"Tasha? Ella?" Rebecca asked, "what should I call you?" Her expression was blank. In her case, I believed that meant anger. The mop and bucket were both a shield and the most embarrassing things I had ever held. "I...I'm sorry." It stumbled out as I removed my ear buds. Had I an hour to think of what to say, it would have come out the same. Rebecca just stared at me. The mop handle shifted to cross in front of my body. It was a weaker shield than I thought. "Ella," I answered before I had to move my eyes from hers. The bucket was suddenly interesting as I tried to dam my tear ducts.
"Oliver is livid," Rebecca said, "he doesn't get angry. He broods, pouts and goes silent, but never angry. Somehow, you have done what no one has done before. You have made him irrational." I could see her head dipping low, trying to find my eyes. Damn tears. "Was that your goal? To ruin him." I turned away, letting the mop handle drop from my hands to the floor. I tried to get my mouth to form words. I took a deep breath, louder than I intended. "Ah," Rebecca said, "can't face what you've done. You're awfully weak for someone who plays so harshly with other people." A small bit of anger flared. My stupidity was clear. Never had my intent be to hurt anyone. I turned on her. "I didn't mean for any of it to happen," I said, louder than I should have, "it was a stupid idea. I didn't know I would meet Oliver. I didn't know I would..." I stopped myself, trying to let the unwarranted anger dissipate. Oliver's mother stood before me with a half-smile I didn't understand. "I'm sorry it turned out the way it did," I repeated, softer.
"So, you're not an actress hired to prove him a fool?" Rebecca asked. The thought that Oliver might think the kiss a fake hit me harder than I would ever expect. "Oh, God!" I said, covering my mouth. I no longer controlled my emotions. The entire night flashed by again. His face when he realized whose phone it was. I collapsed against the wall. He wasn't disappointed. He hated me. My ass found the floor, my hand covered my eyes. "I thought not," Rebecca said warmer than I deserved. She sat down on the floor next to me. "Luckily, the men didn't recognize the heels. Dorothy Winslet has been a friend of mine for many years. Don't hold it against her. She thinks she was doing you a favour by giving me your name." Rebecca paused for a moment. "You have some time, but my son is very determined," she paused for a moment, "as is the military."
"I'm in trouble," I said, looking up. I was sure my face was a mess.
"Yes you are," Rebecca said, her hand compassionately covering my arm. "How do you feel about my son?" Her question was unexpected. My words caught, but I knew I couldn't lie. "Hurting him...I would have rather died," I replied, "I couldn't stop it." I shook my head, "I was going to tell him, but it just kept accelerating. How do you stop an avalanche?" I looked at compassionate eyes that I didn't expect. "I ran."
"That's not an answer."
"What do you want me to say?" I said, my eyes streaming, "I'm a damned janitor and he's a..a..businessman," I didn't know what he was. I just knew it was beyond my dreams. "Again, you're not answering."
"He's everything," I yelled at her, "proof that I can fuck up anything." My uncontrolled blubbering got worse as my eyes found the floor again, "I fuck up everything," I repeated quietly to the tiles. Every mistake I ever made invaded my mind and overshadowed the few successes. At that moment, I was a complete failure. "Well," Rebecca said, "that's closer to an answer." I turned to look at Rebecca. She was smiling, soft and forgiving, and sitting next to me on the floor. Next to a mop and bucket. This woman was the definition of high society, but she was down at my level. "You don't hate me," I observed. Her soft laugh filled the empty hall. I was missing something. "You had my son on the dance floor. Twice," Rebecca explained, "he wanted to be there with you. You have no idea what that means, do you?" I shook my head. "He always hated dancing. Felt it made him look like an idiot."
"He's not very good," I added. Then again, either was I. Comparing him to George and wasn't really fair. "No. No he's not," Rebecca continued with a small chuckle, "but that didn't stop him. He would have spent the whole night there if you had asked." I must have looked dumbfounded. "I have never seen him so...so...alive." She struggled for the word. "Alive?"
