Gen 2 Ch 5: Unpleasant

“So, you want to tell me what happened?” Gerald finally asked. “I want to figure out how my sister ended up getting super-wasted on a night when she was supposed to be on a date. And what happened between you and that idiot.”

Screenshot-509.jpg

“You’re not just going to let this go are you?” I sighed. My brother shook his head. Of course, he was an investigative journalist after all—he always had to know what was up. “I caught him making out with another woman, their new bandmate, to be precise. And of course I flipped and slapped him good. Should’ve done more but he was trying to ‘explain everything’ to me and she was fawning over him… It was gross. I can’t believe I didn’t see what a sleazebag he was for all these years.”

“Hmm, I see. And after that, you decided to get drunk? Where did you even go?” he was still incredulous.

“A nice little bar which was almost empty at the time. What? It seemed like a good decision at the time. I was pretty upset, I wasn’t thinking clearly,” I justified my behavior.

Screenshot-511.jpg

“Obviously. Do you have any idea what could’ve happened to you in that state? How did you even get home?” Gerald asked. “I had the car that night. Which was probably a good thing, now that I think of it.”

“I hailed a cab, like any sane drunk person would do. I certainly didn’t walk home in that state,” I informed him, conveniently leaving out the part where I passed out in a total stranger’s house. “And where were you? You weren’t home that night, were you? You only came back in the morning.”

“At Katy’s. She had a promotion at work, so she invited me over to celebrate! I guess we got carried over and I ended up sleeping over at her place,” Gerald sheepishly explained.

Screenshot-506.jpg

Screenshot-497.jpg

“Well, congratulations, bro. I was wondering when you two were going to get more serious.”

My brother blushed “Come on! It’s not like we were that innocent before.”

Screenshot-508.jpg

“Sure, Romeo. Seriously, you should spend more time together. That girl is so into you!”

“And I’m into her,” he smiled. “You know, you’re taking this whole breakup thing way better than I expected you would. Not that I wanted you to be upset, but, you know, you’re really calm about this.”

He was right, in a way. After the emotional tempest I’ve experienced at the moment when I caught Micah cheating and broke up with him, I still felt awfully betrayed and confused as to why this whole situation happened. It hurt that someone who I spent five years in a committed relationship with and who I shared so many memories with could lie to me and start a relationship with another woman behind my back. But at the same time, this was something that was both obviously and subconsciously bothering me for the past year: the idea that he might do this. And I’d be lying if I said that not being in that relationship any more was not a relief. Which was really something to ponder.

“I guess I’m just glad this came out before he and I moved things further,” I admitted carefully. “Imagine if we did move in already, like he wanted us to. Then this whole situation would have been much worse.”

“That’s true.” My brother was quiet for a moment. “So, how’s everything going at the office?”

“Well, in a couple of weeks, Collier himself is going to be in. I was thinking this could be our chance to get something on him. After all, he’ll be closer and easier to observe, right?” I told my brother.

 

“Hmm, you could be right. You know, I think we found something too!” Gerald excitedly lit up. “You know how you were saying that all the stuff you found on your servers is just the generic pharmaceutical and business transaction information which is totally legal?”

“Yeah,” I was now hooked on the conversation, “It’s all pretty legit. And boring. Not really what we’re looking for.”

“Exactly! But is it everything? No! I think we’ve found the IP of another server. But my friend from the message board, the one I’ve been working closely with on this, has been unable to hack into it, even though he’s really good at breaking into most such places. We’ve been wreaking our heads together over this and it seems that most likely, the key to this server is not just virtual. Because, you see, we’ve been using every bit of programming knowledge to find a password to this thing and it seems that we have found half of it. But the other half is not a password—it’s most likely one of those electronic keys that only the authorized person has.”

“And in this case, the authorized person would be Lionel Collier himself,” I understood. Well, that would certainly make sense. Without the actual key, none of the workers could accidentally (or intentionally) stumble upon sensitive information. “But what exactly does it look like? So that I know what I’m looking for?”

Screenshot-517.jpg

“Well, it is a sort of security token that is meant specifically to be used with the password to the server. Now, what exactly it looks like, we don’t really know,” Gerald explained, “Most are pretty small but they can be disguised into just about any shape these days. Not a bad idea, considering that their job is literally to protect sensitive information. I remember I saw one such key sold online that looked like a legit pencil eraser!”

“So, we’re looking for some physical object that is used in conjunction with the hopefully correct password you’ve found. If it’s something that important, I’m sure Lionel Collier is taking good steps to keep it safe,” I rubbed my temples. This was turning out to be confusing. But at the same time, it was the closest we’ve been to our goal.

“That’s what WarlordWizard and I have been thinking,” Gerald agreed.

“WarlordWizard?”

“That’s the hacker’s screen name. I told you, we stay anonymous on that message board,” he explained. “This guy’s pretty smart, he knows what he’s talking about. And he has some sort of a vendetta against the Colliers too, it seems.”

“I hope he’s trustworthy, that’s all.” Even though my brother was an adult, I worried about his involvement with this whole company of hackers. But then again, he’s been involved in this even before I decided to bring Collier down— it really wasn’t my place to tell him to cut down on interaction with his internet contacts.

Screenshot-510.jpg

 

“Oh, I know what you mean. But he hasn’t been trying to hack me or anything. He’s just really set against that company. Like I said, we’re not the only ones who had bad dealings with Collier Enterprises,” Gerald gave a conspicuous smile.

“Well, wish me luck, I’ll need it, I’m sure. All I have to do is figure out where a thief is hiding the very important key to his crimes,” I laughed.

“I’m sure you’ll find it. You have the drive for it,” Gerald gave me a pat on the back. “Let’s get some ice cream, shall we?”

————————————————————————-

The day Lionel Collier arrived at the company, the air was thick with the workers’ pent up nerves. Even Lana was less chatty than usual, which I personally found kind of depressing. After all, who else was supposed to keep up the rest of the coworkers’ morale?

Screenshot-550.jpg

Luckily, the man himself didn’t force his company on the regular office workers for too long—after coming into the office where we spent most of the workday and giving everyone the most condescending look and greeting, Lionel Collier headed to his personal office upstairs. If I was previously worried that he was going to realize I was the daughter of the people he screwed over, it seemed that my worry was baseless. He didn’t even seem to know my name, or the name of anyone who seemed unimportant to him, for that matter.

Screenshot-551.jpgScreenshot-553.jpg

Good, that would keep me inconspicuous to him while I worked to figure out how to expose him. Of course, I had the feeling I would need to be more visible to the guy if I were to get any idea of where his secret electronic key was. I did give him an initial look-over, but nothing in his wardrobe looked like a potential security token. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that it would be on him—why carry something that sensitive on the person, when it could become stolen or broken? But then again, someone who often worked with sensitive information would most likely need his way of access to it no matter where he went, right?

Despite Collier’s presence, worked went on more or less as usual once we got used to the fact that the ogre was in his cave. There were still orders to be filled, sales to be finalized, and mounds of paperwork. These things weren’t going to do themselves. I made sure to do the most work of all in the office— the work was a welcome distraction from my hurt feelings over the end of my long-time relationship.

Screenshot-557.jpg

Screenshot-556.jpg

Screenshot-559.jpg

I suppose I should’ve thanked Micah for giving me that chip on the shoulder—by the end of the month, I got promoted! Even Mr. Ogre himself ended up giving me a more-or-less approving and not condescending nod after I was told I was getting a raise. Not bad, I thought to myself. This could be very useful in the long run.

At home, my parents were still extra careful with me. They knew that something happened with my relationship and I could tell they were dying to know what it was, but they also knew me and respected my right to not open up about it just yet. I sincerely appreciated that.

Speaking of the relationship… Micah has tried to contact me numerous times since that evening by phone, text, email, you name it. I never responded. I just had no wish to face him ever again after he betrayed my trust. Yes, in a way, I was happy that relationship was over, since now my worries about it were over. But it still hurt that he was able to disregard what we had and go ahead with his infidelity the way he did. And I wasn’t planning to forgive that. Not just yet. And I wasn’t planning to talk to him anytime soon.

Screenshot-518.jpg

Well, until he actually showed up at my doorstep. My parents weren’t home, Gerald was on a date with Katy, and I was relaxing by the fireplace after a long day of work. I really didn’t need any exes showing up at my house. Sigh. I would just have to pretend ot to be home.

Apparently it wasn’t going to work this time around. “Irene, I know you’re home! I understand you’re angry with me, but please, I just need to talk to you. I owe you an explanation.” Micah didn’t look like he was planning to leave anytime soon.

I was tempted to bash his head in with one of the kitchen chairs. I really was. But that would hardly go over well with the local law enforcement. How dare he show up at my house and act like he had any right to my time?!

