Carson Oliver hadn't been sure before, but now it was official: the universe was out to get him.
It was only his second week at his dream job as an accountant at Prince Industries and already he was pretty sure that he was violating office procedure by bringing his seven-year old son, Beck, to work.
It could not be helped. Moving from Canada to Hollywood, California for his new job, and finally buying their family dream house (mostly to appease his wife and son who were not happy with the said move) had wiped out their life savings. Money was a little tight at the moment so they had to scrimp and save every penny until he his next paycheck (which would be at the end of the week, thank goodness!).
Meanwhile, that meant no babysitter or expensive daycare for Beck.
Their original plan was for his wife to stay at home while he was at work, at least until they can find (and afford) a daycare for Beck or until the school year started, but last night, his wife received a phone call from a local magazine with an offer to pinch-hit for a photographer who had came down with the flu. The promise of a paycheck was too good to miss.
Their money dilemma was solved at the moment, but it left them with the problem of Beck. Despite Beck's protests that he was old enough to be left alone in the house, the Oliver spouses fell back on their tried and true method of resolving disputes: they drew lots.
Unfortunately for Carson, he drew the short stick, so he was stuck with Beck for the day. He had two choices: to take a leave of absence, or to take Beck with him to work.
He gazed down at his son as they stepped into the elevator. His son was his pride and joy, but the last thing Carson wanted at that moment was to bring Beck to the office. Thank goodness that his son was well behaved and, as was true for most only children, could play quietly by himself for long stretches of time.
"When I grow up, I'm gonna be an accountant." A small voice piped beside him.
And just like that, Carson's worries dissipated. His son's well-being trumped everything, even his career.
The doors were about to shut close when a tiny, pale hand reached inside. Since Prince Industries prided itself on owning the best and the most modern pieces of equipment, that was enough for the sensitive elevator doors to once again open.
The doors revealed a solemn little girl with the bluest pair of eyes Carson had ever seen, perhaps because it popped out against her pale skin. Her shiny, wavy hair the color of milky coffee framed her round face and fell just under her chin. She was just about Beck's height, and probably of the same age, too.
The girl looked at Carson and Beck suspiciously before she entered the elevator. She went directly to the panel of buttons and stood on tiptoes, trying to reach for the top-most buttons.
Carson took pity on her as the doors closed. "The penthouse?"
The girl looked up at Carson before slowly dropping on the balls of her feet and nodding.
Carson pushed the button for the penthouse and the one for his floor. When he looked back at the girl (he's a father, of course, he's expecting a thank you), he found her staring at him with those intense blue eyes that were too big for her round face and seemed to bore into his soul and read his thoughts.
He was relived when she broke eye contact to glance at the boy standing quietly beside Carson. Beck was quiet, Carson realized, because he was staring curiously (almost impolitely) at the girl. The relief was short-lived, however, when the girl's eyes returned to Carson.
Instead of a thank you, Carson got a, "You didn't push twenty."
"I'm sorry?" Carson frowned.
"Twenty," the girl looked at Carson as if he was an idiot. "That's were the daycare is."
Of course, a daycare! Why didn't he think of that? He had a faint recollection of being told when he was hired that Prince Industries provides a daycare for the children of its employees free of charge. Since it was not one of his most pressing concerns then, he must have forgotten about it.
Mentally calling himself an idiot, Carson pushed the button for the twentieth floor. "Why aren't you at the daycare? Your parents might get worried if they don't know where you are."
The girl shrugged carelessly. "I was there but Cat made my ears hurt."
"Did she hit you?" Carson asked, concerned, even if he didn't know whom exactly Cat was.
"No. She giggles. Loudly."
"Hi," Beck, finally tired of being ignored, pushed himself between the girl and his dad. "I'm Beck. What's your name?"
The girl glanced at Beck before turning her attention back at Carson. "Do you have any little girls I can play pretend with?"
Carson snorted back laughter. "Sorry. It's just me and Beck, I'm afraid."
She wrinkled her nose at that, but she did turn to Beck . "I'm Jade. Do you like to play pretend?"
"What's that?" Beck asked.
The frown deepened. "I could teach you, but do you like to giggle?"
