Check, please.

“I knew it was your month to pay the bills, so I made sure to use a lot of hot water.” I watched as he used the towel to dry between his legs and his torso, admiring his cleanly shaven male parts when the towel flicked up just high enough. “And your hair looks fine, Miss Over-Dramatic.” I bit my lip as I looked up and down at the bare and glistening body in front of me. “Been working out?”

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34. chapter 30

Fighting took a lot more effort than I thought it would. I never had to fight for anyone except myself. I never had a brother or a sister and both my parents were dead – physically and mentally – to me. It was hard for me to show Harry that I loved him as much as I did. Since hearing Zayn talk about sacrifices and “the little things,” I noticed them more and more each day I spent with Harry. The constant hand-holding, the small kisses in public, they way he clung to me at night, and even when he finally started to pick up after himself, whether it was his laundry or dirty dishes in the sink. He got me flowers every three days and even got me a new box of tampons the day before I started my period. I laughed and laughed when he handed me the box and grinned from ear to ear proudly.

“You memorized my cycle?” I managed between fits of laughter.

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Duh. I have to know what days I’m going to have to masturbate instead of getting some of that ass,” he said, slapping me harshly on the bum. I winced and giggled, and he leaned down over my shoulder to place a kiss on my cheek.

Despite our pleas, Niall refused to go to rehab. He did, however, agree to go to a support group for alcohol addicts once a week like Harry and I did for a month in high school. He ended up moving in with Liam who also helped him watch how much alcohol he consumed during the day. Thankfully, we never heard about Bailey again. I know it’s always harder as an outsider to judge a relationship, but I would dare to say that Bailey was no good for Niall, sober or not.

I never heard from Anna again. I got a phone call from another small company as a reference for a secretary job she applied for. That made sense, I suppose. She never had any other job but the one where she worked for me. I tried my hardest to be professional; I told them she was a hard worker – very organized – and that was all. Anna always talked about moving to Kansas for some reason, so I imagined she was there, but I tried hard not to think too much about it. It was so weird to have her gone. She knew all of my deep, dark secrets and I couldn’t imagine passing her on the street again and pretending like I never knew her.

Therese disappeared too. Alexander stayed in the apartment across the street and occasionally came over to talk to Harry and I about Wentz. Alexander worked mainly in advertising but claimed that it would be good to know some about the magazine if he was selling it. Harry and secretly agreed that he was just feeling guilty for calling it a silly magazine before. He was actually a great guy, especially since Therese was out of his life. I couldn’t help but wonder why the hell Alexander stuck around with her for so long if he was as miserable as he was, but I didn’t dare ask. I laughed when I walked out to the Celica on the day of my Wentz interview and saw Alexander laying out sunbathing in his driveway. It was a strangely warm day for the end of Fall. Apparently it was supposed to snow later that week too. Weird.

“Enjoying the sun?” I called to him, pulling at the bottom of my new black pencil skirt as I did. He sat up off of his towel and took his black sunglasses off of his face. Even from across the street I could see that he had more color in his face, his eyes were filled with a little more life, and he had allowed his hair to be a little more wild. When I first met him with Therese, he looked like a corpse.

He grinned and jumped up when he saw me, jogging across the street and giving me a quick hug. “Is your interview today?”

I nodded shakily.

“Oh don’t be nervous! I wish I could be there but I have the day off,” he said. “You’ll do fine though, I promise.”

I heard Harry’s footsteps on the stairs behind me. Harry grinned and gave Alexander a swift pat on the back before handing me my portfolio. “I finished the final touches. It should be all perfect now.”

I clenched the manila folder between two of my fingers and thanked Harry with a kiss on his cheek. I smiled at Alexander once more and hugged him quickly before jumping into the Celica and allowing Harry to close the door for me. They shook hands and exchanged a quick few words that I couldn’t hear before Harry jumped in the driver’s seat of the car and cranked it.

“Ready?” He asked, looking into my worried eyes. I tried to avoid his gaze and pulled at the bottom of my skirt, but Harry wouldn’t let me look away from him. He grabbed my chin and pulled me into a kiss. I giggled when he nibbled on my bottom lip like a rabbit would nibble on lettuce. His dimples deepened as his smile grew. “Just be yourself. Be confident. You can do it.”

We drove to the Wentz building in silence. Harry’s hand only left mine when he needed to shift gears, but as soon as the car was in gear, his hand went right back to mine. He kissed the back of my hand when I began to fidget and squeezed my hand when I tried to pick at my nail polish. When he stopped in front of the giant building that was Wentz, he kissed me once more, handed my manila folder to me, and watched me climb out of the car. He had said all he could to encourage me. I gulped when I heard the Celica pull away, leaving me in front of my potential future.