Although, he was right about one thing: he did owe me an explanation of what happened. And it better be a good one!

Screenshot-520.jpg

Screenshot-521.jpg

“Alright!” I opened up the door glaring at him. “You have 10 minutes and after that, you’re leaving and never bothering me again. Is that understood?”

“Yes.” I could tell he could see how angry I was. “May I come in, or would you rather talk out here?”

“Come in.” He walked in, looking like a dog who knew it was caught the owner’s favorite pair of shoes. “Well, time is running, what are you waiting for? Are you going to explain why you were lying to me that you were busy at work while you were really just busy cozying up with her?”

Screenshot-522.jpg

“I wasn’t lying about being busy,” Micah began to explain, while Murka hissed at him. Good cat, she knew not to trust him. “We were really working extra-long hours before the tour. That’s probably why it happened.”

Screenshot-523.jpg

“Is she your new keyboardist?” I asked. Now that he was here, I wanted to know what exactly it was about that new woman in his life that caused him to cheat on me.

“Yes. But I knew her before that. Remember how I told you about my old Bridgeport friend Mona?” he reminded me.

Mona? Mona Carson, his old childhood friend? Yes, he has mentioned being close friends with someone by that name. But then they both moved and lost touch with one another. Unless…

Screenshot-525.jpg

“I’m sorry. I really am,” Micah looked extremely apologetic. “I honestly didn’t think anything will happen between the two of us. When I found out that Mona was our new keyboardist, I was just happy that we had someone who was a really good musician and that our tour would still go through. But all those long hours in the studio together. I guess we ended up discovering how much we still had in common, wondering how things would’ve turned out for us if we never moved away from one another… One thing just led to another.”

“So, you started seeing each other?” It was all coming together now. “How soon did you two sleep together?”

Screenshot-524.jpg

“We didn’t sleep together until you broke up with me. The kiss you saw, it was only the second time it happened. Up until she and I kissed, I was still certain that things will remain platonic between us. But after that, I knew I had to end things properly with us before starting a relationship with anyone else. It wouldn’t be fair to either one of you.”

“Oh,” was all I could say. Well, at least he wasn’t planning to lie to me and see someone else while living with me. No, he was going to break up with me even if I didn’t beat him to it. “Well, I guess I’m supposed to thank you for being honest.”

“Can you ever forgive me?” he asked. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

Screenshot-529.jpg

“Honestly, I don’t know. I understand what happened, but I’m still angry at you. And I can see myself being angry with you for much longer. Yeah, she’s an old friend, but I was your girlfriend. It shouldn’t have been that easy for your feelings for her to overpower your feelings for me, if they were ever there to begin with.”

Screenshot-531.jpg

“They were,” he stated seriously. “I wanted a life together with you.”

“I’m not so sure anymore,” I managed through the tears that threatened to spill once again. “You should go now. It’s been more than ten minutes already.”

“So, that’s it?” he asked.

“I don’t think I can really be friends with you after what happened. I’m sure you understand.”

“I see. Goodbye then.”

After he left, I finally buckled down and allowed myself to cry. Why was I still spilling tears over him? Wasn’t I more or less satisfied that this relationship was over? Maybe… It still hurt.

Screenshot-533.jpg

Screenshot-534.jpg

Screenshot-535.jpg

My mother found me still red-eyed and starring at the flames in the fireplace when she came home.

Screenshot-536.jpg

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked quietly.

Screenshot-538.jpg

“I don’t know. Kind of,” I admitted.

“Well, I’m here,” she offered joining me on the couch. “Are you burning something?”

“Yeah. All those pictures of me and Micah. I mean, I’d rather not have them among my things anymore.”

Screenshot-539.jpg

“It’s really over between you two, isn’t it?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah…” I ended up recounting the events of that night and of today’s conversation to her. By the time I was finished, she had her arm around me and was rubbing my back in a comforting way.

Screenshot-542.jpg

“It’s a good thing you talked to him, dear. Otherwise, you would have always been wondering what went wrong and whether it was your fault. Now you know it wasn’t,” she offered.

“It wasn’t? Then why does it feel so awful, Mom?” I asked.

“Because your feelings are hurt! As is to be expected— you were in love with that boy and it turned out he wasn’t the one for you.  But you never know. Now that the fickle lover is out of your life, there is space for something more real,” Mom ventured with a sad smile. “Let’s admit it, you weren’t always sure of that relationship, were you? That’s why you were always trying to hide from me and your father when you were with him.”

Screenshot-543.jpg

“You always knew, didn’t you? If you thought this relationship wasn’t going well, why didn’t you ever tell me?” I asked, surprised at how comforted I was to open up to my mother about everything.

“Well, would you have listened? You are after all as tempered as I am. You would have just made more excuses to see him and spend time with him, just to prove a point. And besides, I could have been wrong. After all, only time and circumstances can test a relationship.”

“True. Mom, how come you guys aren’t angrier at me for working there?” I asked suddenly.

Screenshot-540.jpg

“At Collier Enterprises? Sweetheart, you’re my daughter, I couldn’t be angry with you even if you decided to be an actual criminal and succeeded at it. Besides, don’t think your father and I don’t realize what you’re really up to in there.” Mom gave me a conspicuous look and told me seriously “Just please be careful. We know there is no point trying to talk you two out of this, especially since you’re trying to hide it from us. But people like Collier, they don’t like when people try to expose them. Be very careful.”

I was awestruck “You know? For how long?”

“Please!” my mother laughed. “How else would one explain it that my school hating daughter all of a sudden became so interested in a business internship? And is now one of the best workers at her company. Congratulations on your promotion, by the way.”

“Thanks… And don’t worry, I’ll be careful. I don’t think Collier even realizes who I am. And he never even sees Gerald, so that fine.”

“Well, alright. Now, it’s pretty late, isn’t it? Go to sleep, dear. You’ve had a tough day and you need to keep your mind and heart at peace if you are to move on.”

“Thanks, Mom. For everything.”

“What else are parents for?”

————————————————————————–

Strange as it was, after that day, I did feel much better and more relaxed. The girls at work noticed my improved mood and they were happy for me. I, in turn, felt happy to have such good friends now. It looked like becoming more social really did work out well for me.

“So, we have a new worker today,” Lana informed me. “And he’s a cutie!”

Screenshot-560.jpg

“Yeah, he’s pretty adorable. You should pay attention to him, Irene,” Tia winked at me.

“Oh, come on, you two, I don’t need a rebound.”

Screenshot-564.jpg

“Well, you never know, maybe a rebound is just what you need now? Although, you’re right, we all work together, so that would be kind of awkward,” she admitted.

Our new coworker showed up just then.

“Hi, it is very nice to meet you,” he began to introduce himself and I didn’t even need to turn around to know who the new worker was, “My name is David. I’m your new accountant.”

Screenshot-565.jpg

David. The guy who dragged my drunk self out of the bar. The guy I made several inappropriate passes at throughout the night. The guy whose bed I slept in while passed out from my multiple drinks. That David. Well, my day certainly took a downturn.

Before I could gather myself and introduce myself in a more or less dignified way, Mr. Ogre himself showed up in our office.

Screenshot-567.jpg

“Oh, you’re here, son. Good. Did you set up your stuff? Come in to my office now, there are some things we haven’t gone over yet,” Lionel Collier authoritatively called to David.

“Alright Dad, I’ll be there in a minute” David quietly agreed, while continuing to set up his desk.

Screenshot-568.jpg

Dad? Dad?!!! David was Lionel Collier’s son? This was really not going well. Before I could slink behind my desk, David spotted me and flashed a charming smile. “Oh, hi! Who would’ve thought we’d meet again, huh? Small world!”

Screenshot-572.jpg

And then he was gone from the room, with Lana and Tia looking at me, clearly wanting answers, and with me feeling like a total and complete idiot. How could I not have foreseen this!? All these years of digging dirt on the guy and I not only hadn’t realized he had a son, but also almost slept with said son while drunk!

Screenshot-573.jpg

I sank back into my chair, taking deep breaths. After all, this wasn’t the worst that could happen. I’ll just have to deal with this new turn of events, the same as I dealt with the other things in my life.

Screenshot-576.jpg

Advertisements

Gen 2 Ch 4: Drowning Sorrows

Warning: Alcohol and it’s consequences. If the title doesn’t give a fair warning, this does.

————————————————————————–

Screenshot-532.jpg

Screenshot-531.jpg

It was after I have walked for nearly half an hour that the tears came. First the anger, then the tears. It was really surprising, in retrospect, that I didn’t get run over by a car, since I clearly was not paying any attention to my surroundings.

