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Party for Two

 

Emma hurried along the train platform and queued behind the hundreds of commuters heading to work. Ducking through the entrance tunnel for a short cut, she shuffled across the concourse. Emma scanned the escalators ahead of her. Hundreds of commuters took to the escalators and stairs to escape the tube station claustrophobia and into the fresh air. Toby usually waited for her at the top of the escalator. Emma came to Kings Cross station via the Victoria line while Toby commuted in from the Bakerloo line. They had both worked for the same company for a few years. For the first month, they kept bumping into each other at the ticket turn styles at Kings Cross. After a few awkward conversations, they made a pact to plan to meet. Each week they took it in turns to bring morning coffee. Emma worked in the finance department while Toby worked in marketing in the regional office of a large construction company.

That Friday was Toby’s last morning for that week to bring the coffee. Each day he had brought Emma a different flavoured latte. As she ascended the moving staircase, Toby came into view. His brown bearded chin buried in his black woolen scarf. Toby’s head was downcast and she couldn’t catch his eye for attention. He was staring at the floor and his head was bobbing from left to right along with his shoulders. Toby had tucked himself into a corner. When Emma approached Toby, she could see that he was playing football against the wall with a screwed up ball of paper while he waited for her.

Amused that Toby could find entertainment in any situation, she regarded him while she was out of his eye line. She loved that he was the same height as her. He had never tried to kiss her, but she imagined the scene several times a day in her head. Emma wanted to know what his plump lips surrounded by short stubble hair would feel like against her neck as he pressed kisses softly to her skin.

“What are you thinking about?” Toby’s voice startled her and she yelped aloud, a passers-by glared at her for causing unnecessary noise so early in the morning. This caused Emma to snigger and reach for one of the red paper cups in Toby’s hand. He passed her the one in his left and then changed his mind trying to see what was written on the side of the cup.

“Nothing really, my mind was elsewhere, what flavour do we have today?” She answered, making grabby hands at the coffee cups and waiting impatiently for Toby to make up his mind which coffee she could have.

“Cinnamon and treats, sugar, spice and all things nice.” Toby waited for Emma to see today’s phrase, he hoped that it would give Emma a clue to how he felt about her. At the cafe he went to, he asked the barista to write a message on the side of the cup for Emma every day. He was too shy to tell her directly how he felt about her. Emma had finished her previous relationship a month ago and Toby was giving her enough space until he made his move. He watched with dismay as she wrapped her mitten-covered hand over the saying. Toby watched Emma march off to the ticket barrier, hoisting her two bags over her shoulder and touching her Oyster card on the yellow circle. Toby quickly caught Emma up and frog-marched behind her as she speedily walked across the main concourse of the station and into the other part of Kings Cross to get their overland train to their final destination.

“I’m grateful that we’re going home later this evening to miss the rush of commuters getting home. I swear there were three million people all trying to get to work at the same time. They were all on my tube train this morning.” Emma huffed out her frustration once they had reached the platform for their train going North out of the city.

“That’s a slight exaggeration, surely. Are you drinking tonight at the Christmas Party?” Toby deftly switch the conversation to something he desperately wanted to know. He was clicking his heels together to keep warm, the winter weather had turned icy cold. The wind swept through the platform in sudden gusts causing him to shiver each time.

“No, I have a date tomorrow and don’t want to turn up hung over.” Emma shifted her eyes to the left to see Toby’s reaction without being obvious. His face showed no emotion as he processed the information.

“Oh,” was all Toby said. He was hoping he could get Emma tipsy at the party and ask for a Christmas kiss under the mistletoe. Toby had no idea if there was going to be mistletoe at the restaurant that was booked for the office party, but he hoped that there would be an opportunity.

“I’ve been set up on a blind date by Daisy in the office. So I don’t have high hopes that it will be successful but I thought it was about time I started dating again.”

Toby wanted to kick the metal chair fixed to the floor of the train platform in frustration. He was too late, he should asked her out a week ago. Toby listened carefully to what Emma was saying about the man she was going to meet. He sounded boring and Toby made a promise to himself that the next time he was in close confines with Emma, he would kiss her. He had until they parted ways after the party to make his move.

o0o

“Are you getting ready here Emma?” Toby had swung by Emma’s desk on his lunch break. She had a booth in the old part of the building they worked in. The room she worked in was converted stables that still had the dividing wooden walls with metal railing at the top. They couldn’t be removed because the building was listed. The offices were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees that had now lost their leaves. Squirrels and pheasants wandered around the grounds at their leisure. Toby hadn’t ventured outside today like he usually did for a walk down to the lake, he was too agitated, thinking about how to seduce Emma.

“Yes, I’ll get changed in the ladies toilets after the telephone lines close, I said I’d lock up and do the closing shift as the others hadn’t brought their clothes with them to change into and are going home first. Tanya has said that I can use her car for the weekend so I can drive us home tonight instead of slogging home on the train. I take you home too if you want. They’ll come back here and I can drive them to the party.”

“Ok, that would be great, I can get roaring drunk and sleep in the back of the car on the way home. Do you want me to wait with you? There’s only me and Daisy in my department today, the rest of them are going straight to the restaurant from their area meeting this afternoon.”

