a more and more established publication), and the task had fallen to me.
If I was being honest, I would have flat out refused had my boss, Lisa, not begged me to do it. But as it was, I classed her as a friend and was willing to help her out. So here I was, with little idea of what I was going to do tomorrow – I didn't even know the chick's name.
I was brought out of my reverie by the sound of my phone ringing, and I surveyed my desk for a moment, trying to discern where, from the mass of paper, folders, office equipment and general crap that I had on it, the ringing was coming from. That was before I remembered that I had never taken it out of my bag that morning and hurried over to the corner, amazingly without tripping over the boxes that lined the floor.
Organisation had never been a strong point of mine.
"Oh, so you are alive."
"Hey, Ange. What's up?" I sat back in my chair once more, catching the eye of my boss through the glass at the side of my door. I waved, knowing that she was probably too busy to catch up at that point in time.
"Just wondering what the plan was for later."
"Why? Is there something specific you wanted to do?"
"I wanted to go clubbing."
"Suck it up, Bells. It's my last dayin town. Be a good friend."
"Just so you know, I hate you right now."
"I know. Catch you later!" She hung up before I could argue further, and I muttered angrily to myself for a moment or two before starting to pack up for the day.
I hated clubbing. I hated it with a deep and dark passion, something which she knew well, seeing as she was my best friend. But, I loved her enough to want to make sure that she had a great time while she was visiting, so I figured that I could at least try, just for one night.
I remembered to grab the folder Alex had left for me before leaving, vowing to read it before I went out, or in the morning, and waved goodbye to both her and Lisa before making my way the to the lift and then out of the building.
The air outside was cool, and a few droplets of rain fell as I started the walk back to my apartment. It took fifteen minutes, and there was an Underground station nearby if I ever got too lazy to make the commute on foot, but today I was happy to let my mind wander as I walked.
Having Angela in town, especially at this time of year (October, if you were wondering), had meant that I was thinking about my past far more than I usually did. For the most part, my moving out here had been the success I had wanted – I had left everything behind, and gotten the escape that I had needed in order to survive.
And, as soon as I had been left to my own devices, it had gotten easier. It had never completely gone away, don't get me wrong – the pain of what he had done to me had been there for a long, long time. But, gradually, the love that I had for him had faded and been replaced by something else. I couldn't discern what, exactly – but I felt little other than anger for everything he had done to me, for him leaving me with nothing. I resented him, resented what he had - what he undeservingly had, in my opinion.
I was glad that he had kept his promise – 'It'll be as if I never existed'. And, even if he did exist, at least in my mind, the fact that he was no longer in my life, nor would he ever be, was a relief to me. I didn't know what would happen if I were ever to see him once more.
Another startling revelation that had come to my attention shortly after I had finally, finally been able to let him go was the fact that I started to fall for one of the first friends I had made in London – who just happened to be, to my amazement, a girl.
We had ended up, eventually, having a relationship, a brief one at that, but I didn't regret it. It had taken a lot for me to be able to overcome everything and accept who I might be, and I was grateful that, even though we hadn't come to anything, I had had the opportunity to accept who I was. To embrace it, even. Since then I'd had only two serious relationships – the last of which had ended around six months ago. I was fairly happy with that, because, after all, I was only twenty-two, and I had a lot of time to be in a relationship, and a lot of time to just date, and even have a fling or two.
Or four. Or… however many I'd had over the years.
Not that I was a slut or anything. I just happened to enjoy sex, was all. At least, that's what I tried to convince my friends, who, of course, liked to think I was a slut and tease me about it at every opportunity.
I didn't mind much, though – it gave me the chance to remind them that they were just jealous I was out getting some when they weren't. It soon shut them up.
The heavens had just opened when I was within four foot of my apartment block, and I sprinted the final distance to the door, punching in the code hurriedly, before stepping inside. I'd been lucky to get an apartment like the one I had, too – Lisa's influence had had something to do with it, I was sure.
I wasn't complaining, though, because I absolutely adored where I lived.
