Chapter 1:

"Odette, your phone!"

My life sucks. But it was not really that bad. I just considered it like that when I'm in my work place. Working in a corporate world of a hotel company proved how underpaid and boring your life could be once you reached 'maturity'. I had been working as a Project Coordinator for Port Gruppo Hotels and Residences Group for more than 5 years, and for those years I felt like I was wasting my life. No promotions, no growth, that I feel like I'm a butterfly deprived of metamorphosis. I had so much potential when I graduated and started working with this company hoping to achieve my life goals before I reached 30. But alas and cursed upon cursed, I was stuck with my position ever since.

"Odette, I said your phone! How many times—"

"I get it, Marj so shut up." I replied, taking the handset to my ears. "Hello, Odette Lee speaking."

I swore to God I almost had a heart attack when I found out who was calling me. A first of many first! I glanced at Marj and saw one of her eyebrows raised at me as if she knew who was calling. "Y-yes Sir…no problem…..I will…I'll give it to you before the day ends. No problem…It was a pleasure talking to you…Have a good day too." By the time I hang-up, my face were missing of colors and my jaw hurt for the fake smiles.

"It was a pleasure talking to you? Really, Odette? What the hell are you thinking for telling that to one of our Vice Presidents?" Marj asked. Perhaps she wondered again where my brain cells were to think it was still morning.

Seeing the mirror in my desk, I quickly grabbed it and allow humiliation to sink. I totally forgot that my boss' boss would be calling me today. Daydreaming was bad but I didn't know it would be that bad after the call. "I know…now I'm sure he would include me to 'The List of Employees who need Guidance'."

"He's used to that so no worries, darling. Plus he knows you so I'm sure right at this very moment he would send someone to give you coffee so you would stop daydreaming as early as 10 in the morning." Marj looked at Anita, laughing.

Anita gave me a sympathetic smile as walked gracefully towards my place. Oh how I wish I was refined as her. "He knows you too well, honey."

True enough, I saw Thomas Jackson walking towards my cubicle with a cup of coffee in hand. "Mr. Buchanan sent this for you. He said that you need this to 'keep you sane' before starting the reports."

I gave the young man my mega-thousand watts smile, appreciating his and his boss' gesture. "Thank you, Sir Jackson…"

"…it was nice talking to you." Anita added, causing Marj to almost spill her coffee.

"So much for being friends with these two."

"No problem, Ms. Lee. Mr. Buchanan is very concerned of your health. He thinks you are overworked since last week because of your Manager vacationing while we are in peak season. And please call me Thomas. You are much older than me." Thomas replied before leaving, bouncing a little.

I shook my head at the funny sight. "I really don't think it's wrong to say that. I mean isn't it we should be glad that one of our Vice Presidents is talking to his subordinates? It's very unusual to do that knowing most of them think high of themselves as if they are the ones doing the job." I reasoned out making sure my friends could hear my sentiments.

"We know…but how many times have you been saying that?" Marj asked. "or rather complained?"

"Since I celebrated my 3rd Anniversary and now I'm going to my 7th and still no progress." I took a deep sigh knowing my efforts were in vain.

"Maybe you need to change your strategy. Right now, I think with Mr. Buchanan calling you everyday for reports is a good sign. For sure once Jacob is back from her shindigs she would have a one-on-one meeting with you to discuss your performance as substitute Manager." Anita added.

I looked at my two best friends. I knew for the fact that once they heard me complaining about our situations at work they were giving me their full support. But this time, I guess they were fed-up.

Among the three of us, Marj was the most intelligent and the ones who didn't need money for a living. Her family was already well-off for owning a successful bakery chain in California. Anita, on the other hand, was a beauty. Almost every guy that I knew wanted to get into her pants but unlike those ladies blessed with good looks, she was also smart and practical making her the source of every men's fantasy in our company. She's a beauty in perfection with long, thick, wavy brown hair, brown eyes and a body that could oust Gisele Bundchen in the Most Sexy lists.

Sometimes I do envy these two. It felt like when God showered women with beauty, intelligence, wealth and talent I was sleeping like a baby.

"You are lucky, Odette", Marj said pushing her chair towards me. "Mr. Buchanan is a very handsome bachelor. I heard he just got a new haircut yesterday and that the women from Finance and Accounting Department, both single and married, were drooling when he passed by."

"What's the connection of his looks to my complaints?" I raised an eyebrow, wondering why we were now discussing about Benjamin Buchanan's physical appearance. Yes, he was handsome, rich and intelligent as Marj but so what? I didn't care if he was just recently named as the number 1 Bachelor in California and the 2nd in the entire country. Would that give me the increase we needed? "Did your brain go on a vacation?"

