Another Expo spells another over-dramatic night for Laurie Fell.
The funny parts made Laurie laugh loudly—each time she laughed, she would tap his shoulder, and Seth’s fists would clench. He wished she wouldn’t touch him—she was making this so difficult. On the third day, the movie finally ended. Laurie turned to Seth and elbowed him. “Can you imagine? Just drive 88 miles per hour, add a little plutonium, and you’re time-traveling!”
“Oy,” Seth groaned and rolled his eyes. “I’m glad for the experience, but I’ve had enough entertainment for one week. “ He stood up, all too glad to escape her giggling. She was just too tempting and adorable at the same time—he couldn’t keep up with her anymore.
“Thanks for watching the whole thing with me!” Laurie called after him. “Welcome back, Veronica,” Seth greeted, swirling a glass of whiskey in his right hand.
“It’s good to be back, Dr. Valentine,” Veronica purred in her strong German accent. She had made herself comfortable on the loveseat in his bedroom. “I assume there’s some reason for you having me here after work hours, and not during them.” A devious grin spread across her face.
Seth lifted one eyebrow. “Care for a drink?” he offered, pulling out another crystal glass from his personal bar. Veronica took the glass gratefully, the excitement evident in her cunning eyes. “I was wondering when you would return one of my calls. I know you are a busy man—I am glad you finally came around.”
He took a long swig. “So am I. I’m afraid I’ve faced many distractions since Expo. You are certainly welcome here whenever you like,” he rumbled. It didn’t take much for him to get a beautiful, smart woman like her into his bedroom. She obviously adored him. Veronica tried so hard to seduce Seth that he didn’t need to do any work at all.
Seth and Veronica’s relationship was almost purely physical. She had only two other functions in his life: one, to be the barrier that would prevent Seth from going after Laurie; and two, to fill the gap he would undoubtedly feel when he and Laurie were no longer close friends. Even though Veronica wasn’t his ideal company, she was better than no company at all. When Laurie dropped by Seth’s office for her daily lunchtime antics, she was surprised by the presence of the blonde beauty. Veronica was chatting with Seth about his latest advancements in technology; there were stars in her eyes.
They both looked up, and Laurie covered her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your business,” she said. Veronica stood. “No, no. It appears that I’m the one who’s interrupting business,” she said. “I’m Veronica Alzmeier.” Her greeting somehow seemed more threatening than friendly.
“Laurie Fell,” Laurie said with a nod. “Nice to meet you.”
Veronica stood from the couch. “I’ll leave you to your work, Seth. See you tonight.” She blew a kiss to Seth. Laurie caught a whiff of Veronica’s musky perfume as she brushed by. It was almost as if she’d done it on purpose. “What is it, Laurie?” asked Seth when they were alone.
Laurie arched her brow. She had only come in to chat with Seth, but she couldn’t help feeling that her presence in his office was now unwelcome. She wanted to inquire after Seth’s new girlfriend, but she didn’t want to seem invasive about it. “Er. Nothing.” With that, she turned and walked out of the room.
So weird, Laurie thought to herself. But wait—it should be a GOOD thing that Seth was dating another woman. That way, the boundaries between them would be clear. They could be friends without worrying about hurting each other’s feelings, right?
Laurie expelled a sigh. No, not right. It was difficult for a single woman to be friends with a taken guy. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to compromise his time with his girlfriend. Even though Laurie didn’t particularly like Veronica, Laurie still respected the rules of the dating game. As Laurie walked out of the mansion for the evening, she passed Veronica going in. Laurie cast a friendly nod in greeting; Veronica smirked in response, her self-importance evident in her otherwise feminine strut. Laurie rolled her eyes; maybe she and Seth were made for each other. The days began to move more slowly in the mansion. Laurie had fewer things to be excited about, and her work started to feel monotonous. Every day, Veronica would march right in, grinning with excitement over her new boyfriend. She seemed so obsessed with him that she might as well be making wedding plans. Laurie wondered what she and Seth talked about in all their time together.
However, Veronica and Seth didn’t do much talking. “Are you ok, Laurie?” Isabella asked. Laurie had invited the maid over for some girl time.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Laurie mumbled.
Isabella lowered her eyelids. “Come on. You can’t fool me. There’s a reason you invited me over tonight. Did you have an argument with Mr. Valentine? I’m not trying to tease you.” Laurie heaved a sigh. “No, we’re good.” She paused a moment. “We were getting along great—just as friends, that’s all. But now, he has a girlfriend, so we can’t really hang out anymore.”
Isabella arched her brow. “A girlfriend? Who?”
“Her name is Veronica.” Laurie lowered her voice and took on a Schwarzenegger accent. “VERONICA ALZ-MY-YA.” Isabella grinned widely. “I can tell by your face that you don’t like this girl. Need me to show her what’s up?”
“Nah, I’m sure she has her… positives,” Laurie sighed.
“Yes, Dr. Valentine must see SOMETHING worthwhile in her,” Isabella replied. The two girls looked at each other and burst into laughter.
