Excerpt for Substrate by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.



Substrate



~~~



David Manoa




Copyright 2017 David Manoa

Smashwords Edition

v.2.2


~~~~



The author asserts the moral right to be identified as

the author of this work.



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, information storage and retrieval systems, or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from the author, with the exception of a book reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.


~~~~~~







Hunter International

12pm


In the open office of Hunter International, Jared Brown sits at his desk and stares at his girlfriend's phone. All the office employees leave for lunch. Jared browses through her messages. Two of his work colleagues, Kit Nickson and Colt Gardener group around him. They watch as Jared grinds his jaw when he obtains the number of the man cheating with her.

He sits up, eyes narrow, he clenches Sherie's phone tight. “I'm gonna kill this motherfucker!” Jared says in his deep, gravelly voice. He dials the man's number.

Kit snatches his cellphone and Jared stands.

“Give it back Kit!” Jared said.

“Don't do this man.” Kit says, “The guy is not worth it.”

Jared is an imposing figure, about six foot five or six depending if he wears boots. He weighs 220 pounds, his muscle-bound frame moves forward. He ties back his dark brown shoulder length hair and gets in Kits face.

“Give it here bro. I'm not going to ask you again.” He hisses.

Kit smoothes the light stubble on his face. He squeezes his eyes. “I'm sure it's a misunderstanding.”

“Yeah, I'm sure it is.” Jared takes back his phone and dials. “For him.”

His conversation was brief, the man gives his address, and he sets out to confront the man cheating on his girlfriend, Sherie Southam...

An hour passes and Sherie arrives, she fishes through her bag again and checks her desk drawers. She picks up her desk phone to dial her missing cellphone, and she scratches her head when Kit and Nick fill her in...

***

Jared Brown


I never asked for this. I head out into the carpark of Hunter International, my knees crackle and pop as if I'm a man twice my age. The years of boxing training and intense competition left me with a legacy of permanent aches and pains.

The carpark tarmac is riddled with puddles. Leaves and acorns from the surrounding oak trees are scattered everywhere like a hurricane passed through. I look up at the sky as dark gray storm clouds gather around the city, ready to unleash a pounding. The sun shined briefly before it faded out, like twilight in the middle of the day.

I unlock the doors to my Black Ford Mustang and hunker in. The scent of leather and pine fresh does nothing to quell my rage. I lower my window, and I press the ignition button. All eight cylinders fire. My hand on the gear stick my fingers twitch as if it's a trigger on a gun... The engine rumbling, the throaty exhaust blows out a puff of soot as I rev it a few times. I flinch, with no doubt I'm not regretting what I'm going to do. The cold breeze enters in the car as I punch in the address into the navigation screen the cheater gave. Good… his apartment is less than five minutes away.

It's gloomy now. I see lightning webbing above. Then seconds pass I hear thunder booming from a distance... two employees coming back from lunch scramble for shelter, the freezing rain hits the skin on my forearm like icicles. “Pita... I'm coming for you.”


I take the motorway heading to the city, traffic flows nicely. I veer to the side as some asshole on a motorbike blasts past me with a cop car chasing him. Sherie's phone rings and I recognize her direct dial number from the office. I ignore it when minutes later my phone chimes again, and it's Kit.

“What?” I answer.

“Jared!” the voice is Sherie's. I hang up. I see the stop lights from the car in front of me light up. I check the rearview mirror and adjust it, seeing the red light coat my face.

I arrive at Pita's penthouse complex. It is a fifteen level building built on a hill located in the swanky suburb of Parnell. The apartments face the Auckland waterfront and Rangitoto Island. I see the entrance to the underground parking, and it starts to pour aggressively with rain. I drive in and park up. I get out and sit on the bonnet. I wait for this asshole. Water trickles in from the incline, carrying with it a coat of oil and soot. A couple of rats scuttle past squeaking as they are being chased by a stray black cat.

It pours harder, even more, the sound deafening. It carries blistering wind that causes me to squint. I look across to southern motorway. The stream of cars slow, their tail lights lit up like a domino effect, adjusting to the harsh conditions. Two fire trucks pull into the shoulder lane, the echo of the sirens and the red flash from the lights sear into my madness.

I pull out my pack of smokes and flick out a single cigarette. I light up and take a deep pull, then to exhale to see the smoke drift up to the flickering fluorescent lamps.

Reflecting on my life, I take another drag from my cigarette the head rush makes me squeeze my eyes, sometimes it would calm my anger... many times not. My dear Sherie was too good to be true. She always was... I examine the cigarette, I roll the filter between my index and thumb to watch the last of the ashes drop and drift to the ground. Sherie told me about my self-destructive habit, me and the cigarettes are the same.

I hear her phone ring again. Then I see him...

Pita the man cheating on Sherie is driving a gray Lamborghini. I see his face. Long jaw. Black hair, sides faded with a neat comb-over. I stamp out my smoke, I taste the bitterness in my mouth. Spit pools and he gets out. He walks to me, the pace slow. Measured. Cautious. He's dressed in a black suit with white shirt and black tie coming across like a preacher. Freezing wind blows from behind him carrying his citrus scented cologne. I spit. Then stand, towering over this piece of shit that is fucking my girlfriend. My fists clench. My body tenses like a coiled up spring.

I say, “Are you Pita Tupou?”

He nods.

WHACK!

***

Sherie Southam


“He hung up on me!” I turn to Kit Nickson, he shrugs his shoulders then finger combs his hair, then he rubs his eyes.

Kit says, “Man oh man! Drama city... I know this is none of my business but why the hell do you have this guy's number?”

I sit down, then stare at the photo of Jared and I on my desk. I squeeze my eyes.

“Long story.” I sigh.

“Well give me the executive summary.” Kit says, “Short story.”

“Jared freaked out when I told him met a gigolo.”

