ALL BY DESIGN - Read the Full Book Here

Chapter 1
Mamma Silk
I eagerly watched the other students ease through their presentations one-by-one. My stomach twisted and turned in the anticipating of my own presentation, which was scheduled to be the last of the group and the last presentation I would give before graduating from the Institute of Design. In an attempt to calm my nerves, I downed half a box of chocolate chip cookies that morning along with two Cokes. Mistake. I could feel the carbon bubbles from the soda commingling with the cookies, bloating my stomach, already at odds against my waistband.
Carla, my personal adversary, began presenting to the class. Tall and unreasonably thin, her sharp features combined with an olive complexion, green eyes, and long-layered brown hair gave her an attractive and exotic look to be envied by women everywhere. She had a tattoo on her left arm, not of a butterfly or a flower, but of a skull and cross bones. Her clothes were skin-tight and typically black. Her makeup, of the popular heroin chic variety, went well with her personality, which was venomous.
Her project, the lobby of a new commercial building downtown looked sleek and modern, the floors had a floral on marble pattern. The couches, made of soft brown leather, sat next to a set of stylishly low-to-the-floor tables. The elaborate chandelier in the middle of the lobby stole the show, decorated with hundreds of emerald cut glass pieces that took the shape of a seahorse. Light green textured wallpaper decorated the walls along with sparse pieces of modern abstract artwork. A lovely lobby at first glance, but I could easily pick out a handful of things that were wrong or missing from the overall design. 
For instance, the lobby in Carla’s presentation had no theme, just a bunch of modern and expensive materials thrown together. Although the chandelier was lovely, what was the point? It had nothing to do with the location or the occupants. To make things worse, the elaborate flooring drew the eye down instead of up to the chandelier. We had spent plenty of time in the last four years of school going over focal points and environmental psychology. She must have been too busy re-applying her eyeliner to listen in.
Carla sauntered back to her seat flashing me a challenging smile. Out of habit, not spite, I smiled back at her and then instantly regretted it. Damn my small town manners! I thought. I wish I could have just very coolly stared back at her and perhaps raised one eyebrow as if to say . . . “Bite me, Corpse Bride”.
On my turn to present, I tried not to remind myself that all my hopes and dreams rested on this final project. The top student at the end of the program could be offered a position as an apprentice at Professor McNally’s infamous studio in the Art and Design district. I took a deep breath, and descended the stadium style stairs to the front of the class where I began quickly mounting my design boards onto the lip of the blackboard. With each board that went up, I could hear whispering from the students at my back. There were five boards in all and with the last one in place I looked down at my shoes in an effort to gain my composure. They were old and scuffed-up, but paying for tuition and materials for school didn’t leave a lot left over to invest in my wardrobe. My suit still looked great though, since I rarely wore it; a black slim fitting cotton and wool blend with a skinny faux alligator belt – talk about cruelty to fake animals – I had been stress eating for the last year and the belt was being seriously challenged by my waistline.
Deep breath, I told myself. The room fell silent as I turned around slowly to face my peers. Most of the girls in class seemed to favor the heroin chic look and resembled what my mother would call ‘death warmed over’. They were all uniformly leaning forward in their seats, some smirking and others looking confused. I turned back to look at the presentation boards and my heart sank. They were all upside down! My face flushed red and I instantaneously began to sweat from every pore in my body.
I quickly corrected the boards and once everyone stopped giggling, readdressed my audience. “As you can see, this is a design layout for a 4,500 ft beach house. It is located in Malibu, California and is an existing structure. The owners have asked that I update it to make it a space that they can entertain in all year round as well as invite guests to stay and live comfortably for weeks at a time. The owners and their group of friends are in the music industry and enjoy fine dining and elegant parties. They take their health very seriously." The words were flying from my mouth far too quickly as though somebody had pressed a fast forward button in my brain. “They have a full-time chef,” I continued. “I collaborated with the chef to come up with a very modern kitchen and incorporated his ideas into the open concept of the main floor living space. The kitchen also serves as a service pickup area for wait staff during parties.”
Every aspect of the house had been carefully thought out, right down to my not-yet-trademarked focal wall, consisting of three large sunflowers. In this instance I chose to place them above the fireplace which had a solid wood mantle that sat very low and wide. The flowers, so bold and elegant in serene sepia tones, managed to bring all the elements of the house together. 
Wrapping up my presentation, I looked up into the faces of my audience. Some of my classmates looked a bit frightened. Carla looked bored. In the front row, Professor McNally sat beaming. "I just want to end by saying that to be a good designer is to be a good listener and to give your clients what they desire. Thank you.” A few people clapped their hands unenthusiastically.
“I would like to speak to you after class.” Professor McNally said as we shook hands and traded places at the front of the room.
Originally from the Caribbean, Madge McNally lived in England most of her adult life before moving to Canada. In her early fifties, but not showing it, she always wore her hair down in big loose curls. Her wardrobe consisted mainly of leather shoes in an array of colors, designer jeans, and suit jackets. I found the professor’s chin to be permanently and confidently set in an upward position.
With my presentation finished, as though coming down from a sugar rush, I slumped in my chair suddenly exhausted. Some of the girls stopped to say how they liked my project, and others, like Carla, just snorted in disgust as she walked by.
I had only one real friend in class, Jade, a literally down to earth person, always talking “green” and natural materials. Jade had some truly fabulous ideas for the decorating and design industry that would also benefit the environment and would last almost forever. I vowed to work with her one day on absolutely anything that I could. I respected her brilliance and straight forward personality. It seemed that I missed her leaving the classroom, however, and didn’t get to say good-bye. Still waiting, I couldn’t decide whether Madge just wanted to have a chat and say good luck in your future endeavours, or if I was about to be rewarded for all my hard work over the last four years with the internship at her design firm! She could have no idea just how much the internship would mean to me. It had been my dream since about the age of fifteen after reading an article about the agency in a magazine and deciding I would work nowhere else but at Signature Designs one day.

“Ms. Sullivan. Are you lost inside your head again?” asked Professor McNally in a warm voice when she returned to the room. She had been in the hall saying goodbye to all of her students and wishing them well.
Snapping back to life, I smiled, “I’m here.”
“Good. Excellent presentation today, as usual my Dear,” the Professor said, setting the tone for our conversation.
“Thanks Madge.’’ I freely called her by her first name when there were no other students around.
“I thought I was going to die when I put the boards up that way.”
“You recovered well. Clients appreciate it when you don’t have a complete meltdown under pressure.”
 “Clients,” I sighed. “Don’t remind me that I have to go and live in the real world now that school’s over and find clients of my own to help pay off my tuition.”
“Well my Dear, that’s why I wanted to talk to you. You’ve done a fabulous job servicing the clients that I’ve had you borrow for your projects. Far better than anyone else in your class - in all my years teaching actually. I’d like you to come and work for me, Eve.”
“You’re giving me the apprenticeship?” A feeling of relief washed over me. I’d worked so hard and would be crushed to see it go to somebody else; although I had prepared myself to be a graceful loser of course, if that were the case.
“No. I’d like you to come and work for me and take over some clients of mine. I’m giving the apprenticeship to Carla.” It took a minute for her words to sink into my thick skull.
“You’re offering me a job?” I couldn't stop my voice from becoming high pitched with the idea of having a job right out of school. Then something else sunk in. “And you’re offering Carla the apprenticeship position? So what does that make me?” Besides miserable, I thought.
“You’ll be what you are. A designer,” she said.
“You’re kidding me? This is too much; you’re messing with me,” I accused.
“I can tell you for certain, that I am not messing with you. You are the best designer that has come through my class in years. You’re a very personable young lady and my clients love you. So where does that leave me? If I take you on as an apprentice, you will lose credibility with them, so I guess I have to hire you instead. So, do you want the job or do you want to be a free agent?”
Without hesitation I replied, “I want the job!” I could no longer contain my excitement and almost jumped into Madge’s lap hugging her neck.
Madge just laughed. “Now, as you know, it’s my partner that runs the studio full time. You have an appointment to meet with her in two weeks. Here.” She handed me a business card. “9:00 A.M. sharp at the studio. Enjoy your time off because it’s a fast paced business with deadlines and demanding clients. I suggest you pay a visit to your parents because you won’t be seeing them for a while.”
“I will Madge. Thank you.” My voice cracked as a lump formed in my throat.
“Don’t let me down, I’ve vouched for you with Miki and she’s seen your work. I need you to live up to your reputation. Now get out of here and go celebrate your graduation.” she said.
“Thank you again,” I said, “I won’t let you down.” I spun out of the classroom and out the front door of the school skipping three steps at a time down the stairs to the walkway. I stopped there to recap what had just transpired. First, I wasn’t even sure if I would be getting the apprenticeship or not, and then suddenly I had a full fledged job! Thinking of the apprenticeship and knowing it had gone to Carla felt like being handed a bouquet of roses and a slap in the face. That meant that we would be working in the same studio and Carla would be an apprentice to Miki, Madge’s business partner, and acting president of the company.
I turned around to take in the Design Academy one last time. The building had been designed by Jason Nichols, a local architect,
who with an enormous amount of glass and metal, bent and curved a beautiful structure which, to me, resembled a silhouette of Marilyn Monroe lying on her side. Being molded into an Interior Designer at that school had been the best experience of my life…so far.
“Are you OK?” asked Jade. I hadn’t noticed her standing in front of me. “Eve?”
I gave my head a nod. “Yeah, I’m alright.” I said. “Hey congratulations. We’re all done. You’re presentation was fabulous!” I really meant it. Jade’s final project, an eco-friendly spa in Kensington Market, was stylish and ultra-sophisticated. A part of the city where people sold second hand and redesigned clothes which also had a vegan restaurant on every corner.
“Thanks. Yours was too....once you turned it the right way,” she smiled kindly. Jade’s light brown skin sparkled under the sun. She had her dreadlocked hair tied back in a thick pony tail with a long strip of red fabric. I asked her once how she got her hair into dread locks. Apparently she just stopped washing it. After it started clumping up, she added bees wax to it and voila! Gross. No wonder they’re called “dread” locks, I had told her.

“So what are you up to now? Some of the girls are going to The Spot to celebrate.” The Spot, a trendy bar just down the street from the Academy, was where students from all walks of life drank and hooked up on a daily basis.
I declined politely, “I think I’m just going to go home, but thanks.” Jade didn’t seem surprised by my answer. Being a bit of an outcast hadn’t suddenly changed because school was finished.
“I just wanted to let you know,” Jade said. “The rumour is that you’ve been offered a job at Signare and Carla’s been given the apprenticeship.” News travels fast, I thought to myself. “Carla’s furious and the other girls are on her side. I guess it’s hard for them to believe that they suck as much as they do and that you deserve the job, which you do. I’m happy for you, but watch your back if you’re going to be working around Carla. She’s a snake. I’ve gotta run but keep in touch OK?” Jade turned and jogged back toward the school.
The whole exchange made me feel a little more positive that it was going to be hell working with Carla around. I had been really looking forward to never seeing her again once we graduated.
I stood looking at my precious school. The Institute of Design molded me into a serious young designer - and I no longer needed to be there. I looked around, the sun shone, a warm breeze blew across my face, I could hear it whisper change. I jumped on the streetcar at Spadina and headed for Chinatown and my favorite little fabric shop. It was no ordinary fabric shop, but my little piece of heaven in a foreign world which carried only the most beautiful array of silks in an endless rainbow of colours. The owner, a little Chinese woman perhaps in her 60s, didn’t speak English, and I certainly did not speak Chinese, but we both spoke the language of fabric and therefore got along superbly. I would often bring in a project piece and we would work on it together, coordinating patterns and textures and hues. Never needing more than just a sample, the owner, who I referred to as Mama Silk, rarely charged me more than a dollar for an armful of her exquisite fabrics. I found myself thinking that might be the only English, Mama Silk knew and that’s why she only ever charged “one dolla”. Mama Silk always delighted in showing me the new stock shipped in directly from her homeland. At the end of every visit she would always give my hand a soft squeeze and what could only be perceived as an affectionate smile over the counter.
Throughout school, my classmates were always baffled by the quality of my samples. Even Professor McNally couldn’t help but caress the fabrics herself, when I presented her with various projects at different stages for her assistance and advice. I never told a soul about Mama Silk’s shop. I knew that Mama Silk would play a very important role in my career one day. I promised that when I became a designer I would purchase fabric from no one else to repay her for her kindness.
“I’m going to be a famous designer, Mama Silk,” I told her one day. “And you are going to be my secret weapon. You’re going to have so much money you won’t know what to do with it. Maybe you can go back to China and visit the Great Wall, unless that’s only fun for tourists.”
“Yesss,” said Mama Silk in a small shaky voice as she looked up at me and smiled shyly, not understanding a word I had said. Her eyes, small and glossy, were surrounded by soft brown wrinkly skin and the craziest fly away eyebrows imaginable. Mama Silk always smelled faintly of lavender and thyme, which made me want to lie down and nap, but the beauty of the fabric in every direction always kept my eyes wide with enchantment.
I got off the streetcar, popped into the liquor store on the corner to get a cheap bottle of Champagne and then walked the few blocks on
College Street
towards Mama Silk’s shop. I passed by the Chinese markets with their wears spilling out onto the sidewalk and the little old shopkeepers tending to the fruits and vegetables. As always, I tried to avoid looking at the dead and featherless fowls hanging by their feet in the windows of the restaurants.
Inside the shop the air smelled sweet with incense and Mama Silk sat behind the counter watching her tiny little television. I rounded the counter following her welcoming wave and sat for a few minutes watching what appeared to be a Chinese soap opera. An absolutely beautiful young woman stood out on the little screen crying and beating the chest of what could only be described as a Chinese Bo Brady.
Mama silk pointed shyly at the girl on TV, “Grandotta”.
“That’s your granddaughter?”
“Wow. She’s stunning.” I said.
“Grandotta. Yesss.”
I presented the flowers to Mama Silk and announced to her the news of my graduation and new job. Pouring a glass of champagne for each of us and clinking them together I said, “Thank you Mama Silk, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Good Girl”. Her English was improving. Sipping our champagne, we gazed around the shop at the beautiful array of fabrics on horizontal racks reaching to the ceiling. Bursting with fabric, the store had bolts of fabric leaning into corners with nowhere else to go. The typical retail style for a fabric store consists of little tables full of knick knacks, ‘Buy Me’ items, pieces of furniture, and artwork for sale on the walls. With, so many items crammed in, the fabric is usually lost in the background. Those shops are lovely and fun to peruse, but Mama Silk’s shop catered only to fabric-aholics like me. No distractions, just fabric in the front and more fabric in the back. It brought a peace to my soul that nothing else could provide.
I left Mama Silk’s a little while later. I had to take the subway to get back home. I watched the passengers rhythmically weave in and out of the doors at each station as though performing a well rehearsed do-si-do with a hundred different partners. The soft dinging of the doors provided the tempo. I couldn’t bear to read the advertising above the windows for the millionth time, so sitting in the uncomfortable orange plastic seat I idly took stock of the last few years of my life. I thought about coming to the city four years earlier with my father to find an apartment. He was by then retired and determined to make sure that I lived in a safe area if I insisted on moving so far away from home. This meant paying a little more in rent than I hoped to budget for, but my father would have it no other way. Kelly, my closest friend, insisted on moving with me, which made the notion of the daunting city a little less frightening. She planned to pursue her modelling career, forgoing college. I would have advised against it if she weren’t so beautiful with her long blond hair and captivating blue eyes. The splash of freckles across her nose only added to her beauty.
Before leaving home, I had spent exactly a thousand dollars on an apartment suite of furniture, consisting of a brown vinyl love seat and couch, two end tables and a coffee table veneered in what looked like 70’s wall panelling trimmed with gold coloured plastic. I added two shaded lamps and a plain brown bed frame with a dresser. Not sexy furniture, but practical and better than nothing at all. Kelly and I settled in to our apartment, ate a lot of takeout food and then took the bus home for our first visit after just one month of being on our own.
Ben, who I'd known my whole life, met up with us at Ziggy’s, the local bar. “Ladies!” he proclaimed pulling us both into an enthusiastic bear hug, jiggling us around like a couple of rag dolls. “Well, I’ve had it. I thought I could just hang out here and be miserable for the rest of my life, but it’s really, really boring. Any room at your place?”
Of course we didn’t really have room for him, but Ben soon became a permanent fixture in what we called the soup chair in the corner of our living room nevertheless. The soup chair, shaped like a bowl topped with a big round tufted beige cushion, belonged to Kelly, but Ben claimed it for himself and refused to let anyone else sit in it. He would sometimes even sleep in the soup chair to make sure that nobody would steal it from him the next day. We all had become quite fond of our little apartment even though we had done nothing really to improve on it since we moved in. Our collective home away from home where we all came and went as we pleased.
Having Ben and Kelly with me gave me the courage to make it through school and survive the solitude I often faced there. I found not quite fitting in with the other girls to be somewhat difficult, but I knew my two best friends would be there for me when I got home. They loyally listened to my complaints about Carla over a glass of wine or dragged me out to a club to cheer me up almost weekly.  They insisted that I attempt to enjoy my youth instead of fretting it away, project after project.
During my last year at the Institute of Design, however, our lives were beginning to change. Each of us seemed to become a little more caught up in our own worlds, trying out life without each other as proverbial crutches. Kelly seemed to be the best at it. She had made so many friends that she would go out clubbing with. And when she wasn’t out clubbing and being hit on she was usually on a date with somebody she met while out clubbing and being hit on. Meanwhile, Ben and I often still found ourselves just hanging around the apartment with not much to do or say.
I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen next as I ascended from the fluorescent underground of the subway and headed the rest of the way home on foot. I arrived back at my apartment just as the sun began to set over the tall buildings, casting rays of orange light across the city sky. I couldn’t wait to tell Ben and Kelly about my incredible day. I found Ben stretched out on the couch with his eyes lazily fixed on the television. A long black cord connected the Play Station to the remote control in his hand.
“Hey Ben,” I said, swooping up his legs and plopping down on the couch beneath them. “Where’s Kelly?”
He grunted and shrugged his broad shoulders. I casually looked him over. If he had accomplished nothing else since high school, Ben had matured physically into a man, although I usually tried not to notice his tall, lean body.
As Ben continued to play his game I looked around the living room. What an embarrassment. A design graduate, and thanks to the landlord failing to paint before we moved in, we were stuck living in a pastel paradise. Pastel that clashed with my cheap, tacky, furniture. Each room was a different shade; some with obnoxious wallpaper borders. The living room, for instance, boasted a boarder with a chain of elephants walking in a continuous line holding on to the tail in front of them with their trunks. The sun’s orange rays began to flow in through the picture window and descend upon the walls, reminding me of an African Safari.
My not so keen senses eventually noticed that Ben had the stereo going. Through the speakers came the slow droning of a woman who clearly had childhood issues. Singing, “. . . I hate the smell of cotton candy on Sunday afternoon and I hate the clown with the yellow balloons . . .”
“What are you listening to?” I asked skeptically.
“Pale,” he said in tone that suggested that I should have already known.
“It’s terrible.” I teased.
“The singer's a hottie.”
“She sounds unstable.”
“The beautiful ones always are.” Ben said and I couldn’t argue that fact.
“Speaking of hotties….a certain hottie graduated today. Thanks for giving a crap,” I said as I pinched Ben’s leg.
Ben paused the game, tossed the remote on the table and sat up to face me. His expression softened and after a moment he said, “Eve. I’m sorry. I forgot that today was the day. Congratulations.” He huffed me on the shoulder leaving a pulsing stinging sensation behind.
“We’ll celebrate this weekend okay?”
“Make that next weekend. I’m going to go home for a few days. Madge told me to take a break before I start my new job.” I still couldn’t believe my luck.
“You just graduated today and you already have a job?” His dumbfounded reaction elated me.
“Of course I do. I’m that good Ben. I’ve been telling you for years.” I smiled wide. “Madge offered me a job at her studio. Isn’t that cool?”
“That’s awesome – you can buy the drinks then.”
“Very funny.” I said. We sat in silence for a few moments staring at the frozen race car on the Television screen. “Well, I’m off to bed,” I told him. “Good Night.”
“Yeah. . ., G‘night.” Ben jumped off the couch and into the soup chair picking up the video game remote off the table.
“Good night Benji,” I said to tease him with the name he hated.
“Good night Evelyn,” he replied without missing a beat. He knew I detested that name, insisting my whole life that everyone call me Eve. Evelyn being much too mature of a name for a girl like me. I went to bed that night with the events of the day dancing around in my mind. My presentation, Madge’s job offer, the unfortunate Carla situation. When I shifted my thoughts to the idea of spending a few days at home, the comfort in that soothed me to sleep.
Thirty something hours and a stale smelling and uncomfortable bus ride later, I found myself sitting across the kitchen table from my mother; both of us in our PJs and slippers, playing a game of Five Hundred Rummy. We were sipping tea and focusing on our cards as though there were money at stake. It had become a ritual that on every visit, we would get up before my father and start playing. We kept score of all our games in a little black book that my mother kept on top of the refrigerator. The skills and technique for Five Hundred Rummy were not bestowed upon me graciously. Playing against my mother since about the age of ten, I never once had a game ‘given’ to me out of kindness. Instead I repeatedly had my butt kicked until I learned how to play skillfully by watching both my opponent and the cards very closely. With patience, cunning and some cursing, we played our cards together in the early hours of morning.
As I laid my final run on the table, discarding my last card, I looked up at my mother’s face and smiled slyly, “The student beats the teacher.”
“Oh, shut up,” my mother sniped.
We smiled at each other and sat back in our chairs, teas in hand; it was like looking in a two way mirror that magically aged me 25 years and gave my mother 25 years of youth. Both of us pale with dark brown hair, blue eyes and pouty lips.
“So Miss Muffet, what now?” My mother asked.
“Let’s make breakfast.” I suggested, suddenly famished after the intense game.
A feast of blueberry pancakes and fruit salad sat waiting on the table when my father finally came downstairs.
“Good Morning Darlings.” He said, giving me a kiss on the cheek and my mother a little tap on the behind. After 30 years, they still did things like that. Mom swatted him away with a smile and we all sat down to breakfast.
“I like what you’ve done with the kitchen,” I offered to my mother. “Were you bored or just tired of looking at the yellow?”
“A bit of both. Do you really like it?” Mom asked. She had painted all of the cupboards white, the hardware black, and pasted oval shaped pieces of black and white floral wallpaper on each cupboard door. Besides looking painfully DYI, the concept and colours weren’t bad. Painting the cupboards is what I would have recommended, had she asked.

Not like I had just graduated as an Interior Designer or anything.
“Looks great, Mom.” I said.
The rest of my visit home consisted of fantastic meals like salt beef stew, hot roast beef sandwiches, and poutine made with leftover gravy. Most of my home cooked comfort food favorites were what you might call coronaries waiting to happen, but nothing else in the world could compare. Not even the food in some of the nicer restaurants that I had been to in the city on dates (which were few and far between).
For three days, I played cards with my mother in the morning and watched Spaghetti Westerns with my father at night. But I wasn’t a little girl anymore and once again had to leave the shelter of their loving home and arms to head back to the city.
Hugging my parents at the Greyhound station and tucking the forty dollars, that my father pushed into my hand, into the back pocket of my jeans, I boarded the coach. Waving goodbye, I couldn’t help but wish I were a little girl again. Wish that we could take trips to the beach and have picnics in the park and go to the drive-in together as a family. As the bus lurched forward and my parents disappeared slowly out of sight, I sat back in my seat and looked out the window at the trees along the side of the road. The trees turned into pillars, then interior walls, then windows draped in gorgeous sensual silks as I began to dream about the design studio where my new life awaited me and I had the sneaking suspicion that it was going to be fabulous!
Chapter 2
The Gym

I found Signare Designs just a few blocks away from the subway stop at the corner of Queen and Lansdowne. It was a tall brick building with the number 1925 engraved and bordered in concrete above the massive double entry doors. I nervously entered the lobby for my first day of work. The air was warm and dry inside. The wood floors were old and worn, stripped and varnished; with every few steps I could hear a creak under my foot. How marvellous, I thought. All of the interior pipes and heating ducts were exposed and painted a neutral beige. The receptionist in the lobby pointed me to the elevators and I cringed. I hated elevators, heights, and flying. Humans were meant to be on the ground, in my opinion.
I took deep soothing breaths while riding in the metal deathtrap to the 20th floor. I would have taken the stairs but the thought of reaching the top dripping in sweat appealed to me even less than being entombed in the elevator given the circumstances. When I stepped out on the 20th floor, Signare's receptionist, a perky blond with very fashionable glasses, directed me to Miki’s office. Sizing up the studio as I walked, I noted that it had a lot of windows and white furnishings and lovely bright floral paintings on canvas lining the walls.
I waited outside Miki’s office with her assistant who completely ignored me while she freely chatted on the phone with one of her friends about a new movie coming out that weekend. The movie, Probable Cause, starred Timothy Reynolds, probably the sexiest actor ever to live. Miki’s assistant finally plopped the receiver onto her shoulder and glared in my direction, “You can go in now,” she said.
I stood and straightened my skirt that somehow got twisted half way around my waste between home and Signare. I was wearing my one and only suit again, but donning the new shoes my Mother bought me on my visit home. They were high heels with pointy toes in a black faux leather alligator design to match my belt. They were sexy and sophisticated shoes. I felt confident walking into Miki’s office wearing my very grown up shoes, especially since I had spent the previous day practicing how to walk in them with Kelly.
I marched confidently through the office door. Multiple shades of purple with just the right proportion of white accents were scattered about the office. Pretty colours in a little girl’s room, but used in the sophisticated manner as in Miki’s office, a contemporary, sleek, and professional office.
I took a seat in the white Queen Ann chair across from her and my short lived confidence immediately vanished. I felt like a fourth grader looking up at a teacher that, judging by the scowl on her face, did not like children.
Miki’s make-up matched her office. Her deep rich purple eye shadow with just a hint of shimmer hummed against her dark skin. Her full lips were glossed and glistening and she wore a ridiculous amount of gold bangles on her wrists that clinked together every time she waved her arm about the room during our conversation.
“Eve, you have been handed a free ticket into my world.” Her deep voice, and the way she spoke quickly and flatly came across as austere. Like somebody’s mean, crusty, old grandmother or a schoolmarm. She pronounced every word as though she had herself invented and perfected the English language. “Count yourself lucky. I did not want to hire you. Madge insisted - and here we are. I think it is utterly ridiculous. But Madge has been very persistent that we take you on as a designer straight away. It states in your contract that if after six months your work is unsatisfactory to the Studio, you’re out. Right now you are in. Six months, possibly out. It is up to you. There is no more Madge. Only Miki. My world, my rules. You follow?”
Not sure if it was a statement or a question, I just sat there smiling like an idiot, not knowing what to do or how to react to this person who clearly hated me and as of that moment, was my new boss.
“You follow?” She barked.
I jumped in my seat. “Yes, absolutely Ms. Mana. I look forward to working with you and for Signare's clients.”
“For me. For my clients.” She corrected. “Everyone calls me Miki, you might as well too.”
“Yes, of course, thank you.” Quivering slightly, I thought that Lucifer might be a more suitable name for her.
Miki reached out a clanging, bangled arm and pressed the intercom on her white phone.
“Yes Miki,” the voice on the other end said and not a moment later the door opened and in walked a tall and slender young woman with what could not possibly be her natural breasts. She had shiny strawberry blond hair curled into ringlets framing her perfectly freckled face. Is this a design studio or a modelling agency? I thought to myself.
“This is Brandy.” Miki said gesturing to the model/fake boob girl. “She will show you around. You have one day to get organized. You will meet with me every Monday at 10:00 a.m. in my office to go over your work. You will be under my supervision for the next six months and then we shall see what happens after that.”
I stood up and followed after Brandy who had already left the room and was almost out of sight. As I turned the corner on the other side of Miki’s assistant’s desk I flashed her a quick “this is crazy” smile as I proceeded to do a sort of skip-walk to catch up to Brandy and her gazelle legs. I saw a few women watching me through the clear glass hallway walls; one made a remark and the other giggled wickedly. They too were beautiful, if only externally.
Brandy pointed at things, naming them as we quickly passed them by.
“Photocopier room,” she said, pointing left with one long bright pink fingernail.
“Kitchen,” this time to the right. “Washroom. Stairs to the gym. ”
As Brandy pointed out the gym stairway, a few other women standing nearby giggled and then turned away quickly pretending to be busy. I felt as though they were blatantly laughing at me. Where they hinting at my weight, suggesting that I should make use of the gym - and find it funny that I should need to have it pointed out to me? How rude. Then conceding, I quickly started thinking about all that I had eaten that morning in my nervous, first day of work state. A chocolate Danish with my tea from the corner coffee shop, then a chocolate muffin from the subway station shop. I had also grabbed a bag of chips and a pop and devoured them on the train. So, OK, maybe the gym should be pointed out to me. Fine.
“Boardroom…. Your assistant’s desk and your office.” Brandy slowed down and stopped in front of an open door. We stood there together for about two seconds before Brandy became impatient with me.
“Go on.” She said, shoving me toward the doorway. “I have work to do. My job is not escorting people around.”
I looked up at her freckled face and into her glowering brown eyes before I slowly stepped into the room that she had pointed out just before uttering those unbelievable words ‘Your Office’. It appeared to be the size of my apartment. It had to be a mistake. A large desk and a drafting board sat near the centre of the room and no other furniture.
“Are you sure I’m supposed to have an office?” I turned for Brandy’s reply, but she had disappeared.
I turned back again and peered through the door. “No way. This isn’t possible.” I mumbled to myself, stunned, as I slowly pushed my feet across the room toward the large windows that seemed to take up the entire exterior wall. I made it about halfway across the room and my feet would go no further. I knew that people would kill just to have a huge office with windows overlooking the city, but the height immediately made me feel dizzy and nauseous. I jumped backward grabbing onto the large desk on the east side of the room. I made my way around it holding on for dear life until I could sit in the chair behind it with my head in my hands taking deep calming breaths. Once I recovered, I found that my head continued spinning, not from the height, but from my meeting with Miki. Why did Madge set me up with this huge office, and did she say assistant? At that moment I noticed a large envelope under my left elbow with my name on it in Madge’s handwriting. I tore into the envelope and found a hand written note and what looked to be the contract that Miki had referred to in our meeting.
Dear Eve,
I hope you like the office. Decorate it however you wish. Use the studio resources and there is no budget; charge it all to me.  I’m so excited to have you aboard. Life is much different in a studio than in a classroom as you’ll learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get the lay of the land. James knows everyone and everything and will be a valuable resource to you. Always treat your assistant well and he will treat you well in return. That is the way it works. Incidentally, I thought you would like the desk; it is a gift from me to you. Good luck to you Eve, and don’t forget that no matter what is going on at the studio, the client is your first priority. They must always know that you are on top of things, in charge of things, on track, and on budget.
I will come to visit you as soon as my schedule allows.
Decorate as I please? No Budget? An assistant? A male assistant? With no idea of what my salary was to be and the other stipulations, like the six month probation period Miki mentioned, I redirected my attention to the contract on my desk. If I knew anything in life, I knew that you are supposed to read it before you sign anything. Not that I had ever had anything important to sign before then. It was all there in writing: the office, the assistant, my salary of $45,000. I didn’t even have my graduating papers yet and I had a salary.
Staring out the window from a safe distance, I thought about how Ben and Kelly would react to all of this amazing news. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell them all about it. I couldn’t stop my feet from tapping on the floor with excitement.
I looked up and there stood an attractive man at my door who looked to be about my age.
“You look as though you’ve been slapped in the face by a nun,” he said taking in the expression on my face.
He stepped inside the office, walked over to the window and looked down at the city below. Watching him approach the window, my stomach did tiny a flip.
“You made your way past the hyenas then, did you?” He had a British accent. I’m a sucker for a British accent. It made me want to use words like ‘lovely’, and take up smoking. This particular Brit had on a very nice fitting and expensive looking suit, minus the jacket. His black tie looked sharp against his form fitting mauve shirt. No man from Buford would be caught dead in any shade of purple. Only one word came to mind as I took him in: confident.
“James,” he said turning to face me. His flawless light brown skin seemed to glow.
“James?” My voice sounded small and scared like a kitten stuck behind a sofa.
“I’m your assistant, Lovely.”
I gave my head a little shake and sat up straight. “ I should tell you right away that I’ve never had an assistant before.”
“Oh, I know that.” James replied. “In fact, I know all about you, Eve Sullivan.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” I said.
“You look a little pale,” James noted. “Are you alright?”
My words escaped me, “I’m just really blown away by all of this; you know what I mean, uh, James?”
“Blown away by what? The fact that you have never worked in the real world before, the fact that everyone here hates you, or the fact that you stick out like a sore thumb?”
“Pretty much all of that, yeah.” Right on the money. Decidedly in way over my head, I slumped down again in my chair.
“Well relax. James is here to save you from the mean women of Signare. Aunt Madge told me to take good care of you, and I shall be your knight in shining Armani.”
I hadn’t yet had the guts to move out from behind my desk. James was still standing by the windows and I didn’t want to be reminded of how high up we were.
“Madge is your aunt?” I asked.
“That’s what I said. Come on Eve, she said you were brighter than this,” he teased. “I’ve been working here since high school and I know the place inside and out, which goes for most of the ladies here too, for that matter.” This last fact was stated with a cock of his head and devilish little grin. I got the point.
James, suddenly at my side, pulled me by the hand onto my feet. “Come on, we’re going shopping for your office this afternoon. I’ll show you to the supply room. Gather what you need to create your design and make a shopping list.” 
Now we were talking
! I thought as I allowed him to lead the way.
We collected the materials without incident and I turned back toward my office as James slinked away following one of the mean giggling girls from earlier, down the hall.
“Ginger, you look stunning today. Tell me,” he cooed, “Do your undergarments match your outer garments? As a decorator in training I think they should and I believe it’s time for an inspection.”
I rolled my eyes and went back to my office and got comfortable in front of the drafting board.  But only after I moved it to a solid and safe wall not made of glass and not reminding me of the I was up on the 20th floor in a very old building. The first thing I sketched were heavy drapes to cover that nightmarish void in the wall. I included a valance and chose to position the desk with my back to the windows. This way I faced the door from where I would welcome guests to come in and sit down. I placed a large area rug under my desk. To the left of the desk, I designed a drafting area and to the right, I designed a meeting area with a round table and chairs. I chose to purchase matching book shelves for the two walls opposite each other, as well as a plant for each of the corners near the windows. I added task lighting and put down my pencil and looked over my drawing of a perfectly symmetrically balanced and functional office. I chose to decorate the room in tones of beige, soft rusty oranges and browns. The final touch would be to purchase two pieces of artwork for either side of the door. I am good. I am really good, I thought.
Looking at the clock, I realized that only an hour had gone by. James said he would be back at 12:00 to take me to lunch and to Designer’s Block to shop for my office furnishings.
My watch said 11:00, so I decided to go check out the gym that Brandy had pointed out to me earlier. I crept down the hall, trying to avoid the hyenas, as James had called them. Difficult since the walls were mostly made of a decorative glass connected by large white columns. A very smart looking design. I opened the white metal door and quickly ran up the stairs taking two at a time. I hadn’t yet graduated to walking up stairs like an adult. I swung open the door at the top of the stairs simultaneously tripping on the metal ledge on the door frame, tumbled forward about five feet and then froze. How did I get outside? Trying to make sense of the new situation I realized that I was on the roof! Very, very high above the ground. How did this happen? My feet were glued to the concrete - paralyzed.
Surrounded by concrete and air, I twisted my body to look back at the door to see that it had already closed on its own. If the door had still been open, I might have been able to make a run for it. Slowly I turned back around, closed my eyes and began breathing in through my nose and exhaling through my mouth the way that Kelly had taught me in what she called the ‘relaxation technique’. I could make out car horns and general traffic noises from the street below as I stood perfectly still.
After a few minutes I began thinking about how I had ended up on the roof in the first place. Brandy, I scowled. She so elegantly pointed a finger at the stairway to the roof and told me it lead to the gym. What kind of sick and evil individuals are these? I vowed to get her back one day. Meanwhile, the longer I stayed fixed in one spot, the farther and farther away the door seemed to become. Slowly getting fried by the sun in the midday sky and hoping not to collapse from heat exhaustion and subsequently die of starvation; my body started to feel very heavy.
To get my mind off of my impending doom, I glanced around and beyond my rooftop grave. My eye fixed on movement in the building across the street and I was suddenly and unwittingly a witness to a pretty steamy office affair. One in which the woman didn’t seem to mind having her bare bottom squished up against the window with her skirt pulled up over her hips. I guessed that she also didn’t care how wrinkled her skirt would be when they were through.
Despite my modest nature, I watched the couple kiss and canoodle. I felt a pang of loneliness creep up from somewhere in my stomach to the exact centre of my chest. I hadn’t been kissed in ages – the few dates I had been on where disasters. Although there were a couple of times when I let myself be kissed by a total jerk that I wasn’t at all interested in just to make sure that I wouldn’t forget how to actually kiss when Mr. Right finally comes along.
The wafting aroma of the hot dogs and sausages from the street vendors below along with the growling from my midsection told me that lunch time was near and that meant that I had been there for at least an hour. Suddenly, the door behind me flung open, and I heard a familiar voice.
“What in bloody hell are you doing standing in the middle of the roof, Eve?” It was James!
“It’s twelve bloody thirty. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“Oh, hi James.” I squeaked. “Just checking out the gym. It doesn’t seem to have a lot of equipment.”
“Who showed you around this morning?” he asked.
“Figures. She’s a vixen,” he laughed.
”No James! This isn’t funny! I’m about to faint from sun stroke and I can’t move because I’m terrified of heights!”
“Maybe not funny to you, then.” He corrected as he walked casually over to me, obviously not as bothered by the lack of walls as I was.
“Hoo-ha, would you look at those two!” James growled like a tiger and made a clawing motion with his hand toward the couple across the street. “Been there, done that,” he said, hiking his pants up a bit around his crotch.
“James. Hello? Problem at hand please.”
“Right. OK, so come downstairs and we’ll go to lunch.”
“OK, sure. I’ll just turn around and walk downstairs, no problem. If I could do that James, do you think I would still be standing here on the roof?”
“Just take my hand then, Eve, and we’ll go together.”
“I can’t. I just can’t.” I finally had enough and the tears started rolling down my cheeks. A look of surprise came over James’ face when he saw the tears. He ran back to the door and then, to my disbelief, through it, and out of sight.
“There is no way that just happened.” I said out loud to myself. I began to take deep breaths again trying to fight back my tears. I noticed the couple across the street were gone as well.
About 10 minutes later James reappeared. He had something behind his back.
“You must be hungry, Eve. Would you like a croissant?” He waved it under my nose. “A chocolate croissant?”
He snatched it away from me before I could get my hands on it. Is everyone here evil? He walked casually over to the door and leaned into the frame holding the door open with his shoulder and elbow. Then he raised the croissant to his lips. My stomach growled so loudly that I felt like it was going to leap out of my body. I closed my eyes.
When I opened my eyes again I was inside the stairwell with the croissant jammed halfway down my throat. James looked a little disgusted at the sight, but then smiled, very pleased with himself.
“James to the rescue,” he said as I leaped forward and gave him a big hug. I noticed that I left a chocolate imprint on his shirt when I let him go and leaned back against the wall behind me, completely spent.
“Eve. You are a disaster. You smell. You have chocolate all over your face and sunburn on your forehead. You need to go home. We’ll shop for your office tomorrow. I saw your design incidentally. It’s great. That natural talent is the reason why Madge wanted you here.”
I wiped my face with the napkin he provided and allowed him to sneak me out of the building down the back stairs and through the alley to the street. We walked to the street car in silence. James to the rescue indeed. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be for the last time.
When I finally arrived home, Ben, in the soup chair with the PS3 controller in his hands, looked like he hadn’t shaved for a few days. He barely notice me as I ran a bath and went to the kitchen and poured myself a tall glass of Kahlua with two ice cubes. Like an adult version of chocolate milk that usually warmed my belly, and if I drank enough, made my whole body numb. Plunking into the tub, I let the days events wash over me and tried to focus on the positive things like the fact that I now had a salary. If only I could survive working with Brandy and Miki. The bathroom was bright yellow and had a border boasting penguins wearing Hawaiian shirts. I sighed therapeutically and dunked my head under the water.
Once out of the bath, I put my PJs on and went to sit with Ben in the living room.
“Is this what you’ve been doing all day? Have you eaten anything?” I waved a hand in front of his face.
Ben turned off the game and swivelled around in his chair to face me. “No. This is not what I have been doing all day. I took a walk to get pizza and then I came back here. There’s some left.” He said gesturing to the pizza box on the table. I chose not to share the roof story with Ben and helped myself to a slice of pizza.
“Ben, you can’t just hang out here all day. You’re going to run out of money eventually. You’re going to have to get a job.”
“Well, Eve, nobody is going to pay me to colour inside the lines all day.”
“No Ben, they won’t, because you still can’t colour inside the lines.” We exchanged pretend dirty looks at each other and smiled. Ben had become like a brother to me over the years. I liked having him loitering in my living room, he reminded me of home.
“Why don’t you get a job as a waiter or a bartender? Or see if Kelly can get you a job at the Soho?” I said. The Soho was upscale bar in Yorkville where she worked between modelling jobs.
“They only hire models at the Soho. But I kind of like the idea of being a bartender. Chicks love bar tenders”
“Well, actually, I think you need a bar tending license to be a bartender,” I said. “But I’m sure we could find a school nearby that offers a course.” It baffled me that Ben had not gone to college or university after high school. Although very smart with great marks, he just didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do with his life. The clock was ticking. I didn’t want to watch him waste his life away playing video games.