"I'm a boy." Beck said proudly. "I don't giggle, I laugh!"
The girl nodded solemnly, as if Beck's reply was of serious consequence. Then, she fired a series of questions that Beck easily fielded.
"Do you like pink?"
"No, I like red. And black."
"Do you like stuffed giraffes?"
"No, I like computer games."
"Do you have an annoying older brother who ruins everything?"
"No, it's just me. I would like a puppy though."
By the time the elevator doors opened to the twentieth floor, the charismatic Beck had Jade's hands in his and was dragging her out with him.
Shaking his head in amusement, Carson Oliver followed the duo out the elevator.
It was all very suspicious.
His son, his beloved I-don't-wanna-be-an-accountant-I-wanna-be-an-actor only son, had easily capitulated when he was told that he would not be given an allowance for that summer, thus, for the sake of family harmony, it was strongly suggested that he apply for a job that summer.
All it took was his mother opening with "Beck, you're almost fourteen, it's time you learn a valuable lesson about the value of money."
Sticking to the script they agreed on, Carson added a casual, "There's an opening for a mail boy in Prince Industries."
Beck immediately agreed to apply for a job. They were expecting a bit more resistance from the boy. Thus, per their script, they were willing to offer to pay for the expensive one-on-one stage-fighting lesson he wanted if, in exchange, he would get a job.
Either Carson did not know his son at all, or something was afoot!
Not only did Beck agree to a job (instead of his usual summer acting workshop), never in a million years would Carson believe that Beck would actually apply for (and get hired as) the mail boy in Prince Industries. He thought that Beck would go for a job at the cinemas, or in the theaters, or even art galleries.
Everything became clear when, on Beck's first day of work (in fact, he hadn't even clocked in yet, he was on his way to Human Resources to get his ID and instructions for the day) as they were on their way to their respective floors, the elevator opened at the third floor to admit a new passenger.
Carson watched in amusement as Beck ran a self-conscious hand through his hair (Carson made a mental note that it was probably time again for him and his son take a visit to the barber's shop) as the newcomer glared at the two people inside the elevator before stepping inside.
Whoa, Carson thought to himself. Deja vu.
This time, Carson had to suppress a snicker when Beck's voice cracked on her name (the voice-cracking was happening less frequently now, much to Beck's relief). At the same time, Carson felt his stomach cramp. His little baby boy was growing up.
Carson recognized the newcomer at once. It was Jade West, the beautiful, mean, and eidetic (must not forget eidetic because that girl can repeat verbatim to her mother every conversation conducted in her presence) daughter of the ball-busting CEO of Prince Industries. Every summer she worked as her mother's PA's Assistant, and had free reign about the place.
He couldn't help but compare the young teen standing before him to the little girl who thought he was an idiot for not knowing which floor the daycare was. (For the record, she was just taller and her hair longer. Everything else was the same, down to the too huge big blue eyes set on her pale, round face.)
"It's Beck," he said when Jade failed to acknowledge him. "We're in the same grade at Hollywood Arts. We have Improv together."
"I know who you are."
That declaration delighted Beck. "Yeah. Uh, so you're here for the summer as well? I guess we'll be seeing each other around since I'm working here as mail boy until school starts"
"Lucky you," Jade muttered as the elevator doors opened. She stepped out.
"Great! See you!" Beck called out after the girl as the elevator closed.
The huge, blinding smile on Beck's face tugged at Carson's heartstrings. The boy's got it bad.
"So," Carson couldn't help but tease his son. "You're a breast man, huh?"
One would think that one would want one's father to have a sense of humor, but one really, really wouldn't.
Carson's face broke out in a huge, manic grin when the elevator doors opened at the ground floor to reveal his son.
"Beck! You finally remembered to visit your old man!" Carson announced boisterously as he stepped out of the elevator and hooked an arm around his son's shoulders.
"Oh, I can't wait to show you my new office!" Carson said as he stepped aside, tugging Beck with him, to let the people inside the elevator car to disembark. Once it was empty, he dragged Beck inside. "Can you believe it, after working for Prince Industries for almost ten years, I am now Head Accountant, answerable only to the CEO!"
Carson pretended not to notice Beck pushing the button for the fourteenth floor (which was two floors below his office) seconds after he pushed the button for his own floor.