I walked up the steps of the building and into the glorious front doors. Everything about the lobby was still just as fantastic as I had remembered it from the first interview – humongous chandeliers and massive, framed covers of magazines from the past. The first time I came in here, I could recognize each and every issue that hung on the white marble walls. My stomach fell when I realized that this time was totally different. I hadn’t seen half of the covers now hanging on the walls of the lobby. I hadn’t been keeping up with the magazine at all.

I swore as I bumped into the front desk again. I swear they moved it closer to the door since the last time I had been in there. The same, rude, black-haired secretary sat at the desk, typing away at her computer. “Can I help you?” She asked without looking up at me – not like I expected her to.

“Scotlan Ray, here for-“

“I’ll let them know you’re here.”

I nodded politely and took a seat by the elevators. I ran my hands over the top of my manila folder, smoothing imaginary imperfections out. Maybe I should look through the folder once more, I thought. Make sure it’s perfect. I started to open the folder but stopped. Harry and I had been working for days to pick out the perfect pictures for the portfolio. He even offered to check over it once more for me this morning. I trusted him.

I looked to my left at the table beside me and saw magazines all fanned out on the table. I snatched up one issue that I knew I hadn’t read and tried to flip through as many pages as I could, catching up on my Wentz photos and gossip before Drew came down the elevator and called my name. His greasy hair was still stuck to the sides of his head and his gray suit looked like the same one that he wore for my first interview.

“Good to see you again,” Drew nodded at me and motioned toward the elevator. He didn’t exactly sound so excited, perhaps given the words we exchanged the last time I was in the elevator with him. When we got in the elevator, he took my folder and stood across the small yet ornate lift from me. He opened the folder and looked at the first picture, raising his eyebrows before humming pleasantly.

I didn’t like him looking through my things before Mr. Wentz did but I tried not to snap at him. I bit my lip and waited patiently until the doors opened at the top floor to breathe again. Mr. Wentz greeted me with a firm handshake and took the folder from Drew.

“How have you been?” He asked as he flipped open the folder and began to flip through pictures. I sat down in the chair in front of his desk. Drew sat beside me.

“Good,” I replied, watching Mr. Wentz’s face closely to try and read his thoughts on my meticulously chosen photos.

He nodded and flipped through a few more pictures, raised his eyebrows, looked up at me, back at the picture, back to me, and then back to the photo once more. He hummed and flipped through a few more. I shifted uncomfortably with each flip… I could have sworn that there were only twenty pictures in there, yet I counted thirty flips. He closed the folder and laid it down on the desk in front of him.

“These are fantastic. I can see an improvement in these compared to your last portfolio,” Mr. Wentz complimented me. “Lots of emotion, just like I asked.”

I exhaled silently and allowed a warm smile to spread across my face. “Thank you.”

Mr. Wentz chuckled and looked back in the photos. “I think you’re the first person to ever submit photos of yourself. Usually when we ask for emotion, photographers will submit shots of their friends. They look so staged. These look very natural of you. I feel like I know you on a more personal level just from looking at these, which is what I was aiming for.”

I hesitated. Photos of myself? I told Harry I didn’t want any pictures of me in the portfolio.

“I still think you should be a model, Miss Ray,” Mr. Wentz said, peering over his glasses at me and lifted a picture off of the desk.

Now more confused than ever, I sat forward in my seat. “Do you mind if I see that picture?” I asked, extending my hand. Mr. Wentz handed me the picture. I gasped when I saw it. It was a picture of me standing by the window in our apartment. My arms were crossed over my chest and I was leaning my forehead against the window, peering down at the street below. I struggled to remember when it was, what happened, what I was looking at… when I remembered it was when I was looking down at Therese as she barbequed with her friends. Wentz wouldn’t know that though. All he saw was a frustrated black-and-white version of me leaning against a fancy apartment window. I reached over the desk and picked up another picture of myself from the day that Harry and I went to Central Park. I was covering part of my face but not enough to hide my blushing cheeks and embarrassed grin. The warm sun was reflecting off of the water in the pond in front of me. I picked up a third picture and saw me again, my head was tilted back as I laughed and Harry painted a heart on my skin from the day we painted the wall.

Mr. Wentz chuckled as I anxiously picked up more and more pictures of myself and looked at them as though I was seeing them for the first time… well, because I was. I saw the picture Harry took of me when I was at my mother’s grave, I saw a picture he must have taken of me when I was sleeping, a picture of me from behind where I was only wearing one of his button-down shirts… I blushed, remembering that it was from one night right after we had sex. The strange thing about all of these pictures was that for once, I actually felt like I looked beautiful. For once, I actually liked the pictures of me. However, they wouldn’t be pictures I would ever submit to someone like Mr. Wentz. My chest heaved up and down as I set the pictures back on top of the manila folder and sat back in my chair slowly.

