It was Wednesday, or as my lush friends called it, “winey” Wednesday. Of course, I refer to it as “water” Wednesday, but my girlfriends won’t allow me to utter that in public. Every week, my friends and I would gather for happy hour at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills.
Sophia was dating the irresistible Bachelor from San Francisco, who looked like he stepped out of a GQ magazine — and we all envied her for it. Nadia was already spewing another tangent regarding her boy toy, Dirtbag Derek, as I often referred to him. I can’t blame her, though. She was a hopeless romantic. With every boyfriend, she would declare “he’s the one,” eventually realizing on date number five that he wasn’t.
The mahogany wood counter top matched the décor of the bar. The Polo Lounge exudes Old Hollywood glamour. Sophia was sitting at the corner high-top table across from the door, our usual spot. It was the perfect location for people-watching. As soon as I entered the bar, I rushed over to the table and dropped myself into the seat next to Sophia.
“So sorry, I was swamped at work today,” I said, grazing Sophia’s cheek with a kiss.
“Yeah, yeah. Just another day fighting crime: one textbook at a time,” Sophia coyly responded. Her bright, brown eyes sparkled against her honey-toned skin. Her caramel hair was worn in a tight ponytail, highlighting her light pink-colored cheeks.
“Where is Nadia? Still at the office?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s finishing up a client meeting. She’ll be right over.” Sophia took a sip from her glass of wine and asked, “Where’s your side kick, Carla? She’s never late for winey Wednesday.”
The glistening of Sophia’s diamond bracelet cut off my train of thought and left me mute for a second. “Well, hello new, beautiful Cartier bracelet,” I said, as I grabbed Sophia’s arm and admired the jewelry. Sophia beamed, “Like it? Evan brought it back from his trip to France.”
She was a hopeless romantic.
“Sophia, seriously, he’s heaven sent, with exquisite taste, might I add.”
Sophia and Evan met at a gala in San Francisco three months prior. They sat next to each other at the banquet and instead of passing the butter, Evan passed her his number. Their attraction was instant, as was their love.
Nadia plumped down on the seat to the left of me. “Sorry I’m late. Ohh, fabulous bracelet, Soph!”
Sophia beamed with happiness and batted her lashes, “Thank you, darling. Evan is the best.”
“That’s an understatement,” Nadia turned around and grabbed the waiter’s attention. “Glass of chianti, please.” She brushed her long golden locks out of her face.
The waiter nodded and turned to me, “Miss?”
“Water on the rocks with a twist of lemon for me!” I answered.
Socialites from Rodeo Drive and Executives from Century City were filling the place. Men dressed in suits hovered around the center of the bar talking about their latest deal. Single women gathered around the edges and glanced at them — but not so overtly. Trying to catch their attention, the girls raised their voices into a high pitch laugh. A tall man with black hair to match his black suit glanced at their table. His baby blue tie brought out the deep blue in his eyes. He confidently stood with his friend, a business colleague perhaps, and tried to catch our attention.
Sophia looked back and found me checking my work email.
She whispered, “Jehan, 12 o’clock: Mr. Tie-Me-Up and Tie-Me-Down is looking right at you.”
“Can we not talk like we’re in college?” I spoke out as I looked up and accidentally locked eyes with the gentleman. “Forget what I just said,” I blushed and quickly looked away.
Sophia laughed, “Did you just blush? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you blush before!”
I took a sip of my water before answering. “I didn’t blush. It’s just hot flashes.”
“Oh shut up! You’re 29, not 59.”
Nadia turned around, ever so obviously, to take a look herself. “Wow, he looks like a dark haired version of Bradley Cooper. Well shoot, if you don’t go for it, I might have to innocently flirt.”
The waiter interrupted by placing a cheese platter on the table, which conveniently knocked my water over. “Oh my God. I am so sorry!” The waiter hurriedly grabbed a rag from his belt and started wiping the table. As he reached over to me, I jumped out of the seat, “It’s ok. It’s Prada. I don’t think a wet rag and Prada go well together.” I excused myself to the restroom, thinking of my exit strategy. Between a long work day and a ruined Prada blouse, I was ready to call it a night.