“You’re so optimistic Eve. But why would I want to work for anybody? What’s the point? Why should somebody pay me to do something for them that they don’t even give a shit about? All anybody cares about is the money that comes in. So if I work my ass off for some guy doing something neither of us have a vested interest in, how is that a life? It is all so messed up you know?” Ben always confused me with this argument but I guess I could see his point.
“Ben, we work to be a productive part of society. That’s all I can tell you and I know it sounds like Brave New World, but it’s sort of true. You need money to live comfortably and the only way to get money is to work for it.”
“Why do I need money when I can just freeload here for the rest of my life?”
“Good night Ben.” I reached out and ruffled his hair as I walked past him to my room. “I’ve had a long day.”
“But it’s only 6:00pm,” Ben said as I closed the door to my room and let myself fall onto my bed face first. I made my way under the blankets and fell into a Kahlua induced slumber.
I got off the streetcar the next morning at Starbucks were James and I agreed to meet.
“I’m going to show you a whole new world today Eve. Are you ready?” He extended his arm which had a mocha latte at the end of it. I accepted the warm paper cup and took a grateful sip. I hadn’t been paid yet and gave my last five dollars to Ben that morning to go print off his resume at CopyCopy and start looking for a job. We spent the entire day on Designer’s Block, an entire city block of flooring, fabric, paint, tile, lighting, draperies, and furniture stores. There was also a resource building with model suites so detailed that they even had fresh flowers and fruit throughout. There were companies like Kravet, Brunschwig & Fils, Primavera, Tessuti, and Weavers Art, catering to designers only. The public aren’t even allowed in unless they are with a designer.
We walked in and out of almost all of the boutiques selecting items for my office. James just signed for them and wrote down the delivery instructions. It was the best time I’d had in a long time. James lead me around, giving me the low-down on some of the people who worked in the stores.
Out of the side of his mouth as we approached the lighting area in Kravet, James said quietly, “He’s only pretending to be gay because women love gay Decorators.” My mouth dropped. “You’ll find that a lot.” He said matter-of-factly.
We purchased everything I needed at the Designers Block except for drapes. After thanking James and saying good-bye, I headed to China Town. The heat brought out a peculiar and unpleasant smell that permeated the streets there. I jumped inside the shop and put my back to the door catching my breath. The aroma in my nostrils went from garbage infused to Jasmine infused inside the shop. Behind the counter stood a breathtaking young lady. It took me a moment before I recognized her from the Chinese Soap Opera. As I approached the counter she only got prettier.
“Hello. You must be Mama Silk’s Granddaughter.”
“Who is Mama Silk?” she replied in perfect English, cocking her head and frowning slightly.
“I’m sorry, I meant the store owner. Are you her granddaughter?”
“Yes. I’m watching the shop for her because she is ill. I think I know who you are,” continued the beauty with her greens eyes sparkling, “You are the student.”
“Yes. Well, no, not anymore. I’ve graduated and that’s why I’m here. I wanted to have some drapes made for my office.” Then I asked “Will your grandmother be back?”
“She will be back in when she feels better. I’m sorry I can’t help you though, I really know nothing about fabric.”
”It’s OK, I’ll get the order together myself, if you can please call the seamstress?” Granddaughter looked at me blankly and so I leaned over the counter and pointed out the number pinned on the wall. They needed to come in and pick up the fabric and order instructions and then deliver the drapes to my office when they were finished. Picking out the fabric and putting the order together wasn’t as much fun as it would have been with Mama Silk. I had Granddaughter tagging along asking questions that made me suspect she may have been adopted. “What’s that fabric called? How do you know how much you need? Why do you need so much?” she asked.
“I have a lot of windows to cover.” I explained. “So are you just covering for your Grandmother while she’s not well or are you here to stay?”
Her chin dropped and when she looked back up at me she had tears in her eyes. I waited patiently for here to decide what she wanted to say.
“I’m pregnant and I got fired from the show because they said I’m not good enough of an actress to write in the pregnancy of my character. How can I not act like I’m pregnant when I’m actually pregnant? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“Well I’m sorry to hear that, I’m sure they’ll have you work on the show again after you have the baby,” I offered.

“The producer got me pregnant and then he fired me!”
What could I say to something like that? “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Well Tina, that really sucks. But you’re young and beautiful and you’ll be just fine. I’ll decorate your baby’s room for you when the baby comes. It’ll be great.” I spoke softly as she seemed so delicate. Looking at her tiny frame I couldn’t imagine her getting fat with child, but surely she would still be beautiful.
“Thank you. My Grand Mama is so angry with me. I wish you could explain to her the way things are today. She’s making me work because I moved in with her after I got fired. I had nowhere else to go."
“She’ll come around, those who love you always do.” Oh so very wise in my young age, it just seemed like the right thing to say.

The loveliness of the fabric I chose for my drapes almost brought tears to my eyes. A cream and burnt orange damask, with a matching cream valance to complete my design. I paid Granddaughter full price for everything on the credit card that James gave me to use for the purchase and headed home. I knew Kelly wouldn’t be home since she left for a modelling shoot in British Columbia the day before. It seemed like we spend less and less time together since her modelling career had been weighing increasingly on her schedule as of late. She had even been recognized on the street a few times for some of her commercial work. Her head nearly exploded although she tried to stay modest about it.
Kelly got discovered at the mall in Carmon, the city that Buford resided on the outskirts of. We were there picking out clothes for back to school when a man and a woman approached us very interested in speaking with Kelly and her parents. They gave us some brochures and business cards but didn’t hang around us long enough to be too creepy. Kelly didn’t seem surprised, she always had people asking her if she if she was a model. Of course the agency people politely ignored the ever so slightly overweight brunette with the braces hanging out with Kelly that day.
Ben was nowhere to be found either. Kelly called on the phone as I sat down to a gourmet meal of popcorn with white cheese sprinkles.
“It’s warm outside but there’s snow everywhere, it so weird,” she said. “They had me up on a mountain pretending to snow board, I was boiling in that snow suit they had me in, I would have been more comfortable in a bikini.”
“More so than I,” I said throwing a piece of popcorn into the air and catching it in my mouth.
“Last night at the chalet we all got drunk played around naked in the outdoor hot tub. You should see the guys here. They are so cute and so much fun.”
Another typical photo shoot story from Kelly. She did however go on to say the view of the mountain was breathtaking and she had time to sit by herself in the snow and feel the energy of each and every snowflake around her. I could never be jealous of my beautiful fun loving friend because she is loving and spiritual as well; unconventionally spiritual. I think she came off as beautiful/crazy to most, but she meant what she said and she believed in it. Good enough for me.
I spent the rest of the week trying to get a handle on my new surroundings. Signare Designs had a gorgeous contemporary office taking up two floors of the building on Lansdowne. The 19th floor is where the seamstress worked on their state of the art machines that hummed in unison. I spent some time there observing the workshop and the workmanship. The head seamstress, Stephanie’s office was in the back corner next to the fabric storage and the display area which you could see they tried to keep separate from the sewing room. Fabric, fabric everywhere. Draperies, pillows and bedding orders were being created, inspected and wrapped up in plastic  for delivery. They seemed to be efficient and productive, I couldn’t wait to get an order into them. I should have used them instead of Mama Silk’s sewing contact that didn’t even speak English. I just prayed that they would deliver my drapes by Friday as I had requested.
The 20th floor had an open concept with about ten work stations, a large meeting room, a kitchen, a copier room, a door to the roof (not to the gym), and four offices. One for Miki, Madge, the bookkeeper who never came out of his office, and for some reason that I still couldn't understand, an office for me. It also had a community resource room with a good supply of fabric books, paint fans, wood chips, and drafting materials. The front of the building where the work stations were had floor to ceiling windows, which were vomit provoking to me, but allowed for tons of natural light for the others.
The resident designers ranged from juniors to seniors. Brandi held the title of a junior, as did the two other gigglers, Sara and Ginger. Carla was the apprentice of course, which apparently meant getting everyone coffee and being extra special snobby to me. She was a natural. Two senior designers

were rarely in the office, a woman named Jaz and a man named Fritz. They were very sought after by the company’s largest clients. Both were old friends of Madge according to James.
The 16th floor of the building housed a furniture restoration and upholstering company that Signare Designs often employed on behalf of their clients.
The furnishings for my office would not be delivered until Friday. James had already shown me around the building and set up my laptop with AutoCAD and most importantly the Internet. We spent half the day Thursday Googling celebrities and power couples like Kim and Timothy Reynolds who the gossip columnists liked to call Kimothy. It turned out that we liked a lot of the same celebrities like John Ryan the young action star and Salma Day, a bombshell Latina actress. I would have resented her for her beauty but she did a lot of comedies. A beautiful woman who wasn’t afraid to look goofy seemed alright in my books. James almost had a fit when I told him that Kelly had met Salma once while working at the Soho. James, of course, expressed an interest in visiting Kelly at work someday very soon.
By Thursday the allure of the Internet had worn off. I sat at the drafting table on the windowless side of the room to doodle while James sat on my desk with his legs dangling below him like a child would do. Jumping to his feet with one finger pointing in the air James blurted out, “I’ve got something for us to do! Let’s get Brandy back for sending you up on the roof!” But when he said ‘roof’ it sounded more like ‘ruff’ with his accent. Really adorable. “Well…” he urged.
“Of course I want to get her back, but I just started here. Miki made it pretty clear that she would have me gone for just about anything.”
“Oh screw Miki,” he said. “She’s got her tits on backwards. Besides nobody will ever know it was you. I have the master key to every room in this building. Now, let’s brainstorm.”
“I saw a TV show once where they put somebody’s stapler in Jell-o.” I suggested.
“Yes. I like it. Give me more!” James closed the door and headed back to the desk to write down our ideas.”
“We could cover her entire workstation with plastic wrap or sticky notes,” another of my not so diabolical plans.
“Let’s Google it!” James suggested and we were back on the Internet again.
On Friday my office furniture started to trickle in and the delivery men moved my desk in front of the window to face the door. James tipped them, a classy move. He wrote it down on a spreadsheet and explained that the expense would be paid back to him by the company. All of the pieces were in place and the office looked amazing. Except the drapes had not yet been delivered. I called Mama Silk’s shop and got Tina again who sounded like she had been crying, I talked to her for a little while about maybe going back to school and finding a new direction, but she insisted that acting was her calling. I was born to decorate, so I could empathize with her there. The drapes were on their way she said and should be arriving anytime. When I enquired as to Mama Silk’s health, she said everything was fine and she just needed some rest while Tina looked after the store. The drapes did arrive and were the finishing touch on the office and made me feel encompassed, enclosed and safe by hiding the nasty expanse of windows. I looked at James expectantly and he tipped the delivery guys, who also hung the drapes.
“You see, the idea behind tipping in our industry is to develop relationships and a reputation. Then people want to work for you and will go out of their way when you need them to. And you will need them to. It’s best to have the trades people, handymen, delivery guys, seamstresses, and James on your side.”
“Don’t worry. Madge told me to take care of you, and I will, once I get a paycheck. Right now I’m riding the street cars and subways on IOUs. I’m going to have to ride on the roof soon,” I whined.
Saturday night came around and Ben and I went to visit Kelly at the Soho. We were supposed to finally be celebrating my graduation and new job. I didn’t care much for the snobbish atmosphere. Ben chatted up the ladies, as usual. All the women sort of looked the same, as though they were being pumped through the front doors of the upscale lounge by a cloning machine. I wondered what kind of pick up lines Ben used. Something like, “Hey babe, I don’t believe in working or paying bills. How would you like to buy me a drink?” Well, whatever he used they seemed to like it because he had a flock of Cindy Crawford’s around him all night long.
Kelly checked in on me from time to time, but for the most part I sat at a little table sipping my Vodka and OJ, watching the beautiful people around me. There were a few guys who stopped to talk to me. One asked if he could take an empty chair at my table and the other, a tanned and chiseled blond, stopped only long enough to murmur a half-hearted apology after bumping into me with his crotch area and consequently spilling his drink down the front of my shirt. Not his whole drink, but just enough to round out my humiliation.
I had my head down assessing the wet zone on my top on my way to the washroom.
“They’re both still there, if that’s what you’re looking for,” said a warm voice in an amused tone. Looking up, I saw a very nice blue dress shirt open at the neck to reveal just the right amount of chest hair. My eyes moved up some more to a smile so sexy that it almost made me stumble backwards.
“No. I just - I had a drink spilled on me,” I sputtered ineloquently and felt myself blushing slightly.
I stepped back to get a better view of the man before me. He had dark wavy hair and stood about a head taller than me. Not a model churned out by some machine, but masculine and confident and he smelled like the ocean.
“Can I offer any assistance?”
Again he smiled and my stomach tightened. Was he flirting with me? Ignored all night and then this guy, this perfect guy, wants to flirt with me? Well, I was not in the flirting state of mind. More like in the “having a terrible night” and “want to go home” state of mind.
“Well, thanks anyway, but no need for volunteers at this time.” I smiled up at him. My flirting skills were dusty and creaky and full of cob webs from not being used in quite some time. I excused myself and quickly moved past him, hoping he would be gone when I came back out of the washroom.
Talking to men made me so nervous. Being from a small town, I had only dated boys that I already knew or at least knew by reputation. I knew what they were about and where they were coming from. There were no secrets and no false pretences. But here in the city, everyone seemed to be hiding something, holding their cards close to their chest so that you would only learn what they wanted you to know about them. Frustrating since I wore my heart on my sleeve and didn’t know how to be elusive or mysterious.
I hadn’t done well with dating since moving to the city; nobody lasted more than a few dates. I hadn’t even had anyone back to my apartment for drinks. Mostly I found it better to avoid the eventual dead end altogether. City men always seemed to want someone like Kelly, gorgeous, full of energy, always giggling and hugging people. Not like me. I liked to have conversations, do things, eat things, go places, see things, and not just hang out at a club drinking all night.
When I came out of the washroom, the man that smelled like the ocean had disappeared. Probably better that way, I assured myself. Kelly and Ben were having a great time so I quickly said good night, despite their protests, and went outside into the mild summer air to catch a cab. The streets of Yorkville were lovely. The trees lining the sidewalks where decorated with little white lights. There were only a few couples walking hand in hand and others were dipping into a lounge or hailing a cab.
“Leaving so soon?”
Oh no
, I thought, It’s him again. Turning around, I saw Ocean Man standing behind me with a gorgeous woman at his side. It would figure that he would be with one of those women. I realized quickly, however, that she was not just another gorgeous woman, but Kimothy! Well, the Kim half of Hollywood’s royal couple, Kim Reynolds.

“Yes, well, once you’ve had a drink spilled down your top, that’s about as much fun as the night can offer,” I said. I reached out to shake his hand without thinking and then realized that I really wanted to know his name.
“My name is Eve Sullivan.”
Accepting my hand, he turned it over and raised it to his lips. My knees involuntarily clinked together. His lips were soft and warm on my hand. Kim smiled warmly at the two of us and then gave Mark a polite questioning look.
Releasing my hand he said, “I’m Mark Staltz and this is Kim Reynolds.” The name Mark Staltz sounded familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Kim extended her long lovely arm toward me and we shook hands. She gripped my hand and gave my arm a very respectable tug up and down.
I couldn’t help but gush, “I’m sure you get this all the time, but I’m a big fan of the work you and your husband do for the children around the world.” They were always adopting children it seemed and raising money for villages in impoverished countries. But only in between pumping out Oscar winning performances and looking gorgeous for the media.
“Actually, no. I don’t get that all the time. But thank you.” Kim replied. “I appreciate it.” Then she added, “We’re going to another lounge to meet up with some friends, why don’t you come with us?” She sounded genuine.
I looked at what they were wearing compared to what I had on myself. Mark wore a pair of designer jeans, a dress shirt worn casually untucked and dress shoes, casual elegant. Kim had on a solid blue slip dress that only thin women can get away with wearing, and strappy black shoes. I had on a yellow camisole with lace trim, a pair of old jeans and black heels. I had carried the black from my shoes up to my earrings and the little plastic beaded bracelet on my left arm. My hair had been pulled up loosely with carefully selected wisps falling down around my face. I thought I looked pretty good before the drink spilling incident, but now I had sticky hair and a stain on my camisole. Home seemed like the best place for me to be. Excusing myself and wishing them a lovely evening, I returned to hailing a taxi. Mark followed me to the curb, took my hand and placed his business card in my palm.
“Do you have a business card?” he asked.
“No. But I have a job.” What a stupid thing to say. “I don’t have my business cards yet though.”
“What do you do Eve?” He smiled again almost as though challenging me to impress him.
“I’m an Interior Designer with Singnare Designs.” I impressed myself with my response, still trying to get used to the fact.
“Well then, maybe we can work together sometime.” I didn’t know if he was serious.
I waived down a cab that pulled up to the curb. “Well, it was nice meeting you Mark…and you too Kim.” I gave her a little wave good-bye.
Mark approached my door and I rolled down the window for him. “Call me and we’ll talk more about working together on something. Or just call me to say hello.” He added, smiling.
I smiled back, flattered by the gesture.
“And Eve,” he added “I’m glad you bumped into me tonight.” He continued to smile as my cab drove away. I considered the situation. Mark wanted me to call him, not for a date but to say hello or possibly to work together. A bit of a mixed message, but the look I had seen in his smouldering brown eyes assured me it wouldn’t be all about business.
I looked down at his card which read Mark Staltz, Director of Film. Duh! Mark Staltz, only the guy directing the new movie starring Kim Reynolds. James and I were just reading about it. The phone number on his card had a local area code. I would have guessed that he lived in L.A. As soon as I got home, I put Mark’s card on my dresser mirror with a question mark beside it in lipstick. I stood for a moment looking at the card and the question mark, thinking that the question was too big for me to answer just yet.

Chapter 3
Jaz and Fitz

The following Monday I met with Miki briefly in her office for what would be the first of our weekly meetings. When I told her that I had decorated my office under Madge’s instruction, her body stiffened and her left eye seemed to do a little twitch. Then I followed her while she stomped out her office and toward mine. Miki stood inside the door silently observing the finished room. Her eyes fixed upon the drapes. I could see her mentally forcing herself not reach out and touch the lustrous fabric. I wondered if she was such a monster that she would not allow herself the pleasure of feeling the fabric between her fingers. Finally, flipping, her long perfectly straight, black mane over her shoulder, she walked over, grabbed hold of the cloth first with a fist, then slowly loosening her grip as she rubbed it between her thumb and forefinger. Turning toward me, she asked the one question I hoped I would be able to avoid.
“Where did you get this fabric?” she demanded.
“An old friend of mine who owns a shop, she gives me a good price.” I managed to sound casual even though I prayed for her to change the subject or for James to walk in and interrupt us.
Miki shot daggers at me with her eyes, still holding onto the drape. I didn’t understand why she hated me so much. Some people become easier to get along with once you get to know them, but I had an inkling that Miki would not be one of those people.
I was momentarily relieved by a knock on the door and until I realized it was Carla. Standing there in a short, tight black v-neck dress and heels with her hair pulled back, she reminded me of one of the women from Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistable’ video, without the keytar. Miki looked at Carla for a long time and then smiled. What the heck? She was just as new as I was; why did Miki like her so much?
Carla announced that we were late for the weekly staff meeting and that Miki’s coffee was waiting for her in the boardroom and then she giggled as Miki followed her into the hall. I stood puzzled at the exchange I had just witnessed and then followed them to the boardroom, assuming I was invited. James, my lifeline to this crazy place, had saved me a seat at the large oval table and Miki took her seat with Carla practically in her lap. Carla sucked up to Miki so much that you could barely tell where one of them began and the other ended. James gave me an elbow to the ribs to tell me to stop staring, and the meeting began. Miki assigned people and teams to new clients and took updates on existing clients and projects as a receptionist took minutes, I assumed for Madge to read at a later time.
I got assigned to assist the two senior designers, Fritz and Jaz. James tapped on the manila folder in front of him as though to tell me he had already collected the details. I wanted to leave the meeting to get to work right away. However, Miki started talking about the Film Festival and all of the stars that were currently in and around town. She told the boardroom that Signare purchases a group of VIP tickets for the premiers and that she would distribute them as she saw fit based on performance, which I already knew meant based on who performed best at kissing her ass. I knew I wouldn’t be awarded any tickets, that being the case. We were all dismissed with a jangly wave of her hand and the beautiful people of Signare floated out of the boardroom like colour coordinated leafs in a stream. I stumbled behind James who, practically giddy, dragged me by my wrist back to my office.
“Guess who has tickets to the Film Festival?” James began hopping from one foot to the other and twirling his hands on either side of him as though he was jumping an invisible skip rope. It was unusually feminine and funny to watch.
“Oh, you’re going? That’s great James.” I was happy for him…and extremely jealous.
“No, WE’RE going! Madge made sure we got the best tickets before she gave them to Miki! I love my Auntie Madge-Madge!”
“You’re kidding. That’s amazing,” I said. “You call her Auntie Madge-Madge?”
“Very funny, Eve. Are we super excited or what? We’ll probably meet some celebs. Oh right I forgot, you swing with celebs already, Mrs. ‘I Met Kim Reynolds and Didn’t Get My Awesome Assistant an Autograph.’”
“James…I said sorry already. I was having a bad night.”
“I’d hate to see who you meet on a good night,” he griped.
We spent the next few weeks working on projects for Fritz and Jaz’s clients’ home in Richmond Hill. They were completely renovating it from top to bottom. I was assigned to help out with the draperies. Fritz, it turned out, was very fritzy, like his name. A tiny little man, Fritz always walked around with his thumb and forefinger on his chin and a stressed-out look on his very pale face. He had short blond spiky hair and wore blue framed diamond shaped glasses. Always perfectly coordinated as every decorator should be. Fashion and Decorating are very close cousins. I always thought that if somebody can’t coordinate their own clothes, there is now way I would trust them to coordinate a room in my home.
Jaz, a slim black woman with kinky hair and big beautiful brown eyes, dressed mainly in black. She was very laid back and friendly, offering up advice when she thought necessary. I learned that Jaz and Madge grew up together in the Caribbean and Fritz and Madge went to design school together here in the city, years ago.
Madge very happily recommended that Fritz and Jaz have me do all the drapes for the reno/makeover, knowing I had a secret weapon that would blow the clients away. James and I worked late nights taking measurements, drinking mochachinos, and working on design boards for the client using the samples I would bring back from Mama Silk’s shop.
Gathering samples and materials gave me a chance to spend time with the store owner herself and her lovely granddaughter, Tina, who decided that she would learn what she could from me on my visits, trying to make the best of her situation working at the shop. We would also discuss ideas for the baby’s nursery. Time flew by in a blur of happy colours.
At home Ben seemed to be metamorphosing into a human being. He was eating real food, not just pizza, and he was actually looking for a job. There had even been an occasion or two where we cooked and shared a meal together. The food tasted bland and had a rubbery texture to it, but playing house felt nice. On one such occasion, Ben raised his glass of Heineken and announced, “I found a job.”
“Ben, that’s great!” I said.
“It’s at a bar called “Franks”. I’m going to be a bartender!”
“But you’re not licensed.” I pointed out.
“I know. They don’t care! They hired me and I start tomorrow. They said they had to fire the last guy for stealing and needed somebody to start right away. And in walks Big Ben.” He leaned back in his chair and put his arms confidently behind his head.
“That’s interesting. Where’s…uh, Franks? I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s on Church, right near Wellesley.” Ben said innocently.
“Ben! That’s the gay district. Oh my God, you got a job at a gay bar!” I was smiling wide, it was nice to have somebody else being naive for a change.
“What are you talking abou…?” I could see the wheels turning in Ben’s head. His mouth dropped open and he started laughing too. “So that’s what he meant when he asked if he could call me Big Ben!”
“So do they think you’re gay?”
“I don’t know, but he said with a body like mine, I’d make a killing in tips.”
“So much for the ladies, Benji. Are you still going to take the job?”
“Yeah, why not? I’m pretty much broke and nobody else will hire me. I’m sure it’ll be fine. There will be two feet of bar between me and anybody who might confuse me with a gay man. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Wow. You’re one laid-back guy, Ben.”
“That’s what they’ll be saying as they drop a twenty into my tip jar.” Ben winked at me and smiled.
Always the class clown growing up, Ben would do almost anything for a laugh. Outgoing, fun, smart and extremely laid back, the teachers liked him and the girls adored him even though he was always doing weird things. He once sat on a cafeteria tray and rode it down a flight of stairs in high school. When he got to the bottom, he swung it out from underneath him and smacked some guy in the head with it. A wrestling match pursued; neither of them knowing that the Vice Principal was standing there the whole time. To all of our amazement, Mr. Boulder just shrugged his shoulders and walked away, saying something about boys and hormones. And now Ben had plans to be a bartender at a gay bar just because he’s got nothing better to do.
Kelly, away again on a modelling job, called to tell us she was in some small town that was famous for having constructed a giant apple to celebrate it’s farmers. The shoot was an ad for a dentist’s office in which she was to show off her lovely smile and pretend to bite into said apple. “Whatever pays the bills,” I told Kelly.
“This type of stuff is only temporary until I really make a name for herself. Besides, do you remember how many people recognized me when I did that ad for genital herpes?”
I stifled a laugh, “Yeah, of course I remember.”
“Before you know it, Eve, I’ll be off to Paris for a L’Oreal ad. Then to the Bahamas for my Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition front cover photo shoot.” Believing that to be her fate, Kelly kept putting positive affirmations out into the universe. She believed that the universe would provide for her everything and everyone she needed to make her dreams come true.
If only I could be so sure about my own fate. I worked for one of the best design houses in the city, but what would happen when my six months were up and Miki kicked me to the curb? What would the universe have in store for me then?
Every night when I went to bed, I turned Mark’s business card over and over in my fingertips, sometimes imagining what his curly hair might feel like through my fingers in place of the stiff white paper. I would visualize his warm smile and remember how great he smelled when I bumped into him that one night. The scent reminded me of the beach when I was young, where I used to make sandcastles while my parents sat holding hands in the sun. If I ever saw him again, I though it might be hard to hold myself back from burying my face in his chest knowing somehow that it would feel good, safe and welcoming. But I’d probably never see him again. Being a director he probably had to jet off to LA or New York more often than Toronto. I figured that he probably wouldn’t remember me anyway with all of the beautiful people that I’m sure constantly surrounded him. Why would he?
On a particularly sunny Friday morning while we walked to his car, James declared “Eight more sleeps until our big night, Eve.” Like a child waiting for Christmas morning, he bounced up and down on the heels of his feet, his eyes full of mischief. We had just made a date to go shopping at a retro boutique on
Bloor Street
after work for outfits to wear to the Gala Premiere at the Film Festival.
“Honestly James.” I whined, “Why won’t you tell me which movie we’ll be seeing?”
“Hello. Do you know what the word surprise means? It means that you won’t know until we get there. All you need to know is that there will be celebs for us to gawk at, great food, a great flick…. and you are going to love the venue.
“But.” I started, and James gave me a wave of his hand that meant the conversation had ended.
“Just look fabulous and leave the rest to me.” He said.
Jaz and Fitz, being in the final stages of work on the McCallister’s home, asked us to come by for the installation of the drapes. We were on our way to the house to meet them and Madge, who wanted to see how my first assignment had turned out. A little anxious about seeing her in my new role as her employee, I silently prayed that I would live up to her expectations.
In the car, James pushed in a CD and turned up the volume to an irrational level. I held onto my complaint when the White Stripes came blaring out of the speakers.
“Ben loves this band.” I shouted. “I really like them too!”
“Jack White is a bloody genius.” James agreed, also shouting over the music. We smiled at each other as I considered all of the things we had in common despite the fact that we’d grown up in such different worlds. I found James an easy friend to have. We drove the rest of the way through the grid of the city streets to the McCallister house singing along to the music together. James periodically broke out into air guitar at stop lights to make me laugh.
We arrived at our destination in Richmond Hill where I stood gazing up at the lovely Tudor home that had what I liked to call a princess tower on it’s westward facing side. It actually looked as if a tower from a castle in a fairy tale, peak and all, had been thrown on as a last thought. I secretly wondered if the owners didn’t have a Rapunzel-type daughter that they planned to keep in that tower. I already knew based on their décor that the family had a serious royalty complex.
Contractors were installing the drapes when we entered the house. I went over the specs with them for all the rooms to ensure that the finished product would be exactly as I designed them to look. Yards and yards of beautiful purple, blue, yellow and red fabrics complimented the theme Jaz and Fritz had put together for each room. I spent a small fortune at Mama Silk’s shop and the rooms were coming together beautifully as a result.
A suit of armour stood majestically at the bottom of the winding staircase on the first floor, the first thing to be seen as you walk into the grand foyer. The walls throughout the house were adorned with swords, shields and family crests. There was a large wall-hanging in the dining room depicting two knights in battle. The entire concept, although unusual, was surprisingly not too overwhelming or tacky due to Jaz and Fitz’s ability to tone down the tinny medieval treasures by mixing them in with contemporary pieces. Despite the princess tower, swords, and armour, they created a comfortable and modern living space. Bravo! I thought as I wondered who thought to include the calligraphy on the bathroom door that read The Throne Room.
James and I were directing Signare's photographers to the finished rooms when Madge entered the foyer. She wore a perfectly fitted black business suit with a dark orange blouse underneath and, of course, bright orange heels and accessories. With her hair perfectly coiffed and just enough makeup to complement her soft features, she looked very different than the jean wearing professor I hadn’t seen in months. Smiling down at me, Madge extended her hands out and I happily placed mine in hers. I stood smiling back at my mentor. The person who believed in me so much that she gave me a job right out of school. The person who trusted me with her clients and her reputation. What could I possibly say to this woman who had done so much for me? I wanted to fall to my knees and chant I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! Wayne and Garth style.
“Eve my dear, I don’t have much time; I’m on my way to a meeting. You look fabulous, although a little thin. Hasn’t James been feeding you?” She looked over at her nephew.
“She’s been using the gym at the office,” James said flatly and I quickly shot him a dirty look.
“What gym?” Madge frowned, perhaps wondering if a gym had been installed at the office without her knowing.
“He’s kidding.” I changed the subject, “You look beautiful Madge. I’ve never seen you so dressed up. It’s so great to see you.” I gushed; I had missed her.
“I don’t have much time, but why don’t you show me around quickly and then go get something to eat.

