Chapter 10 – Alyssa
Life has a funny way of coming full circle, doesn’t it?
Here Julian and I are, in the back of his car heading toward Preston’s house near Washington Park. It’s not our first time going there together. It wouldn’t even be my first time coming here by myself, since there have been a few occasions at the office where either Julian or Preston have asked me to come up to this house to pick something up. Or drop it off. The story changes every time.
He has a nice house, I guess. Not as big as you may think a billionaire like him would have, although I hear he has a huge playground in the basement. We don’t care about that right now, anyway. What we care about is why Julian and I are heading up to Mr. Bradley’s house.
Apparently, Cher had told the truth when she said that she and Mr. Bradley were once a hot item. Apparently, they still are.
Granted, I haven’t talked to Cher since that day I bumped into her at the teahouse. So who knows what’s really going on here. Maybe she and Mr. Bradley had an affair still going on when I last saw her. Or maybe she told the truth when she implied that it had ended with her termination as well. Who knows.
I guess we’re going to find out.
Julian is righteously pissed about the whole situation. Since he told me on Wednesday afternoon what’s going on, I’ve heard nothing but derision hurled at Mr. Bradley behind his back. It’s not unusual for Julian to be exasperated with people to the point he’s always muttering beneath his breath, but this is a bit much even for him.
I get it. I do. It was bad enough – and super hypocritical – of Mr. Bradley to say what he did about Julian dating me only to date Cher on the down low. But beyond that, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m a huge example of how office romances are apparently a fact of life, especially in Portland.
Although I’m not sure what’s supposed to be accomplished by this kind of dinner. Are Cher and I going to become better friends because we’re openly dating billionaires we’ve worked for? Or is this going to create a bigger rivalry between us? Oh, God, what if we don’t get along? What if she turns into a bigger diva than usual and decides I’m not good enough to run in her realm? It wouldn’t affect my relationship with Julian any, but it could make parts of my personal life independent of him hell.
I’ve almost worked myself up into an anxious furor when the car pulls up before Mr. Bradley’s picturesque manor surrounded by evergreen trees and sporting a colorful flower garden that he may or may not have had a hand in planting.
Mr. Bradley immediately comes out to greet us with a large smile on his face. No wonder. Behind him, lurking in the foyer, is Cher bedecked in a baggy white blouse that somehow enunciates her breasts… and a pretty yellow skirt that may be floor length, but has a giant slit going all the way up to her thighs. She knows how to dress herself, that’s for sure. As for me? I need someone to dress me.
Oh, do I wish I could say that this is a normal dinner with Mr. Bradley.
Everything about it is lovely, really. The four of us sit at a table on his balcony overlooking the picturesque hills of West Portland. The air is a warm eighty degrees, perfect for me to sit in nothing more than a blue summer dress and a light shawl to go over my shoulders. Julian takes off his jacket and undoes the top button on his dress shirt. At least he didn’t wear a tie today. Every once in a while he loosens up. A little.
Mr. Bradley and I make the greatest effort. I gush over Cher’s sleek hair and the gorgeous diamond tennis bracelet on her wrist – she makes sure we all know that Mr. Bradley gave it to her upon their reunion. I open my big mouth and ask, “When was that?”
They glance at each other. Cher has a smirk of second-hand embarrassment while Mr. Bradley grins like a teenager. “A week ago, wasn’t it, snookums?”
Beside me, Julian grimaces. I don’t blame him. Who the hell actually says snookums?
“Yes. I was shocked when he came by my apartment Saturday night.” Was that the Saturday night Julian and I were in New England? Had to be. “He had a bouquet of pink roses and an invitation to take me out to dinner so we could discuss what we really meant to one another. I took the flowers but rebuked his invitation. I didn’t want him to take me for the wrong kind of woman.”
“And what kind of woman are you, exactly?” Julian asks.
Mr. Bradley is the only one not steeling himself. “One who would rather hash things out in private, Mr. Marcus. I invited Preston into my apartment. I had already made dinner, anyway, and wasn’t going to let it go to waste.”
“This woman makes a mean homecooked lasagna.” Mr. Bradley clasps his hand on her shoulder. To her credit, Cher doesn’t sway in her seat. “I’ve already got her promising to make me some every week for the rest of my life.”