“What!” Kit gasps, “Like wow... dating a gigolo! I didn't think you were the type. When?”

“No. Let me rephrase that, I brought it up over pillow talk. We didn't date. It was a sequence of events that brought us together a long time ago.”

“Interesting you say it like that. You kiss the gigolo?”

“No.”

Kit looks around then whispers, “You... erm, sleep with the gi..go..lo?”

“No.”

Kit sighs, “You telling me the truth?”

“Yes.” I say, “I mean who gets hung up on stuff that happens in the past?”

“Depends on what was done.” Kit said, brow raised.

“I told you, Kit!” I say.

“You said two things. The absolute truth I will never know.”

Shaun Baker, our I.T guy, popped up like a cardboard cutout in children's book from behind the partitions. His ginger hair with a large comb-over that covered his ever-increasing bald spot. Bushy eyebrows and beady hazel eyes. Topped off with square rimmed glasses. He was the type of guy that joked around more than he did work. I was surprised when the first phase of redundancies went through, he survived the cut. He brings his chair in and swivels around like a child.

“Did you suck his dick?” Shaun said. His voice irritating, high-pitched and loud.

I peer around, relieved no one heard. Keyboards are tapping, phones are ringing. Phew. “Excuse me?” I say, “What are you talking about?”

“The gigolo you were seeing,” Shaun says, smirking. “And don't play dumb cupcake. I heard everything. And I mean everything. Ha-ha.”

I facepalmed knowing our resident gossip king caught wind of my plight.

I say, “Gosh you are such a douche bag, Shaun. Go back to your hole and fix our damn servers this is the fifth time my excel spreadsheet has frozen on me!”

Shaun adjusts his glasses, “Ah, I'll get to it. I'm like flat out dude. After my smoko perhaps, I have to finish the backups today for the audit.”

That attitude made my blood boil. The fact I've been pestering Shaun all week.

“I'm seriously sick of your cavalier attitude to this Shaun. Fix my blemin computer now!”

Everyone in the office halts. Like you could hear a pin drop. Gosh, I hate open plan offices. Shaun's face flushes red, and now Cade Hunter our CEO opens his meeting room office door to see what the commotion is about. Shaun the cheeky bastard pulls the lever on his seat making it lower, to hide with the top of his head in line with the partition.

Shaun whispers, “Okay. Okay. Cupcake you don't have to shout. I'll fix it.”

“Good.”

Shaun uses his feet to push back out into his row when he is stopped. The back of his chair hits Jared's knees. Shaun spins around and looks up. “Whoa. You are one ugly fugger.”

Jared looks all disheveled. His long hair all matted with dirt and his black collared shirt is missing a few buttons, gosh it didn't take much to figure it out. So mad I stood, taking his arm then dragged him into one of the meeting rooms.

I say, “What the hell did you do to Pita!”

“Nothing.” He says, pinching his throat.

“And where is my phone?” Jared reached into his back pocket and slid my phone across the table. He scratched his beard then clutched the back of his neck. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Is there something you want to say?”

“You were right.” He pauses, to get any sense of emotion or honesty out of Jared is like getting blood out of a stone. An entirely different manner when it is his anger. More seconds pass, he becomes restless and fidgets with his hands, my patience wears thin just as I was about to open my mouth... He coughs, “I fucked up. My bad.”

“Sheesh, Jared. Why can't you trust me?”

He stares at the table his finger rubbing the pen mark. “I had to confront him. I just had to. I had to see it with my own eyes. Man to Man.”

“Such macho bullshit! So is this the way our relationship will be? You second guessing everything I say or do?”

He looks up, “Course not.”

“Jared, this whole relationship sucks with the way you are behaving. I think it would be better if we went our own separate ways.”

Jared shook and stood to hold me around the waist. “Please baby. I don't want that. I'm so sorry. I have a hard time trusting people.”

“Sheesh, Jared we have dated for a long time. You know everything about me. I trust you wholeheartedly, why do you find it so it so difficult to reciprocate by now?”

Jared looked down, “It's hard to trust people. Even the one I love. I'm not used to sharing my past with anyone, I've done everything on my own.”

“In all honesty, I really don't know who you are. Your childhood. Your life. You give me all these one-word answers avoiding your past, and you fricking expect me to understand you?”

“Take a seat, Sherie. I'll tell you.”

“No, it's too late for that. One year! Jared!” I say, “I think if you aren't going to put trust in me now. You never will. Stuff this.”

He grabbed my arm when I flung it aside, “Sherie wait!”

I opened the door when it hit Shaun Baker right on the forehead. I went home so pissed off Jared.

***

Jared Brown


Love slipping away in my fingertips... My eyes flicked to the door watching Sherie walk out, and Shaun is holding his palm on his forehead as he stumbled in like the town drunk. Shaun shut the door behind him and sat across me. I clenched my fist then slammed it against the table. Damn it! Why do I always mess things up? I know now as an adult my childhood had some bearing on my behavior, but I couldn't share it with Sherie not because I didn't trust her, but because the memories are too painful.

I spent most my adult life scraping that shit out of my head, only now I regret not telling Sherie. I look up at the whiteboard to see Shaun get up write something. This bloke is always a clown, yet to me, he is my best friend. I read the message RUOK? As he behaves like a mime. He adjusts his glasses then sits back down.

I say, “I'm ok.” A standard response to my world full of guilt.

“Is it true?” he says trying to fish out more info. If I have to be honest now, I may as well start with this guy.

“Yes,” I say.

His right brow raised as if he was a detective interrogating me for wrongs done. “Yes as in Sherie is cheating on you with a male prostitute?”

“No,” I say short. Sharp. Terse.

Shaun shrugs, “So it's you then that cheated with the guy?”

“Shut up dickhead.”

“Jokes.” Shaun says as he takes off his glasses to clean them “From the way you are looking it sounds like you gave the other guy a beating. Who threw down first?”

“Well, I came off second best.”