As I guided Madge toward the living room, she reached out and pulled James under her arm giving him a little kiss on the cheek.
“Hello Booger,” she said. “Going to make it round for dinner tonight?”
“No. Sorry. Eve and I are going out to dinner to celebrate our first completed project.” With this information Madge looked over and winked at me in approval.
When the tour finished we gathered once again in the foyer. Madge seemed very pleased.
“I knew hiring you was the right choice. All the drapes look fabulous. Are you still keeping your supplier under your thumb?”
“Pfft,” the noise came from James. “She won’t even tell me who she buys from.” He acted insulted, but he knew my reasons. Especially at Signare, I needed my secret weapon more than ever.
“I’m glad to hear it.” With this she glided out the door and half way down the slate walkway.
“Why is she acting so strange?” I asked James.
“She has a lot on her mind lately.” James and I stood watching the woman we both admired get into her shiny silver Lexus and drive away.
“Now, let’s go shopping!” I announced. We found Fritz and Jaz to say our good-byes.
We spent the rest of the day downtown ending with a late dinner at Spaggio’s. Sitting on the patio facing the street we watched the people walk by. Some couples, some singles, and some with poor fashion sense worth pointing out and giggling at. Over wine, we gossipped about the girls in the office and how Carla seemed to be slowing morphing into one of Miki’s appendages and soon they would be just one person, like a super evil villain - Uber-Bitch.
It was easy to be with James. His confidence came without arrogance and he was full of magnetic energy. I could see why the ladies went for him as much as they did, even when they knew he didn’t want anything serious with them. I liked to tease him and call him a player, but James chose to be up front with the women he dated; he never led anybody on. Although he
did admit to being
slightly manipulative. He had a list of all the women he dated in a contact management program in his blackberry complete with notes about each one of them. The flowers they liked, the restaurants they preferred and even the names of their family members and pets. All to appear as though he remembered these important details when he called them up again if he found himself dateless on a Saturday night. James had everything going for him. Being young, intelligent, an excellent self taught designer, a great dresser, and very good looking with his smooth dark skin and soft brown eyes. His British accent didn’t hurt either. I had to wonder why Ididn’t fall in love with him myself? My life was much too stressful for me to get involved with the opposite sex. It was more fun being a united front with a guy than in opposite corners pushing and pulling at each other’s emotional strings.

I turned into a blabbering, blushing incoherent mess when faced with somebody I was attracted to. Not a pretty sight and that’s probably why I never made it past the third date with anyone in the city. Ben and Kelly really liked James as well, since he had started coming to the Soho with me once in a while on Fridays after work.
“My mother left me with my father when I was twelve. She just sort of - disappeared.” James and I had enough to drink now that we were unconsciously bringing our friendship to the final level: trust. “My dad is a musician in the UK. He said that he couldn’t lug me and his equipment around. So he chose his equipment over me and eventually I ended up with aunt Madge when I was about 14.” James took a big gulp of wine and crossed his legs over to the opposite side. “Madge noticed that I was pretty creative and set me up at Signare and the rest is, as they say, history.”
“What an amazing story James.” I said. “Although I think the way you know the company so well you’re not being utilized to your full potential – you’re somehow stuck hanging out with me all day.”
“That’s okay. I don’t mind you at all Miss Eve.” He said in a butler-like tone. It amazed me that he really didn’t seem to be at all resentful or bothered by the fact.
“The only thing that bothers me about Signare is Miki. She acts like she owns the place. What a cow.”
Slurring slightly I announced to James, “As long as we have each other, we don’t need to worry about her. I say that everyone gets what’s coming to them in the end.”
James looked very serious after hearing my last remark. He leaned forward with a wicked smile on his face looking me in the eye, “They do Eve. They do. And she will get what’s coming to her. Miki’s been swaggering around like it’s nobody’s business, acting like she’s running the show when she doesn’t know a damn thing about design. Spending the company’s money on herself and her friends and writing it off as business expenses,” On the word friends, James had made a humping motion toward the table with his midsection. “I mean, it’s like high school in there and Signare is starting to get a bad reputation. My Aunt worked too hard to get her company off the ground to let it go under like this. It’s bloody ridiculous.”
Although he slurred his words too, I could tell see his passion for 

Signare Designs and it looked good on him. I certainly didn’t like hearing that Madge’s company was getting a bad reputation.
The following Friday night Ben and I were having Kraft dinner and ketchup without Kelly again. She was out on a date with an up and coming actor she met at the Soho. She said the paparazzi were always sneaking up on them and kept getting her bad side. Enough for her to consider breaking up with the guy because she thought it might ruin her modelling career. Seeing the pictures, I almost agreed. Then I met him and decided he’s just too sweet to dump just like that. Matt Douglas, a good Canadian boy who said please and thank-you, wasn’t ruined by Hollywood, not yet anyway.
After we finished eating and put our dishes in the dish washer, I sat cross legged on the couch facing Ben in the soup chair as he filled me in on his new job. The place had a lot of red velvet drapes and is as big as a warehouse inside. Tips were coming out of his ears, just as he suspected they would. Shifts for Ben included Thursday through Saturday nights. Frank’s is a high class establishment, which drew a specific type of crowd. There were a lot of business men and women who Ben assumed were tucked safely away in their closets by day and let loose their inhibitions under the protective screen of the night at Frank's.
“You know, I know I’m a good looking guy, but I think I may be even better looking to men for some reason.” Ben mused.
“It’s because you have an innocent face, Ben, they want to corrupt you. I get it all the time because I’m somewhat shy. Men are always making creepy comments like ‘watch out for the quiet ones’ they like to think I’m some kind of closet sex freak.”
“Are you?” Ben winced as soon as he said it because he knew he’d get a punch in the arm for asking, which I playfully supplied.
“So what’s so wild about this place exactly?”
”OK, they have a different theme almost every night of the week. Monday is Cher Night, where they play nothing but Cher songs even going back to the Sonny and Cher days. On the weekends, they have contests like Best Ass; you’re looking at a winning contestant by the way. Best Legs, Best Chest, Wet T-Shirt contests, Wet Jock contests. They even have costume parties lined up, it’s like a circus. I love it!”
“Do they know you aren’t gay?”
“Yeah, that’s the best part. It’s totally cool with them. It think it presents the men with a challenge and they tip me even more. It’s the same thing with women; they only want you if you don’t want them.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re working and glad you’re having fun. I’ll get Kelly to take a night off and we can go visit you there. It’ll be fun. But please stay away from the contests if we go,” I said.
“I can’t promise you anything; my audience needs me,” Ben said.
Being a Friday night, Ben got ready and went off to work. I looked around the quiet, empty apartment and something started bubbling in my chest that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At 9:30 pm. I changed into my pyjamas, popped in a DVD and curled up in the soup chair with my favourite orange-knitted blanket that my mother had made for me. I looked around the empty apartment again and realized what the bubbling feeling was. I felt lonely. Different from the feeling that comes with moving away from home and putting myself out there to find my own direction. I felt alone and wanted the company of another human being other than my mother or my father, but somebody else. Someone I hadn’t known most of my life. Someone, who I suspected, might have just the right amount of chest hair and smelled like the ocean. The movie started and I pushed my feelings back down to be ignored. For the next two hours I would be in the company of my favourite characters. All witty and charming and lovable. I went to bed thinking about the Film Festival to distract myself form the thought of Mark Stalz.
Film Festival night had finally arrived and James came over to the apartment so we could hang out for a while beforehand. Kelly and Ben were home and we were enjoying being all together.
Madge had arranged a limo to take us to the theatre and I couldn’t help but to feel a little like Cinderella. James, already dressed in his new suit, waited with the others as tried on some of the very trendy outfits that he made me buy on our shopping trip. My audience of friends sat in the living room drinking wine waiting to comment as I modelled my next choice. I strutted out wearing a simple red crossover dress, very figure fitting with strappy black shoes. I wore a big red faux sapphire on my right hand. Putting together an outfit reminded me of dressing a room. Everything had to coordinate from head to toe. Kelly did my makeup. She knew all the tricks from the makeup artists she worked with. I curled my hair into long soft ringlets and tucked one side behind my ear. I felt like a movie star. Suddenly I had this overwhelming urge to stay home, to apologize to James and then jump into bed and stay there for the rest of the night, rather than stand out and possibly be noticed in the ridiculous red dress that James made me buy. Only confident women wore sexy red dresses, not girls like me from Buford. Then I looked in the mirror again forced my chin into the air and smiled. It’ll be okay, I told myself, with all the stars and important people, I would blend in more than stand out.
When I walked into the living room James whistled and everyone said that I looked great. I finally settled on the red dress and felt pretty great in it. My date, James, looked great too, wearing a black on black Club Monaco suit. The clothes looked like they were tailor made for his athletic body, although they were purchased off the rack. He wore a big fake diamond earring and a gleaming crocodile smile.
As we sat around sipping our wine, Kelly told us about her date the night before. She decided to talk to the paparazzi and explain that she would create great moments for them to capture of her and Matt, if they agreed to only take and sell flattering pictures of her. Matt, so chiseled and gorgeous with his blond hair and blue eyes, couldn’t take a bad picture if they tried.
“I mean, they call themselves professional photographers, but there’s nothing professional about taking a picture of somebody with their mouth wide open taking a bite of their dinner,” she complained. “That’s just rude.”
Cracking jokes all along, Ben told us about the night he had at work the night before. Apparently it was ladies night and there was a very well-to-do woman there with another woman half her age buying everyone drinks. Like a Sugar Mama or a female pimp or something. She was gorgeous according to Ben and he was a little upset with how she treated him. She called him a stupid little man and didn’t even give him a tip at the bar.
“I think I’m in love with her,” He joked.
Time to go. Ben and Kelly walked us to the door and Kelly gave me a hug; looking like she might cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You look so beautiful. I’m so proud of you.” I could see in her face, she wasn’t messing around. She had the same look on her face that my mother did the day of my high school graduation, proud and yet sad to be losing her innocent girl. Kelly slipped her favourite lip gloss into my clutch purse and smiled.
“Have fun you, two.” She said.
Ben moved from one foot to the other, looking nervous. He gave me the softest, sweetest hug and then whispered in my ear, “You look gorgeous.” Then in a louder voice he added, “Have fun and get me the numbers of any sexy little starlets looking for a date.”
What’s fun about the film festival is that Canadian actors and actresses come home to show off their films and boast their success and Canadians are so proud of their successful kin that they ignore the fact that they usually get drunk and cause some sort of a scene. The city of Toronto is often used to mimic the city of New York. It saves the production companies a lot of money to film outside of the U.S. and it also opens the doors for local actors and directors to become a part of the illustrious and growing Canadian film industry. So from time to time James and I would spot a famous or semi-famous person wondering around in Yorkville but we would always leave them alone and admire from afar out of respect for their privacy. They were fair game, we decided, at the film festival; they were out to be seen. I didn’t know what celebrities I might see that evening but I looked forward to the glam and glitz and making fun of the pretentiousness of it all with James.
We walked into the Royal Alexander theatre and saw that the lobby, decorated for the event with topiary trees and glittering tulle swags everywhere, was breathtaking. The building itself was constructed in a time when live theatre was the height of sophistication and young ladies were escorted by mature women for the reason of introducing them into society. It was a time of arched ceilings and red velvet seats for the posh bottoms of those who could afford to enter the upscale venue. Today the tickets sales boasted shows like CATS and We Will Rock You. We were hanging around in the lobby trying to look casual as we scanned the room for familiar silver screen faces when James’s face lit up and I knew he had found somebody on his radar. Smiling at me coyly, he took my elbow and whispered ecstatically into my ear.
“This is going to be a great night, Eve. Kimothy is here and you’re going to introduce me to them.” Then I quickly realized the reason behind his secrecy about tonight’s screening up to now. He knew that I wouldn’t want to come to the movie that starred Kim Reynolds. It would mean that Mark Stoltz would be here too and I would be afraid to see him again due to the incredible love affair I had created with him in my head since I had seen him last. The romance in my head seemed far safer than actually facing him in person. I knew that a meeting would go terribly wrong, and with my fumbling, clumsy, crush taking over, he would surely end up with some sort of Eve inflicted injury. Poor Mark would never see it coming. James had started bouncing up on his heels as he does when he’s excited and, because we were both already tipsy from drinking on empty stomachs, he accidentally knocked his forehead into my cheek bone.
“OUCH!” I yelled out and then quickly clasped my hand over my mouth. Half of the room turned and looked in our direction. I quickly took a drink of my Chocolate Martini and also began looking around to see where the cry of pain had come from while James chuckled giddily at my side.
I felt a soft light touch on my shoulder and a beautiful sing-song voice said my name. I turned around to face Kim Reynolds who beamed at me with her lovely blue eyes.
“Eve, how lovely to see you here.” She seemed to actually mean her nonsensical words and gave me a little hug. I’d only met the woman once. She is a massive movie star. How in the world did she remember my name?
 “This is my husband Timothy.” She turned her body slightly giving me the full frontal view of the most famous male sex symbol of all time. He had short dirty blond hair, warm hazel eyes, a strong jaw line and the body of a Greek God. More than wearing an Armani tuxedo, surely given to him for free as long as he mentioned Armani on one of his red carpet interviews, he could be a walking advertisement.
This idol, this Hollywood heartthrob stood in front of me, looking me in the eye as we shook hands. I was surprised to find we were the same height. Kim had a good three inches on him in her heels, which I had not expected. Timothy smiled at me. My knees gave a little and my heart skipped a beat. He had starred in most of my favourite romantic comedies, and action films too for that matter. I had a huge Hollywood crush on him, perfectly fine back when I knew I’d never meet him face to face in my lifetime. Kim giggled at my reaction to her husband. Then she tilted her head with a concerned look on her face as she reached out and touched my cheek.
“Are you alright? You have a red mark on your cheek.”
I shot James a dirty look and noticed for the first time that he was suddenly looking pale and nervous. He was frozen, staring at the couple that we both were crazy about. We Googled them almost daily. James began to sway and looked as though he might faint. I quickly put my arm around his shoulder and introduced him.
“This is James.” I said. For an awkward moment James continued to stand motionless, staring. Finally, he seemed to snap out of it and converted back the charming guy I had become so fond of.
“Hello, very nice to meet you. Pardon me for saying so, but I am a big, big, big, fan of you both. Can I get either of you a drink from the bar?” James cooed.
“Well..” Tim started to say but Kim cut him off.
“Sure James, we’d love a couple of Manhattans on the rocks, if you don’t mind.” James gave me a triumphant smile and a wink and then disappeared into the crowd at the nearby the bar.
“Your dress is very pretty,” Kim smiled again, “Good colour choice.” She, herself, also donned a red dress as luck would have it. She put her arm around my shoulders and turned me so we were both facing Tim.
“Do we look like sisters?” She didn’t have a sarcastic tone, but that had to have been the most ludicrous sentence ever spoken. Herself being a beautiful starlet and me - just a girl in a red dress.
“Just like twins.” He said without an ounce of irony. Are you both blind and insane? I thought to myself. Kim stood a good three inches taller than me, after all, and had blond hair. I’m a brunette. I guess we did have our fair skin in common, but it ended there.
“Kim, I have to say that I am surprised that you even remember me,” I blurted out. “I’m very flattered that you are even standing here talking to me right now. It feels sort of strange. I’m not trying to be rude, but don’t you have more important people to be seen talking to?” Before she could respond, Tim jumped in.
“We’re waiting for our drinks from your boyfriend and then we’ll politely excuse ourselves. That’s how it works.” His tone mocking and light.
Kim giggled and then looked at me approvingly. “I like you Eve. You’re the first person I’ve met who told me they were a fan of my charity work before saying they were a fan of my acting, or my husband. I think that we might have been destined to meet that night. We had slowed down our charity work over the last few years, concentrating on our children and careers. But after I met you and told Tim about you, we decided to build a school in Guatemala and get back into giving. So 100 children have you to thank for the cafeteria food they’ll be complaining about before too long.” Kim giggled at her own joke. I took a step backward to better take in the couple and to my surprise and delight, they were totally serious.
“Amazing. That is just amazing. I don’t know what else to say to something like that. Good for you both for doing such a great thing. Oh, and James is not my boyfriend, he’s my”, I paused, “work partner.” It came out awkwardly, but good enough.
“Two Manhattans on the rocks for our new friends and one for me.” James cut in. “Who knew we had the same taste in drinks?” It disturbed and amused me at the same time to see James so nervous. The couple accepted their drinks and thanked James who did an awkward little half-bow in return and then gave me a look of despair.
Kim smiled knowingly at James,” We had better get going. But Eve, while I have you, I wanted to know if you would be interested in decorating an apartment for us in the city. Tim is going to be shooting a film here with Mark, and we’re going to get a place so the kids and I can come up to visit.”
Well she said it. The name that had been rolling around in my head every single day since I first laid eyes on him. She used only his first name, therefore assuming that we both knew him and therefore, by that deduction, she had to be referring to the Mark who smelled like the ocean. The Mark that I’d been dreaming little fantasy reunions about. The Mark I had recently begun to suspect I had fabricated in my mind. And if Kim was there at the theatre, then that meant that Mark could very well be too. In the same room. Under the same roof. I felt my cheeks begin to blush. Then I realized that she had said something else remarkable; she wanted me to be her decorator. Pinch me, I thought. This had to be an illusion manifested by watching too many romantic comedies in which the heroin gets everything she’s ever dreamt of and lives happily ever after. I looked over at James who made a gesture with his finger under his chin for me to close my gaping mouth.
“We’ll give you a call to go over the details.” Kim continued choosing to ignore my dazed state. “I have your number; I Googled you. It was Mark’s idea. He remembered that you were a decorator.”
With that she took my chin in her thumb and finger and pulled it gently upwards looking into my eyes with confidence. “I hope you two like the movie. It’s already won a lot of festival awards. We’ll see you at the after party, I hope.”
I stood watching Kimothy as they walked away, my head spinning. James suddenly appeared in front of my face bouncing up and down, holding both of my hands and kissing me on the forehead repeatedly. He started talking a mile a minute.
”Madge is going to f-lip when she hears that we just got a job offer from Kimothy! You two were like best friends or something, what’s up with that? You said you only met her for like two minutes. Were you holding out on me? I would be very hurt by that. Oh my God, I can’t believe you just stood there and talked to them like they were normal people.” James, acting like some kind of spastic, was making me laugh. “What after party were they talking about? I have to get us invited to that party. Let’s go eat. I’m going to barf all over you right now if I don’t eat something. It is what I would imagine drinking bull piss would be like. Twenty dollars for Bull’s Piss; can you imagine?” said James.
As we made our way to the buffet line James admired the women, especially those wearing tiny little dresses and the tailor made suits while I admired the gilded ceilings. As we walked toward the buffet, I wondered about the ceiling. Had it been restored over the years to look like it did when it was first created? Surrounded by three foot thick crown molding, the ceiling was embellished with little cupids and angels reaching down from the sky. Surely they were covered in ormolu originally, a gold plating used on just about everything in the Louis VI era. In the centre, floated a large oval mural depicting a serene garden with children and women very elegantly lying about. I felt two strong hands on my shoulders jolting my focus back into the room and directly into the face of Mark Staltz who was holding me firmly at an arms length.
“You nearly walked into me again Eve, but I saw you coming this time,” he said “You look gorgeous.” He moved his hands slowly down my bare arms and lifted my right hand to his lips for another of his soft, old-fashioned kisses. My entire body burst out into goose bumps as I tried desperately to continue breathing at a normal pace. I looked around for James who had apparently abandoned me while I walked around staring up at the ceiling. I probably looked like I was on drugs. I thought, embarrassed.
“I was admiring the architecture.” I explained to Mark.
“So was I. That is a great dress. No spills tonight?” he asked as his eyes freely perused my body.
Blushing, I answered, “No spills yet, no.” I managed to change the subject. “Congratulations on your film. Kim said that it has won some awards already?”
Smiling, Mark took the hint that I wanted the focus off myself and my flashy red dress. “Yes, we’re very proud of it. It was a lot of fun to make. We did a lot of the filming in England. You’ll have to tell me if we nailed the Victorian décor or not. Authenticity is really important to me. You learn a lot making a film like this, about how royalty used fashion and décor, to define their own eras.” He’s speaking décor. I thought, surprised and impressed.
“I can’t wait to see it.” I smiled nervously trying not to throw myself into his arms. He Spoke directly to my heart, to the one thing I loved; about décor and he actually knew what he was talking about.
“Did Kim talk to you about the apartment? I hope you can help her out.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you for thinking of me.”
“Kim likes you; she thinks you’re really sweet. Things will work out.” He looked into my eyes as he spoke and I felt myself start to lift off the ground as though I suddenly had little fluttering wings on my shoes.
“Well, I am very sweet.” I replied, batting my eyelashes playfully.
“Yes. You certainly are.” A look of sadness flashed across Mark’s face before he smiled down at me again. Maybe he’s been hurt before and doesn’t want to rush into anything. I thought. Maybe his work keeps him from being able to have relationships. Maybe he’s already in a relationship! I didn't know what it was, but that look gave me an uneasy feeling.
Suddenly a tall white-haired gentleman and a lady who appeared to be his very well kept wife stopped beside us. They introduced themselves to Mark and then to me as though we were actually a couple. This brought back the smile to Mark’s face and he played along by putting his arm around my waste. It felt perfect in every way having his arm there, as though we were literally made to fit together that way. I automatically pulled in my belly and held my breath to keep it there. Mark started talking to the older man about his next film and the production budget and how the older gentleman may be interested in investing in it. I saw this as an opportunity to excuse myself to find a washroom to hyperventilate in. I couldn’t keep my cool around Mark much longer, especially with his warm sturdy hand around my waist and I had to find where James took off to.
“If you will all please excuse me.” I gave Mark a playful little kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you in a little while, Darling.” He looked down at the floor and then back up into my eyes, a smile playing on his lips. He let his hand slide across my backside from my waist as I walked away slowly at first and then practically running once I was a few feet away.
I found James leaning in on a conversation between two young women who seemed to be having a name dropping competition. I dragged him away by his elbow back toward the buffet table.
“Where did you go? I thought you were beside me and then all the sudden Mark was there and you were gone. I almost ran into him again and it’s all your fault.”
“I saw him coming, dummy.” James gave me a coy smile. “Call me cupid.”
“You would have let me barge right into him?” I asked.
“Not a chance. He had you in his sights, honey. He was heading right for you with a big goofy smile on his face.”
I blushed with pleasure at James' words. “Oh. Well, thanks then.” I said. “He looks really good doesn’t he? Better than I remembered.”
“Yeah, he’s such a babe.” James batted his eye lashes and made a kissy face. “Now let’s eat!”
At the buffet table we helped ourselves to the most beautiful array of food I’d ever seen. Lobster bisque, hand carved roast beef, and pecan encrusted salmon in avocado sauce. I wanted to swan dive into the desert table, but James piled my plate high with pineapple and watermelon until there wasn’t any room left for brownies or chocolate infused pastries.
“You know you’ll end up wearing it and I’m not hanging around with you tonight if you’ve got chocolate soufflé on your dress. I’m not going to allow you to take the risk.”

