“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
“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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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?”
“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.”
“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…
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
My mother found me still red-eyed and starring at the flames in the fireplace when she came home.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked quietly.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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!”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.
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!”
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!
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.