Chapter 9 – My World, Bad Decisions

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The bitter winds of winter arrived early that year as I made my way into the radio station to record my latest show one night in late November. I quietly made my way through the darkened hallways in hopes of not disturbing whomever was working that night. I had the door to the recording room open as I scanned my notes to make sure everything was in order.

A few minutes later, I grabbed my travel mug and went to the staff room to see if there was any coffee made. Luckily, there was a fresh pot on. As I poured myself a cup, I noticed a box of donuts on the counter. There was only one donut left so I shoved it into my mouth and threw the box in the garbage before I made my way back to the recording room.

I finished the donut and drank half my coffee before I was ready to record my show. I leaned back in the chair and took a deep, cleansing breath in order to prepare myself when there was a light knocking on the door. I spun around in my chair and was surprised to find Aiden in the doorway.

“Hey.” He said.

“Hello?” I replied more as a question than a greeting, a little confused as to why he would willingly talk to me at work.

“Um, I was just wondering if you took the last donut from the staff room.” I gave him a small shrug and a guilty smile. When I nodded, he started talking, getting progressively more angry. “Those were mine. I bought them yesterday and wanted to have the last one tonight at work. The rule in the staff room is that if it doesn’t have your name on it, don’t touch it. Next time, maybe you should ask before indulging in someone else’s food.”

I wasn’t a naturally angry person, but his words seemed to hit my bitch-button that night. Before I could stop myself, I gave him a snarky reply. “It was just a donut. And I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to try to get along with me for the sake of work.” When I turned my chair around to face the equipment, in hopes that he’d take the hint and leave, I heard him close the door after stepping inside the room.

“Work has nothing to do with this. It’s about manners. I know you’re not schooled in the fine art of small town etiquette but here’s the first rule – don’t take what’s not yours.” He gave me a defiant, knowing, superior look as I dramatically turned back to face him. The arrogance emanated from him as I sat there with my jaw partially open in shock.

At that point, I had taken enough of his bullshit and I decided to stand up for myself. Fire burned behind my eyes and I could feel my entire body seethe with anger, an anger that rose from the pit of my stomach and came slowly bubbling to the surface.

Defensively, I crossed my arms across my chest and, with a passive-aggressive tone in my voice, I shot back. “It’s just a fucking donut. Get over it.”

By then, I was starting to shake because my anger was getting the best of me. “I don’t understand you, Aiden. You are such a dick to me and I don’t know what I ever did to piss you off. The only reason I haven’t cleaned your clock is because you’ve been very good to my nephew. Which is another mixed signal. Why are you so nice to my nephew yet, when we’re alone, you have this massive chip on your shoulder around me. What did I ever do to you?”

I was past the point of no return and my voice was getting louder and louder with each word that came out of my mouth. “And if you want to teach me about small town etiquette, why don’t you teach me the lesson about talking behind other people’s backs and insulting their ‘cute little one-woman radio show.’ Is that next week’s lesson?”

Like a deer in headlights, Aiden’s eyes were wide as he stared at me in absolute horror, looking as though I had just slapped him – which I considered, but decided against. I knew I was losing my composure and I had to step away from the situation. My entire body shook with adrenaline as I shoved past him and walked to the door. I ripped the door open and uttered “fuck you,” before I walked out into the hallway.

I marched down the hall, to the staff room, where I filled a disposable cup with water from the water cooler. I sucked back all the water before crumpling the cup and chucking it in the trash. And then I stood in front of the sink, breathing slowly, hoping to regain the composure that I had lost.

Once my heart rate had slowed a little, I quickly gathered my stuff from the control room and went home – my work could wait.

The next morning, knowing Aiden would be gone by the time I arrived at work, I quietly snuck into the staff room and dropped off an entire box of donuts with Aiden’s name written in thick, black, permanent marker across the top of the box before I made my way into the recording booth and closed the door.

That same day, after I had recorded my show and was sitting in my office going through my notes, Jeff came in and invited me to the staff Christmas party on the weekend.

