Falling for the First Time

Falling for the First Time

The illumination of her laptop screen left a soft blue wash against her milky-white skin as she peered around the screen's edge. Her fingers still slid over the keyboard, creating the light clickity-clack that always accompanied her productivity, but she wasn't paying attention to the words appearing on the screen. She would likely have to erase several lines of the report when she returned her attention to it, but it was worth the small setback to catch a glimpse of the man sitting behind the desk on the other side of the room. If the sound of her typing came to a halt, he would glance up from his perusal of the day's important documents and catch her watching him. She didn't want him to think she was dawdling.

He was handsome; she'd thought so since their first meeting. His skin was pale from lack of sun, though it seemed normal in comparison to her complexion. His midnight hair offered stark contrast where it framed his face. His eyes were like two darkly green gems. Every time he donned his black-rimmed reading glasses, stealing a glance in his direction became impossible to resist.

She didn't fear being told off if he caught her slacking. He knew she took her responsibilities seriously. She didn't want him to notice the admiration in her eyes. No man had ever drawn her the way he did; and she had known many men. He was strong, intelligent, confident… And kind. He was kind to me when I warranted no such generosity. Was that the reason longing had recently crept into those secret gazes? So few people had offered her kindness. In the beginning, she convinced herself her feelings were born of gratitude. That conviction was beginning to fail. She enjoyed being in his presence, even when it was just sharing the same office space while they worked. My world is emptier when he isn't in it. It's getting hard to ignore.

But he was a wealthy, well-known business man, and she was a street urchin, a gutter snipe, a whore. Women like me have no place in his world. This was no Cinderella story. Rags-to-Jonathan-Warden's-personal-assistant was the best she could hope for. There aren't any fairy godmothers in the real world. She forced herself to be content basking in his presence, appreciating his generosity while being careful never to take advantage of it.

He stirred, lifting a hand to remove the reading glasses. Cazella tore her eyes away and glued them back to the report on her laptop. Sure enough, she had to delete the last several lines to ensure the report read coherently. She felt the weight of her boss's deep green gaze settling on her, though she didn't dare glance up to see what he might be thinking.

"Cazella," his voice was accompanied by the rustle of papers as he set his work aside for the night. "You’ve worked hard enough for one day, I think. There's no need for you to rush to finish."

Her fingers fell still, though they remained poised over the center row of keys on the keyboard. She lifted her gaze to meet his cautiously, hoping all of her earlier feelings were well hidden. "It's no trouble, sir. I don't want the project to be held up." Even as she spoke, she realized he was probably tired. He works three times as hard as I do. She rushed to add, "I can finish at home," as she saved the file and folded the laptop closed. She gathered her personal belongings quickly, shoving them into her messenger bag so she could vacate his office. "Thanks again for sharing your office with me. I hope I haven't kept you too long."

"There's no rush," Jonathan Warden protested as she slung the bag over her shoulder.

As always, his kindness made her smile. "It's alright. I don't want to keep you from your rest. Goodnight, Mister Warden. Thanks again."

"Cazella…" The sound of his voice made her pause in the doorway. When she turned, she saw he'd risen from his chair, but hadn't yet moved from behind the desk.

"Yes?" she asked when he said nothing else. She assumed he had some other task he wished her to complete. He often hesitated, insisting he asked too much of her, but he'd given her a good home and a well-paying job. The least she could do in return was put in a few extra hours every now and then.

Jonathan shifted and for a moment she thought he might be uncomfortable. "If you wanted to show someone you cared for them," he started, the question catching her off guard, "how would you go about it?"

Her heart fell. Imagining him with someone else twisted in her stomach like a knife. Though she wasn't sure she qualified as a friend, the idea of him spending time with someone else hurt. Whoever it is, I hope they're interested in him and not just his money. But he hadn't asked her to be his protector. He could be with whoever he wanted. He'd asked her a simple question and it would be rude to keep him waiting.

"There are lots of ways," she said with a shrug, trying to sound nonchalant. "Most men just send flowers. I can't think of a woman who doesn't love to receive flowers."

She could tell he was considering her answer because that thoughtful look she so loved crossed his face. After a moment, he nodded. "Thank you."

