Leila drove like a madwoman, focusing on not being late. There were a lot of thoughts stomping through her brain, but she was determined not to let it interfere with her work life. She parked her car quickly in the practically empty lot, she dashed inside, stumbling over her own feet, thankful that there was no one in the immediate vicinity to see her trip. As she smoothed down her clothes, trying to make herself look more presentable, she took a deep breath and exhaled to calm her nerves. She didn’t really feel prepared to be at work today, under Victoria’s constant scrutiny, but this was her dream job, the only one she wanted to do. Someday she hoped to own her own magazine; taking photos, designing covers/pages and writing articles. She would not mess this up. Relaxing with another deep breath, Leila walked into Ms. Allen’s office, softly knocking on the glass door to announce her presence.
“You look terrible. Are you sick?” Victoria looked up quickly, her almond eyes calculating as they took in Leila’s disheveled appearance, narrowing.
“No ma’am. It’s nothing,” Leila bluffed, tucking her hair behind her ears, “Where would you like me to start?”
“Good. You can start alphabetizing and filing that pile right over there at your desk,” she gestured with a pen in the direction of the huge box of files absentmindedly, head already bent back over her desk, marking up the page in red.
“Okay, thanks,” Leila mumbled.
The day flew by quickly as she buried herself in the mind numbing work, eagerly getting lost in the task at hand. After her phone went off several times, announcing Nikoli’s presence every few minutes, Leila finally turned it off, tired of the distraction. Growling in frustration, she hid her face behind a folder, trying to breathe deeply, refusing to cave on ignoring him, even to hear him out.
“Is everything okay in here?”
Leila jumped and dropped the folder in surprise at the sound of Victoria’s voice. Pressing her lips together, she nodded as she looked up, meeting Ms. Allen’s eyes sheepishly.
“Okay then. Come with me,” Victoria said as she turned on her heel to walk down the hallway, her black heels clacking sharply against the floor.
Leila scrambled to stand up, extracting herself from the endless sea of papers and file folders without making further mess, stepping carefully over papers so as to not leave footprints on them. Her black flats made virtually no noise as she trailed behind Ms. Allen’s disappearing backside, struggling to keep up with her long confident strides. As she rounded the corner she nearly ran straight into her boss, but caught herself quickly, stopping just in time. Victoria just stood there looking at her, hands on hips as though she had been waiting forever for Leila to arrive.
“You’ll need to learn to keep up if you’re going to be successful at your new position.”
“I-I’m sorry, Ms. Allen. It won’t happen again,” Leila stumbled over her words nervously, her voice wavering, “Did you need me to do some more filing in here?”
“Well it would be preferable since this is your new office,” Victoria said, a slight smile on her otherwise serious face.
“Yes. I’ve decided that it’s been way too long since I’ve had an editor by my side. I’ve been doing the job of several people and I’m tired of having no life. It’s time I shared some of the responsibilities with somebody else,” Victoria replied bluntly, gesturing with her hands while she talked.
Leila stared at her blankly, open-mouthed, the impact of those words not fully registering with her at first. Instead of giving an intelligent reply, she found herself repeating things that her boss said, like a skeptical parrot.
“Yes. The normal response is usually a “Thank you,” Victoria teased lightly, reaching out to touch her on the shoulder, but changing her mind at the last minute to smooth back her hair.
“What? Yes. Uh I’m sorry,” Leila said shaking her head, disbelief filling her voice, “Thank you so much, Ms. Allen.”
“Oh psh, call me Victoria,” she said handing her the keys to the office, “You’ve earned it. Congratulations.”
“I can’t believe it, wow,” Leila said reaching out her hand awkwardly.
“Don’t gush. Just don’t make me regret it,” she shook her hand briefly but firmly, “Now get out of here, it’s getting late. I have a date and I don’t want to leave you here unsupervised.”
Leila bit back a laugh and nodded, her eyes dancing with the suppressed delight as Victoria grinned and pivoted on her heel, her shoes clicking as she strode purposefully down the short hallway. When she was certain that Victoria couldn’t see her anymore, she did a little victory dance and squealed under breath, needing to release some of the joy she felt before she burst. This was the best thing to happen to her since...No. She wouldn’t think about that right now. Nothing would get in the way of her unbridled happiness, not even him. She walked briskly down the hall to gather her purse and phone, waving at Victoria as she passed. Leila called Elaine as she exited through the side door, wanting to share her good news with her best friend. She picked up on the second ring, sounding a little breathless.