Screenshot-533.jpg

When I came to my senses, more or less, I realized that I was in a neighborhood that I haven’t been in for a long time. And next to a seedy-looking bar. How convenient—weren’t bars exactly where people went when they needed to drain their sorrows? In any case, I didn’t want to go home right now. My parents and Gerald will be there now and the remains of my ego would shatter if they saw me in this state.

The place was called Rusty Old Bottle. It looked like someplace where beat up detectives in noir movies went to sulk and drink away the fact that they were responsible for everyone keeping their distance from them. Somehow, this place was calling to me.

There weren’t many patrons inside, and the ones that were there were mostly too immersed in whatever they were doing to pay much attention to a solitary overdressed woman. This was a relief. I couldn’t have dealt with a crowd right now. Not when I was fighting back more tears.

Screenshot-538.jpg

Taking a seat at the bar, I forced myself to focus on the menus and the decorations. Cheap neon ads cluttered the walls under fluorescent light. The gloominess of the bar seemed fit for my current mood. If the bartender noticed my haggard expression, she didn’t say anything. But of course, she must have been used to people coming here with heartbreak on their mind.

“Would you like anything to drink?” she asked.

Screenshot-539.jpg

“Yes.” What did I want to drink? I never had anything stronger than a glass of champagne during a family celebration. I had no idea what to order from here. The words left my mouth before I thought them through. “What’s the strongest thing you guys have?”

The bartender looked me over, as if trying to figure out if I was allowed to have their strongest drink, and clearly deciding that I passed the test, suggested “You want a martini? It’s pretty strong and we make them pretty good here.”

“Yes, please.” I have never had a martini before, but then, I’ve never caught my boyfriend cheating on me before either. Today was the day for new things, it seemed.

Screenshot-544.jpg

In five minutes, I was looking at a cocktail glass with an olive in it. Without much ado, I tried it: the taste was unusual, at least in comparison to anything I’ve drank before, but it wasn’t bad. Well, until the alcohol burned my mouth and throat. I had to pace myself with this one.

Screenshot-543.jpg

In a few more minutes, I was done with the drink and feeling sad that there wasn’t any more left. “Would you like another one?” the bartender asked.

“Yes, please,” I gave more money to the drink-maker.

“Try this one,” she slid a greenish-looking drink towards me.

Screenshot-550.jpg

This one was an apple variation of the drink, much sweeter, but just as strong. I could feel myself getting comfortably warm, and feeling like life wasn’t so bad after all.

I mean, I was worried that something was going to change when Micah went on tour wasn’t I? Well, now I wouldn’t have to! Because that relationship was done! The irony of the situation hit me then: I was scared he’ll cheat with some groupie, but he did it right inside the band! I broke out into a fit of giggles that escalated into an unhealthy laughter that ended up attracting the attention of several patrons who were previously busy with their own drinks. Not for long, though. And I still couldn’t stop laughing.

“Are you alright?” and unfamiliar voice asked me from next to me at the bar.

Screenshot-559.jpg

I turned to look at my neighbor and was pleasantly surprised. “Oh, hey, it’s you!”

“Sorry, have we met before?” the young man was surprised.

“Not officially, no. I’m Irene. What’s your name?” I found myself asking, now completely focused on my new conversation companion.

“Nice to meet you, Irene. I’m David. Are you sure you’re alright? You look really red,” the young man queried.

 

“Of course, I’m alright. One more of these, please,” my drink was empty again. The bartender looked a bit unsure for a moment, “Seriously, I can handle it, it’s not that strong.”

Screenshot-558.jpg

“This is the last one for you tonight,” she slid me another glass with a look that said she wasn’t sure if I was allowed to have any more alcohol. “What can I do for you, gentleman?”

“Whiskey on the rocks, please,” my neighbor ordered, stealing concerned glances at me.

I busied myself with my own drink. If this was the last one, I wanted to stretch it out well. I wondered why I never drank these things before, they were amazing. As was my company tonight.

“So… you’re cute,” I informed David, who looked kind of shy upon hearing that. Why though? Haven’t other girls told him that? I was sure they had.

Screenshot-560.jpg

“Thank you,” he muttered quietly. “You’re very cute too. But please be careful, you’re drinking too much and I can imagine you’ll have a killer hangover tomorrow.”

“I can drink all I want. I’ve had a bad day.” What? I did. I deserved something nice tonight.

“I’m sure you did. But tomorrow will be much worse if you finish what’s in this glass. It probably already will be,” he tried to reason with me.

In answer, I downed the rest of my cocktail. He just shook his head.

Screenshot-562.jpg

“Oh, loosen up. Come dance with me, David.” There was music playing, why wasn’t anyone busting out killer moves? Why?

“Can you even stand on your own? You should go home, really.”

“Of course, I can stand on my own! Look!” I got up and walked around the chair without falling or even swaying. “And it’s not like you can judge, you’re drinking too.”

Screenshot-563.jpg

Screenshot-564.jpg

“Yeah, but I’m only having this one drink.”

“Fine, if you won’t dance with me, I’ll find someone else who will. Hey you, what’s your name?” I headed toward one of the other patrons.

Screenshot-566.jpg

David took another sip from his glass and walked over to me “Leave the patrons alone, Irene. Seriously, you should head home before you do something you regret.”

“Like this?” I pulled him into a kiss.

Screenshot-567.jpg

David was a surprisingly good kisser, for someone who clearly had a stick really high up…

“Irene, this is what I’m talking about!” David pulled away before I wanted him to. “You’ve just met me and you’re kissing me because you’re drunk. Tomorrow you’ll be regretting this!”

Screenshot-571.jpg

“No I won’t,” I tried to pull him back into a kiss, but he anticipated it and managed to pull me into a type of hug that kept me from moving from his side.

“That’s it. I’m taking you home.” He led me toward a cab that was waiting outside.

“Where to?” asked the driver.

“To the dance club!” I yelled. “I want to dance, David.”

Screenshot-591.jpg

“Sorry about this, sir. Umm, where do you live?” David tried to pry out of me.

“I’m not telling you. Since you won’t let me go dance or spend time with me.”

“Ok, driver just take us to ….,” David told the driver. “Since you don’t want to go home, you can cool down at my place, alright? Just please, no more alcohol for you tonight.”

The drive didn’t take long. He paid the driver (and tipped him well too!) and half-carried me out of the car. Well, that was no fun; his house was nothing like a dance club.

Screenshot-592.jpg

“Come on, let’s get you something to cool down with, you’re burning up,” David’s voice was so concerned.

“Or you can cool me down,” I suggested, hugging him and pulling him into another kiss. I’ve wanted to do this since that day I saw him at the café!

“Oh man, I shouldn’t have brought her here,” he muttered to himself, but I could still hear.

“Hey, what, are you saying I’m ugly? I’m not good enough for you? I’m a total catch!” I yelled at him.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. But really, I’d be more than happy to spend time with you once you sober up. I promise.” He looked so sincere.

“Ok. Can I get a hug though?”

“Alright, you can get a hug. You look like you need one, to be honest. Whatever happened to put you in this mood anyways?” he asked.

“My boyfriend is an asshole. Well, my ex-boyfriend, to be exact,” I threw out.

“That sucks. My girlfriend broke up with me too. Not today though. It was a few months ago,” he admitted.

“That’s too bad. Her loss, though. You’re hot.”

“Thanks? Now, let’s get you something to eat and fast,” he tried to make me choke down some toast, but it looked kind of gross.

Screenshot-595.jpg

“Nah, I’d rather not.” That’s when the room began to look blurry.

Screenshot-596.jpg

“Oh my god! You’ve nearly fainted!” David caught me before I could hit the ground. I walked around the room, on my own, trying to see what went wrong. “Why don’t you lie down? Seriously, you can take my bed.”

Screenshot-597.jpg

“Come on, I’m not going to sleep in your bed! I’m not that drunk.” Then everything went dark and I felt someone catch me again.

Screenshot-598.jpg

————————————————————————–

Screenshot-599.jpg

I woke up in an unfamiliar house, in an unfamiliar bed, with a guy I vaguely remembered from last night at the bar. His arms were around me and he still slept soundly.

What the hell happened last night!?

Screenshot-603.jpg

I jumped up, ecstatic to find that my dress and shoes were still on me. I quickly got out of the bed and stood up. Ouch! The room was spinning in me and I had the worst headache splitting my head.

Screenshot-605.jpg

“Morning,” the man woke up and smiled. “How are you feeling?”

I looked at him dumbstruck. Now that I was awake, the memories of me tagging along with him and trying to pull him into sexual activities were becoming clearer, if still blurry in my mind. Oh no! That was so mortifying! But why was he hugging me this morning? We haven’t…?

