I found some big silver hoops for my ears. I eyed a silver box that had arrived in my mail the day I’d gotten home from the hospital. I’d glanced inside of it, seen the contents, and shut it without another glance. It contained the collar and watch that James had given me, before all hell had broken loose. I didn’t know what to do with the jewelry. I didn’t feel like I could keep it, since we weren’t together. But I was also sure that James wouldn’t accept it back. He obviously wouldn’t, since the last time I’d returned it it had just ended up in my mailbox.
I did my hair and makeup, stewing about the jewelry.
Part of me wanted to just wear it. The collar would go well with my neckline, setting off my cleavage nicely. James would be happy to see me wear it, I knew. But it might also give him the wrong idea. He might take it to mean that I was willing to pick up again where we’d last left off. I wasn’t sure I was willing to do that.
A change came over me when I was near James. A change that I wasn’t sure I liked. He’d gotten me to fall in love with him after just over a week of knowing him. And if that wasn’t bat-shit crazy, I didn’t know what was.
I left my hair pin straight and hanging down my back in a pale, beige-blond line. I lined my eyes in a soft brown. I had a heavy hand with the black mascara and used a generous amount of gold eyeshadow. I went with a soft pink lip, liberally applying gloss. It was more makeup than I usually went with, but I thought it would suit a place like The Dime just fine.
The overall effect made me feel sexy and sophisticated, and that was exactly what I wanted. I needed to feel confident when I saw James again.
I heard my phone chime, and knew it would be Stephan, saying it was time to go. A look at the clock told me that.
Impulsively, I opened the silver box. I weighed the lovely choker in my hands. It was a silver color, though I had no idea what metal it was. I could never tell the difference. But it looked expensive, with diamonds peppering the whole necklace, and a loop on the front made entirely of alarmingly large ones. I hadn’t realized how large they were before.
I took a deep breath, and reached back to put it on. The weight of it felt nice against the base of my neck, and I studied it, running my finger along it. I needed to go, but I couldn’t seem to look away from the collar around my neck.
I glanced back at the box, and noticed for the first time that the box held more than just the necklace and watch. I opened another small box that I had overlooked with my previous cursory inspection. It contained exquisite, large hooped earrings made up of large diamonds that matched the details on my collar to the T.
I bit my lip, and put them on. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought recklessly.
I hurried out the door, and, sure enough, Stephan’s car was waiting in my driveway. I got into his car, digging into my small clutch-purse as I did so. I checked to make sure I had all the essentials.
Stephan let out a low whistle at the sight of me. “You look hot, Buttercup. If you hadn’t told me James was stopping by to see you, I could have guessed by that mini skirt.”
I gave him a sharp look, but couldn’t maintain it for long. He had a point. I hardly ever tried to dress sexy.
“Everyone is going to be there,” Stephan told me happily as we drove the twenty minutes to the club. He started naming off the attendees. Some I would normally have been happy to see, but at the moment, not so much.
Everyone knew I had been attacked in my home. And that I had been hospitalized for over a week. The rumor was that I’d had a home invader attack me, but people would be asking me well-meaning questions about it nonetheless. I hated the kinds of questions that I knew would be asked. I hated that people had even a vague idea of what had happened to me.
I’d survived, and the rest were just details , I told myself firmly. It was a mantra that always snapped me out of self-pity mode. As usual, it worked. I was alive, and it was enough.
We had a good-natured argument as we drove about whether Stephan should pop the collar of his polo.
He’d worn the collar up, and I’d noticed almost immediately. I just couldn’t seem to get onboard with the style. There was just something inherently douche-baggy about the look. I told him so.
He eventually caved, straightening his collar with a rueful smile.
“Just because you like a look, that doesn’t make it right,” I teased him.
We got to the lounge a solid ten minutes before six. The doorman was checking our I.D’s and even our airline badges. We both had them on us, since we had been told we’d need them to get an employee discount, but it was unusual to have to show them at the door.
I heard a familiar voice behind me. “These are Mr. Cavendish’s guests. I’ll walk them in.”
I turned, giving a surprised smile to Clark. I inwardly cringed, thinking of the last time he’d seen me.
I’d been a complete mess, running into traffic like a maniac. But it wasn’t his fault he’d seen me in that state, so I tried to greet him as though it hadn’t happened. “How are you, Clark?” I asked.
He smiled at me warmly. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me. “Just great, Ms. Karlsson. I’m very happy to see you looking so well.”
I just nodded, automatically shying away from the subject of what had made me so un well recently.
Clark led us through the dimly lit lounge, heading straight to the small VIP section.
Of course James would be in VIP, but it kind of defeated the whole purpose of us being here, socializing with co-workers.
Sure enough, we were no sooner seated than Stephan was bouncing back up, spotting a friend of ours across the room. It was our friend, Jessa. I hadn’t seen her in over a month, and I really did want to say hi.