Chapter 4
Paint the World
The house lights flickered and we all piled into the staggeringly beautiful theatre. Flanking the stage were heavy red velvet curtains trimmed in gold, pooling glamorously where they met the stage floor. The balconies were trimmed in gold and chandeliers hung from the ceiling above. A large white screen hung above the stage where I imagined so many wonderful performances had been played out. I had never considered going out to see live theatre until then. I made a mental note to drag Kelly out to a performance and become more cultured. After settling in, getting comfortable and entwining arms with James in excitement and anticipation, the lights dimmed and then rose again spotlighting the six people standing on the stage.
As Kim and a few other people that I soon learned were the lead male and some secondary characters in the film stood in a row, Mark began speaking on his cordless microphone about the film and the general message that it conveyed.
“Sometimes,” he said, “the people who seem most troubled are perhaps the most free.” Mark went on to introduce the actors and actresses with genuine fondness and respect. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. We sincerely hope that you enjoy the film. Thank you.”
James reached his arm across my chest and pulled me back into my seat. Listening so intently to Mark speak, I leaned so far forward in my chair that my hair was dangling on the bare shoulders of the woman in front of me. She turned to give me dirty look and I sat back in my seat, eyes still on Mark.
The movie opened with a young woman named Maria, played by Kim Reynolds, being raised by a rich family in Virginia after her own mother had died in childbirth. She later became pregnant by a travelling preacher who fell desperately in love with her, even giving up his faith when she refused to marry him. The preacher awoke one morning to find she had disappeared leaving him with only their son to remember her by. I looked over at James to see if this was upsetting him. He was too busy scanning the crowd with him little binoculars to pay attention to the plot. The movie then brings her first to Paris and on to various other countries, finally ending with her death on a farm in Australia. She was a serial lover, leaving children behind in a few instances with the men whom she bewildered with her free spirited charm. It was never enough, however, for her wondering spirit. The story is narrated by one of her daughters who, in an attempt to learn about her mother, discovered an extraordinary story about a woman in motion who could not be bound by borders or relationships. A woman who’s passage through time was a journey in and out of the lives of those who were brave enough to love her. A woman who ultimately died alone. The film was moving and full of wonderful imagery of the different countries, towns and people Maria loved, if only fleetingly.
The curtain closed with a flourish at the end of the film as the small group actors and actresses took the stage one more time for a bow. Mark appeared for a final bow as well and the crowd applauded enthusiastically. Mark gave a wave and disappeared again behind the curtain.
The cool, fresh air outside of the theatre gave me a jolt. James and I began people watching and style rating when our limo pulled up. Mark and Kim were still shaking hands inside in the lobby and I wondered if I would see Mark at the after-party that James somehow suddenly knew all the details about.
“You know those two beauties I chatted up earlier? They practically drew me a map when I told them I was an Agent.”
“Classy, James.” I teased.
Part of me wanted to run and hide at the thought of facing Mark again that evening and another part of me thought that I should definitely have a drink as soon as we get there to calm my nerves.
And drink we did. The after party was at a make-shift night club a world apart from the white serenity of the Soho. It was in a reclaimed textile factory in the fashion district. We climbed what seemed like an impossible number of stairs to the large metal doors at the top. I was starting to feel like I might end up on the roof again, but when James pushed through the doors we were transported. The room was huge, at least 5,000 square feet. At first glance the décor was confusing, but after a few minutes I realized the room was set up to represent the different countries from the movie. My eyes were drawn almost immediately to the floor where there were jagged lines separating areas of the room into countries and continents and corresponding oceans. Some of the countries had faux walls built up around them creating separate rooms. Each country had a distinct and obvious theme carried out in an over-the-top style. For instance, Paris had a replica of the Eiffel tower which doubled as a thrown-like chair. There was a mime handing out roses to the ladies. It was all so bizarre and playful. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
Pointing toward the back of the room James yelled, “There’s the bar!”
It was situated beneath the London Bridge and we made a B-line in that direction. Once we had our drinks in hand, James headed into the crowd to mingle and I began to wonder around and admire the creativity of the different displays. There were pictures of Kim and the other actors scattered about. The building had great bones. The ceilings were high and there were various outlets and remnants of the factory machines that once lived there. Fastened to the wall near Australia, there was an old floor plan of the textile factory, numbered and labelled although not quite legible. It offered an insight into the history of the building, which I thought was pretty interesting.
“Earlier I found you staring at the ceiling and now you’re staring at the wall. Do people just bore you in general?” It was Mark, of course and he was standing so close behind me that I could feel his breath on my shoulder. I turned around, but he didn’t move, except to reach his arm out and lean into the wall behind me. I was trapped.
“I guess I’m easily distracted.” I offered.
He smiled and then took a look at the drawing. All of the fuss and money put into decorating this place and you’re looking at a dirty old floor plan.”
“I like dirty old things.” I said it and then realized how, well, dirty it sounded. I immediately began to blush. “I mean, I appreciate the beauty and history of things from the past.”
With a huge grin on his face, Mark leaned down and kissed my cheek. “I appreciate beautiful and interesting things too,” he whispered into my ear then looked into my eyes. I took a big drink of my martini and then gave him a look that said I’m ready now.
His soft full lips touched mine, gently bounced away and then back again. He wrapped his arms around me and it was like being wrapped in the finest cashmere in the world. What a party. I thought to myself.
At home the next morning, I awoke with somewhat of a headache and then quickly realized that there was somebody else in bed beside me. What had I done?
Blurred images of the night before flashed through my mind. Mark and I dancing and laughing together most of the night. James and I doing shots of Goldschlager at the London bar where I entertained him by putting on a terrible British accent. There was an awkward moment too, when the mime at the party started ranting about his wife who just didn’t understand his art. Then he went back to miming but changed his act to an impression of him hanging himself. A flash image of Kim, Tim, James, Mark and I all lined up at the bar doing Tequila shots appeared in my mind as my head throbbed and my stomach turned at that particular memory,
Mark had kissed me good-night and said he was staying at the Royal York as his house was outside of the city. He pretended to fight off my non-existing pleas to go back to the hotel with him and said he would call me so we could get together again.
So, who was in bed beside me if I kissed Mark good-bye? Oh God. I slowly leaned over and pulled the covers down from over the face of the mystery body beside me. It was James! I breathed a sigh of relief and then just to be sure that I was in the clear, I pulled the covers down a little further to see that he was still fully dressed.
“Having a good look, Pervert?” he said in a groggy voice and pulled the blankets back up to his neck.
“I was just checking to make sure . . . never mind.”
“You’re not my type, Eve” James said, rubbing his eyes. “I actually like you and I never sleep with women I like. It just begs for trouble.”
“You’re twisted, James.”
“Oh, you love it,” he said.
I laid back down and drifted back to sleep. The sun eventually made its way across the floor, warming my bedroom to a nauseating degree and I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen like a zombie rising from the dead. I heard James make his way to the living room couch as I strained to prepare a batch of toast and coffee in an attempt to soothe our heads and stomachs.
James and I recapped the events of the previous night in as much detail as we could dredge up. We concluded that Kim and Tim were the coolest couple ever; that Mark had the complete package: good looks, great personality, and an interesting career. We also decided that the mime and his wife should seek counselling. Being with James was as easy as being with any of the friends I had grown up with. The more time we spent together, the more I knew we’d be friends for a very long time.
After James went home I realized that I was alone…. again. Ben had hopped on an overnight Greyhound home to beg his parents to refuel his piggy bank and Kelly had gone to Matt’s place for the weekend as per her note on the fridge door. Things were getting serious between the two of them. At least that’s what I had read in the tabloids earlier that week. I didn’t see enough of Kelly anymore to have the chance to ask her how she was really feeling about her new beau. No girly chats had taken place about their first kiss or the sweet things that Matt does or does not do for her.
Feeling lousy, I pulled on my comfy blue Capri jogging pants with an old white t-shirt. I tied my hair into a ponytail, slipped on my sneakers and headed down the street to Classico Pizzeria. They had a thin crust cheese pizza infused with so much garlic that you would literally have it coming out of your pores after just one bite. It was the perfect hangover medicine. I sat on the little patio that spilled onto the sidewalk from the restaurant and watched the people and cars go by. It was a mild, sunny day and a light breeze floated across my face and arms. There was a candy store called Sugar Rush across the busy street that sold retro junk food and beside it was a health food store called Naked Ned’s. I finished my pizza and iced tea and headed across the street to Sugar Rush to buy a load of candy, skipped over Naked Ned’s and into the video store and picked up a couple of romantic comedies to compliment the yum-yums and jujubes I purchased - the final phase of my hangover cure.
When I reached my apartment building, there was somebody sitting on the stairs of the front entrance. As I got closer I realized it was Mark! When I left the house I really didn’t care that I looked like I just rolled out of bed or the fact that I hadn’t showered or even brushed my teeth. I was hung-over and that’s how I functioned on days like that, until around 5:00pm, when I would have the strength to take a shower and get a life. But suddenly I really, really cared about all of those things and wished I could rewind the clock and be showered and perfumed or have put deodorant on before leaving the apartment, at the very least.
I couldn’t figure out what he was doing there. Had I made plans with him the night before? He looked so cute sitting there in his jeans, sandals and t-shirt, on which read I EAT VEGAN(S). I couldn’t help but smile. When he recognized me coming up the walk, he bounced up and then with a step back took in the lovely sight that was me in all my hung-over beauty.
“You bought me candy?” he said, his playful little smile making my heart skip a beat.
I scrunched the bag in my hand, embarrassed, “It’s part of my remedy,” I explained.
“Feeling a little rough this morning, are we?”
“Just a little, yeah. I was just going to curl up and watch some movies until I feel human again. Did we make plans for today?” I asked, trying not to sound rude.
Mark looked embarrassed. “I guess I just wanted to see you again today. I had a lot of fun with you last night, I thought you might like to hang out, but I guess you’re not in the mood for company?”
Could he be any sweeter? I felt my heart swell.
“I had a great time last night too, from what I remember.” Mark laughed. I giggled and then blushed slightly still feeling embarrassed. “I’m not going to be a lot of fun today, but you can come up and watch these movies with me, if you’d like.”
Mark quickly grabbed my hand and headed for the door. “I thought you’d never ask. I’ve been sitting out here for an hour. You’re going to take a shower, right? ‘Cause you kind of smell.”
“Uh, yeah, of course.” I tried to act like I wasn’t mortified by that statement. Mark, probably sensing my embarrassment, put his arm around my shoulder.
“I’m just teasing you, sweetheart. You’re human; I’m surprised you’re even vertical with the amount of shots you did last night. I thought you’d still be in bed when I got here.”
We got into the elevator and I realized that I’d never had a man in the apartment before. I was suddenly very self conscious about what he would think of me as a decorator when he saw my pathetic pastel apartment with its tacky vinyl furniture and 1980s side table lamps. I turned to him feeling desperate.
“Mark. I have to tell you something before you see my apartment.”
“You went home with the mime last night and he’s still in your bed?”
I laughed. “No. It’s just that my apartment doesn’t exactly look like it belongs to a decorator. I was a starving student for so long…. I just haven’t had a chance to update it since I started collecting a paycheck. I don’t want you to think that I’m a bad decorator; that I made my apartment look the way it does on purpose.”
“Is that all?” After a moment he added. “I’m sure it can’t be that bad.”
We walked into the apartment and Mark said, “I was wrong. It is that bad,” adding a little finger poke to my shoulder to indicate he was joking.
I quickly showed him around which was easy since you could see the whole apartment from the front door. I merely pointed at my bedroom door when I got to it, with no intention of showing him its interior. I had strewn my clothes about while getting dressed a little earlier and I had no idea where my bra and underwear might have landed. I left him in the living room while I took a shower and brushed my teeth - twice. I put on my favourite faded jeans that hung just so on my hips and a snug fitting light blue shirt that showed off my modest B-cups. The t-shirt had “You are Officially Invading My Space” written in tiny letters across my chest. I was so excited to get back into the living room with Mark that I didn’t bother to dry my hair.
I was so nervous at first sitting a few feet away from Mark on the couch that I kept fidgeting, getting up and down from the couch for drinks and snacks and pillows and blankets.
“Is it nap time?” Mark asked with a smile.
“No. I just like to get really comfortable when I watch a movie.” I explained. “Is that weird?”
“Must be a girl thing.” Mark said. “But if you’ll share the blanket with me, it can be our thing.”
“Our thing.” I repeated. How could we have a thing? That’s absurd. I thought and then realized how much I liked the sound of it.
“OK” I said and hopped back on the couch this time much closer to him than I was before and pulled the blanket over our legs. I adjusted myself so that my legs and feet were tucked up under me and my head was on his shoulder. I took a deep breath hoping to smell the ocean and was not disappointed when the feeling of home washed over me.
“Is this okay?” I asked.
“This is perfect.” Mark said. He popped a candy in his mouth and one into mine. Mark looked into my eyes and then brushed my cheek with the back of his hand.

“So, what are we watching?” he asked.
“Two Weeks Notice and Notting Hill. I’ve already seen them both about ten times.”
“Great.” Mark said kindly, “Let’s do this.”
We ate all of the junk food. We each carefully dissected the little colourful gummy bears and stuck their gummy heads on their gummy butts and their gummy arms on their gummy backs before we ate them up.
“If my producers could see me now, I’d never work again.” Mark laughed.
I was surprised to find he didn’t critique or even comment on the movies I chose, but agreed that they were good solid chick flicks.
“These movies make me happy; they are like comfort food to me, and are always there when I need them, with much fewer calories.”
”Chick flicks aren’t my first choice. Being that I’m a guy, I’d rather watch things being blown up, preferably after or during an incredible car chase with lots of shooting and gratuitous violence and sex.”
After soaking this in for a moment and reading the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eye, I guessed that was the type of film he was about to start working on with Tim Reynolds as the lead adrenaline junky.
“Is that your next project then?” I asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Mark looked a bit embarrassed, like I’d caught him day dreaming.
“Tell me what it’s about.”
“No. I don’t want to bore you.”
“Are you kidding? I like action movies too; I’m not just a mushy romantic. I like explosions.” I encouraged and it worked because Mark suddenly became animated as he turned his body to face me.
“The story is set in the future. Tim is going to play this tough renegade cop, Blake, who is chasing an escaped convict, Vlad. The world is really high tech with touch-screen everything. But Blake still uses old fashioned guns and equipment. Vlad was in jail for killing Blake’s wife out of revenge; because Blake killed Vlad's brother in the drug bust that put him in jail in the first place. So while this is happening, the world comes under attack by aliens and the two have to join together as tow of the toughest guys on earth to defeat the aliens and save the world. Lots of chases and things getting blown up." Mark concluded.
“That sounds really good. When does it come out?”
“We’re not ready to start shooting yet. Still needed to finish a few cast selections.…. Auditions are going on downtown over the next few weeks.”
I jumped up with a sudden burst of excitement. “I just thought of something. Do you need any young women?”
“Well, I could always use a young woman.” Mark smiled. “What are you offering me, exactly?”
“Very funny.” I rolled my eyes playfully. “I know a girl; she’s absolutely beautiful and she used to be on a Chinese soap opera. She speaks perfect English and she’s dying to get back to work. Is there any way I can get her in on the auditions? If I’m being pushy, just say so and I’ll drop it.”
“Are you her agent? Are you going to haggle with us for her pay?” He was smiling again enjoying the banter. “I’ll get you the information and you can pass it along to her. I’ll tell my casting director to keep an eye out for her, but I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank you. That’s wonderful! She’ll be thrilled!”
“It’s nice of you to think of her.” He paused for a moment, “Actually, it seems that there are a lot of nice things about you.” With that he pulled me back onto the couch beside him and leaned in to give me a fabulously soft kiss on my lips. I was instantly intoxicated, again.
At around 11:00 pm I started to yawn. Mark took it as a hint and stood up to leave. I was tired and he wasn’t giving me any hints that he wanted to be invited to stay, which was nice, in an old fashioned sort of way. We walked to the door holding hands where I leaned against the wall while he slipped his shoes on.
“Things are going to get busy again for me with the new movie. It’s proven to be a relationship killer in the past.” That sad look came into his eyes, again. The one I’d seen the last two times we were together.
“But then I’ve never met anybody worth hanging onto before.” He said. “Most of the filming for ‘Rivalry’ is going to be here and around the city, so hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time with you. I really want to spend more time with you Eve, if you want me to.” He seemed slightly frustrated. His job must be very demanding. I thought.
I raised my eyebrows and put on an air of importance to say, “Well, as it stands Mr. Staltz, I just took on a new and very important client and therefore, I too will be very busy over the next few weeks. So if my schedule allows, perhaps we could do lunch sometime.” I dropped the act and added. “I would absolutely love to spend more time with you, Mark. I’d really like to get to know you better. But please don’t tell Tim how ugly my apartment is. I promise I’ll do a great job on his condo.”
Without another word, he leaned into me and gave me something very different than a soft kiss, this time. It was a sexy kiss promising a future filled with passion and excitement. He slipped out of the door and I watched him from the balcony get into a black BMW parked across the street. I gave a little wave as he drove away and I fell back into the plastic lawn chair behind me. The air was crisp and cool. A gust of wind blew a wisp of my hair across my face. I sat there quietly for a while listening to the buzz of the street light and the humming from the cars on the busy main street nearby. The familiar noises were melodic and seemed to be playing me a lullaby. Mark’s face danced under my eyelids, his eyes, his smile, and his lips. Eventually the coolness of the concrete under my bare feet crept up to my spine and forced me inside and into my bed. I slept like I’d never slept before. Drifting on a cloud with Mark’s face there with me the whole night through.
The next day was a Sunday and the first thing on my list of things to do was to deal with my practically non-existent landlord.
“Hello? Joe?”
“Yeah, this is Joe.” He grunted.
“I want my apartment painted. I’ve asked you many times in the past and you keep giving me excuses about the painters being busy. So I decided I’m going to paint the apartment myself and I expect you to pay for the paint.” James was teaching me how to be more demanding.
“I’ll bring by my receipt for the paint and you can deduct the money from my rent. Do you have a problem with any of this?” All this was said in an aggressive tone that I had never used before – and I liked it.
“Whatever lady. Do what you want. I’ll take $200 off your rent if you keep the colours neutral."
“Neutral? Is that what you told the last people? Is that why I’ve been living in a pastel prison?”
“What?” Joe made a bit of a snorting sound.
“Forget it. Fine. It’s a deal.” I hung up the phone, feeling pleased with myself. After that phone call I started feeling a little more mature and a little more in control of my life. Things were changing all around me; it was time that I got on with some changing, too.
Ben was going to help me paint the apartment, although he didn’t know it yet. I really loved our place; it had great bones and had been neglected for far too long. I sat down and mapped out a monochromatic colour scheme in shades of green and accents in white for the living room, which included purchasing slip covers for the couch and love seat, throw pillows, new lamps and some other accessories to tie it all together. The end result would be a fresh, comfortable and elegant space for as much as my budget and resources would allow. I decided to go shopping for some updates for the apartment in the shops that were within walking distance. It was a good way to keep my mind off Mark, as I kept falling into little daydream trances remembering his goodbye kiss. I could easily waste the day away remembering that kiss. Instead, I spent the day in the decorating stores around my neighbourhood. Even though I had wholesale status with some of the most coveted boutiques in the city, I couldn’t even afford to buy a throw pillow from them.
The store owners nearby, who were working that day, were happy to give me a discount when I told them that I was a Signare designer. None of them believed me at first so I had to show them my business card before they perked up and personally showed me around their stores, hoping that I would come back again with my clients. They were all very nice people and I got everything I needed including a lot of exercise, walking back and forth from the shops to my apartment, delivering my goodies. I stored everything in my bedroom closet for when we were finished painting.
It was late afternoon when Ben burst through the door and jumped on the couch, outstretching his long legs and wrapping his hands behind his head, elbows jutting out toward the ceiling.
“Help! I need therapy ASAP. I just spent the weekend with my parents and now I want to kill myself. Please tell me there’s beer in the fridge.”
“How did the gold digging go?” I walked into the room, sat on the edge of the soup chair, and handed him a cold beer.
“They refuse to give me any more money unless I go to college.”
“Oh. So they’re going with the tough love approach?” I said.
“Tough love? That’s what you call it? Anyway, I met a chick on the Greyhound, she’s a bartender too. Her name is, get this, Cherry. I think we’re soul mates. She has tattoos all over. I think I’m in love, seriously.”
“She sounds lovely, Ben. Listen, I’m going to run over to see Mama Silk and Tina. Want to come for a ride? I’ll buy you dinner.”
“Free food? I’m in. Let’s go” and he was off the couch. “By the way, how was your Film Festival, Lady in Red?”
On the subway, I filled him in on all the details of the weekend, and then made him agree to spend a day with me painting the apartment.
“So now that you have a fancy decorating job, our precious, baby ducks marching around the walls in the kitchen aren’t good enough for you? What a snob.”
“I’ll buy a great big pizza and a case of bear. It’ll be fun. You can invite Tattoo Girl, if you want.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s her idea of a good time.”
“Did you tell her that you work at a gay bar?”
“Yes, I did as a matter of fact. We have no secrets. I told you, it is true love.”
“No secrets that you know of anyway,” I teased.
We arrived at the shop to find Tina behind the cash counter looking bored. I could smell jasmine in the air and I knew Mama Silk was there, somewhere.
Ben was stopped in his tracks when he saw Tina. He leaned over to me and said, “Do you know who that is?” and before I could answer, “It’s Tina Chow. She’s a Chinese soap opera star.”
“You’re kidding me,” I said. “You watch Chinese soap operas?”

I guess he wasn’t kidding me because he headed directly for her and introduced himself. I saw her face light up when he said he recognized her from the show. She gave me a little wave as I headed for the back of the shop to find Mama Silk and leave Tina with her adoring fan.
Mama Silk was pinning a piece of coordinating fabric to a bolt of fabric hanging on the wall. It was something that I suggested she do to inspire people to buy coordinating fabrics.
When she saw me, her hands went up and floated down on either side of my face. She smiled so lovingly at me that for a moment, I felt like family.
I took some of her clippings from the pile on the floor and we pinned the fabrics where we thought they belonged. Our intense silence while working made it almost ritualistic. Mama Silk walked into the back room and returned with an armful of pillows in coordinating fabrics as well and I almost fell over. She did understand what I was telling her the last time I was there. Tina wasn’t around to translate, but she had understood my strained and silly looking version of sign language. Using my hands folded together beside my ear to imitate a pillow. I walked into the back room myself, in search of a small display table. This was something I had never done before - go into the back room. I took a chance, hoping not to offend Mama Silk.
The back room was a typical back room of any store. There were bolts of fabric everywhere and to my surprise, probably about fifty pillows made up from every fabric in the store. She had taken me too seriously, but it was great. I meant for them to be show pieces, to help the customers visualize the fabric in their home. This was overload, but they were absolutely gorgeous. I had an idea and reached for the pricing gun and tags on a nearby table. I priced the pillows at $25.00 each and pulled them out from the back of the store. Mama Silk looked confused and I told her I would be right back. I disappeared again into the back room and pulled out a small fold up table and small area rug that was leaning against the wall. I put a bunch of the pillows in Mama Silk’s arms and motioned for her to follow me. We went out onto the sidewalk and I laid out the rug and put the table on top of it. I arranged the tagged pillows in rows on the table and on the rug underneath to create an attractive display.
Mama silk lifted one of the price tags, looked up at me questioningly at first and then as though a light bulb went off, she began shaking her head up and down in agreement.
A lady walking by stopped to look at the pillows and asked me if we had two more the same for her second sofa. I fetched them from the back and a surprised Tina rung them in for a hundred dollar sale. It was brilliant.
“You know,” said the woman to Tina at the cash, “I walk by here all the time on the way to visit my son and I never knew this shop even existed. These fabrics are just beautiful. I have some friends who just loved to ‘gussy up’ their homes. I’m going to make sure they stop in.”
When she left, we scattered a few of the pillows around the store. I gave instruction to Tina to constantly check the window outside for customers and to let them know, without being pushy, that we had the complete sets of four inside, if they were interested. Maybe this would give the shop a little bit of draw, which it desperately needed. With all the excitement, I almost forgot to tell Tina about the casting call for “Rivalry”. I emphasized that nothing was being promised, but I could give them her name in advance. She was so beautiful I couldn’t see her being passed up.
Just one little problem. I remembered as Tina came out from behind the counter to give me a hug. I forgot that she was very, very pregnant. Ben made a little noise, embarrassed that he had been gushing so much over a pregnant woman.
Once we were back at home, I called and left a message on Mark’s cell phone admitting to having forgotten the tiny detail about Tina being pregnant, but I assured him that she would be the most beautiful pregnant woman he’d ever laid eyes on. If there was no way the casting director wanted to see her, I asked him to let me know and I would give her the news. I apologized profusely and felt very silly when I hung up the phone.

Chapter 5
New Clients
Monday morning came and I was waiting in Miki’s office for my weekly berating when I noticed a picture in a white frame behind her desk. It was of Miki and Madge. I couldn’t think of two more opposite women being friends, let alone owning a business together. Miki was down right horrible and Madge was an encouraging, nurturing and lovely human being. Miki stomped in and sat down slamming her Starbucks coffee on her desk - so hard that is sloshed up and out of the little hole in the top like a tiny geyser.
“So, how in the hell did you land the Tim Reynolds account? Who said you were qualified enough to handle such high end clients? Why wasn’t any of this discussed with me? Who does she think she is? Who do you think you are?” She was practically foaming at the mouth. I knew she would be rubbed the wrong way by me working with such a big client, but I didn’t know it would send her over the deep end.
I didn’t know which question to answer first. “Kim and Tim asked me personally to work on the condo. They’re sort of friends of mine.”
“Uh, they’re sort of friends of yours!” She was mocking me, in a high pitched squeal. She was in hysterics. I was starting to get a little tired of the “I hate Eve” routine every Monday morning. So I tried a new approach.
“If we’re done here, I have a lot of work to do.” I stood up and half expected to feel the scorching heat of her coffee on my face, but she just sat growling like a Doberman ready to attack. I turned on my heal and walked out of the office at as normal a pace that I could manage, with my chin in the air, right past her assistant who was watching me with her mouth agape. As soon as I turned the corner and was out of their line of vision I made a run for it to my office. I closed the door behind me and leaned back against it to catch my breath.
“My star student lands one of our biggest clients of the year. Very impressive, Eve.”
I looked down to see Madge sitting behind my desk. She was wearing a white suit with a lime green camisole underneath. Her skin was a glowing bronze and her hair was up in a loose bun. She was wearing white glasses and looked like a million bucks. There was something else. She was beaming - she was proud of me. It was like night and day having just come from the Queen of Darkness’s office.
Madge came out from behind my desk, sporting a pair of bright green alligator print heels that must have been worth about $500. She had interesting style and expensive taste. I guess once you have experienced quality, there’s no going back. She gave me a big hug. Her perfume was pleasant smelling, sweet and spicy at the same time.
We walked over to my desk where she took the guest chair this time. A seating arrangement that I didn’t know if I’d ever get used to. I was not worthy.
“The office looks fantastic. I see that you were finally able to make something for yourself with that beautiful fabric you used to bring into class.”
“Madge, thank you. Thank you for giving me this job.” I said. “I don’t think I’ve had a chance to properly thank you, yet. I truly appreciate it. It has been amazing.”
“You deserve it, Eve. Really.” Then with a slight grimace she asked, “Miki hasn’t been too hard on you has she?”
I decided to take the high road on that one. “She’s been fine. I meet with her every Monday morning to go over my work and assignments.”
“Did you go over your new assignment this morning? How did that go?”
“Well….. She seemed very excited about it.” I said enthusiastically. It wasn’t a lie. Miki was definitely excited that morning.
“Good. I spoke to Kim Reynolds over the weekend and she and Tim will be in to see you this week to go over some details. Take them to lunch at Canoe and send me the bill. Take James if you think he will behave himself.”
“OK, Madge, will do. But are you sure you want me to take this job? I’m glad I got you the client, but would you feel better with Jaz and Fritz working on it? I won’t be offended if that’s the case”
Madge sat up straighter in her chair. “Absolutely not.” She lightly slammed the desk with her fist as she got up from her seat. I took that to mean the conversation was over.
“Now I have a meeting with Miki and then I have other business. There are a lot of things happening that you’ll learn about soon enough.” She looked momentarily distracted and I saw the little muscle in her jaw flex. She snapped out of it just as quickly and continued with our conversation. “Tim mentioned that they would like to go environmentally friendly as much as possible, so I thought you might like to bring Jade Geoffrey in as a consultant. Here is her number.” She pushed a business card across my desk. “This project is all yours, use whatever resources you’d like. Bill appropriately and don’t hesitate to call me if you need help with anything. I expect to hear from you. James always knows where to find me.
“Okay Madge, I’ll keep you in the loop,” I promised.
“I know this is your first big job, Eve. Don’t be nervous. Just do what you do best: decorate. James will help you with all the details and I will be your adviser. You’re covered, so just make sure the clients are happy. Once you get this one under your belt, you’ll feel more confident. And the fact that the clients are both so fond of you, I know this from speaking with the, it will make it all the more enjoyable, so have fun with it.”
She was already across the room and opening the door by the end of her speech. A sign of a very busy woman. With a little wave and a wink she was gone.
I sat for a while turning Jade’s business card in my fingers. I was happy to bring her aboard to work on the project. I wasn’t really thinking about her though, I was thinking about Mark. I turned in my chair and peaked through the curtains out at the world. I caught sight of the vast blue sky and the roofs of the nearby buildings. My stomach lurched and I turned quickly back around.
I noticed I had a message on my phone. I keyed in my password and walked over to close the door, so I could listen on speaker. It was Mark. There was a chuckle in his voice.
“Eve. It’s Mark. I got your message. I’ll let the casting director know that your friend is - with child. Again, I can’t promise anything. I’ll talk to you later. I had a great time with you this weekend. I miss you’re beautiful smile already.”
After replaying the message about five times I called Jade and filled her in on everything and let her know that I would be in touch. Jade was working on her own as a consultant and doing well, since graduation. I told her about Miki and how Carla was always sucking up to her. Jade wasn’t surprised to hear it, nor was she interested in hearing about it. She wasn’t the type for gossip. It was a very respectable attribute. I wished I could be more like her, but that would mean giving up my tabloid magazines and I knew I wasn’t strong enough for that.
She also lacked the customary reaction that most warm-blooded women would have when I mentioned that I needed her help on a job for the gorgeous Tim Reynolds. Either she didn’t know who he was or she didn’t care. The only thing that excited a girl like Jade was the new lemongrass shots at Nature Hut. She never made judgements and never preached her beliefs to others. She just did her thing and hung out with people who shared her passion for the environment. It was nice talking to her again. I felt a little more grounded when I hung up the phone.
Suddenly there was a commotion coming from the other end of the office - yelling. Familiar yelling. It was Miki. She was screaming incoherently and it sounded like she was throwing things around. I could only make out snippets of her rant.
“I’m the boss!” and “I’m in charge!” and “Little Witch!”
I caught a glimpse in the slim window beside my door of Brandy and Ginger walking very quickly by. Miki came stomping down the hall behind them. She stopped at my door, flung it open and stood in the door jam with her feet wide, her shoulders raised toward her ears her back arched into a hump below her neck looking like a raging bull about to charge at me any second. But she didn’t charge at me. She just stared at me with her mouth pulled down at the corners. I could almost see the flames burning behind her wild eyes. She reminded me of a Black Cruella DeVille I realized just as she made a sort of snorting noise and turned on her heal continuing toward the boardroom, carrying on with her fit.
“Boardroom now! Everybody get your asses in there before I fire you all.”