Screenshot-606.jpg

“We haven’t done anything that your sober self wouldn’t approve of,” he hurried to reassure me, noticing my expression. “I was holding you all night because when left in bed alone, you’d get up and start walking around the room, which, considering that you’ve nearly fainted several times was a hazard to you. You’ve nearly bumped your head on that corner there.” He pointed to a sharp wooden dresser corner.

“Oh. Thanks. I know my behavior was inexcusable.” Ha! That was one way to put it. I wanted to fall through the floor and disappear, I felt so ashamed of my antics from last night.

“It’s alright, really. You weren’t in a good state of mind.”

Oh, that’s right. They reason I got so wasted in the first place. Micah. Nope, I wasn’t going to think of him right now. Not until my poor head was better. Ouch!

“There’s cold water in the fridge,” David offered.

Screenshot-608.jpg

“Thanks. For making sure I was ok.” It seemed I really lucked out that the person I encountered at the bar was David and not someone less qualm-less. Just thinking of the kind of situation I could have ended up in made my skin crawl.

“So, do you need to call home or anything? There’s a phone if you need it.”

Oh no! Home! I told my mother I’d be out, but certainly she was expecting some sort of a message or a “hello” by now. I wasn’t planning to be gone for so long. Looks like I’ve done it again.

“I really need to go home. Thanks for everything, again.”

I ran out of the house and hailed the first cab that was passing by. At least the driver wasn’t blasting music. That would’ve made my headache much, much worse.

Screenshot-612.jpg

Screenshot-614.jpg

At home, no one was there, which both surprised and relieved me. I really didn’t want my family to see me in this condition. I wondered why I haven’t thrown up yet, considering how much alcohol I’ve consumed last night. Three martinis! And just thinking about the drinks made all the contents of my body rush up and I barely made it to the bathroom before throwing up.

Screenshot-618.jpg

Still bent over the toilet, I heard Gerald enter the house.

Screenshot-622.jpg

“Sis? Is that you in there? Are you alright?” If I heard that question one more time from someone I was going to…

… yeah, that.

“Irene? Are you sick? Oh, god, you aren’t pregnant, are you?” Gerald came over, with a worried look on his face.

Screenshot-624.jpg

“No,” I got up to wash my face and brush my teeth, “I’m not pregnant. I’m just really hung over.”

“You drank? But you almost never drink!” he voiced. And then he scowled “Did that idiot get you drunk?”

“No, Gerald. That idiot was nowhere near me when I made my drinking choices.”

“You never call him anything bad,” he realized. “Something happened between you two.”

Screenshot-625.jpg

“Way to go genius, yeah, something happened. But you don’t need to go defending my honor, if that’s what you’re planning to do. I’m sure he already has a charming bruise on his face today.” That brought a smile to my face—I really did hit him hard yesterday. “Now, I’m going to go lie down before I puke again, if you don’t mind.”

“Umm, yeah, sure. Do that.”

“And you clearly weren’t home either last night! So, when I’m feeling better, you’re telling me all about it!” With that I dragged myself to my bed and once again passed out, aching all over. It would be a long time indeed, before I will allow alcohol to come near me, that’s for sure.

Screenshot-626.jpg

————————————————————————-

If my parents realized how hungover I was that day, they didn’t say anything. I’m pretty sure Gerald was partially responsible for that. Sometimes, my brother was a real life-saver.

Going to work on Monday was a different kind of torture. I knew the girls would want to know how my wonderful date night went and the idea of talking about it just made me want to gag.

Screenshot-635.jpg

However, Lana turned out to be more understanding than ever. “Well, you look like crap,” she noted, upon seeing my face in the morning.

“We broke up,” I managed to get out, hoping she won’t pry into why.

“Well, that sucks. But I have to admit, even though I didn’t tell you so before, I always thought you could better than him,” she shrugged. “If you want to go out for drinks later, we’re here for you.”

“Totally,” seconded Tia.

“Thanks. I already did though,” I cringed, “and I don’t think I’m up for a repeat.”

“Well, take it easy now, hon. We’ll have a few days of peace here until the big bad comes in,” warned Tia.

Screenshot-632.jpg

“You mean, the boss?” I perked up.

“Yep. Collier himself. And I guarantee our nerves will be tested to the extremes,” Lana complained.

Well, that sucked. I wasn’t planning for him to ever be here. But, he had no reason to suspect me of anything, did he? When I thought about this, I realized that Lionel Collier’s presence could actually make my goal a bit easier. After all, if I had the ability to keep an eye on him, I could possibly figure out where his criminal evidence was.

Screenshot-638.jpg

And now that I didn’t have the band tour as a distraction, I could actually focus on this more.

Gen 2 Ch 3: Surprise, Surprise

Screenshot-47.jpg

After Gerald’s birthday, our lives got pretty hectic. He got accepted into one of Hidden Springs’ top publications (well, of course he did, my brother is amazing) and was working his butt off to be on the front page fast. So far, he only had a small column, on one of the regular newspaper’s many pages. We all thought that was already really impressive, since he snagged the job and the column straight out of high school. It was all due to his sports book that was published sometime before he graduated high school—it became a local bestseller with sports fans and of course, the newspaper wouldn’t have passed up on such a rising star.

Screenshot-19.jpg

As for me, I was still working hard at the office. If I needed to rise through the corporate ranks to get access to sensitive information, so be it! After all, nothing worthwhile ever came to people easily. And revealing Collier’s theft and lies was definitely very worthwhile.

Also, working like crazy at the office helped distract me from the fact that Micah and I were barely seeing each other these days. Since their keyboard replacement was not very familiar with their repertoire, the whole band was spending extra time at the studio to practice and fine tune their sound before their tour. As a result, either Micah was busy at the studio all the time, or when he was free, he’d just fall asleep, which wasn’t really surprising—they weren’t getting too many breaks at work. But as a result, he and I barely had time for one another.

Screenshot-18.jpg

“Are you trying to make that keyboard blow up with your brain?” Lana joked, with a hint of concern. She was right; I spent the last 3 hours filling out long forms and they were all looking like an endless sea of white to me by now. Ah, this was no use to me or anyone—at the moment I was just blankly staring at the screen.

“You’re right, I need a break. And food,” I realized as my stomach rumbled.

Screenshot-20.jpg

“Come on, Tia made an amazing risotto and there’s plenty for everyone. You need to eat something before you faint,” Lana practically led me to the office café room.

Screenshot-21.jpg

Even before we walked through the door, the delicious smell of fresh warm food hit my nose. I really wished I could cook that well, but so far my own cooking skills weren’t much to boast about.

“This is delicious,” I mouthed through the risotto.

Screenshot-22.jpg

“Thanks,” Tia smiled, walking in and grabbing a plate for herself. “I have to cook something full of carbs like this all the time or my son simply won’t eat it!”

“How old is he?” I asked. I knew Tia had a kid and that she often worked extra hours to make more money. It seemed the boy’s father wasn’t in the picture for a while now.

Screenshot-27.jpg

“He’s almost 10. Only a couple more years until I need to worry about his school and who he hangs out with. Now it’s all Spider-Man and video games. But at least he’s doing well in school,” Tia fondly explained.

“I remember being that age,” I remembered with nostalgia. “Mom had to bribe me with fishing trips to get me to do my homework.”

“Seriously?! No way!” Lana laughed. “I always pegged you for an overachiever in school.”

“Nope. I did barely enough to get by until about senior year and the internship here,” I remembered.

Screenshot-29.jpg

“I guess something finally gave you a chip on the shoulder. And look, you’re now working at one of the top pharmaceutical companies in the states. Must’ve been quite a chip,” she laughed.

“You could say that,” I said, regretting that I was letting the conversation get too close to home. “But what about you? What were you two like in high school?”

Screenshot-32.jpg

“I was the drama kid. I took part in every school play or performance. Thought I’d be an actress for a while, until I started dating my ex Liam, and you know how that went. By the time we broke up, I was already working here and I make enough money to be really comfortable, so the idea of leaving for Hollywood or some other film city and starting over seemed like an unneeded risk. And my Emet is here. Besides, I really love Hidden Springs—it’s my home.”

Screenshot-35.jpg

“And I was the science nerd, believe it or not. I even became president of chess and inventing clubs during my senior year. Then I got a full scholarship to SimState, which is where I met Clyde’s father. We were a couple since freshman year and I got pregnant in my junior year. Of course, Roman was right there with me in every way possible. Well, except for passing out in the delivery room. Then, after graduation, we both got hired by this science facility, since we had really good degrees. It was good for a few years,” she reflected sadly.

“What happened,” I asked, not sure if it was appropriate or not.

“Car accident– drunk driver. Roman’s car was hit really hard and he didn’t make it. I was still working at the facility and then it went under due to a lack of funding and several bad accidents involving newest research. The donors who gave grants decided it was more economically wise to shut the place down rather than continue funding us. Luckily, my degree and work experience was good enough to get me hired here, so I can still support my kid and myself.”

