"I guess I did. Truth be told, I couldn't really believe it. It was kind of surreal, finding that sort of party behind a shitty bar like that."
He nodded. "Yeah, we get that a lot. We've actually owned that building for nearly a century. It's where the company started. As we expanded, we decided to upgrade it and turn it into a space for entertaining. There's still a few of the old offices left, one of which I believe you are somewhat acquainted with."
My cheeks heated. I wondered if I'd ever live that down.
"So why keep the bar at the front?" I asked. "Why not knock it down and build something nicer? You can obviously afford to."
He shrugged. "Call it sentimentality I guess. That bar's been there since the building was built. It's nice to keep a small piece of the old place around."
There was nothing in his voice to hint at any deception. Perhaps there really was nothing more to it. It was certainly the simplest explanation. Of course there were still the things the girl had told me that morning, and the papers on his desk, but were they really as odd as they seemed? It was hardly strange to want a little privacy, and I hadn't really had more than a few furtive seconds with that document. It was verging on paranoid to make any assumptions based on that. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
A minute later, we arrived at the restaurant. It was a glorious sight. The whole building was a giant glass cylinder, offering a full panoramic view of Circular Quay. A suited maître d' led us to a table on the upper floor, which was right next to the window facing out across the water to the Opera House. The sun had just finished setting and the whole bay was bathed in the soft glow of the city lights from the south. It was a spectacular location.
The two chairs at the table were opposite one another, but after helping me into my seat, he took his and lifted it around, sitting right next to me, his leg brushing softly against mine. My heart quickened. In the blink of an eye, he'd made the whole meal feel much more intimate.
"I can't imagine why anyone would cancel on this," I said, watching as one of the night ferries pulled out of the dock, sending great ripples rolling through the harbour. "It's beautiful."
"I like everything about this place," he said. "I try to come as often as possible. The only thing better than the food is the view." He gave me an exaggerated look up and down. "And I must say, the view is looking particularly spectacular tonight."
I grinned and returned the leer. "It's not so bad from over here either."
Our menus arrived. If it wasn't already obvious, the service quickly made it clear that this wasn't just any lazy Sunday meal. Our waitress was polite, articulate and immaculately groomed. She knew the menu back to front and answered every question Sebastian asked, quickly and in great detail. While they spoke, a second waiter arrived, filling our water glasses and leaving a small basket of steaming bread for us to nibble on.
Sebastian wanted to order the nine course tasting menu, but I'd had bad experiences with that sort of food in the past. "It always seems a little too pretentious for its own good," I told him.
And so I relented.
The first course arrived almost instantly, a plate containing two 'Sea Pearls'; delicate spheres about the size of ping pong balls. They didn't look like much, but had the most amazing silky texture and they just melted to nothing in my mouth.
"So, how long have you been with Little Bell?" he asked. Apparently even outsiders knew about our little nickname.
"Just over six years now."
"You like it?"
I shrugged. "It's a great company. They do some really fantastic work and there's lots of variation."
"I'm sensing there's a 'but' coming."
I sighed. I hadn't really planned on whining to him on our first date, but he seemed genuinely interested, and I was sick of bottling up all my frustration. "But I'm starting to feel like it's a dead end."
"It just seems like if something was going to happen for me there it already would have. There aren't many people there who work harder than me, but no matter how much I bust my ass for them, I can't seem to make any progress."
He took a sip of wine. "So why not move somewhere where they respect your talents?"
"I don't know. It would make the last few years feel like a waste, I guess. I hate giving up. Once I start something, I tend to stick to it until I get the job done. Besides, Little Bell is one of the best in the business. If I can make it there, that's a big deal."
"Well, it depends on why you became a lawyer doesn't it? If what you're interested in is 'making it' — and there's no shame in having that as a goal — then yeah, I'd say you're in the right place. But if you're doing it because it's what you love to do, then you might find yourself wasted there."
"What if it's a little of both?"
"That's where it gets tricky," he said with a smile.
"Don't get me wrong, I enjoy what I do," I continued. "And it's not that I care about image or status. I just like a challenge, you know? I want to prove to myself I can do it."
"That's something I can relate to. Sometimes I think I go out of my way to make things difficult for myself, just so it's more fun when I finally get there."
"Exactly," I said. "I've thought about leaving, but it would just be such a big risk, starting over again from scratch."
"Nothing worth having comes risk free."
The second course arrived. Objectively, it was probably as good as the first, but I wasn't paying much attention. Instead, I was rolling Sebastian's words around in my mind. This sort of discussion wasn't what I'd expected from him. Maybe I'd just been blinded by his initial approach, but I'd assumed our table talk would be a little lighter; a flirtatious game of back and forth. Instead, we'd ventured into a real conversation, and Sebastian was proving to be an excellent sounding board. He was honest, intelligent and articulate. It was a strange feeling, realising the two dimensional cut out in my head was deeper than I thought.
"So what about you? You enjoy working at Fraiser?" I asked.
There was a small pause. "It's great," he said with a nod. "I honestly couldn't imagine being anywhere else."
"Well, with the way they seem to take care of their employees, I can't say I'm surprised."
He chuckled. "We work as hard as we play, but they're good to us, yeah."
"I get the sense that they can afford to be."