Angela was sprawled on the couch when I walked in, flicking through the tv channels, but she sat up when she heard the door, her eyes brightening at the prospect of going out tonight. I grimaced at her excitement, which only made her grin more as she stood and bounded her way over to me.
"Look a little happier, at least. It'll be fun. I promise."
"You could at least try to look like you're having fun. I mean, I even picked a gay bar, especially for you."
"Oh, please. Don't play all sweet and innocent with me. You were so into that blonde you were dancing with before."
"I was not!" I raised an eyebrow at her in disbelief, and she crumbled a second later. "Ok, fine. She was hot. Leave me alone – we're all entitled to experimentation."
"Experimentation implies that it happened once, maybe twice."
"Your point being?" But I just shook my head and laughed, knowing she knew full well what I meant. Everyone who didn't know Angela thought she was shy, a prude, even, but that couldn't be further from the truth. If she saw someone she wanted, she'd get them, one way or another. I knew that she'd been with girls before, as a good friend would, but I also knew that she liked boys far too much to ever be a lesbian.
"Go dance with her. I'll survive on my own."
"Positive. Go." I waved her away, wandering up to the bar to ask for another margarita, knowing that I shouldn't really drink too much the night before a big interview but also not really caring too much. I'd been dwelling too much, which wasn't something I generally liked to do much of, and it was starting to take its toll.
I'd gone through another two drinks without even realising before I became aware of a body coming to a stop beside me.
"What are you doing here on a weeknight, gorgeous? Surely you should be home working, or something." I turned to the side to see one of my best friends, Nikki, stood beside me, wearing what I liked to think of as 'bait' clothing – skin tight shirt and the shortest skirt I'd ever seen in my entire life.
"I could ask you the same thing."
"Please. I'm not a workaholic like you. 'Sides, I have the week off. You alright? I haven't seen you drink that much for a while."
"Oh, I'm fine. Just… thinking. How long have you been stood there for, anyway?"
"Ooh. Thinking's bad. And a while. I figured I'd wait to see if you saw me… Why are you looking at me like that? Because I know that look. That's your fuck-me look." Truth was, I hadn't just been thinking about him – I'd also been thinking that it had been a while since I'd hooked up with anyone. And here, in front of me, I had my tall, brunette, totally hot friend, who, might I add, I had slept with before, and who had made it clear that as long as it was no-strings, would happily sleep with me again. "Long day?"
"You have no idea."
"Want me to take you home?" She murmured, stepping closer, and I had to refrain from leaving straight away, because it really had been a while since I'd been with anyone, and having her stand so close was making my blood start to pound, the memory of the times we'd been together before running through my mind, a slice of perfect clarity amongst my otherwise hazy mind.
"I… I have to say bye to Angela first," I muttered, and it was only when I took a step backwards that I realised how much I actually had drunk.
"God, Bella, how pissed are we?" Nikki caught my arm to steady me, and I tried to look around for Angela without moving, but to no avail. "Look, stay here, don't move, and I'll go find Angela, alright?"
I nodded and after a minute of assessing whether or not I could stand on my own, she disappeared, and was back soon after. She wrapped an arm around my waist to help me walk, and I was grateful for the support, doubting that I'd be able to make the journey home otherwise.
I felt slightly sobered up by the time we got back into my apartment, at least enough to feel like I wasn't going to throw up at any point in the near future, so, instead of showing Nikki out and going straight to be like I knew I really should – I was still not thinking clearly enough, and I grabbed her wrist when she started to leave.
"And where are you going?"
The unbearable sound of a ringtone woke me from the stupor I'd found myself in, making my head feel like it was going to explode. I tried to find my phone to turn the stupid thing off, but to do so would involve moving my head, which was something I wanted to put off for the longest possible amount of time. I soon discovered, however, when it went off only to start ringing again, that I was just prolonging the inevitable.
I clambered blindly to my feet, stumbling over some item of clothing on the floor on the way to the light switch, and I groaned at the pain that searing through my head at the sudden brightness.
I managed to locate my phone, though, when I could bear to open my eyes, and saw that it was Alex ringing me.