"I'm so happy you finally found an interest in what I do here. It's actually very exciting, you know. Granted, it's not as exciting as being an actor, but it comes pretty close!"
"Dad, I came here to-" Beck was relieved when the doors to the fourteenth floor opened to reveal, "Jade!"
"Beck." Jade greeted as she stepped inside the open car. "Mr. Oliver?"
"Jade!" Carson greeted his son's girlfriend heartily. "Look at who visited me today!"
Jade raised her eyebrows at Beck.
"Are you going to your mother at the Penthouse? Here, let me push the button for you." Carson grinned.
"Uh, thank you?" Jade glared meaningfully at Beck.
"Dad, I need to tell you-"
"Here's our floor, son!" Carson declared as the doors opened at the sixteenth floor. "See you around, Jade!" He then forcibly dragged Beck off the elevator car.
"Dad! No! Jade and I have a-"
Too late, the doors closed, leaving Jade inside.
Carson almost laughed in joy at the expression on Beck's face.
Ruining Beck and Jade's date was petty, but it made him feel tons better, especially after the dog-attack incident.
(Of course, his wife would be quick to point out that the dog would not have attacked him had he not been snooping around his son's things that fateful afternoon. It was one point the Oliver spouses had agreed to disagree on.)
Being a father sometimes meant feeling impotent.
Carson Oliver wanted to take Beck's pain away and make it his own, but he knew that wasn't possible. Heartbreak and pain were part of growing up, and Carson knew that they would help Beck grow into a better person. That would not make seeing his son in pain easier, though.
(He wanted to tell him that at seventeen, it rarely ever was true love, but he was afraid that in his son's case, it actually was.)
Of course, the fact that both Jade and Beck were currently trapped inside the stalled elevator with him did not help matters any.
"I don't care if he's currently on his death bed, call him on his phone and make him come here to fix this cursed elevator!" Jade was snarling into the emergency phone attached to the elevator wall. "What? You want to speak to Carson Oliver? Why?"
Carson and Beck exchanged looks. There was a reason why they let Jade make the call to the Maintenance Department. She was more tenacious than a pitbull with a locked jaw-she would not stop pestering the poor man on the other line until he could come up with a workable solution to their current problem.
"No, I will not let you talk to him until you fix this." A pregnant pause. "Do you know who you're talking to?" Another pause. "No, you're not talking to the owner's daughter. You're talking to Jade West, who just bought an extra sharp pair of scissors and who knows where you live because she reads the employee files just for circumstances such as this!"
"Uh, Jade," Beck tried to interrupt.
"No, I'm not threatening your job, you ignorant grunch. I'm threatening your life!" Jade screeched.
"Okay, that's it." Beck said as he pushed off from the wall he was leaning against. "Time for dad to take over."
Carson would always be in awe by the fact that his quiet, laid-back son was able to calm down the mean, tough-as-nails Jade West, even if they were broken up. (A bored employee once surveyed the employees of Prince Industries: who between Jade West and her mother would the respondent rather anger. The answer was a unanimous: Jade. The CEO could only fire you and ruin your career. Jade, on the other hand, could (and would) hurt you in ways that mattered.)
Beck, after a short struggle, was able to take the phone away from Jade. He handed it to his dad before dragging Jade to the other side of the elevator.
"What are you doing there?" A familiar voiced hissed from the other line as soon as he brought the phone to his ear. "Beck and Jade are supposed to be alone in that elevator!"
"Sita?" Carson asked dumbly. Why was his wife on the other line instead of the maintenance guy?
"Mom's there?" Beck asked.
"Don't tell him it's me!"
"Uh, no. It's not. It's just someone that sounded like your mom." Carson told him.
Beck and Jade stared at him suspiciously before the girl rolled her eyes, jerked herself away from her ex, and sank to the floor.
"You're ruining all our plans, Carson!" A new voice joined in the phone conversation.
Carson's eyes widened. The voice was familiar, having heard it numerous times across the dinner table, not only because she was his boss, but also because their children were dating. He leaned closer to the wall and whispered quietly, "Juliana?"
"I told you it would never work, Juls!" Sita told her.