I saw quickly that James was nowhere to be seen.
I sent Clark an apologetic glance. “Thanks for showing us to the table, Clark, but I see someone I want to chat with. Where is James?”
Clark looked uncomfortable. He was even fidgeting with his tie. The nervous gesture seemed very uncharacteristic for him. “In the car, finishing up some phone calls. I’m pretty sure he didn’t think you’d be so prompt, or I know he would have wrapped his business up by now.”
I just nodded and headed over to where Stephan and Jessa were hugging in greeting. She saw me and gasped. She gave me a hug that was hard enough that I had to hide a little gasp. My ribs were still a little tender, if they were pressed just wrong. She’d hit just the wrong spot with her exuberant squeeze. I hid my reaction and returned her hug.
“It’s so good to see you looking better,” Jessa gushed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come by the hospital or visit you before. Thing’s have been crazy lately, and I didn’t hear about anything until you were leaving the hospital. And I was out of town at the time.” She glared at Stephan. “Stephan here kept it under wraps. Even from me.”
“Please, don’t give it a thought. In fact, let’s never talk about it again. How’ve you been? Where have you been flying this month?” I asked her.
Jessa was from our flight attendant class. She was a tall brunette, nearly my height, with lovely brown eyes and the warmest smile. She was one of my favorite people. When possible, we tried to meet up with her at least twice a month to catch up. She had a great sense of humor, and loved to go out. Even Stephan was a homebody compared to her.
She was flipping her thick, curly hair behind her shoulders as she told us a story about some passenger on her last flight who’d tried to smoke in the bathroom and then lie about it. She was getting agitated just relating the story about the shameless lies the old man had tried to get away with.
I had to hide a smile. She was always getting agitated with the crazies. And her sassy way of dealing with them was just good comedy.
A cocktail waitress in a mini skirt and corset promptly approached us and got our drink orders. Stephan was drinking house cabernet. I stuck with water. I was off of alcohol, especially if James was attending.
He abhorred the stuff.
I spotted Brenda by the bar, and waved. She joined us, smiling.
“We missed you guys this week,” she said in greeting.
“Cindy and Lars are great, though, right?” I asked, smiling. The couple we had traded with were notoriously fun to work with.
“Oh, yeah, those two are a blast. We still missed you, though.” She pursed her lips. “Jake and I, I mean.”
We shared a wry smile. I didn’t have to ask why she had left out Melissa’s name. The other girl was acting more and more unhinged every time I dealt with her. I had known she wouldn’t miss us.
She noticed my jewelry. “That is the loveliest necklace and earrings. So unique.”
I fingered my choker, thanking her.
“Did your husband come?” I asked, glancing around. He often came with her to work functions, and sometimes even joined her on layovers.
“No, he didn’t get off of work until six, and he says he’s beat. I probably won’t stay long. It’s just so hard to miss out on an opportunity to see so many of the flight attendants that I rarely get to see. We should organize these parties more often.”
Jessa agreed with her heartily, and they chatted about trying to do just that for a solid ten minutes.
Jake joined us amidst their plans, hugging everyone while managing to seem interested in the current conversation. I hugged him back lightly. I had had a hard time with the flight attendant hugging situation right at first, but the custom had grown on me. When you had close friends that you only got to see once a month in passing, a hug seemed appropriate. Though everyone, even not so close friends, seemed to insist on the habit. I just went with it now. No one else understood my hangup, I knew. So I had just learned to keep it to myself.
A tall, slender, dark-haired man approached Stephan from behind, clapping him on the shoulder in greeting. The man leaned in close to Stephan’s ear, whispering something. Stephan seemed to blush down to his toes.
I watched the whole thing as if in slow-motion, my jaw dropping in shock.
It took me a long moment to recognize the man, since what I was seeing made no sense to me.
Javier Flores and Stephan were not exactly on friendly terms. Last I had checked, they were closer to bitter exes. The two men hadn’t spoken for over a year. Or so I had thought.
Javier was Stephan’s version of the one that got away.
The two men were as dissimilar physically as they were personality-wise. Though both men were tall and handsome, Stephan was much taller. Javier was maybe an inch shy of six feet. And where Stephan resembled a strapping Abercrombie and Fitch model with his blond good looks, Javier was almost delicate looking. His face was just plain pretty, with perfect, even features, and the thickest eyelashes I’d ever seen. He had jet black hair that hung to his shoulders, falling into his eyes artfully as he tilted his head forward, giving Stephan a wicked sideways smile. He was tall and slender, almost thin. His dark brown eyes were mysterious and lovely, but I had always found them a little cold and distant.
The two men had dated for just a month, over a year ago. It had been an intense month, but it had ended quickly, and badly. Javier had a real problem being Stephan’s secret lover, and he hadn’t tolerated the situation for long. He’d given Stephan an ultimatum; Stop hiding their relationship, or he was out.