“Alright Princess,” Andrew smirks at me and suddenly the perfect job has lost all of its appeal. This job had promised to be everything I’ve ever wanted. It is everything I’ve been working towards since I finished high school eight years ago. Trust Andrew bloody Contius to ruin everything.
“What are you doing here?” I blurt out.
“I’m here to show you around,” Andrew takes his feet off my desk and stands to his feet. “Time to start your tour,” he winks at me. I look him up and down and I’m pretty sure I’m giving him a look of absolute loathing mixed with interest. He looks good but I really don’t want him to know I think that. He removes his jacket and places it across the back of my desk chair. His shirt sleeves are rolled up, his biceps are significantly more defined than the last time I saw him. I shake my head trying to clear it. I shouldn’t be checking him out. His eyes are shining with humour. I’m certain he’s mocking me and I feel like that awkward teenage girl all over again.
“You work here?” I ask, gasping at him.
“Oh fuck,” I shake my head, “you have to be joking.”
“Office right next door,” he smirks, clearly very pleased with himself. Well at least that’s better than having to share an office with Stephen. If he’s next door I won’t have to spend hours every day with him. I can cope if it’s just the occasional run in in the break room.
“Great,” I mutter, I won’t let this ruin my day. This job is the best thing to have happened to me in years. It’s exactly what I need.
“Come on Princess,” he drawls, his arm outstretched pointing towards the door.
“What do you want?” I ask with more hostility than is probably necessary. His eyes are gloating, frilled by the fact that even though we’ve been out of school for several years now, he can still get a rise out of me. He’s never failed yet.
“Just wanted to welcome you to the office,” he smirks before taking another bite of his apple. That bloody apple.
I glare at him but he doesn’t flinch, instead he keeps his eyes focused on me. I don’t know how to respond to him. He’s never said a kind word to me in all our years at school, so why would he start now. I feel awfully childish as I engage him in a staring contest. His grey eyes hold mine with a confidence that I find awfully intimidating. Very few people intimidate me. I’ve always been the girl with the bright coloured hair and a big smile; the girl that everyone gets on with. That is except Andrew Contius and Cathy Lacey. Cathy and I were never friends. She was my last boss and she fucked my boyfriend in my bed. Talk about overstepping your boundaries. I’ve always had a bit of a fiery temper. I think that’s why Andrew teased me so much in school; he loved getting a rise out of me. Andrew isn’t like me. I’ve only once seen him loose his cool control and that was when he’d taken a particularly hurtful taunt too far and I’d slapped him across the face. I can still remember the look of shock on his sixteen year old face as he pushed me up against the wall and told me to keep my dirty hands off him. He had looked flushed and unrepentant as he pushed me away and stormed down the corridor away from me.
I’m frowning now, “this is stupid. We may have to work in the same building, but it doesn’t mean you need to be using up the oxygen in my office. This building is big enough that we should be able to work effectively with minimal contact.” I’m trying here. I want to get my life in order and this job is the key. I’d even died my hair back to its natural auburn colour in an attempt to be taken more seriously. Stephen had never taken me seriously. He was only two years older than me but he’d treated me like a child. No. Worse. He’d treated me like a teenager.
Andrew is chuckling at me, “ah but it’s just so much fun teasing you.”
I laugh bitterly, “You’ve not changed have you Andrew? Still as arrogant as ever.”
Andrew throws the core of his apple at the bin next to my desk, never taking his eyes off me. “Clara you make it sound like you wish I had changed... were you hoping that we’d be best friends and I’d start braiding your hair and sharing my lunch with you?”
I’m frowning again. Actually I’m not sure I’ve done anything but frown since I entered my office a few moments ago to find Andrew Contius with his feet on my desk. This is not going to be good. He’s always brought out the worst in me and I’m trying to be a grown up, “Argh! You are such an arse!”
“Now, now...” Andrew is barely concealing his glee at the opportunity to chastise me, “Remember, it’s your first day. You wouldn’t want to show yourself up.”