Shaun burst out laughing. “You? Big boy? 6'5 hunk of Hawaiian muscle. Get outta here!”

I said nothing. Tempted to add embellishments to what happened. I stand to wipe off the words off the board. I look at my watch. It's 5 pm.

Shaun says, “Is it Beer o'clock? Let's go to the tavern and have a glass of Guinness to ease those bruises. I heard some juicy gossip you gotta hear about, maybe a yarn or two about your problems if you shout?”

“You couldn't have said it any better.” I say, “The beer that is.”

***

Reilly Tavern


We left the office, and we walk down the road to Reilly Tavern, The weather is wintry, still. The cold breathes through my clothes into my bones. I wrap my black woolen scarf around my neck when Shaun struts beside me. I look ahead to see a group of females at one of the tables outside. There is an outdoor gas heater and umbrella at each table. I glance and see at the table next to it, is Sherie, Michelle, Kit, and Colt. I try to avoid being seen, but a big bastard like me always attracts attention.

Shaun says, “Let's go sit with the guys?”

“Looks like there's no space.”

“We can squeeze in surely?”

“Didn't you want to listen to my problems?”

“Umm free beer?”

“C’mon you got the pay rise…”

Shaun is distracted by the influx people, “I came here for the women.” he says when he licks his lips to the brunette that wriggles past her.

I roll my eyes.

“Jokes.” Shaun smiles, “Let's sit at the bar then. You shouting my drinks if you gonna moan about your problems. Tequila it is if you are gonna cry.”

We sit at the bar right in front of the beer taps. The scent of beer makes my mouth water, and impending kick of the alcohol to soothe my mindfuck is what I need now.

I look ahead at the collection of hard liquor, stacked neatly side by side. You could hardly see the mirrored backing. Danny, the barman, stares at us then glances outside to our work colleagues.

Danny says, “What will it be kids?”

Shaun says, “Guinness for the Irishman here and a double-shot tequila for me.”

I turn to Shaun who raises a brow.

Shaun shrugs, “You said your shouting?”

“Ugh, whatever.” I say, “Put it on my tab, Danny.”

Shaun turns around to scope out the talent while I stare at my glass being filled. Plonked in front of me, the foam spills over on my glass of Guinness. You're getting sloppy Danny. Sloppy. Shaun turns around rubbing his hands as his shot glass fills. He lifts his shot glass up.

“Cheers.”

“To what?” I ask.

“To better times.”

The glasses clink, and I drink the glass of Guinness to the last of its foam.

Shaun shakes his head violently like some kid on crack. His shot of tequila probably destroyed a few brain cells not like he needs them. He clears his throat and squeezes his eyes.

He says, “Now I want to down to the nitty-gritty. You think it's done and dusted with the missus?” he says, chasing his tequila shot with a beer.

“I don't know.” I say, “She said in her own words that she thinks it be better if we go own separate ways.”

Shaun raises a brow, “She said think.”

“Huh?” Puzzled, I stare at him when my eyes avert to the bruise on his head. “How the heck could you hear through the door in the boardroom? The door is at least four inches thick.

“I may not be the most attractive to look at. But sheesh these ears here, hear everything.” Shaun says, pulling out his ears that make him look like Yoda. “So as I was saying Sherie stated that she thinks... Again I'm pausing on the word meaning she is evaluating it.”

“I know her, she doesn't sit on the fence with shit. She works in absolutes, yes or no. Live or die. 1 or 0.”

“She ain't a computer mate! Stop looking too deep into things. Let her sleep on it. Give her space then borrow my knee pads.”

“What! Why do I need kneepads?”

“For all the begging and groveling you'll be doing. Ha-ha!” Shaun cracks up laughing, like a hyena. Glad I know someone who can laugh at his own jokes.

I said, “Well bring them in then, I guess they worked for you when you were pleading to keep your job.” I laughed, “I don't think you were begging either...” I poke my tongue out through my cheek.

“Ha-ha F You! Man, I'll give you that one smart-ass.”


I look across to catch a stare from Sherie, I wave to her when she turns away.

“Whoa, she is angry,” Shaun said.

I finish my glass and ask Danny for another.

“Argh fuck her. She's giving me a headache. Let's change the subject huh? What this about some gossip you heard?”

Shaun rubs his hands again, making me think he would be better suited to a career as a paparazzi. He shifts his bar stool over. “Okay listen up, promise me you won't tell anyone right?”

“I won't. Just tell me dick.”

“Okay so because I work in I.T. I get to see the messages that come through the email server. So I intercepted one from Louisa.”

“Our Human Resources Manager?” I say, “Jesus what are you doing reading company emails! You can fired for that shit.”

“Meh. I don't care. As long as you don’t nark.” he says, “Turns out you guys are getting a regional sales manager or director or something.”

“What!” I say “Bullshit! What for? To hold my dick?” Shaun laughs as I take another sip from my beer. “Seriously bro, Hunter International is turning into a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

“Yeah well in my case I've become the chief and the Indian.”

“About time you lazy bastard. Bet ya ass, all you did before was hide in the server room and watch porn.”

Shaun went red. Guilty as charged. I say, “Well go on Redtube premium subscriber, what this guy's name?”

“Tom Horde. All I know he's an Englishman from Surrey in the U.K. He's coming in for an interview next week.”

“What do you know about him?”

“He was here in this meeting room on heaps of skype calls with Sherie and Louisa. Sadly Louisa pulled the blinds on me when I peeked in, but I checked out his Facebook profile, the man is a fancy dresser. Handsome too.”

“Why would you stalk his profile? Bro that is creepy.”

“I heard the girls gossiping about it, so I had to see what the fuss is for myself.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, he's black close-cropped hair, teeth that are like white, Hollywood white a designer beard you know Miami vice don Johnson looking. Brown eyes and tann-”

“I mean, what was his job in Surrey?”

“Huh, I dunno. Some manager probably.”

