“What is this?” Angie shouted, slamming her coffee mug down on her desk. The paperwork piled up before her computer made everything she’d taken home look like a joke. The pages on the top were already filled out and signed, colorful sticky notes designating where they needed to be sent. She couldn’t even get to her keyboard to see what kind of email there would be to go with it. Her office’s answering machine blinked with twenty-one new messages.
“Susan!” she called, turning heel, marching toward the receptionist’s office. “What is all this on my desk? This can’t all be mine!”
The graying receptionist looked worried, fumbling through her notes. “I don’t know, Miss Pierce, I didn’t see anyone take anything in.”
“Are all of these calls from this morning?” Angie asked, dismayed.
“Since before I came in to the office, Miss Pierce. Since then, I’ve gotten a few calls about paperwork that’s late being faxed in, but I’ve taken messages on everything,” Susan said, shuffling a few papers into order, holding them out for Angie to take.
“Thank you, Susan,” Angie sighed, taking the offered papers, all but marching down the hall.
Martin Pierce stood in the conference room, shuffling files on the table into order, preparing for an inevitable meeting coming later in the afternoon.
Drawing a deep breath, Angie smoothed her hair and straightened her suit as she pushed into the conference room. “Dad, would you care to tell me why there’s other people’s work sitting on my desk? You do realize I was not caught up, right?”
Martin paused, frowning. “Your boxes were empty this morning, so I had them filled.” He tapped the bottom of a stack of papers against the table. “After all, you can’t make progress in your position if you have no work to do. So I had some things transferred to you. Things you can do without visiting other locations right away, like setting up magazine advertisements and whatnot. I’m sure you can handle them.”
“I will not handle them!” Angie protested, scowling. “I don’t have the time to balance this with the rest of my life. And for the record, the only reason my boxes were empty was because I took everything home with me, so I could work on it over the weekend. I’m getting a list of contacts from Susan and I’m transferring their work back to them. Half of this isn’t even mine. I’m a director, I’m not supposed to be striking the deals!”
“You do the work or you look for work,” Martin said, leveling a firm look with her. “The entire advertising branch is behind schedule. If you ever want to be more than a regional director, you’re going to get it done, you’re going to be happy about it, and you’ll thank me for the opportunity later.”
“End of discussion!” he cut her off, gesturing toward the door.
Angie clenched her teeth, hands balling into fists. Out of better judgment, she didn’t speak, turning heel and letting the angry clomp of her shoes be muted by the office carpeting. She slammed her office door closed behind her, sweeping piles of papers off her desk with both arms. She pounded the keyboard to wake her computer from sleep mode. The morning’s email set to print, Angie flopped down in her chair, putting feet up on her desk and rubbing her temples with both hands.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a full coffee mug on the corner of her desk. A gift from Susan, no doubt. She felt a weary smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. She plucked the mug up in both hands, drinking from it gratefully while the whirring of the printer heralded the beginning of a long day.
* * * * *
The doorbell ringing jerked Angie awake. She scrambled off the couch, shoving feet into her heels. “Coming!” she called, primping her hair, pulling wrinkles out of her dress before opening the door.
Lauren’s eyebrows lifted at sight of the knee-length blue dress Angie had on. She looked down to the bags of chips she held in either hand. “Little dressed up for movie night, aren’t you?”
“Oh… Oh! Lauren, I’m so sorry! I completely forgot,” Angie buried her face in her hands, groaning and rubbing at her eyes.
“You forgot that we’ve watched a movie every Monday night for the past eight years?” Lauren laughed, pushing inside without a moment’s hesitation. She dropped her purse on the couch, wandering into the kitchen to put down the chips.
“No, I forgot that it’s Monday,” Angie said sheepishly. “I thought you were someone else.”
“I thought I was someone else too, when I saw you dressed like that! You look good.” Lauren winked, leaning against the doorway. She grinned when her friend blushed. “So who are we waiting for, all prettied up like that?
Angie fidgeted with her dress, kicking her shoes off again. “Just a gentleman I ran into while I was getting coffee. Nothing special.”
“Special enough for a blue dress, not special enough for a red one. Gotcha,” Lauren teased. She dropped down on the couch, making herself comfortable without a moment of hesitation. “Better call him and reschedule, then. Best girlfriends trump boyfriends any day of the week.”
“He’s not a boyfriend,” Angie objected. “He’s just… someone I’m seeing.”
“So tell me about him!” Lauren giggled, pulling a handful of DVDs out of her oversized purse.
“We met at the club the other night,” Angie explained, settling on the couch beside her. “I’m sure you remember. I left when I saw Jason, but he was nice about it. Walked me to the train. After I got home, I regretted not getting his number, but I guess he doesn’t live too far from here. He was down at that coffee shop I like, last night.”
“He lives here?” Lauren looked surprised, glancing over her shoulder. “I mean, in this neighborhood? That’s kinda weird. Are you sure he’s not, like, some kind of creepy stalker or something?”
Angie blinked. “Well he doesn’t seem like a creepy stalker,” she muttered. “Besides, he gave me his last name and his phone number. That’s enough to get him arrested with, if he did turn out to be a stalker.”
“Well, maybe he’s not a smart stalker,” Lauren offered. She dug the remote out from between the sofa cushions, turning the television on. The doorbell chimed and Angie gave Lauren a stern look as she got up to answer it.
“If he’s a creep, don’t worry. I’ve got mace!” Lauren yelled.
