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‘Okay I understand. Thank you.’ Alice said. Hanging up the phone, Alice dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her eyes tiredly. She checked the time in the bottom corner of her computer. 5:25PM. If only that call could have come in five hours earlier – Alice would have been able to handle the emergency without issue.
Tomorrow was the day Just Press Publishing House released one of their most highly anticipated books yet. It was the autobiography of a London born actress, Kelly Rivers. Her story was incredible. It covered everything from childhood on the run, her adolescence on the streets and her big break in Hollywood. She was an icon and Alice had been put in charge of her book release. Everything had been planned for weeks in advance and seemed perfect. Until, the night before the launch, Alice received a call. The hotel’s reception room, in which the party was to be held, was flooded. All events were cancelled.
Alice collected her notes and hurried towards the elevator door. With any other book Alice wouldn’t dare bother management with such an issue. But this wasn’t any other book. This book was expected to be the biggest selling, non-fiction book Just Press had ever released. The elevator doors opened, and Alice rushed into Bobby’s office, ignoring Ethel’s insistence that she wait.
‘Bobby!’ Alice exclaimed, relieved that he hadn’t left yet.
‘Alice? What’s up?’ Bobby put his jacket down on his desk and shut the door behind her.
‘It’s the River’s launch party. The venue is flooded and they’re cancelling all events.’ Alice didn’t realise until now how out of breath she was. Bobby however, had. Without saying a word, he directed her attention to the sofa at the side of his office. Alice followed instruction and sat down.
‘These bloody storms! First, half my staff can’t get into work because of cancelled trains and now this.’ Bobby vented. Bobby and Alice had been working together for a few weeks and it seemed any feelings Alice had ever felt for him had subsided. They were friends, but professional. Bobby was pacing the length of his office clearly trying to devise a plan.
‘Al, I’m sorry to ask but do you mind working late. We need to find a new venue now.’ Bobby said. Alice nodded. Of course, she’d rather spend this autumn evening in her flat, watching reality TV and eating pasta out of the pan but if she wanted to advance in her career, this was a sacrifice she was willing to make.
Two and a half hours past, and Alice had never felt unluckier. She had called every hotel with a function room in West London, yet the book launch still had no venue. They were either booked or closed due to the storms. Following her last call Alice threw her phone across the room and began to rub her temples. She had no idea what else to do. Ms Rivers had requested a West London location and Alice knew she couldn’t go against the brief, but the brief was unattainable. She was in a lose, lose situation. Alice looked at Bobby as he crossed another venue off his list.
‘No luck?’ Bobby asked. Alice shook her head. The pair had divided the list of possible venues in two and tackled a half each. But following Bobby’s last call all routes had been explored and lead to dead ends. Bobby looked at his watch and noted the time was nearing seven. Bobby took another spring roll out of the Chinese take away bag.
‘Maybe I should just give up. I’ll tell Ms River’s that this is my fault and …’
‘Don’t be ridiculous Alice.’ Bobby said, moving to sit next to her. He passed her a spring roll and placed a comforting hand on her arm. ‘And anyway, my phone just sent me an alert. It’s a red weather warning so I’m not letting you go home in this. But we do need a break. Let’s talk … what’s new?’
Alice relaxed back into the sofa. Alice and Bobby had never been friends. While Saph was alive, Bobby had been her older brother, after Saph’s death they were one another’s crutch and now Bobby was Alice’s boss. They’d never been the type to share life stories or talk about their private lives. Yet, in the moment, it seemed comfortable.
‘I read a good book last week.’ Alice said, struggling to come up with anything appropriate to say.
Bobby laughed lightly, taking the last dumpling. ‘Same old Alice.’ He said.
Alice grew offended. What had he meant by that? Alice knew she’d never been the type to go to parties when they were younger but that didn’t mean she hadn’t changed.
‘I mean, tell me something exciting. Who are you seeing? You and Malik seemed to get along well.’
‘You never knew Malik, you fired him… remember.’ Alice teased playfully.
‘Wow, okay. I just mean, I saw he texted you earlier and I didn’t know if it was a thing. Ouch Alice, I didn’t know you were such a savage.’ Bobby laughed.
As he spoke, Alice couldn’t help but notice how warm his voice was. In fact, since the office had emptied out Alice was struggling to see Bobby in such a professional manner. It hadn’t helped that he had removed his tie, unbuttoned his shirt a little and rolled up his sleeves. He looked relaxed, despite being in such a stressful situation. It was obvious to anyone that Bobby was a jock. His arms bulged under his shirt sleeves.
‘Anyway, I had my reasons for firing him. So, don’t have me hung, drawn and quartered just yet.’
‘Bobby you are a genius, that’s perfect!’ Alice exclaimed.
‘What? Me being hung drawn and quartered.’
