This is the seventh time Lauren passes by my office seemingly doing nothing at all except staring at me. It's the half twist of her head that gives her away and the fact that she's bumped into at least four co-workers so far while being focused on me. This girl would be a danger in traffic. She looks confused, opening and closing her mouth like a fish like she's about to say something, but thinks better of it. Maybe she too approves of my, apparently sexy, attire for the day, but is unsure of how to pay me a compliment. Rose dramatically let her jaw drop when I dropped by her office to say good morning. I didn't understand her reaction at first.
"What are you doing after work?" She asked me.
"I'm going to visit Black Corporations," I answered.
The plan was to visit Black Corporations Thursday next week, but then Jacob asked yesterday if today would work instead since he would have time to show me around himself. Which means no Mike. I jumped at the proposal.
When Rose got my answer she immediately went from looking intrigued to pissed off.
"Is there something you want to tell me about you and Jacob?"
It's interesting that back when Jacob sent me flowers Rose told me to go for it, but now it's the worst thing that could happen. Not that I'm planning on anything to happen. There was nothing I wanted to tell Rose about Jacob and I, simply because there is no Jacob and I. Apparently the fact that I was showing a bit of cleavage said something else. If I had thought that would imply whatever Rose was reading into my choice of my outfit (black, tight, but reaching below the knee – thank you very much) I wouldn't have chosen this dress. I am also wearing more make-up than usual and donning a red lip, but that's because I'm nervous about making a good impression on my new co-workers and when nervous I tend to get carried away.
But Rose's reaction made me realize that my mental state must've played a role when I chose my look this morning. My mental state not only being nervous, but flustered. Last night I had a very vivid sex dream and woke up feeling feverish and like I should "have a shallow look around". Or whatever it is people do these days. What does it mean to date casually? Is that just a fancy re-write for sleeping around with different people? I was never any good at it. I'm a typical relationship kind of person. This urge or whatever it is to suddenly put myself out there again was on my mind this morning as I got dressed and it apparently shows.
So the cleavage is not for Jacob, but... For the world? Yeah, that doesn't make much sense either.
Lauren walks by for the eighth time and I tug at my dress, paranoid that the cleavage is really deep, when in fact it's not. Rose just wants to mess with my brain. My clothing can't be it. It's not that bold and I've seen Lauren's cleavage more than once. It's not like I've got huge boobs either. Why is she staring? She's fidgeting too, with her hands on the hem of her black jacket and now she stops again, looking like she's pulling herself together. Will she knock on my door this time? Nope. She goes back to her office. I wonder what it will be like working at a new place and leave this strange office behind. Will there be a Jessica at Black's? A version of Lauren and James? Who knows, but it will be a new start. In two weeks I'll be leaving Stanley's for good. Short notice, but I'm not needed here anymore. Not when the project's done. Even though Jessica still wants to mess with me, even she realized keeping me here longer than needed would be overly ambitious.
Overly ambitious, I am not. In between keeping my eyes on Lauren, which is making me question which one of us is really staring at who, I spend my time once again watching the links Emmett has sent me. Rose said he wants to meet Heathcliff, but I don't think he's expecting a one eyed fully grown cat. Although he's not that mature for an adult feline. He still wants to play. I cringe thinking about early this morning when I was in that half awake state, still in the steamy dream and wiggling my toes which made Heathcliff jump at them as if I was playing a game with him. When really I was just frustrated as hell. It was weird craving human touch and fighting off a cat at the same time.
"My God, where did you go?" Rose says and I blink.
How long has she been standing there?
"When did you get here?" I ask.
She ignores my question and looks over her shoulder swiftly.
"Why is Lauren lurking around the hallways? I haven't seen her sit on her bony ass once today."
"She is kind of bony," I note, now that Rose mentioned it.
"She's getting married tomorrow. Have you seen what she eats for lunch? Air, Bells. Fucking air."
Right. It's tomorrow. Saturday to be precise. James and Lauren's wedding. It doesn't feel that bad to be honest. James has made this much easier for me by acting like a douchebag ever since we broke-up. He's slowly killed away all parts of him I used to like. I can barely remember his nice qualities anymore. Good thing I'm not going to their wedding. Good thing I was not asked to hold a speech. I imagine myself swaying with a bottle of champagne in my hand and slurring "James is an asshole" followed by scattered nervous laughter from the other guests as they silently question whether or not I'm joking.
Rose concludes that Lauren is "up to something", but what the hell does that mean? Maybe she's just nervous because she's getting married and that's why she's acting weird. I stop keeping track off Lauren walking by my office. I do have more links to look at. Baby sloths falling asleep, an otter having a snack etc. etc. Busy busy day for me.