Angie didn’t bother putting her shoes on before opening the door. Blaine stood with hands in his pockets, shirt tails untucked from his jeans. He had an amused look on his face.
“If I’m a creep?” he asked, laughing.
“Oh no, you heard that?” Angie grimaced. “I’m sorry! I don’t think you were supposed to hear that.”
“Yes he was!” Lauren shouted, leering at them over the back of the couch.
Blaine smirked. “Message received, thank you.”
“I’m sorry,” Angie winced. “I forgot what day of the week it was, with me working over the weekend and all. We always watch movies on Monday night.”
He shrugged. “If it’s a bad time, you can tell me. I don’t mind rescheduling.”
“He should stay and watch the movie with us, Ange!” Lauren called.
Angie hesitated, giving him a curious look.
“If that’s what you want to do,” Blaine said indifferently. “I don’t mind.”
“Only if you mean that.” Angie stepped back. “Come on in, have a seat. Lauren was just putting in the movie.” She waved toward the couch, slipping into the kitchen to get a glass out for each of them.
Blaine closed the door behind him with barely a sound. “What are you planning on watching?”
“Dracula.” Lauren grinned, putting the disc in and waving the movie case.
Angie groaned. “You only brought that because I was picking on you for having that book!”
“You bet.” Lauren made herself comfortable on the couch again, a remote in either hand.
Angie grumbled, shuffling in with drinks in hand. “You know how I feel about scary movies.” She dropped down on the sofa, positioning herself in the middle, holding a glass of cola out to either side.
Blaine eased himself down to sit beside her, taking the glass by its rim.
“It’s not that scary, I promise,” Lauren said, plucking her glass from her friend’s hand, taking a gulp as she turned up the volume.
Angie cringed, gathering a pillow into her arms.
“Relax.” Lauren patted her shoulder, pulling her feet up onto the couch. “You’ve seen this before!”
“Doesn’t mean I’m going to like watching it again,” Angie muttered.
Each scene change set her on edge and Angela nestled her face into the pillow she clutched each time Dracula came on screen. Lauren scooted to the edge of the couch in rapt fascination. While Blaine stayed quiet, Angie caught glimpse of him tensing at each scene with blood out of the corner of her eye.
At Dracula’s first feeding, he turned his head, pushing himself up in a hurry. “I can’t watch this,” he said, turning toward the door.
“What’s wrong?” Angie asked, practically jumping out of her seat.
“I don’t do well with bloody movies,” Blaine admitted, avoiding meeting her eye. “I think I’d better call it a night.”
“No, it’s okay, we can stop the movie,” Angie offered.
“It’s fine,” he murmured. “You two go ahead and finish. I’d rather just go.”
Angie gave him a miserable look. “All right, if you think it’s best. But we can reschedule, right? And get dinner?”
Blaine nodded as he ran fingers through his short, dark hair. “Is next weekend good for you? Friday after next, maybe, same time?”
Angie nodded and opened the door for him. “Friday after next sounds perfect.” She lingered in the doorway as he slipped out onto the narrow porch. “I’m still sorry about tonight, though,” she sighed regretfully.
“Don’t be.” Blaine shrugged, giving her one of his crooked smiles. “Good night, Angela.”
“Good night,” she murmured. She closed the door after he turned to descend the stairs.
Lauren snickered. “Wow. You guys have got some killer sexual tension going, there.”
Angie rolled her eyes. “I’m going to go change,” she said, shaking her dark hair out as she stalked down the hallway.
* * * * *
Lauren frowned as she heard Angie close the bedroom door behind her. She pushed herself up from the couch and slipped out the door, leaving it open behind her. She bounded down the stairs. Blaine hadn’t gone too far. He was still within sight, walking with an easy stride, hands in his pockets.
“Hey, you,” Lauren called, planting hands on her hips.
He paused, turning with an expectant look.
Lauren pursed her lips. She closed the distance between them before she spoke. “Okay. First things first, I think it’s wonderful that you two decided to see each other or whatever, but as her best friend, I’ve got to set some things straight first.”
Blaine folded arms over his chest. “I’m listening.”
“First,” she ticked a finger at him. “I fully expect that when you take her out to dinner, it’s going to be better than fast food. Second, I also expect that you will understand and accept that since I’m her best friend in the whole entire world, I’m always going to take precedence over you. Unless you get hitched.”
He snorted a laugh. “You do realize this was our first date, right? If you can even call it that.”
Lauren scowled. “Third, but by no means least important, I understand that you might fight, and you might disagree, and you might just have days where you hate each other. But if you so much as think of hurting her like Jason did, I will hunt you down and make you regret you ever lived.”
“I don’t particularly appreciate you comparing me to other people. Especially not at our first proper meeting,” Blaine said, dark eyes narrowing. He settled his weight on one foot.
Lauren lifted her chin defiantly. “And I don’t appreciate having to worry about some beast of a man hurting my best friend again. I swear, if I ever catch word of you laying one finger on her, I will gut you like a fish.”
He paused. “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me,” she insisted.
Blaine studied her expression for a long moment. A frown worked its way to his face. “I see,” he observed.
She waved a hand. “That’s all. I’ll let you go do… what were you doing, again?”
He hesitated, casting a glance over his shoulder to the dim glow the city reflected into the sky. “Nothing important,” he replied, turning and starting off again. “Just going to get a bite to eat.”