“That would be great, I don’t like being here on my own, the ghost came for a visit last week and I don’t fancy seeing her again.” Emma shuddered and pulled her cardigan tighter around her body.

Toby laughed and touched her arm, “You didn’t hear a ghost, it was your imagination, it was a long day and you were tired.”

“It was not my imagination Tobias. I heard her heavy breathing from the end office, I went down to check and there was no one there. In fact, there was no one else was in the building, so it had to be her.” Emma turned her attention to her computer screen ending the discussion.

“Fine, I’ll swing by when I’ve finished up and protect you from the ghouls.” As much as Toby liked a fired up Emma, he didn’t want to be in the direct firing line.

The building they worked in was a converted stable house that had been built three hundred years previously. The stables were attached to the main house that had been converted into offices as well. There were reports to be a female ghost wandering the corridors. The myth and legend said that she had gone horseback riding and had never returned one afternoon after an argument with her fiancé.

Once Toby had left her office, Emma pulled the coffee cup Toby had given her from behind the potted plant on her desk. She sipped a some coffee she had made early using the same cup he had given her that morning and had refilled it several times since. Emma brushed her finger over the phrase that had been written on the side. She hoped he would kiss her long and slow that evening.

“Kiss me quick? Who is sending you love notes on your coffee cup?”

Emma jumped and knocked over the cup that thankfully still had its lid on. Her work colleague Daisy sat on the edge of her desk fiddling with the stapler, opening and closing the clasp that held the staples. Emma snatched the piece of stationery out Daisy’s hands and dropped it into her drawer.

“No one is sending me notes, he doesn’t like me in that way, we’re just friends.” Emma replied once she had finished mopping up the stray pools of coffee that leaked out the mouth hole. She then scanned the area for potential annoying stationery that Daisy had a habit of tapping.

“But you like him in that way though, don’t you.” Daisy clasped her hands in her lap and grinned.

“Who are you assuming gave me the cup?” Emma was aiming for nonchalance but knew who Daisy was talking about. Daisy shared an office with Toby.

“Toby of course.” Daisy sighed and rolled her eyes.

“Oh well, yes, of course I do. I told him about my blind date you’ve organised for me tomorrow and he didn’t have any reaction. He doesn’t fancy me.”

“I’m not so sure, maybe he is playing his cards close to his chest. You’re not long out of a relationship, maybe he is waiting for you to make your move on him.”

“Do you think so? We’ve been friends for so long.”

“You won’t know until you kiss him quick.”

Daisy jumped off Emma’s desk and winked as she left Emma to it.

o0o

Emma finished applying her last coat of mascara and checked her reflection in the mirror above the sink. After a quick shower and a change of clothes she was ready for the party. Her figure-hugging dress clung to her body until it reached her knees. It had a high neck at the front but scooped low at the back. She chose the plum coloured dress the previous week, solely with Toby in mind. Satisfied with her appearance, she pulled on her winter coat, and left the female bathroom and went in search of Toby. She pushed open the heavy oak door to her office and spied Toby sitting on her office chair turning her coffee cup in circles. As soon as he heard the door hit the wall behind it, his hand shot away from the cup like he’d been burned.

Come on, let’s get in the car and wait, I don’t like waiting in this building, it gives me the creeps. Toby smiled and pushed her chair under her desk and joined her at the doorway. They left the building through the rear emergency exit, which slammed shut as soon as they were over the threshold. The small car park had only one car in it. Emma pressed the button on the key fob and the hazard lights flashed twice. Emma climbed into the driver’s side and Toby the front passenger seat. Emma turned to throw her bag on the back seat and inhaled Toby’s aftershave. Her mouth watered at the close proximity and wished she were brave enough to initiate contact.

Turning on the ignition to allow the car’s heating system to fill the car with warmth, Emma mentally wished Toby would kiss her. After ten minutes, she turned off the engine and waited for her work friends to turn up. They should have already arrived before they left the building, but there was no sign. When an hour had passed, Emma rang the restaurant to see if they had gone straight there. She discovered that there was no booking for that night, but there was a reservation for the following Friday for the company party.

“I think we’ve been set up Toby,” Emma brushed away her fringe from her eyes and squinted at the rustling trees the other side of the tall metal fence.

“Is that a bad thing?” Toby found his bravery and was making good on his earlier pledge. Emma remained tight-lipped, she’d been dreaming about the Christmas party. Devising ways to pretend that Toby wanted her as much as she wanted him. “Emma?” he asked her again, he took her hand in his and rested them on his thigh, she turned her head to see what he was doing and turned back to the trees ahead.

“Am I going to have a one-sided conversation?” Toby asked carefully, he didn’t want to scare her.

“No,” she whispered, fright consumed her.

“Look at me,” Toby commanded.

She did, and they froze, the air stilled and their eyes locked.

“Can I have a Christmas kiss?” Toby asked, he talked to her mouth, licking his lips.

To be continued in First Encounters Volume IV – Christmas Party Edition

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Grace Harper

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Author of the Geary Brothers Series and The Disappearance of Catherine Brodie.

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