But come lunch time I make a decision. I'm going to approach Lauren. She's in her office, poking around with a fork in a sad green sallad. I stand on the other side of the glass wall feeling like I'm visiting a zoo, tempted to place my hand on the glass to express my compassion. Especially when I realize the otter on Youtube had more to eat than her. He was eating chips for crying out loud.
I knock on the door and she looks up. I take that as an invitation to go inside. As I get closer to her she should appear to get bigger to me, but it's like she's shrinking instead and I wonder if she's scared of me for some reason. I told her I didn't want to have chitty chats with her. I did not say I was going to challenge her to a fight, although this makes me fantasize about how a fight between us would go down. But even fantasizing about that is unfair since Lauren is in no shape to fight me. Look at her lunch! I had a decent breakfast and for lunch I had carbs, lots and lots of carbs and we all know that in the battle between pasta and green sallad, pasta wins. Every. Time.
"What are you eating?" I ask.
"Lettuce and qinoua," she answers, sounding very protective, like I asked her to give me her food.
"Yum," I say half-heartedly.
She sighs, dropping her fork and leans her head in her hands, her long brown extensions effectively covering her face like a curtain. I get a nice view of her engagement ring. Silver with a diamond centered by two blue stones. Mine had one stone, that was also blue, encircled by small diamonds. Our rings are very similar in style. The realization makes me feel funny.
"Is there something you want to talk about?" I ask her, feeling like I'm having a conversation with a five year old.
"No," Lauren says through her hair.
"You just like to hang around outside my office?"
She emits another sigh.
"Where's James?" I ask because I haven't seen him around her at all today.
She doesn't answer.
"Is everything alright..."
"Don't," she interrupts me, now raising her head, looking straight at me with sad tired eyes.
"Won't," I say holding up my hands in a gesture of surrender.
What's going on?
By four PM I'm ready to go, leaving this whole Lauren mystery behind. I have to fan myself with a paper while I walk through the lobby, feeling impossibly hot. Like I have a fever coming on. Even the air outside is hotter than usual, humid even, but at first I think it's just me and my freaky body. Turns out it's not. Five minutes later it starts pouring down. I manage to grab a free newspaper to shield my head, but that gets drenched within minutes and I run only to realize it seems to be making me more wet than walking. By the time I spot a place where I can buy an umbrella it's too late. I'll just look stupid coming in with that over my head and soaked through my clothes. People will wonder if I've grasped the concept.
With mascara running down my face, I'm sure, and my hair flat and in wet stripes I pop into a Starbucks right around the corner from Black Corporations and pay for a coffee just to use their bathroom. I attempt to freshen up using a million paper towels and willpower. I put my messy wet hair in a bun and then desperately grab at the fabric of my dress and trying to dry it by praying hard. I have to stay positive. I didn't wear white today. There. Good news. As much as I like my polkadot bra and matching panties I'm not eager to have everyone see it.
Black Corporations has a futuristic lobby. White and steril, with weird design. Paintings that look more like mistakes. White leather sofas are placed in a circle and a huge screen is showing a short movie in black and white. One of those artsy movies that could be about anything from yoghurt to castles, just shot after shot of random things. There's also a huge aquarium with colorful fishes with dead eyes that makes me wonder if we are observing the fish or if the fish is observing us.
I give the receptionist a smile I hope is confident although I must look messy. She seems friendly enough, not friendly in that creepy way that service people can sometimes be, but genuinely nice. She takes my information and tells me to wait around. Do I want anything in the mean while? Something to drink? To eat? Some slippers? A robe? A massage? A pony? Black Corporations is one of those places that exudes the feeling that anything's possible to arrange. I tell her I'm good (although a robe would've been nice) and walk up to the aquarium. I look at the exotic looking fishes, swimming back and forth as they eye me with no interest.
"That's a Mandarinfish."
I look to my side and there's Jacob with the usual smile on his face, his arms crossed. His eyes are on the aquarium.
"Which one?" I ask, because as much as Charlie used to fish and talk about fishing, I'm sure we don't have Mandarinfish in Forks.
Jacob points, careful not to touch the glass and I see the small fish, mostly blue, but with stripes of orange and green.
"It's not easy to spot in the wild and it's one of the most diffcult fishes to keep. It's very picky about its food."
"Then why have one?"
He looks straight at me, his dark eyes sparkling.
"It's beautiful," he says.