“That’s an unfortunate chain of events,” I shook my head.

Screenshot-30.jpg

“Yes. But needing to support Clyde was what kept me going back then. Otherwise, I would’ve buckled down after Roman’s death,” Tia admitted.

“You’re stronger than you know, hun,” Lana gave her a shoulder pat.

Tia smiled and got up to wash her plate, “Perhaps. It takes a bad situation to bring out the best in people. Or the worst, I guess.”

“Yeah. Like dear old Lionel Colier, right? I doubt there is any situation in the world that will bring out anything good in him,” Lana smirked.

“You guys don’t like him?” I asked, surprised.

Screenshot-33.jpg

“What is there to like? Sure, he’s attractive enough, but any illusion of his charm disappears after a small amount of socialization with him. And, have you seen how he treats his wife?” Lana asked indignantly.

“I actually haven’t really met him. I mean, I’ve been hired through the internship. He’s never been here while I worked.” That much was true.

“Lucky you. He’s a real piece of work, I’ll tell you. Every time he’s here, he makes people get mental breakdowns. Finds fault with everyone and everything, belittles the best employees. I think he just enjoys seeing people suffer. He’s just that kind of person,” Lana continued.

“Yeah, poor Selma. I don’t know how she puts up with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s on antidepressants,” Tia shook her head.

“It’s that bad?” I wondered. “I mean, why is she staying with him, then?”

“Pfft, please!” Lana laughed. “He treats her like half a human being. But really, what did she expect when she married the guy for his money? That’s life. If she wants out, she can leave—I doubt he cares enough to stop her. But while she has his big checks funding her spa retreats, she’ll stay.”

Screenshot-24.jpg

“I guess some people only care for the money,” Tia looked at the clock. “Looks our break is over.”

Back in the office, I was mulling over the information about the Colliers. I guess for all their monetary status, they didn’t have a good family life. I took a moment to appreciate the fact that my parents always truly cared for one another and for me and Gerald. Family love was truly priceless.

My phone rang with a text: “Sorry, sweets, working late again. Boss is driving us all nuts here in the studio! I guess we’ll have to reschedule date night again.” Micah wasn’t going to be able to meet me again, it seemed.

Screenshot-36.jpg

I let out an angry sigh.

“Micah’s working late again?” Lana understood.

“Yeah. You know, I could literally punch their manager in the guts for how he barely gives them any break now,” I complained. “He’s completely worn out from those practice sessions. How does he expect them to perform during the tour if they’re completely tired out before even leaving?”

She laughed “I understand your sentiment. I guess their manager is one of those “gotta push them to succeed” types. Why don’t you make it up to Micah when he’s finally free tonight?”

“Huh?”

Screenshot-37.jpg

“Well, you know. Put on something really hot, grab a bottle of fine wine, and spend the evening with him? Maybe take a romantic bath together,” she winked.

Lana and her ideas! Although, this did sound like a sweet plan. We did both need some time together to relax. “Lana, I think you’re a genius.”

Screenshot-40.jpg

“You’re welcome,” she smiled and went back to typing away at her keyboard.

That evening, after work, I took a lavender-scented bath, put on that new dress that Katy talked me into buying, tone-fitting makeup, and with a bottle of fine red, headed over to the studio. Sure, Micah was probably too tired for a proper date night, but we could still spend some quality time together.

Screenshot-48.jpg

Before I left, I decided to make sure there was no needless worry about me. And that I was being more or less honest with my parents.

“Hey Mom?” My mother was cooking in the kitchen.

Screenshot-51.jpg

Screenshot-52.jpg

“Hi, hon? What’s up?” she took one look at my appearance and smiled “Date night?”

“Something like that, yeah. I just wanted to let you know… well, I probably won’t be home at night.”

Screenshot-53.jpg

I waited for a rebuke of sorts, but instead Mom laughed “Alright hon, just stay safe. Unless you want to end up with little ones of your own!”

Screenshot-54.jpg

“Wow, thanks! Love you!” I couldn’t believe how well my mother took it, but then she was always very understanding of things. Dad probably would be more bothered.

It was already dark when I arrived near his studio, but I knew they were still inside—I could hear sounds of music pouring out from one of the upstairs windows. They really did sound better than ever, I had to admit. Both Micah and his band mates had real talent, a thing that is rare to come by in this world.

Screenshot-58.jpg

Screenshot-57.jpg

I sat down on one of the benches not far from the entrance, and waited for them to finish. I wanted my presence here to be a surprise.

Eventually, the music stopped, and I could hear the voice of their manager saying they could go. This was it! I wondered what Micah’s face will look like when her finally noticed me.

“See you, Benny! Night, Jim!” I heard Micah part with his bandmates. I got up from my bench, ready to make myself seen when he was alone.

Then he himself came out of the studio.

Screenshot-60.jpg

Screenshot-61.jpg

Right behind him was a young woman, who I haven’t seen before. This must be their new keyboard player, I realized. I briefly wondered why he hasn’t mentioned their new musician was a woman. It didn’t really matter though.

Until she pulled him into a kiss. And he didn’t pull away.

Screenshot-577.jpg

Screenshot-62.jpg

Screenshot-520.jpg

Unable to move, I stood frozen near my bench, feeling like an idiot. The kissing couple was still oblivious to my presence. I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous this girl was, with silky black hair and smooth curves that I certainly didn’t have. He definitely wasn’t downgrading.

Finally they pulled apart and he looked like he was about to say something.

But then he saw me. I still couldn’t move.

Screenshot-526.jpg

“Irene…” he started out, most likely about to try and explain why I just caught him making out with another woman.

Slap! Before I realized I have moved my hand hit his face with a force I didn’t realize I had in me. The force of my hit nearly made him fall down on the sidewalk, where he ended up crouching. The woman next to him looked shocked.

Screenshot-529.jpg

I was boiling over on the inside. How could he do this? Did he not realize that I cared about him? He just threw our relationship away, like it was nothing. How could he?!

“Just let me…” he was trying to get up and she stooped down to help him up. I felt disgusted. With them for hurting me and with myself for allowing this to happen to me. People warned me about him so many times! And like a total fool, I stood by Micah’s side. Well, no more.

Screenshot-530.jpg

“Save it, asshole! I’m done with you,” I got out through gritted teeth and walked away, not really sure where I was going yet, but knowing that I wanted to, no I needed to be as far away from these two as my legs could carry me.

Gen 2 Ch 2: Girls Day Out

As agreed, that weekend Katy and I went on that shopping trip. Never having done this with anyone but my mother, I was pleasantly surprised—Katy had a great eye for colors and she was fun to talk to. Of course, the conversation turned to my brother.

Screenshot-321.jpg

 

“So, Gerald is really planning to become a reporter, huh?” she asked.

“He does. I’ve seen his writing and it’s pretty good,” I replied.

“Oh, me too! Have you seen that sports anthology he’s been preparing? Something about the best home runs in history of baseball. The local newspapers would be idiots to pass him up!” the younger girl enthused. One could tell she was head over heels for my brother.

“I’ve seen it, yeah. He really pays attention to all the details. I think he’s already sent in examples of his writing to several newspapers around town,” I recalled. Gerald was very proactive about getting hired to a place where he would be appreciated.

“So, what do you think about this one?” Katy pointed out a leopard print skirt on a nearby rack.

Screenshot-324.jpg

“It’s cute, but I don’t think I could pull it off. You should totally try it though,” I urged her. A skirt of that shape was clearly for someone with more curves than I possessed.

“What about this shirt? It really goes with your eye color,” Katie offered.

“Hmm, I think this could work,” I agreed. It was so strange, having a girls’ day out like this. Not in a bad way, though.

Katy and I ended up spending hours at the stores. I wasn’t originally planning to buy much, but Katy really had a great taste in fashion and ended up not only talking me into buying several amazing shirts, but also causing me to buy a club dress that I would never have considered for myself previously. She ratified this by saying “You never know when you’ll need to go to a fancy party.”

Hours later, tired out from walking and hungry, we took a break at the local bistro.

Screenshot-326.jpg

“Whew, that was fun, we should do this more often,” Katy was still energetic despite having spent the same amount of time browsing stores with me! The girl sure had energy.

“I know, right? I’ve realized I’ve been coming of as standoffish to a lot of people, including you, and for that I apologize,” I admitted.

“Oh, don’t be! We know you’re more comfortable by yourself. Or with your boyfriend. How are things going with him, by the way?” she was curious.

“Pretty good. He’s asked me to move in with him and I’m probably going to do it. Gerald said he’s planning to stay at our house after graduation, so I don’t have to worry about our parents being alone after I move out,” I informed her.

