I received lots of requests for more chapters so I’m posting part two to Chapter One. Hope you enjoy and of course, feedback is much appreciated.
No One Else by Renee Maude
Chapter One – Part Two
I have always been a daydreamer. Sometime after my fourth birthday I took daydreaming to a whole other level and conjured up an invisible friend. Her name was Connie and she was my best friend. My mother played along by including her in conversations, setting a place for her at the dinner table and kissing her good night after me. My father berated my mother telling her not to encourage me, insisting it was strange for me to have an invisible friend. But my mother didn’t listen; she thought it was healthy that I had such a vivid imagination. I can’t remember exactly when I outgrew Connie but I know about the time I hit the first grade she was no longer around. I still miss her sometimes. I suppose you never really get over losing your best friend.
This morning, while sitting in our perpetually over-air conditioned conference room at work, I sip on a hot cup of gourmet coffee and nibble at my chocolate chip scone, perks our company provides during our staff meetings. I hear Peter, my boss, talking and gather bits and pieces of him discussing our current client load and the direction of our company. I pretend to pay attention. Being a daydreamer by trade, I have mastered the art of appearing to listen when really my mind is on a completely different planet. I haven’t thought about Connie in years, but this morning nostalgic thoughts of her usher feelings of contentment and love, sentiments I embraced whenever she was around.
It’s clear to me that reminiscing about Connie is tied to the loss I endured years ago when I grasped that she was gone; the same loss I face today. The difference is David is not invisible and he’s not gone; he is very present in my life and still my husband. We just haven’t shared the sacred connection we use to for a very long time. I am desperate to make sense of what happened between us. What went wrong? When did it go wrong? And how can I get it…us back? Because I need to be understood like he understands me. I need his companionship, his interest in me, and his desire to touch me. David has always been the one person who gets me. It was bizarre just how well he knew me. At times he was conscious of my thoughts before I verbalized them. I teased that he had a tiny reclining chair in the “room in my head” and every once in awhile he would take a seat and observe my thoughts. I’d playfully spat, “Get out of my room!” He’d laugh, wrap his arms snug around my waist and murmur into my ear, “But I love your room.” How did we go from there to the polite, meaningless interactions we have today?
This morning when we were getting ready for work why didn’t he tell me about his day ahead, or ask about my plans for the day? What happened to the days when he talked me into playing hooky with him so we could lie in bed all day, watch awful Lifetime (man hating channel according to David) movies, and indulge in Monster Corn, a delicious recipe we invented together one night during finals in college, which was popcorn drenched in butter then sprinkled with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and mini chocolate chips.
It is impossible for me not to assume I have something to do with the current state of our relationship. But is it entirely me? Or has something happened? And why don’t I feel comfortable enough just ask him? We have a ten-year history of being each other’s it person. I remember one night after watching the movie Cast Away in bed; David rolled over and gave me a new nickname, “Wilson,” after the ball Tom Hanks cherished in the movie because I am the person David chose to be stuck with if he turned up on a deserted island. I was his Wilson. A couple years later he shortened Wilson to Will and I have been answering to that for years although I can’t remember the last time David called me Will.
I take a deep breath, pick up my pen and tap it nervously on my notepad. Gwen, my closest friend at work, leans in and whispers to me.
“You okay?” she asks.
I clear my throat. “Yeah, just tired,” I say, gazing down at my notepad.
I focus on Peter and make an effort to tune into what he is saying for the first time since the meeting began. It takes me a moment to catch on to what he’s talking about but soon realize he is telling us about a new member of our team. It seems he has replaced the position of another colleague, Lauren, who after four months of maternity leave returned to work for only two days before deciding she was miserable being away from her baby boy. Peter was less than pleased with her sudden decision since he had kept position open during her leave by distributing her work among himself, Gwen and myself. I thought it was sweet that she couldn’t be away from her son, especially since she was going to be a working mother, completely convinced she could never leave her job. I suppose things don’t always work out like you plan.
I wonder who Peter has found to replace Lauren and quietly ask Gwen if she knows. She shakes her head no. I think we’re both a little surprised that Peter worked so fast.
“It’s been awhile since we have had a new addition to our team. Mason Foley has an impressive resume and I am excited about to see what he will bring to our company,” Peter says.
My heart stops. Did Peter just say Mason Foley? That’s an unusual name but surely there has to be many Mason Foleys in the San Francisco Bay Area. It cannot possibly be the same Mason Foley I know. The Mason Foley who completely humiliated me in high school by reading aloud, to a very large crowd of students during lunch, every word of a sappy love letter I wrote to him. What made this even more embarrassing was that I wasn’t popular in high school. I wasn’t drop dead gorgeous with a perfect just-hit-puberty body. I wasn’t a cheerleader or in dance troupe. I wasn’t in student government or in the drama club. In fact, I didn’t know one person who was in the “it” crowd. I was a plain, frizzy haired, flat-chested girl who wore glasses and wrote for the newspaper staff.
But that didn’t stop me from writing (the only thing going for me) a letter professing my adoration for Mason, who was in one word, delicious. But such a massive jerk. He teased and tormented me my entire freshman and sophomore year along with his posse of friends. He even came over to me once, friends in tow, and played a practical joke on me by putting his arm around me as she said, “Hey Abby, want to go to the prom with me? My girlfriend needs someone to hold the back of her dress.” Audrey, you thoughtless pig. My name is AUDREY. In reality, of course I didn’t correct him. I was too busy turning red like a cranberry and then dashing off to the girl’s bathroom to sob uncontrollably all through fifth period, which later resulted in an F on the quiz we had that day. The quiz I had studied for all night long.
Just then the intercom buzzes and our receptionist informs Peter that our new team member has arrived. Gwen and I exchange puzzled glances realizing that the new hire is actually here, today.
Only two people know about what happened with Mason – Rachel, my best friend who witnessed my love letter humiliation, and David. It came out during one of our “truth talks,” a term we gave conversations where we divulged a truth that we didn’t like about ourselves. That was my “I was a dork who got tormented by hot, popular guys in high school” truth. David was of course wonderful – he hugged me tight and promised to hunt down Mason Foley, break both his kneecaps then beat him silly with brass knuckles. It was a joke, but it was the perfect thing to hear. Surely, the Mason Foley that Peter hired is not this Mason Foley.
Peter stands up, walks over to the conference room door and reaches out to open it. I hold my breath and stare down at my notepad, too panicked to watch who will come walking through that door. I squeeze my eyes shut. Please don’t let it be him, please, anyone but him. I open my eyes and focus on the tall figure that is now shaking hands with Peter.
Oh. My. God. It’s him. It is most definitely him. And he is even more attractive than he was in high school. He is like those GAP models you see plastered on the dressing room doors. He’s taller than I remember, with the same athletic build, although more filled out than before; golden brown wavy hair, and a face you cannot stop looking at – sharp bone structure, softened by a perfect chin and a wide, beautiful smile. I can’t see his eyes from where I am sitting but I remember his eyes – a deep intoxicating shade of blue. Too bad he is such an asshole. I glance down at his right hand in search of a wedding band. Nothing. Guess he couldn’t get someone to marry him after all.
I start jotting down nonsense on my notepad to appear busy. I don’t want him to see me. Wait a second, whom I kidding? Chances are he won’t recognize me. He thought my name was Abby. And I look very different from my pre-pubescent freshman days of high school. I’ve filled out my body, my hair is not frizzy anymore (thanks to my learned expertise with a hair dryer and flat iron), I had laser eye surgery done before I got married, and my freckles have faded for the most part. But even if he doesn’t recognize me, he’s still a creep. I’m not thrilled about working with a man I know firsthand is capable of treating another person with such disregard and disrespect.
I feel the floor underneath my feet begin to vibrate and glance under the table only to see Gwen’s leg moving nervously underneath. I catch a glimpse of her expression and snicker to myself. Excitement is oozing from her face. Gwen is single, and beautiful by anyone’s standards, but not a bit snobby because of it, which is both unusual and refreshing. She’s fun, friendly, charming and sexy. But, she is, and I hate to admit this because she is a good friend of mine, about as sharp as a bowling ball. Still, that doesn’t seem to stop the men from flocking to her like pigeons on fresh bread. They never stick around for very long, although that doesn’t seem to faze Gwen because new pigeons are just around the corner. She is crazy about hot, single men and they are enamored with her (even hot, married men love her but that’s a whole other story) so Mason is right up her alley.
As Mason approaches the table I notice how impeccably he is dressed and am so irritated that I notice. He is wearing a dark grey pinstriped suit with a cream button-down shirt and a green, lavender and cream striped tie. I peek at his shoes hoping they’ll be old and worn. I’ve always found it tacky to see a sharply dressed man wearing shoes that look like they cost a nickel at a garage sale. Not the case with Mason however. His crisp, black leather loafers appear to be either freshly shined or brand new. Peter finishes his introduction and then Mason addresses the group.
“Thank you Peter for giving me the opportunity to work here with such an incredible team,” he begins. “I am happy to be here and look forward to getting to know all of you.”
Mason beams his electric smile and then takes a seat next to Peter at the table. He surveys the room and makes brief eye contact with everyone sitting at the table. When he reaches me his eyes skim past me, move onto Gwen, and then dart back to me. We lock eyes for a couple of seconds and then I quickly look down. Please don’t let him recognize me. Please.
Maybe I won’t have to work closely with him since I never did much with Lauren and he’s essentially taking over her position. This will work out, it has to. Everything will be fine just as soon as I get over the initial shock.
Finally Peter dismisses us and I gather my things, eager to retreat to my office. I have to call Rachel right away. She’ll know exactly what to do. Just before I make it out of the room Peter beckons me back.
“Audrey, could you please stay a moment? I need to talk to you,” he asks.
“Sure, no problem,” I say, and take a deep breath before turning around.
I walk over to the table and sit down across from Peter and Mason. I smell patchouli and vanilla, what I sense is Mason’s cologne. I know it’s not Peter because he doesn’t wear cologne. It smells incredible but I hate it anyway. Peter formally introduces us and I politely shake his hand.
“Audrey, I didn’t bring this up at the meeting but I want to let you know that Lauren’s position is going to be more eliminated rather than replaced,” he began. “Mason excels at the media relations portion of event planning so I would like you two to work closely together on the our next big pitch for the American Red Cross Fundraising Gala.”
I look over at Peter confused. I had no idea we were pitching the American Red Cross. When did he decide on this? Every major event-planning firm in the Bay Area fought for this event each year, but Peter has chosen that we remain out of the competition. I have been trying to convince Peter into going after this event for years, and even prepared a proposal to demonstrate how much it would benefit our company and expand our client base. Peter felt we weren’t equipped to handle the media.
“I have decided to join the running for this event. It’s a huge event that can open many doors for us in the non-profit circuit and generate a great deal of positive publicity for our company. I want us to be the firm who lands it, which is why I hired Mason. He has the media experience we need to handle the event and you have the planning expertise to make it a tremendous success. Together the two of you will make a solid team. You’ll need to get together soon, maybe today over lunch, to bring him up to speed on all the clients you are working on. Then you can start on the pitch preparations for the Gala.”
My heart is racing. I feel the blood pumping in my cheeks, and my hands start tingling. Did someone turn on the damn heater in the conference room? Mason and I are going to be working together. Together. Our eyes meet and he smiles a professional nice-to-meet-you smile. Maybe he won’t ever remember me. But does it really matter? I know who he is. I know what he did to me in high school, what he put me through for two entire years. And now I have to work alongside him on the biggest pitch of my career.