“I’m not really part of your staff though,” I clarified.

“I feel as though you are.” He smiled. “There’s free food and drinks,” he said enticingly.

A smile of appreciation crept onto my lips as I replied, “I’ll think about it. Thanks for the offer.”

*****

The night of the Christmas party, I was wrapped up in a thick blanket on my balcony in the unusually mild winter weather. I couldn’t seem to get my mind off the fight with Aiden. I didn’t feel bad for sticking up for myself, yet I felt bad for yelling at him even though he had it coming after what he had said about my show.

Admittedly, he was part of the reason I didn’t want to go to the staff party. But then it occurred to me that he was out of town with the junior hockey team that evening.

I sauntered over to my closet and found a teal cashmere sweater I had bought in L.A. that I hadn’t even worn yet. Knowing Aiden wouldn’t be at the party, I decided, last minute, to break in my new sweater and go to the soiree.

I walked in the door to the hall, which Jeff had rented for the night and transformed into party central. The bar was set up on the far side, tables were laid out in the middle of the room, and a DJ was on the other far side in front of open space for dancing. No one was dancing yet – I guessed not enough alcohol had been consumed so early in the night.

I made my way over to the bar and ordered myself a drink. Jeff snuck up beside me. “Sienna, I’m so glad you came. It’s nice to see you.”

He ushered me over to an empty table, where we talked about old high school friends as we sucked back a couple of drinks.

“So, tell me,” he started, “why did you decide to move home? I mean, when we were in high school, everyone wanted to escape this town and do something great with their lives. You’ve been in L.A. and, even though I don’t even know what you did there, here you are, back at home. Why would you move away from California to come back here?”

I shrugged, looked down at my drink, and hoped that Jeff couldn’t see the truth in my eyes. “Things just didn’t work out for me in L.A. I was hoping to make something of myself and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.” I took a breath, in hopes that he wouldn’t ask any other personal or work-related questions about Los Angeles, so I attempted to change the subject. “I realized how important my family was to me and I decided to move home to be closer to them. My nephew just turned nine years old already. Where did the first eight years go?” I asked rhetorically with a chuckle.

“What about you, Jeff? Tell me everything that’s gone on here in the last few years. What have you been doing, other than running the station?”

Jeff shrugged passively. “Nothing much ever changes here – you should know that.” I nodded in understanding. “I married a girl from a small town about a half hour away and we had a good life together for a few years. But then I found out from a friend that she was having an affair. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t come home early one day after work and found his car in my garage.”

My jaw dropped. “I’m so sorry, Jeff. I can’t imagine how that must have felt.”

He shrugged again. “It happens more often than you’d think around here. Which is why I’ve decided that it’s just easier if I stay away from relationships altogether for now.”

“I completely understand.” I held up my cup, Jeff clinked his glass of wine against mine, and we both said, “cheers,” before taking a drink.

“Hey,” he said as I sat my drink back down on the table in front of me, “do you remember my first girlfriend from high school? Sarah?” When I nodded, Jeff continued, “well, she ended up in California just like you did. She ended up being some Hollywood actress. That’s the last I heard anyway. I haven’t talked to her in years.”

I remembered back to one night at a party that Hudson and I had attended with a few others from the team. Sarah Ryan – or as she was known in high school, Sarah Murphy – showed up at the party later that night after Hudson and I had been there a while. Sarah sure made a splash that evening, being caught with the hostess’ boyfriend out by the pool. She was completely belligerent and incoherent when the hostess tried asking her to leave, which led to a police escort a few minutes later. A few months after the party, I heard that Sarah had been on quite the drinking binge and was causing havoc everywhere she went. The movie she had made went straight-to-video release and, by the time Sarah got her life together, it was too late to resuscitate her career. The last I had heard of Sarah Ryan, she had married some guy in the porn industry who made her into some big porn star. It was just another case of Hollywood chewing us up and spitting us out.