"It would have worked if Carson did not interfere!" Juliana Prince (formerly Prince-West) retorted.
"Why are you inside the elevator with the kids, Carson?" Sita suddenly demanded.
"I was knocking off work early to treat Beck to a cup of coffee after you asked him to bring my phone to the office." Carson explained. His missing phone made sense now.
"Just so you know, you ruined a week's worth of scheming and planning." Said Sita.
"Do you have any idea how much a nightmare the logistics were just so Beck and Jade would ride the same elevator together?" Juliana added.
Carson stifled a groan.
From the very beginning, his wife and his boss had taken a liking to each other. They were both over the moon when Beck and Jade began dating. To their mind, Beck and Jade getting married was tantamount to them becoming the sisters they both wished they were. As a bonus, they would get grandbabies in the bargain.
"You are both insane, you know that, right?" Carson pinched the bridge of his nose. Now, not only was he stuck in an elevator with a pair of exes, he was also stuck in a telephone conversation with a pair of lunatics.
"We can't give up now!" Juliana suddenly boomed. "Carson, how good an actor are you?"
"I don't understand. How is that relevant?"
"I was thinking that maybe you could pretend to faint or something?" Juliana persisted, reminding Carson why she was the head of a multi-billion industry. Tenacity must've ran in the family.
"Look, Juliana," Carson started, but he didn't even have the chance to finish.
"Are you talking to my mother?" Jade was all of a sudden at Carson's side, snatching the receiver from him.
"No, I'm not!" Carson tried to do damage-control, attempting in vain to snatch back the receiver.
Jade simply gave a signal to Beck with a motion of her head. Immediately, his son was there, shielding Jade from his own father. Traitor.
"Mother!" Jade snapped as she turned and looked at the CCTV camera on the ceiling. "What do you think you're doing?" A pause before, "Have you lost your mind?"
"Okay, that's not how you speak to your mother." Beck told her (which made Carson proud of his boy).
"She just told me that they won't be letting us out of this elevator until we make up." Jade told Beck.
"What?" Beck's eyes widened in shock. "What?" He repeated as he snatched the phone away from Jade's grasp. "Ms. Prince?" A pause. "Mom! Why am I not surprised?"
Fuming, Jade stalked to the other side of the elevator, as far away from Beck as she could manage. Sitting down, she unsheathed a pair of scissors from her right boot. "Do you think if I start hurting the hostages, the meddling mothers would let us out of here?" She asked conversationally.
Carson gulped even as Beck glared at her, warning, "That's not funny."
Jade rolled her eyes as she began mindlessly opening and closing her scissors.
"You cannot just stick us in here indefinitely. That's probably illegal!" Beck was saying at the phone. "Mom!"
"It's hopeless." Carson finally told Beck. "You know how stubborn and hardheaded those two women are, and they seem to bring out the worst in each other."
"They said they can hear you." Beck told his father.
"I know." Carson replied.
Beck shook his head as he replaced the receiver on its cradle. Slowly, he slid down the wall until he was seated.
Carson looked at the two teens with him Before also making himself comfortable on the floor. It looked like they were never going to get out of the elevator if the condition for their release that for the two to make up.
"So," Carson began conversationally.
"NO!" Jade snapped.
Beck just shook his head.
Thirty minutes later, and the siege was still on.
Beck was starting to fidget, obviously bored. He had just drained the last of his phone batteries.
Jade, on the other hand, had her eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings, but now and then, she would let out a tortured groan.
It was obvious that of the three, it was Carson who was least affected by their incarceration inside the elevator. Not only was he used to cramped spaces (having started his career as a pencil pusher inside a tiny cubicle), a normal workday for him entailed sitting still for extended periods of time, pretty much like what he was doing at the moment.
Unfortunately for the kids, it seemed their generation has forgotten the art of keeping still.
"I'm bored and I want a hamburger." Jade suddenly declared, her first words since they hang up on the pair of scheming mothers.
"It's only ten," Carson said.
"I haven't had breakfast yet. I wasn't exactly planning to get stuck on this stupid elevator."
Without a word, Beck reached into his bag for a tin of mints which he tossed to Jade.
