The doors slid open and Alexander held his arm out in a gesture for me to step off. I did. I didn’t come down here often. Manny, one of the other house staff was in charge of cleaning this area during his regular shift. I only did it on Manny’s days off. Mr. Reigns led me over to the dark cherry bar on the far side of the main room and patted one of the deep red velvet seats.
“Sit down, Victoria. I’m going to fix you a drink.”
“Oh no sir! My shift isn’t over for a few more hours…”
Smiling again he said, “I’m well aware of when your shift ends. You can’t get fired for drinking with the boss though, so I’m going to pour myself one too. Then, I’m going to sit down next to you and you’re going to tell me what has you in tears.”
He was being so kind. It almost made me feel worse about my terrible behavior than if he’d just yelled at me. He had his back to me but I could see his face in the mirror above the bar. He hadn’t shaved today and dark stubble covered his chin and cheeks and across his upper lip. It gave him an edgy, sexy look and it was contrary to his normal well-coiffed business look. His eyes were also rimmed in red; a lack of sleep, I presumed. That added an element of vulnerability; it made him seem more human. I liked it.
“What do you drink, Victoria?”
“I’m not a big drinker, sir. Usually if I have something, it’s just a glass of wine.”
“Wine it is then,” he said. “And stop with the ‘sir’ please. It’s Alex.”
I think I felt the color rush to my cheeks. There was no way I could call this man by his first name. I looked at him as some kind of deity… it seemed sacrilegious for me to even consider it. He turned back towards me and sat a chilled glass filled with a burgundy liquid in front of me.
“Thank you,” I said. I glanced in the mirror now that I could see myself. Luckily since I hadn’t worn much make-up, none of it was streaked down my face. I just looked redder than normal.
“You’re welcome,” he said softly. Alexander poured himself a beer out of the tap and came around and sat in the chair next to me. “Now, what has you so upset?”
I sat at the bar in the basement on a plush velvet high back chair that probably cost more than my month’s salary with my boss staring into my blue eyes with his hazel ones, asking me why he found me crying in the hallway. This was not at all how I expected my day to go. What was I supposed to say? I think I’d be too embarrassed to admit to my best friend that my boyfriend broke up with me in a text message. How the heck was I supposed to sit here and admit that to Alexander Reigns, CEO of Reigns Biotechnical Incorporated? Ugh! I want to die, I really do.
“I just got an upsetting text message.” I said that and then I remembered that Karen had put out a memo over a month ago telling us that she “frowned” on our use of our personal phones during working hours unless we were on a break. I wasn’t on a break… but apparently Jason and I are. Oh damn! Now I’m crying again. I’m a hot mess. I sucked down the alcohol in the pretty glass in front of me, barely tasting it. “Alex” was smiling at me.
“I wish you weren’t so anxious around me, Victoria. I’m just a regular person like you.”
Yeah, right. I don’t think so. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Laughing now he said, “Alex. What was the text message about? Is your family okay?”
My father took off for parts unknown when I was five. My mother was a pole dancer until she made enough money to buy her own club and now she owns the poles. No, my family is not okay but I’m sure that’s not what he meant. “Yes,” I said. Taking a deep breath I decided it would probably be better to just get this over with and then maybe he would let me get back to my work and we could get busy forgetting this ever happened. “My family is fine. Like I said, it’s silly really. I got a text from my boyfriend. I feel really foolish because I had the impression that he and I were doing fine. I was very wrong about that, I suppose. The text said that he thought we needed to ‘take a break.’ I have no idea what that would even entail.”
He laughed again. This time it upset me just a little bit. He insisted I tell him and now he’s laughing at me? “I’m sorry, Victoria. I’m not laughing at you. It’s not even a happy laugh. It’s just that it’s almost exactly what happened to me. I had no idea that my wife was even considering a divorce until the day I came home from work and she had moved out. Sometimes I think we are clueless because we want to be… you know? It’s a defense mechanism, I think.”
“I suppose if I gave it some serious thought, I could find more than one reason why he’s right… starting with the fact that he broke up with me in a text message.”
“Yes, I don’t even know him and he lost a lot of points with me for that one,” he said, with a wink and a smile. Alexander picked up my glass and said, “Another?”
“I should probably get back…”
He waved his hand at me and got up to go back behind the bar. “This mausoleum is spotless, Victoria. One unmade bed won’t make or break it.” I watched him pour us another drink. He sat the wine down in front of me and said, “How long have you been together with your boyfriend?”
“A little over a year,” I told him.
“How old are you, Victoria?”
“You can call me Vicki,” I told him. “I’m twenty-three.”
“Is your boyfriend…?”
“Jason. Is he twenty-three also?”
“He’s twenty-four,” I said.
“I remember twenty-four,” he said, as if he were an old man. “It’s that age when you start thinking
that you really need to settle down and begin getting your life in order. Some people don’t handle that well. They panic and think they need to go have some fun… one last fling before they’re tied down for the next twenty years or so.”
“I wasn’t pressuring him at all. We hadn’t even talked about marriage yet. We don’t live together.”
“That’s my point though. Does Jason have a lot of friends who are either married or engaged?”
“His best friend got married a month ago and their other friend from college just got engaged.”
He nodded. “I don’t know Jason and I don’t mean to put ideas in your head that aren’t fact… so take this with a grain of salt, okay?” I nodded and he went on, “That’s probably where the pressure came from… not you, Vicki.” I liked the way he said, “Vicki.”
“You think he’s afraid I’ll expect him to marry me?”
“Well, after a year of dating at your age, that’s the logical next step, isn’t it? Do you want children?”
“Does Jason know that?”
“Yes of course… he’s not that thrilled about the idea of being a father. Neither of us had the best examples growing up. I think he’s always been a little concerned that we’ll mess it up too.”