Uncut: White Flame-14

Sometimes It’s Better to Live Without Love

The next morning, Audrie remained unmoving with her back lying flat on another strange bed.

Her eyes explored the intricate moldings on the ceiling and walls.

The third, and least used, guest room in the Jacobs Residence was decorated in an old-fashioned way.

The paint color was cream yellow.

The windows had lace curtains.

The canopied bed had beddings with ruffles and eyelets on the edges.

The numerous furniture looked antique reproductions.

Waking up in unfamiliar surroundings seemed to have strange effects on Audrie.

She started thinking about unthinkable things like going away from home at first and now, she’s thinking of buying a car.

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Nothing flamboyant. Her practical side would not let her splurge on a brand new one.

Just a plain-looking but heavy-duty car would do.

Another idea popped inside her head while she was having a warm shower.

Her hair had grown longer and it was nuisance to manage. It should be cut short as soon as possible.

A new image for a first date, huh? The small voice inside her brain asked tauntingly.

“Yes, why not?” Audrie replied to her reflection defiantly.

She was standing in front of the bathroom’s mirror while toweling dry her wet hair.

“Have a life, girl. You’re not a teenager anymore. Get rid of a useless infatuation. It’s better to live without love if it gave nothing but pain.”

Those out-of-the-blue ideas remained swirling inside her brain until she was dressed.

Audrie was cooking breakfast when the kitchen phone rang.

“Hello, Audrie! Good morning, dear,” her father’s cheerful voice boomed loudly from the small receiver.

“Good morning, Dad. How are Mom and Anne?”

“Fine, they’re just fine. Did I wake you? I called early today to apologize because I forgot to call you last night. Anne fetched us from the airport and from there, we got so busy.”

“It’s okay, Dad. I slept early last night and woke up early today.”

Audrie forced herself to sound chirpy so her father would not guess how much she’s missing them.

“An early bird, as usual,” her father said teasingly.

“Here’s your mom, dear. She wanted to speak to you, too. I love you. Take care while driving.”

“Love you, too, Dad. I always take care of myself. Don’t worry about me.” She smiled when she heard him telling her mother not to nag ‘poor’ Audrie.

“Hello, Audrie.” Her mother’s voice sounded mildly irritated.

“Your father’s turned to a nagger. He reminded me about the sky-high telephone bill so I just repeat my instructions on locking up the windows and the doors before you leave in the morning and before you sleep at night.”

“Don’t worry about the house, Mom. I won’t forget to lock anything. Will you be gone for long?”

“I don’t know… maybe, we can go home next week. Hope it’s still okay with you.”

“Of course, Mom. I’ll be here until you come back. Don’t rush. Feel free to stay with Anne for as long as she needs you.”

“Oh, Anne needs us here, alright.” Marie’s voice became muffled as though she was talking with someone in the background.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to go home until Friday next week,” she said after a short while of silence.

“That won’t be a problem with me, Mom. Enjoy your stay in New York. You and Dad deserve a vacation.”

“A vacation? Oh, yes, this could be a vacation.” Her mother giggled somewhat nervously.

“Okay, I have to say goodbye. Thank you for being there, my dear. We’ll have that talk when we get back home.”

“Bye, Mom.” She almost said there was no need for a ‘talk’.

“Take good care of yourself and Dad.” There was a click and then the dial tone.

Audrie put down the receiver slowly.

Something was amiss.

Anne’s trouble could be bigger and deeper than she suspected.

Audrie ate her breakfast quickly.

She made a couple of sandwiches from the left-over toasts and packed them in a brown bag with some fresh berries and green salad.

Her mother had stocked up the refrigerator with lots of fresh goodies so Audrie would be eating a lot of salads and fruits until next week.

The morning sun was up when Audrie locked the wrought iron gates after parking the motorbike by the sidewalk.

It was not hot yet but she wore her jacket to protect her arms and work clothes from dust.

She donned a face mask before putting on the large helmet.

Her long hair was still wet so she let it hanging behind her back.

While she was turning the ignition key, the electronic gates of the Talbot Residence swung open slowly.

Audrie sighed and stayed put as she waited for the black car to come out.

She would let Sean drive away first.

Her motorbike was humming quietly when the uniformed driver of the black car got out.

He was smiling politely as he walked towards her.

“Ma’am, Mr. Talbot wants you to ride with us.”

“What?” Audrie was stupefied.

“Sir Sean is asking you to ride in his car,” the driver/bodyguard repeated the invitation in a patient tone.

“You’re also going to town, aren’t you, missy?”

“Oh. Uhm, yes, but no, I don’t want to ride in his car.” Audrie was shaking her head when Sean got out from the back seat.

His face was stern as he strode towards her.

“Please, accept a ride with us.” His tone was dark, as though he was forced to invite her against his will.

“No, thank you.” Audrie was beginning to tremble with mixed excitement and confusion.