She smiled again, though this time it was forced. She only hoped she could get out of his penthouse before she lost her composure completely. "Glad I could help. Goodnight, sir."

She hurried from his office, rushed through the hallway, and fled down the stairs that led to her apartment, hoping to get behind the locked door before her devastation betrayed itself.

*****

By the time she returned to the tower of glass and steel emblazoned with the large initials J and W the next day, she felt singed. The press had been particularly uncooperative that morning. Though she’d taken her usual precautions, generous amounts of sunscreen and a large, stylish straw hat to shade her from the sun, they’d kept her too long under its merciless rays. She didn't think she was burned; her skin would already be bright red if that were the case. Unfortunately, singed was a familiar feeling, one she was all too used to enduring. She was tired and her muscles ached, as if she were burned internally. She turned her key in her lock and pushed the door open, sleep the only thought on her mind.

The kitchen wasn't the way she left it. A riot of colour greeted her eyes. Blue, yellow and violet covered her pale-grey counter. Bright shocks of red and green covered the hardwood table. The air was full of the sweet scent of flowers. She felt as though she walked through her door into a garden, though the sun remained blocked by the apartment's sturdy walls, shining dimly through the shaded windows. She smelled tulips and lilacs as she took her first awestruck steps into the room. She caught sight of roses and lilies as she closed the door. She stood staring for several minutes before she managed to drop her purse, kick off her high-heels and venture further into the apartment. She found her living room in a similar state; flower arrangements on the coffee table, each end table, and even atop the TV. She lingered, again staring in shock, before hurrying back to her bedroom. The largest flower arrangement of all sat on the table beside her bed. A single red-rose lay across her pillow, adorned with a ribbon holding a card to the delicate green stem. Feeling numb as she crossed the room, Cazella lowered herself to the bed, half-expecting the flower to disappear when she reached for it. Did I fall asleep on the drive over? This has to be a dream.

Careful of the thorns, Cazella lifted the rose into her lap, slid the card free of the stem and opened it. The scrawl was familiar. She saw it every day. The card read: An inadequate display of my gratitude, and was signed simply: Jonathan Lazarus Warden.

As her fingers traced the carefully crafted letters, tears stung her eyes. Cazella sank down onto the bed, her blue curls cascading over the silken sheets, the rose cradled close to her chest, though she was careful not to crush the pastel petals. How could I be the woman Jonathan's interested in? What could have drawn his eyes to me?

She didn’t know what to do. This must be some sort of mistake. Should she call him? Perhaps she should call the flower company and correct the mistake before he realized his gift had gone astray. She squeezed her eyes closed, fighting the sting of tears, willing herself to wake up.

She was almost asleep when a sharp knock on the door startled her awake. The card was still clutched in her hand. The flowers still stood like colorful sentinels as she hurried through the apartment to answer the door. Not wanting to keep her visitor waiting, she skipped her usual check through the peep-hole and jerked the door open.

Her jaw nearly fell open when she saw her employer standing in the hallway. Her first instinct was to slam the door in his face to hide the flowers. Luckily, she caught herself, stepped back, and stammered for him to come inside.

Cool and calm as always, Jonathan Warden strode through the door, closing it in his wake. He made no attempt to move beyond the kitchen. Instead his eyes skimmed the counters, a small hint of a smile brushing his lips while he surveyed his handiwork.

"I see you received my gift," he said, sounding pleased.

"Ah... yes," she stammered, her cheeks beginning to burn. The crimson blush would be painfully obvious against her colourless skin. "It's quite a surprise..."

The amusement faded from Jonathan's face quickly. A frown tugged at the edges of his lips. "You don't like them?"

If it was possible, her cheeks burned brighter. "What?" she asked, startled. "Of course I do! I mean, they're beautiful. I… I always sort of wanted a garden but I could never spend that much time in the sun. Also, this is the first time someone's given me the entire contents of one."

He seemed pleased by her response, his smile returning. It was only his obvious satisfaction at seeing the flowers in her apartment that convinced her the delivery hadn't been a mistake. She still wasn't sure about it being a dream though.

"I'm glad you like them," Jonathan said.

