Victoria Station tomorrow xxx.
Was all his text message read.
(Loren felt the nerves slightly churn in her stomach.) She hastily locked her phone and tossed it into her handbag as she sprinted across the station's forecourt.
With seconds to go, she leapt through the last open door of the first carriage she came across. Just as the whistle blew. Having now made it onto the 21:23 from Euston, Loren was pleased she had taken the extra minute in the office to swap her heels for trainers. The train was rolling out of the station before she'd even start to make her way through first class and towards the less pretentious section.
She'd have loved to just take a seat where she was but imagined she'd need to be on her manager's, manager's salary to be able to justify that.
Still, she was pleased with herself as it meant she could be home in forty minutes instead of the one hour and fifteen minutes the next train afforded. Moreso she was delighted with the fact she had finally received a signature on the £55,000 contract for a conference she had been negotiating. That in itself was an early birthday present. And so she mentally tossed it into the bag of things she had to celebrate that week.
Speaking of bags, her hands were full of them. And as Loren moved along the carriages, she lovingly held on to them. Trying her best to save them, notably the Tiffany's, from being smashed into the sides of the seats as the train hurtled towards her home station. After four years working at the hotel, both her colleagues and regular clients knew Loren did not work on her birthday. LL Cool J would have to be in residence for her to do so, and since that was not the case - she was out of the office tomorrow.
In the meantime, her own LL wanted to meet her at Victoria Station tomorrow.
Finally, she made her way into every day 'Joe Bloggs' carriages. Pleased to find there were available seats, she plopped herself onto the first two on the right-hand side of the carriage. It was definitely a perk of commuting at this time of the day or instead night.
Relieved to be finally seated, she placed the bags in the window seat, threw her head back and closed her eyes to catch her breath.
It was a series of incoming text whistle alerts that drew her attention. Unperturbed, she finally opened her eyes, to see the passenger sat diagonally across the aisle from her checking his phone. It turned out, it was him and not her who had received the messages.
(These darn Samsung phones. I should change my message alert. ) She thought to herself. And then Loren remembered her earlier text message, she sighed profoundly trying her best to blot out the text and indeed the sender. As she had not yet dared to face him.
She reached for the bottle of lemon-and-ginger-infused water, the head chef had prepared for her during the day and took a sip. Compared with when Loren first started at the hotel, the relationship between herself and Chef Handerson had simmered immensely. From that of a spitting fat pan to a simmering, flavoursome jus. So much so, he made her fruit-infused water on the days he was in. And just then Loren had a thought. What if he was slowly poisoning her? She dismissed her line of thought and laughed at the concoction.
She peeked into the Tiffany gift bag, but that revealed nothing. She, however, recognised the handwriting on one of the envelopes and instantaneously knew it was from one of her longstanding clients. And most likely contained Selfridges gift vouchers. When the pull of the text message became too much, she gave in and picked up her phone.
There was a text message from Ted, her colleague in the revenue department.
Sorry, I didn't get a chance to give you your birthday hug before you left xxx.
Unlike Chef Handerson, Ted had been very welcoming to Loren from her very first day at the hotel. An extremely humble and modest guy, he got on with everyone. He appeared to be the first in, in the mornings and last out at nights. That was until one early morning Loren spotted him and the live-in duty manager wrapped around each other like mallow twists just outside her room.
And it was Ted who had supported her when she challenged Chef Handerson about the toxic and hostile way in which he always spoke to her. And as a result, the virtual pots, pans and knives no longer lanced between Chef Handerson and herself. Or could it be down to the fact she had on three separate occasions bumped into the General Manager and Chef Handerson coming out of one of the corner suites? And on each occasion, it was just after lunch.
Touched by the kind sentiment of his text, she patted her chest and smiled back at her screen. She texted him back.
Ahh hun, so sweet! and three warm hug emojis.
There was another text message, this one from Aidan.
Loren had been working at the hotel two full weeks before she met Aidan. He was away on a two week holiday when she started. But on his first day back, Loren felt his eyes, sparkly and blue as topaz tracking her as she walked into the office that morning. She stopped dead in her tracks next to where he stood at Ted's desk. Aidan walked out into the aisle where she stood, reached out his right arm and spoke.
Hi, my name is Aidan, pleased to meet you.
And then his Irish accent poured over her like the original Irish Cream itself. Loren outstretched her arm, her gaze unwavering.
You have the most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen.
Needless to say, Loren and Aidan got on very well after that. Her accounting queries got addressed right away, and any clarifications he needed regarding events, rooms conferences; she became his go-to girl. Although they sat an office apart, there were days they chatted on the phone for fifteen to half an hour at a time. It usually started off as a work query and gradually worked its way to harmless flirting. And on those perfect days, it would start with flirting and end with flirting. You always knew when Loren was speaking to Aidan, she laughed a heck of a lot.
If you change your mind, the offer still stands for coffee tomorrow.
Loren smiled wryly because Aidan was a factor in her present lover's tiff. Back in March, she had stayed late at work managing a client's residential conference.
At the same time, Aidan, who is the financial controller, was also working late on the hotel's year-end accounts in his next-door office. They waved at each other as they always did.
I take it you have a room booked tonight! He surmised.
