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‘What a weirdo!’ Leah said over Teresa’s shoulder. ‘Block him.’
‘This isn’t Facebook. I can’t block him.’
‘Just add his email address to the reject list then. Same thing.’
Teresa’s fingers hovered over the keyboard prompting Leah to give her a funny look. Why the hesitation? Didn’t she realise this guy was probably just chancing his arm? He’d probably sent that message to dozens of women, hoping someone would take the bait.
Beneath her assistant’s scrutiny Teresa flushed a healthy shade of pink. Maybe it was her age. Or maybe it was just a touch of envy that had made the word ‘spark’ catch her eye. What must it be like to have someone desire you on that kind of level? Justin, whoever he was, seemed pretty het up over this mystery woman.
Subconsciously she tugged at the hem of her plaid skirt that fell to a modest level just below her knees. Leah was right. Best add him to the reject list.
‘So, what about funding for the school? Have we got an actual estimate of how much the project will cost yet?’ she said, as she tapped away on her keyboard.
‘Nothing definite yet, but they’re thinking in the region of $28,000. Similar to the one we did in Angola really.’
‘Yes, but that was five years ago. Costs for materials and labour have increased threefold since then. Get on the phone to Father Brinkman and see if they can work on getting a more realistic figure.’
‘I need to pop out for some air for a while. Do you need me to get you anything?’ Teresa asked.
Leah smiled. Sometimes her boss didn’t quite seem to get the concept of what an assistant was.
‘I should be asking you that,’ she pointed out.
Teresa shrugged and pulled on her cardigan.
‘Yeah, I know. But I need a breather. So…do you want anything?’
‘No, I’m good thanks,’ replied Leah over her shoulder with the phone pressed to her ear.
‘Ok, I’ll be back just before two.’
A few days later when Teresa was just about to leave the office there was a knock on the door.
‘Come in,’ Leah called out cheerfully.
The person who entered was hard to make out because their entire upper body was obscured by a huge arrangement of flowers.
‘Delivery for Miss Teresa Gomez,’ said a man’s voice from somewhere behind the fragrant blooms.
Leah took them from him, casting a doubtful glance at her boss.
‘They’re beautiful,’ she murmured, sniffing them. But obviously it was a mistake. They must have been meant for someone else.
‘Sign here please,’ the delivery man said, holding out his clipboard.
‘What do you make of that?’ said Teresa when he had gone.
‘I don’t know.’
They both knew what the other was thinking. That Teresa’s love life was about as lively as a funeral parlour. It simply didn’t exist. She only had time for three things in her life; God, work and her three cats. And maybe the odd bar of chocolate when nobody was looking. So who had sent her the flowers?
‘It must be from one of the orphanages I visited last month,’ suggested Teresa. ‘Hang on…there’s a card.’
‘Ooo…let me see.’
To Leah’s disappointment she kept it just out of view, cupped within her palm until she’d read it through herself.
‘Oh no,’ she groaned, holding it out for Leah to read.
Teresa shook her head in dismay.
Her assistant tossed the card into the waste bin. ‘I’ll call the florist and tell them there’s been a mix up and ask them to take them away,’ she said.
‘No. I’ll take care of this,’ Teresa sighed. ‘In the meantime I’d love a coffee.
Leah saw there was no convincing her.
‘Ok. I’ll be back soon.’
As soon as she was gone Teresa opened up her email account and began to type her response after restoring Justin’s previous message.
Disturbingly less than two minutes later a reply appeared in her inbox. She opened it with tremulous hands.
As she read it Leah arrived with her coffee.
Teresa slowly stirred two sugars into the steaming cup, as her assistant leaned in and read the latest email. Leah grimaced.
‘Are you sure you’ve never met this guy?’
‘Definitely not. I’m not interested in forming romantic attachments as you well know Leah. My faith takes the ultimate place in my life. My work for the international Christian community is a close second.’
‘I know that. It’s up to you what you do. Just be careful ok?’