I heard her footsteps come stomping back toward my office and she was back. Noticeably reeling in her temper she spoke between clenched teeth, “You! Get your chubby little ass in there too!” She was livid. I assumed that her meeting with Madge had not gone to her liking and that Madge had already left the building. Miki was down the hallway again before I could be offended by her “chubby” remark.
James came flying into my office as I sat there stunned by Miki’s performance. “Let’s go! I have two lattes waiting and seats saved for us at the back. This is going to be great!” He was doing that bouncing thing again that he did when he was excited about something. I couldn’t begin to imagine what was going on, but I had a feeling it had something to do with my new clients and friends, the Reynolds’.
We made our way to the boardroom where Miki was pacing back and forth at the front of the room trying to bring her blood pressure back to that of a human being instead of a race horse. I caught her glare when we walked in and James pulled me toward our seats grinning ear to ear. Sipping on our lattes we waited for the room to fill up and the show to begin.
Through clenched teeth, Miki began. “How did everyone enjoy the Film Festival?” Her pitch was squeaky and high at the end of the sentence and every sentence to follow as though her head was literally about to explode. This woman clearly had anger management issues and could benefit from professional help. Everyone just sat there not knowing how to respond to the freak show standing before them. Most just nodded and half smiled and then Carla piped up.
“It was wonderful Miki. Thank you for the opportunity. We all had a great time.” Miki shot her a look that caused Carla to lean back in her chair like a child preparing themselves to be struck by a firm back hand. Miki turned a new shade of red and then looked directly at me. My blood ran cold.
“Well, while you were all enjoying yourselves, Eve was working. She brought in a new client to Signare from the festival. Isn’t that great?” Nobody dared get suckered in that time and everyone smartly remained silent, waiting to see what would happen next.
“Kim and Tim Reynolds are Eve’s new clients.” She announced. “Eve will be working on a home away from home for them in the city.” From the corner of my eye, I could see Carla perk up as most women did at the mention of Tim Reynolds’ name. Even though he was married, he was a star and that made him public property in the eyes of his female fans. Her hand shot up instantaneously and she stupidly spoke out of line, once again.
“I’d like to volunteer to assist on the project!”
No way! I thought. That would be a nightmare.
A sinister smile crept across Miki’s face, “That is a fabulous idea, Carla. You will assist Eve on her project and you will both report back to me.” Now she was grinning ear to ear and when I looked at James his smile had disappeared completely.
“Eve has Madge and me working on this project with her.” James said firmly. “We don’t need Carla.”
Carla just smiled, not looking offended in the least and Miki stared at James as if to say that she would bite his head off if he spoke another word. She was a truly frightening woman. Shrugging his shoulders and mouthing the word “sorry” to me, James backed down. Great, I was stuck with Carla as my new helper and spy for Miki.
Immediately following the meeting, James and I had a closed door meeting of our own to plan a line of defence against Miki and Carla and figure out a way to keep Kim and Tim unaware of the company’s drama. I took the lead, pacing, while James sat behind my desk, taking notes. We were really gelling as a team and I was encouraged.
“Okay, this job should only take a few weeks, a month tops - start to finish. Let’s get as much information from the clients as possible in our first meeting, and the key to the condo so we can get measurements and an idea of the natural lighting. We’ll take them to lunch. Can you please make reservations at Canoe once you confirm a time with them. The sooner the better. I believe they’re leaving at the end of this week for LA. I don’t want them in here and around Miki and Carla, so let’s bring samples with us to lunch.” I was thinking on my feet, the pressure and stress had somehow become my fuel.
“I’m freaking out a little bit here, James.” I moaned. “If Carla screws this up for me, I swear I will throw her off the roof.”
“It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be great. We’ll give her something to do that will keep her out of our hair. She can fetch our coffee and run our small errands, things she can’t sabotage.”
“You think she’ll try to sabotage the project?” I squeaked knowing it wasn’t beneath her.
James was smiling evilly. “Don’t panic.” he said. “We’ll keep her busy so she can’t get into any trouble.” I relaxed a little. I’ve heard his revenge ideas. James was down right maniacal. I didn’t have to worry about Carla if I put him in charge of her. I would be able to concentrate on the project.
“Okay, you are on “Carla duty” - Thank you.” I gave him a smile that said I appreciated him and we continued working on our game plan. When we both felt good about things again, James strolled out of the office to make some calls.
Alone in my beautifully decorated office, surrounded by my favourite colours and fabrics, I started to wonder if this is what working at Signare would always be like. Was it worth the stress? I decided it was too soon to tell.
I headed for the door. I wanted to take a walk and clear my head from the morning’s events but Carla bounced in with a cocky smile on her face and interrupted my train of thought. She was clearly very pleased with herself. She sat on the edge of my desk, crossed her long perfect legs, and leaned back slightly on her palms. I envied her gracefulness, her slender body and perfect hair. And I hated that I envied such a terrible person.
“So Partner, shall we get started on our project?” With this, my face started to flare up, not with the usual embarrassment or shyness, but this time with anger. Who did she think she was? Partner? She was so much less a designer than me that I was still scratching my head as to why she received the apprenticeship from Madge in the first place. I took a deep breath, looking down at my shoes for a moment to regain my composure. They were brand new. They were nice. And this was MY project.
“Excuse me, but would you kindly remove yourself from my Victorian desk. It was a gift.” My tone was clear and steady although I wanted to scream and lunge toward her in a fury of hair pulling and eye scratching madness. She stood slowly seeming to not quite know how to take my new tone. After all, I avoided her in school like the bully she was and always backed down when she teased me about my clothes or weight. Things were different now and she was about to find out.
My hand was still on the door and I closed it gently. I walked across the room, around the back of my desk and took a seat motioning for her to do the same in the guest chair provided. I sat quietly looking at her for a few moments, my hands crossed on the desk in front of me, my back straight. She began to wiggle in her seat feeling uncomfortable, which was exactly what I wanted. It was a trick that Mark told me he used on diva-type actresses and it worked. The mood was shifting. She thought she could waltz into my office and intimidate me? I was better than her. Maybe not as beautiful or sexy or thin, but I was smarter and definitely a better designer. And I belonged at Signare and she didn’t.
“What made you volunteer to help out on this project Carla?” A direct hit. We both knew she volunteered to spy for Miki and try to get Tim's attention.
“I just thought you could use the help with such an important client,” she said.
“Well, that was very nice of you.” I said flippantly. “James and I talked it over and we really can use your help on this one. Now, as I am the project lead, I won’t have time to manage you. So you will be reporting to James and following his instruction. You’ll be working mostly from the office. A lot of evenings and weekends I’m sure, so don’t worry about the extra work interfering with whatever your regular job is here.”
She shuddered at the mention of working weekends. Perhaps she was reconsidering how clever her volunteering was for the project.
“James will schedule you in for a meeting once we get started and give you your tasks. This could be a good learning experience for you.” I smiled an extremely condescending smile and waited for her response.
“Sounds great.” She forced a smiled back at me, clearly now trying to control her own anger.
Carla stood and headed toward the door mumbling something about Miki and weekends along with a few incoherent profanities. She swung the door open and I watched her skinny little butt disappear into the hallway. With great satisfaction, I leaned back in my chair, arms folded behind my head, my legs stretched out under my desk. Two points for Eve Sullivan. I thought. Finally.
The rest of the week at work went pretty smoothly. I spent some time talking on the phone with Mark who kept me in stitches with stories about the things he had to do to get financing for his movies.
“Everything short of performing a striptease,” he laughed.
We made plans to get together on the weekend. Sunday was his only available day and I couldn’t wait to see his face again. I was starting to lose memory of his smell and I desperately missed it. This was a big first for me. I’d never become close enough to anyone before to fall this hard, this fast. There was something about him that reminded me of home and it made me feel comfortable, relaxed and just plain good every time I thought of him.
Lunch with the Reynolds was scheduled for Friday afternoon. I forgot about the tiny, little detail that the restaurant Madge suggested was situated on the top floor of the Tower Building overlooking half of the city and the Great Lake. The elevator ride alone made my stomach turn and my mouth go dry. I was glued to the back wall of the elevator when the doors opened. James pulled me loose and out into the hosting area of the restaurant. It was very chic with dark wood, low lighting, leather seating, and windows in every direction. The room started to spin violently and I felt James’s arm around my waist as I started to sway and the room went dark around me. Leaning on the reception desk and holding my head down to stop the room from spinning, I began an internal dialogue. I explained to myself how millions of people had been through this building and this restaurant and they have been perfectly safe. That the construction was sturdy and of the sort of quality that good buildings are made. When I looked up, a very concerned looking young woman was moving from James to me in an increasingly panicked voice, asking if I was alright.
“She’s fine, Love,” James was saying as he roughly pushed my head back down. “The question is how are you? You are looking quite lovely tonight…” I could picture him reading her name tag “Betty. Beautiful Betty.”
I heard her giggle and couldn’t believe that his lines really worked on absolutely anyone. I guess with his combination of good looks, great clothes, physique, and the charm of his British accent, he could be calling her an idiot and she’d still giggle along.
“Now Betty, how about you get my friend and me a table as far away from the windows as possible?”
“Right this way,” sang the peppy little voice of Betty who was all the more peppy at the moment because she’d just had an ego boost from James. My head was still down and I could see her feet practically skipping in front of us as we followed her to our table.
“This is the farthest from the windows as I can seat you, but it’s a terrible view. I guess she doesn’t like heights, huh?”
“She loves them; she’s just very nervous about our meeting.” I leaned back in the leather chair facing the solid, sturdy wood panelled wall. James gave me a wink and a smile, which I returned with a one finger salute.
“We’re expecting guests. Our reservations were under Signare Designs. They should be here anytime. Would you be a doll and just bring them over here when they arrive? Thanks Sweetheart.”
How did he get away with talking to women like that? It was almost as nauseating as the height we were at. Betty bounced away back to her post.
“You’re a real piece of work James.” I kicked him playfully under the table. “Sweetheart? Ugh.”
“You love it,” he said smugly.
“I don’t know how I tolerate you,” I teased.
“Nice seats by the way. We’re right beside the kitchen and we can’t even see the rest of the restaurant.”
“Good.” I said. “Then we can’t see the windows.”
“You’ve got to get over this, this…thing of yours about heights, Eve. Have you always been like this?”
“Only since Ben coaxed me into climbing up on the roof of my house when we were kids and then proceeded to push me off the edge. He didn’t tell me there was snow bank below before giving me the shove. I thought that he was trying to kill me! I never forgave him for it. Everyone was waiting below laughing and all I could do was cry and run inside.
Kim and Tim came to our table looking confused, obviously because of the poor seating. They were both dressed to the nines, which I suppose is necessary when you’re constantly being photographed. Kim was wearing a shiny blue tunic dress. She looked tired and was wearing her makeup a little on the heavy side to try to cover the fact. Still, she was breathtaking. Tim was wearing a beige casual suit to accentuate his deep tan, with a white t-shirt and a fedora. Sexy, there’s no other word for it. He was a perfect specimen of a man. There was something about his eyes that day; he looked spent. I determined that either they had been up all night fighting or something else. I stood and shook hands with Tim and before I could extend my hand to Kim, she lunged forward and gave me a warm heartfelt hug. I hugged her back, still a little off balanced from the elevator ride.
I took them in. They were the best looking couple imaginable. What kind of person has lunch in public with Kimothy and hides in the back where nobody can see them? I allowed them to think that I was being discreet and clever by getting us a table out of the way of onlookers and inevitable distractions. They were the clients after all, and it was my job to impress.
“Eve is afraid . . . - Ow!” I kicked James under the table when he started to explain.
“I was afraid that we might be distracted by your fans” I said. “I had us seated here so we could focus and have a productive meeting. I know your time is valuable.”
“Alright then, who’s hungry?” James piped in with a knowing smile in my direction. He turned on his charm once again pulling out Kim’s chair for her to sit down. Our waitress came to the table and took our drink orders. Since it was noon and I was still trying to recover from the elevator ride, I suggested we all enjoy some cocktails to celebrate our new business relationship.
Putting on my presentation voice, I laid out the agenda to my new clients. “First of all, thank you both again for coming today. I understand that you are heading back to Los Angeles very soon. I was hoping to learn more about your lifestyle and your ideas for the condo.”
“Just pick up a gossip magazine and you’ll have everything you need to know.” Timothy said, agitation clearly in his tone.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that since I did literally treat those magazines like the gospel before I met Kim and Timothy Reynolds. “Well, I wouldn’t trust them to be accurate. I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth.” James gave me a knowing sideways glance as I took a quick drink of my martini.
“Tim is just upset that Slam Magazine claimed that he wasn’t much of a basketball player in high school.”
“Oh.” I said. “Where you?”
Tim’s very serious face leaned forward as he looked into my eyes. Then suddenly his expression softened, “No. I stunk up the court. But does the whole world need to know about it?”
Kim started laughing and then Tim. James and I followed suit.
“Come on Eve, you know how sensitive actors are. They only want to be told that they’re great and nothing else.” She poked Tim lovingly in the side.
The waitress came back around to take our food order flirting with James and acting nervous with Tim.
When she bounced away again I continued with business. “I’d like to visit the apartment with you both after lunch if you have time. Just to get some more feelings from you before you go. When are you coming back?”
“In about a month. With the kids.” Kim said.
“Great. That gives us lots of time. If all goes well, it should be ready for you to move in!”
“That’s great.” Tim said.
They both still seemed a little tense so James added, “Due to your, um, status, I want to assure you that any information you give us stays with us. It won’t be shared with anyone, not even our coworkers.”
“And definitely not those bastards at Slam Magazine.” I added.
James guffawed at this remark and Tim burst out laughing again. Kim also seemed to relax. Then we all jumped right into the project. The apartment was, for the most part, going to be for Tim. It would be a stylish retreat in the city between long days of filming his latest movie. A place that he could unwind, put his feet up, catch up on sports, and on some sleep. Who knew that Tim Reynolds was just an average guy? We had a few laughs and the more we learned about the couple, the more normal they became to us.
Tim leaned back in his seat tentatively eyeballing his fourth Manhattan. “I just want a place where I can scratch my privates without being judged, you know what I mean?” He was looking to James who nodded and grunted in agreement. Kim gave Tim a little correcting punch on the shoulder and we all laughed.
The more drinks we had over lunch, the louder we became - to the point that our waitress had the unfortunate task of having to ask the powerful Hollywood couple to keep it down as we were disturbing the other guests. She apologized profusely saying that because of where we were sitting, nobody knew who it was and she was sure they wouldn’t be complaining if they did. I made a mental note to give her a good tip for her trouble and to keep her mouth shut about it all.
Kim gave us her take on the apartment and how she and the kids would be using it when they were in town visiting. The kids loved to swim and so would be using the pool everyday. Kim mentioned that It was difficult for the kids to settle down and get back into their sleeping pattern when travelling, however. So I suggested that they send me some photos of their bedrooms in LA and I would duplicate some things to make them feel more comfortable and safe. I watched Kim’s eyes gloss over thinking about her children.
It made me miss my own mother and wonder what she might be up to in Buford. Most likely she was playing scrabble with Aunt Jane and sipping tea; she seemed a million miles away.
The kids had a nanny that lived and travelled with them. More often Kim and Tim needed to be seen in public together “sans” kids to squash the rumours that they were having marital problems. This brought on a slightly uncomfortable silence when thankfully the waitress arrived with our bill.
I sent James to pay the bill and have a chat with the waitress about keeping our liquid lunch with the Reynolds’ to herself. He was more likely to be convincing in that situation than I could be.
With all the alcohol and fun I had forgotten that we were sitting in a restaurant in the sky and I would have to face the elevator down as soon as we left for the apartment. I suddenly wanted to be playing scrabble with my mother in their one storey bungalow. Catching the look on my face, James quickly offered the Reynolds should go ahead of us and we would meet them at the condo, saying that we had to report into the office with a quick call. After walking them to the elevator, James came back to collect me. It wasn’t as bad going down as it was coming up. Perhaps I was getting used to heights, or perhaps it was the alcohol. Either way we made it out of the building without incident.
Not to my surprise, the condo was located on the top floor of the building. “Why does society have to associate heights with power?” I thought to myself as I took a deep breath.
I made my way up to the 28th floor beside James, who thought it would be funny to play the “What if?” game on the way up. 
“What if the elevator gets stuck and we’re in here for a week?” “I give you permission to eat me if I die first,” James mused.
“I give you permission to eat me right now if you are going to say such a stupid things!” I gave him a little shove and felt the elevator move beneath my feet, which sent me reeling back to my position white knuckling the railing with my eyes closed in the corner. È
Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work. Maybe I should be a dog walker or a street performer. Any profession that doesn't require the use of elevators.”
“Don’t be silly. You don’t have enough talent to be a street performer,” James jeered.
The doors opened and we stepped onto the carpeted hallway. We stopped in front of a door with a stylized C on it. 
“I guess they didn’t treat their tenants like numbers here, but letters. Is that more comforting or something?” I said.
The famous couple was waiting inside looking out at the city through a large wall of windows. They were holding each other, whispering and giggling. James cleared his throat and they broke their huddle, motioning for us to come to them. I stepped down into the sunken living room and walked half way across the room, but could not force myself to go any further, eyeing the windows like a pitiless enemy. Thankfully, they took no notice to my internal battle and met me half way on the Berber carpet.
“We’ve never really been involved with the actual decorating of our homes before, “Kim said. “They are usually fully furnished when we move in. Then we just add our things that we’ve collected over the years from various countries. This is kind of exciting.”
I looked around to see a table with four chairs up in the dining area. I knew it didn’t belong to the Reynolds’. James called ahead to arrange for a meeting table in the empty condo. He was a godsend.
I was already decorating the space in my mind as we walked toward the table. This would be Tim’s retreat, everything in this room was going to be high-tech and controlled with a master remote. The curtains, music, stereo, television, lighting - everything. I was picturing muted tones of grey and beige accented with calming blue throw pillows, artwork and so on. He would feel completely calm in his living room. I presented my ideas and Tim seemed very pleased. We laid out the floor plan on the table, which I had already marked up quite a bit with room designations and basic furniture layouts. I was like a kid at play with a blank canvas. The condo was 1800 square feet. There would be plenty of room for everyone when Kim and the kids were visiting. That including a play room that, after learning of their love of swimming, I was now thinking of decorating in a nautical theme. It was going to be fabulous and would meet their every need. We did a walk-through; I listened closely as we brainstormed ideas together. Tim had an aversion to modern cosmopolitan styles while Kim was very fond of Victorian.
James and Tim were discussing his upcoming movie when Kim took me aside to dish.
“So how’s Mark? Have you two been seeing each other? I think you’re just what he needs.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he never dates. Never even fools around. I was starting to think he was gay!” She giggled in a higher pitch than I guessed was normal and then blushed slightly. The alcohol from lunch still hadn’t worn off, I assumed. She was so normal and down to earth that I often forgot I was talking to a huge celebrity.
“Why doesn’t he date?” I asked. Was there something wrong with him? An abnormality that he doesn’t want to be revealed perhaps? He was perfect in every way, so what would stop him from dating? A sleeping disorder involving kitchen knives? What could it be?
“Honestly, I think he’s afraid to get close to anyone because of his schedule.”
That wasn’t so bad. “You know, I have hardly seen him since we started, well, I don’t even know if we’re dating or not to be honest. All I can tell you is I can’t wait to see him again. He’s so, amazing to be with!”
”Just be careful.” She put her hand on my shoulder and smiled her perfect smile at me. I imagined she was what Kelly would look like in ten more years.
Tim came over to where we were standing. “We have to get going,” he said.
Kim didn’t seem ready to go, but put her arm around me as we walked to the door.
“We’ll keep in touch; I’ll email you the pictures of the kids’ rooms when I get home. Thank you for taking care of this for us. I can’t wait to see the place when it’s finished. We're planning to keep the condo for when we’re in town throughout the year.”
“I can’t wait to get started. We’re going to stay behind right now to take measurements."
We walked them to the elevator where we all shook hands and Kim gave me a little squeeze. She whispered in my ear, “Give me a call and we’ll talk more about boys.” She pulled back and smiled at me again before the beautiful couple disappeared behind the elevator doors.
“What is with you two? It’s like you’re BFFs or something.”
”Honestly James, I think she’s lonely. She’s very sweet and I’d be honoured to call her a friend.”
“You and every other human being with a pulse.”
We marched back into the condo where James measured the windows while I measured everything else. Then we made our way to our respective homes, agreeing to meet in the morning at the office to go over the project and start selecting our pallets. It was my turn to bring the fancy coffee of my choice while trying to pass on the chocolate croissants at Starbucks that always screamed my name starting from a block away.
The week flew by in a whirl of design bliss. James and I were rocking on the condo and things were moving along nicely. I broke down and took James to meet Mama Silk. I figured he earned it by that point, besides that, I needed him to drive his car there. We would be taking our materials back with us, as this time we were using our own seamstresses. James stopped in his tracks when he saw Tina behind the counter at the shop. I could have saved him the embarrassment by telling him she was pregnant before he went over and hit on her, but where would the fun have been in that?
“Hello Lovely. How are you on this beautiful fall day? Eve, I can’t believe you were keeping this gorgeous lady a secret from me.”
“Well,” Tina shot me a little smile where I was still standing at the door. “I’m a little pregnant today. How are you doing, Handsome?”
Without skipping a beat James went on, “I’m better now that we’ve met. What is a gorgeous piece of work like you doing hiding out in Chinatown? You should be in a magazine or on a billboard.”
Smiling seductively she replied” You mean like ‘Today’s Parent’?” Tina asked knowing that he wasn’t listening to her whatsoever.
“Posing on a beach looking ridiculously sexy.” James was licking his lips at the image. What a pig.
Tina finally stood up so he would stop being disgusting. “You know, you’re right. I’m going to go look for a modelling agent right now. The only problem is that I don’t think my bathing suit is going to fit.”
I burst out laughing and James spun around on his heels, a horrified look on his face. He immediately started apologizing to Tina, saying he would never disrespect a soon to be mother.
“James, you disrespect mothers everyday; you just don’t realize it,” I said.
Tina extended her hand and introduced herself to James and then I introduced him to her as my work partner.
“Tina, how are you?” I asked while giving her a little hug and rubbing her baby bump that was getting humongous.
“I’m doing OK. Hey! I got a call to go in for a second casting call. The one through your friend, Mark.”
“Did you speak to him?” It came out of my mouth before I knew I was saying it.
Tina gave me a puzzled look and continued on. “No, I talked to the casting director’s assistant. They are considering casting me in a bit part. I just have to lay in a hospital bed and talk to the person in the bed beside me. I have two lines!”
“That’s so exciting! I’m so happy for you, Tina.”
Her eyes were watering; she was so overwhelmed by the idea. Or maybe it was just her hormones. Either way, I truly hoped she would get the part and get her acting career back on track. She was so unbelievably beautiful that I wasn’t surprised that they would create a bit part just to get her lovely face in their movie. I wondered if Mark had any hand in persuading them.
I wouldn’t have known. I hadn’t heard from him in days since he left for Europe to do research for the movie. Maybe he changed his mind about us. It’s happened before. Maybe I did something or said something that was totally off in left field and he realized that he would be wasting his time with me. Who knows?
“Tina, the reason we’re here is because I have a ridiculously large fabric order to place with my favourite fabric Fashionista. Is Mama around today?” The day had finally come that I would make good on my promise to her.
“She’s ill again. She’s upstairs resting.” There was sad knowledge in Tina’s eyes, something she wasn’t telling me.
“Is she very ill? Or just a cold? Is there anything I can do?” Worry washed over me. She had been ill much too often for my liking.
“I think, I don’t know. She’s been ill a lot since I came back. She won’t go to the doctor either; she thinks it will just go away, that her teas will make it disappear.”
“Well, if she won’t go to the doctor, give her doctor a call and see if he won’t stop in to check on her. Tell him you’ll give him some free throw pillows for his wife. You’ll be able to afford it after I’m done here today.”
Entranced by the fabrics, James was wandering around touching every bolt, slowly floating through the aisles. He understood their beauty and their quality, giving me just one more reason to cherish him.
“There are no price tags,” he said.
“You noticed that. I used to walk out of here with an armful of fabrics for one dollar when I was in school. I wish you could have met Mama Silk today. You won’t tell anyone about this place, will you James? I’d hate to see her get taken for granted.”
“I won’t Eve. Don’t worry.”
“Okay. Let’s decorate a condo!” We got to work pulling samples and laying them out on the floor. Everything was coming together perfectly, the colours, the textures, and the styles. Mama silk had taken my advice and started to stock more cottons and blended fabrics that were much more versatile. The silk was out of this world, but silk wasn’t for every room. It was formal and luxurious and what we needed for Tim Reynolds’ condo retreat was a little bit of luxury and a lot of easy living. Easy living in maximum style. And so we would mix our fabrics and textures and colours to come up with a space that would make them wish they lived their whole lives in it.
We gathered up our goodies and took them to the car. I didn’t feel bad anymore for not using Mama Silk’s seamstresses because Tina told me they were booked up due to the increase in business at the shop. I was thrilled to hear they were doing so well. Still, I wasn’t going to tell anyone at work about them. It was selfish of me to keep paying customers away by keeping the shop a secret, but it was a business decision and I was sticking by it. Besides, I was giving them my business exclusively and I didn’t think Mama Silk could handle the pressure of extra deadlines and shipments if she did get too much business. It made sense in my mind and appeased my conscience. So that was that.
With a hug for Tina and a little rub for the baby we were on our way again.
I watched James as we drove through the city streets with ease. Turning here and there on one-way streets and somehow ending up back at the office. I couldn’t fathom getting around outside of the transit system. I couldn’t begin to imagine driving a car with all the other cars and cabs constantly and bicycle couriers on the road. But James was cool and drove with one hand on the wheel not even bothering to signal half the time.
We were so different. He was confident and outgoing and I was shy and awkward most of the time except when I was in Decorator mode. I guess that’s why we made a good team. I had to admit that I leaned on him a lot since I started at Signare and I was so grateful to Madge for assigning her nephew to the job of babysitting me, which I had figured out by that point. He was not my assistant at all; he was my guardian angel. I was thankful because I would have been thrown to the wolves on my first day otherwise. The wolves being the long-legged wanna be models that somehow ended up at Signare without any real decorating talent. What did that say for me I wondered? Clearly I was not one of them; I must have been hired for my talent.
“So let’s go up and put in our orders with the seamstresses.” James said when we arrived back at the office. “Then we’ll make Carla go get us some lattes.” He was grinning ear to ear.
Mark had phoned a few times and I missed his calls. In His first message he sounded like he missed me, which was nice. But the next message sounded defeated somehow, as though he was going to give up on trying to make it work.
“Eve. It’s Mark. I was hoping to catch you, we haven’t talked in weeks. I guess I’ll call you the next time I’m in town. Bye Eve.”
I almost started crying when I heard the message. His voice sounded so distant, not like the lighthearted Mark I was growing extremely fond of. A tone I hadn’t heard from him before. How could he give up so easily? Although I was starting to forget what he looked like, I would never forget the way he made me feel the few times we were together. Kim was right; it was hard to keep it going under these circumstances. I called him immediately, although I knew it was the middle of the night where he was.
“H-hello?” It was a question; he was disoriented from being woken up.
“Hello Mr. Staltz. Were you sleeping?”
”Eve? Yeah, I was. How are you?” He sounded wide awake now.
“I’m great Mark. I’ve been working my butt off, but I’m loving it.” I had him to thank after all.
“How are you? I got your messages….”
“Oh. I’m glad you called back. I’ve wanted to talk to you. I really miss you.” I almost dropped the phone. He was so sincere, he almost sounded sad.
“Eve. I don’t want you to stop living your life waiting for me to come back - having a relationship with your voice mail. That’s no fun.”
I took in what he was saying and I was expecting it.
“Mark, I’ve barely had time to get to know you half as well as I’d like to. I miss your smell.” I regretted it as soon as I said it. It was such a corny thing to say and I started blushing even though there was nobody there to witness it. I was in my office with the door closed.
“I changed my mind. I want you to wait for me. I’m coming back next week. Can we have dinner?”
”I’ll be counting the days. Do you want me to let you go now so you can get back to sleep?”
”I’m awake now; maybe we can talk for a little while?”
”I don’t want to have you tired tomorrow, so why don’t I do this…I’ll turn off the lights in my office and I can pretend that I’m there with you and then you can go to sleep?”
”Uh OK.” He sounded a little unsure. I walked across my office and killed the lights. I took the phone with me onto the floor behind my desk. Much too close to the windows but they were covered with tons of fabric.
We talked for about an hour about the things he was seeing and doing since he’d been away. He had an Aunt and Uncle in London and paid them a visit. He was researching places I’d only dreamt about visiting. Seeing first hand the design inspiring artifacts that shaped most of my learning. I was jealous and told him as much. He laughed and I conjured up an image of his smiling face in my mind. I really did miss him, although I still only barely knew him. He told me that he was jealous too, of all the people that got to see me everyday.
“The good news, Eve, is that once filming starts, I’ll be there with you for a good six months. I’ll be working night and day, but at least you’ll be able to visit me on set. That is, if you want to.”
“If there’s a subway station nearby, I’ll be there!” I joked. I would find a way I told myself. A yawn escaped me before I could muffle it and Mark laughed again making me miss him just a little more. “Maybe you should have a nap at your desk.”
“I’m under my desk right now actually.” We both laughed and ended the conversation with a ‘good-night’ and a promise to try and talk again before he came back.
I crawled up onto my chair from the floor and to my surprise Miki was standing in front of my desk with her arms crossed as well as her face. I felt very silly as I put the phone back on its base staring up at the menacing Amazon of a woman.
“If playtime is over can we get back to business? This is an office after all, not Nappy Time Camp.” I blushed slightly but thankfully the lights were still off.
“I, uh, was just talking to my friend.”
“I can see that.” She kept her stance as she looked down at me with disgust. “Where are you with the Reynolds job? I want to see everything you have. NOW!”
I jumped back in my chair when she yelled right into the hidden windows behind me. I stifled a yelp as I watched her disappear through the door, her long hair trailing behind.
“Man. She really needs to get laid,” James was saying as he entered.
“Seriously.” We both laughed nervously. “OK. Let’s get our stuff together.”
“I’ll call Carla to carry it!” He was loving our plan a little too much I thought, but I didn’t care enough about Carla to stop him. He even went as far as doing an all-page over the office speaker system requesting her in my office. He faked an evil villain laugh when he hung up the phone and I gave him a half-disapproving look.
“She’s going to get us back you know. I went to school with her for long enough to know that she doesn’t like to be out of the limelight for too long and will stab you in the back to get the attention on her again.
She’s such a…” Carla walked in before I could finish my thought. She looked perfect as usual. Her hair was pulled back in a sleek pony-tail, her eyes were made up to be smoky, and her lips were glossed. A skimpy black dress (the office uniform) clung to her well-endowed figure. I was wearing a black dress-suit with a white blouse, nylons and two-and-a-half inch black heels. My hair was back as well, but in a messy bun that I crafted using a number two pencil from my desk.
“James, you look great today” Carla pointed out and I wondered why she did until she opened her mouth again. “You look fabulous Eve, who’s doing your hair these days? You must tell me. And am I wrong or have you lost weight?”
Her tone, if not her words, were telltale enough that she was making fun of me. Before I could answer, she snatched a handful of samples and my project journal and headed out the door toward Miki’s office.
“Hey!” I called after her and then I scrambled to grab the rest of our things and catch up to her. I could feel James moving more slowly behind me. He had less and less patience for Miki these days.
James gave our presentation to Miki who was sitting behind her desk. While Carla, not without a snicker from us, was sent to fetch coffee. When we finished, Miki sat quietly seemingly collecting her thoughts and words.
“Do you two think you’re cute?” We knew better than to answer. “Do you think you’re going to take over Signare? Run the show? Sit behind my desk?” The volume was rising in her voice. “You tell Madge that I’m not going anywhere!” She slammed her fist on the desk. “Get out!”
We grabbed our things and tried not to run out the door. Even James seemed afraid. We bumped into Carla who in turn spilled some of Miki’s coffee on the floor.
“Cow,” Carla barked at me.
”Wench,” I retorted and then carried on down the hall with James.
“James, nothing she was just yelling at us made any sense. Did you notice that? She’s been doing it a lot lately.”
“No. I didn’t notice.” He said casually. “Let’s get out of here and get a drink.” My head was nodding yes before I completely digested the proposition. We deposited our work back at my office and I locked the door before heading out.
We stopped by to get an update from the head seamstress and were happy to learn that we could collect the drapes on Monday. We passed by a few of the girls from the office, all legs and short skirts and shiny hair. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy and self loathing every time one of them was near me. Until, of course, they opened their mouths to speak and all their charm went out the window. Nevertheless, it was plain to see they were happy to get through life on their looks alone.
James instinctively noticed my change in mood. “Why so glum, chum?” He gave me a poke in my side with his index finger and I felt it sink in a little further than it should have.
“That’s what’s wrong. These girls are driving me crazy.”
”You too?” He was smiling at his own joke but looked confused.
“It’s a little hard being me and being surrounded by them. I feel like a troll some days.”
“Eve, you silly girl. Sure, they are beautiful and leggy and sexy….what was I trying to get at?”
”Thanks James. I feel much better.”
”No. No. Okay seriously, you’re a very attractive woman. You’re taller than most women.” He encouraged. “And you have a very pretty face and lovely pale, pale, pale white skin.” I was not feeling better. “And you’re boobs are just the right size. Any more than a handful they say….”
“James!” I gave him a punch on the shoulder.
“Seriously, you’re better than them in so many ways and you know it.”