“That’s a long time,” Julian says. His tone implies it may be shortened if Mr. Bradley pisses him off enough. “But congratulations at already making a commitment like that.”
These two shuffle in their seats so much that it takes all of my composure to not snicker. Luckily, we’re saved by the maid bringing out our dinners. No, it’s not Cher’s homemade lasagna, but it’s as good, I wager.
Julian doesn’t bother beating around the bush now that he’s got both Preston and Cher in front of him. “So,” he begins, cutting into his parmesan chicken, “when’s the wedding?”
Mr. Bradley almost chokes on a piece of chicken. Cher reaches over and pats him on the back until he’s swallowed enough water to wash the meat down. “Says the man who hasn’t once shut up about his girlfriend since he started dating her months ago.”
“Never let it be said that we take the same paths to reach the same destination, Preston.”
“Indeed.” Mr. Bradley glances at Cher, who spares him a timid smile.
Honestly, I don’t believe it for a second.
“Like you and Alyssa, we’re taking things one day at a time,” Mr. Bradley continues. “Who knows. Maybe we’ll hold a double wedding day in the office where we all met.”
“You tell me the date, Preston, and we’ll get right on it.”
“I’ll get back to you about that.”
I put my champagne glass down before I can choke on it. “Anyone mind telling me where the nearest restroom is?” I gotta get away from this awkward mess for a few minutes.
Cher is the first to toss her napkin down and scoot her chair back. “I’ll show you. There’s one down the hall.”
Mr. Bradley only pays her a little attention. “The one next to my office?”
“That’s the one. It’s fine, right?”
He waves her off and starts talking to Julian about an upcoming meeting and how he thinks they should approach it.
I follow Cher back into the airy manor. We see one maid coming with a tray of cut fruit for us to snack on along with dinner, but otherwise, there’s no one else here, meaning nobody interrupts us as we walk down the hall toward Mr. Bradley’s office and adjacent bathroom.
Cher opens the door from the hallway. “Careful with this door,” she says as I go in. “Sometimes it sticks. If that happens, you can go through Preston’s office. He won’t care.”
I don’t think anything about it as I shut the door behind me and lock it for good measure. I hear Cher’s footsteps go back down the hall, and I’m left to do my business.
As if it had been planned all along, I can’t get the damn door open again when I finish.
Trust me, I’ve jiggled this handle a billion times. A time for every dollar in Julian’s coffers. Sheesh. You’d think with all his money, Mr. Bradley would be able to get something like this fixed. Oh, well. Cher said I could go through the downstairs office, so I think I’ll do that. The other door in here – or at least the one that doesn’t open to a linen closet, as I discover – leads to the immaculate office of a man who doesn’t use it a whole lot. I bet the upstairs office is way messier, based on what Julian has said about Mr. Bradley’s cleaning habits.
It’s small, but well-lit thanks to the alcove overlooking a tulip garden. The large desk is cleaned off aside from a small stack of journals and an assortment of fountain pens. No laptop, not that I should be looking.
There is, however, a small box on one of the chairs in front of the desk.
A box with a familiar pair of underwear in it. I would know, because they’re mine.
The panties I was wearing when Julian and I first hooked up. I had let him keep them as some stupid token. At the time, I thought he was keeping them as a trophy, and I was so addled from good sex – let alone good virgin sex – that I didn’t think twice about it. After all, they were simple undies.
But I know they’re mine because of the neon yellow stamp on the back saying who made it, the size, and proudly announcing how they were created right here in America. I doubt they’ve been washed since then.
What in the world are they doing in here?
Hadn’t Cher said…
I had completely dismissed it at the time, and honestly, hadn’t even thought of it until now.
What had she said? Something about Mr. Bradley betting Julian that he couldn’t bed whatever woman was sent to him? That I was the lucky candidate? That he had kept my panties as proof that he boned me?
No way. That was Cher being Cher. But, if she had been right about being in a relationship with Mr. Bradley….
I find a small handwritten note beside my underwear. By now, I know it’s Mr. Bradley’s handwriting. A note to himself. “Return to Julian next time he comes by. Don’t forget this time, Pres.”
I feel sick. Really, really sick.