Marj raised her eyebrows. Surely, our group did have a talent of raising eyebrows for no reasons, a trait they inherited from me. "I'm diverting your attention lady so that you would find yourself some inspiration rather than complaining about your salary every single time. Why don't you follow my advice to find a love life first because your brain is too much focused on money that you forgot how to have a love life. Lady, you are turning 30 next month."

"But it's true…" Though I had to admit it, it was very tiring if you had the same complaints everyday. "And besides, my love life has been dead for years."

"Think of your temporary role as a stepping stone. Maybe Jacobs has her reasons on why she gave you that task…who knows right?" Anita said smiling at me diverting my attention from my most hated topic…LOVE.

This conversation was going nowhere so rather than saying anything I decided to end it as we went back to our work. I still need to finish the reports. Benjamin would surely kill me if I would not give it on time.

When the clock reached 3:30 in the afternoon, the reports were already finish that I made my way to the elevator, going to the Vice President of Acquisition, Marketing and Advertising's office. It was located at the 14th floor of the company's 16-storey building and with my office at 7th floor, it was a long ride.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped out from the elevator was Thomas, preparing another coffee. The guy do has the skills of being a coffee-maker expert, I thought as I approached him. "Thomas, is Mr. Buchanan in his office?"

"Yes, Ms. Lee he is there. He is expecting you by this time." he replied, tasting the coffee.

"Thanks. By the way, I love the coffee you made." A little compliment wouldn't hurt a bit. With Thomas' age, 24 years old, giving compliments was the best motivation. She didn't want him to turn into a bitter person like her.

"Thank you, Ms. Lee." the young man smiled bashfully.

"I'm good…" Hiding my fondness, I made my way to my boss' boss while straightening the sleeves of my silk-wrapped blouse. Three knocks was all it takes for Benjamin to allow me to his office.

"Ms. Lee, good day! Sit down, please." he greeted me and for once, I felt my heart jumped outside as I saw his 'new' look. Benjamin was notorious for having a long hair styled into a pony-tail. For years, he was sporting that look until yesterday that his new haircut overshadowed the company's earnings for the 3rd Quarter.

His black hair was cut into different lengths with the longest an inch below his ear. Even though I'm not attracted to him, I swore he could make me forget that just for one day.

"T-Thank you…"

"Did I just squeak?" I wanted to bury myself upon realizing I did squeak. Thankfully Benjamin didn't seem to notice it. I carefully made my way to the cream-colored leather sofa afraid that I might slip and ended up looking like a hyena, sunbathing in the African dessert.

"Here's the report for this week. I also sent it by email with Mrs. Jacob Smith cc'd."

"Thank you. Let me have a quick reading." he smiled, closing the buttons of his jacket as he sit.

I realized that I was watching Benjamin's movement the moment he sat beside me, with enough distance (too bad!), and read the documents I gave him. This was a good time I guess to observe him since Marj and Anita were telling me for years now how blind I was for not noticing how handsome one of our executives was.

Hate to admit it, but I was never really into Benjamin. Most ladies in our office were drooling over him while I saw him just normal even when 99% of women in California didn't agree with me. The incident minutes ago was the only moment I found him very appealing. Other than that, allow me to join the remaining 1%.

My observations turned out to be disturbing in all senses. I was not looking at him, rather scanning him from head to toe with my sinful eyes lingering quite too long to his lips and the junction between his legs. I bit my lips to hide my giggles. If there was something unique about my Daydreaming skills, it was how good I was to hide my emotions and facial expressions while I'm off to Dreamland or fantasizing a man.

"Black eyes, fair skintone, with enough muscles that would not overshadow his overall appearance….hhmmmm…tall, fashionable…oh long fingers..I bet his V-line is more structural than mine…oh…bulky!" I quickly diverted my attention to the paintings in his office. Lingering too much was not good for me, my work or my health!

"Did you hear what I said, Odette?"

The rich and deep texture of voice startled me saving my brain from understanding the abstract painting near his desk. "Oh…"

He raised an eyebrow. "Are you with me or to your own place?"

Before I could stop my mouth from any humiliation, it was too late. "Are you gay? Why are you raising an eyebrow?"

Silence filled the room for a moment before Benjamin laughed. "Ms. Lee, I don't know what are you thinking a moment ago but trust me, my preference did not change just because I cut my hair."