And then I fight the hardest try-not-to-laugh battle of my life to date. I know he was talking about the fish, but looking at me while he said it? Bella, you're as beautiful as a Mandarin fish.
Jacob looks at me amused, as if he knows what's going through my head.
"It's soothing, right?" he says, clearing his throat and nodding at the aquarium.
I hum in agreement, a little confused as to why everything is suddenly so calm. I had rushed here expecting to be rushed around some more, but here we are now, standing still like we've got all the time in the world. It's kind of nice, although I am shivering a bit. It's summer, but I'm still wet and this place has great air condition. While Jacob goes on about the aquarium my mind is wandering off to a much warmer place. To the steamy dream I had last night, more specifically. The longing to share a bed with someone hits me like a heatwave and I shoot Jacob a discreet side glance. I'm eyeing his bicep. He's wearing a white dress shirt that works in his favour, showing off his fit physiqe. I don't know what that says about what he's like in bed though. I can't imagine him as a show off kind of person. He's caring, I think. Sweet. Not afraid to smile in an intimate moment and not into anything weird. He's not like that guy Rose told me about who wanted her to call him "daddy" in bed after one date. Long story short, Rose did it and felt strange after, but she tries most things once. Rest assured, she will never do that again.
I wonder what a night with Jacob would be like...
He asks me if I agree and I don't know if he's still talking about the aquarium. I can only hope this is not some sort of test to see if I'm listening or not (which I would fail).
"Of course," I answer smiling.
He seems happy with that and I'm mortified as to where my brain just went. My heart is thumping hard and I have the sudden urge to bite my fist. Bite anything, really. But not Jacob. Not in any sexual way.
"You're wet." His words make me snap back to reality once again.
"It's pouring outside," I answer quickly, too quickly.
As if on que both both of us look out the huge panorama windows and loe and behold: not a drop of rain. Sunshine. Straight up sunshine.
God damn you Manhattan!
"It rained before," I add.
"Must've missed it," he concludes lightly. "Shall we?"
"Lead the way."
As we pass by the reception he greets the girl by the name of Leah and I'm ashamed I didn't even look at her nametag.
I'm relieved to learn that Jacob's hired a bunch of different people. Men and women, young people and some middle aged. All of them have friendly faces. The futuristic lobby scared me a little and I was honestly expecting more of a "cool" crowd. I'm surprised and amused to learn that the lobby is "ironically designed". Which is really another wording for "we have shitloads of money and don't know what to do with it, but hey let's buy rare fishes and make a movie no one will understand."
"We like to play around with image," Jacob explains with a cheeky smile. "Not everything is what it seems."
I realize the dress code is more casual than at Stanley's. I see both men and women wearing jeans and t-shirts and sneakers. I wonder if I can get used to it myself. I can't remember the last time I went to work in flat shoes.
Also the walls aren't made of glass. They're good old regular walls. If the lobby is hip and slightly intimidating, the rest of the place isn't.
Jacob's office has an amazing view of Manhattan and I stand by the panorama window in awe, while he picks up where he left off when we visited the Newman building earlier in the week. He says I can choose where I want to work. If I want to have my office in the Newman building I'm free to do so, although it would only really make sense if I were to continue my work on that particular building. And if I want to take residence at Black Corporations and take on other projects – there's that too.
I have to confess I'm itching to keep working on the Newman Project. I don't know how I feel about adding a new part to it, but if someone has to do it, I'd rather it be me than anyone else. It only seems right. Naturally that's what Jacob wants too since I'm already familiar with the building. I wonder if I ever really had the other option or if he just wanted to be nice.
It's decided that I'll be getting an assistant. I can only hope he or she is as far away from Irina as possible.
We continue the tour.
"And in here," Jacob comes to a halt outside a door with a peculiar look on his face, like this is a prank he's not sure if I will enjoy or not. "We have your old friend."
I don't need see through walls to know who's he referring to, although I'm not overjoyed that Mike has clearly been yapping about our past. The term "old friend" makes me remember our prom photo. Mike in a blue suit and black tie, his blonde hair Nick Carter style, his skin semi bad and a goofy smile on his face. Me in a matching blue dress and very curly hair for the occasion. We look like kids playing adult dress up in that photo. Seventeen years old and naive as hell thinking we were in love.
The photo's still at Charlie's. Not on the wall or something, God no, he would never display any photo of me with a boy, not even a photo where a boy happened to be in the background. When Mike came to pick me up that night Charlie was casually cleaning his gun as if that was something completely normal to do on a Friday night. The photo must still be in my desk along with dusty old school books where it will remain until I come back one day and... Burn it?