I’m actually speechless. I have no idea how to respond to his words. “Come on Clara,” he walks towards me, “time for your tour.”
“Isn’t there someone else who can show me around?”
“Clara... Clara... Clara... don’t you realise yet; you’re stuck with me.”
“Fine,” I tell him bitterly as I follow him out my office. I plaster a smile on my face. I don’t want the rest of the TWR employees to know that there is history between us.
“First, you have an assistant,” Andrew points towards the booths in the centre of the open plan office space just outside of my office. “Her name is Katie... she’s pretty good. If you need anything, she’ll be able to help you.”
I nod my head in an attempt to at least appear polite. “Everyone in this office space is either a part of your team or mine; our teams work quite closely together.” I hear what he isn’t saying, that I am not going to be able to avoid him, no matter how hard I try.
Our tour seems to go on forever. I just nod and grunt at regular intervals. I wish I could pretend that I am more mature than that but apparently when in the company of an adult Andrew Contius I revert back to adolescence. When the tour is finally over, I sigh in relief but the relief is short lived because Andrew follows me back into my office. “We need to go over the accounts you are taking over.” I should be grateful that he’s talking shop. Perhaps we can be professional.
“Great,” I sigh, I can hear the resignation in my voice. I should be excited. This is my dream job. I shouldn’t be letting the idea of working with Andrew ruin it.
“Don’t sound too excited,” he chuckles, “I’ll be around if you need help with any of these accounts. I’ve been looking after them for the last couple of weeks.”
I nod my head. I don’t trust myself not to vomit at the idea of spending time with Andrew. He runs through the details of the new accounts I’ll be looking after. I decide to behave like a grown up and do my job properly so I ask him questions about the accounts. For a few short moments, I actually begin to take him seriously. He is so focused on what he is talking about. He actually enjoys his job. I can tell; his face is animated and his tone excited as he describes the work my new team have been doing over the last month. If I’m honest, I’m excited too.
The moment passes though. The first sign of what is to come is a gentle twinkling in his eyes. “You still look the same,” he comments and I don’t really know what to say in response. I know he’s probably teasing me but I can feel my heart racing at the idea that he might be giving me a compliment.
“I look older,” I tell him after a moment. It’s the only thing I can think to say.
“Yeah... you’ve got grey hair now,” Andrew smirks at me. A small part of me wants to check my reflection. My hand reaches up to touch my hair. I know he’s wrong though so I don’t even glance at the mirror that sits on the wall near my desk. I only dyed my hair last night so there is no way I have any grey hair. Henrietta and Henry are as auburn coloured as the rest of my hair; I know because I extra cautious when dying the hair at my crown. I’ve only got two grey hairs; Henrietta and Henry. It’s practically a matter of international security; their existence is top secret.
“Piss off,” I reply hotly.
Andrew grins before checking his watch, “your wish is my command; time for my lunch break anyway.” He lazily gets to his feet and stretches, yawning. “See you around princess.”
One week into my new job at TWR Advertising I have fallen into a comfortable routine. I wake up early each morning, drink a cup of coffee and eat my breakfast in bed before getting ready for work. Living in the city means that driving is always somewhat impractical and so I get the tube to work each day, reading a trashy novel on my kindle as I sit on the train. Every day, I smile at the attractive, blonde guy who always seems to get the same tube as me and he always smile back. I spend each day working hard and doing my best to ignore Andrew Contius. He drops into my office at least once every day. He usually has some teasing comment to say but sometimes he merely perches in my doorway smirking at me. His favourite time for hounding me seems to be at the end of the evening as I check my emails before leaving for the night. There is always an email from one of my friends inviting me out for drinks. It’s Friday night and it looks like tonight will be no exception, Andrew is leant against my door frame with yet another apple, “you got plans for tonight Delos?”