“Man, you're hopeless.” I say, “Hey when was that skype call?”

“Calls… there was a few with Louisa and Sherie. A couple of weeks ago?” Shaun says, “Why?”

“Damn it! That must be the voice I heard. Who I thought it was Pita.”

Shaun paused, angling his head as he went into deep thought with a booze fogged mind. The fact of the matter was the voice was Tom's not Pita. Talking about jumping to conclusions and getting shafted two ways to Kansas. Too late now... But it got me thinking why Sherie didn't tell me about Tom before all this stuff went down. Why?

My fate seemed to change when Kit and Colt left the table, leaving a gap for Shaun and I to join. I nudged Shaun, who was looking through the empty shot glass trying to give me a hint.

I said, “C'mon, let's go join the girls.”

***

Sherie Southam


“Oh god no. Don't come over here!”

“Who?” Michelle Cinders says,

“Fisty cuffs Jared and douchebag Shaun.”

Michelle rolled her eyes, “Should we go?”

“No.” I say, “Let's see what they do.”

“Sherie, I never thought I would see you two, come to an end like this. What has it been almost 10 months?”

“Yeah, more than that now. A year.” I say, “I was a bit disappointed he forgot our anniversary, what pissed me off was he was indifferent about it. I know the exact day we met, even the hour. 7.59pm to be precise. I'm still undecided if I want to break up. But he's hanging by a thread.”

I flicked my eyes to Michelle, who flinched when Jared sat next to her and Shaun next to me. Jared pulls out a cigarette when reach I across snatch it.

“I told you to quit that filthy habit,” I said.

Jared tapped Michelle on the shoulder. He says, “I heard we have a new starter?”

“Who?” I say.

Jared freezes. His eyes widen.

He says, “The English guy, Tom.”

I felt a shock in my system. How the hell did he know about him? I turned to Shaun who sat up with a smug look on face. The douchebag must have eavesdropped.

“Oh him,” I say. My mind tried to think of something else. Jared leaned back in his chair, arms folded. Michelle stood and took Shaun's arm.

Michelle said, “C'mon Shaun let me buy you a drink.”

Shaun smirks, “Na. Na. I have my glass right here, and I’m enjoying the live entertainment.” He leans forward when Michelle pulls him off the seat. “Hey!”

Michelle and Shaun head to the bar and Jared looks on as if I owe him an apology.

“I’m still pissed off at you.”

Jared unfolds his arms, he smoothed his face and took a deep breath. I sat with fascination to see a side of him I never experienced since I dated him. He was always my protector, Strong. A manly man but on the flip side, his emotions were like diamonds embedded deep within the thick coal. It disappointed me that the only type of pressure is when you put your relationship on the line, he is forced to come forward. I mean I've dated this guy for more than twelve months, not once have I ever seen the man cry. Jared is repeatedly blinking, then takes a sip from his beer.

“C'mon spit it out, Jared.”

“Ok! Ok! Shit woman. I overreacted when you told me about that guy Pita. It was in your past, so I get that. I got hung up on things you went through in the past which is dumb. But that shouldn’t matter because I'm with you now...”

I paused when Jared put his hands on mine.

He said, “I hope?”

I exhaled feeling his touch his large hand engulfed mine, his thumb gently smoothing under his wrist.

“I'm so sorry Sherie, can we start again? I really don't want this to end. We've been through so much in these 9 months.”

I raised my left brow. “Excuse me? Nine?”

Jared looks up “A year?” He lifts my hands and kisses it “Shit sorry babe, I'm bad with dates.”

I retract, shaking my head looking at this guy. I mean one year in, the wheels are starting to fall off in our relationship. I sat for a moment and stared. Pondered and thought. Should I give this idiot another chance?

***

Jared Brown


Outside, the gas heater burns above transferring heat on my sweaty face. My palms are clammy, held together under the table. I waited with baited breath for Sherie to make a decision. She is so hard to read for a woman, with my job in sales you pick up on body language cues where the buyer is swaying but with her? I'm clueless. My eyes shift to Michelle and Shaun at the bar. They look on both knowing my relationship is on the line by motormouth Shaun.

Sherie says, “Alright... But you have to make it up to me!”

I exhaled, feeling like I won the lottery. I stood and took Sherie into my arms and gave her kiss. People around us cheered, I didn't realize there was an audience. Sherie covered her face when I took her arm. I whispered “C'mon, let me make it up to you... The way you always want it.”

We left and headed home, but I still had the dull feeling.

Why did she not tell me about Tom?

***


We flagged a taxi to Sherie's house. Sitting in the back of the taxi the urges deep within me started to boil. My hand smoothed on her thigh, squeezing it. Her eyes widened seeing that twinkle in it that made her know, what was ahead.

I look to the window to it starting to rain. Although we were stuck in traffic, my mind imagined being snuggled together in her Queen sized bed. The black velvet headboard. The unique arrangement of pillows, I couldn't wait to be there. Her Scent. Her warmth. Making love to her again and again.

I raised my hand to wipe away the condensation to see her apartment. In the distance, her balcony light switches on from the timing sensor. Her bedroom was on the other side. She had sliding doors that opened up into her private garden. I remembered the last time taking her from behind as the scent of roses drifted in. I turned to her and kissed her cheek, anticipation went through me.

Sherie said, “Hey about Tom he’s...”

“Forget about it,” I whisper, kissing her neck. “You can tell me, all about him in the morning.”

“Ok.”

We arrived at Sherie's apartment, she had a narrow hallway with the spare room on my right and her bedroom to the left. She led me left and looking ahead is her bed and the garden behind it. The rain eased falling in a soothing tone. Sherie walked past me to put her bag on the chair then came back to me, wrapping her arms around my waist.

To my left in her room is her bathroom ensuite. Her curved glass double sized shower box, heated floors. We drifted inside, and my lips streamed kisses on her collarbone. Sherie looked up the heat lamps on shined light on her. My neck is fatiguing. I sweep away her things on the vanity lifting her up. Her legs wrap around me as I kiss, slow and gentle just way she likes it.