I'm momentarily shocked to see Mike now because I saw him so clearly like he used to look. Mike now is filling out his suit, his shoulders seem broader and that awful nineties haircut is long gone. Of course I already knew that, given that I've had the pleasure of meeting him twice since Forks.
"Hey Bella," he greets and his smile goes from ear to ear.
I'm struck by his genuine happiness of seeing me and fumble for an equally enthusiastic greeting.
Yo? No one seems to find that weird though.
"Can we come in? Say hello? Or are you working on that contract?" Jacob asks.
Mike is staring at my cleavage.
I cross my arms instinctively as if that will bring less attention to it, but I'm basically pushing my boobs up and Mike catches himself, swiftly looking away.
"Nah, it's okay," he answers laughing nervously and opening the door wider. "Come on in. I'll finish the breast later."
I look at Jacob trying to gauge his reaction, if he also heard the word "breast" in there and judging by the confused look on his face he seems to be questioning if he heard correctly. I won't dig into it. We'll just pretend none of us heard it.I discreetly arrange my hair so that it falls over my cleavage and we go inside. Mike is unaware of his Freudian slip as he happily chatters on what he's working on at the moment. I look at his desk, keeping an eye out for any personal items. Anything at all to tell me something about his life. Has he got a girlfriend? My gut tells me no, judging by the way he's behaved around me when we first met again at Stanley's and when he cut in to dance with me at the ball. I remember thinking he was sleazy, the way he wanted to dance close and sing in my ear, but maybe he was a bit drunk.
I wish somehow he'll get a girlfriend though because he seems dorkier now than he was then and dorky guys sometimes struggle with women. He's still kind of cute, but fidgety and has that kind of nervous laugh giving away that he's uncomfortable in his own skin. What if Mike and I started dating again? I immediately cringe at the thought. He did just stare openly at my boobs. A minor detail I guess, especially when I remind myself once more that I lost my virginity to this guy. Hm, I can't decide if he's a dork or a sleaze. I shake my head, forcing myself to snap back to reality. Even though I'm already longing for some human connection it's a good thing to stay away from dating after a break-up. Otherwise I would put myself in all kinds of situations. I'd probably ask Mike out for a drink.
One hour later I leave Black Corporations confused. Everything was clear enough and I know I'm coming back here in two weeks, but Jacob asked if I wanted to continue conversation over "a bite to eat". That expression, coming from a man, has always made me suspiscious. An expression meant to sound laid back, but sometimes masks a date. I'm annoyed at myself for so easily forgetting that we are over that. Yes, I checked Jacob out at the aquarium, but I realize that's my heartbroken self wanting to throw myself at another man in hopes of getting over another. Yes, Jacob has, in the past, expressed interest in me and today he may have or may have not compared me to a beautiful fish. But we are over that. We had drinks this past Monday and it wasn't weird then. I shouldn't make things weird now.
Once again I'm reading way too much into things. Maybe I was rude to say no to dinner. Nevertheless I'm happy with my decision to go home. What I need now is a relaxing bath. Immediately when I arrive at the apartment I kick off my heels. One shoe hits the plant on the bureau again and it falls on the floor, dirt everywhere along with shards from the broken pot. I had recently purchased a new one since the last one broke. It's the circle of liiifeee...
What an entrance!
Come to think of it, maybe it will make a break and entry more complicated. A thief might slip. Or better yet if he's barefoot and cuts the soles of his feet on the shards.
Heathcliff does not look happy with me. He approached when he heard the fall and now he's silently judging me, his tail going back and forth, his green eyes squinting. What are you doing with your life? He asks. And where is my dinner? He meows at me, a gesture for me to follow him and I make a detour to the kitchen before the bathroom. He comes to a halt by his bowl of food, looks at me again and sits down and starts to eat. Dinner found.
I turn around, but he meows again.
"You're weird, you know that?" I tell him.
I imagine his answer. Well I'm not the one talking to a cat, am I?
"Fine," I huff and wait for him to finish eating.
What is with cats and them wanting you to stick around while they eat? Or does he want to make me jealous? Does he think I also find his food delicious? When Heathcliff's done eating I ask if him if it's okay with him if I take a bath. He has nothing to say to that and I take that as an OK.
I turn the tap on to run a bath and sit on the tub's ledge, watching the water stream.