I don’t even look up. I hope that if I ignore him, eventually he will go away. I’ve been trying really hard all week to just ignore him and I’ve failed massively. Not that he knows it. I’ve managed to at least pretend to ignore him. But it’s been impossible to ignore him completely. Every time he walks passed my office my heart races like I’m running for my life and every time he talks to me I feel my temper rising. I hear my laptop beep and so open up the email I have just received from one of my best friends, Anna.
From: Anna (Anna.Louise@criticalthinking.co.uk)
To: Clara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
Drinks tonight at that old pub we found last weekend! Already spoken to Mike and Elle.
Really can’t wait to hear all about the new job.
See you at seven?
Other than the new job, the other great thing about moving back to the city is that I have my friends back. It has been so hard not having them just around the corner the last few years. I know that if the whole thing with Stephen had happened here, Mike would have probably punched him or something and Anna and Elle would have fed me ridiculous amounts of ice cream. I still haven’t looked up. Andrew is unimpressed. I can tell from the way he has started making exasperated huffing sounds. He really doesn’t seem to like being ignored. I quickly type a reply.
From Clara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
To: Anna (Anna.Louise@criticalthinking.co.uk)
RE: re: DRINKS!!!!!!
I have so much to tell you! You won’t believe who I have to work with! ONE WORD: ANDREW!
I bloody hate him! Anyway, I’ll rant later.
See you at seven.
I hear another ping from my laptop. I quickly go to open the new email, fully expecting Anna to have replied already. I am surprised when I open the email to find that it is addressed from the man stood in my doorway. I don’t check to see how pleased with himself he looks before opening the email and reading it quickly;
RE: You’re Ignoring Me!
You seem to be ignoring me. Is this really the only way to get your attention?
Stop being rude.
I barely have time to think of a reply when I hear him typing on his phone. I look up and see him looking straight at me instead of watching what he is typing. My email pins again, looking down I see another email from him.
To: Cara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
RE: Perhaps I was wrong
Perhaps I was wrong, you seem determined to ignore me even through the medium of email.
Just so you know, I’m going to email you all weekend about the most ridiculous and tedious things until you finally crack.
Have you got plans for tonight? You still haven’t answered the bloody question.
I frown. I really don’t want him emailing me all weekend. Perhaps I’d better reply and hope he leave me alone.
From: Clara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
RE: re: Perhaps I was wrong
I am most certainly determined to ignore you. Why would you think for a second that I wouldn’t be?
Yes, I have plans for tonight, plans that do not involve you emailing me constantly.
Eight years out of high school, I should be rid of him. I certainly thought I had been. His phone vibrates as he received my message. I switch off my laptop and pack it away. I hear his reply come through on my phone but I refuse to check it. Instead I pull my coat on and grab my bag before walking out of my office; straight passed him without so much as a word. I’m incredibly proud of myself as I manage to walk past him without looking back. Passing him, I notice an electricity surrounding him. I am convinced that if he tried to touch me, I’d receive an electric shock. I am surprised his hair isn’t more of a tangled mess with that current rolling off his skin. My heart is racing and my hands feel clammy; maybe I should make an appointment to see my doctor. It’s not like I like Andrew. I can’t stand him.
As soon as I am in the lift and going down I pull out my phone and check the email. I can’t resist it.
To: Clara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
RE: re: re: Perhaps I was wrong
Got a date have you, Delos?
I’m not going to let up you know; by Monday morning you’ll have given up on his ridiculous notion of trying to ignore me.
I can almost hear him chucking to himself as I formulate my reply. I can almost see his eyes twinkling with humour. He’s probably counting the seconds to see how long I can resist replying. He knows I always react.
From: Clara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
RE: re: re: re: Perhaps I was wrong
Not a date. Just catching up with friends.
Good luck with your scheme. You know it won’t work, right?
His reply is practically automatic.
From: Andrew (Andrew.Contrius@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
To: Clara (Clara.Delos@TRWAdvertising.co.uk)
RE: No date? That’s a shame
Shame. I was looking forward to ruining a date with my incessant beeping and pinging.
Of course it will work Delos. I’ve already got you replying haven’t I?
