When my life came crashing down around my ears, my job was my rock. I always loved my work. I could even say that I was excellent at what I did without sounding narcissistic because it just so happened to be one of the few things I excelled at.
The moment the transparent doors to Hummington came into view, I inhaled and smiled back at my skewed reflection in the shiny glass. The wide door slid open as I approached, and my shoes clicked rhythmically against the stained concrete floors.
"Good morning Samantha," Jenny the receptionist called, barely looking up from her work. I grinned and set one of the coffees on her desk before continuing towards the elevator. "See you around," she called as the doors slid closed, just in time for me to see her raise the coffee to her lips, still not moving her eyes away from the computer monitor before her.
The elevator made the quick, steady ascent to the fourth floor where the engineering offices lay tucked behind the accountants. We were strategically placed together so no one would stumble upon us by accident and break us from our work. While many of Hummington's employees spent their days going to meetings and making sales and inspection calls, this floor was where uninterrupted work was done. Or, well, was meant to be anyway. There seemed to always be more than enough distractions with the fifteen of us whose offices belonged on this floor. Three accountants and twelve design engineers, we had all been here over a year and had come to know more about one another than we really cared to know.
I entered the first office to the left, pushing open the door with my shoulder. Three coffees remained perched in my coffee carrier, and as I set it on the messy desk the woman seated on its edge quickly snatched one.
"You're the best, Sam."
"I know," I smiled, extending a cup to the woman behind the desk. She smiled gratefully and accepted it.
Alice and Gemma were the other two female occupants of this floor and had become two of my best friends since starting at Hummington two years ago. Alice was an accountant, always smiling and lovely with her long blond hair always tied neatly back. Gemma was a pretty Filipino girl with jet-black hair and an intimidating demeanor. As the only other female engineer at Hummington, we found lots to bond on over the years.
"So," I raised my brows expectantly at Gemma, resting my hip against Alice's desk and taking the last coffee for myself. "Tell me about your date."
She studied the lip of her steaming paper cup for a moment, her face expressionless as always, before shrugging. "It was Paul from IT."
Alice finally managed to glance up from her work. "Gem, that doesn't exactly answer the question…"
"I just mean it's Paul. He installs updates on my computer," one of her thin shoulders shrugged. "No fireworks or anything, but practically it's a good match."
I frowned. "Practically?"
"Yes." Her dark eyes met mine. "He's intelligent, has a good job, we have plenty in common, and he's somewhat handsome. I think I even like him."
Alice laughed. "So what Miss Emotional is saying, Sam, is there will be a second date."
Gemma hadn't been on a date in a while. In fact, I couldn't actually pinpoint when her last one was. Alice and I had been going over expenditures when she'd marched into my office Friday afternoon and announced that Paul from IT had asked her on a date, and that she'd accepted.
"I'm getting that," I replied, watching as Gemma took another sip of coffee and leveled her gaze on Alice. It quickly darted to me as I continued. "So you had a good time?"
Alice clasped her hands together. "That's great Gem!"
"And," I interjected, "the fact that there's no fireworks on the first date isn't a big deal. Sometimes attraction grows with time."
"Oh," Gemma shrugged again. "There was attraction. I just don't want you two to start planning my wedding."
"Bleck." The sound was half a grunt, half a strange noise from the back of my throat. "Weddings, don't remind me."
It was no secret that, after calling my own wedding off two years ago, I was not the biggest fan. However, with my sister's wedding less than two weeks away, the ability to avoid them was becoming impossible.
"Have you already taken off?"
I nodded towards Alice. She was back to typing on her computer, but she was one of those people skilled at multitasking. "I took eight days off. I'll leave Wednesday after work and come back the Monday after the wedding."
"Are you still planning on driving?"
"Yes," I grimaced down at my coffee, fisting the flimsy material and causing my lid to pop out of place. "The more time I spend in my car is less time I have to spend with my family."
Alice laughed. "It can't be that awful."
"Alice," Gemma frowned. "Her sister is getting married to her bloody ex-fiancé. I can't think of a more agonizing situation to voluntarily sit through."
"Stand," I muttered, since I would be her Maid of Honor.
"Yes, but," Alice chewed thoughtfully on her lip while I readjusted the lid to my coffee. "I just mean that being with family can't all be bad. I mean, your sister will be busy with the details. Aren't you excited about seeing your parents again?"
Expelling the breath from my lungs, I shifted my weight to my right foot and inhaled. "Sure Al. It'll be loads of fun."
I hadn't unloaded the fact that my brother Tyler was the famous 'other-man' making headlines at the moment. It was for the best, I'm sure. I didn't want any more pity, and it was difficult enough having people who knew that Nora and Jake were getting married tiptoe around the subject.
"We'd better get to work," Gemma finally spoke, breaking the stretch of silence that had settled between us.
Alice waved as we walked towards the other side of the floor where the engineering department was located.