“Oh, that’s nice. Your parents are pretty great. They’ve always treated me like a daughter, especially since Maya died. I’ve really appreciated it,” she smiled fondly.

“Yeah, there was no way Mom wouldn’t have gotten along with Maya’s kid. I think she’s been hoping ever since Maya adopted you that you and Gerald would get together. And you did!” We both giggled at the thought.

“So, are you and Micah planning to move any further than just moving in together?” Katy returned to the topic at hand.

“What do you mean?”

Screenshot-325.jpg

“Well, you know. Rings, veils, flowers… Are you two planning to tie the knot?” she clarified.

“Oh, that. Well, we haven’t talked about it yet, to be honest. I don’t know if either of us is really ready for marriage yet,” I admitted.

“But you love each other. I mean, I saw how he looks at you,” she explained. “I think a proposal from him isn’t too far in the future.”

“Maybe, it’s going to be pretty crazy soon, though,” I shook my head. “His band is about to go on tours soon. And you know how it is; they’ll be going from city to city, performing. Sounds fun, but it’s super hectic and you barely have time to eat and sleep. I don’t know if we’ll have much communication at all when that happens.”

“That bothers you doesn’t it?” Katy understood.

“Yeah, somewhat. I mean, we’ll end up apart for months. I thought I’d be ok with it, but I’m really not. I guess I just have a jealous streak in me and the idea of him surrounded by all the fangirls makes me go crazy!” I admitted to both of us.

“Hey, it’s only understandable. Rock bands and their musicians sort of have a reputation,” she understood. “And Micah is a good-looking guy. But I don’t think he’d throw away what you two have for some groupie.”

Screenshot-335.jpg

“It’s good to hear that. I mean, I don’t think Mom ever had the same situation—she and Dad never had eyes for anyone else, but then neither of them had a reputation like Micah’s. Maybe I am being a bit overdramatic, though. Gerald tells me I have a tendency to focus on the negative sides of everything. I guess that’s also something I have to work on,” I realized.

“Or maybe you and Micah just need to talk about this situation. I mean, he’s in town, you’re in town. Better get the difficult parts out of the way and enjoy life,” Katy suggested.

She had a point. It was a good idea to admit to Micah how I felt about this. I wondered how he’ll react though. I didn’t want him to think that I didn’t support his dream. I did. I just had issues with some aspects of it, that’s all.

Screenshot-336.jpg

Screenshot-333.jpg

A movement outside the café caught my eye. It was a young man of about my age. I wasn’t sure why he caught my attention. Sure, he was definitely on the attractive side, but so were a lot of other people. Something about his expression just really drew me to him, and if he didn’t get into a cab and leave the very next moment, I probably would have gone over and introduced myself.

What’s wrong with you, Irene, I caught myself. That is completely unlike you. And remember, you have a boyfriend who you love very much. Seriously, what was wrong with me? This whole worry over the tour was getting to my brain.

“Everything alright?” Katy brought me back from my thoughts.

“Yeah, sorry, I drifted off, it happens to me sometimes. Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yes, my relationship. I think I will talk with Micah about the things bothering me. You’re right, this isn’t something I need to be facing alone,” I assured her.

“That’s good. I wish you two luck. Well, this is my time to go. I’m supposed to be helping out at school in an hour. See you, soon Irene,” she took her leave and I was left outside the café wondering how to tell my boyfriend the decent way that I was freaking out about his upcoming tour.

Screenshot-328.jpg

Well, there was no time like today! We had a date this evening and I would try to bring up the conversation. This whole tour thing was really bothering me and I wanted, no needed Micah to reassure me that everything will be alright.

When I got to his house that evening, I have mentally built myself up for the tough conversation. I hated seeming like the clingy insecure girlfriend, but my relationship could not last if I let an issue like worry tear me up from the inside and turn me into a neurotic nightmare. Both Micah and I deserved better.

Screenshot-428

Of course, the plan for a serious conversation went out the window when I realized that Micah was leaving.

“Hey, I thought tonight was date night!” I asked.

He scowled “It was supposed to be, yeah. I’m so sorry, but our keyboard guy has just announced that he got his girlfriend pregnant and they are moving halfway across the country to be closer to his family. We’re supposed to go on tour in two months! Did he think to warn us beforehand? No! Did he think to find a replacement? Also no! So, guess what I’m likely to spend the entire next week doing?”

Screenshot-429.jpg

“Gosh, I’m so sorry,” I realized how much of an emergency this was for their band. Our conversation could wait. “You guys now have to find a decent pianist within, how long?”

“You’re the best, Irene,” he hugged me close. “Yeah, we’re on a deadline. I only hope there is someone decent enough in town to agree to play with us and go on tour in that short time. I promise I will make up date night to you, though,” he smiled wickedly and was on his way.

“Good luck!” I called after him.

Well, that left my evening surprisingly free. I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with myself—my parents and Gerald knew I was supposed to be on a date, I had no work from the office to look over, and I didn’t really have many other hobbies at the moment.

Ring, ring! My phone went off with an unfamiliar phone number. Somewhat suspicious, I answered, hoping this wasn’t another annoying telemarketer. “Who is this?”

“Girl! Don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Lana!” my coworker’s chipper voice rang in my handset.

“Oh, hi! I didn’t realize you had my number.” I generally didn’t give out my number to coworkers.

“Oh, I have all my coworkers’ numbers,” she chimed back. “Are you busy tonight?”

“No, not really.” This could be work-related and I was always up for whatever could get me closer to the top.

“Great, let’s hang out! Meet me at the gym!” She hung up before I could refuse. I never went to the gym. While I did like sports when I was younger, that was always more Gerald’s thing. He could spend hours exercising. I preferred less physically straining activities.

I almost called her back to say I couldn’t go. Almost. But then I remembered my reflection on how I didn’t really socialize with anyone at the office. I should go. After all, Lana was literally the friendliest person in our office and she would literally do most of the talking for me. I would just have to be present.

Screenshot-432.jpg

Meeting Lana at the gym, I was surprised at how prepared for a work-out she was. Wearing proper athletic attire and carrying a large water bottle and a towel, Lana looked like someone who spent hours at the gym. Suddenly, I felt, unprepared.

“Hey, where are your work-out clothes?” Lana asked surprised.

“Umm, I actually don’t really have any. I wasn’t home when you called,” I admitted sheepishly.

“That’s alright, you can borrow some of mine, or by something at the gym’s store, whichever you prefer,” she assured me. “But work out, we will!”

After I ended up buying some sporty clothes at the gym’s store (borrowing Lana’s just didn’t feel right), we ended up heading upstairs, where Lana shocked me by getting settled in on a weight machine that still had a few plates attached. I never imagined that my flirty feminine coworker could bench press such a weight. It was truly impressive.

Screenshot-436.jpg

“What are you waiting for?” she called. “Join in, this neighboring machine is available!”

I sat down on the machine, unsure where to start. I never have gone to a gym before! I didn’t know any proper work-out equipment safety regulations!

Clearly my confusion showed and Lana ended up explaining everything to me. She informed me not to lift too much since I was a beginner, to keep my breathing regular and steady, and to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself to exhaustion. “That way lie awful muscle cramps and joint pain; you won’t be able to move come Monday!”

Screenshot-437.jpg

“You’ve been working out regularly, I take it?” I asked. I was now sincerely curious: my coworker’s gym habit was totally not how I pictured her previously.

“Oh, yes! Ever since my ex unceremoniously dumped me for some chick very big boobs and the uncanny ability to hang on to his every word. He was a real jerk too, always said that women can’t do anything right. I only stayed with him as long as I did because he was my first serious boyfriend. I have to admit though, breaking up with me was the best thing he’s ever done for me. I can now bench press 70 pounds,” she finished smugly.

“That’s really impressive,” I admired. “How come you invited me over though? I definitely don’t look sporty at all.” It was true I was pretty skinny, but had absolutely no muscle and definitely did not have much athletic prowess.

“Oh, I know! I just thought you seemed stressed out and what is better stress relief than a good work-out? It’s done me heaps of good! And it’s healthy,” she reasoned. “Besides, I needed a gym buddy. My friend Jenna used to come with me, but she’s moving to another town this week and my current boyfriend is not at all into sports. Besides, we can have girl talk.”

Screenshot-441.jpg

“True enough,” I agreed. Well, here was my chance to be more sociable with people. “I was supposed to have date night with Micah, but he’s having an emergency band meeting since their keyboard player and his girlfriend are moving without any warning and they’re trying to find a new musician.”

“Oh, goodness gracious!” Lana laughed. “That must be my Jenna and her boy toy. Yep, he got her knocked up and her family is really traditional, so they’re moving to be closer with his relatives, who are much more chill. I agree, their timing wasn’t the best—her design firm director nearly lost his marbles when she announced out of the blue that she was leaving!”