No, I'm catching the last train home.
By the time you arrive home, it will be time to get back. Aidan chuckled. But why aren't going to your other half?
We are sort of going through a break. A wry expression painted itself across Loren's face.
Aidan took his glasses off. What was it this time, or should I not ask?
Phoooo, the usual, he wants to get married, and I don't.
But isn't that usually the other way round? The woman wants to get married, and the guy doesn't.
It was this conversation that led to the opening of two bottles of red and the use of a hotel room all later charged as staff expenses. The morning after, Loren tried to continue as usual except she could not. For one, she had a headache from the red she had been drinking. That compounded with the unanswered twenty-one missed calls and text messages from her other half. He was at the hotel waiting to take her back to his after she had finished work.
Loren mentioned none of this to Aidan, but there was no way to explain her disappearance to Reiss other than, to tell the truth. Everyone thought she had gone home and with the room charged under Aidan's name, Loren was just not in the hotel.
She finally revisited the message that caused her to pick up her mobile in the first place. She re-read the text. There was no 'Hi' no 'Hello' no 'How are you?' No 'I miss you.' Okay maybe not the latter but at he at least wanted to meet up for her birthday. As the train pulled into her station, she yawned, feeling as tired as hell but relieved knowing she could sleep a little late the next morning.
Minutes later, Loren was hurriedly turning the key in the door to her apartment. He mobile was ringing off the hook, and her bladder had lost all patience with her. Slamming the door shut, she dropped everything and got to the bathroom just in time. An egg sandwich and a bottle of J2 later she stood at the kitchen counter trying to figure out what the catch was with Victoria Station. But other than the fact that trains to Gatwick Airport from there - nothing stood out. He didn't say to bring a weekend bag, although she had ample clothing at his, to furnish a mini getaway. But neither had she booked any time off outside of her birthday.
Enough pondering over that she thought as the Tiffany bag caught her eye once more. In the bag were two birthday cards, one signed by the conference and events team and the other by the accounts department with Aidan's signature taking up almost a quarter of the inside of the latter. What she hadn't realised was that there were two gift boxes inside the Tiffany bag. She untied the smaller gift box first, and it revealed a pair of silver earrings. In the second gift box was a matching silver bracelet. Looking at the items, she surmised it was Aidan who went out shopping - he also previously worked at Tiffany's. She messaged him back.
Thank you x 2. Will let you know regarding coffee.
In another gift bag was an elegant, print scarf - perfect for those cooler summer nights. In another, some chocolates, wine and spa vouchers. And in the envelope, just as she thought some Selfridges gift vouchers from Mr and Mrs Cohen.
Mrs Cohen and her husband have been regulars to the hotel over the years. An American couple now in their early seventies, they'd visit London every October and occupy one of the corner suites overlooking the square for three weeks at a time. Mrs Cohen had actually met her husband in the said hotel nearly fifty years ago while attending a bar mitzvah. They'd stopped visiting the hotel entirely when it fell into disrepair. But now fully refurbished and under new management, the hotel had won them back as regular guests. Loren happened to be the lucky soul who picked up the phone four years ago when Mrs Cohen called to make their reservations. As someone who had seen the hotel transform over many years, Mrs Cohen had a lot of stories to tell. Some of which Loren have related to prospective clients on show rounds to sell the property.
Because who doesn't love a good story?
Loren supposed she should at least acknowledge receipt of the text message and so picked up her phone to respond. And as she did a video call came in. It was Reiss. She inhaled, composed herself and answered the call.
Reiss laid in bed with the duvet across his bare chest, his right arm holding the phone, his left arm behind his head. Loren recognised the double corded, navy blue and white duvet and pillowcase set she had bought last Christmas on the bed. He looked a little tired but rousing none the less. She had shied away from that bed since March, and suddenly she wanted to be there. On better terms, she'd be assured of a full West Indian at breakfast, at the least she could have asked for an under duvet camera dive. But at this particular time, she felt it best to keep the conversation above the duvet.
- Oh hi! I was just about to message you.
He paused his expression, that of amused puzzlement.
Calling to wish you a Happy Birthday!
She was about to say It's not my birthday ye... When à quick glance at her phone said differently. It had just gone 00:01.
Her voice almost clipped and she was unsure why because if anyone should be upset, it should be him.
What were you about to call to say?
The air was slightly terse between them. And Loren knew the reason all too well. Further, she had not yet gotten around to explaining herself. But Loren had no explanation to give. Saying her eyes became entangled with another pair of eyes in the office was just not going to cut it.
I was going to say see you tomorrow.
By the way, what time should I meet you? Loren asked.
Ten o'clock on platform two.
Loren chuckled, her face now a genuine delight.
Is it Harry Potter tomorrow and should I wear a T-shirt and jeans?
You're not a T-shirt and jeans type of birthday girl!
She smiled a sincere smile at the man that knew her all too well.
And that's Kings Cross! Platform 9 3/4
What's Kings Cross? She asked.
Harry Potter. He replied.
They both went quiet. Loren with a puzzled look on her face while Reiss watched on while her cogs turned. And then it clicked.
Judging by how slow she was then, she guessed it must have been a turtle egg sandwich she had been eating, and she laughed at herself.