"Happy," Rebecca corrected, "he didn't care if he looked like an idiot." Her eyes sought out mine," he only cared that you were there with him."
"Now, I suppose, he wants me in prison."
"If you heard him rant," Rebecca smiled, "prison would be too lenient. I believe I left when he was discussing the finer points of burning at the stake."
"Why are you here then?" I asked. I should have asked why the police weren't here though I didn't want to give her any ideas.
"I want to see him dance again," Rebecca replied softly. "Is that before or after he burns me at the stake?" Rebecca's laugh echoed down the empty hall. At least the tears stopped, but it was too hard to join the humor I barely understood. "Will you meet with him, Ella?" Rebecca asked, then she quickly added, "before this mess catches up to you."
"He would meet with me?"
"No," Rebecca smiled, "but he could run into you." I felt my stomach churn at the idea. I couldn't look into his eyes and see hatred. I remembered the butterflies when I first entered the dance. An arranged meeting would be a hundred times worse. "I couldn't...to trick him again," I said shaking my head, "I don't want...I can't do it again."
"Please, think about it," Rebecca said as she stood and brushed off her pants. She held out her hand. I took it and she helped me to my feet. "It would only make matters worse," I stated clearly, "I'm not built to hurt people." Rebecca gave me her smile again. It was too confusing speaking to her about Oliver. She had some vision in her mind about a reconciliation. I had hurt him too much for that. I hurt myself too much. "You work nights," Rebecca stated, looking around the offices for the first time. She was looking to change the subject. I was going to let her.
"Until six," I added. She handed me my pink heels. They might look nice with this year's prison attire. "Thank you."
"Think about it, dear," Rebecca said as she started retreating to the elevators. I lied by nodding my head. "Oh, I almost forgot. Oliver somehow knew your first name and that you drive a beige Toyota." I was sure my face went bright red, "He said something about you setting him up good." "Shit." It came out of my mouth before I could stop it. He had remembered the flat tire all along. "You should really work on your language, dear," Rebecca said, as she turned to the elevators, "Both you and Oliver sound so uncivilized these days."
"She was here?" Arun asked with panic in his voice. "Yes," I said, "I think she saw Oliver and I riding into the sunset together."
"If she could find you..." I nodded as Arun spoke. "I am so sorry Ella."
"It's my fault as well Arun." I shrugged my shoulders, "it's a first offense and all, I am hoping that it won't go far. I'm really hoping I don't have to face Oliver again."
"I can't let you take the blame," Arun insisted, "It was my stupid idea, my ego that got you here."
"Nope," I said shaking my head, "If it was just you, maybe, but we have to think of Anita and Arya. Nobody is waiting for me to come home. They can't deport me. I'll probably get probation and have to stay away from computers." At least that was my hope. I spent the last two hours of my shift deflecting Arun's apologies. We shifted a lot of the blame on Jeremaine since she was the reason it all started. It helped a little, but telling a judge that your stepmother is a bitch probably wouldn't help with reality. I took stock of myself in those two hours. Arun and Anita were my only good friends. My other friends had drifted away over the years. They slept nights and worked during the days. Our schedules prohibited anything meaningful. I was basically a janitor, stashed away to keep me out of my own business. I had let it happen. I'm not sure if there was anything I could have done, but I hadn't put up much of a fight. Jeremaine held the puppet strings and I never tried to cut them. I had a lawyer, young though he was, who said I was at her mercy. She was the executor until I was thirty-seven and there was nothing I could do about it. I wondered if I had given in too quickly. It mattered little now. Oliver was on my mind as I was riding the elevator down. For a brief moment at the ball, I felt our shared desire. I wondered if there was only one person on the planet for me. If so, I was in trouble since I just kicked my one and only in the nuts. I tried to get that last image of him out of my mind. That look I had thought was misery, was most likely the beginning of hatred. I really wasn't any good at hurting people. It hurt me more. I exited the building, thankful that Jeremaine decided to not do one of her early morning inspections. I had to take the good where I could find it. I fumbled for my keys in my purse and accidentally ran into someone outside the door. "Excuse..." Oliver's eyes met mine. I started backing away as I saw the recognition in his eyes. The building stopped my retreat. I watched as his face went through a hundred emotions, some of them frightening. He tried to speak. I tried to speak. I had no words. Sorry was too feeble. His shoulders lost their strength.