“Wow, that’s a lot of drama for their respective workplaces and families!” I laughed as much as the exercise allowed me. “At least they’ve really got each other’s backs, it seems.”

“That they do,” agreed Lana. “Well, time for cardio.”

“Oh, the exercise isn’t over?” I half-heartedly asked.

“Not just yet, hun.” She led the way downstairs to a room that was likely used for dance practice and turning on the music, started out the muscle exercises. I tried my best to follow her lead.

Screenshot-444.jpg

“This is easier,” she explained. “Usually you need to stretch before and after a workout. But this will do for today, since it’s your first time.”

After a successful workout that left me completely juiced, Lana allowed us a break before heading home.

“You know, I never realized I would find this so satisfying,” I admitted. “You were right, I’m tired and my whole body is aching, but I feel like I’m getting stronger.”

Screenshot-448.jpg

“Told you so. It really helps stay energetic throughout the day. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty, that’s another thing I forgot to mention,” Lana pointed out.

“I’m really sorry. For being so unfriendly before, at work,” I apologized. “I’ve been somewhat ignoring the people at the office.”

“No big. I can tell you always have a lot on your mind,” she smiled. “You always look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s ok to give yourself a breather every once in a while. Exercise helps. Good friends help even more.”

“I’d like that. Us being friends, that is,” I smiled back. I never thought I’d say it, but Lana really seemed like a great person. Maybe if I wasn’t so caught up in my own personal bubble, I would have noticed that.

Screenshot-450.jpg

“Well, that sounds swell. To friendship,” she imitated toasting with her water bottle.

After she left the gym, I headed home myself. I needed a good shower and a soft bed, but despite being completely exhausted, I’ve realized that I didn’t feel so stressed out about my work or about my relationship. I would definitely be going back to the gym, with Lana or by myself, from now on.

Screenshot-451.jpg

Soon, it was time for Gerald’s birthday. Unfortunately, Katy couldn’t make it due to bad timing with her school appointments, but other friends made it. I even made sure to invite my two coworkers, Lana and Tia, who have also been pretty friendly at work. I mean, it can’t hurt to befriend people, right?

Screenshot-460.jpg

Micah showed up in a much better mood than I expected.

“You look chipper,” I pointed out as the guests were on their way.

Screenshot-473.jpg

“I sure am,” he smiled, pulling me into a kiss, “Would you believe it, we found a replacement in less than a week?”

Screenshot-471.jpg

“Wow, that’s great. Does that mean the tour is still on?” I asked, not sure how to feel about the whole thing.

“The tour is still on! And our new bandmate is actually better than Lance was! If anything, this whole situation has worked out great for the band!” Micah went on excitedly.

“Well, that’s great!” I agreed, half-heartedly. “I guess there’s no good without the bad.”

Screenshot-472.jpg

“That,” Micah nodded. “So, I guess I’ll see you soon? Date night is still on, especially now that I don’t have to worry about the band failing.”

“Date night is still on!” I agreed.

Screenshot-453.jpg

After he left, I slumped in my bed. I just couldn’t tell him I had worries about his upcoming tour. Not when he was so excited for it! I guess I’ll just have to soldier through his trip without losing my mind. And, after all, we’ve been a couple for years now. This was Micah. Yes, he was flirty as hell, but he wouldn’t just throw away what we had for some groupie—it wasn’t like he hadn’t had enough temptation even here in Hidden Springs, yet he was always loyal. This was baseless jealousy on my part and I had to kick it to the curb once and for all.

Gen 2 Ch 1: Failures and Successes

Author’s Note: This picks up about 2 years after the last chapter of Generation 1. Irene Meadows is our heir! Also, there is mention of sex and lingerie pics, so if you’re not comfortable with that, don’t read or skip that part!

————————————————————————-

It was surprising how easy becoming an employee of Collier Enterprises had been. After I excelled at my internship, my manager ended up offering me a regular office position. It didn’t pay much and frankly didn’t require quite as much skill as the hiring managers pretended, but I had both a steady income and legitimate reason to be on the premises of Collier Enterprises for the duration of the workday.

Screenshot-297.jpg

Which was exactly what I aimed for. I wanted access to the company computers. If what Gerald and his information sources were saying was correct, any private information stored on the servers of this pharmaceutical company could only be accessed by someone who worked here and had the correct logins. So, if there was any proof of Collier’s theft, anything at all that hinted at his involvement with the burglary that took place at our house all that time ago, it would have been here.

Of course, either Lionel Collier was really meticulous about covering up his tracks and destroyed all proof, or the information was stored somewhere with even better security. Because, despite spending every moment that I had an ounce of privacy at my office scouring the system for traces of evidence, I was empty-handed.

Screenshot-296.jpg

I leaned back in my chair. It would have been too easy, of course, if the information involving illegal activities was stored where other regular employees could accidentally see it. After all, every office has a wise-ass who is really good with computers and loves to snoop around instead of dealing with the assigned work.

Of course, I wasn’t giving up. I meant it when I said I would find proof of Lionel Collier wronging my family. It wasn’t even about the theft anymore. Ever since my parents accused Collier of the theft, there has started a rumor that my mother was unstable and that my father was trying to make money by falsely accusing the CEO of Collier Enterprises. As a result, my parents ended up making less money with their sales, both from the garden and fishing.

I knew my parents were unhappy about the situation. Both Mom and Dad were honest people who worked hard for whatever they had in life and it hurt me to see their reputations tarnished in any way. So, while they disapproved of me working here, I knew I was getting closer to proving that they were in the right and that this man really was a liar.

The clock hit 2 and it was time to go home. Another day went by without any big finds. Of course, it was pretty difficult to scour the server freely with my other coworkers here in the office with me. At least, these people were pretty decent, when they didn’t try to talk to me too much. Well, usually they didn’t.

Screenshot-198.jpg

 

“Looks like that hot rocker boyfriend of yours is here again,” Lana alerted me. She took to calling him that after the first time that Micah showed up to meet me outside of work.

Of course, I wasn’t too happy about Micah showing up at my workplace. I both hated how all the female coworkers ogled him and how the fact that my boyfriend showed up at my workplace made me seem less serious. I knew that if I wanted to get access to any information more serious than what was available to employees in my current position, I would have to prove I was a diligent worker. I wanted to find what I was looking for as fast as possible, which meant that I had to get promoted faster.

Screenshot-200.jpg

Also, when Micah showed up here, it somehow made our relationship less private. Not that I was ashamed of him, quite the opposite, in fact. But ever since he started working with the other musicians, he definitely became even more into public displays of affection. And that made me miss all the private times we’ve had as teenagers.

Before making my way towards him, I made sure to lock my computer. It wouldn’t do for someone to snoop on me.

Screenshot-203.jpg

“There you are,” Micah pulled me into a kiss. “I thought you were planning to stay overnight in that tin can.”

“Oh, come on, I know I’ve been busy with the new job, but I haven’t been spending that long in there, have I?” I joked.

“Just kidding. Come on, let’s get something to eat, you must be starving,” he laughed.

On the way to the restaurant, he cranked the music up on the car stereo “So, what do you think?”

“Is that your new demo?” I paid more attention to the songs now.

“Sure is. Manager says it’s better than the previous recordings we’ve made. A bit more fine-tuning and polishing and we’ll be ready to go on tour. Man, that will be the life,” he sighed wistfully.

“Touring for long hours on a bus, staying at motels, having groupies chasing after you? Sounds like a win,” I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Hey, it’s the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Comes with the job,” he argued.

“It sounds so hectic,” I admitted. Yeah, hectic, that was what I meant to say. And somewhat worrisome to me. I knew how easy it was for a musician to get pulled into a destructive lifestyle. After all, wasn’t “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” the motto for many musicians? I was seriously worried about Micah going on these tours, but I didn’t tell him that. After all, being a rock star was his dream, wasn’t it?

“It’s hectic but at least it’s more interesting than being stuck in that tin can of an office for hours,” he made the same face he always had when thinking of my job. I haven’t yet told him of why I was working at Collier Enterprises. To say that he was surprised when I chose to work there after school would have been an understatement.

So, to put it plainly, we hated each other’s jobs. Oh well. Couples don’t always have everything easy. If our jobs were going to be our only problem, I could deal with that.

“So, have you been thinking it over?” Micah asked over a plate of food.

Screenshot-205.jpg

“Yeah, I have. I don’t know, Micah. Moving in together is a big step, isn’t it? Besides, I sort of wanted to be home until Gerald graduated. I don’t know if he’s planning to move out yet,” I admitted.

“What’s the difference? If he moves out or not, that is?” Micah asked.

