When Mr. Stone left my apartment he didn't say a word. He tried, but I just glared daggers and he bowed his head as he closed the door behind him. I was much too angry to listen to his excuses or the apology that was on the tip of his tongue, sincere or not.
The next morning I had calmed down somewhat but if Mr. Stone tried anything again, I would probably lose it.
When I got to work, I stepped right into a flurry of 'Are you okay's and 'Oh my gosh/god's and 'Why are you at work's by pretty much everyone I ran across. Carson had also returned to work apparently and the two of us were given the title of Venditatio's leading workaholics, taking it from the reigning queen Marcia who worked in sales and had the title practically the moment she was hired a few years back.
I got to my floor and clapped my hands to get everyone's attention. Once all eyes were on me, I said, "Okay, first order of business. If any one of you asks me how I am, I will hurt you. Second, meeting after lunch for feedback reports, I'll try to make 'em quick so we don't lose even more time. Third, I don't have a third. Questions?"
My floor mates rolled their eyes at me and Jade mockingly raised a hand.
I grinned, "Yes, Ms. Navarez?"
"Who's your new boyfriend?"
My smiled dropped into a frown of confusion, "Boyfriend?"
"Yeah, you've got a bunch of gorgeous flowers on your desk," Courtney piped up.
"Flowers?" I was so lost.
Kent chuckled and pulled me over to my desk where indeed, there was a large bouquet of flowers just lying there. It was an elaborate purple and yellow affair of flowers artfully twined together and wrapped up in expensive looking white fabric that glittered. The yellow flowers were roses but I didn't know what the more abundant purple ones were.
"What the hell?" I said aloud, picking up the bouquet to study it and look for a card or something.
People crowded around me and I looked to Evelyn when she said, "Whoever sent those to you is very apologetic if those flowers were intentional."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"There are a lot of purple hyacinths. In the language of flowers they are a way to say 'I'm sorry' or seek forgiveness. The yellow roses signify friendship."
Someone whistled low but I was still looking for a damn card. There didn't seem to be one.
"Who the hell got these?" I asked everyone.
No one had an answer. Apparently they had been at my desk before the first person arrived, and I decided to just put the flowers in the back of my mind, setting them aside to deal with later. I was tempted to trash them but when I glanced at the trashcan, all the girls and even Frank gave me the dirtiest looks I had ever seen that were a bit terrifying. So the flowers found a temporary home behind my monitor.
I went through the first half of the day without once seeing Mr. Stone and managed to catch up completely. Doing some work the previous night had helped immensely. By lunch, I was waiting in the lobby for Carson and when he arrived we decided to go to the company canteen for lunch.
"So how many people have been asking if you were alright?" I asked with a groan as we slipped past a couple more people who knew of what happened the previous day.
"I am safe at my desk so definitely not as many as you," Carson replied as he checked his phone. He had been doing that quite a bit, practically obsessively since he got off the elevator.
"You expecting a call or something?" I asked as we picked up a couple sandwiches. He got four and I got two although the both of us were a bit wary about eating food not made in front of us.
"Email. From the cutie."
I raised a brow and smirked, "Tim sent you an email?"
Carson glanced at me briefly before rolling his eyes, "I know you gave him my email. Whose side are you even on? You won't give me his number but you'll give him my personal email."
I shrugged and bit into the first sandwich. Turkey, mayo, honey mustard, and bacon with the tomatoes discarded on my plate. "I'm on the side that gives me the most entertainment."
Carson went to retort but his phone pinged, signaling a new email and he was on his phone faster than a starved cheetah on raw steak.
A grin bloomed on his face and I shook my head at him. It was obvious that Tim had finally replied.
He tapped out a reply on his phone but read over it multiple times before sending it and setting his phone on the table, eyes locked on the screen.
"So…?" I pried.
"I asked him out on a coffee date," Carson replied, eyes flicking between his phone and my face, but mostly lingering on his phone.
I chuckled, "You are so whipped, man. When you two finally get together he's gonna have your balls in a leash if he doesn't already."
His phone beeped and once again, he went to it faster than a flash of lightning. As he read the contents of the message, his smile dropped and he looked up to glower at me.
I raised my hands up in defense, "Whoa, what did I do?"