“Hey what are you doing?”
“Just working out. The new trainer is killing me!” Elaine groaned.
“Awww. I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool. No pain, no gain right?,” Elaine’s musical laughter tinkled over the phone, “So is everything okay? You sound weird.”
“Everything is great, actually. Guess what.”
“Ummm...you won the lottery?” Elaine took a shot in the dark, curious.
“Ha! That’d be awesome, but no. I got promoted to Editor!” Leila said excitedly, jumping up and down in the parking lot.
“Oh my god! No way! Congrats hun! I know you’ve been wanting that for forever.”
“Thank you! I’m pretty excited.”
“Did you want to go out dancing tonight, to celebrate?”
Glancing at her watch to see that it was well past sunset at nearly 8 already, she sighed, her nose crinkling up and her mouth turning down at the sides.
“I want to, but I have to be somewhere in about 10 minutes,” she unlocked the car and slid inside, in a hurry to get to Sharon’s bookstore, “Maybe we can go out later tonight, if you want?”
“Sure! It’s up to you. Just let me know. All i’m doing later is going home and laying around the house watching America’s Next Top Model reruns,” Elaine chuckled, a bitter edge creeping into her voice.
“Aww sweetie. Are you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah. Just been a crapfest on the dating front lately, you know? And you’ve been so busy with Nikoli…” Elaine trailed off softly, silence taking over the conversation for a brief moment.
A pang of guilt put a lump in Leila’s throat, “I know. I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up to you, alright? I swear.”
“Okay. I’ll hold you to that!” Elaine said, back to sounding like her bubbly self.
Leila chuckled, “Alright, sweetie. I’ve gotta go, but I’ll let you know about going out. If not tonight, maybe we can go shopping or something tomorrow, okay?”
“Sweet! Okay. Sounds good. I’ll talk to you later then?”
“Definitely. Love you.”
“Aww...Love you, too,” Elaine said, sounding a little more cheerful just before they ended the call.
A small smile planted itself on Leila’s face as she drove to the fortune teller, wanting to get this difficult conversation over with. As she pulled into the tiny parking lot, her headlights bounced off of a figure sitting on a tree stump in the darkness. Leila’s heartbeat quickened as she recognized who it was. Nikoli looked up at her, staring mournfully at her through her windshield. Leila kept her eyes on him as she parked her car and got out. As she shut her door softly, her breath caught in her throat at his ethereal beauty. She had hoped not to see him for a few days at least, wanting to get her bearings first before their next encounter, but apparently he had other plans.
“Hello,” he said softly, his voice low and cautious as he stepped towards her.
Leila’s legs seemed rooted to the ground while she stood frozen, unmoving as she stared at him, unable to speak at first.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Nikoli spoke quickly, his hands up in the air in surrender as he grew closer.
“Wait! Don’t…” Leila stuck her arms out in front of her, warding him off, “I can’t do this right now.”
“Sorry,” he said halting his movements and shoving his hands in his pockets.
“Why are you here? After everything…” Leila stopped, her throat tightening up.
“I need to talk to you about something. I need to explain.”
“Why can’t you just give me space? Is that a foreign concept to you vampires?” She spat out the word, anger powering every word.
“I was going to, believe me. I know that this is all a shock to you, but-”
“A shock? Are you kidding me? This is completely…,” Leila raised her voice, searching for the right word, “nuts! My world has been turned upside down.”
“I know, I’m sorry, but I just wanted to warn you. I wasn’t trying to force you to talk to me. You weren’t answering my texts or calls.”
“That’s because I didn’t want to talk to you,” her voice was softer, the anger giving way to sadness as she comprehended what he had said, “Warn me?”
“I know…,” Nikoli pressed his lips together, his brows knitting in contemplation, “Yes. I think there’s someone following you.”
Before she could reply the door to the bookstore opened, the chiming of the bell interrupting their conversation as Sharon poked her head out.
“Are you coming in or what? I want to get this over with as much as you,” the sound of her rough smoker’s voice grating against Leila’s ears.
Looking back at one another then back to Sharon, Leila and Nikoli nodded in unison as they stepped inside the open door. Locking the door behind them, the fortune teller gestured towards three chairs placed at her table.
“Come, sit. We have many things to discuss.”