"I still don't get why you have to open the window for that creepy celebrity guy when you were on that AC bus. Aren't they supposed to be close?"
I cringed at the tone my friend used on me.
"The machine wasn't working properly, maybe." I prayed to her secretly not to make me repeat the same thing after two minutes. No matter what I said, Helen wasn't ready to take any of it, as she had sensed I wasn't telling everything to her.
Looking at my reflection in the mirror in the men's locker room, I fixed the messy pony that I tied in a manly way between the crown and the nape before coming to the club. The dark shade of makeup and my dark lens hid the softness of my square face. My strong jaw, above-average height, and my tanned skin that caused the humid temperature in Brazil were a plus, and the muscle I gained from my ritual exercise, and having my apartment close to the beach, my swimming regularly twice helped to bring out the look of a young countryside man I desperately wanted. And there was that rented motorcycle of mine. . .my female colleagues sometimes made it hard for me to keep my expression neutral with their stares that should be only at the men or the guests they had to serve.
"I don't know why, but I don't feel like trusting you, Millie. How come the rest of the passengers didn't object to that?"
"Let's not talk more about that seatmate or the bus, Helen. Asking for my money back to the conductor didn't come to my mind then. And I wouldn't have asked." Tossing my comb back into my backpack, I zipped that up and put on my apron and cap after locking my cell, "The manager will lose his cool if he doesn't see me there in two minutes."
She scoffed, "I am sending money to your account."
"Hah! That's funny."
"I mean it, my dear. Your coach and his son are on their way to São Paulo to teach your beloved grandfather a lesson."
"Helenite! Are you out of your mind?" The fear I had to force myself to lock somewhere in my mind came alive again, making me lose my calm. "Why did you contact them when I told you we didn't want their involvement in this case?"
"Have some faith in me, will you? The media won't know a thing about you or Cheryl's custody. They will be careful."
"But still, it does not- "
"And then you are in that foreign country. It has almost been a year, Emily. Whenever Cheryl asks me to call you, your number says either out of reach or currently switched off. Sometimes it cuts after those annoying beeping sounds." I paled as she went on. My chest tightened when her voice wavered but raised her tone to sound how pissed she was. "I know your reasons. Everyone here is aware of them. But your sister. . .she is too little to understand this stuff even if she is smart and more mature than those children her age in that children's home. Tell me how I would answer it if one day she asks me if her Millie Billie even wants her?"
I bit my trembling lips and tried to push back the tears that started to gather in my eyes. I wanted to apologize, but to whom? My sister? My best friend and her parents? Or to my mother for failing to keep my promise? Or to my father for not being there for him?
I kicked my locker out of frustration.
"Hey, there. I am here to manage it, okay? No need to beat yourself up!" To brighten our mood, she said, "Advocate Winchester told my parents that the chance to get permission to bring Cheryl home at the next hearing is high, as now that she has those documents in her hand."
I nodded firmly. "I am aware, but- "
Hearing the knock on the door, I hurriedly said, "Hey, I have to go now."
"Okay, keep those devices or ornaments with you close to you. It will be a good help to track you down if you are in trouble."
"I'll, Helen. I will be careful." With that, I cut the call.
He had to be my colleague, but why wasn't he coming in? I left the door unlocked, didn't I?
The poor guy's voice held urgency as he pleaded with me, "Oh, come on! Open the damn door already now, will you? It's urgent!"
As I unlocked the door, two male colleagues rushed in, and the one who served that table pushed away, sweating hard as he made a run towards one of the toilets, "Move, will you! Did you have to lock the door, Elias?"
That other guy headed towards one of the basins, and I felt like running out immediately.
I gaped, fumbling with my belt, but that stupid thing had to give me a hard time when I was in that compromising position. It felt like someone deliberately glued a puzzle piece into the lock.
"Wow! You're fast at dressing up. No one more than you know how to catch a great deal!"
I heard the flush in the basin behind me, and he came to my side to wash his hand in the sink. While fumbling with my ties, I watched him from the corner of my eyes through the mirror, and my brows furrowed, even more, noticing that icy look in his eyes.
"What do you mean?"
Beckett, his name would be. He had a twin brother and a little cousin, but I always mistook one for another because of their identical features with the same ginger hair and brown eyes. "You think I don't know you?" He laughed humorlessly. "You are one opportunist who tends to stay low-key, but when you see the profit, you play that dark empathic role to make others think how kind you are."