"You left me," he finally said. It wasn't an accusation. There was a tremendous amount of sorrow in the statement. My damn eyes were welling up. "Do you hate me?" I asked. I didn't know what to do with my arms. They were moving like they were lost. Oliver looked away, then back again. "I can't," Oliver admitted, "you're too close."
"I never..." I stumbled over my words, "I didn't mean...I didn't want to leave you." He moved toward me, his eyes as cloudy as mine. I leaned into him, risking everything. His arms wrapped around me so carefully, I knew I risked nothing. I tilted my head upwards and the most wonderful lips met mine. This time, it was he who led the dance. "My mother set me up," Oliver said, his smile defying his tone. I pulled him closer, not wanting to let him go. "I told her not too," I whispered. How wrong I was. "I suspect you are to join me for breakfast instead of her," Oliver said, pointing to the 24-hour diner next to my building. "She spoke with you?"
"Last night," I replied, "don't be mad at her." Our lips joined again. Soft, forgiving and so filled with desire. I could feel my heart speeding. No, Rebecca had little to fear of retaliation from her son. "You work nights?"
"Vampire," I nodded. I loved his smile. It was if the hacking incident never happened. All of the problems of the world disappeared and it was just to the two of us necking in the street at six in the morning. "Breakfast?" Oliver offered, his hand caressing the small of my back. I was leaning into him, liking the way his body felt against mine. "I would love breakfast," I replied. I didn't want to lose contact with Oliver, but we couldn't stay on the street like love-starved teenagers. We were love starved adults after all. He took my hand, obviously desiring the contact as well. I walked as close to him as I could without tangling our feet. "I hate it when I have to admit my mother is right," he said, "she has this I-told-you-so expression that gnaws at me." I bounced my shoulder into his as we walked. "Don't snap to judgment Oliver, you have to hear her side Oliver, now you're just being irrational Oliver." Oliver's imitation of his mother's voice was way off. It made it all the more comical. "I like her."
"I love her," he said smiling, "It's just that I sometimes I feel ten years old when I'm with her." He stopped walking and turned to me. "She was right, though. I don't care about the hows and whys. I just want to be near you."
"Even if my stupidity lands me in prison?" Oliver's hand moved to the side of my face. I leaned into it, loving the way it felt against my skin. "Even if," he promised. The street once again was treated to two people who couldn't keep their hands and lips off each other. I felt my pulse quickening as I let my passion loose. Our kiss became deeper, tongues dancing to our heartbeats. I was no longer hungry for food.
"I want to be with you," I said. The meaning coming from deep inside. A place that had been quiet for far too long.
"I would love to skip breakfast with you," he whispered, his fingers playing with my hair. I smiled at his agreement, taking his hand in mine. "I'm parked a block over," he said, pointing to the south. I had no apprehension. I led him down the street as a comfortable joy warmed me. I knew practically nothing about Oliver, but I felt I knew him better than anyone else in the world. We were in some sort of sync. We knew we wanted each other and there was no wall of proprietary blocking the way. The excitement in his eyes fuelled mine. Everything was exactly as it should be. Perfect.
"I have a million questions," he said, "but only one seems important right now. I don't know whether to call you Tasha or Ella."
"Ella," I replied, "Tasha was just for the ball."
"Ella...Ella," Oliver tried it out for size, "Hello, my name is Oliver and this is my girlfriend Ella."
"Girlfriend?" I said smiling. I knew I was. The kisses told me so.
"Why yes," he joked, "but you need to give me some time to break it to Tasha." It was tough to kiss him while I was laughing, but I managed. The ride to Oliver's condo was no different than our walk around The Meriden. We laughed and spoke freely about unimportant things. In silent agreement, we both ignored the outstanding issues. That was talk for later.