Chapter 6
Cherry Bomb
It was 6:00 PM on Friday and I was going to Ben’s club, Frank's, to check it out for fun. James had a date with some girl he had picked up during the week somehow and wasn’t about to take her to a gay bar for a first date. I was really excited because the gang was going to be together again, a rare occasion these days. Kelly was coming and bringing Mathew. After two months it was officially her longest relationship. Ben’s girlfriend was going to be there too and I’d finally get to meet her. It was going to be a great night. I wished that Mark could be there, but wishing wasn’t going to change the fact that he was so far away.
We all got ready together at my apartment. Kelly fussed over me and mentioned that she thought I had lost weight. It had been impossible to stuff my face with croissants while James was around. He kept giving me coffee and health shakes instead of letting me stress eat when we were too busy to take a lunch break. If I had lost any weight, I owed it to him. She squeezed me into one of her dresses, which was better than any pep talk from James could do. I felt pretty good.
Kelly took her straightener to my hair and gave me a dusting of make-up. The dress I was wearing was a sapphire blue and made me think of Kim. I wondered how often she got to go out and just be herself. I made a mental note to send her an email on Monday to see how she was doing. I was looking forward to seeing her again when they came back to town. I was starting to think that we were becoming friends; she seemed like she needed one. She was so sweet and sincere that I couldn’t help but like her. And I never felt less of a woman when she was around, although she clearly outshone me in every way. She was so down to earth that I it was easy to see past her beauty to a woman and a mother who was just trying to get by like the rest of us. She just happened to be a huge Hollywood Star married to the best looking man in the world, but she was modest and sweet and very endearing. I hoped that if Kelly was to be as successful as Kim, that she would keep her sweetness too, and not let it all go to her head.
We wandered out of the bathroom and into the living room where Ben and Mathew were playing Grand Theft Auto on his Play Station. They both looked up from the game when we came in the room, Kelly did a little twirl to show off her outfit and just for fun, so did I.
“You look both look incredible.” It was a nice thing for Ben to say, but he had a strange look on his face, “You look beautiful, Eve, and thin.” He added. I blushed of course and thanked him.
Had I really lost that much weight and not noticed? I must have if I was wearing Kelly’s clothes, something I hadn’t been able to do since grade nine. It felt good. I went to my room to take a good look in the mirror and lo and behold, I was thin! Well, not totally thin, but I looked good. I had shrunk a little in my waist and belly, and that was enough to make me happy.
We had a few drinks; the boys drank beer and Kelly and I had screwdrivers. Kelly never drank anything else, claiming that the vitamin C was essential in keeping the alcohol from ruining her skin.
We were begging Ben to turn off the stupid game when Cherry arrived. Ben greeted her at the door and then showed her into the living room where I was just putting on some music. I was trying to remember all the buttons to press on Ben’s stupid stereo system. He insisted that we have surround sound; that it was inhumane to live without it. Mark had noticed it and made the same remark when he was over the last time, which seemed so long ago. I missed the sound of his voice suddenly and felt a little stitch in my chest.
I redirected my attention to Cherry. She stood a good foot taller than Ben. Her hair was as black as night. She had a polished silver ring in her nose and one in her eyebrow, black eyeliner and bright red lipstick. She was pretty though, underneath it all, her features were pointy and feminine. She was dressed in red and black layers of leather and lace, smiling at me and holding out her hand. Based on her appearance I wasn’t expecting her to be friendly, but her smile was lovely and warm and I kicked myself for judging her too quickly.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Eve. I’m the other woman.” She winked at me and laughed harshly as I stood there confused for a moment while everyone in the room seemed to find something on the ceiling or wall that was suddenly interesting to look at.
“Uh, nice to meet you too, Cherry. Finally.” Was I imagining it or did she give my hand a little too firm of a squeeze? It was throbbing a little after she released it. Her eyes were fixed on my dress and I shifted on my feet uncomfortably.
“Well, should we get going then?” Kelly blurted out. I regained my composure just as Jack White’s voice rose up from the stereo singing, ‘I can tell that we are going to be friends’.
Kelly grabbed my arm pulling me toward the closet to get our shoes. She whispered, “Let’s get the hell out of here before she puts a curse on you.” I giggled a little and then looked back at Cherry who was shooting daggers at me with her eyes. Yikes.
The club was very cool, and its patrons some of the nicest people I’d ever met. We started out sort of piling into the entrance after the bouncer let us go in before all the people waiting in line. I noted that all the people in line were all dressed very fashionably, and most of the men were wearing tighter clothes than the women. But both genders looked to be wearing equally expensive clothing. Ben had mentioned that this was the most exclusive gay bar in the district according to the owner who marketed it that way.
The interior of the club was vast and open in a warehouse style. There was a stage being occupied by a very tall woman speaking into the microphone to the crowd. Her hair was very high and her makeup so thick that I could see it from the entrance where we stood. Our little crowd shuffled in further as Ben lead the way to the bar. He greeted a guy named Santos who had a face that made you want to lick it - he was so pretty. Santos was not wearing a shirt and I tried to ignore the lonely feeling that crept up inside me again when I started to wonder what Mark might look like without a shirt. I was surrounded by my friends, but I felt like there was still something missing.
Kelly and I pulled away from the bar with two drinks in each hand. Mathew was right behind her, his hand on her butt. He winked at me and smiled. He was cute, like a puppy. And I realized then that was how she treated him, like a puppy. The crowd separated them for a moment and Kelly turned and slapped her hip twice while making a clicking sound with her mouth. If he could, he would have wagged his tail as he hopped after her. I shook my head and turned back to see where Ben was, but instead found myself facing a pair of leather bosoms. I looked up to meet Cherry’s gaze.
“Sorry, I almost stepped on you.” she said with a smile. Ben came around her and pointed toward the back of the crowded club to the stage.
“You don’t want to miss this. Tonight is contest night!” I followed them toward the back half of the club and to the stage. As we got closer, I had a better look at the woman on stage who was not a woman, after all, but a Queen. Her beauty was unmatchable, although it was obvious now that she was not a natural woman in the biblical sense. I looked around and noticed that scattered throughout the club were Drag Queens of every shape and colour. The beauty on stage was announcing a Wet T-Shirt contest. Normal enough I thought.
“And then we’ll have the Hairiest Ass contest so, get your g-stings ready boys…and girls!” She howled with delight into the microphone.
I scrunched my face up in disgust and Ben laughed. “This is why we don’t come out until 11:00 when everyone is already pissed!” he was explaining to Cherry. And then he added a “Whooo!” while raising his beer towards the stage. Cherry took a purposeful step in front of me so I couldn’t see anything except for her back.
Suddenly I felt the urge to drink – a lot, and so I headed back toward the Adonis at the bar for another screwdriver. With my little gang together, I was expecting to have a lot more fun than I was having. Things were changing in our little group and it left me feeling uneasy.
Everyone in the bar seemed to be paired up with the exception, of course, of me. I downed my drink and turned around on my bar stool to people watch. It was a madhouse. The clientele were dressed so nicely but behaving so badly. There were two women dancing very closely together on the dance floor. I watched for a while, despite myself, caught up in the way they were reacting to each other. I felt a pang of envy for a moment at the closeness they were sharing, not just in proximity, but also so obviously in their hearts. I had gone through two more screwdrivers while at the bar and suddenly had to pee terribly.
Staggering to the washroom, I was enjoying the fuzzy feeling all over my body and the haze around my eyes from the alcohol. I pushed my way through a bathroom door once I gave up trying to figure out which was the men’s and which was the women’s. There was a male and female symbol on both doors! 
Thankfully there were stalls in the one I entered and that’s all I really cared about since I really had to go by that point. When I came out of the stall there were two very large women leaning over the sinks checking their makeup. I wiggled up in between them to the free sink. They both looked down and smiled from what seemed a good two feet above my head. I felt very short, much shorter than the women at work already made me feel. But these women were smiling instead of scowling at me, which was a nice change.
Since I was full of Vitamin C and Vodka, I was lacking the social etiquette not to stare at them. They were gorgeous. Although they were wearing a massive amount of makeup, it looked professionally done, accenting their cheekbones to a degree I’d never seen before. Long fake eyelashes flung outward from their lids, their lips were bright red and their hair was long and perfectly coiffed. I was watching them in the mirror while I finished washing my hands. The woman on the left of me began applying more lipstick with a very big and well manicured hand. I was mesmerised. They didn’t seem to notice me too much or mind my intrusion as they fussed over themselves. I took a step back taking in their figures as I looked them up and down.
“Oh my gosh!” I gasped when I saw the height of their platform shoes. At least five inches high. They both casually turned to look at me. “How do you walk in those things?” I asked, amazed. The two looked at each other and then back at me. The one on the left put her hand on her hip and leaned back on the counter before speaking.
“Practice.” She said in a pleasingly musky whisper.
I smiled. “Can I try them on?” Again they exchanged glances and then relaxed their bums against the sink and took a better look at me. I may have been swaying slightly, but I was very eager to give the shoes a try, if they would let me. I didn’t know why it seemed so important to me, maybe I just wanted to feel really, really feminine like the way they looked.
“Sure Sugar, have a ball, they’re killing me anyway.” The beauty on the right flipped her black glossy death traps toward my feet. They were gigantic shoes. I felt like I was in a strange cartoon. I stepped down from the three inch heels that I had recently graduated to and stepped up into the platforms. My arms shot out for balance and the ladies each reached out a long arm to take one of my hands. I shuffled forward and looked in the mirror, almost as tall now as the woman I had borrowed the shoes from. They were both watching my expression as I started to giggle. We all burst out laughing and I almost fell backward onto the floor except that they caught me.
“Okay, enough of this, Ladies,” said the dark skinned woman on the left, her skin shimmering under the florescent lights. “I’m Skye Florence and this is Dakota.”
“Just Dakota.” The light skinned woman added, they were practically like night and day although either of them could easily block out the sun.
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Eve!” I shook both their hands vigorously as I scuttled back into my own shoes.
“Let’s go have some fun girls!” Skye squealed and we headed for the door where they led me to the bar for kamikaze shots and then back onto the dance floor in front of the stage where we started dancing in a circle like old friends. I guess their favourite song came on because they headed for the stage and pulled me up with them to dance some more. I climbed on top of one of the smaller speakers so I could meet their eyes while we danced together.
I heard a familiar “Whooo!” and looked down to see Ben with his beer raised toward me. I lifted both my arms to “Whooo” him back, but stopped short when I noticed someone in the crowd a few feet away from him. It was Miki.
I had to give my head a shake and take another look. It was Miki all right; she was looking in another direction, thank goodness. I had to get off that stage before she saw me. But what was she doing there? I asked myself. I started heading for the stairs when Dakota grabbed my hand….
“Where are you going, Honey?”
“I have to get off the stage. I just saw my boss in the crowd. My friends seemed to understand and jumped off the front of the stage with two graceful thuds. Skye turned and lifted me down off the stage by my underarms like I was her child.
“Where?” Skye asked conspiratorially.
While I was pointing out Miki from in between my two body guards, I noticed that Carla was with her and they had their arms wrapped around each others waist. Miki was saying something into Carla’s ear as I stared. Ben blocked my view when he jumped in front of me, clearly inebriated.
“Eve! You having a good time?” he yelled over the music. “Hey! You met Skye and Dakota! Hello ladies, you are both looking fine this evening.” They both looked down at him admiringly. No need for introductions.
I was looking over Ben’s shoulder to Miki and Carla. As if seeing a train wreck, I couldn’t look away from the sight of my evil boss and coworker on the dance floor. Miki wasn’t scowling or yelling or stomping her feet in a fit, she was having a good time. Smiling. It gave me the creeps; there was something very wrong with the picture.
They were dancing together now, and Miki was eyeing Cherry who stood where she was before with Ben. Obviously she was being stubborn and not wanting to follow Ben over to me. The way Miki was looking at Cherry, with a greedy selfish look in her eye, was the same way I’d seen a million men look at Kelly. Miki resembled a huntress on the prowl, the way her eyes locked on her target as though she would pounce at any moment if she wasn’t already holding onto Carla.
“Hey Ben.” Skye took Ben’s shoulder and spun him in the direction that I was staring. “It looks like Cat Woman is after your girl.”
Ben focused in on Miki and Cherry and then laughed. “Well, she’s barking up the wrong tree. But I’ll bet Cherry gets a few free drinks out of her. Hey Eve, this is the woman I was telling you about!” He stepped beside me to point out Miki. “The rich one who comes in here and throws her money at all the girls. Usually has a different chick on her arm every week.”
“Ben! That’s my boss!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not that I cared that Miki was gay, but the fact that Carla was shocked me since I’d seen her with a different guy almost every week at school.
I quickly concluded that it would be like Carla to go with whatever got her ahead in life. To go where the money or power was. Being the boss’s pet at work was one thing; I didn’t realize that it spilled into after hours like this. Then again, I did hang out with James a lot outside of work too, but it wasn’t like that.
Once I got over the initial shock of the situation it made me laugh to realize that Miki was a predator, always trying to seduce young women at the club. It certainly did explain why we had so many beautiful girls working at Signare without any background or talent in decorating. They were Miki’s way of decorating the office. It made me feel a little more adequate knowing that it was Madge who had hired me, for my talent.
Cherry got bored with Miki’s leering and started heading toward our little group of spectators. Miki’s eyes followed her and I jumped behind Dakota so she wouldn’t see me. I decided to call it a night before Miki found out I was here. I had no idea how she would react, although I didn’t think she would be happy to see me. She treated me like a plague at work and there was no reason to think that it wouldn’t ruin her night to see me at her favourite club.