I swore I could feel my whole body blushing. "Damn this stupid mouth." In an instant, I changed my facial expression to a funny one, laughing foolishly to hide my embarrassment. "I'm just joking, Mr. Buchanan. It's just that when you raised your eyebrow it's…very…"

"Sexy? Gay?...Of course I could not say that…One crazy comment is enough!"

"…skillful." I finished, laughing nervously. "What the fuck?!" If only I had a parachute at this very moment I would really run towards the glass window and jump. So much for giving comments. Very humiliating.

If I could draw my boss' boss right now in anime style, I would have a big sweat behind him and four dotted lines. That was his reaction to me. I wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow we would have random drug testing for thinking I was smoking marijuana during office hours.

"Is this his effect on people or to women only? I saw Martha and the rest of Operations team giving cute signals to him when he passed by…."

It relieved me though when he only smiled then took a look at the document again before asking me a question. "If you did hear what I said a while ago, I said I would like to extend your temporary role as Manager for your department. You did a good job for the two weeks when your Manager is on vacation, with minor improvements."

I smirked while he was not looking. How dare did this man say minor improvements when I'm working in the company for almost 7 years while he was only here for 3 years. Yes, his position was higher though when it comes to job knowledge I am his CEO.

But then who was I to argue. He was the one signing for my payslip. "Thank you for that. Mr. Buchanan. I—"

"Call me Benjamin, Ms. Lee. I'm sure you are not stranger to my first name since I heard you many times calling me on it when you are not in my presence." he said, smirking.

"Is he flirting?" Thank goodness my brain was still functioning at this time for I'm listing down the things I need to ask Marj and Anita about him. He was still not my type but something in him made me realize that my alter-ego was Sherlock Holmes, female version.

"Benjamin, I appreciated that you like my work. But would your suggestion create conflicts once I decided to accept it? What would happen to my manager? If she would still retain her position, what would be our job description?"

"Yes, she will still be your manager only this time you will handle your team's production and reports, the rest is for Jacob. I'm planning to have you as Manager in Development for 6 months then after that let's see if you can handle having your own team." His words were piercing to my ears not because how sexy and deep it was but because how serious he was with it. I'm starting to doubt if he was on my league too.

"Are you promoting me right now?" For once, rather than seeing tiles, rugs, leathers and paintings, I could see flowers, rainbows and myself running on it. This was a miracle! They finally acknowledge my hardwork!

"But here's the catch," The flowers and rainbows quickly disappeared. It was my turned to raise an eyebrow. "After 6 months, if we did not see any improvements from you we will terminate your service."

"YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" This time I would not be sorry for what I said. No embarrassment. Yes, I am surprised but I was not here for a joke. Was this guy really serious?

Benjamin clearly did not like what I said. His face turned serious—very serious. "I will ignore what you said a while ago, Ms. Lee but only this time. The next time you said that to me or to any of your officemates, I will ask the HR team to suspend you…"

I was no longer listening to his litany. This guy was absolutely crazy. 6 months to be a MiD then if I did not perform well I would be fired? What did I do to deserve this? I only prayed for salary increase and yet here I am in a situation between earning a decent living to being jobless before Spring.

"No, I'm sorry Mr. Buchanan," I stood up to show my displeasure. I would rather have my $4,500 every month rather than receiving approximately $10,000 not knowing if I would have a job after 6 months or not. I could feel my red blood cells and white blood cells rallying all the way up to my brain just thinking about it. "I do appreciate your offer but I'm no heiress to not think about how I will survive after your given time."

Benjamin also stood up, showing me how tall he was with his 6-foot height. "I'll be honest with you, Odette. You are so talented. Jacob has been all praises for you like a proud mother. While I am not really familiar how good you really are because of the 4 years gap during the time I was not yet part of the company, I could not help but to feel you are not showing your full potential. You are afraid to take risk. I've given you that condition for you to strive hard and do your 110% so that you will not be comfortable thinking if I did not do better I could always go back to being a Project Coordinator. Jacob and I believe you are more than what you can do right now."

Wow! That was a slapped to my face. He was right. I only complained about my salary yet I was not doing anything to increase it. Hello, Odette not everything is free on this world!

Leaving was only the possible option for now. I hate this kind of conversation. I was not ready to take that risk, not when half of my body was still living under the shadows. "It was nice talking to you, Mr. Buchanan." I abruptly left noticing how disappointed Benjamin was.

It hurts a bit. It hurts especially when the words were coming right out from the mouth of my former childhood friend, Vincent Benjamin Buchanan. After all, I was no longer the same young woman he had known.

I could not really escape my past.

My first story here in Fictionpress. Please review so I could improve my writing. Thanks!