Step 1: Leave a Great First Impression / Surprise! Not.
“Theodore, I hope that you’re kidding, for your sake.” Brian could not believe he was having this conversation. “First I have to run after you for some fucking file and now you’re asking me to wait?” The world must have gone crazy, Brian was sure of that. “I don’t care if your fucking surprise party was for the sultan of Brunei! Get your ass down here, now!”
It was Friday night and all Brian wanted to do was go home, take a two hundred and ninety six-degree hot shower, fall into bed for at least twelve hours and get up — preferably at noon — and work through the weekend. So that’s what it had come to: owning a successful business, making shitloads of money, and having practically no time to enjoy any of it.
The proverbial Fruits of Success weren’t supposed to taste so bitter.
Brian exhaled his last drag of smoke and crushed the cigarette beneath his Gucci loafer. He’d ordered the exquisite pair via phone from his regular importer, the one he hadn’t seen in over a year — courtesy of said non-fruits of success, of course.
He really had to stop smoking one of these days. Or well, one of the other days. Leaning forward slightly from under the overhang of the apartment building, two drops of rain hit his forehead provocatively. Fucking rain.
“Fucking rain,” someone else muttered, followed by a dangerous putting-down-umbrella maneuver which caused Brian to have to duck away under the swig.
“Would you watch it?”
The man whipped around. “Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there.” The guy flashed a quite polite smile and fished his keys out of his strange-looking bag. “Can I let you in?”
“I’m just waiting for someone,” Brian explained, feeling the sudden need to straighten his shoulders.
“Well, don’t you want to wait in the entry hall or something?”
“Pass.” In a weird notion of wanting to say something else, Brian quickly added, “Besides, it doesn’t look as though we’d get in there any time soon.” He motioned at the man’s hands that were busy trying out several keys.
“Ha, yeah. I probably should make sure I get my own door open before inviting people in. Fuck. It’s just that I dropped my damn key chain somewhere on the way and got them all mixed up. I’m parked approximately four miles away. Normally, there’s always a couple of free spots right here in front of the entrance,” the man babbled.
Brian felt like he should not be interested in these random bits of information. “Must be all the surprise party guests,” he offered nevertheless, rolling his eyes at the thought of what must be the lamest party in history if Ted played some considerable role.
“Ha! Finally!” With a few loud clicks, the key turned in the lock and the door opened. “Surprise party, you say? Who— Oh, shit!” The guy sighed dramatically and leaned against the door frame.
Just then the sound of Ted’s generic shoe brand echoed through the hallway. “Brian, I’m sorry, I couldn’t find my briefcase right away, what with all the mess we— Justin!”
Justin gave an unenthusiastic wave.
Holding a folder out to Brian, Ted surveyed the situation. “You’re not asking what I’m doing here. That is not good,” he told Justin.
“You can say that again. God, I hate you guys.”
“Justin, I’m sorry, it was Daphne’s idea! And we were just… well, were we supposed to say no? She insisted!”
“Ted, I swear I’m this close to turning around and walking the five miles back to my car.”
Four miles, Brian corrected silently, staring a hole into the side of Justin’s head where a couple of wet blond strands were stuck to his temple.
“Oh, right,” Ted remembered and turned to Brian. “The final figures are on the last page and I’ll have those diagrams ready by tomorrow night and email them to you, okay?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m gonna need them by seven.” Brian didn’t need the diagrams at all.
“Alright then. Bye,” Ted said and set to veering a very reluctant Justin further into the building.
Justin gave Brian a miserable smile before following Ted’s lead inside.
“Could you try and act surprised?” Brian heard Ted plead as he stared after them until the heavy door clicked shut.
That guy was Ted’s friend? Huh. Brian might have to give his accountant’s social competency more credit.
Clearing his throat and stepping onto the cigarette stubble once more for unclear reasons, Brian headed into the direction of his parking spot.
At a red light a couple of minutes later, Brian watched the windshield wipers do their work.
If Justin had managed to look surprised?
They were out of daisies. How could they be out of daisies?
“Right,” Justin said, closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead. “So, do you have anything that looks similar to daisies?”
“Well, um, we do have plastic ones?” Not so great.
He ended up not buying any flowers at all and seriously considered taking his weekly business elsewhere from now on.