I sighed, deciding to fix my belt first.
If our manager didn't promise to pay me double, I wouldn't have agreed to come to work early in the morning for the decoration for a birthday event I did in the pool bar with the help of a few of my colleagues. I now regret the day when I thought about helping them out with organizing an event here for extra money. Months ago, seeing the praise I received from their foreign clients for the food, wine, and decor, the boss and the manager never left a chance to take advantage of me using my weakness with extra money.
"What profit do you see in giving the table to Ron, Beckett?" I was careful not to raise my voice at someone who believed quarrels could be the solution to any matter. "I would have passed that to you if you weren't this judgemental."
"I won't buy your lies, Elias." He hissed at me, but I was a guy, and I couldn't flinch. Standing right in his place, he glowered, "You know about the condition of Ron's mother, and that's why you did that to win their heart. To make him grateful to you for the rest- "
Before he could finish it, Ron stepped out, and I had to hold my breath because I couldn't help it. I couldn't be happier now that Beckett had stopped his nagging, which was anything but that, yet I chose to forget the conversation that ever happened between us.
"Wear this over your apron."
I couldn't hold back my disgust when Ron threw a jacket on my face.
"Eww!" Before it touched me, I pitched on the fabric before preparing to throw it back to him. "Keep your things to yourself, Ron."
"Haha! You sound like a girl again." Laughing, he stalked towards me, "But I have washed my hands, see! I even smell like soap."
When Ronnie brought his hand close to my face, I stepped back. "Yeah! Thanks! But I have mine. Don't need- "
"Yours is old and doesn't match our color code." That time, Beckett cut me off. "So, wear that if you want to keep your job." With that saying, he headed to his locker to change, I guessed, but not before throwing his warning look at me.
I ignored him as his problem truly never mattered to me, to this low-key good guy, a mutual friend of my colleagues.
"We have guests. Some bigwig they have to be, or else who would want to sign a twenty-eight-day contract with us?" Fixing his cufflinks, Ronnie combed his black hair as he went on with his blue eyes holding mischief, "I even heard them talking about wanting a few among us to accompany them to serve them at every small to big event wherever they fix it."
Is he talking about our female colleagues?
"Better if you mind your own business, Elias." The brat hissed at me. "You don't need to be so defensive in every minor matter."
I glared at Beckett and thought about saying something before he walked out of there, but Ron stopped me by my forearm.
"Don't get him wrong."
My eyes enlarged upon hearing Ron. "You're saying this!"
Ron sighed helplessly, but his grip remained intact. "The guests are someone we should avoid at all costs. We can't afford to mess with those people." With a pointed look, he let go of my hand and patted my back, saying, "Don't forget that it is for our family we work hard for, Elias. If things go out of control, we'll leave it to our manager to handle the matter for our colleagues."
I got his point, but. . .nevermind!
I also didn't want to lose this job, which was helping me to live in this expensive city, but for just one sign from my grandpa, I had to live here, compromising my career and other responsibilities. And I was a girl, not a grown-arse man!
On our way, we ran into our four female colleagues, pushing their trolleys toward the elevator as they talked about the deal that might open an opportunity for their first-ever business trip.
"Regardless of what you believe, I think that with our budget, we can't survive in any of those states for even a week."
"I don't think we have to pay for anything when our club owners should be paying for us."
"Still, we have to pay for our meals and sightseeing if we get the chance. . .hey, Elias!" One of the girls asked, "Are you joining us?"
Before I could answer, Ronnie beat them to it. "It's the manager's order, Andréia. He won't take no for an answer."
Shrugging, I told her after noticing the trolley with them, and my suggestion made the boys halt on their steps before they took the elevator, "You girls go first with the beverages, and we guys are taking the stairs to catch you up on what floor- ?"
Beckett said through his teeth, looking pissed at me. But Ron looked okay with it, even when he was the healthier one among us.
"Fifth." Olga, the girl with the bouquet, said softly to me before seething at Beckett, "And even so, our man won't be out of breath."
"You- " Beckett's expression darkened, and I pretended like I wasn't there and took the opportunity to disappear from their sight when Ron was trying to hold that hot-tempered guy back before he picked a fight with his yet another female colleague.
But it felt good to know how I was making a score in the female's world without doing anything.