"… Good morning to you, too. Where the hell are you?"
"What? It's… oh, holy fucking shit." I had glanced at the clock for the first time and realised why she was calling – I had less than an hour before my interview was supposed to start. "Shit. Shit. I'm on my way."
I hung up without waiting for an answer, practically sprinting into the bathroom and grimacing at the state of my hair, but running a brush through it nonetheless, regretting the fact that I was meeting a fashion designer soon. I was going to look a mess.
I didn't have enough time to dwell on that fact though, as I tried to make myself look slightly better with make-up and then sprinting back into my room, attracting a look of startled disbelief from a half-naked Nikki who was still sprawled in my bed.
"What has gotten into you?"
"I have a big day at work today. Big interview. In less than an hour." I muttered as I pulled on the first pair of clean underwear I found, and was eternally grateful for the fact that I had already planned my outfit for today, and it was laid out ready. I pulled the clothes on as quickly as I could (black pants with a white shirt and black blazer), while I spoke, casting another glance at the clock to see how much time I had left.
"Jesus, Bella. And you went out yesterday? No, no, don't answer me. Go to work. You can tell me about it later."
"Feel free to stay here for as long as you want!" I called over my shoulder before making my way to my guest bedroom, flinging the door open without much consideration for Angela, and sincerely wishing that I had when I revealed not only her, but the hot blonde she'd been dancing with last night.
"I'm… I've got to go," I said, trying not to smirk and failing miserably. She stuck her tongue out at me, while the other girl looked absolutely mortified. "You're going to be gone when I get home?"
"Yup. I'd hug you, but I'm pretty naked under here."
"Fair enough, then," I laughed. "Well, I'll see you soon, anyway. I think I'm coming home for Christmas."
"Awesome. I'll call you, when I get home myself." I wanted to stay for longer, didn't want her to leave, felt like she hadn't been here for long enough, but I was conscious of the time and I was too in love with my job to risk being late. So I cast one final look at her before running for the door, remembering my coat on the way out (thankfully, because it was raining pretty heavily outside), and was sincerely glad that I hadn't chosen the heels that morning, because I would doubtless have fallen over at least on my jog over to the offices.
Alex met me outside of the lift doors, and it was only that second when I realised something crucial that I had forgotten – the stupid folder. I'd left it on my kitchen table, with every intention of reading it, but Angela had distracted me as soon as I'd stepped through the door yesterday.
"You didn't read it, did you?"
"Lisa's going to kill you."
"I know." I sighed as I made my way to my office, praying that there were still some painkillers in my drawer because my head was killing me. I also hoped that I didn't look too awful – though the look of worry that Lisa shot me when she strolled through my door a second after I had made me doubt that I was succeeding.
"Bella, are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Or I'll be fine if I can just find my – ah, there you are." I grabbed three of the tablets (ok, so the box said two, but really, the pain was bad enough for me to pass out if I wasn't careful), and downed them with a bottle of water before turning to face my boss. "I'm fine."
"Ok, well… She's here."
"What? Already? I thought there were supposed to be fashionably late to things like these? Not early!"
"Sorry, Bella. But Sophie isn't in yet, and you're the only one free to keep her entertained until the interview's set to start. Just… talk to her about journalism. You'll be fine." She didn't give me much time to argue, grabbing my arm and yanking me down the hall, down the side I never usually went on, right the way to the other end and the room next to her office. It was, for all intents and purposes, a meeting room, and through the clouded glass walls I could see the outline of a person sitting in one of the many chairs that sat around the table.
"Go on!" She opened the door and practically shoving me through it, and I only barely managed to stop myself from falling flat on my face. I cast her a dirty look, but the door was already closing.
Finally, I turned to face the woman in front of me, hoping that she wouldn't be too awfully boring, but whatever words I'd been about to say died on my lips when I recognised her. She was exactly the same, still forever frozen in time, her hair still in the same, haphazardly-spiked style as before, the same shade of dark brown, her skin the same flawless pale, and those eyes… the eyes were a honey-gold, staring back at me with an emotion that I was unable to describe.