"It sucks," she said, stopping by her doorway and meeting my gaze with a serious expression. "Don't pretend it doesn't."
I smiled weakly. "Thanks."
"Feel free to drink this weekend. Like embarrassingly, slur-through-your-speech, hit on the best man drunk." Her lips flexed to a frown. "And for the love of Christ don't even attempt to catch that damn bouquet."
Laughing, I waved the suggestion way. "Gemma, I still have two days of work. Save your breath for Wednesday." That's when I'd really be in need of a pep talk.
Patting my shoulder, the stoic woman nodded before disappearing in her office. With a small smile, I made the short trek to my own and settled behind my desk for a day of design. It was easy to forget everything when lost in an equation, a blueprint, a model. It made petty things like emotions fade to the back and time slip by.
I was stirred out of my absorption of designing a more effective drill bit by a pair of voices in the hallway outside my office.
One was Karrie, the mail girl. She was one of the few visitors our floor ever received, and though she only came by once a day I knew more about her than many of the people I worked with every day. Karrie had a tendency to talk, and although I found myself bored more often than not by her presence, it was the second voice in the hallway that made my spine straighten and my face pinch.
The hands resting on my desk clenched into a pair of fists, knuckles straining and turning white from the strain of my fury.
The second voice belonged to Aaron Powell. Fellow mechanical engineer and bane of my existence. He was an arrogant jerk, and I would have been the best at my job if it weren't for him. The assface was somehow able to, time and time again, one-up my developments. In the two years I'd worked for Hummington he'd been named engineer of the year, receiving the coveted end-of-the-year bonus. He was only two or three years my senior, and had only worked here one year longer than I had. Also gaining the title and bonus that year, much to my chagrin. Whenever I turned to our boss for help, he referred me to Aaron, where I'd have to endure his cocky smirk while he attempted to help me. It was more goading me for needing his assistance and I couldn't wait until the day I went insane and smacked that confident grin right off his face. Unfortunately he was rather helpful and quite good at what he did.
Regardless, I knew how small the gap between us was this year, but for some reason it seemed impossible to bridge.
Karrie's voice was now clear enough to make out her words.
"Everyone hates me…"
I frowned. She had a tendency to be overdramatic and craved us all to build her up when she was down.
"Aw, Karrie, don't say that." What? I blinked. Was Aaron actually being … nice? "You don't know everyone."
I rolled my eyes just as the door swung open.
"Ah," he grinned as Karrie stood awkwardly behind him, clutching her satchel and chewing nervously on her lower lip. "This is my stop."
"Mine too." She took a shaky step forward and brushed passed the tall, looming presence of the smirking man watching me from the doorway. "I have your mail, Samantha."
"Thanks Karrie." I took the stack of envelopes and smiled. "And don't listen to him. He's an ass. You, however, are great."
Her smile was small, and when she turned on her heel she avoided making eye contact with Aaron. Once in the safety of the hall, she shut the door behind her. It smacked back into the frame and silence engulfed my office.
I pretended to sift through the stack of mail in my hands, taking pains to avert my attention. "Well? What do you want?"
"Can't I just say hello?"
My eyes darted upwards to find him still grinning at me from across the room. "No."
Aaron laughed. "Fair enough."
Another pregnant silence stretched between us. I'd already rounded my mail twice, and, sighing, I set it down and fixated my attention on Aaron. He was studying one of Nora's paintings hanging on my wall.
"I don't need any help with the drill bit. You never need help with anything." My glare hardened. "So what do you want?"
"I heard you're taking two weeks of vacation."
"Eight days," I corrected, vaguely curious how he knew. I'd told our boss as well as Gemma and Alice, but I didn't want people wishing me well as I left Wednesday, telling me to have fun and making jokes about finding myself a husband.
He stopped studying the painting and arched one of his dark brows in my direction. "Why?"
"Why am I taking eight days of vacation?"
This conversation was quickly getting ridiculous. Aaron took two long strides to close the distance between us. My office was small and Aaron was tall. Broad shouldered and athletic, he might even have been attractive could anyone look past his terrible demeanor.
"Yeah." His face was expressionless. "You never take vacation."
"I'm going to my sister's wedding," I sighed, verbally admitting defeat.
"I'm going with you."
He was smirking now, but I was powerless to do anything but blink. Finally, I managed, "To my sister's wedding?"
I could feel my brow furrowing. "No."
"I'm serious Samantha." He was still grinning, and bending forward he rested his palms on the surface of my desk. "There'll be no competition without you around. And if you leave for two weeks straight while I'm here, winning the end-of-the-year bonus won't be any fun."
"You're a crazy person." My face was probably conveying my emotions perfectly – somewhere between irritated and baffled. "You want to take eight days of your vacation time to go to my sister's wedding?"
"Sure." He gave a casual shrug. "Where is it?"