I grinned at myself at that thought, and my other colleagues working on the second, third, and fourth floors thought I was smiling at them. I greeted them politely like I usually do, before again taking the stairs to the fifth floor. And I wasn't out of breath.
"There you are!"
The moment I reached the top of the stairs, the manager rushed towards me with a wine bottle in his hand. "Take this to the poolside. They choose to chill there, so don't worry. Our boss, Roberto, will be there, so you don't have to be nervous about anything."
"No way!" From the look of it, I had to step back, not wanting to put myself in trouble for dropping something whose current market price would be near about 3.4 million approx. I had Beckett around, and not to mention, I was hell-broke then. "I won't carry that!"
"Elias, we don't have time for this. They are our special clients, and we can't make them wait for us."
"But, sir- "
"No one more than you know how to deal patiently with these kinds of clients." Before I refused him, the manager forcibly handed it to me and looked at me warningly. "And to make sure to keep you away from your female colleagues, I have to do this. Make sure I don't get any complaints about you this time. There wouldn't be anything I could do to save your arse from Mr. Kennedy."
I took the elevator with the guys for the pool bar, feeling depressed about the toxicity and unfairness to a woman and the helplessness of a man who had to think twice about doing anything when that heroic instinct in them wished nothing but to make things right.
I ran into a few men in black who blocked our way for checking.
I had to keep my gaze lower as, for some reason, I started to feel anxious whenever I saw these agents/bodyguards.
In all my life, I had to compromise my privacy with dad's men surrounding me for my protection, but now, that situation scares me more. With so many gazes on me, I couldn't tell whom I should trust or run from after so many attacks on me, and after losing both of my parents from my life, it became frequent.
And now, I am in a hideout.
Stepping into the poolside, I internally groaned at those rich people relaxing in the water. Because of these millionaires and their last-minute notice, I couldn't go to my grandpa's home for his one sign, even though I knew the chances of him showing up ran negative.
I exhaled a breath and circled the pool to reach the bar counter. With over ten to fifteen men and women present here, drinking and swirling their bodies to the tune of music, I couldn't tell how the boss would discuss things for the meeting. Then again, my dad used to attend or arrange meetings like this, so I just ignored those naked men and women as I went to place the bottle on the counter.
"I know this city is your target, Sebastian. But that man seemed very strange to work with, trust me. We can't deal with someone like him who rules not only this country but has a reach and influence throughout all South American countries."
The men in the pool talked about business in this region, which naturally caught my attention.
"You don't even want to imagine how many big MNCs and fast-growing start-ups he has destroyed in just one year. Those who thought they could suppress James Groups & Industries because of the fall of the former chairman, Eriberto Iglesias James, are now struggling to make ends meet."
I froze and was startled to an extent after hearing them taking my father's name that I nearly dropped the bottle on the ground.
"Careful!" I heard Ron's warning behind me, and Beckett quickly held my hand, sneering, "Are you here to put all of us in trouble?"
I wasn't upset about the tone Beckett used on me as he saved my arse this time.
I should thank him for that, but I couldn't just tear my gaze away from those men who kept bringing my father and grandfather's business while sipping their drinks and getting shoulder and head messages from our personnel spa team.
"Let's go back to the UK, you know, Bash? Your mother will help- "
Bash? Why does this name sound so familiar to me?
Before I got the chance to search for a clue in my memory, Beckett elbowed me, "Move!"
I again resumed walking, clutching the wine against my chest, as I was sure I didn't want to be in debt with the Kennedys. Even with the two-year contract at my Belgium home ground, I couldn't pay them more than half a million in one year.
Oh, I want to go back to my old routine. And Belgium. Mom told me to go to my coach's place with my sister as she had already made all the arrangements for us, but I was an emotional fool, and I needed my boyfriend to seek solace in his arms, who promised to be there and be a dad to Cheryl. Then life happened, and now, I could only rely on my best friend's parents and Mrs. Winchester.
"I like to do things my way to my liking without any of their interference in my business. I have thousands of people working under me. I don't need to compromise with anything after coming this far."
"I never told you to stop, Bash. Merely showing my concern, hoping that you will move to Northern America or Europe. It's better to play safe than expect the unexpected from Emmanuel Iglesias, who now wants to destroy a girl's life with the media's involvement."
I wanted to move from my place, but I felt so. . .paralyzed.
"You mean he will call the paparazzi next time if he sees her anywhere close to his place?"