"He said yes if you came along," Carson grumbled.
I burst out laughing so loud that those around us turned their heads to see what was happening.
"It's official. I love him," I gasped between tears and a horribly cramping stomach.
Carson took a rejected tomato slice from my plate and threw it at me, getting me right in the eye.
"Fuck! Carson, why? It stings!" I rubbed at my eye to try and get the tomato juice out of my eye. It wasn't stinging too bad but it was incredibly uncomfortable to have a gross vegetable-fruit thing in your face.
Carson handed over a napkin and I cleaned my face with it, scowling at him afterward. "You are an asshole. We're not friends anymore."
"I'm so heartbroken," Carson deadpanned and went back to his sandwich.
I smirked, "And since we're not friends, I won't be going with you to see Tim on that date you oh so desperately want."
"Jack, my bestest friend in the whole wide world," Carson sang with the biggest most pleading grin he could muster.
I shook my head at him, "You'd throw me under a bus for him."
He shrugged, "I'd throw you under a bus anyway."
"Thanks. Glad to know you have my back," I drawled. "But, since I'm such an awesome best friend and obviously the better person, I will go with you to your date with Tim. Tell him I'm bringing a friend. Third wheeling ain't my thing."
Carson grinned and immediately went to sending Tim the email, asking, "Lesley?"
"Yeah, he said he wanted to meet you two so I figured this'd be the best time." I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to Lesley asking if he minded being my date to Tim and Carson's date and that I would send him the details when I got them.
As we finished lunch and cleaned up, I saw Mr. Stone talking to some people from the sales' department and narrowed my eyes. "Bet the asshole didn't try to take advantage of you when he visited you last night to check if you were okay," I grumbled.
Carson frowned at me, "What are you talking about?"
"Didn't Mr. Stone come by to…that fucking piece of shit." My confused frown turned into a scowl as I glared daggers at Mr. Stone and stormed out of the canteen with Carson hot on my heels.
"Mind filling me in?" he asked.
"Later," I replied, tense. "If I explain now, I'll be too pissed to work and might end up walking over and strangling him in front of everyone."
I said goodbye to Carson as I got off the elevator on my floor, a scowl still on my face. I needed a good project to focus on so I didn't go on a murderous rampage.
"Hey, Jack," Crystal called out.
"So, we got Cole's permission to hold that party for Samantha when she gets back on Friday."
"Cole?" I furrowed my brow.
Crystal didn't seem fazed at all and waved me off, "He's been asking everyone to call him by his first name since yesterday. Said 'Mr. Stone' made him feel old and like his grandfather or something. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that we've got the green light and that I've sent out a document to everyone on the floor to sign up for stuff to bring. This is gonna be so fun, it's like back in high school when my English teacher threw parties after every major assessment was turned in!" She giggled and went back to work, making me stare after her in surprise. Crystal was the youngest one on the floor at twenty-two and it was quite obvious in how excitable she could be, especially about parties. She got hired last year straight out of college and moved down to New York from a small town in North Carolina and was considered the baby of the floor.
I sighed and rubbed my face. Now, if I continued to call Mr. Stone Mr. Stone, it would look incredibly odd and people would get suspicious. Goddamn that man. At least his hair was still the color of dying feces. But that was only a minor consolation prize. I could just avoid using his name at all. That could work. If not, I'd make it work.
Just as I was about to try and concentrate on my work, the elevator opened and my coworkers started talking amongst themselves. I looked up expecting to see Mr. Stone but was beyond confused to see a boy wearing a green cap and holding a bouquet of flowers.
"Uh, Jack Gallagher?" the teenager asked.
I raised my hand warily and waved a bit as I pushed out of my desk and walked over to him.
"These are for you, Mr. Gallagher," the boy said, holding out the flowers to me.
My frown deepened as I took them. They were the same as the ones from the morning that were slowly dying behind my monitor.
"Who sent these?" I asked him as I signed a form that stated that the flowers had been delivered.
"They're anonymous," the kid shrugged. "Have a nice day." He left and I stared down at the new bouquet, completely lost. Who was sending me these flowers?