"Montana," I replied, some of my irritation giving way to full-on perplexity. "And I'm driving."
"See? I can help with the driving."
"I don't want you helping with driving." I frowned again, wondering if he was really going to such lengths to avoid having any advantages at the end of the year. Sure, when he'd won I would most likely cross my arms and tell him it was only because I'd been away for two weeks. But, still, it didn't make any sense. Maybe he was just goading me. "In fact, I don't want your help with anything."
His smirk widened, flashing the barest hint of white teeth.
"Think about it."
"No," I mumbled, just as the door was swung closed behind him.
Later, when I retold the story to Gemma over lunch I realized he hadn't even asked if I already had a date. Stupid, arrogant prick…
Returning to my apartment, I pulled off my shoes at the door and sighed in relief. I was just about to crack open the fridge to see what my options for dinner were when my phone rang.
"Tyler?" I yelped in surprise the moment I saw his grinning face flash across the screen.
"Hello sis," he answered. I could feel the smile in his voice. Just as I thought, he wasn't holed up in a room trying to hide from the shame; no, he was probably running around signing people's newspapers. "Miss me?"
"What the hell were you thinking?"
He paused for a moment, clearly taken aback by my tone. "Whoa, Sam, relax. Cody was just a fling. Sexy, classy, all business. Nothing serious."
"No," I rolled my eyes, opening the freezer and frowning down at a rather iffy looking bag of fish. When had I bought that? "I don't care who you have sex with Tyler, I mean what the hell were you thinking not answering your phone for a week?"
"I've been busy," he replied coolly. "I'm a popular man at the moment."
"Yeah. I noticed," I deadpanned. "But do you have any idea how many times mom and Nora have called?"
My stupid, loathsome brother laughed. It was a roaring, boisterous chuckle that hardened my features.
"Sorry Sam, but that's awesome."
"No, not awesome Tyler. If I have to hear Nora talk about how you played home wrecker I swear I will … well, I haven't thought that far yet, but it won't be pretty."
He stopped laughing. His next words carried a haughty tone that I associated so well with my brother. Sure, it'd been difficult being one of the few gay men growing up in our small, Montana town, but Tyler always shrugged it off, saying he was better than everyone. His attitude had changed little since.
"Sam, you have to be kidding me… And this wedding next weekend? Ha!"
"Please Tyler," I groaned. "I really don't want to talk about it."
"I bet. Almost as much as I don't want to sit through it. Can you believe that bastard? If he'd have asked me to be a groomsmen I swear to God I'd have punched him in the face."
I gave an unattractive snort. Jake was a baseball playing All-American guy, toned arms and chiseled jaw. Picturing my skinny, yoga-doing brother punching anyone was funny.
"Don't laugh Sam. I'm serious. I hate that guy…" I settled on a frozen dinner and brought it over to the microwave. "Please tell me you're bringing a date."
I frowned at my meal as I removed it from the box. "Please tell me you're not."
"I'm not. But that's not important. Samantha, you seriously need some arm candy this weekend. Moral support. Hot sex when you're pissed at us all."
"Tyler, I'm not dating anyone." And I hadn't dated anyone seriously enough to bring home to meet my family since Jake and I split.
"If you don't bring someone to the wedding then I'm hunting down the first straight guy I see and—"
Moving the phone to my other ear, I missed a bit of his words but I got the gist of his speech.
"If I bring a date, will you tell mom?"
He paused for a moment. "What?"
"If I bring someone, a friend that may just happen to be an attractive male, you're breaking the news to mom."
"Because," I inhaled deeply, as though the air would give me moral support. "I don't want to answer all the questions that come along with that. I already feel pathetic enough without mom and Nora gushing about how happy they are for me finally finding someone." My nose wrinkled slightly. "Plus, she'll be furious about me messing up the seating arrangements."
"Yeah, well, why the hell would I be the one to tell her? "
"Because you decided to turn your phone off for a week and I had to talk to mom everyday to keep her sane." I slammed the microwave door for effect. "You owe me."
Tyler laughed. "Sorry Sam. I don't owe you anything."
"Yeah." I spun on my heel and rested my backside on the counter. "You do. So you're telling her for me."
And to give him a taste of his own medicine, I hung up and didn't answer my phone while I ate dinner in front of the television. I also ignored it while I vacuumed and got ready for bed. After my shower I checked my messages, one from Tyler saying we were even, and one from my mother chirping about how happy she was that I was bringing someone to the wedding.
As she mentioned how much easier things would be for me now that I wouldn't be watching them getting married on my own, I groaned and deleted the message. Flopping back onto my bed, I stared at my ceiling, gnawing on my lower lip.
"Well," I muttered into the darkness. "No turning back now."
Hello! I know this is a fairly cliché story, but I'm having a lot of fun writing and planning this one. I hope you enjoy it as well, and please let me know if you have any comments, questions, or concerns!
… and thenifoundfivedollars