I sit in the bath until the water goes cold and even then I stay for a while longer trying to break down my day. I look at my ring finger that's now looking like a raisin because of the water. James had chosen the engagement ring because it was "so me", but turns out it was also "so Lauren". I'd like to think it's just James' flavour and he likes that kind of ring, but the thing is, the ring actually was "so me". It's a bit puzzling, but interesting how someone I used to know so well can seem like a stranger. Once upon a time I thought I knew what was going on in James' head, but now? Anyone's guess would be as good as mine.
I eventually get up from the bath, dry off and put on body lotion. I realize once again that my very expensive lotion is still at Edward's apartment, given he's not thrown it away which he probably has. To a guy a lotion is just a lotion. It doesn't matter what brand it is. I pull the Star Wars t-shirt over my head, put on a pair yoga pants and watch crappy television with Heathcliff contently purring in my lap. Together we keep up with celebrities known for nothing, but their fancy lives. My IQ drastically lowers. How many "like" and "totally" can one hear without getting affected? It's fabulous and exactly what I needed tonight.
When my cell rings I don't want answer because I'm positive I'll sound like people on TV. Seeing the display however lets me know I don't have to answer. I've long since deleted the contact called "James", but I still know his number by heart no matter how much I'd love to forget it.
One day away from marrying Lauren and he's calling me. At ten PM. Hm. Isn't he supposed to be on his own bachelor party? Maybe it's some stupid dare to call his latest ex or something. I ignore his call and continue watching TV with a higher level of focus. James soon gives up and sents me a text instead. I hate myself for even looking at it, but I'm simply too curious.
Bee, pls pick up. i need u
Bee? An old petname I haven't heard since we were together. I meant to ignore the text as well, but suddenly I'm worried. What if something's happened? What if something's happened to Lauren and James is panicking? I press dial, anxiously waiting for him to pick up. In my head all kinds of scenarios play out. Lauren has been in a car accident. Lauren has run off with another man. Lauren is in the hospital because she's been eating nothing but leaves for the past few days.
"Bee?" James finally answers.
"What's going on?"
"Bee, you home? Where's your place?"
"You're drunk," I say, feeling both relieved and pissed off at the same time.
So, nothing's happened. He's just being stupid.
"Pleease," he begs. "Lemme come see you."
I hang up, but he calls again. I don't answer and he doesn't stop. I put my cell on flight mode and decide to turn in for the night. James calling is a sign that this day needs to be done.
I crawl under the covers and close my eyes, willing piece to come, but my feet are at it again. This time it's not because of some steamy fantasy, I'm annoyed as hell. Life would be much easier without men. Lately it's all trouble and James calling me the night before his wedding, albeit drunk, does not sit well with me. Has he gotten cold feet and was hoping that I'd warm them up for him? I guess if I was out to wreck James and Lauren's relationship I would, but I like to think I'm a bigger fan of karma than I am of revenge. Also, I don't care enough to be interested in revenge. Revenge requires passion and that fire is no longer burning. James and I are ashes, scattered to the wind.
And yet I called him up. But I tell myself that means I have a heart. I didn't know nothing had happened except James getting drunk and making a bad decision.
I'm equally annoyed with myself. Stubbornly I try to focus on sleep, turning to my side with a huff, hugging a pillow close to my chest. I hear my own heartbeat which is distracting enough, but soon there's another beat as well. It takes me a few seconds to place the sound.
Someone is knocking on my door.
I shouldn't answer this time of night when I'm not expecting company. Not that I live in a dodgy neighborhood, but you never know.
I plan to ignore it, but the knocking is persistent and it's getting louder.
James doesn't know where I live, but these days you can google everyone and find out anything. He is a much bigger idiot than I thought. As much as I don't want to handle a drunk ex, it's late and he's disturbing my neighbors. So far I haven't made enemies here and I don't want to either. I pull off the cover with an angry groan and put on the yoga pants I took off minutes before. I tip toe to the hallway where there are still parts of broken pot on the floor. I need to sort that out in the morning. I slip into a pair of slippers for precaution and look through the blurry peephole.
Unless James called to tell me he's had a sexchange, that's not him.
I'm getting a feminine figure and long brown hair. The woman leans in as if trying to see me better too and the close-up makes me one hundred percent sure.
As always, thanks so much for reading and reviewing. Like before I've received some lovely, helpful and thought provoking guest reviews, I want you to know I appreciate it!
Some of you are bringing up HEA :) Close your eyes if you reeeally don't want to know, but to make it clear - I'm not writing a tragedy. That being said, it remains to be seen what this HEA looks like.
Also, I don't know where you guys live or where you're from - I feel like so much is going on in the world and I hope you're alright. Much love!