Samantha was finally returning. The whole floor had worked extra hard the previous two days in order to afford being able to spend some time to have a mini party for her. I had been in charge of gathering disposable cups and plates. Frank and Kent (supervised by Courtney) were getting non-alcoholic drinks; Evelyn and Jade were doing decorations, and everyone else was providing food.
And I was still getting those goddamn flowers!
No one had a clue as to who was leaving them on my desk without fail every morning and with a delivery boy or girl handing another bouquet over after my lunch breaks. It was ridiculous! And it was always purple hyacinths and yellow roses but somehow, each and every bouquet looked different. Props to the florist but I really did not want anymore freaking flowers.
I got off on my floor with a plastic bag filled with cups and plates and lo and behold, on my desk was a bouquet of flowers. I rolled my eyes and set the bag on the table someone had set up and was already piled with some food and drinks. Everyone else was moving furniture around and hanging up banners, streamers, and balloons. Samantha was due to arrive in thirty to forty minutes and Crystal had managed to contact Samantha's wife to invite her to the party as well. She had accepted and was going to show up a little before Samantha herself with their newborn son Kaiden.
The two were very modest and weren't ones for large parties which is why they never had a baby shower. So the party was pretty much a bunch of things in one: pseudo baby shower, welcome back, and congratulations on becoming mothers.
I helped set out the table and then went over to my desk to glare at the flowers.
Martin came up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder, "Someone is very insistent, eh, Jackie? Is it an ex?"
Trust it to be Martin of all people who would actually provide the first possible lead. An ex. Why had no one else thought of that? Why hadn't I thought of that?
"It actually might be…" I trailed, frowning in thought.
Martin's eyes widened and he leaned onto me with his hand moving to my other shoulder so he could wrap his arm across my back. "Oooh, who ended it?"
"Me?" I phrased it as a question. "Technically, I ended it but we weren't even dating so there was nothing to end in the manner you're suggesting."
Martin raised a brow at me, giving me a look that I got all too often from Carson whenever I split with any of my sex friends and I rolled my eyes, "We weren't. And the rest of it is none of your business."
I knocked Martin's arm off of me and picked up the flowers. Death glares be damned, I was not going to wait until I was on my way home to throw away the bouquet.
I was walking over to the trashcan that was near the elevator when said elevator dinged and the doors slid open.
A woman stepped out with a baby wrapped in white blanket in her arms.
"Oh, hi!" she said upon seeing me.
I returned the smile, "Hey, I'm Jack. And you two must be Victoria and Kaiden."
The baby gurgled and waved his short pudgy arms as drool slipped from his mouth. I held back a cringe. Babies were not my thing, something my mother was disappointed by. She had been holding onto the hope I'd adopt or have a surrogate when I finally decided to settle down but I quickly dashed those dreams of spoiling grandchildren. Even back then at seventeen when I came out to her, I knew I was never going to have kids. I was probably never going to settle down either what with being a, as Lesley had quickly decided on saying, commitment-phobe. Which I was not.
"Oh my gosh, he's adorable!" Frank cooed and came rushing towards us, literally dropping everything – a box of decorations that Jade had to save – to fawn over the little boy. I raised a brow as he began to make baby noises and praised the child with words I'm sure the kid thought was gibberish. I thought it was gibberish.
"I'm gonna… I'm gonna go and…help," I said, inching away awkwardly. Frank was scaring me.
I had returned to the table set up with food and only then realized I was still holding the damned bouquet. With a groan, I decided to shove them to the nearest person who happened to be Gretel.
"Happy birthday," I said and ran away before she could give them back to me.
"Jack!" she admonished but I was already with Jade and helping her pin up banners and streamers from the box Frank dropped for the baby.
We managed to set up relatively quickly and were lying in wait for Samantha to finally arrive. A couple people from the other departments had shown up as they were friends with Samantha and we were all chatting amongst ourselves as we waited and kept an eye on the elevator. Kaiden had fallen asleep and Frank had forced Victoria into a chair to rest. You'd think he was the kid's dad with how overbearing he was.
I was leaning against my desk, glaring at the flowers that Gretel had decided to put in a vase – I have no idea where she found it – at the center of the table we were using for the food and drink. It was bright and happy and incredibly obnoxious. If I continued to get those stupid flowers next week, I was going to burn down every flower shop in the city.