‘Me? I’m always careful.’
Teresa smiled and they drank their coffee in companionable silence. Leah was about the closest thing she had to a friend right now and admittedly the support was appreciated. This was unfamiliar territory.
Later that night she puzzled over the persistence of this man whom she’d never even met. By his own admission he was obsessive and that word couldn’t help but send a shiver down her spine. Maybe it was time that she spoke to security. She would talk to Chester Harris on the front desk first thing in the morning she decided.
Blast! What am I thinking? It already is morning! She thought, turning over to look at the neon numbers on the bedside alarm clock. But only just. There was still time for a couple of sleeping pills to work their magic if she bit the bullet so to speak and took them now.
After trudging down the hall in her sensible sheepskin moccasins, she took a look at herself in the bathroom mirror. So this was the subject of Justin’s obsession, she thought, with a wry smile. A bedraggled spinster with bird’s nest hair. What a joke! Not only that, the two pills she’d shaken into the palm of her hand were the wrong ones. They were the tablets she had been given about eighteen months or so ago to combat malaria whilst on her travels. Nefloquine it said on the label or something like that. It was hard to tell without her glasses. As she stood squinting at the bottle under the flickering light, she realised that if she was going to Uganda again in a few weeks’ time to help set up the school, she probably ought to start taking them again. With this in mind she gulped down the last two along with her bright blue sleeping pills and made a mental note to order more in the morning.
Only the morning came and went unnoticed.
‘Oh my life! Leah! Why didn’t you call me?’ she wailed down the phone at three pm that afternoon.
‘If you’d have taken a minute to check your cell phone, you would have seen that I did. About ten times actually. I was literally about to ring 911 to see if they would do a welfare check on you.’
‘Ok, ok. Sorry. I’m only just up. I feel terrible. Think I’ve had a reaction to some tablets I took. Shouldn’t have mixed them. I’ll tell you all about it when I get there.’
‘Uhuh,’ said Leah flatly.
“What? What’s up?”
‘We just took another delivery from Interfloral. There’s a card too. I took the liberty of opening it. Want me to read it out?’
Teresa swallowed hard and nodded forgetting that she couldn’t be seen over the phone.
‘Yes,’ she said eventually.
‘Ok. Here goes…’
‘Damn!’ exclaimed Teresa, clamping a hand over her mouth. Beneath the duvet, she had just discovered she was pretty much naked or thereabouts.
A closer inspection revealed she was wearing the teeniest of tiny black satin thongs. Where on earth had that come from? And where were her daisy patterned flannelette PJs?
Her breathing was far too fast and she had the curious urge to get in the shower immediately and not come out until she had soaped every inch. Surely there was a reasonable explanation for all of this? One obvious one came to mind but that thought was horrific. Surely she would know if some had broken in and attacked her sexually? Wouldn’t she?
After her shower she decided it was time to take control. This guy was being an absolute nuisance. It was messing with her head. Enough was enough. The time had definitely come to speak to Chester.
‘This guy sounds like a real creep if you don’t mind my saying so Ma’am,’ said Chester, when she told the security guard the whole story.
‘Certainly seems that way. Hopefully he’ll just lose interest.’
Chester regarded her intently, his massive Cuban bulk doing its best to burst its way out of his navy suit.
‘That would be advisable,’ he rumbled, his chin jutting upwards threateningly.
Teresa unleashed a nervous giggle and then instantly regretted it. It sounded flirtatious and that was the last thing she wanted right now. She was in enough trouble already.
What is wrong with me??? she thought.
‘I’ll leave it in your capable hands then.’
Chester nodded and stood to attention. Tribal drums battered an unforgiving beat inside her head as she made her way towards elevators that had been state of the art ten years ago.
‘Oh Terese! You look awful!’ cried Leah when she walked in.
‘Gee thanks,’ she said, slumping in her chair.
‘Is it really worth it?’
Without waiting to be asked she helped Teresa off with her coat and slipped it onto the hook behind the door.