Laurie’s cell phone started ringing. Laurie was still so busy laughing, she forgot to check the caller I.D. She picked up the phone and answered, “Hello?” “Hello? Laur?”
The smile dropped off of Laurie’s face. “Hi, Derek.”
“You sound like you’re having a good time,” he told her.
“I was.” “Did you get my other messages? I was wondering if you wanted to chat and grab food.”
Laurie swallowed. “I don’t know.”
Laurie shot a glance at Isabella, who looked extremely curious. “Who is it?” the maid mouthed.
“Come on, Laur. You don’t have to hide from me. I don’t like the angst between us. Let’s clear away the baggage, for our own sakes. You don’t want to be angry forever.” Laurie frowned. In a way, he was right. It would be nice to have some closure from the longest, most painful experience of her life. She had to admit, she was still angry at him for hurting her so badly. Now, she was only hurting herself for not forgiving him.
“Alright,” Laurie whispered.
“Really? Cool,” Derek said, his tone brighter. “Alright then. How about lunch this weekend? I’ll pick you up.”
“Ok,” said Laurie, hoping that this was the right thing to do. She hung up.
“What was that all about?” Isabella asked.
Laurie shrugged. “Someone close to home.” Laurie couldn’t look Derek straight in the eye at lunch, but he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her. “Laurie Fell. How have you been? How’s that job at VT going?”
Laurie glanced at him briefly. Without his hipster college clothes and those dorky glasses, Derek Hanley was more handsome than ever. He was a full-fledged professional man, now. “It’s just peachy. Everyone in those labs is a character,” Laurie laughed awkwardly.
Derek chuckled; his laughter, unlike hers, came easily. “I bet. I’ve talked to Dr. Valentine before. Bristly guy, isn’t he?” They started to catch up with each other. Derek’s company had set up an office in Bridgeport, and it was doing really well. Laurie told him about her coworkers, although she didn’t mention her strange friendship with Seth. Slowly, her defensive awkwardness started to dissipate. She’d forgotten how easy it was to speak with Derek.
As he laughed at one of her goofy jokes, he cast a longing smile. “Wow. I missed you.”
Laurie’s laughter died. “I missed talking to you, too.” She couldn’t deny that. Derek had powerful people skills. He was a born leader; everyone liked to be around him because he made them feel good about themselves. She had always admired that about him. She looked down at his hand. It was laid out in the middle of the table, casually. It would be so easy for her to reach out and hold it. The barrier would be broken. They could be close again.
Laurie swallowed and sank back in her chair. “It was nice catching up. I should probably head home, now.”
“We should do this again,” said Derek. His suggestion was lighthearted, but Laurie knew that her answer was of much greater importance than he was letting on. She bit her lip. “I’m glad that we’re cool, Derek. I really am. And I do care about you. I just… don’t think we can ever be close again, you know? There’s just too much baggage here.”
His face drooped. “I’m not saying we should get back together. Just don’t tell me that we're never going to speak again after this.”
She shrugged, guilty. “I’m not telling you that. I just don’t want to get your hopes up.” Derek dropped Laurie off at her apartment. He gave her a long hug. “Don’t be a stranger, ok?”
“I’ll try,” she sighed. Even though Laurie was uncomfortable with his flirting, she was greatly relieved to be free from the anger she had held inside all these years. If she saw Derek walking down the road, she wouldn’t feel upset or depressed. That was what all that mattered. Derek began texting Laurie every once in a while to make old jokes and reminisce with her. She didn’t mind—it was nice to have someone to speak to, since she couldn’t talk to Seth anymore. It was also nice to talk to someone who actually appreciated her humor and playfulness... Seth never seemed too keen about it, but Derek hung on to her every word. The next Expo was coming up, the mansion was alive with chatter over the event. Derek had caught word of it, and asked Laurie to be his date. “We can just go as friends,” he assured her.
Laurie disagreed. “I’m not comfortable with that, yet. We can still talk and hang out, though.” Without realizing it, she had made a huge mistake: she had used the word “yet,” which gave Derek the idea that he might have a chance with her in the future. As Harry left the kitchen to return to the labs, he caught sight of the beautiful Veronica drifting his way. He stopped in his tracks. “Hallelujah,” he muttered.
Veronica didn’t even acknowledge his existence; she checked out her nails while she walked so that she wouldn’t have to meet Harry’s eyes. However, he wouldn’t be discouraged.
“Why, hello there,” he said. Veronica had to stop because Harry stood directly in her way. She twitched one waxed eyebrow at him, clearly displeased.
“What brings you to this neck of the woods, Miss…?”
She put her hands on her hips. “Get away from me, you disgusting man.”
She strutted into the kitchen, leaving Harry with a determined look on his face. Laurie came up behind him and patted his shoulder sympathetically. He only jerked his head to one side. “She is challenging me, Laurie. I must accept.”
Laurie made a face. “I wouldn’t try, if I were you. That’s Seth’s new girlfriend.”
“What?” Harry swept around, surprised. “I thought YOU were Seth’s new girlfriend! Ick—I don’t want to touch anything that Seth touched first, but man! The guy has got game!”
