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“Where the hell is she!” barked Alistair Steele, mediocre business executive, but first-rate asshole. He slammed his hand down on the reception desk for added effect.
I sank deeper into my seat, looking away; instinct telling me not to look the predator in the eyes. Don’t move. Don’t make a sound.
“I asked you a question,” he leaned over the desk coming in for the kill, “how much longer do I have to wait?”
I glanced up from behind the flimsy protection of my computer screen, “I’m sure Alex won’t be much longer,” I said, regretting the squeak in my voice, “perhaps one of our other attorneys can help you in the meantime?”
“I don’t want to see someone else. I’m here to see her,” he spat, saliva foaming in the corner of his mouth. “Get her here now!”
"Yes, of course. I’ll try her mobile again.” Shaking, I dialed her number for the fifth time. Typical! Today, of all days. I just knew when I saw this piece of work was booked to see Alex after lunch that she would pick today to go on one of her AWOL jaunts.
Come on, answer your phone, you selfish cow. I strained a meek pleased-to-serve-you smile while I listened to the phone go to voicemail. I was about to leave another message when the elevators doors opened. Breathing a sigh of relief, I hung up the phone. Finally!
The relieved sigh was premature. Amira, the office intern stepped into the office, clutching some files to her chest, having returned from an errand. She looked at Mr. Steele and then mouthed to me, “Is she still not back?”
I shook my head.
“Mr. Steele,” Amira said, extending her hand, “would you like to come through to the boardroom. I can get the paperwork started.”
He ignored her outstretched hand, grabbing his briefcase, “Thank you!” He barked, “Finally, someone with initiative,” he glared at me before storming off ahead of her.
Amira turned to me, and using the pretense of adjusting her hijab to block his view, rolled her eyes and hissed, “He’s such a jerk”.
“Good luck,” I whispered and leant back in my chair feeling drained.
The reception phone started ringing again and I sighed heavily, my finger hovering over the answer button, before making contact, “Good afternoon, Andrews and Andrews, Cathy speaking. How may I help you?” I repeated the scripted greeting for the zillionth time into the headset.
“Hi Cath. It’s me.” I rolled my eyes. “David. Now’s really not a good time.” Not that there was ever a good time to speak with him these days.
“That’s okay, I won’t keep you.” Yeah, well, that was probably true. Staying around wasn’t his strong suit. “Fine. What is it?”
“I have a favor to ask.”
“Seriously, if you don’t collect your things soon, I swear I’m going to throw them out.”
“Yes, yes, I know. It’s not that. I need the plane tickets to Hawaii.”
“Excuse me?” I grunted. “You’re making it sound like you contributed towards them. They’re my tickets. I paid for them.” I felt the bitterness bubbling up again.
“It’s not like you wanted them.”
“No. You’re the one who made me spend the prize money I won in the writing competition I entered on a holiday you never intended for us to take, instead of on the screenwriting course I wanted to do.”
“Oh, come on. You know you’d never have used it.”
“You don’t know that!” I yelled, feedback squawking in the headset. “You never supported me in—”
“Cath, I don’t have time for this. Just let me have the damn tickets.”
“What do you want them for anyway?”
“I’m taking Tiffany to Sunrise Cove to—”
“And you expect me to pay for the airfare? You’ve got some cheek!” Had this been his plan all along? First distract me from wondering about all those ‘late nights at the office’ with plans of a romantic holiday over Valentine’s Day, hinting that he was finally going to propose. And then, knowing I wouldn’t have a use for, or want to use two tickets to Hawaii, bamboozle me into giving them to him. For someone who liked the expensive things in life, he was exceptionally skilled at getting others to foot the bill. “If you can afford to take her to Sunrise Cove you can bloody well get your own flights.”
“Oh come on, Cath, you’re not going to use them. You hate the beach.”
I gritted my teeth. “My name is Catherine.” I hated the way he called me Cath. It sounded like it was short for catheter. “The answer is no.”
“For goodness sake, I’ll pay you back.”
I rolled my eyes. I’d heard that before.
“I’m just really stretched at the moment. I can’t let Tiff down. The hotel cost a fortune and the ring damn near bankrupted me, so I really need th—”
I went cold, a sudden flash filling the sky. “Ring?”
“Yes, we’re engaged. That’s why we’re going to Sunrise Cove. To celebrate.”
“Engaged!” I spluttered, as the revelation hit, a loud thundering crack that shook my body.
The projectile ripped a hole in me, like in an aircraft, explosively sucking the air from my lungs. I lurched forward, unable to breathe, clutching my chest with one hand and ripping off the headset with the other. The room spinning, hurtling towards disaster, I staggered into the hallway and headed for the ladies washroom. Falling against the door, it swung open and deposited me onto the old tile floor as tears engulfed the sinking wreckage. I pulled myself into a stall, pushing the door closed behind me before lunging for the toilet bowl and throwing up my lunch.
Engaged. After only eight months. We’d been together to five years. So, all the whining about not being ready, about needing more time were just excuses. He was more than ready to get married, just not with me. I grabbed another fistful of toilet paper and mopped up my blubbering before dropping it onto the growing mound on my lap. After all I had sacrificed for him so that he could start his own business, and then the minute he no longer needed me, he dumped me for her. His office receptionist. Receptionist – the very job he mocked me for having even though it paid the bills when his business had yet to make an income. The blond bimbo with perky breasts, only a year out of high school and half his age, who was nothing, yet everything I wasn’t. If it wasn’t so insulting, the cliché of it would be laughable.
I blew my nose again, adding another scrunched up soggy mass to the damp pile, steeling myself to go back. My absence would not go unnoticed for long. I bundled up all the wadded up toilet paper and pent up emotions and stuffed them into the toilet. I was reaching for the flusher handle when the washroom door opened ushering in the unmistakable voices of the firm’s accountant and Alex’s BFF, Jess.
I stood and waited for one of them to take the free stall before I made my exit. To my relief, I heard Jess’ tell-tale heels clattering on the floor next to me as she entered the stall and closed the door. I could handle facing Kim right now, but not Jess. I flushed the toilet, straightened up and headed to the wash basins.
Kim was reapplying her makeup and showed no sign of noticing me. I washed my hands watching her in the mirror out of the corner of my eye. She smacked her lips, popped her lipstick into her designer cosmetics bag and went on to patting her perfectly quaffed silver hair into place though it required no adjustment. She had decided to go grey gracefully, the only way she could. I sighed inwardly. She was the kind of woman who excelled at everything. In high school she was top of her class, prom queen, president of the debating team and all-round sports star and cheerleader. In adulthood, she slipped easily into a career that fitted her like a figure-hugging evening gown, married the equally-perfect Dr. Right, and produced two perfectly unblemished children, now in their teens at private school and following in their perfect parents’ perfectly-formed footsteps.