Luckily, she didn’t mind. Or so it seemed at first.
“Why is it always cloudy? It always is.”
“Hello to you, too.”
She pulled and pushed a lever and turned her wheelchair around. “It’s always cloudy.”
“Actually, it has been quite nice and sunny for a couple of days last week. Remember, I wanted to take you outside?” She scoffed and Justin knew what would be to come next.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? And I bet they’d like that, too.” Justin didn’t respond. “Isn’t it Wednesday today? Why didn’t you bring me my flowers? Who did you— Did they tell you to—”
“They were out of daisies today.”
She scoffed again. She always did. “But of course they were!” Her eyes narrowed that one fraction. They always narrowed when she was like this. It was her give-away, others’ forewarning or confirmation.
The air felt stale and Justin went to crack a window open. “So, what did you do today?”
“Like you care.”
“Of course I care,” Justin confirmed, calm and prepared.
There was a noise just outside the window and she turned around quickly, checking. Always checking. Finally, she returned her gaze to him, but only studied him through thin slits.
Justin had gotten used to this. A fact that didn’t make it much easier, though.
“I have a birthday present for you. It’s in that cupboard over there, under the stack of magazines, between the pillow cases.”
Justin smiled a little. “Thanks, mom.”
“So, as I said: you gotta hire an additional someone for the art department or one or two freelancers,” Jacob concluded. “And by what you’re currently paying overtime for the residents, you might as well hire another designer.”
Brian sighed. “We can’t go through a round of hiring right now. There’s too much work and too little time to get it done as it is. How about another couple of interns? You said the last two from PIFA were doing good work.”
“Brian, this is not about the busy work. We need qualified people to design the campaigns. Look, just give me permission to take care of this. I’ll hire one freelancer and we’ll see how it goes. Ted already mentioned that he knows someone.”
Brian taps his pen against a stack of files. “Since when does Ted know someone?” Jacob huffed a smile. “Fuck. Yeah, alright, take care of it.”
After Jacob left, Brian snatched up the receiver of the phone with one finger before pressing a key.
His call was answered with a “You better not be calling to tell me you can’t make it tonight.”
Brian rolled his eyes. “You know, Mikey, some of us actually have work to do.”
“Shut up, I can’t believe you! You ditched on us three times in a row already.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m enjoying this, so suck it up.”
At the end of the line, Michael sighed. “Look, I understand. I do, okay? But it’s Friday. Can’t the workaholic shit wait till tomorrow at least?”
“Tomorrow there’ll be even more workaholic shit to take care of. Plus, I’m having dinner with a client, as well.”
“Right. So, we have Jenny for Saturday and Sunday, but I could drop by your place when I go out for a walk with her? Say, Sunday afternoon?”
“Yeah, alright. See you then. And make sure that kid is clean before you two show up. The cleaning lady is still leaving me distraught notes in Spanish because of the stains on my rug.”
“Will do. You know, you should look into some more child-friendly furniture. Gus is—”
“Mikey, I am not having this conversation. And if I were, I’d tell you that contrary to yours, my kid has style and knows not to soil dad’s European designer interior.”
Just as his best friend broke off another “Oh my God, Jenny did the cutest thing yesterday…” story, Brian was distracted by a tap on his office door.
Cynthia stuck her head in and held up a note. Brian motioned her over, not minding the interruption all too much, and took the piece of paper out of her hand.
Jacob found graphic designer — J. Taylor, BastArtDize Designs
meeting here at ~4 pm today,
wanna be present?
Brian gave Cynthia a nod before forcing himself to refocus his attention to Michael. It’s not like he missed anything. Those stories always ended with Jenny having made a cute face or a gargling sound that Michael chose to interpret as an attempt at forming the word daddy, no matter how off he was.
“…and yeah, that was two days ago. Isn’t that cute?”
“I should mention that Mel thought it sounded more like goobie or something, but well.”
Brian decided not to point out that goobie and daddy would most probably be two completely different sounds. “Alright then, so I’ll see you and the little spelling champion on Sunday.”
Brian leaned back in his chair and tried to will his secretary via telepathy to come back in carrying a fresh mug of coffee.
He scrolled through his schedule for the next week and tried to remember the last time he got laid.