“Sherie... Whatever happens good or bad, you know I will always love you.”

“I know.” She moaned as my fingers began to undo her blouse. I lifted it off exposing her bra. My hand cradled her back before her bra fell to the heated floor.

She whispered. “Wouldn't the bed be better?”

The insatiable lust for her caught me, I lifted off my top. I began to undo my jeans, I was too impatient... Then when I saw her beautifully arced breasts. My cock began to twitch and thicken. I knew well, this kind of need-based sex wouldn't last long. I shouldn't be so selfish and pleasure Sherie, before fulfilling my own needs.

I stepped back, to switch on the shower. The steam began to rise and fill the room like smoke. So thick that almost obscured the view of her. She hopped off the vanity, and I slid her dress down to her ankles. Kissing her thigh... Kissing her tummy before standing up straight, my cock pressed against her. I lean in kissing her deeply. I led her into the shower letting the water fall on us. I took her shampoo and slathered it in her hair. Watching soapy suds move through her hair down to her luscious body.

I massaged her breasts when suddenly there was a noise.

RING RING

Sherie jolts and steps out of the shower as if switched the water to cold.

She says, “Sorry I gotta take this it's, Tom.”

“What the hell!”

“I forgot about the time difference. I was going to tell you what was going on.”

Sherie grabbed a towel and dried her body then took out a white bathrobe, and I followed her into her bedroom. Her laptop was connected to the TV. She stopped in front of me.

“Jared can you be quiet for a moment. Tom is naturally charming, so don't jump to any conclusions. I will explain everything. Please shut up.”

I watched as she pressed the button on her laptop to answer the Skype call. I peeked and saw the guy on the TV screen. Sherie turned the laptop to face him. I waved frantically to point at the screen as the camera was facing her breasts. Tom moved forward obviously intrigued by the titty show.

Sherie says, “Sorry about that, I was in the shower.”

“Oh, apologies for the inconvenience my dear. I can call back later.”

“No that's ok. Have you made a decision?”

I crept to her chair on the opposite side out of the webcam view to watch the TV while they had their Skype conversation. Shaking my head at cockblocker Tom.

Tom said, “Sherie, I tried to get hold of Louisa to tell you both, but she wouldn't answer so I here I am. I gave your remuneration package such deep thought. I must confess to uproot and live in your country is an attraction for me, even more now since I am going to work with a talented and attractive individual such yourself, Sherie. So I formally accept your offer as Sales Director for Hunter international.”

Attractive… the fuck? Sales Director. The hell. I sat back in my chair thinking that if this bastard will now be my boss. Sherie flicked her eyes knowing too well I'm gonna explode. I stood making my way over slowly, Sherie pulled the laptop closer, waving her hands out for me to go back. She rushed Tom and congratulated him ending the call.

I looked at the black screen of the TV then walked past her to the sliding door to smell the roses. The roses I remembered that were there were gone, just bulbs and petals. The red and yellow petals all scattered to the ground like all my hopes and dreams.

I said, “When does he start?”

“Next Monday.”

“My new boss huh?”

“No. Not really.”

I turned to face her, she took the towel to dry her hair.

I said, “So this was the guy you were talking to behind my back.”

“Jared I couldn't tell you because Louisa got me to sign a confidentiality agreement.”

“Fuck that. This is me. Your boyfriend.”

“Look it was tricky because of all the restructure and redundancies. It would have been a conflict of interest if you knew and word got out.”

“You know, I wouldn't have told anyone right?”

“I don't know that....”

“Well damn. Here you are giving me shit for not trusting you, and now you do the fucking same. Doesn't that sound like hypocrisy to you?”

“Look let me explain. The bosses didn't want anyone to know. They wanted someone external to come in and review our sales processes.”

“Why? I'm doing fine. My sales are up 10-15% year on year.”

“You're right, but remember as a team you as a group are down 40% from last year. There was no point in cutting staff if there wasn't an initiative to increase sales across the board. Something drastic had to be done. Tom Horde has a proven record of turning companies around.”

“Fuck this guy, how does he think he can turn things around?”

“By working with me specifically to identify opportunities for growth. That's why I said he wasn't technically your boss. You are just servicing a territory, but Tom may decide to hand accounts to you to manage.”

“Great so we got those kinds of guys one who suck dick to get the business, so we do all the work.”

Sherie shook her head, “Gosh you can be so narrow-minded. Pull your head out of your ass Jared,”

I stopped my self-destructive thought pattern from getting me more into the shit. I sat down on the bed and took her towel cooling my face off. I squeezed my eyes.

I sighed, “Sorry. I was jealous. You know I wanted to apply for that position. I heard rumors from Kit that job would be created. Everyone in the sales team had me in the running for the next promotion.”

“I know. But Cade said you were doing too much of a good job that they wanted you to stay where you are. Louisa said the Role wouldn't be advertised internally either.”

“Well so much for career progression. I guess I hit that infamous glass ceiling they talk about here.”

“No way. The bosses think your role will evolve with the new workload. I kinda felt weird to praise you as well when everyone knows we are seeing each other. Tom is the company's hope of turning things around.”

“I guess things will get interesting when he starts next week.” I say, “God I hope he is not a dickhead.”

Sherie smiles, “You never know you two might get on.”

***

Next Monday


Normally on a Monday, I would be on my normal call cycle heading down the line to Hamilton. But the bosses wanted everyone in the office to meet and greet Tom. I sat at my desk looking around at how the girls we so dolled up. Jesus, it was as if a celebrity was coming. I glanced my watch, and it was 9 am. I noticed Sherie absent from her desk.

I felt now was the time to take things further in our relationship, now that I narrowly missed the bullet. I wanted her to live with me, or vice versa. I look the calendar with all the months crossed off the year. Here I am anxious to see the year out until Christmas. I take a pen to cross off the month counting back to the time I met Sherie. Damn it, I should have done something for our anniversary gift. I'll fix that one. That's for damn sure.

I admit, perhaps I took our relationship for granted, given that I was on the road a bit. My time with Sherie was always fun, enjoyable times. Now that the so-called honeymoon period is over, now I got think about my future with her. And it's gonna be bright.

Shaun opens up my blinds and sunlight streaks in, I hold my palm up squinting as if the light hit me like a vampire.

“Shut the blinds, Shaun, it's too bright!”

“Look Jared in the car park! It's Tom.”

“Ah fuck him.”

“Look again he's with Sherie and Louisa.”

I jolted like a man having a cold shower. I leaned against the window to see Tom take out his suitcase from Sherie's car.

“Whoa,” Shaun says, “Is that what I think it is.”

“No, you dick. Sherie told me she had to pick him up from the airport.”

“He could have taken a taxi.”

He had a point, I shrugged, “I dunno, cost?”

Shaun shook his head, “Damn... Jared, you are dumber than you look. Wow never seen those girls so dressed up too! Kit! Come over here, look at what your woman is wearing. Ooo wee!”

I turn behind me to see Kit Nickson come over, he too was dating someone in the company. Louisa. But he had his own issues since Louisa was a lot older. Not too sure where they are at. Though Kit is the definitely the bloke To Fall in Love.

Shaun says, “Does your missus ever dress like that Kit?”

Kit narrows his eyes, “She's wearing the boots I bought her, for my friend's engagement party. She's got her hair all done too, she never wears it like that unless we are going out on the town. Jared what about your missus?”

“She looks normal to me,” I say, lying through my teeth. “Move! There coming in.”

Shaun pulls down the blinds, and we all retreat to desks pretending to do work. In the corner of my eye, I see Tom. He wears a black suit and tie. He takes off his suit jacket to get comfortable in his vest. He's adjusting his cufflinks when Sherie and Louisa start doing the rounds in the open plan office introducing Tom one by one.

Michelle walks over to us. “He's a bit of looker don't you think?”

“He's handsome,” Shaun says. “No homo.”

Tom walks with shoulders high and wide. The confidence exhuming from him makes me want to knock his block off. He makes his way over here, and Sherie and Tom are standing behind me. I stand expecting to tower over him when we are pretty much eye level.

Tom smiles, “Hello, My name is Tom your new Sales Director.”

I say, “My name is Jared. Sherie's boyfriend.”

Tom jolts turning to Sherie who goes red. Flinching.

Tom smiles, “Well Jared you are a lucky man. Sherie mentioned something about the culture this place sparking a few relationships here and there. I'm looking forward to working with you in the coming months after I complete the first module with Sherie.”

Louisa taps Tom on the shoulder, and he turns being ushered to meet the team in I.T. They head over.

“OW!” I say, feeling the pinch on my arm from Sherie.

“What the hell was that about!”

“What? It was the truth.”

“Gosh, your idiot Jared.”

I watched as Tom and Louisa headed for the boardroom. They talk briefly when Louisa waves at Sherie to go on in. Tom stood in the boardroom watching from afar. We stared. He smiled. I clenched my fist. Prick...

***

Sherie Southam


I closed the door behind me when Tom stared out smirking before turning the blinds over. He walked to the end of the boardroom to peer through the windows that gave the view of the carpark. Louisa sat at the table pulling out some documents when she motions me to sit. I sifted through the documents reading Toms job description. Tom made his way back to the table and sat opposite me. Leaning back in his chair, leg folded over. His fingers pressed together as if he is praying or being impatient.

Tom says, “How long have you Jared been dating?”

I shifted being uncomfortable with personal questions. Louisa pauses from typing to glance then resumes.

I say “A year.”

Well, congratulations are due, Should see an elegant diamond engagement ring hopefully in the near future.”

“Gosh, I don't think we are at that stage yet.”

Louisa stops writing and looks at both of us. Tom this piercing look that feels like it's soaking through me. I feel like I'm melting when his stares flick to Louisa.

Louisa says, “Well if you sign your contract here Tom, we are all good to go. I sent a meeting request to the sales staff to come in here shortly where you can talk about your plans.”

Tom sits up and straightens his tie.

“Splendid.” He takes out a USB stick and hands it to Louisa, “It's my presentation.”

Louisa takes it, “I'll get Shaun from I.T to get your laptop he should have finished setting you up on the network, be right back.

Louisa leaves the room, and I'm alone with Tom. He smiles as soon as the door shuts behind her. He stands and peeks through the blinds and says, “Jared seems like a good man.”

“He is.”

“Apologies if I'm intrusive. I was intrigued by his behavior when we met. It's not too often I come across a man who stakes his claim.”

I exhaled, “We are working through our stuff that's all I can say. Like any relationships, we have our ups and downs.”

“You mean trials and tribulations.” He smiles, “I won't make things uncomfortable and intrusive by pressing the matter any further all it was is an observation. You know it is the norm these days people in the workplace getting attached. Where I worked in London 35% of the company were attached, though it created headaches for me.”

“How so?”

“Workplace breakups, nepotism, the spillover effects and how it affected the team's performance so much that I nearly implemented a policy... but you can't police and prevent love can you?”

“No, things just fall into place.” I say, “I promise, you won't have problems with Jared and me.”

“My dear, I just gave a point of view, I wasn't insinuating anything negative. Just out of interest, who are ones attached here?” Tom licks his lips and stands to look out as he opens the blinds. I stand next to him I see everyone in the office at their desks. Jared and Shaun are standing holding their coffees looking at us. “There's a seductive feeling of this environment I can't quite grasp. But I’m drawn to it.

Tom puts his hand on my shoulder, patting it. I feel intimidated, yet there is something seductive to his energy.

He says, “Don't worry about it sometimes my curiosity can be an intrusion, forgive me.” He turns to me, both hands on my arms. “When I present my plan I will need you to help this company get back to its glory days.”

I flush, “I look forward to it.”

***

Jared Brown


Watching Tom touch my girl. Watching Sherie blush. Messed with my head. I hear the receptionist over the PA system for all the sales staff to make their way through to the boardroom. I'm the first to walk in the room greeted by a smirk from Tom, and I sit next Sherie. I put my hand on hers when she shifts it away. She narrows her eyes as more of the staff come in. Shaun walks in and setups the laptop projecting it on the screen. He sits next to me grabbing a when I turn to him.

“Bro it's for the sales team, not I.T,” I say to Shaun.

Shaun nudges me to quieten down. I see Tom put on his suit jacket when Louisa comes in with the rest of the guys shutting the door behind her. I look around the table to see the nervous and anxious looks on all the boys. They look like they are on the episode of the Bachelor. After the last round of redundancies, the whole morale of the sales team is shaky. Everybody is talking amongst themselves

Tom clears his throat, adjusting his tie. “Gentlemen your attention please.”

The room goes quiet, and Tom flicks the button on his clicker. The screen reads 'Tom Horde - Sales Director Hunter International.'

Tom pauses perhaps trying to gauge our reactions.

Toms says, “Please let me introduce myself. My name is Tom Horde, Cade wasn't here, unfortunately, to talk you through the last part of the changes. As of today, I will be helming the sales teams concentrating on growing new business with Sherie here.”

Tom clicks through his presentation going through his vision. His mission statement and other tedious bits that made me wish I brought a pillow. Everyone seemed enthralled and attentive, but I resented the idea of having him here. Who does this punk think he is? He finally finishes his long-winded speech, and he attracts claps and cheers before when it becomes question time.

I put my hand up, Sherie nudges me with her foot.

“Yes, Jared,” Tom says.

“So Tom you presented some ambitious goals. But what are you actually going to do? From what I read on the presentation it looks like all you do is cracking the whip on us.”

The room goes silent, and Sherie facepalms. Shaun makes a whipping sound. Tom stares at me for a moment then smiles.

Tom says, “Cracking the whip is such an aggressive term. I prefer to motivate, encourage and empower workers in achieving this year's sales target.”

“Jesus Christ, did we just hire Tony Robbins?”

The whole room lights up in laughter, and Sherie pinches me hard that I squirm in my chair. Tom is still unfazed, he laughs as well. A fake laugh.

“I did read his books, Jared, maybe you should too. It would give you a more positive attitude. More personal power…”


Everyone clears out of the boardroom, and I sat back at my desk, sour taste in my mouth. Tom and Sherie lingered in the room a bit longer. I found it difficult to concentrate with them in there together, and after a moment Sherie came over.

“Hey.” She says, “Tom wants to see you alone in the office.”

“Stuff him.”

Sherie shakes her head, “What the hell is wrong with you?” she says, “You gotta go. I'll see you at home we need to have a serious talk.”

Sherie leaves, and I walk into the boardroom. Tom closes the door, he's back in his black vest removing his cufflinks. Then rolls up his sleeves. He stands close. Standing so straight. Toe to toe like he wants to throw down for a fight. C’mon hit me, dickhead…

I say, “You wanted me for something?”

“Yes, I wanted you to know that there is a conference next week in Los Angeles that Sherie needs to attend with me.”

Tom pauses, watching my body language.

I say, “So what does that have to do with me?”

“Well, I need you to look after Sherie's role for two weeks. I want to reshuffle the accounts around so that we have depth if this deal I am doing, goes well.”

“What about my current accounts?”

“You'll still do them, but with less of the frequency you are used to.”

“No way Tom. My sales are good, why do want to mess it up?”

“I'm not. You built the relationship over the years, I feel that some of your customers would suffice with a phone call, then face to face. I'm pretty confident I will secure this deal, so I'm doing this now rather than later to ease the transition.”

“And what happens if you don't get it huh?”

Tom shrugs and adjusts his cufflinks. “Then at least you would be exposed to Sherie's side of the business. You would have learned a few things.”

“I suppose, I can't say no... Can I boss?”

“It's Tom. And you are correct because I'm not asking.”

My blood boiled seeing this cheeky prick tell me what to do. I left the room to go home to the argument Sherie had in store for me.

***

Sherie's Apartment


I arrive at Sherie's Apartment to see her car in the driveway. I walk through to the back to see the lawn had become overgrown a bit. The rose petals that were scattered were all rotten and brown. I went into her shed to get the lawnmower out. I needed some time to calm myself before getting the verbal onslaught from Sherie. I start on the outer edges before making my way towards the house when I see Sherie sitting on the deck with a wine glass in hand. I stop the lawnmower just short of her when I turn it off.

Sherie says, “Thank you for doing my lawns. I guess Tom told you that I'm headed off to Los Angeles for a conference.”

“Yeah, he said something about me picking up the slack for your job.”

Sherie exhaled, “I was so angry that I wanted to tear your head off. Only that I realized that pattern you have keeps repeating and repeating with you.”

“I'm sorry if I was a dick back at the office.”

“Jared, I don't get it. It's like you don't seem to learn or care. You got issues that I don't think I can ever fix. You don't realize how draining it is for me that I have to watch out for your behavior. I think we should split up.”

“Don’t say that babe.”

“I’m sick of all your bullshit!”

“Sherie, I can change. I know I can. I don't want to lose you.”

“Well, first you have to want to change. Second, you need to know, I'm am not happy in this relationship!”

The shock of what she said hit me, I held her, “Please life has its ups and downs, we will work through this. C'mon lets go inside and talk this over.”

I take Sherie's arm when she pulls it away. “Jared, I'm going to use this conference to decide on our relationship, when I get back you'll know my decision.”

“I'm not going to let you go,” I said.

“I don't care. This is about me and what I want moving forward.” She exhales, “Just give me space.”

