"Do you think he will be there?" Stella asked. Katie was leaning on the counter in the kitchen sipping on a cup of tea nodding. "Of course he'll be there," Katie replied, "his family runs the thing."
"Good-looking and loaded," Stella smiled, "we should google him. Find out what he likes. I sure wouldn't mind walking down the aisle with him." My interest was piqued. I almost wanted to call the poor guy and warn him.
"You'll have to go through me first," Katie warned, her hair waving from side to side as she bobbed her head. "You wouldn't have even known about him if it wasn't for me." Stella looked like she might fight back, but instead, became thoughtful for a moment.
"We can't go upset with each other," Stella reasoned, "he'll hate us both. No one wants bickering sisters." Katie's face softened. "He has to have rich friends. If we play nice, the winner can set up the other with his friends." A smiled grew on Katie's face. It was mirrored on Stella's. I hated when they laughed together. It sounded like a clutch of chickens with breathing problems. I moved in to save my ears. "Who are you two after now?" I said as I entered. Katie was startled, which pleased me. Stella just smiled. It looked like her mother's smile. It displeased me.
"You wouldn't know him," Stella said with a sweetness coating her bitter undertones.
"Try me," I said.
"You know the Petersons?" Katie asked, "The one's throwing the charity ball?" I nodded though I had no idea who they were. High society was lost on me.
"They have a son," Stella continued, "he's single, wealthy, and not hard on the eyes." Katie chuckled. Another chicken chuckle. "And you two are going to throw yourselves at him," I observed. Inside I was laughing. He would have to be a complete idiot to connect with either of my step sisters. It would almost be worth the $5,000 just to watch.
"Throw is the wrong word, dear sister," Stella corrected, "we are not without charm." She said twisting her head to in form of a gesture. "Certainly not," Jeremaine agreed. She came in behind me and made me jump. I hate when she does that. "And we have to go shopping to make sure he sees those charms."
"I thought this was business related," I said, my tone dropped to my disgusted level. "Two birds, my dear, two birds," Jeremaine said. She moved to the coffee pot and poured herself one. "Would you like a cup, Ella?" She always offered me things she knew I would decline. I was on my way to bed and in no need of caffeine. I choose not to respond. "You can't use company funds to marry off your daughters," I said. I shouldn't have, but she was spending my inheritance in the most irritating way. Jeremaine just smiled at me and sipped her coffee. She knew she could. "How does hounding the son of the benefactors improve The Impact Marketing's image?" I was getting angry. I should have just gone to bed. "It is all a little above your head, dear," Jeremaine continued. More chicken giggles from her daughters. "It's best to leave the complexity to those who understand it." My face began to heat up. I had to remind myself that she held the purse strings for nine more years.
"You look like you can use some sleep, dear," she continued. She took a sip of her coffee and seemed pleased watching me stew. "Jealousy doesn't become you," she added. It was all I could do to not scream. They were in my house, working at my company, and spending my money. There wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. "Nine years, Jeremaine," I said slowly. I was grinding my teeth.
"That's a really long time, sweetie." Her grin was unbearable. I almost let loose of the 'B' word. I knew it would be costly if I did. I took a deep breath and gave her the smile see disliked so much instead. At least it removed hers. I headed off to bed, my mind fuming at my father for leaving me in such a mess. I hardly slept at all that day. It is hard enough to keep your eyes closed when the sun is out. Add in a controlling stepmother that boiled my brain and sleep was the last thing my mind wanted to do. Instead of counting sheep, I thought of many wonderful methods of torture for Jeremaine. When it was time for work again, I was exhausted, angry, and less than friendly. I stepped off the elevator on time. Jeremaine was waiting with a list of to-dos. I think she saw me near the breaking point. I kept to my smile and half listened to her demands. She became flustered halfway through, seeing that I wasn't going to lose it. We exchanged veiled unpleasantries and headed our separate ways. Without my surrender, the war would rage for another nine years.
"Bad day?" Arun asked. I had sat down rather hard and I think I was glowering.
"I am letting her get to me," I sighed, "I have to watch her trash my future and there is nothing I can do about it. Now she wants to trade some of my future so her daughters can fish for husbands." I chuckled when I thought about it. "It's not like they have a chance anyway."
"They do come off a bit needy," Arun agreed. "A bit greedy," I corrected. Arun laughed then covered his mouth with his hand. He was never one to loudly disparage someone else. Anything above a whisper made him uncomfortable. His stalled laugh did make me feel better. At least someone in the world understood my troubles. "I still think you should attend the ball," Arun said after he brought himself under control, "you need to get out and meet people and rescue your sister's poor targets." This time, I laughed while shaking my head no. "Even if we could get away with it, I couldn't short the children's hospital $5,000," I responded. The thought of me running around warning men of my sisters’ approach was amusing. I could see Arun was disappointed in my choice. "You just want to use your new toy," I observed. "For good. It must never be used by the dark side," Arun joked, "I can think of nothing more honourable than putting you on the dance floor where you belong." I liked how he could make me forget my stepmother. I smiled at his sincere humour. I needed more friends like Arun and Anita. The weeks went by and I was confronted with new dresses, hairdos and shoes. My stepsisters seemed to enjoy modelling for me. My money, my house and they didn't stop to think I might resent it. I tried to ignore it all, but a small black pit formed in my stomach and I couldn't seem to fill it with happier things. I could forget my thoughtless family when I went to see Arun and Anita, but I would eventually return to see my sisters all dolled up, practicing for the ball. As the dance neared, it only got worse. For the first time, I was truly happy I worked nights so I wasn't inundated all my waking hours. "Two more weeks, Arun," I sighed as I sat down to watch him work, "I will be happy when this dance is over so I don't have to watch my sisters preening anymore."