Mr. Wentz looked at Drew who shrugged his shoulders and looked at me. They both studied me as I stared at the floor. “Doing okay, Miss Ray?”

I nodded slowly.

Mr. Wentz chuckled again and ran his hand over his balding head. “Okay, well like I said, the pictures are great. We would love to have someone as talented and charismatic as you on our team.”

This was it. This was my dream. It was coming true because of Harry. My breathing slowed more and more with each second that I sat in the chair in front of someone who I looked up to for years, realizing finally that I had a new dream.

I shook my head. “I have to go,” I breathed.

“Yes!” Mr. Wentz laughed, standing up and extending his hand out to me to shake. “Go and tell all of your friends!”

I leapt up from my chair, ignoring his handshake and dashing to the elevator. “No, I mean I have to go! I can’t… I just- I can’t take the job.”

“What?” Drew gawked, jumping up.

I pushed the button on the elevator repeatedly until the doors opened. “Really, I thank you for your consideration but…” I giggled. “…I have a team already,” I said quickly, stepping into the elevator and pushing the button for the first floor. “I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it.”

“Miss Ray-“ Drew leapt for the closing doors and pushed the door open. “If you leave, you won’t get another chance from us to get a job here,” he said harshly. Mr. Wentz stared me down from behind his desk, a mixture of surprise and anger written all over his face. I laughed when I gazed at his bulging belly and balding head and compared it to all of the attractive, photoshopped pictures of him that they usually posted in the back of their magazines.

“I know. And you know what? That’s okay with me. Thank you again.” I smiled and pushed the “close door” button. I couldn’t believe that I had been actually considering leaving my friends… my family. I kept my promise to Harry and submitted a new portfolio (with his unexpected help). He didn’t make me promise that I would TAKE the job if it was offered to me. I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave my team, the ultimate team that we were.

When the elevator doors opened, I pushed through the group waiting to enter the elevator and ran through the lobby to the front door. I pushed open the doors and took a huge breath of fresh air. I had such a burst of energy that I felt like I could run the whole way to the studio. Before I could kick off my heels and take off running, I spotted the Celica parked on the street, a tall, handsome individual leaning against it holding a bouquet of white roses. He grinned at me, his dimples deepening and his green eyes lighting up as I stopped on the stairs directly in front of him.

“I hoped you would turn down the job,” he said, standing up off of the car and taking a step toward me.

“How do you know that I turned it down?” I asked, stepping on the top step and letting the toes of my heels barely hang over the edge.

“They’ve been going crazy up there,” Harry said, motioning upward at the building. I turned and looked up. Sure enough, Drew and Mr. Wentz were staring down at me and Harry, arguing with one another as they leaned into the glass window.

When I turned back around to face Harry, he was standing on the step just beneath me. He held the roses between our bodies. I leaned down and smelled the beautiful flowers before looking back up at Harry. “Why did you spend days helping me pick out pictures for my portfolio if you knew you were just going to replace them with pictures of me anyway?”

Harry shrugged and chuckled. “I wanted you to think you were doing all the work.” He brushed a strand of my hair behind my ear. “I know you said you didn’t want any pictures of you in there, but I just wanted them to see who you really were. I wanted them to see the extraordinary girl they were losing when you walked out of those doors, which obviously worked.” Harry laughed as he and I looked back up at Mr. Wentz and Drew, still watching us from above. They finally felt uncomfortable and left the window.

For as much as I wanted to pretend like I was mad at Harry for switching the pictures, I couldn’t. There was no reason to be mad. It didn’t matter anyways. Before I could control myself anymore, I threw my arms and legs around Harry and showered him in kisses. I didn’t care how far my skirt came up. I didn’t bother to pull at the bottom like I always did. All I cared about at that moment was the man in my arms.

Harry kissed me hard on the lips and helped me down off of him after a moment. Gosh, the way he looked into my eyes made me want to burst into a million pieces. It was a loving look that reassured me that I was his one and only.

“I love you,” he said, his hands cupping my cheeks.

I grinned into his palm and kissed the skin just below his thumb. “I love you too.”

He took my hand, picked up the roses he dropped, picked up my shoes, and walked me to the Celica. After he held my door for me, he jumped into the car and began to drive. “The boys and I have set up one more thing for you.”

“A surprise?” I asked coyly.

“Something like that,” Harry beamed, running his hand up my thigh. “I mean it’s not a GREAT surprise… it’s just… I don’t know. We were talking about the last few weeks and how close we’ve all just become. It’s like we had a new beginning without actually realizing it. We thought we would do something fun with you.”

I understood, but frowned. “Well what is it?”

Harry laughed. As we pulled up to a stop light, he leaned across the median and kissed me on the forehead. “You’ll have to wait and see.”

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