“Would you shut up?” Laurie hissed, turning red. She was pretty sure Veronica would have heard all of that. She pushed Harry to one side and began marching away. The night of Laurie’s second Expo, she wore a simple pink gown. As she approached the moonlit mansion, she couldn’t help remembering the fiasco at her last Expo; how Seth had approached her, so drunk he could hardly stand up straight. He had told her how beautiful she was, and she'd thrown it back in his face.
She now wished that she hadn’t been so hard on him for that. At least now, there was no possibility of the same thing occurring twice. She breathed a sigh… Isabella, who looked equally stunning, kept her friend company. Together, they enjoyed many drinks at the bar. “Who needs dates, anyway?” Laurie slurred, pushing an empty glass toward the bartender. “I have you!”
“That’s right,” Isabella replied, grabbing a fresh margarita and handing it to Laurie. “Relax and enjoy this night! You are free. No one to tell you what to do, no one to hold you down!” Seth remained on the opposite side of the bar, next to his date. The two looked like decorations for each other; they didn’t do much speaking. Seth actually looked a little bored. That is, until he saw Laurie.
Seeing her with her hair draped over her bare shoulders ignited his desire again. He was hit with the urge to speak to her, to hear her tease him, to see her smile at him again. He needed a distraction. He called for a round of drinks; while the bartender prepared them, he pressed a kiss to Veronica’s lips. “Laurie,” Derek cried when he finally found her.
She was practically falling off of her barstool. “Hello, Derek.”
“Care to dance?” he invited.
Laurie shook her head. “I shouldn’t,” she said, but Derek took her hand and dragged her from her seat. In her drunken state, she couldn’t do much to ward him off. Besides, one dance was harmless, right? Despite his feeble attempts at distraction, Seth couldn’t help but notice as Derek led her away. On the dance floor, her twirled her once and then pulled her close for a slow song.
“Gotcha!” Derek exclaimed.
Laurie laughed. “You need to give it up. Your moves won’t work on me.”
“Oh, really? They just did,” he replied, dipping her once. The chemistry between Laurie and Derek was so volatile, anyone who watched them could tell. The alcohol helped Laurie to let loose; she seemed to drift around in a daze while Derek led the dance. He was good at it, and their bodies were familiar with one another.
Seth was sickened by the sight. She looked into his bright eyes; so beautiful and alive. She missed the way he looked at her, the way his full lips aimed for hers. The scent of his cologne was so alluring. Laurie shook her head, trying to regain sobriety. “Seriously though, Derek. You need to stop this. I don’t want to be with you, ever.”
“Say that again,” he murmured. “Look at me, and say that again.”
Laurie met his eyes again; they glimmered with hope. Her crushed hopes for a life with him… a home, a family… came rushing back to her. And at that fundamental moment, the words that she desperately needed to say were caught somewhere in her throat. Derek lowered his lips to hers. “Derek!” she shoved him away.
“What?” Derek cried. “When you say you don’t love me, I know you don’t mean it. Don’t lie to me, Laurie.” He grabbed her hand.
She tried to pull away. “Stop trying to force me!” she snapped, tears welling up in her eyes. The room was spinning. “I can’t do this. I can’t let you hurt me anymore.” But Derek could see her walls coming down, and he wanted to keep going. He wanted to be near her again. The next thing happened so fast that the surrounding dancers recoiled in fear.
Seth grabbed Derek’s suit and stood within inches of his face, his eyes scorching. His kickboxing arms were primed to kill. Derek could feel his angry breath as he rumbled, “Get out.”
Laurie’s eyes widened in terror. “Seth… don’t.” Mason appeared at the scene, ready to take action. “Is there a problem, Sir?”
Seth nodded. “This man was just leaving.”
Seth released Derek’s jacket just as Derek yanked it away. He huffed, “You’re bouncing me?”
“Touch her again, and I’ll gut you myself,” Seth said with disturbing composure. While Mason led Derek out the door, Seth turned to Laurie. “He won’t bother you anymore. I’ll have Mason escort you home tonight.”
Tears ran down her beautiful face, ruining her makeup. She really hated crying in front of Seth; she felt so weak. “Thank you,” she sobbed. “What was THAT?” Veronica cried, stepping between them. “You certainly know how to pick men, my dear.”
A fresh storm of tears began to roll from Laurie’s eyes. She covered her red nose and walked off.
Seth frowned at his girlfriend. He knew it was hypocritical of him--but rubbing Laurie’s face in the dirt while she was already down was a bit harsh. Veronica wrapped her arms around his neck. “Let’s dance. You haven’t danced with me all night,” she purred.
He held her at arm’s length. “I can’t. Let’s hit the bar instead.”
Veronica put her hands on her hips. “You seem awfully concerned about that particular girl.”
“She’s my best worker,” he defended. “Her contributions are irreplaceable. I won’t have her moping around when she should be working.”
Mastermind Chapter 9
Aug 10, 2012 by katmusic09
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