‘I am not going to ask you what you mean by that,’ Teresa replied wearily. ‘All I ask is that you pick me up a seriously strong coffee. No latte nonsense this time. I want something that packs a punch. And I need you to pick me up six of these for the Ugandan trip. I ran out last night.’
She threw the empty brown Nefloquine bottle into her lap and flopped face first onto her desk like a stranded fish.
‘You got it. I’ll be back before you know it.’
The next thing Teresa knew her assistant was shaking her arm, rousing her from a state of sleep that wasn’t that far off resembling a coma.
‘Hey. Hey! Can you hear me? Oh God. Why did you have to take those pills last night?’
Teresa looked up blearily, unsure of exactly where she was.
‘You really weren’t kidding were you?’ she mumbled.
‘You said you’d be back before I knew it. I barely knew you were gone. Did you get the pills?…did you bring coffee?’
‘Terese…they wouldn’t let me have them. The pills I mean. I tried and tried to convince them. But they wouldn’t have it. According to their records, the last time you ordered them was two years ago, when you lived in Boston. Since then they’ve been banned in the US. They wanted to know if you have any left and if so they said to dispose of them immediately.’
‘So what am I supposed to do now? Did they offer an alternative?’
‘Yes they did. They’re in the bag over there. There’s also a letter. Anyone who’s taken Nefloquine is supposed to receive one. Sounds important. I don’t want to panic you but they’re saying that Nefloquine is dangerous honey. Perhaps you should go get checked out.’
Great…this was all she needed.
Heart thumping, Teresa rifled through the bag till she found the sealed letter.
‘I can’t believe this!’ cried Teresa, as the implications sank in. She screwed up the paper in her fist and hurled it across the room with as much force as she could muster.
‘I think you need to speak to an attorney hun,’ said Leah, giving her boss a gentle hug.
Teresa nodded and lifted her phonebook.
‘That really is an incredible story and of course very distressing for you,’ said Rupert Grimes, when she had finished telling him everything. She’d gone to him on the advice of Father Brinkman who knew a little of her plight and wanted very much to get her on the road to Uganda again. Finding the courage to enter the offices of Grimes and Lanyard to tell them about her suspicions was not the easiest thing in the world to do but she needed to know where she stood legally just in case the blood tests came back positive.
‘Do you mind me asking what it is apart from circumstantial evidence that makes you think you and this Justin character engaged in sexual intercourse whilst you were under the influence of this drug? Do you have anything ah…concrete?’
‘Um, well…no, not really.’
Suddenly she felt very transparent sitting in that great big room on the top floor overlooking the city. Something told her that on some level she actually wanted this to be real. Not the AIDS or HIV part. Just the story of insanely unstoppable passion between two people who just needed to connect. If she could see that she found the idea of this ‘Suzanne’ woman being her alter ego intriguing then maybe Rupert Grimes could too. Maybe he even suspected that she’d made it up? She shifted nervously under his gaze.
‘Well, from what I can see there are two things you need to do Miss Gomez,’ said the young lawyer, typing away furiously on his laptop. ‘One, you need to wait and see what the blood tests reveal before you can make a decision as to whether or not you want to file a lawsuit against the drug company and/or the FDA. And secondly…you need to find yourself a new lawyer because I’m afraid we at Grimes and Lanyard find ourselves compromised in this matter.’
‘What? But why?’
Rupert looked up as a tall man dressed in a petrol coloured suit joined them. He was perfectly groomed apart from a smattering of stubble along his twitching jaw. Where his blindingly white shirt lay open at the neck, Teresa could see his pulse jumping. The two men exchanged a knowing look and from that moment on the newcomer never took his eyes from her. Teresa felt bewildered, not to mention a little dizzy.
‘Miss Gomez…I want you to meet my friend and partner at law – Mr Justin Lanyard. Something tells me you two have met before,’ he said, steepling his fingers. ‘Probably in Boston I believe?’