‘No. A themed location for the book launch. Kelly’s life has been so eventful a location venue would be perfect. Maybe an old prison or we could convert a homeless shelter… what about a rundown bar. There’s the whole part in the book about her working as a barmaid.’ Alice said. As she spoke, she jumped up, grabbing her phone and scrolling a list of local bars, reading them aloud as she went.
‘Hang on,’ Bobby said, ‘Go back … the Sand and Sawdust. I went there once with, well that bit doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s a little run down but it’s got potential. And its in West London. Alice you genius.’ Bobby jumped up from the sofa and grabbed Alice, pulling her into his arms as they shared a celebratory hug. But after a few seconds Alice realised the hug had lasted a little too long. Slowly Alice pulled away, loosening her grip but not quite letting go. Bobby too refused to release Alice from his grip, his hands strong around her waist. Their eyes connected, and Alice’s heart skipped a beat as Bobby began to lean in.
‘Sorry!’ A voice exclaimed, barging into the office. ‘I didn’t realise anyone else was here. I’m Sasha, one of the Zoom temps.’ She explained.
‘Of course,’ Bobby said. Instantly he pulled his hands away from Alice’s waist and offered one up to shake the temp’s hand. Alice too looked a little embarrassed. She straightened herself up and politely smiled. ‘Was there something you wanted?’ Bobby asked.
‘The powers out, everything is running off of the backup generator.’ She exclaimed.
‘I didn’t notice the lights go out?’ Alice added.
‘Well they did.’ Sasha snapped. She coughed away the sharp tone in her voice. ‘I was just checking if anyone was left in the building. I hate storms and really didn’t want to be alone.’
Bobby nodded approvingly and invited her in yet that didn’t seem to be what she was after. For a moment the young girl stood awkwardly, hovering in the doorway. But after thirty seconds of silence, which felt like an hour, she caught Alice’s eye.
‘Where are the toilets?’ She asked.
Bobby looked at Alice, she didn’t need much more of a hint than that. Instinctively Alice offered to show Sasha the way. Sasha smiled gratefully and followed Alice out the office. Neither girl said a thing as they walked to the elevator or once they were inside. In fact, neither girl said a thing until the reached the bathroom.
‘Al!’ the girl said. Alice spun around disorientated. It couldn’t be? Alice hadn’t seen Saph in months. Not since the break in. There is no way she would be back now. Especially in the middle of a storm. But then Alice looked at the girl again. She stood with her weight on one hip and her arms crossed. The judgemental look was one Saph had mastered.
‘Where the hell have you been?’ Alice hissed.
Saph smiled apologetically and reached into her pocket, revealing a packet of gummy bears. Ever since the pair had been young Alice and Saph had a rule. If one friend bought the other gummy bears, they instantly had to forgive them. Saph had never been good at apologising, though often she needed to. Gummy bears were Saph’s way of admitting she was wrong. Alice smiled and took the packet, opening them and offering Saph one.
Ten minutes later and the girls had caught up. Saph explained that the disappearing act wasn’t her choice. Her supervisor had summoned her back. She’d been told her actions on the night of the burglary were selfish and she knew she needed more guardian angel training. She explained that the suit she was now in, the body of Sasha, was permanent. Her supervisors had wondered if it would allow her to be more help if she had a constant position on earth. Saph told Alice every detail of the past few months. She explained that she had been allowed to help from a far. Hence the magazine delivery to her mother’s house and Bobby’s job.
‘But I didn’t expect you to start trying to jump on my brother.’ Saph said. Alice didn’t reply. She was half embarrassed that Saph had caught her and half wanted to tell her that it was none of Saph’s business. So, she decided to settle on neither. ‘Al, please. I know you fancied him years ago but that was a childhood thing. If you are Bobby were to get together now, I’d feel betrayed. Alice, I want to help you. But I can’t stick around if you’re going to be in a relationship with my brother.’
Alice’s head was spinning. She didn’t know what was happening between her and Bobby, but she knew, after this evening, their relationship wasn’t plutonic. But then she thought. How often do you get the opportunity to spend time with your dead best friend? Sure, Saph could rub Alice up the wrong way but she was her best friend. Besides, the pair had always agreed, Sisters before misters. Alice nodded in agreement.
‘Nothing’s happening between me and Bobby. I promise you Saph.’ Alice said. Saph smiled and took her by the hand.
‘Good.’ She replied. ‘Now I think we need to get out of here. I was allowed back down to save you. Something to do with a tree falling though a window or something.’
‘What, when?’ Alice panicked.
‘7:57PM.’ Saph recited proudly.
Alice looked at her watch. ‘Saph, that’s 4 minutes away. We need to get out. Now!’
Saph’s smile dropped. ‘Go, wait in the carpark for me, I’m going to get Bobby.’
Alice agreed, running to the stairs, circling down until she was in the carpark. She stopped, looking at her watch. 7:56PM. Alice closed her eyes tight and crossed her fingers. She wasn’t sure who she was more worried about: Saph or Bobby.
Seconds later and Saph and Bobby came rushing from the building. Thank god they were safe, Alice thought.