“Look, my relationship has been somewhat strained since I’ve started working, so I’ve been trying to spend more time with them. To make up for working at Collier Enterprises. And if Gerald moves out after graduation, that means they’ll be left alone. I mean, Mom doesn’t have cancer any more, but she still gets sick a lot more than she used to. I think it’s the after-effects of her sickness…” I drifted off. My mother’s health was a touchy topic for me. I was sure that if the miracle plant was still available, she’d be perfectly healthy now, just like before. But of course, that wasn’t the case.

Screenshot-207.jpg

“You want to be around in case they need assistance or anything,” he realized.

“Yeah. I don’t think I could bring myself to move out just yet. I’d feel like I was abandoning them,” I admitted.

“That’s cool. I mean, I want us to live together, but I’d hate for you to move in with me in the wrong state of mind,” he realized.

“You’re really great, you know that?” Despite all the issues going on in our lives, Micah never failed to make my day.

“I try to be,” he grinned.

“So, what were you saying about coming over to your place?” I winked.

Screenshot-208.jpg

So, that was definitely something my parents didn’t officially know anything about. Of course, I was an adult and could sleep with whoever I wanted, technically speaking. But I was really not up for having that conversation with my parents, at least at this point. So, I never stayed with Micah overnight. But during the day, we have often made use of the fact that Micah’s place was conveniently private. Because for us it was usually a clothes-free zone.

Screenshot-209.jpg

I couldn’t really explain why I was going to so much trouble to keep our hookup times a secret from my parents. After all, they weren’t kids, they knew that I was in a relationship and that by my age, most people were sexually active. They probably suspected or even knew that I was as well. But the idea of having that kind of talk with them made me seriously uneasy. Maybe it was because I knew that my parents were both somewhat old-fashioned in these matters and waited until their wedding night. Because of the late tension in my relationship with them, I didn’t want to disappoint them with my other life choices as well.

But spending this time with Micah was just so nice…

Screenshot-211.jpg

I knew soon I’d have to make a choice about whether to move in with Micah. And while I would have been more than happy to wake up snuggled next to him every morning, I didn’t want to move that fast in my relationship until my life was somewhat more figured out. I wanted to have something solid on Collier Enterprises that would enable me to give proof of their crimes to law enforcement and possibly quit that job. I mean, Micah was right—an office job was not the kind of thing I wanted to spend my life doing, even if it was with a big company.

Screenshot-210.jpg

“So, new lingerie, huh?” he noticed “One would think you were wearing them just for me.”

“Maybe I am?” I smiled, snuggling up to him. A few more minutes until I had to leave.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why do you always get so annoyed when I show up to your workplace?” he brought up.

“Is it that noticeable?” I gave out a nervous giggle. “Well, you know me; I don’t like it when my coworkers get to know the juicy bits about my private life.”

“Why’s that? You aren’t ashamed of our relationship, are you?” he frowned.

“Not ashamed, no. But I must admit it really riles me up when my female coworkers start ogling you. Especially Lana.”

“So, you’re jealous?” he smiled. “You know you don’t have to be, right?”

“I thought you felt flattered when I was jealous?” I asked.

“Maybe a bit,” he admitted, smugly. “Leaving already?”

“Yeah, my parents are heading out to this weekend retreat thing tonight and Gerald is inviting his girlfriend over. You know, someone is supposed to be a mature adult around, or something of the sort,” I laughed, kissing him.

Screenshot-214.jpg

“Well, take care. I’ll see you soon, ok?” he wished me a safe drive back.

At home, things were mostly unchanged, although nearly two years have passed since the theft. Well, almost unchanged—our beloved dog Ursa has passed away last year and Hawk was now clingier than ever. So, we all made sure to give him lots of cuddles and belly rubs, since one never knew when an animal’s time was up. That was the sad part about having pets—their lives, while so wonderful, were much too short compared to ours.

Screenshot-217.jpg

Which of course, didn’t prevent Gerald from bringing in a street cat, whom he fondly named Murka, and who never missed a chance to show off how mighty she was. At first, we were all somewhat surprised, since he never showed an interest in cats, but she practically dotted on him and considered him the best thing since sliced bread, or in the feline case, probably tuna. And it was pretty entertaining to see feline antics around the house on a daily basis.

Screenshot-216.jpg

My parents soon wished us a happy weekend and were on their way. That meant it was time for business.

“Did you get down the numbers of the IPs from the computers at the office?” Gerald asked, taking place at his computer. In the last two years, we have not only rebuilt our house, but we had both gotten computers, Gerald for his writing and research, me—for work.

Screenshot-218.jpg

“They’re all here,” I plopped down my notes on his desk. He quickly entered the numbers into a search engine on his screen. “Any luck?”

“Well, it’s checking them right now,” Gerald explained, “But it doesn’t look like the servers we’re looking for are tied to any computer in your office.”

Screenshot-221.jpg

“Oh,” well that was a bummer. It took me some effort and time to scour up all that info. And now, it turned up to be useless.

“Hey, don’t feel too down. I can contact my friend from the board and together we can use the process of elimination to know where not to look. It’s still quite an important piece of information,” Gerald noticed my downfallen face.

“Yeah, it’s just not what we were looking for.”

It’s been a year since I’ve been working at Collier Enterprises and so far I haven’t gotten even halfway as far as I wanted to be. While I didn’t think finding proof of Lionel Collier’s shady dealings would be easy, I didn’t think it would be that difficult either.

Screenshot-222.jpg

Sitting down on my brother’s bed, I just wanted to curl up into a ball under the covers and hibernate for a week, until I felt in a better mood. Of course, that would be pretty immature of me.

“Hey, sis? How are things going with Micah? You never seem up for talking about your relationship,” Gerald began.

Screenshot-247.jpg

“Well, it’s a bit awkward talking about my romantic relationship with my brother. But really, things are fine. Pretty great, in fact. He’s been wanting us to move in together,” I admitted.

“And, you’ve been balking, haven’t you?” Gerald realized. “If it’s about me, then I’m planning to stay home after graduation.”

“Really? That’s good to hear. I wouldn’t be comfortable moving out if Mom and Dad were to live alone,” I breathed a sigh of relief.

“There’s more though, isn’t it?” my brother was ever the detective.

“Well, Mom and Dad would probably expect me to be married before I move in with someone. I wouldn’t want them to worry.”

“You know, they totally realize that you two have your rendez-vous hours, right?” Gerald laughed.

“Do they?” I laughed “I suspected so, to be honest.”

“So, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind if you two are living together. They’ll just be happy for you,” my brother smiled.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I realized. “I will definitely give it a thought, then.”

“So, Katy is coming over tonight. You should join us for movie night,” he invited.

“Don’t you two want some alone time?” I wondered.

“Actually, she’s been curious as to why you two haven’t really been spending time together,” he admitted.

Screenshot-248.jpg

“Oh… I didn’t mean to come off standoffish,” I realized how it looked to my brother’s girlfriend. “I didn’t know she wanted to spend time with me though.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, you’re my sister and she wants to get to know you better. If you don’t mind, that is,” he explained.

“Not at all! Kate is a wonderful girl, as far as I know. It’s just, you know, I’m not that great at making friends,” I apologized.

An awful realization hit me—I was acting pretty much the same at work, wasn’t I? I almost never talked to my coworkers when I didn’t have to and they probably thought I didn’t like them. Well, that was pretty awkward. I definitely didn’t harbor any bad feelings for them…

“What’s wrong?” Gerald noticed my frown.

“I just thought that my coworkers must think I hate them, since I never really talk to them.”

“Maybe you should hang out with them a bit. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. You don’t have to tell them your deepest thoughts and secrets. But interaction with others is pretty important. Not just with your boyfriend,” he shouted out and ran from the room laughing.

“Aye, aye, captain!” I laughed. He was right—much as I was content sticking to my hermit ways, it wasn’t doing me any favors in life. It would just have to be something I worked on improving.

Screenshot-255.jpg

In the evening, when the three of us were watching a movie, I made sure to keep up the conversation with both Gerald and Katy. She really was a nice person and in many ways she reminded me of Mom. I could see why Gerald liked her.

Screenshot-256.jpg

It turned out Katy was pretty friendly and despite disavowing most electronics for personal use, was really into fashion and art. She was also very easy to talk to, as I discovered.

“You know, we should go shopping sometime,” Katy invited. “It’s fun and we can grab a bit to eat afterwards. And we can help each other pick out cute clothes! ”

“Sounds like a good plan,” I agreed. “I’d enjoy getting to know you better.”

“Same, same! It’s going to be a girls’ day out.”

Screenshot-299.jpg

That night after she left, I headed to bed with a sense of satisfaction. So, my job didn’t bring me any closer to getting to bringing justice to the wrongdoers, but I was making progress on a personal front. I was a loner by nature, but that didn’t mean I had to spend life as a hermit.