"I love them," she said softly. "When you said you wanted to do something for someone, I never imagined it would turn out to be me," she admitted. "Who else is worthy of such a gift?" he asked as though the answer were obvious. The fire in her cheeks renewed. Jonathan pretended not to notice. "Have you eaten yet?" he asked, perhaps so that she wouldn't have to answer his previous question.

With flowers occupying every available inch of counter space, it would have been difficult for her to prepare anything even if she tried. Since the answer to her employer's question was therefore obvious, she assumed he was trying to be polite. "I was just laying down," she said, shaking her head. "I didn't feel my best when I got home from the conference-"

"Are you alright?" he interrupted, concern evident on his face.

"I'm fine," she reassured him with a small smile. "The press just kept me longer than I expected today. I feel a little sun-singed is all. I don't think I managed to burn, so I'll be fine after a good night's sleep."

"And a good dinner," he added. "Will you join me?"

For a moment, she was so stunned she could only blink up at him. "I don't want to impose..."

"You wouldn't be." A reassuring smile graced his lips and this time it lingered. Her heart fluttered in her chest to see his face lit up like that. He smiles so rarely. It felt as though a flock of butterflies had just been set loose in her stomach. "I'll order from downstairs. I'm told you rarely take advantage of the food service."

Cazella shook her head again, nervous and jittery with excitement. "I don't feel right," she admitted. "I don't like to take advantage. I can manage by myself."

"Nonsense," Jonathan waved a hand in dismissal. "That's what it's there for. And I would be very happy if you would join me for dinner tonight."

Her knees felt weak. All this time I worried I bothered him, tagging along on business trips, lingering in his office after hours. Could it be he enjoyed those stolen moments too?

"If it will make you happy," she teased lightly. His smile was infectious; it easily split her lips as excitement finally overcame nerves. "Just give me a moment to change into something more appropriate."

*****

Several hours later, she arrived at her door again, this time escorted by the businessman. It felt odd to walk with her arm linked through his at the elbow. Odd and amazing and wonderful at the same time. She drank in every moment of it; a night like this might never come again. A night shared between friends, relaxing and chatting over delicious food and vintage wine. She'd learned much about the man she'd admired for so long from a distance.

She still felt giddy when they paused in front of her door and she slid her hand free of Jonthan's arm to retrieve her keys from her purse. She smiled up at him as her fingers searched for the key ring, answering his last question by promising to look after herself. She had a notoriously bad habit of allowing her health to slip in favor of work; a habit her employer must have noted.

"Thank you," she said. "I had a wonderful time tonight."

"I'm glad," he said, offering her another of his rare smiles. She'd seen more of them in one night than in all the time she'd known him. His smile made hers grow wider. "We should do it again," he added and she realized, as she pulled the keys free of her purse, they were still standing close to each other. As she inhaled, she caught his spicy scent. Must be his cologne… She'd never noticed it before. Nor had she noticed the way his black hair fell over his shoulders or the way his green eyes sparkled in the moonlight…

"I would like that," she murmured, not realizing she was leaning closer to him as she spoke. "I would like that a lot."

But he was leaning closer to her at the same time. For a moment, they moved as one. As she felt the warmth of his breath against her face, his hand brushed her back and his arm drew her closer. She wasn't trapped. She could easily have wriggled away if she desired. Instead, she invited him further, lifting herself onto her toes, her free hand resting on his chest. Then he closed the final distance between them and pressed his lips to hers. She answered in kind, returning the kiss.

Cazella had never been struck by lightning before, but she assumed this was how it felt. An electric tingle ran the length of her spine. Her knees wobbled and she leaned closer to Jonathan for support. Her heart pounded in her ears and the butterflies resumed their exploration of her stomach. She'd never felt this strong a connection to someone before. No one else had ever turned her insides to jelly.

Long after they parted and she stumbled past all the flowers to crawl beneath the soft, comfortable covers of her bed, Cazella tasted the kiss lingering on her lips. As she drifted to sleep, inhaling the apartment's sweet scent, she swore she still felt tiny electric jolts up and down her spine, left over from that single, all-encompassing lightning strike summoned the moment Jonathan Warden's lips touched hers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *