The middle of a work event was not exactly an ideal spot to pick up men. Especially not while working said event. But that didn't seem to deter Zanna's quest to find her friend a soulmate.
"What about that guy?" Zanna pointed at a blond man across the room.
"That one?" She tried hopefully, pointing at someone else.
"No, Zanna" Alyssa repeated blandly. She wasn't even paying much attention to her friend, glancing instead on the iPad in hand and checking through the evening's itinerary once again. Working in a small public relations company meant that they were almost always short staffed and expected to be across everything.
Or maybe that's just Linda pinching pennies, Alyssa decided. Their boss, Linda Carrington, was amazing at securing big contracts, such as tonight's launch of hybrid cars by Lexus, but pretty much left everything else to Alyssa and Zanna to do. She'd be off schmoozing her way to the next contract without any thought to her team's actual capacity to handle the work.
Luckily, having Zanna as a colleague made working for Linda bearable. They had both joined the company around the same time a few years ago and quickly grew from just colleagues to good friends. Unfortunately, that also meant that Zanna had taken it upon herself to find Alyssa a date at every opportunity.
"Yeah, he's too skinny. Not your type," Zanna mused, almost to herself. Her eyes were still trained at the crowded room, scanning all of the men in search of a viable candidate to set her friend up with. It didn't matter to her that Alyssa was far from interested.
"Ooh wait," she was suddenly excited. "How about that guy?"
Alyssa looked up from her notepad and glanced in the direction Zanna was staring at. A tall guy with ginger hair was talking animatedly to three girls who were hanging on to his every word.
"Oh come on, you barely looked at him," Zanna exclaimed, turning towards her auburn-haired friend. "He's good looking and a conversationalist; exactly your type."
"Zee, I have a boyfriend, remember? Lucas?" Alyssa said loudly, hoping that the name would ring a bell in her friend's head.
Zanna wrinkled her nose. "I thought you were just dating him casually?"
Alyssa dropped her gaze back to her notebook. "We had a talk about being exclusive a couple of nights ago. We are officially together now."
"What is he, in high school?" Zanna commented sarcastically. "I can't believe you agreed!"
"Well why not?" Alyssa threw back. "We've been seeing each other for almost three months now and you've never said anything against it before."
"Because I thought he was long gone."
"With you and Terry constantly badgering me about having too high standards and being single forever, I thought maybe I should give Lucas a real chance." Alyssa grumbled.
"He just doesn't seem right for you," Zanna shrugged. "Isn't he an accountant or something?"
"Yes, he is and he's a perfectly nice guy," Alyssa defended. "I'm not going find a superficial reason just to dump him."
Beside her, she heard Zanna sigh before slumping against the table that Alyssa was working on. "Seriously Lyss, you need to get out there. How are you going to find Mr. Right if you don't even try?"
"I'm perfectly happy with Mr Right Now. As touched as I am that you care so much about my future, I'm really not interested. And besides, we're supposed to be working," Alyssa chided playfully.
"Which is what I am paying you to do," followed a voice from behind them. Linda Carrington, their boss and the owner of the company they worked for, was approaching them looking panicked. "Which one of you was in charge of catering?"
Suzanna and Alyssa exchanged glances. Linda had been in a mood all day as and clearly looking to chew one of them out. Alyssa wasn't about to throw her friend under the bus so she spoke up. "Is there a problem I can help you with?"
"Did you know that the Lexus CEO is a strict vegan? We better have enough food for him."
Alyssa bit back a sigh. Of course they knew this. They had tried to tell Linda but she had waved them away when making the catering decision. They only had ordered two vegetarian dishes on the buffet menu and they both had eggs in them.
Zanna shook her head. "You cleared the chosen menu with the Lexus team. Didn't they point this out?"
"My sentiments exactly," Linda said. "But we'll have to deal with them later. Right now we need to get more vegan options on the buffet. I need you to urgently compile a list of delis in the area that might be able to help us. We need to fix this."
"I'm on it," Zanna gave a curt nod, turned on her walkie-talkie headset and put the earpiece in her left ear before heading towards where the buffet lines were being set up. Alyssa knew that they already had a deli on stand by and it was only a matter of giving them a ring to deliver the food.
Turning to her other assistant, Linda said, "Alyssa, I need you to make sure everything else continues to run on schedule while I deal with this crisis. How are we doing with the goody bags?"
"All prepped and ready; there's one on every seat and the extras are by the door," she reported. They'd been ready weeks in advance, seeing as there had been no need to embellish them whatsoever, according to Linda. The ugly brown bags stuffed with brochures and a few token gifts were perfunctory, but not luxurious as Alyssa would have thought the client wanted. But Linda was the boss and had the final say.