I decide not to reply. Instead I open up the Facebook app on my phone. I have a few new friend requests. I quickly accept them; they are all from work. As I am flicking through them I find one that I wish I could ignore; Andrew Contrius.
Instead of accepting, I spend a few minutes having a look at his profile, checking his relationship status and going through his profile photos before unwillingly accepting him. I ignore the voice in my head that says I’m Facebook stalking him. I don’t want to be rude to a new colleague even if it is him. Within seconds of accepting his friend request I receive an instant message from him.
I knew you couldn’t stay away. J
I don’t know what you are talking about. I couldn’t refuse your request; our colleagues would have wondered why we weren’t friends.
Ah... excuses... excuses... As if they’d have noticed. They are an oblivious sort. So tell me, these friends you are meeting up with; do I know them?
Yes, you do. Anna, Mike and Elle from school.
Are you all still BFFs? I’d have thought you’d have outgrown each other by now!
Don’t know. Just seems silly, still being close to people from school.
Are you and James not friends anymore? I fully concede your point, we shouldn’t be close to some of the people we went to school with; for example, I shouldn’t be close to you. I think you should refrain from coming into my office.
Now you’re just talking rubbish. We’re different. We were never close in school and we’re still not now... although we could rectify that. James and I talk occasionally.
I think I need more distance, not less, thanks.
Shame. I’m enjoying the less. Where are you meeting your friends?
Why do you think I would even think about telling you? Knowing you, you’ll show up just to torment me.
True. It was worth a go.
In school, my friends were convinced that Andrew fancied me. They were always saying that boys tend to tease the girls they fancy, but I had never believed them. Andrew had managed to make me feel absolutely awful about myself. He seemed to always be able to pick up on every insecurity I had and point it out for the whole school to see. I’d been foolish enough to have a crush on him at one point. I’d been seventeen and we’d been at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Everyone was well on the way to getting completely wasted when I’d decided to go out for some air. He’d been watching me, smirking at me, with another bloody apple in hand. I’d felt his grey eyes on me almost all night and I was anxiously waiting for the taunting to start. “You look pretty tonight,” I heard him say from the door way.
I didn’t turn round. I didn’t want to see his teasing expression. “But?” I waited for the ridicule. I knew it was coming. He never missed an opportunity to make a joke at my expense.
“But nothing; you look pretty.”
I had turned around then, my eyes wide, taking him in. He had just stood there with an easy grace, acting as if his behaviour was completely normal and in character. As if he hadn’t just said the most absurd thing I’d ever heard. His grey eyes looked sincere but I daren’t believe him. His words didn’t fit into the parameters of our relationship. I had decided it was safest to escape. I had nodded before making my way back inside towards my friends. I avoided him like hell for the rest of the night and tried not to dwell on what he had said. I had ignored the sensation of his watchful gaze on my back. Even then as a teenager I had been more aware of him and what he was doing than anyone else I’ve ever known. As much as I had pretended not to be affected, seventeen year old me had allowed his words to wash over me and when I went home that night there was a smile on my face. I didn’t expect anything to change but a small part of me had hoped. I’d hoped that I’d go into school the next day and everything would be different. I’d lain in bed wishing that he would tell me he liked me. I’d really hoped he’d ask me out; not that I’d ever admit it. When I had gone into school on Monday morning and he immediately started ripping into me, I couldn’t help myself; I burst into tears and rushed into the nearest bathroom. He’d managed to make me feel like absolute shit. Somehow his compliment had hurt me far more than every joke and teasing comment he’d ever made at my expense.
Half an hour later, when I enter the pub, my friends are already sitting at a comfortable table near the fire. I’ve missed them so much. I haven’t told them about Stephen and Cathy. They know that we broke up and they know that he hurt me but I haven’t told them the details. It still hurts too much for that. The pub is called ‘The Last Leg’, an old pub with an equally old landlady. I drop my stuff at the table with my friends, remove my coat and scarf, grabing the wine they have ordered for me, and perch down on the bench, “cheers.”