I decided against telling Jeff about the debacle surrounding Sarah.

As the night progressed, a few of the staff members that worked for Jeff came over to chat for a while and then they’d move on to other tables.

Later in the evening, I was at the bar, waiting on a couple more drinks for Jeff and myself when I felt someone sidle up beside me. I turned my head to find Aiden standing beside me with an apologetic smile on his face.

I took a small step further away from him as I waited impatiently for my drinks.

“Hey, Sienna.” His voice was low.

I nodded in acknowledgment, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to him. He didn’t deserve my words. Those were saved for people who meant something to me, like my family and my listeners.

He took a step closer to me and attempted to engage me in conversation. “So, are you having a good time tonight?”

Defeated and trying to make a point, I ignored his question and retorted, “aren’t you suppose to be out of town working?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yeah, I was. The game ended and I decided to drive home tonight instead of getting a hotel. It was only a two-hour drive. I wanted to make an appearance at the staff party.”

“Great.” I exaggerated with an eye-roll to prove my irritation.

After a slight pause, he said, “I got the box of donuts you left for me in the staff room. Thank you.”

Without saying a word, I nodded at him again.

There was a slight pause as the bartender handed me the drinks I had ordered. Just as I turned to walk away, Aiden caught my attention.

“Listen, I know we’ve started off on the wrong foot…” his voice trailed off as I raised my eyebrow at him. He took a breath before continuing. “I’d like to start over.” As if trying to convince me even more, he summed up by saying, “I feel bad about how I’ve treated you and I’d really like to start over.”

I looked him straight in the eye, ready to dispel the myth that there was any chance in hell that we could be friends, but something stopped me.

“Fine. Whatever.” I replied passively as I walked back to the table where Jeff sat, waiting for his drink. I couldn’t help but wonder if Aiden meant what he had said. Would he start treating me better? Or was it just an empty promise to save face? Time would tell. But I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

As Jeff and I continued our conversation about our high school friends, Aiden made his way over to our table and sat down opposite me, beside Jeff, and listened as Jeff and I continued our conversation.

About an hour later, and a few more drinks down the hatch, I was starting to feel light-headed and realized it was time to get going home. As I announced my intentions, Jeff said, “wait, don’t go yet. One more drink?” His voice was playfully pleading.

I agreed to one more drink.

I listened quietly, not really interested as the conversation shifted to Aiden and the junior hockey game that he commentated that night. “It was a good win. Clean hits, good goals, and a lot of heart from our hometown boys. It was a tough win, but they did it.”

My disinterest must have been written all over my face because Aiden asked, “are you not a fan of hockey, Sienna?”

Considering my history with Hudson, and not wanting to divulge my past, I shook my head. “Nope. I hate it.” And then I drowned my feelings in the bottom of my drink before throwing my jacket over my shoulders and saying I should get home.

“For someone who says they hate hockey, you show up at a lot of hockey games.” Aiden’s tone was inquiring, but I didn’t feed into his line of questioning. Instead, I shrugged and glared at him.

Oblivious, Jeff stood up, downed his drink, and said, “they’re closing the bar here, but, if we hurry, we can make last call at the club a couple blocks away.”

I had assumed he was talking to Aiden as I buttoned the toggle buttons on my winter jacket without looking at them.

“Sounds good to me.” Aiden stood up and finished his drink before gathering all of our empty glasses and taking them back to the bar, leaving Jeff and I standing alone at the table.

“So, the three of us will grab one last drink at the club before you head home?” Jeff smiled at me.

I gave him a blank look, not realizing he had meant all of us and not just Aiden. As I stumbled over my words, he finished by saying, “one more drink won’t hurt anyone.” Jeff held out his arm for me.

I stared at him for a moment, wondering if I would be able to withstand one more drink. With clouded judgement and a willingness to dance off some of the alcohol in my system, I nodded and then looped my arm through Jeff’s before he led me out the door.