Chapter 7
First Class
James was sitting behind my desk looking out the window when I arrived with our lattes. He stood and closed the curtains before walking over to take his coffee from my hand. He was not his usual self. He seemed distracted.
“You okay Hon?” I asked. I couldn’t tell if he was hurting or frustrated, I’d never seen James without a smile on his face before. He was always talking me out of my mood swings, it was about time I was able to return the favour. I closed the door to my office and pulled him over to our meeting table in the corner. He sat quietly focusing on taking the first sip of his latte, and looking down at the table. After a few minutes I started to wonder if maybe he was having girl problems. I didn’t know James was capable of being upset over a girl, but I couldn’t venture any other guess.
“James. Are you pregnant?” He looked up at me expressionless. It was worse than I thought. “Oh James, did you get somebody pregnant?” I whispered the last word as though it were forbidden. This finally made him smile.
“Eve. There is something going on I’m not supposed to tell you about. But I’m pretty bummed about it; somebody I love is going to be hurt.”
“Ohmygosh, am I getting fired?” Maybe Miki saw me at the club after all and decided to fire me.
“No egomaniac, it’s not you I’m talking about. It’s Madge.” His tone was low and secretive. “But I can’t tell you anything.” He paused. “It’s sort of personal.” The expression on his face was apologetic.
“Oh. That’s okay James. You guys are family. Don’t worry about it. If you need to talk about it, I’m here for you.” I meant it and he knew I did.
There was a quick wrap on the door and Carla burst in. Wearing black again but today oddly with bright blue heels. She saw me look at her shoes and gave me a glaring look. “Meeting time boys.” James reflexively grabbed my arm as a started to lunge out of my chair after her, she was already gone.
“No worries Eve, she’ll get hers eventually.” I pictured her getting hit by a bus but I had a feeling that wasn’t what he meant.
Miki was her usual delightful self during the meeting. I updated her on the Reynolds project while James sat sulking for reasons unknown.
“We’re installing the home theatre today and the remainder of the soft furnishings this week. We’re ahead of schedule. They aren’t due back for another for two weeks.” I was trying not to be smug but I was pleased with how well James and I worked together. We were like the dynamic duo of decorating. Plus I hated everyone else in the room given that Fritz and Jaz were absent from today’s meeting. James kept his head down and didn’t join me in my gloating.
“Carla will help you with the final deliveries. She’ll also take the finished photos.” Miki wasn’t yelling. That was a change. She actually looked completely exhausted. She had dark circles under her eyes and her hair wasn’t as primped as it normally was. Too tired to yell at me; I wasn’t going to complain.
“Miki!” James' tone was curt, “With the quality of work we’ve done and considering our clients, I highly recommend, and I’m sure the Madge would agree, that we have our professional photographer take care of the finished photos. We will be held responsible if any photos leak out of our special clients’ home away from home.” He was so serious that it was a little bit sexy. And he was right. I didn’t trust Carla not to leak the photos of the Reynolds’ apartment. Even on an off-day he was more clever than Miki.
“Fine. Whatever.” Miki waved her polished hand in the air and the meeting was dismissed. I had to wonder what was going on, nobody seemed to be themselves.
The plan for the day was that James would supervise the home theatre installation and I would check in on the remaining soft furnishings and start the billing paperwork. The day went by quickly without any surprises, as did the majority of the week. James slowly came around to his old self and Miki was back to being a vehement bitch by Thursday. Things were as they should be. Mark and I talked on the phone every day if only for a few minutes at a time, just to get a fix of each other’s voice to keep us going until we could see each other again. I was missing him more than I liked. More than I was comfortable with.
Friday morning I got a call from the head seamstress. The drapes were ready! That was it, the final piece of the project. I called down and gave the installation guys the heads up to meet me at the condo and called James to tell him the good news. He was on his way into the office, late, which was unusual for him. I used the time to run down the street and buy a bottle of Champagne and two plastic glasses for us to celebrate our completed project once the drapes were installed. The photographer would be meeting us on site as well, I was thinking of getting a nice photo of James and I together to frame in my office and commemorate our first finished project together.
We all arrived at the apartment pretty much at the same time and piled into the elevator. The photographer would just have to sit tight until the drapes were installed. We scrambled out of the elevator and into the hall. There were fresh flowers in a vase on a small console table. Nice touch, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed. I also seemed to be the only one who noticed a pair of bright blue heels when we entered the foyer of the apartment. Everyone pushed passed me as I stood there wondering why Carla was there; we hadn’t asked her to run any errands. We didn’t need her anymore at all, not that we did in the first place. When I turned the corner into the living room I ran into the back of James and one of the installers. They didn’t budge. In fact everyone seemed to be frozen where they stood. I heard the flash of a camera and then the photographer pushed passed me and out the door, running. James seemed to snap out of it and ran off after him. With James out from in front of me I then saw what had everyone frozen in their tracks. Carla was on the couch straddling Tim Reynolds. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Thank god they were both fully dressed. It quickly occurred to me that the photographer had taken a photo of them together like that. All I could think of was my lovely friend Kim.
“What the hell Carla! I yelled at her not holding back my anger or disgust. “Everyone out! NOW!” I pushed the installers backward out the door and told them to wait downstairs. Lunch was on me. I still had a job to finish after all.
I stomped back into the room and Tim was on his feet. It looked like he had pushed Carla off of him because of the way she was sprawled backward on the other end of the couch pulling herself up to standing. The look on Tim’s face was a mixture of emotions; anger, regret, agony, embarrassment and worry. He stood staring at me with his hands in the air as though I were holding a gun. Carla composed herself and tried to slink past me. I stood in her way. I was angrier than I’d ever been in my life and I felt betrayed. Not by her; but by Tim, by love and what it stands for, by trust and the ideal of marriage, and by men in general for being so weak as to fall for a tramp like Carla. I stared into her unapologetic face for a full minute and then stepped out of her way. There were no words for her at that moment. The damage was done and it was time for me to have a meeting with my client. She rushed past me grabbing up her blue shoes without putting them on her feet and scampered out the door like a dog that had just been kicked. She was less than a dog. She was a rodent, an insect, a tic. I loathed her that moment more than I thought was possible. I turned to Tim who had sat back down on the couch looking defeated.
I did something then that was irrational. I walked to the wall of drape-less windows and slid the screen door open, stepped out onto the balcony and closed the door behind me. I put one finger up to Tim’s concerned and confused expression.
I turned to face the city below, took a deep breath, and then another. I looked around at the buildings and the tiny little ant sized cars. I felt the crisp wind on my face and looked up at the sun in the midday sky and asked God a simple, tiny little question. “What did I ever do to you?” I had no idea how to deal with such a complex situation. There was Kim, of course, the decorating job, the photographer, Madge, everything was spinning around me. I heard the sliding door open behind me and a quiet voice that I’d heard on film so many, many times asked me a pretty poignant question. “Aren’t you afraid of heights?” The sudden realization of what I had done struck me and I grasped the railing with both hands and glued my feet to the floor. A low moan escaped my throat and clenched my eyes shut. “Oh God, oh God, oh God….” Was all that I could say.
“Eve? Are you alright?”
“I can’t move Tim, I’m sorry, why did you let me come out here if you knew I was afraid of heights?”
“Well, I didn’t think you wanted us to know.” He said honestly. “How can I help?”
“Tim, I’m really mad at you right now for what you’ve done to Kim, but I also really need your help so I’m going to momentarily forgive you and ask you a huge favour.”
“Okay…..” He sounded very unsure of my sanity at that moment.
“I need you to forcefully remove me from this balcony and get me back inside. There are other ways but I don’t want to wait here until you go buy a chocolate croissant. Oh God, oh God, oh God….”
“What do you mean forcefully?”
“You’re going to have to pry my hands from this railing and push me inside. I’m sorry, but I really can’t do this on my own.”
“Okay Eve, I’ll help you. “I’ll help you if you agree to hear me out about what you just saw in here with that girl.” He had said that girl, with disgust in his voice.
“Tim, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know what I saw. You don’t owe me any explanations anyway, just wait until that picture hits the press, save you’re explaining for then.”
“But Eve, it wasn’t like that. She pushed me down on the couch, I was asking her to leave, and I guess she’s not used to rejection. It was just bad timing. I don’t even know what she was doing here; she said she was a decorator.” I scoffed at Carla calling herself a decorator, she had the same diploma as me, but she wasn’t worthy of the title. I considered for a moment that Carla would stoop to sneaking into the apartment if she heard that Tim was in town alone. But how did she know when I didn’t even know he was here?
“Do you believe me Eve?” His voice sounded tortured. “How am I going to explain this to Kim?” He went on and I could hear the pain in his voice. “The kids.” He said and I heard him holding back his tears. It was setting in for him, the spiral effect that the photo could have on his life and even his career. I felt sorry for him. What if it was true? What if it was just bad timing?
“I believe you Tim.” I heard his sigh of relief and then his footsteps coming toward me. My eyes were still clenched shut and I felt him behind me his hands on mine trying to gently to pry them from the railing.
“You weren’t kidding about having to use force.” He sounded amused. I was not. As he was plucking my fingers away one by one, a strange sound filled the air around us. I thought I had fallen at first and it was the sound of me plummeting to my death. What was the sound? I heard Tim take in a breath and I opened one eye as I felt the wind pick up and the noise grew unbearably loud. There was a helicopter floating 20 feet away from us; a man with a camera handing out the side door. I wondered why he was taking pictures, then I realized the position we were in on the balcony and what it must have looked like to anyone who wasn’t afraid of heights. I let go of the railing immediately and threw us both backwards into the living room and onto the floor, the helicopter was still there as we fumbled over each other to get up and ran into the dining room where there were no windows.
“What the hell?” Was all I could say.
“Well, at least that one will be easy to explain.” He sighed, still catching his breath.
“Right, of course.” I said darkly. “Why would anyone think that you’d be entangled with a woman like me unless there was a logical explanation for it?” I mean, come on.
“Eve, no. That’s not what I meant. I just meant that Kim trusts you and she’ll understand once you tell her everything. What a crazy afternoon. I just came here to relax before I get back to work. Kim was supposed to meet me here tonight. We were even going to try to get together with you and Mark for dinner.” 
James came huffing into the room. Leaning over his knees to catch his breath, he gave me terrible news. “I couldn’t catch the little bugger.” 
I would lose my job for sure once this mess got out to the public. "This is a disaster. At least since we hired him, we know where to find him."
"I called our PR guys and they’re already on it." James replied. "Why do you two look like you just had a wrestling match?”
“I’ll tell you in the car, we’ve got some damage control to do.”
I grabbed the Champagne bottle from the coffee table on my way out, with everything that happened I didn’t even remember putting it there earlier.
I called out to Tim from the door, “The installers will be up in a minute to hang the drapes.”
“What now James?” I said as we reached the elevator, I suddenly felt exhausted from all the turmoil.
“We go directly to Madge. This is way over our heads. I don’t even know which step to take first.” It was a rare occasion indeed in which James felt overwhelmed by circumstances. He popped the cork gently, hardly making a sound as there was no cause for celebration, and handed me the bottle. I took a few good swigs before we got to the lobby. We left the bottle at the security desk and walked across the street to where we had parked. We didn’t have to drive very far as Madge had an apartment on Lakeshore overlooking the Lake. You wouldn’t want to swim in it, but it was definitely nice to look at. As we pulled into the underground parking James seemed distraught. “Listen Eve, Madge has been going through some stuff and this is going to be a lot for her on top of what is already going on. So don’t panic if she starts to cry or something. She’s a strong lady, but I think she’s reached her limit right now.” He seemed genuinely concerned and upset for his Aunt. She was very close to being a mother to him, it made sense that he was protective of her. If the ladies only knew what a good guy James was underneath his playboy façade, I thought to myself.
The apartment was stunning, of course. Marble in the foyer, modern furnishings upholstered in silk, high ceilings, ornate chandeliers; nothing out of place. Madge answered the door wearing what looked like flannel pyjamas. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never would have imagined that a sophisticated, stylish woman such as herself would be caught wearing the likes of flannel. She grabbed me and gave me a hug that made me feel sorry for her; I hugged her back extra tight. Her eyes were red around the rims and her hair was slightly out of whack. I wonder what could be going on to cause this wonderful woman such distress. Who would ever hurt her or do her wrong in any way. It had to have been something personal that was going on with her. What if she was sick? I thought to myself and quickly said a prayer for her health as not to jinx her. There was no use in trying to guess what was going on with Madge. I could only just take James’ advice and try not to upset her more than necessary with our news. As I removed my shoes at the doorway, I couldn’t help but notice the blue shoes that I could have sworn belonged to Carla, but did more so suit Madge’s style. Were they friends outside of work? Did they share shoes? It was the oddest friendship a person could imagine. It would explain why Carla, who was not a great decorator, got the internship from Madge. It hurt my feelings thinking about it as I thought that I had a special relationship with Madge, a mutual respect, a mother and daughter type vibe. Was it just in my head?
“Is Carla here?” I asked. Wrong thing to say. Madge shot James the strangest look and then burst out in tears.
“I didn’t say anything, I swear Auntie!” James said over her sobbing as we followed her to the bedroom where she threw herself on the bed. James and I took a seat in the chairs that flanked the lovely and ornate chest of drawers. The bedroom was fabulous and luxurious.
“James what is going on?” I whispered, confused.
“Madge?” He asked lightly.
“Oh go ahead, who cares anymore?” James stood and took me by the hand leading me out of the room to the kitchen. He put on a kettle to boil and prepared a teacup for his aunt. While the kettle was boiling he filled me in on what was going on.
“OK. I’m going to give you the quick and dirty version since it took you exactly three seconds before you said the wrong thing and made her cry.” He was slightly annoyed with me, but I had no idea what I said wrong at that point. “Auntie Madge and Miki are married.”
“Married?” I was confused again.
“You know, a married couple.” He clarified.
“No way!” I gave James a shove as a knee-jerk reaction. “That’s even worse than being friends with Carla. Miki is the DEVIL.”
“Can you shut up and listen to the story." James said, still irritated. He went on with his story. "Madge met Miki in college. Madge became successful and Miki just rode on her coattails. Madge was always crazy about Miki and put her in charge at the office when she took up teaching at the institute.” James peaked around the corner to make sure Madge was still down the hall in her bedroom. “Miki let the power go to her head and started hiring little hotties to keep herself entertained. Madge refused to see what Miki was doing and ignored the situation. It wasn’t until Jaz and Fritz threatened to quit that she opened her eyes to what was going on. Miki was using the office as her personal dating service by that point, and it broke Madge’s heart. Madge hired Carla to distract Miki while she decided how to reorganize the company. She was still in denial about the cheating though, until you mentioned that you saw Miki with Carla at the club. She’s been meeting with lawyers almost daily trying to figure out a way to come out on top of the marriage and the business partnership. Miki was served with divorce papers today and there will be a hearing next week to settle the assets. She’s going to try to draw this out but what she doesn’t realize is that one of Madge’s oldest and best clients in a very influential lawyer here in the city. He’s a force to be reckoned with and he’s known for being ruthless.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of information.” I was completely overwhelmed with the story that I forgot all about why we were there in the first place - the photos! Poor Madge, she was such a wonderful woman and didn’t deserve any of this grief.
“Fritz and Jaz are going to testify regarding Miki’s behaviour at the office. For now she’s still in charge, but the amount of power she has in unclear. I don’t think she can fire anyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to fire us.” I wouldn’t be surprised either.
“Carla returned my shoes today, the little witch.” Madge appeared in the kitchen and took her tea from the counter, James had prepared it while we were talking. She slumped down on one of the 40s style stools and with head in hands, elbow on the huge marble island, she looked up at us. “She said Miki lent them to her and she was just returning them. She said that Miki would walk away from Signare and our marriage for a million dollars. She could buy Carla all the shoes she wanted with that much money." Madge sighed, "It’s such an unreasonable request, Miki knows the only money to be had would have to come from the business.”
“I’m sure Carla was the mastermind behind the offer.” James suggested. It made sense that she would use the shoes as an excuse to upset Madge and try to get money out of her. Beautiful, ruthless, and stupid Carla.
“Honestly, what’s wrong with me that she had to chase after these adolescents? I can’t help if I’ve aged a little.” Self loathing, the key ingredient in any breakup. James and I both rushed to her side with reassurances of her beauty and success and loveliness before she could start crying again.
“So Auntie. Would you like to know where Carla was coming from before she stopped by?” Madge looked at him, puzzled and James went on to explain the situation with Tim. Before she could comment, I decided that I should lay my story on her too about what happened on the balcony. They both seemed to think it was pretty funny and we all started laughing uncontrollably especially when I shared out loud my concern about looking ten pounds heavier in the photos.
Madge was smiling and I could see that it meant everything to James to see her happy. I understood better why he loathed Miki even more than I did.
We assessed the situation as it pertained to the photos of Carla and I in compromising positions with Tim Reynolds. As long as I got to Kim first, and they didn’t mention Signare in the tabloids, it would all blow over soon enough. If Signare was mentioned, we would have some PR to tend to and Madge had those connections as well, not surprisingly. I used the phone on the kitchen wall to call Kim's cell phone and luckily she answered.
“Kim! It’s Eve. How are you?” It was nice to hear her voice again, I realized.
“I’m OK. Just getting off the plane. Hold on, just getting in the cab.” There was a pause while I heard her give directions to the condo downtown. “Have you seen Tim? Are you going to meet us for dinner?” She sounded excited and happy.
“Yeah, I uh, saw Tim. There was a little bit of a situation actually. I don’t even know where to begin.” I said honestly. Kim stayed quiet, waiting for me to go on. “One of the girls from my office tried to seduce Tim and the photographer I had with me snapped a photo of them in an uncompromising position on the couch.” More silence from the other end. “Tim wanted me to tell you, because I know the girl. It’s Carla, the one I told you about before, that I went to school with. Anyway, I could easily imagine her not taking no for an answer from him. I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I believed him." I could not imagine what she must be thinking or feeling; I hated to think that I was the one hurting her with this news. “Kim?” I heard a sniffle. She was still there at least.
“Thank you for telling me Eve. Is there anything else?” Her voice sounded cold as though she were trying to hide her feelings.
“Well, yes, there is something more.” I took a deep breath. “Kim. There were photos taken of Tim and me too.” I held my breath.
“Yeah?” She replied.
“I mean photos that aren’t going to look good. There was a helicopter and Tim pulled me off the balcony and I fell on him in the living room and it may look bad…” What was I saying? I held my breath again desperate for her reaction. I heard another sniffle. Did she think that I would lie to her, my friend? That I would somehow try to be with Tim? Then I realized it wasn’t a sniffle, it was a laugh that she was trying to cover up. Then she just burst out into musical laughter and I heard somebody else laughing too.
“Is Tim with you right now?” I asked bemused.
More laughing. “Yes! He already told me everything. I can’t believe you went out on the balcony and didn’t even realize it. You are the strangest girl I’ve ever known!” Her laughter subsided and she was just giggling now. “We both just adore you Eve.” She spurted out. “Everything’s going to be fine. We have people who will take care of this sort of thing. We’ll just ride it out. It’s fine.” I was beyond relieved that my friend had not been hurt by the unusual circumstances surrounding the day.
“We tried calling Mark but couldn’t reach him.” She went on. “Do you want to come for dinner?” The hope in her voice was tempting.
“I spoke to Mark this morning. He’s out of town for a few days. I’d love to have dinner with you guys, but I have a friend who needs me right now, so I’m going to stay with her. Can you come to the office and finish up the billing this week? Then we can have lunch if you’re up to it.”
“It’s a date.” She confirmed. “But please, try to keep your hands off my husband this time.” Double laughter from Kim and Tim. Really, was it so inconceivable? I was beginning to be offended. Then I added “I hope you like the condo, I’m really excited for you to see the kid’s rooms.”
“Me too! I’ll see you soon Hon.” and she was gone.
I returned to the kitchen to find that Madge had replaced her cup of tea with a glass of red wine, in better spirits after having a laugh at my expense. James was pouring two more glasses and selecting another bottle from the built-in wine rack. Tasteful. In fact the entire kitchen was contemporary with a few pieces reminiscent of a diner in the 40s. I could never find anything out of place with Madge’s decorating. She was the Master.
“So what now?” I asked as James handed me his glass and we all took a moment to ponder our fates.
“Let’s get drunk.” Madge suggested and James and I conceded that there was nothing left to do but that, considering the roller coaster of a day we had.
I woke up with my face on a soft white plush fabric. I pushed myself to sitting and realized I was on the floor in the middle of Madge’s living room. There was nobody else around. Rubbing my eyes and feeling sandpaper under my eyelids, I pulled myself onto the sofa that was a foot away from me and took a look around the room. There were Chinese food containers and an empty bottle of wine skewed about the room. There were an array of CDs spread out on the floor near the stereo and a pile of cut up photographs on the glass coffee table. I leaned forward to see that they were photos of Miki and Madge on various vacations. Some of the pictures had teeth marks in them. The room was slowly coming into focus, but no memories of the night before were available to me yet. From experience, I knew they would trickle back into my conscience at some point during the day. I decided to clean up the mess before Madge woke up, maybe a clean house would help her feel better today. It was time for her to move on and focus on the tasks ahead, like the divorce and coming back to take the lead at Signare again. I was looking forward to that, I had so missed being her student, it would be nice to have the stability of knowing she was there, looking over my shoulder again, the way she looked out for me at school. I was doing fine on my own, only because James was there to guide me along in the real world. Where was James I wondered ...but didn’t see him from where I was on the sofa. When I stood to begin cleaning I caught a glimpse of myself in the decorative mirror above the fireplace. There was my reflection, and I was dressed in a wedding gown. The tiara was still attached to my hair, fallen to one side. “What the hell?” I muttered to myself. “This is a new one.” I’d had truly outdone myself this time. Where were my clothes? They were not in the living room, dining room, or kitchen so I went to check the bathroom. There was something blocking the door and I heard James moan slightly and move out of the way. I almost tripped over him where he was lying on the floor in the washroom that was the size of my bedroom. I noticed the double sinks and was sad again for Madge’s breakup. I sat on the edge of the tub and looked down at James. “James! What are you wearing?” It appeared that I was not the only one playing dress up last night. He was striking in a white satin dress suit, had we really dressed up in Miki and Madge's wedding clothes? It would appear that Madge was really working through her demons the night before. The suit was skin tight on James and the pants were not fastened, to say the least. There was a tear in the back of the shirt were he was busting out of it. I burst out laughing, tears rolling down my face.
“Huh?” James rolled over and pulled himself up to face me. “What in bloody hell are you wearing!?” I pulled him to his feet and stood us both in front of the mirror. The look on his face was priceless - mortification. My clothes were in a pile on the floor and I scooped them up and pushed James out the door. “Get out so I can change.”
“What about me, where are my clothes?” I scooped up a pile that looked like his and tossed them out the door behind him. I had to get out of the wedding dress before I jinxed myself for the rest of my life. I grabbed a couple of Advil from the medicine cabinet and found James in the kitchen looking through the fridge.
“Want some French Toast?” He asked as he began pulling out the eggs and making his way around the kitchen.
“Sure.” I whispered, not wanting to wake up Madge. “Did you check on her?”
”Sleeping like a baby.”
Good” I whispered and began cleaning up the remnants of our mystery evening. I put the photos in the garbage along with everything else. I tidied up the CDs and put all the throw cushions back on the sofa. No red wine stains anywhere, I was impressed. I snuck into Madge’s room to hang the dress and suit back up in her closet; I put them all the way at the back so she wouldn’t be reminded and get sad again. I’d never experienced a breakup, but I’d witnessed enough of them in my favorite movies to know they aren’t easy, or funny. She looked so peaceful in her huge fluffy bed; I sincerely hoped that the worst was over for her.
I sat at the island and sipped on the coffee that James had made. It reminded me of the morning that Mark made coffee for me at my apartment. It seemed so long ago. I wondered if he thought of me half as much as I thought of him, and if so, that would be nice.
We cleaned up after breakfast, leaving a plate of French toast for Madge and a note to say we had gone to work. James dropped me off at home and promised to pick me back up in an hour after he went home to shower and change. We didn’t speak of the night before in the car and I got the feeling that none of the three of us would ever discuss it together. Fine by me. Ben was home and still sleeping, the apartment was quiet. Once I was showered and dressed I came out of my room feeling like a new woman. To my surprise Cherry was in the kitchen in her bra and underwear, which were both black pleather. She didn’t even look up but just growled at me and so I decided to wait for James outside. What did Ben see in her I wondered? He seemed happier though, since meeting her so I decided to keep my nose out of it. I had enough of my own problems to deal with. Like the fact that I couldn’t get the image of me in a wedding dress out of my head and the fact that an image of Mark in a black tuxedo kept creeping up up beside it. I had to give my head a shake. It was far too soon to allow myself those types of day dreams.
After parking, we walked to the corner for a couple of kick-starting espressos and to grab every gossip magazine that the convenience store had available, and newspapers too, for good measure. We didn’t know how quickly something like photos of Tim Reynolds would hit the streets but we knew where to find it when they did. We rushed through the office fumbling with the magazines and newspapers trying not to draw attention to ourselves and hoping that Miki and Carla had the good taste to stay away today. Once in my office with the door closed, I started flipping through the magazines to see if there was anything, while James hopped on my computer to Google Tim Reynolds and Signare Designs. I was halfway through the magazines when I heard James find something.
“Oh Crap.” I flung myself to behind my desk where James was sitting mouth agape staring at the screen. “You are not photogenic at all are you?” He said, half shocked and half embarrassed for me. There they were, in a progressive row. Tim and I on the balcony, him behind me with his arms around me and his hands on mine over the balcony railing. To anyone else this would look like an embrace and not a rescue mission. My eyes were squeezed shut but it wasn’t noticeable from the distance from which the photo was taken, I just looked… weird. The next two pictures were of us on the floor just inside the patio doors. Tim on his back with me on top of him and then Tim on top of me when we rolled over to scramble out of the room. It was ridiculous. Looking at the pictures my face must have turned twelve different shades of red. I stole my eyes to the caption above the photos and it was the worse case scenario. “Decorator Disloyalty – Tim Reynolds’ Infidelity”
“Oh Crap.” I said echoing James’ first reaction. “This is bad.”
“It isn’t so bad. It’s just on the Internet, nobody looks at the Internet.” I didn’t really appreciate his sarcasm at that moment and I gave him a punch on the shoulder before I went back to sit down at the meeting table to bury my head under magazines until the room was dark. James came over and pulled the magazines away from me.
“Listen, it’ll be fine. Kim and Tim are cool with everything, and Madge knows the truth, so where’s the harm?” He was right. Besides the pictures being embarrassing, there was no real harm done. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I heard a voice from outside of my office.
“Oh my god!” it was one of the wannabe models. “Is that Eve!?” James put his hand over his mouth to hide his amusement.”
I raised my head and then put it back down on the desk, not gently. The phone rang and James crossed the room to my desk again. “It’s Kim.” He informed me before answering. “Hello Mrs. Reynolds, you Beautiful Goddess. I hear that things are on the rocks with you and your husband. Can we begin our love affair now?” He teased, and then paused for her response. “No, I don’t think she’s talked to him. Just a minute.” I looked at James puzzled, and then curious when I saw the look of sympathy on his face. I took the phone from him to speak to Kim.
“Hi Kim, did you see the photos on the Internet?”
Her voice was serious, “Eve. It’s Mark, I got an irate message on our answering machine today, somebody brought the photos to his attention wherever he is and he thinks it’s true! He was livid with Tim in his message saying that he was a backstabber and that the movie is going to be cancelled. He sounded so hurt Eve. I haven’t been able to reach him to tell him what really happened.” I felt the blood drain from my face. The thought of Mark being hurt, and thinking that I was to blame. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Have you heard from him?” she asked.
“No.” I said solemnly. 
“Don’t worry Eve. We’ll find him. He’ll come back to you. I promise.” She sounded desperate and unconfident in her promise. Tears were rolling down my cheeks when I hung up the phone. James sat beside me on my desk and I put my head on his shoulder. I felt him give me a pat on the back and then push my head off his shoulder to wipe my eyes.
“You’re going to get tears on my shirt.” He said in his charming British accent. “They stain you know.” He smiled apologetically and then stood to leave.
“Where are you going?” I asked, surprised.
“I’m going to go tell the Witches of Eastwick out there that if they so much as mention those photos to you I will throw them out the window two at a time. He slammed the door behind him and I could hear him yelling death threats to the group in the open office area. A good friend, he was trying to protect me from the mean girls again. I picked up the phone in an attempt that I knew would be a wasted effort to call Mark. I knew he wouldn’t take my calls. He didn’t answer of course. I checked my email and there was nothing. The phone rang again and it was Kelly, just waking up at Mathew’s place.
“Mathew was Googling himself this morning and saw the pictures of you and Tim on one of the gossip sites. You didn’t really…, of course you didn’t. Tell me what happened.” I told her everything and couldn’t hide my sadness when I told her about Mark. Kelly had been through many breakups over the years, but I didn’t recall her ever being the one dumped or feeling badly about it for more than a few minutes. She seemed to understand my pain however, a gift that being friends for so many years can only bring. “I’m here if you need me. Do you want me to come home tonight? Don’t answer. I’ll be home tonight to stay with you. We’ll watch movies and pig out, just like old times."
“Okay.” I replied, because I did need Kelly to be with me, I didn’t want to be alone not knowing where Mark was or what he was doing or how he was feeling. I did not however want things to be like old times either. I wanted things to be like new times. The times where I was happy and no longer a wall flower, but living life and enjoying it. I didn’t want to go back to being nobody and living my life vicariously through Renée Zellweger or Sandra Bullock. I wanted to talk to Mark.
When I got home, Kelly wasn’t there yet and there were fifteen messages on the answering machine. Very odd, I hoped that at least one of them would be from Mark. I pressed the little button to listen to my messages on speaker while I changed into my sweats.
 “Hey Eve, its Jennifer from back home. I saw you with Tim Reynolds on the internet…Oh My God! I always thought you were kind of a loser, I mean loner. Your mom gave me your number. Anyway maybe I’ll come visit you sometime…my number is” I pressed the ‘next’ button.
“Hi honey, it’s Mom.” Her sweet voice was music to my ears. “People keep calling for your number. What’s going on? Are you alright? You’re not in some kind of trouble I hope.” Then in her best stern voice “Call me tonight or I’ll come down there myself to find out.” Next.
“Heeeey Eve. It’s Steve, remember me? Eve and Steve, yeah, give me a call and we’ll go out.” Was that Steve from a random date I had two years ago? LoveWire Steve? Ugh, he was such a jerk; hasn’t changed, obviously. Next.
There were more random messages from random people I went to high school with. I skipped through them all and the last call was a hang up. Could it have been Mark? I let myself believe it was. I went directly to bed and pulled out the business card he’d given me the first night we met. I twirled it around between my fingers and remembered how I thought he would be like every other jerk that hit on me in a bar. Never was I more wrong about a person in my life. He had depth in his eyes and when I looked into them I’d get lost. Part of me knew that eventually he would learn the truth and not be able to justify being mad at me for the incident. But I worried that by the time that happened that there would be no hope left for us. That the time and distance would be insurmountable.
The phone rang. Startled, my legs and arms flew up in the air and Mark’s card got lost in a pile of clothes on the floor. I stumbled in the dark for the phone and then hesitated with my hand hovering over the receiver. There were three possibilities of who it could be: Mark (if God were kind), My Mother, or another random person wanting to talk to the girl who got between Kim and Tim Reynolds. But what if it was Mark and would hang up if the answering machine kicked in. I grabbed up the phone.
“Is this Eve?” A female voice I didn’t recognize asked.
“Yes.” I regretted the words as they escaped my mouth.
“Who the hell do you think you are trying to steal somebody’s husband? Kim and Tim and the best couple in Hollywood. You’re a Skank!” The woman did not hang up after her rant to my surprise; did she seriously want this to be a two way conversation?
“What is your name?” I ventured.
“Joan. Why? Are you going to try and steal my husband too?” That was bitchy Joan, very bitchy.
“Joan, I agree with you, Kim and Tim are the very best Hollywood couple probably ever. Just their charitable giving alone is enough to make them stand out. But they are also warm and wonderful people. And they’re friends of mine. I would never try to come between them. Besides have you seen what Kim Reynolds looks like? How could any woman compare. Not to mention that they are completely in love with each other. So what do you want from me exactly? An apology for something out of my control; a couple of pictures that look bad but were nothing? What Joan? What do you want?” I yelled, taking my frustrations out on poor Joan who seemed to be mulling it over. Then I heard her hang up the phone with a soft click.
As soon as I put the phone down it rang again. Round two?
“Listen Joan, I’m not going to do this all night!”
“Who’s Joan?” My mother asked, surprised. “Are you talking about Auntie Joan? Have you been speaking to her?” My mother’s voice almost brought tears to my eyes.
“Hi Mom.” I sighed. “No, not Auntie Joan, somebody else, don’t worry about it.”
“How are you dear? Do you mind telling me what is going on down there? Maybe you should come home for a while.” I sighed and got back into bed with the phone tucked between my shoulder and ear as I pulled the blankets up under my chin. It was nice to have my Mother with me, I didn’t’ realize how much I needed her until that moment.
“Mom, it’s a long story. I met this guy and I think I’m in love.” I heard her gasp.
“So it’s true then?” She didn’t even try to hide her shock at the thought of her daughter being a home wrecker.
“No, not Tim Reynolds, I’m talking about Mark. Just let me tell you the story from the beginning and you’ll understand okay?”
“Okay dear.” Maybe it would be helpful for me to go to the beginning and start over, maybe it would help me find Mark somehow. So I told my mother everything; from the night I met Mark, to dancing with the Drag Queens, to Tim pulling me off the balcony. She stopped me a few times to clarify things like what Drag Queens were exactly and what in God’s Name was Ben doing working in a gay bar and should she tell his parents? She was focusing on all the wrong things and it was difficult not to get frustrated.
“So now I can’t find Mark and I think he hates me wherever he is and I don’t know what to do.”
“Oh, I’m sorry honey. He’ll come back to you. Don’t you worry. Love has a way of keeping people together even when they are apart. You’ll see.”
”I just want to be miserable right now, and I know you want me to feel better and cheer up but I just can’t. If I can’t find Mark then I just want to be miserable missing him, at least that’s something.”
“Honey. Get some sleep. You’re being incoherent. I love you. Good Night.”
“Thank you for listening Mom” I sighed. “And feel free to share the story with your friends and our family that I’m not a home wrecker. I love you Mom. I’ll come home soon to visit.”
 “I will call you soon.” she said. We both hung up and I pulled the covers over my head and cried softly until I fell asleep, the depths of my chest aching in a way I’d never felt before. I didn’t even hear Kelly come home, but she was there in the morning. I crawled into bed with her when I woke up and we talked for a little while before I got ready for work. She promised to stop by later with Mathew and some lattes for James and I. It was great when Kelly would come by the office, she was a thousand times prettier and classier than the women in the office and she was on my side. It made me feel good, in a strange and admittedly shallow way.
The next few weeks were down right pitiful. Kim came by to finish up the paperwork on the decorating I had done for them, and we had a nice long lunch together. She shared new photos of the children and we talked about a new charity project they had on the go. The media cooled down pretty quickly on the Tim story since they were always being seen in public and happy, it was hard to convince the public otherwise, even with photos. A couple of magazines even printed apologies. But there was still no Mark. Kim couldn’t find him anywhere, nor could Tim, nor could I, although I saw him in every face that I passed on the street. The rest of my time was spent sleeping or locked in my office.
Madge and Miki’s divorce hearing took place with Miki countering every request with her own as it was expected. The divorce would be dragged out as long as Miki could manage. Carla didn’t bother to show her face at the office again. She was officially excused from her internship via a letter that Madge had James craft and hand deliver to her apartment. I stayed behind afraid that I would strangle her to death for ruining my only chance at happiness with Mark. Miki showed up once to hold a staff meeting where she told everyone what she really thought of them, being crueler than usual.
“Good morning everyone.” Miki looked like a mad woman with her eyes going in all directions around the table where she stood over us with clenched fists. Her teeth were clenched together as she spoke. It was like watching a volcano erupt. Frightening. “As you’ve all heard by now there are going to be some changes in the company.” She looked directly at James and I for a moment; I could see the venom dripping from her teeth. “Once the legal proceedings are through, I’m going to own this company and you are all going to be fired!” She was pointing at Fritz, Jaz, James and I of course. We didn’t bother to respond or protest. All the little tarts on the other side of the table looked a little worried but relaxed when Miki didn’t point her finger any further. “This is entirely your fault Eve. You should just go back to where you came from. You don’t belong here.” Before I could react she stormed out of the room and out of the office entirely. I assumed she wouldn’t be back, at least not until the divorce was finalized. She was right about one thing I had to admit. I didn’t belong there, not in that job, and not in that city. I was just a small town girl who liked to decorate, what was I doing working at Signare? Who decided that this was right for me? I should have taken my decorating diploma and gone home and opened up a store and lived out my days with in a town with no culture, no class, and no incredibly talented directors to fall in love with. Maybe going back home was a good idea.
Madge was waiting in my office sitting behind my desk when we returned from the meeting.
“Auntie!” James was happy to see her. She looked well. Much better than when I’d seen her last. She’d been through so much, I was relieved to see her smiling. James and I sat at the chair in front of my desk facing our fearless leader. “You weren’t at the staff meeting.” James chided. Madge held her chin up.
“OK kids, here it is. Miki has a restraining order against her. She can’t come back into this building without a police escort until the divorce is finalized. My lawyer made it clear that she has no regard for the well being of the company and given her character would likely do something to harm the company if she were to be associated with it at this time. He really is good.” She smiled a beautiful smile and then frowned only slightly. So much hurt behind her warm brown eyes. The words “time will heal” came to my mind. It was a lie. But how I wish it were true, and then I could hope someday to be healed of the empty void in my heart that was left by Mark and by my stupidity. No, time only dulled the pain, it was not a healer. I had to hope that he’d learn the truth and forgive me; he couldn’t avoid us all forever, although he might try.
Ben was spending more time at home which was nice, except for the fact that Cherry was with him most of the time, so we didn’t really get to talk. The fact that I was now single made her hate me even more. Kelly and Mathew made sure to spend time with me as well. I was in a real state. One Saturday when I was sitting outside on the balcony where Mark had once sat beside me, I saw my parent’s car pull up to the curb. I was a child again in my reaction to seeing them. I ran back into the apartment past everyone in the living room and out the door, not stopping to put shoes on. I ran down the stairs two at a time and met my parents before they had a chance to ring the buzz code to our apartment. I flung open the glass doors and slammed into my mother, knocking the bag out of her hand. Tears were running down my face.
”Oh goodness Eve." Looking at my jogging pants and dirty tank top, "If you weren’t coming out of this building I would have thought that you were a homeless person.” She wrapped her arms around me. “Oh Darling, you’re so skinny, haven’t you been eating?”
I felt my father’s hand on my back as he pecked me on the cheek. “Hello Honey. You look like shit. Do you have any beer upstairs or do I have to take a run?”
“Hi Daddy.” I moved to give him a hug and he squeezed me so tight I thought I might break. “I think Ben has some beer in the fridge, Dad. Come on up.”
We sat around drinking and then ate a great dinner as my mother insisted that I needed to gain back some weight. Over dinner my mother said something that made me want to scream with joy. We were all spread out, my parents and I at the small table in the kitchen and Kelly, Ben and their significant others were in the living room eating off their laps and the coffee table. My mother was satisfied that to see that I was eating, in fact I was gorging on the roast beef dinner she had made - my absolute favourite. I tried not to eat meat as a favour to all the innocent animals and the conditions they are born into, but no amount of guilt could stop me from enjoying the best roast beef on the planet. It was melting in my mouth as I shovelled it in. The aromatic gravy and chunks of mushroom made a little swimming pool for my mashed potatoes. It was the closest I’d been to feeling happy in a long time. “I think I know where Mark might have gone to, I was thinking about it on the way down. I think he might be with his mother, in where did you say she lived? Arizona.”
I let her words sink in and make sense before I got up from the table and walked to where my mother was sitting. Of course he could be at his mother’s in Arizona! “Mom you’re a genius!” I kissed the top of her head. “I’ve gotta go!”
“Go to Arizona?” Everyone was looking at me, curious. The depression case was having an episode.
“Yes, Arizona! I have to call Kim!” I disappeared into my bedroom with the phone to call Kim. She picked up on the first ring.
”Kim!” I yelled into her ear. “He’s at his mothers! WE have to go find him!”
”Mark. I think he’s at his mothers. All I know is that she lives in Arizona though, and I don’t know her last name.” My hope faded with that realization.
“How do you know he’s there?” Good question.
“I don’t know he’s there per say…I just have a hunch.”
“Okay, well I’ll find out where she lives and we’ll get on a plane. Tim can stay with the kids for once.” She was getting excited; her voice was turning into a squeal. “It’ll be so much fun!”
“How are we going to find out where she lives…’re ‘people’? They can do that?”
“Yep, I’ll bet I can find out tonight. We can leave as soon as you’re ready, we can leave tonight.” Kim was in LA at the moment, I supposed that we could meet somewhere, but there was one other problem.
“Kim, I don’t know if I can scrape up enough money to get there." I started to panic and contemplate ways to ask my parents for the money.
“Don’t be silly. My agent will take care of all of the travel for both of us. I really need to get away anyway, we’ll rent a car and everything. A girl trip! Now hang up so I can find out where she lives. Should we call ahead to say we’re coming?”
“No, he’ll just run away or tell us not to come.” I would have to treat it like an undercover operation, a surprise attack.
“Ooh, yeah. We’ll surprise him, that way he’ll have to listen to us because we went so far to find him. I bet his mom is great, to raise a guy like Mark.” Oh God, I would be meeting his mother for the fist time if I took this trip. She probably hates me too, if he even bothered to mention me to her.
“Let’s do it Kim! Call me back please if you find anything out.”
“Yay!” Kim said and then hung up. I couldn’t decide who was more excited, me or her.
I quietly returned to the table and tried to finish eating my delicious dinner while I waited for Kim to call back. I was so focused on my food that I didn’t realize everyone was staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
Everyone started talking at once. “What’s going on? Who did you call? You’re acting insane!”
“Oh, I called Kim Reynolds. We’re probably going to fly to Arizona tonight if she can find out where Mark’s mother lives.” That shut them up; I smiled to myself and finished eating my dinner, thoroughly enjoying ever single delicious bite. Yes, there was hope that I would find him and that it wasn’t too late. I could tell him that I loved him and with any luck he’d love me too.
“Thanks Mom, that was heavenly. Do you guys mind if I leave you here to go to Arizona?” I asked innocently, a huge smile on my face. When I looked up everyone was staring at me again. I realized that it had been a while since anyone had seen me smile. They all started talking over each other again including my mother who pulled me out of my chair toward my bedroom. “You have to pack, and when you find that boy, you bring him back here to meet us.” My father continued to sit at the table drinking his beer looking full from his dinner. His face was hard to read, but he did not look impressed by what was going on.
Kim called back and spoke to Kelly who took down all the information for my flights. When they hung up I was standing over her hopping up and down. “Okay, you’re plane leaves at 8:00 connecting in Dallas and then to Phoenix. You’ll have to check into the hotel when you get there and Kim will meet you there in the morning. She said his mother lives about two hours away from the airport. Eve, I hope he’s there, but if he isn’t, try not to be too disappointed okay? Can you just bring the old Eve back with you, the one who is forever positive, my best friend, my sunshine?” She had tears in her eyes and Ben put his hand on her shoulder and mine and gave us both a squeeze, his eyes tight with worry. I hadn’t realized that I had been dragging them through this with me.
“Okay guys, I promise. If he’s not there, I’ll give up and move on with my life.”
I heard my father sigh. “Honey, I hope this guy is worth what he’s put you through. Frankly I’d like to give him a good beating for making you so miserable. Here’ some money for your trip." He held out a hand full of bills. "We’ll wait here for you to come back.” He stood from the table and gave me a hug, pushing the bills into my hand. Then he turned to Mathew, “And you. You’d better be good to Kelly or you and I will be making the news.” Mathew looked horrified and my father started to laugh. He meant it, but the look on Mathew’s pretty face was priceless. Kelly gave my father a playful hug and explained to Mathew that he was like a second father to her. Then since he was on a roll, my father turned to Cherry. “And young lady. You need to realize that Ben is the closest thing the Eve has to a brother. You’re absolutely gorgeous and there is no need for you to be insecure.” Cherry actually blushed and stood there seemingly pondering what he had said before she smiled at my father politely and came over to where I was, moving me away from Ben and Kelly. Admittedly I was a little worried.
“Listen Eve, I’ve never seen anybody so bent over a guy before, but if you’re going to go find him I suggest that you change out of your pity pants.” She looked down at my jogging pants, and in a lower voice said, “I’m sorry for being such a bitch to you.” I watched her bright red lips as she spoke the words but still had a hard time believing them. She seemed sincere enough, for Cherry, so I went with it.
“It’s alright Cherry.” What else could I say?
“Well, let’s get to the airport!” My mother, who was already standing at the door with her shoes and coat on, said to everyone.
We were just in time for my flight, in fact, I had to leave everyone at the security check because I didn’t have time to wait for them all to go through. I gave everyone a hug, even Cherry and ran to catch my plane, promising to call in the morning. I had seven hours of flights that I was not looking forward to. I had only been on a plane once before in grade nine when I went to Florida with Kelly and her parents. That was when I realized I was afraid of heights. It had never come up before then. They had to sedate me heavily in order to get me back on the plane to go home. It wasn’t pretty. Now there I stood in front of the hallway leading to the door to the plane, remembering how awful it was the last time. All the people, the crowded seating, not being able to move around for hours, turbulence, barf bags, snobby stewardesses -  were all waiting for me at the other end of the tunnel. I half turned to run and then remembered that I was doing this for Mark. I tried to imagine his smell drawing me to Arizona, his embrace when I explained the mistake of the photos, and my feet started to move me toward the plane. I kept looking back at the ticket lady who looked somewhat concerned about my behaviour. To her it must have looked as though I was being dragged down the hall by a ghost. I finally got to the doorway where a bubbly blond stewardess took my ticket. “First Class, right this way ma’am.” She had a Texas accent, very cute.
“First Class?” I repeated and then remembered that Kim was the one who did the booking. She didn’t have to put me in first class, it was too much. I tried to put my bag in the overhead storage, but the stewardess sort of wrestled it away from me insisting that it was her job. I didn’t think that was the way it worked, but then again, maybe things were different in first class. I took a look at my assigned seat and decided that, yes; things were different in first class. My chair was leather and it was not on the side of the plane, but in the middle. It looked like a lazy boy. It was soft leather and when I sat down I immediately smelled Mark’s cologne. I thought at fist I was hallucinating, until I realized the older gentleman sitting beside me was wearing the Mark's cologne. Well, not Mark’s, I’m sure it was his own, but it was definitely the same brand. The man looked at me obviously wondering why I was leaning toward him and taking deep breaths. It had to be a sign that I was on the right track to finding Mark. With the comfort of my seat and the long missed smell of Mark’s cologne permeating the air around me, I fell asleep before the plane even took off. When I woke up the man beside me was politely lifting my head off his shoulder and removing my leg and arm which were both flung over him in a very unflattering way. I gave him a funny look as though I wasn’t the one who had overstepped our boundaries and collected my bag from the overhead before the stewardess could come back for round two. I had forty-five minutes between flights and it was now 11:00 pm. I couldn’t believe that I just flew on a plane without any problems, no panic attacks, no nausea, no window, which was the best part. I knew I wouldn’t be lucky enough to be sitting beside another man who wore the same cologne as Mark on my next flight so I popped into the airport bar for a quick drink before my next flight. I sat beside an older woman who was smoking a cigarette and looking unimpressed. I ordered a long island iced tea because it was the strongest drink that I could stomach. The woman beside me raised one eyebrow and turned her head slightly toward me. “Where y’all headin’?” she asked in a thick Texas accent. I had forgotten that I was landing in Dallas. I was so focused on my destination I didn’t realize I was actually at that moment in Texas. That was a pretty exciting thought, although I wouldn’t be able to see any of the State, at least I was able to say that I’d been to Florida and now Texas.
“I’m going to Phoenix.” I answered with a smile. Smiling was getting easier I noted to myself as Mark’s face drifted into my mind again and the prospect of seeing him in person gave me hope for us.
“Chasing something or someone?” She asked, her eyebrows raised.
I took a drink and happily answered. “Someone.” Someone amazing.
“Hmmm. A man then. Does he know you’re coming?” Did she want my whole life story? I wondered.
“No, he doesn’t know I’m coming.” I answered honestly and then began to worry. What if he got angry when he saw me, what if hated me so much that he wouldn’t even listen to what I had to say? What if he wasn’t even there at all?
Her voice was harsh from years of smoking, I assumed. “Once your heart is broken it continues to break until somebody gives you a piece of theirs. Do you think this man you’re chasing is willing to give you a piece of his heart?”
”Actually.” I said “I’m going to find him and give him a piece of mine.” I gave her a wink and a smile, finished my drink, and put a twenty on the bar instructing the bartender to buy the woman another drink and then keep the change.
It was 11:50pm by the time my next flight took off. There were no enchanting smells drifting me toward the plane this time. Just the thought of being that much closer to Mark, and knowing that I would be in another first class seat helped too.  It helped me to face my fears knowing that I would be afraid, but very, very comfortable. This time there was a younger man in the seat beside, quite handsome too. Blond with blue eyes and a perfect tan. I ‘m sure his smile would stop most women’s hearts, but I just smiled back politely and sat down. He leaned into me immediately; his hand extended “Have you ever met a real Ken doll before?” I laughed and he frowned. I thought he was joking, but apparently not. It didn’t stop him from continuing, his voice was pleasing, he reminded of somebody from a soap opera. “My name is Jared” of course it was. He waited for me to give him my name and I decided that he might be a fun distraction to keep my mind of the flying. Kim’s agent had again put me in the middle of the isle far away from the windows but I wasn’t as tired as I was before and I still had the take off to contend with.
”I’m Marilyn.” I shook his hand and (creepy) he held it for just a few seconds too long. Serial killer? I wondered. I made small talk and tried not to cringe every time he said something insulting to women across the globe. My eyes were sore from trying not to roll them every five seconds and I fell asleep again before the plane took off. Maybe it was an internal self defence mechanism putting me to sleep to save me from the torture of lifting off and touching down. Whatever it was, I was out like a light. When I woke Mr. Charming, whom probably wasn’t used to being brushed off or fallen asleep on, seemed very annoyed and didn’t say another word to me. No feelings hurt on my end. It was 1:00 a.m. my time but only 11:30 in Phoenix. I checked into the airport hotel and took a long hot shower in the enormous bathroom. It was quite nice. I left the door to the bathroom wide open enjoying the idea of being alone. I also chose to stay naked for a while after my shower just because I could. Oh the freedom, I was cheering up every minute since I left on my little adventure. Part of me feared that with my luck things were going along so well that I had to hit a wall at some point and I was afraid that wall would be that Mark wouldn’t be at his Mothers house after all. I had to think positively so I took advantage of the unexpectedly huge hotel room that Kim had booked for me. Didn’t she realize that the rest of the world wasn’t used to travelling this way? The walls were a blue-grey hue and the bedding and drapes were ivory. The case pieces in the room were all painted soft white as well. This room was meant for relaxation between flights or business meetings. I drank down a mini bottle of baileys on the rocks while flipping through the available TV stations, then brushed my teeth and got under the covers. It felt like what a baby must feel like in a crib, safe and warm and peaceful.
I awoke to the sound of Kim’s voice. “Good Morning Sleepy Head!” She was beaming and beautiful as always. Much too happy for that early in the morning, but her mood was contagious. She jumped into bed with me in her street clothes and flicked on the television. “This is so much fun already. No agents, no publicists, no makeup people, just me…and you! Just us! Do you get how free I feel right now?”
”Probably as free as I felt walking around the room naked last night?”
”Exactly!” She squealed. “So do you mind if we order some breakfast and just hang out for a while before we go find Mark? I could really use some girl time.” She looked almost desperate, I couldn’t refuse.
“Sure Kim, I’m starving actually. Pass me the menu.”
“Yay! I’m going to put my PJs on. I promise we’ll find Mark this afternoon. What’s in the mini bar, can we spike our coffee?” I knew there was a reason I liked Kim so much, she just wanted to be a regular girl. It wasn’t her fault that she was one of the most beautiful women alive, successful and in demand. Would I trade places with her, I wasn’t sure if I would. But I would be there for her when she needed a friend. That I could do. She was there to help me find Mark after all.
“You’re the best Kim.” I announced and then picked up the phone to place our breakfast order.
We stayed in bed for most of the morning, gave up on the coffee and were drinking the mini bar bailey’s which we had restocked. We were watching The Shopping Channel and chatting about how Mark might react to seeing us, going over best and worst case scenarios. Every time I practised explaining the photos of Tim and I, Kim would burst out laughing remembering how funny the photos were to her. They actually were funny pictures, if they weren’t of me, I’d be laughing too.
“You want to know something pathetic Eve?” Kim slurred slightly but was still in good shape. I nodded in response. “You’re my best friend.”
“Well that’s a little hurtful.” Kelly didn’t think it was pathetic to have me as a best friend. Or did she?
Kim laughed and smacked me on the shoulder. “No, no, no. I mean, it’s pathetic that I have no friends. I’m a nice person aren’t I? Everyone I’ve met in the last ten years has only seen one thing when they look at me, dollar signs and fame.”
”That’s two things Kim.” I noted, less hurt by the initial insult as I could see the pain in her eyes and hear it in her voice. She was sitting on the bed with her legs tucked under her, and moved to lie down beside me, both of us staring at the ceiling as we spoke. “Didn’t you have friends before you got famous? Where are they?”
“They all hate me.” She looked like she was about to burst crying. I wasn’t sure what to do.
“Well that makes them idiots and that also means they weren’t really your friends to begin with. Sometimes you just end up hanging out with the wrong people, but as you get older you realize who your real friends are. They are the ones who stick with you through it all. I’m sure there must be somebody who’s stuck with you over the years?”
”Just my sister, only because she has to, being that we’re related.”
”Kim, I’m sure that’s not true, Sisters are even more special than friends. I’m sure she’s great, if she’s your sister.”
Kim perked up a bit. “Yeah, she is pretty great. But you’re still my only friend, not that I’m complaining. I guess I’m just saying that I’m glad I met you.” Now I was going to cry.
“I’m glad I met you too Kim. I’ve always admired you for your charity work and now that I know you I admire you even more. You’re probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I don’t know how we ended up being friends, we’re from two different worlds. But I’m glad we are and I’ll always be here for you too. I still can’t believe everything you’ve done to help me find Mark. You’re amazing.”
We both quietly stared at the ceiling thinking about the task ahead of us, and then we fell asleep.
It was two in the afternoon when I woke from my half drunken slumber. I gently woke up Kim and told her it was time that we went to find Mark. We both took showers and got ready. Kim insisted on doing my makeup which was fine by me since I was terrible at it. She lent me some of her jewelry as well and a pair of red shoes. Ruby Slippers. It felt great to fit into something of hers, I couldn’t believe we had the same size feet, but there it was. She had taken five pair with her so I didn’t feel bad borrowing them. I wore a pair of dark blue jeans and a white button up top with little red polka dots on it. The shoes went perfectly. Kim called down for our car and we headed for the lobby. I checked us out while she got the car from the valet. Kim was thrilled to be driving; she was acting like she just got of jail. Clearly she didn’t get out on her own much, it was nice to be just two regular girls on a mission (after flying first class on the drop of a dime and staying in a luxury suite). She gave me the Map Quest directions as we pulled onto the freeway. Destiny awaited me and I hoped it would be happy to see me.
I was fidgeting in my seat as Kim popped a CD into the player and cranked the volume. Kim was bopping around in her seat singing at the top of her lungs while I watched the hills and valleys go by. It was a sunny day and I let the sunshine play on my face through the window warming my skin and tickling my eyelids. We arrived in the town of Hazel, our destination was upon us and my stomach started to do flips. We took a few lefts, a few rights, and Kim finally turned into a long cobblestone driveway. A gorgeous bungalow in a John Right style sprawled out before us with a good hundred acres of land surrounding it. It seemed more like four large bungalows joined by hallways, an interesting design. The landscaping was immaculate with shrubs and flowers lining the walkway and front side of the house. A couple of poplars were speckled around the lawn giving privacy and shade. Kim stopped me outside of the door, which was painted of all colours in the world, dusty rose. She licked her fingers and smoothed my hair. As we turned to knock on the door, it opened and there stood a rather burly man in a navy blue sweat suit.
“Yeah?” he barked, looking impatient as though were selling bibles or vacuums. He was eyeing Kim with vacant recognition.
“Hello” She said. “We’re looking for Mark Staltz. Does he happen to be here?” Her voice was sweet. The man at the door couldn’t help but react to her in exactly the way she was expecting.
He shifted his weight and leaned into the door frame. “Well, he’s not in at the moment, but you ladies are welcome to come in and wait for him."
“Don’t mind if we do.” Kim gave the man a killer smile and we walked past him into the house. Dusty Rose seemed to be the only theme I could establish. Everything else was a jumble of Royal Dalton figurine collections and crocheted wall hangings. The carpeting, cupboards, floor tiles, and draperies were all shades of pink. Everything was either grey or blue, or splashes of grey and blue and pink together. I held back my cringe the best I could, but Kim noticed and elbowed me in the arm in a way to say ‘Mind your manners.”
The man introduced himself “My names’ Eddie, any you ladies are….?”
“I’m Eve and this is Kim.” I piped up, and searched his face for any recognition of my name to see if Mark had mentioned me. There was nothing there, but he gave Kim a long look still trying to place her beautiful face.
“Can I offer you ladies a drink? The Mrs. and Mark are just gone out for lunch.” Then he added with a little pip in his step as we walked into the kitchen, “Glad I stayed home.”
Sitting around the kitchen table we made small talk while enjoying our American beer right from the bottle as we weren’t offered glasses. “So how do y’all know Mark?” He asked without much interest.
“I work with him and Eve, well Eve’s in love with him. We’ve come here because they’re in a bit of a tiff and she wants to set things straight.
When he was finished laughing he said, “So you’re the one who’s got him down here hiding out from the world. The wife is not going to be happy to see you, I should warn you. He’s been miserable since he got here and he’s driving us crazy. Moping around, sleeping all day and not eating a damn things she cooks for him. He’s been a right pain in the arse. "So the five million dollar question is what the hell are you doing here and why aren’t you with that rich actor guy you were cozying up to in those photos?”
Kim took it from there and explained that the rich actor guy was her husband, and so on and so forth. Eddie seemed too amused for my liking, it almost seemed like he was laughing at Mark for getting it wrong and being upset.
“That poor bastard.” He laughed. “He shut down a whole movie over this. Probably lose his credit and any hope of a successful career over nothing. Talk about being an over actor.” He winked at Kim and she sighed slightly, looking to me for my reaction.
“So you’re saying that I’ve ruined his career?” I balked.
“No. His career is fine, Eve. Don’t worry about that. We won’t let that happen.” She was referring to herself and Tim. I felt a little less panicked and decided that the getting to know you period was over and focused on my beer.
“So what’s you’re story?” Kim bluntly asked Eddie, to change the subject.
“Me? Oh, I owned a bunch of dot coms in the day, sold them and bought a bunch of real estate, sold that when the markets were bustling, then met Peg and settled down here to live out our days in peace. Except of course, not since Mark has been here…” He actually gave me a bit of a dirty look then. I avoided his glare by looking into the living room which had beige walls and blue carpeting. There was a wall full of glass shelves holding what looked to be about fifty Royal Dalton figurines wearing dresses and hats from every era starting from the Roaring Twenties. They looked to be in chronological order; Mrs. Staltz was clearly passionate about her collection.
It was then that I heard the door open at the front of the house. My heart stopped and I must have gone pale from the look of concern on Kim’s face. With a reassuring smile, she rose to her feet and pulled me out of my chair to standing. Eddie was still sitting looking a bit smug, probably waiting for the show to begin. I wondered if he would stick up for me since I already told him the story or would he just sit back and watch me squirm. “Hey Peg, we’re in the kitchen!” Eddie volunteered smiling like the Cheshire cat. I gave him a worried look and it seemed to finally register with him how anxious and sick I was about seeing Mark again after so long. The smile sank from his face and he cleared his throat readjusting himself in his chair, perhaps not looking forward to the show so as much as he was before.
“Who’s we?” A curious sweet sounding voice asked as Mark’s mother came into the kitchen. She had short curly blond hair, glowing skin and very little makeup. She had the body of a thirty year old although she must have been up there in her fifties. She was also wearing a track suit, although hers was pink, of course, as were her sneakers. She might have been the most adorable woman I’d ever seen. Smiling politely, revealing tiny dimples in her cheeks, Peg took Kim and me in quickly. “I was wondering when you’d show up.” She didn’t sound upset or lunge at me which was a good sign. Relief flooded my body; she seemed to be on my side. “You must be Eve,” she said as she reached out her hand to shake mine. She held my hand for a moment longer, looking into my eyes, giving the room a bit of an uncomfortable feel. “Hmm. So you’re the girl who my Mark is so crazy about? I can see why, you’ve got the skin of an angel and eyes to match.” Smiling warmly she turned to Kim and gave her hand a shake. “Thank you for coming all the way out here ladies. I’m sure that Mark is overreacting, anybody who reads the gossip magazines religiously like I do, can tell when a photo has been put on just to stir up a mess or try to make a great couple look bad. It’s sad how people enjoy others misery. Anyway, I didn’t believe it for a second and then Mark shows up at my door sleep deprived and broken hearted telling me that it is not just his best friend in the photo, but the girl he had been dating and was thinking was “the one.” I tried to tell him he was wrong, that there was some other explanation for the pictures but he wasn’t having it. He believes only the worst. He’s been through the mill before I’m afraid.” She whispered. “I’ve never seen him this angry before though, he’s been just about unbearable to live with.”
“That’s why I had to find him. To tell him the truth.” I was almost in tears thinking of what he’d been going through. Kim sat quietly back down at the table with Eddie while Peg and I stood talking intimately about Mark as though we’d both known him his whole life. I felt an instant connection with the woman; she was so sweet it would be impossible for anyone not to like her instantly.
“Mark! You have company!” Eddie called out. But I didn’t here footsteps coming from the front room, Mark just appeared from behind the far wall like a genie that had just been summoned. Poof, he just appeared. He had been listening from the living room.
“Kim?” He said in a confused voice. Then he looked at me, but not into my eyes. His face looked like it was set in stone. He hated me and we would never get back what we had. I could see it in his eyes. He looked like a zombie. There were dark circles under his eyes. He was glaring at me. “What are you doing here Eve?” It would have been music to my ears to hear him saying my name if it wasn’t coming out from through clenched teeth. I looked to his mother for help.
“Mark, that is no way to speak to a guest in my home.” She chided, pushing me toward him and then pushing us both toward the patio doors leading to the back yard.
We walked down the few steps together as she slid closed the doors behind us. I heard her say, “Now Kim, how are those children of yours?” before they were closed completely and we were alone. As soon as we reached the ground Mark walked a few paces purposefully away from me. I noticed a bench a few feet away down a scattered stone pathway. I walked slowly over hoping Mark would follow, and sat down. He came to the bench as well, but did not sit down. I looked up at him but he still would not meet my eyes. Looking around I noted that the garden somehow had the same feeling as the house. Then I discovered the reason was that there were nothing but pink roses, lilies, gerbers, and every other type of flower in every shade of pink and blue imaginable. But it was lovely with stone pathways in every direction and little sitting areas with tables for drinks and a patio closer to the house suited with a large rectangular table and chairs (the cushions and umbrella were blue). I looked up again at Mark who was glaring at me again, not into my eyes, but sort of at my forehead.
“What are you doing here Eve?” He asked again. He was wearing khaki green shorts that hung on his hips and a grey t-shirt that fit snugly across his shoulders and chest, the sleeves wrapping firmly around his toned biceps. When I didn’t answer he asked again a little louder, exasperated. “Eve. What are you doing here? Why is Kim with you?"
“I’m here, Mark, to try to explain the photos to you.”
“Explain that you’re just like the rest of them. I already know that. Thanks for stopping by, you know where to find the door.” Cold and hurtful, he was lashing out at me from the pit of his stomach.
“You’re mother’s right, the captions were completely wrong. If they were right they would have read “Height Fearing Ridiculous Decorator Traps Herself on Balcony and has to be Rescued by Famous Actor.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Will you please sit and just listen to me please?” I pleaded, reaching my hand out to him. Mark took a step back and then moved to sit beside me.
“When James and I showed up at the condo for final touches and “after” photos for my portfolio, Carla (I growled her name in a way that always made him laugh and he smirked) was there trying to seduce Tim. The photographer that was with us snapped a photo and then took off running.” Mark looked confused because with the juicy photos of Tim and me rolling around, Carla’s picture didn’t get much media attention. I shook my head to confirm that it was true. “I was freaking out over the repercussions of that photo and I was so angry at Carla that I walked out onto the balcony. I froze and panicked once I realized what I had done and Tim had to drag me off the balcony. That’s when all the pictures were taken.” I paused to let the information set in. “Do you see now?” I searched his face for sudden enlightenment, a softening, but nothing changed, nothing on his face moved. It was horrible. In a hazy cloud I watched him stand and walk away from me toward the house, his words crashing down on any hope I had that what we had between us wasn’t lost.
“You should leave. Go back to where you came from.” He then veered away from the house and onto another path in the garden that would take him into the field beyond and out of my life forever. My heart fell like a sack of bricks into my stomach and my eyes filled with water. I technically had done nothing wrong and yet he still hated me even after I told him the whole story. Perhaps he didn’t believe me, he thought I was lying. But I wasn’t lying, it was the truth, it was so unfair that he didn’t throw his arms around me and let me bury my face in his chest. So unfair. I slowly dragged myself toward the house; it took everything in me to get back to the patio doors. I stood there, not able to raise my arm to the handle, my whole body felt like a sack of potatoes, I just wanted to slump over but I had to leave. He wanted me to go back to where I came from. The idea was sounding better and better. I tried my best but maybe the city life and the fast lane were too much for me. Maybe it was time that I gave up and moved back home to live out the rest of my days as a cashier at WalMart.
Eddie opened the door and stood aside to let me in, the way you would let a wet pet back into the house after a rain shower. Seeing the defeat in face, Kim and Peg rushed over to me just before my knees gave out. I just could not believe it had gone wrong.
“We have to go Kim.” I whispered. “I’m sorry for the intrusion.” I added as I pushed my way toward the door one heavy foot in front of the other. Kim followed quietly as did Eddie and Peg. Eddie leaned up against the wall and Peg came over once I had slipped my shoes on and took me by my shoulders to say, “He’ll come around love, you’ll see.”
Kim and I drove back to the airport hotel in silence; she was waiting for me to tell her what happened without pressuring me to relive it too soon. It happened so quickly that I wasn’t even sure what transpired exactly or how to explain it to Kim. He just walked away from me, from us. “At least I got to tell him the truth myself.  I guess that’s all I really wanted.”
We waited at the airport lobby sipping on vodka and orange juice. A few people stopped to gawk at Kim and a few others came over to ask her for her autograph. I ignored them and stared at my drink. Kim was very gracious to the strangers and signed a couple of coasters and a young lady’s purse strap. Then she would return to sitting quietly with me. We parted ways when Kim’s plane arrived, with a long hug that did actually help a little. “Thank you so much for everything Kim. I owe you.”
She shook her head back and forth and took my face in her hands. “You owe me nothing. You would have done the same for me.” She was right. We hugged again and I watched her board her plane. I only had to wait forty-five minutes for my own flight to arrive. I was so numb from the excitement and disappointment that the plane ride was nothing more than a ride on a bus. My seat could have been on the wing and I wouldn't have noticed with the state I was in. Everything was a blur until I reached the steps of my apartment building. I turned in time to see the taxi driving away from the curb and realized that I had just stepped out from it moments before. When I entered my apartment my father was watching television and my mother was cooking something that smelled incredible in the kitchen. I decided that I couldn’t go back into the depression I was in before. I had to snap out of it and get on with my life. I would look at my trip to Arizona as closure. A sad end to something that could have been great, but I had no control over it anymore and therefore I had to let it go. I smiled the best smile I could manage when my father looked up at me coming into the living room.
“Darling. I thought it was Ben or Kelly coming in. Why didn’t you call us to pick you up from the airport?” It was my mother; she was in front of me before my father had a chance to rise up from the sofa.
“It’s OK Mom, I took a cab. Mark knows the truth now, but we’ve decided not to get back together.” I smiled into her questioning face and she relaxed a little. Then I pulled her to me and gave her a hug which she accepted and held for as long as I needed. My father was there by the time I released her and I repeated the exercise on him, smiling and hugging. It would be okay; I had people, people who loved me no matter what kind of crap I got myself into. I sat down with my father on the sofa as my mother returned to her dinner. I turned to my thoughts. I suddenly decided on a plan. I would resign from Signare at the end of the work week, pay my last month’s rent and head home to start over. That was all I knew at that point. I couldn’t bear to imagine what I would do with myself back in Buford, but clearly I would get in less trouble and have no chance of meeting somebody so amazing that they would be able to win or break my heart again. It wasn’t an ambitious plan, but it was a plan that I couldn’t screw up and that was what I needed it to be. “I’m going to go to bed.” I announced, getting up and heading for my room. I was suddenly exhausted. Defeated.
“Aren’t you going to have some dinner, Darling?” My mother came bounding toward me as though I were being dragged away by a pack of wolves, taking me by my hands and pulling me toward the table. I resisted, as tempting as it was. The sooner I got to sleep the sooner the next day would come and be over with, the sooner I could get on with the mundane life I decided to pursue.
“I think I’m jet-lagged. I have to get some sleep. Good night.” I kissed her cheek and took another whiff of the glorious aromas coming from the kitchen and then my feet began to follow them to my mothers delight. It was a simple Shepard’s pie that she had made, but it was full of butter and salt and grease as my mother didn’t use lean beef like the rest of the health conscious world. It melted in my mouth and I chased the meal with a large glass of red wine from a leftover bottle sitting on the counter. My mother then allowed me to retire for the evening, not knowing that I was planning to retire my whole life very soon. The wine was a fabulous catalyst for a dreamless sleep and I awoke refreshed, but only physically. My parents would be gone by the time I got home from work so I decided not to tell them my plan until I showed up at their door, when all was said and done and there was no turning back. They’d be happy to have me home, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Chapter 8