I knew with Sherie that I was pretty much fucked, “Whatever you decide I will still love you none the less.”

Sherie stood emotionless as she turned to slide the ranch sliders to go into her bedroom. She pulled the curtains across.

***

Sherie Southam


Los Angeles

Hunter International Tech Demo Conference.


The exhibition hall is packed with so many people, that it becomes almost claustrophobic. Tom had connections and contacts to showcase our range of ultra-long life milk products to overseas buyers. I hated the fact that I had to be halfway around the world for work. I hated travel of this kind especially to America where the process became so laden. I was exhausted as soon as I stepped into the damn country.

Deep down I missed Jared. I do make a concession through, the first class flights did make it a lot easier. Tom introduced me where I would take over and go over the benefits of our products. He set them up I knock them down. By the end of it, my feet were aching, and Tom had his laptop out taking orders. Tom dressed again in his immaculate black suit, his eyes puffy but wide. He sat up, exhaled then turned to me.

“Sherie would you come here for a second.” he says.

I walked over to see the first number of orders at over five hundred thousand.

“Wow, I guess this trip was worth it. We did more business here than what I would do in six months.”

“We make a great team Sherie. All this success is attributed to your efforts. You should be proud. Ultimately you saved a few more jobs being cut.”

I raised a brow, “I thought the first round of redundancies was it?”

“Redundancy is a revolving term I would say. Talking with Cade the more we sell, the less chance anything drastic gets done. You know In London there is a trend towards temporary staff, automating functions with Technology and machines.”

“Really? Are you saying we are at that point now where machines are taking over?”

“Has it not already? That's why I headlined this as a tech demo. But hey enough shop talk. Finish up and let me buy you drink. It's been an arduous day.”

“I'm so tired Tom. I'll think I'll head back to my hotel room and catch up on sleep.”

“Don't be silly, you earned it.” Tom takes my arm. I resist for a moment, but Tom's advances are so seductive. I think about Jared. Then Tom's hands squeezed. “Sherie come on just one drink...”

“I'll be fine.”

“Is it because of Jared?”

“Excuse me?”

“Apologies if I offended you. I don't want to cause harm.” he pauses, his hand reaches out touching my shoulder. “Please?”


We went back to the hotel Casa del Mar and headed to the bar. Tom ordered our drinks, and we took a table in the corner by windows. The sun was setting, and the line of palm trees in front of us swayed with the summer breeze. People were clearing out from the beach, carrying their belongings in time with the sun running out. Seagulls swopped in picking at the food and trash they left behind. Tom with his normal straight posture sunk down into the chair. Leaning back, looking out the window while we waited for our drinks.

“Another day over...” he says in his English accent. “Oh god, it goes quick doesn't it?”

“It does.” I say, “Your family must miss you.”

Tom chuckles, “No dear, I find it amusing that you assumed.” He unbuttons his shirt taking off his tie. “Or stupid.” He rolls it up neatly then places it on the table. The breeze comes in flipping the side of his white shirt. I see his chest, defined and athletic. The waitress interrupts my stares as she places our beverages on the table. My glass looks like it's sweating as Tom chose a cocktail. Another waitress plonks down a bottle of Moet in a bucket of ice.

I say, “A bit extravagant, isn't it? How are you going to explain that expense?”

Tom smiles, “I'm the one who signs entertainment off now remember?”

“Dumb question.”

I watched as Tom examined his glass. Adjusting the olive. Moving the coaster underneath his drink. He is so sure of himself, uppity. Sophisticated. Confident. Such a polar opposite to Jared.

Tom says, “There's no such thing as a dumb question. Better to ask it then not to, sweetheart. Let us toast to our success and long may it last.” I raised my glass to click when he pulls back. “Ah, eye contact dear. Eyes. Eyes. Look into my eyes.”

I stare into his brown eyes. Unreadable but with a hint of an agenda. We click glasses, and we take our first sip.

“Splendid,” Tom says, putting his glass exactly in the middle of the coaster. Circle on circle. “Sherie, how long have you worked for Hunter International?”

I sigh, “Gosh too long.”

I'm taking a stab here darling. Too long as ten years or more?”

“No half that. I don't think, I would last ten years at Hunter International. I'd want to move on to other things.”

Tom sits up straightens his back he becomes businesslike, “But you are so talented, Sherie. We are on the cusp here of something special, to bring this company back from the dead. Think of the families in Hunter International that can now feed their families. This company has over -”

“Five hundred and twenty-seven employees I know.”

“Is there something else you envision doing? Another career perhaps?”

“A mother maybe. I always wanted children.”

Tom looks like he's disappointed, he takes his glass and sips. “I can't picture you as a mother. You seem too driven for that. I think the monotony of parenthood would bore you. It's a different challenge altogether.”

“Expert opinion huh?”

Tom chuckles, “Opinions are like assholes, excuse my language, and we all got them. I went down that path at your age in my late twenties.”

“I'm thirty-five.” I say, “But I'll take that as a compliment. Continue.”

“I found I'd rather be building something, making a difference. Children and that life didn't interest or shall I say excite me. Changing nappies and being sleep deprived wasn't my idea of a joyful life. But I get it though, I worked with many women who had fantastic careers give it all up to be parents. I take it Jared is looking forward to that step?”

“Gosh... if he man's up and puts a ring on my finger first. We've only been dating for a year.”

“Does he make you happy Sherie?”

“Wow! Cutting a bit close there, besides that's none of your business.”

Tom raises his hands “My apologies, I'm being intrusive again aren’t I dear. Finish your drink, there's something I want to show you...”

***

Jared Brown

Reilly Tavern

Drowning in my sorrows


I stared at my watch calculating what time it would be in Los Angeles. Shaun and I are at the bar after a long Friday. I moaned to Shaun about Sherie being there with Tom. My mind is like a movie playing scenarios out.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-31 show above.)