"Good," Linda acknowledged. "Be on your comm. And go find the emcee and tell them to be ready to make the announcement for people to get to their seats in about ten minutes." And with that, she too hurried off to the buffet lines.
Alyssa pulled out her own walkie-talkie and switched on the headset. "This is Lyss," she announced softly.
"Linda looks like she's having a meltdown," came Zanna's voice in her ear.
"The joys of working in PR and events huh?" she teased.
"Gotta love it and the psycho boss that comes with," Zanna returned in a bemused tone. "So where is your man then? Isn't he coming today?"
"He'll be here," Alyssa confirmed. Why he wasn't already was a mystery to her but she forced herself to drop it.
They worked in silence for the next few minutes at their respective stations when Zanna suddenly hissed, "Lyss, look over by the silver car! Tall guy, dark brown hair in a blue suit. He's smoking hot! What do you say?"
Alyssa couldn't help but chuckle as she worked. "Not interested Zee."
"No, seriously Lyss, this guy is totally your type. And he's hot. I mean if I wasn't already married, I'd bang him in a heartbeat," Zanna proclaimed. "He's talking to that Lexus rep now."
"Jeez keep it together," Alyssa chuckled. The excitement in her friend's voice was contagious and Alyssa had to look for herself at the person Zanna was panting over.
At first she saw only his back, as he was examining the interiors of one of the cars. But he did have incredible broad shoulders. Maybe it couldn't hurt to see what he looked like from the front.
He turned around then to speak to the Lexus rep again and Alyssa felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. "Oh, fuck."
"Isn't he hot?" she heard Zanna say gleefully. "I can see you gaping."
Alyssa realised that she was and immediately snapped her mouth shut. She turned away, trying to catch her breath. It couldn't be, she told herself. She had to be seeing things. But there was no denying it. He looked exactly as she remembered, but also better somehow.
"It's Troy," she finally gasped.
"That guy, Zanna. His name is Troy," she bit out.
"You know him?"
"We used to date," Alyssa choked out. She stole a peak back in Troy's direction, wondering if he'd seen her. He was still talking to the Lexus rep and she assumed he hadn't. If she was lucky, she'd be able to avoid him altogether tonight.
"Are you serious? When?"
"Years ago," she responded vaguely. Nine.
Zanna laughed. "I was so right about him being your type then. Aren't you going to go say hi?"
"No," Alyssa said, a little too quickly. She hadn't seen or heard from him since their break up and seeing him now, after all this time, was surreal. She had no idea when and why he had moved back to her city, if he had moved back at all and she wanted to believe that she didn't care.
"Was it a bad break up?"
"You could say that."
Zanna was curious now. "So how long did you guys date?"
"Just over a year," Alyssa told her.
"Wow," Zanna breathed. "That's really long for you. I've never known you to last more than a few months."
"Okay, you'll have to fill me in later," Zanna said. "Linda's gotten off the phone and she's looking relieved."
Not a moment later, Alyssa's walkie-talkie crackled as Linda switched on her headset. "Good news ladies, the food situation in under control. Suzanna, be on stand by for a delivery from Prima Deli. They should be here within an hour. Alyssa, cue the emcee."
"Got it," Alyssa acknowledged, striding over to the side of the stage where the sound technician and emcee were chatting. "Jenna, you're up." Alyssa signaled to the blonde woman in a sparkling dark cocktail dress who picked up the microphone from the sound tech and walked onto the stage.
As Jenna got the crowd's attention and told them to take their seats, people began to shuffle forward and Alyssa let her light brown eyes sweep briefly over the crowd. She spotted Lucas near the back of the room, probably having just arrived. He caught her gaze and sent a small wave before pointing to the left, indicating that he would wait for her there after she was done. Subconsciously, she followed the direction he was pointing in and found herself staring directly at Troy who was looking back at her with a half grin on his face.
Alyssa turned quickly, busying herself with tucking a length of wire under the table skirting so no one would trip on it, wondering if it would be too obvious if she hid herself under there too. Maybe she could make herself disappear before Troy came looking for her. After cuing the technician to start the video for the presentation, she headed straight for the buffet lines to see if she could be useful in helping Zanna set up the food when it arrived from the deli.
Lucas must have caught on to her direction as he was at the buffet line before Alyssa got there. "Hey you," he said, leaning in to capture her lips with a quick peck. "Sorry I'm late."
"It's okay, we're just starting," Alyssa smiled.