"Guys!" Crystal exclaimed, pointing at the elevator. We all quieted down and someone flipped the light switch, which dimmed the room considerably, but a ton of light still lit up the area from the windows so I didn't see much of a point, but oh well.
All eyes were on the elevator that had stopped on our floor. The elevators at Vendi always took five seconds (someone had timed it a couple years back for some reason or another) to open after coming to a complete stop and the indicator above it on the outside always light up way before the car stopped so it was easy to tell when someone was coming to the floor.
With bated breaths, we watched the doors slowly slide open, mouths parted and ready to yell, "Surprise!"
"Goddammit," Kent groaned when Mr. Stone stepped out of the elevator. Everyone immediately relaxed, some others also groaning at the letdown.
Mr. Stone quirked a brow in amusement as he walked over to us. I looked away, turning around to face my desk and reorganizing everything. I was still really pissed off at him for what he had done on Monday night as well as finding out that he took advantage of what had happened even though I've had the rest of the week to cool down from not talking to him and only seeing him from a distance in passing.
"Am I not welcome anymore?" Mr. Stone playfully pouted to Jade and Kent.
They laughed and the three started conversing while I tried to appear busy. Unfortunately, someone didn't seem to get the message.
"Antsy, Jackie?" Martin teased, slinging an arm over my shoulder and leaning on my back. Why was he so touchy feely all of a sudden?
I rolled my eyes, "I'm busy, Martin." So kindly piss off and stop attracting attention to me. "And get off me."
"Skinship strengthens friendship," was his reply.
I closed my eyes and grit my teeth to prevent myself from punching him. Since when has he ever proactively tried to be friends?
I closed my eyes and held back a groan as I relaxed my face and looked over my shoulder and Martin's arm at Mr. Stone. He was grinning but I saw it was a bit strained. His eyes went to Martin but would flicker back to me before shooting away again.
"Morning, Cole," Martin greeted with his patented grin. His arm was still around me even though he had turned around, maneuvering my body as well. I was going to punch him.
"Morning," I echoed, pasting on a polite smile that was undoubtedly strained as I wanted nothing more than to ignore the man. The hair dye had slowly washed out over the week but there were still tinges of that disgusting shade of brown here and there.
A tense awkward atmosphere weighed down heavily on us. Even Martin looked uncomfortable.
Mr. Stone glanced at the flowers on the food table, "I heard you've been receiving flowers, Jack?"
I sighed in annoyance, "Yeah. They've been a pain and I have no idea who's been sending them."
"We've been speculating though," Martin quipped. "I'm betting it's Jackie's ex-boyfriend. The one he recently broke up with."
"For the last time, he wasn't my boyfriend," I groaned.
"Not a fan of flowers?" Mr. Stone queried.
I shrugged, "They're nice to look at and all but no, not really."
"She's here!" someone exclaimed and once again we all quieted down in preparation.
The elevator doors slowly slid open and once we saw Samantha's blond hair slicked back into a firm ponytail, we let loose and cheered loudly.
"Oh my gosh," Samantha started, clutching at her chest in shock. Her bewildered expression turned into an embarrassed yet happy grin when she realized what was going on. Victoria coming up to her and kissing her cheek may have also played a part in that blinding smile.
"Welcome back, Samantha," I grinned to her, escaping Martin and Mr. Stone to give her a quick hug.
"I should have expected this," she laughed. "Thank you. All of you."
People mingled and we worked on finishing off all the food and drink. Mr. Stone hung around as well and I made sure to inconspicuously avoid him.
I mostly people watched. Samantha and Victoria were obviously the center of attention. Kaiden was still asleep, the kid could apparently sleep through anything. I watched the new family with a small smile. Just because I wasn't interested in one for myself didn't mean I couldn't see how happy it made other people. The two women were positively glowing. Samantha looked much more relaxed than she usually was and her eyes never strayed too long from her wife or son. The same applied to Victoria. They were each other's world, with the new addition of Kaiden.
Crystal came up and leaned against the wall with me after a while. She had brought two cups and handed one over.
"Thanks," I said, taking the cup and sipping. It was root beer. I would've preferred actual beer but this was good enough and my need for my job far surpassed my need for a bit of lager, even if it wasn't even noon yet.
"So why are you wallflowering?" she asked.
