A bear of a man stood at the glass window of the large back office. He had the build of an ex-athlete, impossibly broad shoulders and muscular arms that his $1000 dress shirt couldn't hide. He had olive skin and a thick head of hair. Strong handsome features, he would have been too good-looking if it weren't for the fierceness of his features. He looked like the kind of man who chased confrontation down and then ate it for breakfast. Phone to his ear, his knuckles were still rapping the glass when my eyes met his. He pointed one finger at me and then motioned for me to come, turning his back and pacing away without waiting for a response. Uh-oh.
I must have had panic on my face when Ms. Featherston turned back to me. Her stiff expression softened slightly, and her tone was a little kinder, but still firm.
"Go on in," she said. "He wants you."
Ms. Featherston returned her attention to the file. I glanced around, looking for an escape, and then, wobbly made my way around the secretary stand, and to the door of De Luca's office. "Brad De Luca" was printed on a brass nameplate located in the center of the door. Broward is going to kill me. I opened the door without knocking, and walked in, shutting it quietly behind me.
I stood by the door, hands together in front of me, waiting for De Luca to get off of the phone. His office was long in length, and there seemed to be a silly amount of space between where I stood and where he paced. I'm not moving a damn step closer to this man if I can help it. I felt like I was having trouble breathing. My chest was tight, and beads of sweat were forming on my upper lip. I tried to discreetly wipe them off. What the hell am I so nervous about? He's not going to eat me, for Christ's sake.
He finished his conversation and hung up the phone, staring at me. Still standing, he picked up a stress ball and squeezed it while looking at me. I felt like an innocent little fawn, stuck in the lion's gaze. I stayed quiet and waiting for him to say something.
"I need a car," he said. His voice was sexy and deep, definitive. He sounded like a man who had never second-guessed a single action, his entire life.
"A car?" my voice came out a little higher than I had intended, almost a squeak.
"Yes. I know the Casino typically handles my transportation, but I plan to go on a side trip this weekend, and want a car. The normal type will do." The last sentence was said rather dismissively, and seemed to indicate that our conversation was over. He picked up his phone and started to punch in a number. Then he paused, looking at me again.
"Have you done something different?"
"Different?" I didn't really know what to say. This was the strangest interaction I had ever had with someone. I'm sure he was blown away by my verbose and witty conversation.
"You look different."
"I'm wearing glasses." I felt like I was in Crazy Town. Has he seen me before?
De Luca looked at me again, then shrugged and continued dialing the number. He turned away from me, and I understood that our interchange was over.
That was freaking weird.
I walked back to the center desk and waited for Ms. Featherston to look up. She did, after a moment.
"Mr. De Luca asked me to reserve a car? For this weekend?" I sounded inept, even to my own ears.
Featherston looked confused, and then her expression cleared. Her mouth curved into something resembling a smile.
"He thinks you’re Tiffany," she said wryly.
"Tiffany. The girl who works downstairs, who handles travel arrangements. You slightly resemble her - he must have gotten confused. I'll make sure she gets the message." She shot me an amused look and then re-focused on her computer.
I turned on my heel and headed for the doors, wanting to get back to the normalcy of the West Wing. Wow, talk about an ego-check. What a ... jerk! I could feel my irritation building. I pulled my shoulders back and straightened my head, enjoying the anger coursing through my body. It felt good having some of my backbone back.
Back at my desk, I pulled out my cell and sent a quick text to Olivia.
DINNER AND DRINKS TONIGHT?
Her response was quick, and affirmative. We agreed, through a series of texts, to meet at 8pm at Cafe Salsa, a downtown tapas bar known for their great bands. I locked my phone and put it back in my purse. I planned on enjoying this Broward-free week, and damn if I'd let that Asshole De Luca affect it. I attacked my pile of files with new gusto.
I dressed to kill - picking out a red minidress and sky-high nude Christian Louboutin stilettos. I straightened my hair and carefully applied my makeup. Putting on my sexiest lace bra and a matching thong, I shimmied into my dress and then dusted bronzer over my legs, chest, and arms. A small black purse in hand, I stood in front of the mirror and gave myself the once-over. Hot damn woman. You are looking good.
At five minutes before eight, Olivia pulled up outside my apartment in her old grey Ford Explorer, blaring Katy Perry. I skittered out on my heels, navigating the overgrown path with care. Entering Olivia's SUV was like crawling into a bubble gum bubble. It smelled yummy and completely feminine, and said GIRL as loud as the feather boa hanging from the review mirror could scream.
We sang and car-danced the 10 minutes to Cafe, and my spirits rose with every chorus. Parking was difficult to find, and Olivia ended up squeezing into a spot three blocks from the restaurant.
One benefit of being with Olivia is the guarantee to never have to wait for a table. She's made a point to get to know someone at every hot spot in town. We requested a quiet table and were, within minutes, put at a great corner table with a view of the dance floor and bar.
"So. Give me the goods," she demanded as soon as we sat down.
"You know! On your new job, life, everything! I haven't seen you in over two weeks, and this weekend didn't count! Becca was there, and that prevents any real conversation from occurring." She giggled to soften her point, but we both knew she meant it. Becca was wonderful, but Becca was all about Becca, 24 hours a day.
"Any word from Luke?"
I rolled my eyes at her reference to my ex. "No, thank God. He doesn't know about my internship, and I don't think anyone has told him where I live. Has he called you any more?"
She shook her head in response. "Just that one time. I think I made it pretty clear to him then that he wasn't going to get any information from me."
I brought my martini up to signal a toast. She followed suit.
"To new beginnings."
"To new beginnings." she parroted. We clinked glasses and both took generous sips.