The Only One(3)

By: Melissa Ellen

The walls were all painted white, but the warm wood floors, desks and exposed wood beams above all helped keep it from feeling stark and bland. Tom had commissioned photographs over the years of some of his most impressive projects. They were stretched across large canvases that hung on the walls all the way down the space, giving it a gallery feel. Drew, Joce and I each had our own desk all facing the front of the space, allowing us to intercept clients and visitors as they came in. We didn’t have a receptionist, so we all did our part answering phones and greeting people.

As I sat down at my desk, I noticed Joce’s desk across from me still sat empty. I guess I wasn’t the only one running late today. I put my purse away and began checking my voicemails and emails. A few minutes into reading my emails, Joce came blowing through the door, looking a little rough, but still gorgeous.

Joce was an unfairly beautiful red-head with long thick hair, pale green eyes, and a tall slender figure. She had fair colored skin that was covered with the faintest of freckles. Her lips and cheeks were a natural pale pink, requiring her to wear little make-up. She reminded me of a beautiful antique porcelain doll. She moved quickly to her desk, dropping her stuff on it with a huff as she sat.

“Another bad date?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“How did you guess?” she responded sarcastically.

Joce was boy crazed and seemed to have a knack for picking the wrong guys. She met most of the men she went on dates with through social apps like Tinder and Bumble. She always scheduled her dates for Thursday nights, which meant most Friday mornings she arrived in the same fashion and mood. “I’m thinking I should just swear off men, like you have, Ava.”

I didn’t respond. I just gave her my best sympathetic look. I hadn’t exactly sworn off men. I had at first, but eventually I decided the best way for me to move on was to date. The problem was most men didn’t compare to Rhett, and the few I had actually went on more than one date with ended up losing interest in me after the second or third date. It was like I was cursed to be alone forever.

“What do you say we get some drinks tonight? I could use a little girl time and who knows, maybe I can meet a good man the old fashion way,” she asked, hopefully.

I wanted to tell her that meeting a guy in a bar wasn’t exactly her best option for finding husband material, but who was I to judge.

“Sure,” I smiled at her.

“Ladies,” Tom interrupted our little chat, “I have some exciting news! I just got off the phone with a new potential client to work on a home in Malibu!” Tom was a little more ecstatic than usual. Malibu meant money, so I didn’t blame him for being overly enthused.

Tom was a family man in his mid to late forties with a receding hairline of brown hair speckled with grays. He had spent the first part of his architecture career working for large corporations and eventually got burned out from the high stress of commercial architecture. He left his cushy salary job to start his own firm, doing residential architecture.

He started out with mostly remodels and smaller new construction homes. But he was quickly becoming a recognized architect in the area and had built up his portfolio of residential work. He had more recently gotten exposure to larger projects and clients with more money to spend.

“That’s great news!” Joce radiated.

“That is! When do you meet with them?” I asked happy for him.

“We,” he corrected me. “Ava, you’ll be coming with me. You’re going to help me run point on this one. And the meeting is today. This will be a vacation home for the client and they’re in town for the weekend.”

Crap. I hoped I wasn’t going to have to cancel on Valerie. We were supposed to meet up after she finished touring the campus this morning.

“What time is the meeting? Will it be here in the office?” I asked, hoping I could figure out a way to still meet with Valerie and make the meeting in time.

“The meeting is at two in downtown. I’ll send you the address. We’ll need to drive separate. I have to head straight home after the meeting. My son has a baseball game tonight.”

Tom’s wife, Marie, was pregnant with twins and had been recently put on bed rest for the remainder of her last trimester after having some complications. Tom was often having to take off early from work to help with their son and do things around the house. He had been assigning projects to Joce and me to run point on, so that the clients always had someone available to them if he couldn’t be. Neither of us minded. It was good experience for us.