I started to walk back to the table when my cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar, European number. Staring at the phone for a few seconds, debating whether or not to answer, I bumped into a tall figure. Annoyed with another disturbance, I tried to catch my phone, but my heel caught the man’s shoe and I began to fall. The mystery man with quick reflexes caught my arm and gently pulled me up to my feet. I looked up and locked eyes with the deep blue eyes of the stranger from the bar.
“Are you OK?” his deep voice matched his deep blue eyes.
I gulped before answering, “Y-yes, thank you. I am so sorry, I um-”
“You’re sorry for tripping?” he asked with a smirk on his face.
“Yes, well no. Well, ‘Sparky,’ did you fly over from the bar when you saw me walking out of the bathroom? And why are you still holding onto me?” I peeled myself from the man’s arms and regained my composure. I brushed my clothes straight and adjusted my blouse while moving the hair out of my eyes.
“Sparky? I prefer a more flattering nickname like…”
“Like Fido?” I quipped.
“Haha! Quite the sense of humor. My name is Emil,” He extended a hand and flashed a bright smile.
“Hi, Emil. I’m Jehan,” I took his hand into mine and noticed how small my palm was compared to his. I peeked over to the table where Sophia and Nadia’s eyes were fixated on us. Nadia’s mouth was agape. I flashed a stern look that said, ‘stop staring,’ before returning my attention to Emil.
“Yes, actually. How’d you know?”
“With a name like Jehan, it is a dead give away,” he smiled again, making my heart skip a beat.
“Well, Jehan, it was a pleasure meeting you,” Emil took my hand up to his lips and brushed it lightly with a kiss.
“Thank you. You too, Emil.” I walked to Sophia and Nadia, soothing my tingling hand from the minor make out session.
“Did he just seriously kiss my hand?” I asked.
Both speechless, they nodded in unison.
“So what did he say?” Nadia asked, leaning forward onto the table.
“Just introduced himself. His name is Emil.” I casually placed the phone in my purse.
“Ok, wait. Did you give him your number?”
“No. He didn’t ask. Look,” I sighed, “I had a long day, I’m sorry to cut this short. I’m going to head home.” I got up to put on my coat and gathered my belongings.
Sophia stood to hug me when Nadia asked, “Are we going to see you before you leave for Italy?”
Sophia’s eyebrows shot up with excitement, “Oh! I have an idea. Why don’t you all come over for dinner this Sunday? Evan gets back Friday and we haven’t had a dinner together in months.”
“Dinner sounds nice.” I smiled, thinking about my past few Sunday dinners, which were mostly spent at the office.
“I’ll bring wine to make up for this night!” Nadia chimed in.
Sophia hugged me and whispered, “See you Sunday at 7, love.”
I opened the door and a cool breeze washed over my face. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and inhaled the fresh air. I took the back-road off Mulholland Drive to go home. Casually driving on the long, windy road at night was my own form of therapy to collect my thoughts and relax after a tiring day. I had accomplished a lot at work today and I was allowing myself to sleep-in the next morning.
A few blocks from my home, I stopped at the corner soap shop to pick up bath oils for my night. I wanted to relax in a bubble bath with a good book. I filled my cart with lavender, rose, jasmine, vanilla, and lily oils and matching soaps. I also stopped in the candle aisle and grabbed two large candles to match the oils.
Once home, I placed the candles around my large bathtub. I sprinkled the hot water with a few drops of lavender oil and set my playlist on the classical music channel. As soon as I lowered myself into the bathtub, the water soaked my skin and all of my stress from the day melted away.
It was the dead of night when I jolted out of bed to the sound of my phone. I fumbled for the bedside lamp. Squinting at my surroundings I saw my plush robe, discarded on my chaise where I had left it after my bath and the covers formed against my body, suggesting I hadn’t moved an inch since I fell asleep.
Who the hell was calling?
It was the same European number that had been calling me all day. I picked up my phone, “Hello?”
“Jehan?” a woman’s voice said. “I hope I haven’t disturbed your sleep?”