"I've been thinking, Ella," He said quietly, "what if you paid for the charity tickets." He knew I didn't have that kind of money. "Arun, I'm lucky to pay for the gas to get to work," I said. His smile was devious and he leaned closer. "What if the company paid," He whispered, "it's your money anyway. Or it will be."
"You want me to embezzle?" I asked with a little shock. "You would be stealing your own money," He justified, "my program will make it impossible to trace and you would be where you should be."
"There's not enough time," I wavered, "Jeremaine would see me there anyway and we would find ourselves in prison." The idea of attending the function did have a strong appeal. To see my sisters hopelessly flailing at men would be worth the entrance fee. "Jeremaine only sees you as you are," Arun continued, "if you rid yourself of your ponytail and glasses, add some makeup and a new hairstyle, I would have trouble recognizing you." I shook my head. "There's not enough time," I repeated. Arun smiled again. "Anita has a friend who is a seamstress. She does alterations for wealthy women," Arun argued, "You can borrow a dress for the night."
"Anita is in on this?" I asked. Arun's smile was growing. "She wants to see you all dressed up," Arun said, "she thinks you miss too much of life." I couldn't believe Anita was in on the conspiracy. It made it seem more feasible. "I can't see without my glasses," I conceded. "Contacts."
"I can't afford contacts." I admitted. I would have to save up and a week wasn't enough time. "Your company can." Arun was countering all my objections. "I can crack Coupon Crave's servers and get you in on a contacts deal as well as limo and hairdresser. I have to fit you in after the fact, but they will never know and I'll make sure you pay everyone." I stared at him. My friend was a master criminal and I never knew it. "You owe yourself this," He continued, "you can't wait till you're thirty-seven to start living. You'll get too used to being alone. Anita and I don't want to see that."
"You sure we can't get caught?" I asked to reassure myself. "It would take someone very skilled just to know they had been hacked," He replied, "even more talented to trace it back to the last proxy. No one has seen code like this before. They won't even know what they're looking at."
"It really is my money," I said, trying to convince myself. He looked pleased with himself. He knew he nearly had me over the edge and ready to say yes. "I would really enjoy watching Stella and Katie bomb."
"And you might even meet someone," Arun added. In my dreams. Arun was already taken and everyone else works days. I questioned whether there was another vampire out there for me. A little flirting may not hurt, though. "Anita will help?" I had no idea while I kept piling requirements on. Arun just nodded. "Okay," I committed, "let's do it." Excitement replaced the black pit in my stomach. He turned to his terminal and went to work. He turned his chair around and handed me a phone. "Type in a password, something unique," He said. "Whose phone is this?" I asked, turning it over. It was just a slim black smartphone. "Yours," Arun said, "present from Anita and I. It's prepaid so it's not tied to your name." He always knew I was going to cave and say yes. I laughed softly. "Something somewhat long so that it can't be broken into. I have some encryption of my own invention running on it. Without cracking the password, its contents are useless." I thought for a moment, then laughed to myself as I typed in the first memorable thing I could think of. It was fairly long but made me smile and I wouldn't forget it. "What name do you want to use?" Arun asked as I handed the phone back to him. This was going to be completely cloak and dagger. I picked the first thing that came to mind. "Tasha," I said, "Tasha Igwe." Arun began typing. He worked for over thirty minutes with joy in his eyes. He was impressing himself as much as he was impressing me. He went back to the phone and began working on it, then back to his terminal. Finally, he handed the phone back to me. "All set Tasha," Arun said as proud as one man could be, "you have an appointment for tomorrow at the eye doctors, it and all the rest are in the Coupon Crave app on the phone. Your ticket for the charity ball is in the email account I created for you."
"You are incredible," I complimented. "Just toss the phone away when you're done,"Arun added, "It’s the only thing that comes close to tying you to the fact you stole your own money." I had no choice, I hugged him. It made him uncomfortable, but I needed too. He was smiling when I separated, so no harm done. Anita helped me choose a dress. Had I seen it in a catalogue, I would have never picked it out. When it was on my body, I couldn't not choose it. A soft champagne pink fabric that was cut and sewn in such a way, it looked like it came over my shoulders loose and wrapped my breasts, then tied off in the back. Below the faux wrap, a pleated high shirt started and flowed ever more sheer to the floor. It was soft elegance. Anita's friend, Emily, altered it to fit snug around my waist and drop into my cleavage. Just enough showing, to tease, but not arouse. I felt beautiful. "Now, no stains or anything," Emily reminded me, "and take care to not snag it when you enter or leave the car." It made me a little nervous. I knew it was an expensive dress. "I'll take good care of it," I replied. I could see her apprehension. She was doing this as a favour for Anita and didn't know me at all. "It does look good on you," Emily smiled. Anita agreed. I twirled a couple of more times in front of the mirrors. It was the best I had ever looked. "You need to stop in and see Madam James," Emily continued, "she would have the perfect shoes for that dress. She owns a boutique off Ademola crescent."
"Sounds expensive," I said. "You have to have the right shoes," Emily instructed, "she's a friend of mine. I'll call ahead and make sure she gives you her best price." Emily was right. Madam James sold me a pair of pink heels that really completed the dress. I would be paying them off of the next six months, but I did get a 50% discount off the $1,500 list. They became the most expensive piece of clothing I had ever purchased. Most likely, I would wear them only once.