Anna’s eyes are sparkling with interest, “your email; did you mean Andrew Contrius?”
I nod. I don’t want to open my mouth; I’m not sure I will be able to control my tongue.
“Bloody hell,” Elle laughs.
“Just your luck,” Mike grins.
“You never know it could be fun,” Anna suggests with a wink. They all laugh at that idea; of course they would find this funny. Andrew had been one of the popular boys; with his messy, black hair. He’d always had a reputation for being a bit of a player. He’d had several girlfriends during the years that he’d spent teasing and bullying me. They had all been of the same sort; skinny, blonde, pretty, popular. They had always been everything I wasn’t.
“Hell; it could be fate,” Elle tries.
My phone beeps and I consider ignoring it but think twice, it could be important. It might be about work or it could be from my dad.
Miss me yet?
No. Go away.
Arse? That seems unkind.
Really? I’m sorry... I think it’s quite tame. There are other names I’ve been wanting to call you for years. I think I’m showing restraint.
Really? Well, feel free to indulge yourself, so long as you’re screaming them as I...
You are an arse. Fuck off.
I put my phone away. I must not let him get inside my head.
I’ve managed to avoid looking at my phone for the last three hours. He’s messaged me a couple of times much to Michael’s entertainment. Mike’s been teasing me all night about Andrew. “It’s your chance to tell him you’ve always liked him,” Elle smiles happily at me. She’s always been a romantic. She’s had a crush on Mike’s brother Jack for as long as I can remember but she’s never said it out loud. All of us know of course. Jack even knows; I’m almost sure of it. He’s a couple of years older than us all but he’s far less mature than Michael and so he’s always seemed like the younger brother out of the two.
“I think you’re projecting,” Anna smirks.
Elle scowls at her before continuing, “I’m not projecting. Clara has always liked him.”
“No I haven’t,” I don’t know why I’m bothering to argue with her. None of them are going to believe me any way. They’ve always known when I’m lying and I really did like him back when we were seventeen.
“Yes you have,” Mike rubs me on the back soothingly, “but that’s okay. There’s no accounting for taste.”
“You bastard,” I shake my head at his teasing remark, “you’re supposed to look out for me.” He is a shitty best friend.
“Doesn’t mean I’m going to lie to you,” Michael has dirty blond hair and dark blue eyes. He used to play hockey when we were in school. His shoulders are broad and he has a strong build. He’s smirking at me. Mike is probably the only one of my friends who is in a proper committed relationship. He’s been married for years. He’d married Sarah as soon as they’d graduated from university.
“Come on Mike,” Anna laughs, “we shouldn’t tease her.”
“You’re right,” he sighs, “Sarah wanted me to invite you round for dinner, Clara. She’s missed you.”
“I’ve missed her too,” I smile at him. Sarah his wife had been one of the popular girls in our year at school. She’d been friends with Andrew and his friends. It had been a bit of a surprise to us all when Mike had asked her out in our final year at school. The bigger surprise had been her saying yes. Mike had been attractive but he’d never been popular. Our group of friends were sort of second tier; neither cool or uncool. We just existed. So when Sarah had said yes to Michael it had given me hope that perhaps I had a chance with Andrew but that had been stupid of me. I’d never had a chance with Andrew. I was and always would be just the girl he teased, “and Amelia... I can’t wait to see Amelia. I bet she’s grown so much.”
“She has,” Michael is the image of a proud father, “she’s amazing. She dances around the room, twirling like a ballerina. Sarah wants her to have dance lessons. She sings too; like an angel. You’ve never heard anything quite so beautiful...”
“Tell Sarah I’d love to come for dinner,” I smile at him.
The four of us sit in the pub for hours reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company. It’s fantastic being back with them, just like old times, except now we are proper adults. Michael is finally a doctor and Elle is in Medical Research. One day she wants to cure cancer. Anna is an occupational therapist and I have just finished my first week at my dream job.
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