Dazed, I looked at the bedside clock. It was 4:03 A.M. I had been asleep for four hours and felt like the dead.
“Jehan, this is Annie, the new assistant to Bianca. I apologize for this intrusion but I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”
I still felt fuzzy. New assistant? My eyes focused now. I sighed, “What can I do for you? It’s 4 A.M.”
Before she could respond my attention perked up, “Wait, new assistant? What happened to Kelly?”
“I was hired a few days ago and Bianca wants me to prep for the conference in Italy next week. I’ve been so overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start. So sorry for calling you, I just really need help and since you’re like, her right hand man-er-woman, I thought you’d be the best person to ask.”
I’m sorry,” I said, “We can go over this in the office-“
“Jehan, please” Annie pressed, “I am begging you.”
“Why are you calling me from Europe?”
“I interviewed with Bianca in London. She flew me out from New York,” Annie’s voice showed excitement.
Bianca had been in London for the past week scoping out office space for the new location. Bianca was going to meet me in Italy the week afterwards. Even though Bianca was, at times, a difficult woman to work for, she treated me like her partner and usually did not withhold major decisions that would affect the company from me.
“Flew you out to interview. For an assistant job?” I was growing frustrated by this conversation. Not just because it was at an ungodly hour, but also because Bianca would never casually fly out a candidate — unless it was for a promotion or high position — without informing me.
“Bianca said she sees a lot of potential in me! And she feels I will have a bright future at the publishing house. Especially with the downsizing-”
I sat up in my bed and ripped off the eye mask, “Annie, welcome. I look forward to meeting you next week at the show. Thank you.” I hung up before Annie could protest.
Sitting up now, I frowned. I refreshed my inbox and didn’t have any new emails from Bianca. I knew her calendar verbatim, but triple checked to make sure I didn’t miss any meetings. My calendar for the next few days, up until my trip to Italy, was booked with meetings, none including Bianca. Confused, I pushed my covers off and went to my bag to retrieve my laptop and an external hard drive.
I do not know what is going on, but better to be safe than sorry, I thought to myself.
I backed up all of my work documents and printed our important emails that might get “erased.” I had been working for Bianca for over four years. Bianca had recruited me strongly for months before I accepted the offer. I was unsure the move was right at the time. The previous publication I had worked at was a leading news magazine and even though I was an assistant — and my long-term goal was to be editor — I felt I needed just a little more time in the assistant role. Bianca had stroked my ego and convinced me that these opportunities only came once in a lifetime. I was hired on the notion that I was on the fast track towards Editor with Director of Editorial potential.
Bianca was in her fifties and had a very successful career in publishing. She wanted to set me up to take over so she could retire and act as a consultant for start-ups in Europe. She was unmarried, but in a long-term relationship for years with a high-powered banker that nobody knew of. She kept the identity of her boyfriend a secret for fear people would think he funded the publishing house. She dreamed of her retirement because she and her lover were going to marry and spend the rest of their lives in the French Rivera.
The ringing of my cell phone once again broke the silence.
Groaning in annoyance I picked up, “Yes!”
Unexpectedly it was Bianca, “Good morning, Jehan.” Bianca’s raspy voice was stern on the other end.
I was wide-awake now. “Good morning Bianca. I had an interesting call with your new assistant at 4 A.M.”
“Yes, Annie called me in tears. That’s not why I am calling. I need you to be in the office prepped with our quarterly numbers and your business plan for next season at 7:00 A.M sharp. Staff meeting has been called.”
I looked at my clock on the nightstand, it read 4:45 A.M.
“Is everything OK, Bianca?” I masked the worry in her voice. I drew my hand through my hair, brushing strands off my face.
“7:00 A.M. sharp.”
I threw myself onto the bed, let out a deep sigh and stared up at the ceiling. I could reward myself and go back to bed for an extra hour or go for a run to kick off my day. My body wanted to sleep, but my mind told me to go run. Grudgingly dragging myself out of bed, I got dressed in black yoga pants and a Patagonia black long sleeve shirt and laced up my Nike’s for a run. The cold air would calm my nerves before my meeting.
Stay tuned for next week!