The club was packed and the music pounded through the building. Jeff, Aiden, and I made our way to the front bar and ordered drinks. As we stood in a group, Jeff yelled over the music, “follow me. I think I found an empty table.”

He led me and Aiden to a corner booth at the back of the room. We all took off our jackets and made ourselves comfortable before slugging back our drinks. The waitress showed up after about five minutes and announced that it was last call. We each ordered two more drinks and the waitress weaved her way through the crowd to the bar.

Jeff put his hand on my shoulder and slurred when he said, “wow, Sienna, I’m feeling dizzy and you seem to be keeping up to me with the drinking.”

We giggled together like high school kids. I looked over at Aiden, who was chuckling along with us as though he were a parent watching his of-age children in the bar together for the first time.

I glared at Aiden, wondering why the hell he was with us. I didn’t want him there and I didn’t care if we ever got along.

“You…” my voice trailed off as I pointed directly at Aiden, my inhibitions gone. “You’re such a dick sometimes.” I announced as Jeff cut up laughing again. I guess he had assumed I was joking – I was not. “Has anyone ever told you that before?” I chuckled at my own brilliance. “You’re quite a dick.” Through the alcohol-induced stupor, it felt good to finally get that off my chest.

I don’t know if he agreed with me, or he just understood that it was the alcohol talking, but Aiden chuckled and nodded at me. Which, of course, pissed me off even more.

“You think you’re so damn special with your suit and tie and your pompous attitude, like you’re better than everyone else. Well, you wanna know what I think?” I looked at Aiden, who sat across the table with a playful smirk on his face. “I think you’re no better than the rest of us but you hide it better. That’s what I really think.”

Aiden laughed. “You’re slurring your words.”

Just as I tried to reach across the table to smack him, and before I could continue with my rant, Jeff grabbed my arm and pulled me out of my seat. “Remember this song from high school?” Jeff looked at me expectantly. “We have to dance to this!”

He pulled me towards the dance floor before I could say anything more to Aiden. When I looked back at Aiden, he still had that smirk on his face and it just kept pissing me off.

“I hate him,” I blurted to Jeff as we danced to an up-beat techno song.

Jeff laughed. “Aiden’s harmless. Getting to know him outside of work over the past few years has taught me a few things about him; he’s old-school, he’s set in his ways, and he’s been working in this field for a long time. I think that you intimidate him because you have effortless success and he’s worked hard his entire life and still hasn’t made it to where he wants to be.”

I contemplated Jeff’s explanation for a moment, but it hurt my head so I pushed it all aside, to consider at a later date.

“Effortless…” I scoffed. “I wish.”

Jeff didn’t hear me. He was lost in his own world of letting the music take control of him. And I joined him.

When the song was over and we made our way back to the table, I sat down and listened as the guys chatted on and on, glaring at Aiden the entire time. The waitress had dropped off our drinks and I was slowly sucking my drink through the tiny straw when Jeff announced it was time for him to go.

“Unlike most people who work at the station, I have to be there tomorrow morning for a conference call. I just hope my hangover is tolerable.” He laughed as he put his jacket on. “Have a good night, you two. And I’ll see you guys at work again soon.”

Without another word, he was making his way through the crowd towards the front door.

I sat incredulous in my seat, across the table from Aiden, staring at Jeff’s back as he walked away. I was mortified that my old high school friend left me alone with such a heathen of a co-worker. I slowly looked over at Aiden, who had his head down and was concentrating on his drink. My jaw hung open in shock.

As I sat there, stunned, staring at my arch enemy from across the table, something inside of me softened. I realized that we had actually had a good time together that night, in spite of our rocky start since I started working at the station. It occurred to me that, in the span of that night, Aiden had apologized, asked if we could start over, and hadn’t said or done anything even slightly offensive to me all evening.

I watched him as his gaze floated around the dance club. Without my hatred glasses on, I noticed, just as I had the first night I saw him, that Aiden was actually a very good looking guy. He was tall and ruggedly handsome. Yet, the suits always gave him a bit of a polished look that contrasted his ruggedness. He really wasn’t as intimidating as he wanted to be. Jeff had said himself that Aiden was harmless.