Jade glared at Beck when the tin hit her legs, but grabbed it when she realized what he had just thrown.
"Skipping breakfast isn't healthy, especially if you're a coffee drinker." Beck told her.
"Yes, thank you, Catherine Obvious."
"Actually, Jade it's captain," Carson tried to interject. "Captain Obvious?" What were they teaching the children these days?
"She knows." Beck told him before Jade could. "It's an inside joke."
"Oh. Carry on, then."
But the two once again fell silent.
Ten minutes later, it was Beck who broke. "This is stupid!"
"Yeah, tell that to our mothers."
"Not just that. This!" Beck motioned to the two of them. "We're willing to stay stuck in this elevator just so we can hold on to our grudges."
"I don't wanna hear this," Jade muttered.
"Tough." Beck said. "Because I'm not giving you a choice."
Jade shook her head and looked away.
Beck, however, walked towards her and squatted in front of her. He waited patiently until she finally looked into his eyes.
"I'm sorry." Beck said simply.
Jade took a deep breath as if Beck's declaration pained her. (It probably did.) Then, she gave a single, slow nod.
"Friends?" Beck asked softly, offering a hand.
Carson felt like a voyeur, witnessing something that was not meant to be shared in public (when he gets out of the elevator, he was going to have a good, long talk with his dear, darling wife), but he can't look away.
"Friends." Jade took his hand in hers.
Almost immediately, the elevator started moving downward. (Thank goodness!)
Beck stood up and, Jade's hand still gripped in his, pulled Jade into a standing position.
That was good, Carson thought. They should build on their friendship before they start anything more.
(Riiiight. Carson was giving their just friends phase two weeks tops before they started being more than that. He had never met a more passionate, fiery or physical pair than the two with him. Those two can never be friends. They could only love or hate each other, nothing in between.)
Carson Oliver suppressed the urge to hop from one foot to another like an overeager little boy on Christmas morning.
He could barely contain his excitement as he waited for the elevator doors to open.
Beck was coming home that night after spending a week in Canada, shooting a minor role for a television mini-series.
Carson can't wait to see him again! (His son was almost a full-grown adult, but Carson missed him fiercely even if Beck was only gone for one night.)
When the elevator doors slid open, however, he was surprised by the sight of two young people inside the elevator, making out. He was about to interrupt them and deliver a scathing lecture on how an elevator was not the proper place for such things when he realized two things: first, the boy who seemed very intent on trying to suck out his partner's tonsils was none other than his son; and second, his son's very willing partner was his just friends ex-girlfriend!
(It looks like Carson won the bet. That would teach his wife to bet against him (and teenaged hormones). Sita thought that Beck and Jade would try to be friends for at least a month.)
Instead of the interruption and the planned lecture, Carson Oliver reached into his pocket for his phone to call the Maintenance Division as the elevator slid close.
There was an elevator that needed to be stopped between floors.
Because sometimes being a father means sacrificing the things you wanted and were looking forward to, if it meant your child's happiness.
Carson Oliver loved being a father. It was the best thing in the world, until he discovered something better. He didn't think he could find something he loved more than being a father, but he did!
"When I grow up, I'm going to be an accountant."
Carson grinned proudly as a small hand crept into his much bigger ones.
"They're the best, right, grampa?"
It was like stepping back in time. Carson found himself grinning at Beck's miniature. Same chocolate brown eyes, same nose, same mouth, set in the same thin face with the same olive-toned skin. In fact, the only thing the kid and the mother had in common was that they were both female.
"Of course." Carson said proudly. "And if your mom offers to teach you to play pretend, what're you gonna say?"
"No way!" Carson Marie Oliver proudly answered.
Carson laughed as the elevator they were waiting for finally opened and he and Carrie entered.
Just as it was closing, a small hand shot through the gap, causing the elevator doors to slide open.
The hand belonged to a blond haired, blue eyed boy about Carrie's age and height. "Rooftop please," he told Carson politely, as it was obvious that he could never reach the topmost button.
"Ah, sure." Carson said as he pressed the necessary buttons.
"Hi, I'm Carson Marie, but you can call me Carrie."
"I'm Derek." The little boy dimpled at Carried.
Uh-oh, Carson thought. Here we go again.