"So we'll grab a bite after-" Lucas started but trailed off as something behind Alyssa caught his attention. Turning around to see what it was, Alyssa was faced by the very person she'd been trying to avoid.
She looked up to see Troy standing before her, handsome as he'd always been but so much better with age. His dark hair was cut shorter than she remembered it and had been pushed back. Stubble dusted his jaw and his luscious lips were quirked into his infamous half smirk.
For a moment the two of them just stood there, staring at each other. She watched as his coffee coloured eyes roamed her face, as if looking out for differences in her own appearance.
Finally, he spoke first. "Alyssa Denton."
"Hello Troy," she returned slowly.
"How's it going?" he asked, his eyes locked on to hers.
"I'm great," Alyssa said, a little too loudly. "And you?"
"Not too bad."
"What are you doing here?" she blurted, folding her arms across her chest.
"I'd been thinking about buying a new car and Gabe mentioned that Lexus was launching a new range of hybrids so I thought I'd check it out," he said, gesturing towards the silver car he had been looking at earlier. "You remember Gabe, right?"
"Of course," Alyssa replied simply, hiding her surprise that Gabe, or for that matter his wife Mandy who she saw regularly, hadn't mentioned to Troy to her at all over these years. Even though Gabriel Salinger was Troy's best friend in college, he and Alyssa had remained friends even after she'd broken up with Troy.
This isn't how it was supposed to go, she groaned internally comparing to how she had envisioned their first meeting after so many years. She, in fact, had had a speech prepared. Nine years ago, she had gone to visit Troy one weekend while he was at law school only to find a skimpily dressed red head attached to his arm at a party. She walked out of there right then, never having been one to handle confrontations well, and crossed him out of her life for good. She had wanted to tell him what an asshole she thought he was but as they stood there, her mind seemed to have difficulty forming the words she had practiced saying in front of the mirror.
"I didn't expect to run into you here," Troy said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Uh, yea, I'm working with the PR company that is running this event," Alyssa explained.
"Oh." His eyebrows betrayed his surprise. "I never pictured you ending up in public relations."
"Well, plans changed," she shrugged. In fact, a lot had changed since college.
"I can imagine," he muttered.
Lucas cleared his throat loudly next her, reminding her at once that he had been there all along. Quickly, Alyssa turned to face him, "I'm sorry babe, this is Troy. We went to college together."
"Right," Lucas nodded as he held his hand out to shake Troy's.
Turning back to Troy, Alyssa continued with the introductions. "Troy, this is Lucas."
"Her boyfriend," Lucas added in a firm tone that suggested a warning and Alyssa couldn't help noticing the tension in his arm as he griped Troy's hand.
"Pleasure to meet you," Troy replied coolly.
"So I should get back to work," Alyssa announced, feeling more awkward and embarrassed by the moment as the men continued to size each other up. It was completely unnecessary and childish.
"We should get together sometime for a coffee. I'd love to catch up with you properly." Troy said turning to her.
Alyssa was slightly stunned by the invitation and her initial instinct was to say that she was busy. However, she found herself nodding in acceptance before she even realised what she was doing.
"Great," Troy grinned and his smile warmed his entire face. It was easy to remember why she had been so attracted to him all those years ago and she couldn't help the small smile that had crept unto her own lips.
"See you around," she said and started to turn away.
"Lyssa," he called, using the nickname that only he ever used and making her stop short. "It's nice to see you again."
He turned and rejoined the rest of the crowd who were still listening to the presentation. Alyssa let out her breath, feeling deflated and at a loss for a reply.
"Who was that?" Lucas demanded as soon a Troy was out of ear shot.
"Just someone I knew in college," Alyssa said nonchalantly.
"Right, like an ex-boyfriend?" Lucas had his eyes narrowed.
"It was a really long time ago," Alyssa said, dismissing it with a wave of her hand. Lucas was clearly riled up. "I had no idea that he was back in town."
"Did he always come across as a jerk?" Lucas wanted to know.
Alyssa laughed. "I couldn't stand him when I first met him."
"Good to know that it wasn't love at first sight then," Lucas sniffed, making Alyssa laugh more.
"Forget about him, babe. He's someone from the past," she said, taking his hand and giving him a squeeze. "Look, I really have to get back to work or Linda will probably fire my ass. We'll grab some dinner afterwards okay?"
"Sure," Lucas smiled and Alyssa was satisfied that he had calmed down from his encounter with her ex. At least for the time being.
Hurrying over to Zanna, who would no doubt have a thousand questions for her, Alyssa had a bad feeling that this wasn't going to be the last time she'd be seeing Troy.