Aiden caught my gaze and smiled before taking a sip of his drink. I could feel the blood rushing into my cheeks at being caught staring and I looked away.

There was a small pause before Aiden said, “so you danced with Jeff before he left. Does that mean I get a departing dance as well?”

I met his gaze and noticed something in his eyes. Was it acceptance? Playfulness? Willingness? Friendliness?

Just as I questioned whether or not he was kidding, Aiden stood up from the table and held out his hand to me. Oh, what the hell, I said to myself before placing my hand in his and allowing him to guide me onto the dance floor just as the last song had ended.

When a slow song started to play, we looked at each other in utter shock. Neither of us moved as the song started and other couples surrounded us on the dance floor.

For a moment, we just stood there, staring at each other as the song played on. And just when it started to turn awkward, Aiden reached out for me and pulled me closer, slowly swaying back and forth to the music.

I didn’t bother to fight against it. I allowed Aiden to guide me around the dance floor. And then my mind began to wander. I almost chuckled out loud at the thought that Aiden and I had despised each other so much in the beginning and now, here we were, slow dancing in each other’s arms.

I considered what he had said back at the staff party, about starting over. Did I want to? Did I care to? For the sake of work relationships, I decided it would probably make life a lot easier if we were civil to each other.

I suddenly realized that Aiden’s hands were on the small of my back, the most sensitive part of my body. I held back an instinctive shiver of excitement. It had been a long time since any man had touched me in the one spot that naturally set my body on fire.

And then the urges set in.

I took a step back from Aiden, who looked down at me as though he had done something wrong. I was embarrassed by my feelings. After all, it was Aiden. I looked down at my shoes, my cheeks on fire, and I whispered, “I have to go.”

He ushered me back to our table and helped me put my jacket on before he guided me out the front door. I stood on the curb as Aiden hailed a cab. Just as I was about to tell the driver where to go, Aiden jumped in the other side of the car.

“McInstosh Street please, driver.” Aiden was demanding and in control.

I put my hand down on the seat between us to steady myself as the driver took the first corner. Somehow, Aiden’s hand found mine. My breath caught in my throat as I felt the heat from his hand warming my own. But I couldn’t bring myself to look over at him, in fear that he would see the nervousness in my eyes.

Before I knew what was happening, I felt his arm reaching around my waist and pulling me closer to him in the backseat of the cab. “You feel cold,” he whispered.

Dizzy from all the drinks I had consumed, I leaned my head against his chest and closed my eyes. I could feel his chest rise and fall with his breath and I could hear his heart beating beneath the winter layers. Something inside my own body woke from a very long slumber.

My breathing began to match his and I laid the palm of my hand against his breastbone in feeling his every thought. My hand began to tingle as I opened my eyes and met his gaze. There was a hint of a smile on his face as I searched his face for answers. Should I throw the past few months out and allow us to start over? Should I give in to my urges? With Aiden…?

I let go of my inhibitions and my lips met his in the back seat of the cab for the rest of the ride to his apartment.

When the driver announced our arrival, a few minutes later, Aiden and I were reluctant to pull away from each other.

His hand cupped my face, “Come with me.”

Aiden had a natural charm about him that enticed me, like a moth to a flame. He may have been a little rough around the edges, but, once he softened, he was thoughtful, charming, romantic even, and tender. His gaze melted the ice around my cold heart and my entire being was on fire as I made my way out of the cab while Aiden paid the driver. He led me through the hallways of his apartment building and I stood behind him as he unlocked his front door. He ushered me in first and closed the door behind us as I shook the jacket off my shoulders.

He turned to me as I stood before him and, for a moment, we only stared at each other. He let his own jacket fall to the floor before he pulled me against him as he leaned back against the door.

And then pure animalistic instincts took over.

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