"That's not a word," I pointed out.
Crystal rolled her eyes, "You're avoiding the question, Jack."
I shrugged, "You've known me for a year, Crystal, you should have already figured out that I'm not the most social person around."
"But you go out drinking a lot," she argued.
"Drinking doesn't equate to being social," I countered. "And most of the time, I'm drinking alone at home." Although lately I haven't been doing much drinking, but that can be remedied.
Crystal huffed, "Geez. Are you sure your boyfriend wasn't the one to call things off?"
"Boyfriend?" I frowned. I caught a glance of Martin and groaned, "He wasn't my boyfriend for Christ's sake! I don't even date."
"That's probably why you're such a loner," she said. "You need friends, Jack."
"I have friends!" I argued.
"Carson doesn't count."
I rolled my eyes, "I'm so telling him you said that he's negligible. But I have other friends too. You guys are my friends, work friends but still friends. And I met these other two guys recently so I've got more than enough human interaction."
Crystal sighed, clearly she wasn't convinced but she let the topic drop. Gretel came by and the two started chatting about some girls' night that they were planning with a few other ladies from various departments. Crystal shot me a pointed look so I rolled my eyes and wandered towards to the food.
Most of it was healthy food, which wasn't all that surprising. Muffins, sandwiches, fruits, and the like. Luckily, someone brought donuts and even brownies. I piled a paper plate with four brownies, three donuts, and, when Frank threw me a disapproving frown while he looked like he was about to lecture me, I added a slice of watermelon. The smallest slice but a slice nonetheless.
"Mmm," I hummed, biting into the glazed donut. I hadn't had one in a long time. It was soft and still slightly warm. The soft sugar glazing melted in my mouth and was incredibly sweet.
"Get a room!" someone called.
When I looked over, I saw Kent grinning at me.
"Maybe I will," I stuck my tongue out at him. When I turned back around, I nearly jumped in fright at seeing Mr. Stone standing right in front of me. And here I'd been thinking I'd done a pretty fantastic job at avoiding him.
"May I speak with you in private for a second, Jack?" Mr. Stone asked.
I barely held back my scowl, instead adopting a suspicious frown, "For what?"
He looked nervous which was making me nervous.
"Just…please? Only for a couple minutes."
I glanced around and saw that we had eyes on us and heaved a sigh, "Fine… But try anything and I will not hesitate to report you."
Mr. Stone nodded and I followed him down the hall towards the bathrooms, away from everyone else. It was probably a bad idea.
"So?" I asked, finishing off my first donut, once we had stopped in a more private setting. Still open to eavesdroppers or accidental stumblers, but it would do. And if anything, whatever was overheard would probably be in my favor.
Mr. Stone rubbed his hands together and seemed to be thinking his words over. I tapped my foot impatiently and broke off a piece of a brownie.
"I…I'm sorry. For Monday night," he finally said.
I popped the piece of the chocolate treat in my mouth and chewed, otherwise not responding.
"I shouldn't have taken advantage of the situation and respected your decision," he added. He was shifting on his feet like a little kid. It was actually kinda cute but I wasn't letting him know that. He'd think he was forgiven.
When he didn't say anything else, I picked up the partially eaten brownie, asking coolly, "Was that all you wanted to say?"
Mr. Stone looked surprised but nodded, "So…"
I started to walk back to the party.
"Wait! Jack," Mr. Stone called. He was wise to not grab me even though I saw his hand reaching out from my peripheral.
I turned around halfway and raised a brow, "Yes?"
"Do you… are we okay?" he asked.
"I don't forgive you, Mr. Stone, you blatantly disregarded my clear rejection and I should file a report on you but I won't because even though you have a penchant for sexual harassment, I've heard nothing but praises on your work ethic and how proficient you are. While you're my boss I will be civil whenever we meet under circumstances pertaining to Vendi. Other than that, I'd like it if you left me alone. And that isn't just a mere request you can ignore because you feel like it."
A/N: Heyyo! So I've also updated my other WIPS as an early present since I'm going to be without internet up until around Jan 2/3. So yeah, I'll reply to comments and such (if I get any, that is) when I get back. Happy holidays/new year. Hope yours turns out better than mine will.
Oh and do you like the new cover? I'm super proud of it :D