“I insist.”

“You can’t force me,” Audrie cut in tersely. She managed to find some courage at last.

“Have a good day, Mayor Talbot.” These were her last words before she quickly drove away.

She could feel his eyes boring into her back but she did not dare look back to confirm her suspicion.

Her breathing returned to normal when she reached the expressway, where the monotony of the scenery in the countryside never failed to relax and calm her.

Janica and a number of girls were hanging out beside her desk when Audrie entered the office.

Their faces became animated when they saw her.

“Good morning, Audrie!” They greeted her cheerfully.

“Good morning…” Audrie greeted back, her brows raised questioningly.

She deposited her bag beneath the table.

Both her riding jacket and helmet were tied neatly on the carriage of the motorbike, which was parked in the basement parking lot.

“You got flowers, girl!”

Carla, the girl who sat at a desk near the door, announced excitedly.

“I signed the delivery slip for you,” she added importantly.

“From a rich admirer. Those flowers are expensive! Orchids are imported!”

The telephone operator girl commented while ogling the over-sized blooms with white velvety petals.

“They’re from Nick, of course,” Janica guessed smugly.

“Hey, there’s a shiny box underneath the bouquet. C’mon, Audrie, open it!” exclaimed another girl, one finger pointing to a small package.

“Obviously, those are expensive chocolates. You’re a glutton, Josie.”

“I just want to see what’s inside the box. What’s wrong with that?”

Audrie did not know what to say or do.

Thankfully, a shrill sound reverberated throughout the low building.

She was saved by the bell.

“Time to work,” she murmured as she switched on the computer.

The girls grumbled as they dispersed one by one.

Audrie was just pretending to ignore the flowers but deep inside, she was curious to know the identity of the sender.

Janica could be right but her heart was hoping for somebody else.

It was during the short coffee break when Audrie decided to open the small envelope.

A short note was written by a bold handwriting.

It says, ‘Dinner at 7 pm tonight. S’.

Audrie blushed then scowled.

Her first reaction was excitement followed by irritation.

Dinner with Sean!

What did he mean by that?

This morning, there was the ride invitation.

Then, tonight…

‘No, no, no! No way!’ Audrie told herself vehemently.

But deep inside, she knew she’s too weak to decline yet it’s wrong to accept.

She jumped when the telephone rang. It was Mr. McIntyre.

“Miss Jacobs, I know it’s coffee break but — can I have a few minutes of your time, please?”

“Oh, of course, sir.” Audrie replied tensely.

She crossed the short distance towards the manager’s enclosed office.

The manager was beaming as he welcomed Audrie and offered a seat.

“Thank you for cutting short your break time, Miss Jacobs. I am just so excited about this good news.”

“Good news?”

“First, I’d like to congratulate you because you’ve just been promoted. Our Personnel Department has shortlisted possible candidates for this new position — and since you’re on the number one slot, I decided to choose you, Miss Jacobs. You are now the officer-in-charge in our new branch office.”

“Oh! This is a nice surprise, Mr. McIntyre.” Audrie couldn’t help herself but smile.

“I wasn’t expecting this. Thank you very much for the trust.”

“You’re known as hardworking and patient. Always composed and calm. These are qualities that we want for our new branch chief officer.” Mr. McIntyre stood up to shake hands with Audrie.

Audrie blushed while listening to praises about her personality.

The manager made her sound like a competent individual, who was quite capable of dealing with any types of trouble.

She didn’t know that other people still noticed her despite her tendency to maintain a low profile and remain in the background.

She never wanted to draw attention towards herself and it’s quite ironical that her superiors at work saw and liked her introvert ways.

“The new branch office is still under renovation but I would like you to take over as soon as possible. I hope, it’ll be okay with you?”

“Uhm, may I know the location of the branch, sir?” Audrie asked shyly.

“Of course, of course,” Mr. McIntyre laughed.

“I am sorry for the remiss. Here’s the address.” The manager bustled to get a pen and paper from the wide office desk.

It was made of solid wood. Small mounds of folders and papers were scattered all over the desk.

“It is in the next town. Don’t worry about the transportation because the company will provide a service car to you.” He was explaining while scribbling an address on a company stationary.

“The telephone was already installed and working,” he said as he added a string of numbers as well.

Audrie’s head was whirling but one thing was sure — she felt relieved.

These past few days, she had been wishing and planning to make some major changes in her life. It was amazing how fate was able to interfere without much effort.

“I suggest that you proceed to the Personnel office for further details, Miss Jacobs. Congratulations once again.”

“Thank you, sir. This is awesome.”

“Well, you’re awesome, too.” The manager grinned.

Audrie spent the rest of that day listening to further instructions from the personnel manager.

And she was still high with excitement when she went home after office hours.

The disturbing dinner invitation was completely out of her mind.

UNCUT: WHITE FLAME-15

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