I dressed for work and headed out the door. I couldn’t remember if it was my turn or James’ to pick up the coffee so I stopped off and grabbed two lattes and two blueberry muffins. My faithful James was waiting inside my office as usual, Googling away behind my desk. “Anybody you know?” I asked as playfully as I could, putting down the coffee and muffin in front of him and taking a seat in one of the guest chairs. I plopped my feet up on the desk for good measure.
“Muffins are fattening Eve, we’ve been over this.” He wasn’t kidding, but he wasn’t insulting me either. It was amazing how he could still be charming while calling me fat. Had to be the accent.
“I don’t care anymore. Why should I?” I sounded pathetic, but tried to hold my head up and smile as though I were being sarcastic. Of all people, it would be James that I would be disappointing the most by giving up, turning tail and running home as I intended to. I had no idea how to break it to him.
“What’s going on Eve? Why aren’t you moping, and why do you look well rested?”
“I saw Mark this weekend.” James lit up, obviously thinking that it had gone well. I continued before he began the barrage of questions that I knew would come. “I told him everything and he still doesn’t want to get back together.” I went on again to avoid questioning. “I’m OK with it, I’m just glad that I got to tell him the truth myself. It probably never would have worked between us anyway. We barely got to see each other as it was, you’d have to have something really special to make that kind of relationship work.” I thought we did. “So, that is that. Chapter closed. I can’t be miserable forever right? Time to move on with my life.”
The look on James’ face was hard to read. He looked happy, sad, and confused all at once. Shrugging his shoulders he came out from behind the desk resting his bum on the front of it and raised his cup to mine. “Well OK then. Let’s get on with the show.” Then he added very sincerely, “You’ll always have me old girl, always.” Yes, I would miss my James terribly. “Now listen, we’ve got work to do around here. Today is clean up day. There is a big fat commission cheque from the Reynolds' job there on your desk, deposit the damn thing and let’s put it behind us. “That was somewhat exciting news. “Oh, and Miki is in today, I called Madge and she is going to be here anytime now. Might get ugly.
Speak of the devil and they say the devil shall appear. Just as James finished his sentence Miki strode in and stopped in the centre of the room in front of us, feet apart and hands on hips, face looking unusually bright as though she had been jogging or just finished beating somebody to death. “Hello people.” She spat out at us. “I’ve come to let you know that I am taking over the company and you are both fired.” Neither of us moved as she spun on her heel and left the room screaming out, “Staff Meeting!" Now!” at the top of her lungs for the entire office to hear.
James and I exchanged weary glances and headed for the boardroom. I grabbed my muffin to take with me. “There’s no way she can fire is. I think she’s lost it.” James whispered but sounded just a tad nervous. We sat in our usual seats and watched everyone pile in. Fritz and Jaz strolled in behind the handful of pretty people, including, to my astonishment, Carla. I was beginning to think that maybe Miki had a better lawyer than Madge after all and gained control of the business. Perhaps James and I really were fired. At least I had a commission cheque to cash. Maybe James would want to work at Wal Mart with me.
Miki marched in and stood at the front of the room.
 “I’m taking over this company. Fritz and Jaz, James and Eve – you are all fired. You’re terrible at your jobs and I hate you.” Very mature. Still, I was amazed at the turn of events. It would seem that bad luck followed me and now the people around me were suffering for it as well. I noticed however, that neither Fritz nor Jaz made a move toward the door. They were both smiling in fact as though it were a joke. “Well, get out!” Miki commanded.
At that moment Madge walked casually into the boardroom. She looked fantastic. Her skin was glowing, her hair was polished and smooth, and she had on a bright green blouse with black wide legged dress pants and emerald shoes. She walked to the opposite end of the boardroom and opened a folder lifting out a document to show to the group. “This is the Judge’s final decision on the matter of Signare Designs.” She read aloud, “Sole ownership of Signare Designs will stay with Madge White as any partnership that was agreed upon previously is now null and void due to lack of leadership and interest in the company by Miki White. So, what makes you think that you have any right to be here Miki?”
Miki stood there looking sheepish for a moment and then her face crunched up as though she were flexing every muscle in it. If she were a cartoon, steam would have been coming out of her ears. She began to scream, “I’m going to open my own agency! I’ll be a hundred times more successful than you losers!” As Miki continued to lash out two young men in security uniforms took her firmly by each of her elbows and lifted her a foot off the ground while they carried her out of the room. Madge smiled quickly and then turned her attention back to the table, specifically at Carla. Carla got the hint and removed herself from the room to follow Miki and mumbling something about going back to dating men. Madge rolled her eyes. I felt an elbow in my side and looked at James who was doing his best not to burst out laughing. Fritz and Jaz remained the same, they almost looked bored, and they certainly were not as shocked and amused as I was at the circus  in the boardroom that morning. In fact their behaviour was slightly suspicious.
“As for the rest of you, there are security guards waiting at your desks, you may clean them out and go. This is nothing personal as I don’t know you at all, we are reorganizing the company at this time and your positions have become obsolete. We will continue to pay you for the next four weeks, although I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding new jobs. Best of luck to you.” The girls didn’t look surprised but made their way toward the door in a line as though they were not being fired from their jobs but strutting the cat walk in Milan.
James was waving good-bye and blowing kisses. “Was that really necessary?” Madge just gave him a ‘don’t be silly’ look that a mother would give a child. Then she took her seat at the head of the boardroom table. Smiling and taking in a renewing breath of air, Madge began to lay out her new plan for the company. “And only five remain.” She smiled again to ensure that we knew this was a good thing. “OK kids, this is the direction we are going to be taking: I am going to take a year off from teaching to act as president here. I owe you all an apology for leaving Miki in charge for so long, I had no idea she was treating you all so poorly. And I also owe you my gratitude for staying faithful to Signare through it all.” She paused, pacing herself. Looking in their direction she announced, “Fritz and Jaz will remain as Senior Designers and Consultants.” They both nodded their heads uniformly in agreement. “James, I am promoting you to VP. You may just be the youngest in history and you deserve it.” She couldn’t hide her pride in him, it showed in her eyes. “Eve, my dear. It would seem that you and I have both been through quite a bit lately. You were the most naturally talented student to every pass through my class and I knew immediately that you would be a very important part of Signare Designs one day. And you are. You have demonstrated you abilities over the last six months and you’re doing a wonderful job. I am going to propose something at this juncture. There are only five us remaining right now. We will be hiring on new assistants and taking on co-op students in the future. But as it stands, I would like to make it very clear that we five are the base and heart of this company. Collectively, we are Signare Designs. Everyone one of our names will be listed as partners in the company if you choose to accept this responsibility. Every job and every employee will be overseen by us; we will no longer be just designers but Executives in this company.” She then produced a flow chart from her brief case and gave each of us a copy. “My vision is to establish us as an executive team of designers responsible for this company. As I said, I will take over as President, James is now our VP, and he will be responsible for our Marketing People, our Photographers, and any major contractors. Fritz and Jaz will remain as Senior Designers and will have any new designers that we hire on reporting to them.” Another pause followed this rush of information. I looked around the table for reactions. Fritz and Jaz were relaxed now and had eased back into their chairs. James looked very serious, preparing for his very serious new role I imagined. There was no other person who knew the company in and out the way he did, not even Madge. I told him from the beginning that he should be running the place instead of fussing around with me. “Eve, I have decided to make you the face of Signare Designs.” The surprising words that I thought I heard yanked me away from admiring James and I focused again on Madge’s words, giving my head a little shake to make sure I was hearing correctly. “You will be our Head Designer and we are going to use your charming sunflower motif as our signature design. That is, if that it’s alright with you.” All eyes turned to me for my approval. I’m sure they were expecting me to be ecstatic. I’d just been offered a partnership in a company that I loved and that stood for everything integral and good about decorating.
On top of that, they wanted me to be the face of the company and use the design that I created in honor of my mother as their signature look. I should have been in hysterics, but this new offer, if I accepted it, meant that I would have to go on with my life, move forward, continue to participate in the world, even (heaven forbid) enjoy myself. Decorating is what I was born to do, I would never escape it no matter how droll of an environment I placed myself in, I would always want to better my surroundings, I knew I wouldn’t be able to turn that switch off.
“But, I was going to quit and move back home to work at WalMart.” I pouted. There was a brief silence before the room filled with laughter, Fritz was banging his fists on the table with the hilarity of my joke and Jaz was trying to stifle her honking laughter. James began to laugh but stopped when he realized I might not be joking. Though it wasn’t a joke, I could see then, having said it out loud, how silly it was and so I joined in the laughter and James gave me another of his amiable elbows. I was right that my life would never be the same; maybe the pain of losing Mark would subside if I threw myself into work, which was an option I hadn’t considered. This way I could still see Kim when she came through town as I doubted that she would ever find herself passing through Buford, and I could stay with Ben and Kelly in our apartment and I wouldn’t have to leave James or Madge or Mama Silk or Tina. In fact, I could easily convince Madge to make Mama Silk our exclusive silk provider and make any new decorators sign a contract to keep our supplier confidential. “Thank you Madge, I’m honored, really.” I gave her nod and a smile which she returned.
“Wonderful, you and James will have to work together with a Marketing Company to create our new brand and get it out there to our existing clients and everyone else in the universe.” She was on a roll again. “We’ll host a re-branding party….invite all of our clients and their friends…it’s going to be fabulous!” She raised a polished nail to the side of her mouth, pensively. “So that’s about everything. James please look into a hiring agency; Eve will need a new assistant, Fritz and Jaz will need an assistant, and I  will need an assistant. Let’s start looking at two junior designers, and somebody buy poor Tanya at reception a bouquet of roses for sitting out there all day wondering if she’s the next to be fired.” She stood and swung her red leather brief case over her shoulder while walking toward the door. “Work to do. I’ll be in my office.”
Over the next two months James and I continued to work closely together popping in and out of each other’s office. We drank coffee and worked around the clock on a the new look for Signare Designs’ marketing campaign while simultaneously organizing the client party event that Madge had put us in charge of. All of our ideas, once concrete were brought to her newly decorated office for sign-off. James took over the office next to mine but decorating it would have to wait. We hired a business consultant to help us with the re-branding using my sunflowers. The new logo had a black background with the tips of three sunflowers stamped around the right side and our company name on the left. It was sophisticated and sleek. Things were progressing nicely since I was avoiding anything non-work related and James had no eye candy to distract him in the office anymore.
We chose the Metro Museum as the location for our event which was scheduled for New Year’s Eve. It would be a black tie affair. Black table clothes with sunflower centrepieces were just the beginning. A stage would be constructed for our Jazz band to perform during dinner and then change tempo into the evening into a big band style for dancing. Madge would give her speech to our audience from that stage and I would also be counting down to midnight from there when it came time, since I would be one of the few without a date. James promised to kiss me at midnight, but I mostly tried not to think about it and concentrate on the event and not the romantic notion behind ringing in the New Year with a lover.
Ben, Kelly, Mama Silk, Tina, and Jade, who we had officially hired on as our environmental decorating expert, along with my dear friend Kim all received formal invitations to the party. I had Ben deliver an invitation to my friends Skye and Dakota at Frank’s bar as well. Ads were posted in the top decorating and design magazines in the city, and Madge was doing television spots in which she forced me to accompany her but was nice enough to do all the talking. I was able to meet my favourite TV personality on the daytime decorating/talk show circuit, Melanie Peters. She always makes her guest do a little dance to whatever music she has playing as they walk onto the stage. Madge confidently busted a move showing off her natural grove, while I was so nervous that I ended up looking like an overgrown gyrating chicken.
We were taking on new clients just from the publicity we had created and really tried to focus on customer appreciation as the theme of our event. It was decided that we would make it an annual event so lavish that it would be a staple event in the media every year. With stars like Kim Reynolds and now other famous people knocking on our door (they heard we were the people to see if they were buying or renting in our city), no doubt we would be in the media often. With the combined efforts of our five executives, things were running very smoothly indeed.
Despite our success, I still wasn’t happy, it was as though my happy gene had been removed and I forgot how to feel inside. All the work and time spent with James who tried to make me laugh on a daily basis, stayed on the surface of my being, nothing sank in and nothing seemed to really matter to me. I was glad that we were successful at our mission to revamp the company, but I just didn’t care either way, as long as I was busy and focused on anything but myself.
“Here, put this on.” Kelly tossed a black low cut cocktail dress with red satin trimming under the bust line onto my bed. “Here, these too.” She added as a pair of flimsy black heels decorated with red gemstones clinked onto the floor by my feet.
“Do you want me to do your hair and makeup?” She knew that I wouldn’t do any of it without her; I would go to the party in slacks and a pony tail if she wasn’t there to stop me. I was more upset than I wanted to be about the inevitable New Year’s romance that would be unavoidable in the air that evening. James was waiting in the living room with Ben, Matt, and Cherry. He refused to take a date even though I insisted that he should. Kelly worked her magic giving me smoky grey eyes and a head full of ringlets and as I pulled Kelly’s little black dress over my head and down around me, I noticed that it was a perfect fit.
“Wow.” We both remarked in unison awing at my reflection in the mirror.
“I guess I lost more weight, I hadn’t noticed.”
“You look fabulous.” She was shaking her head sadly as she spoke. “I can’t believe he hasn’t even called you.” The worlds came out before she could catch herself as she knew it was absolutely forbidden to speak about him in my presence. “I’m sorry.” She added quickly and gave me a quick hug.
“It’s OK. It’s been long enough right?”
“I have to tell you something Eve. I don’t know how you’re going to take it, but you should know.” I didn’t like where this was heading. Pulling me to sit on my bed beside her Kelly blurted out, “Mark and Tim have been working on their movie together. I saw a preview for it last week and the last time Kim called she confirmed that it was true.” My eyes welled. “Please don’t cry. You’ll ruin your makeup. I should have told you before. I’m sorry.” Kelly reached for a tissue as I sucked in a lungful of air trying to compose myself. He was friends again with Tim, had forgiven him and continued on with their movie, but he didn’t want any more to do with me. The hurt was as fresh as the day he had walked away from me in the garden, abandoning me there in Arizona.
Being that I had become the queen of suppression I took a few cleansing breath and jumped to my feet. Kelly followed me into the living room where all eyes turned to us and every jaw dropped. Following a short stunned silence James and Ben piped up at the same time, “You look…”
”Gorgeous.” Ben concluded.
“Stunning.” Came from James as he stood and took my hand. “If you weren’t my closest friend I’d be trying to find a way to get you drunk and take you home tonight.” The words were not as sweet as the sincerity in his eyes. That darn accent seemed to make everything he said charming and forgivable. Everyone laughed, except for me because I had forgotten how and James leaned down to whisper in my ear, “I’m still going to get you drunk though.” He pulled back and gave me wink.
As Kelly reentered the room from the kitchen with six glasses as Ben stood and corked the bottle that James had brought with him. Once all of our glasses were filled with Champagne, Ben raised his glass to toast, “Congratulations to Eve and James for their success with Signare and to lifelong friends and new friends too. Happy New Year everyone.” We all downed our glasses and filled them back up again quickly, settling down on the furniture to relax for a while before the limo came to pick us up.
Guests arrived dressed in black tuxedos, gorgeous floor length gowns, and cocktail dresses. Clients I recognized from my days in school and some who I had never met before spent time discussing our vision for the company and some projects that the were hoping to work on for them in the near future. Old friends of Madge’s from across the country and some from England had come out to show their support. Her brother, James’ father, had also made an appearance. It was very evident where James got his good looks from, not to mention the charm. All was lost on me of course, but it was my turn to elbow James with a knowing smile. Jazz music played softly as the crowd hummed and strolled around taking turns lounging in the different seating areas we set up to resemble various designs styles and eras, each incorporating the sunflower theme in some aspect or another; always subtly.
Thanks to James, I was never without a drink in my hand. During dinner I floated around chatting with people.  Mama Silk had come with Tina, the little old lady was wearing a lovely purple silk (of course) Chinese dress, and Tina a stylish maternity gown looking uncomfortable and ready to burst. Kelly and Matt were relaxed and enjoying their meal as Ben and Cherry fed each other and kissed in between bites. James had two drinks in front of him and was telling a story about how his father, who was seated beside him, took him to meet James Brown in rehearsal when he was six years old, but he had the flu and threw up all over the drummer. Skye and Dakota thought this was hilarious and threw their heads back simultaneously in roaring laughter as Jade made a disgusted face. That was when I looked up to see that Kim had finally arrived. She looked nervous. I stood to greet her noticing that Tim was at her side and at his side was a man a vaguely recognized, a man I believed once that I loved. Mark Staltz. James was on his feet in an instant whispering in my ear.
“He called and asked if he could come with them. He wants to talk to you.” Traitor. How could he set me up like that? I already had a ‘talk’ with Mark; did he not recall how poorly it went the last time? Furious and panicking at the same time, I decided to sit back down.
Kim rushed over to my side giving me an awkward side hug and kiss on the cheek. ”He just wants to talk to you, honey.” The woman who was half my size, was dragging me to my feet and pushing me toward my past which I once thought was my future. I twisted my shoulders free and began walking in the opposite direction. Immediately the corners of my mouth curled up in a fake smile not to alarm any of our guests as to the breakdown I was about to have. Not wanting to be seen leaving the party, I discretely got on the elevator just outside of the lobby and pushed the button for the second floor balcony level where I stepped out and walked over to lean against the elaborate railing with my back to the crowd below. Questions began bombarding each other in my head. Why was he here there? What did he want from me after all this time? Tears began to well again but I wouldn’t allow them to flow, this evening was important to Madge and the rest of us and I wasn’t going to be the one to ruin it with my personal problems. The sound of footsteps to my right made me raise my head to see who was coming, perhaps security to remove me from my place of refuge. Not a security guard but Mark approached, coming from the stair well. Slowing his pace as he got closer, I could see him struggling for his first words.
“I thought you were afraid of heights.” His voice was tender and slightly mocking to my surprise.
“Well, I’m not afraid any more.” I replied in the coldest tone I could muster up. He looked like an angel in that Tuxedo.
My response seemed to empower him. “I’m not afraid anymore either Eve. I was such an idiot to think that you would hurt me like that. I was expecting it from the beginning, from experience, but a strong part of me wanted to believe that you were different, you were the one who wouldn’t let me down.” He paused to see if I would let him continue and I raised my eyebrows and he continued. “I had a connection with you that I’ve never experienced before; I honestly thought we were meant for each other. Then I see you in the paper with my best friend rolling around on the floor. I was devastated and so angry that I wouldn’t listen to anybody about what I had seen. I let it fester and grow and I was blind to the truth. The truth that it was a mistake like you said. Even coming from your lips I refused to believe the truth. Eve, I’m so sorry. I was wrong. I’m an idiot and I understand if you hate me.” Pausing again to gauge my reaction he ventured a step closer to me and I caught the faintest whiff of his magical smell.
“How long have you known the truth?” I asked.
“Pretty much since you left Arizona that day. I thought that after I hurt you and treated you the way I did you would never want to see me again. So I threw myself into my work and spent every day since then regretting how abominably I behaved toward you.”
“You abandoned me Mark.” I accused pitifully.
Buckling slightly he leaned against the balcony as though I had kicked him in the stomach. “Eve, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I did that to you. I feel like a monster.”
“I don’t know how to feel anymore Mark.” It was the truth. I had shut my feelings off for so long that, now that he was standing here, I didn’t know how to feel for him again. Too much time had gone by and I couldn’t just jump into his arms and pretend that everything was OK. As much as I wanted to jump into his arms and bury myself in his chest, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He was searching my eyes trying to figure out what I was thinking.
“I’m not asking to pick up where we left off. I just want to know if you can forgive me.”
“I do forgive you Mark. I forgave you months ago.”
”Of course, I understood what made you react the way you did, I forgave you and hoped you’d find happiness again.” Although I had given up on my own happiness entirely.
“You’re an angel.” He shook his head in disbelief. “So what now?” He looked down at his feet and then back up into my face.
“What now?” I repeated, and as I spoke the words I heard James on the microphone.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us here this evening to celebrate the launch of Signare Designs’ new look and to ring in the New Year! So please put your party hats on as the countdown is about to begin!” Forever charming. I wasn’t unhappy about missing my cue to speak to the audience, I had feared the moment since Madge assigned me the task.
When I turned back to Mark from watching James on the stage he was staring at me intensely and took me by shoulders staring into my eyes. “Eve. I can’t let it be like this. I need more than your forgiveness; I need you in my life, forever. There’s no real meaning to anything anymore without you to talk to you. Without being able to hold you or laugh with you.” He was so serious I almost started to giggle. It wouldn’t have been appropriate at that moment however so I tried to hold it in. For some reason the whole situation started to seem very silly to me. Remembering that it all began with me falling on Tim when he pulled me off the balcony, most women wouldn’t exactly consider that the end of the world. It was all a big mistake and it cured me of my fear of heights by forcing me to fly to Arizona. I was able to focus on work and help to revamp the whole company and now here was Mark again, more attractive then I remembered and asking my forgiveness for a mistake that was my fault to begin with. I cracked a smile, very slightly, feeling the corners of my mouth turn up against my will.
“Are you laughing at me?” he asked, surprised by the lighter mood I had taken on suddenly.
Feeling my shoulders relax under his warm hands and the blood start to pump through my heart again as it once did, I reached out and touched Mark’s soft face. “I’m not laughing at you Mark. I just can’t stand to be serious for another moment, I haven’t smiled in so long and it’s been killing me.” Just as suddenly Mark’s frame relaxed into a less rigid position and he placed his hand on top of mine and moved it to around his neck, tugging me just slightly closer.
“I’ve missed your smile,’ he said as he leaned down and kissed me softly on my cheek, carefully. “So what now?”
“Three, two, one. Happy New Year!!!” James shouted from the stage below.
“We kiss and start over.” I said to Mark who smiled and then obliged by giving me a kiss I knew I’d remember for the rest of my life.
“Happy New Year!” James shouted again and I looked down to catch him jumping off the stage and grabbing Jade dipping her in his arms and planting a playful kiss on her.
Clients and Guests began leaving the party just after midnight and the rest of my evening was a whirl of Champagne toasts and jokes with my closest friends. Mark stayed by my side all night, holding my hand and pulling me aside periodically for a kiss.
The End.
By Sylvia Wells

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