Chicago Love Story Ch. 03byAngelPoet©
Izzy is taking a break from Chicago for a while and seeing what New York has to offer... Please leave your thoughts!
Springtime had returned once again to Chicago. After a long, grueling winter filled with blustery snow and ice, the joy of warm weather and green trees was all around me as I took a power walk through Lincoln Park Zoo. Walking had been my solace as of late, and as I crossed the bridge over Lake Shore Drive that led me to the edge of serene Lake Michigan, a certain sparkle in its blue waters reminded me of a pair of eyes that wouldn't cease to haunt me. I found a bench on which to sit, removed my iPod, and gazed at the scene before me.
I had barely spoken to Josh except in passing, and dealt with him only on a professional level. The day, the moment, the second, I walked in to see him in the midst of an intimate moment with Molly less than forty eight hours after we'd shared a very passionate night together, had broken not just my trust, but my heart. I held it together for the rest of that day only to collapse into a thousand shards of sadness as soon as I walked into my apartment.
I was lucky enough to have my best friend Renee call at the most crucial hour of my breakdown. She rushed to my apartment from her job on the north side of the city to hold my hand. It was exactly what I had needed.
"You know, cherry wine always helps," she said sympathetically. "I know you're hurting, Bells, but is this what you want in a relationship? Someone you can't trust? Someone who can't make up his mind? Do you see the pattern you're falling into again?"
I nodded, smiling as she called me by her favorite nickname- Bells. This was definitely not unlike the man with whom I'd spent over five years of my life, but he was far, far away from my mind at that time. Was I destined to fall for men who would never be able to commit?
This only brought me into yet another onslaught of tears, and as I leaned into the embrace of my best friend while we sipped wine and listened to the greatest hits of the Eighties for comfort, I began to find my strength.
"If Molly is what he wants, then Molly is what he can have," I said sternly, sniffing back the teary residue in my sinuses. "You know me- I can be a cold and heartless bitch when I have to be. He doesn't have to know I'm dying on the inside."
Renee's smile faded as she eyed me with concern. She took my hand in hers.
"Don't be too aloof," she cautioned. "You can't sit here and expect your feelings for him will dissolve over night. He might just come around."
I shook my head at my distant memory of my night from hell, the breeze blowing in off the lake chilling me slightly. I rubbed my hands together to create a little warmth, but it didn't help much. Bringing up that day and my feelings for Josh were simply unpleasant moments that made my heart resonate with echoes of my hurt. Oh, the wounds were still fresh and tender, but I kept on as though nothing bothered me. I made him believe that my world was continuing to turn without him. I smiled, laughed, and acted as though I were a newly improved Isabelle Wilson. If he had the gift of X-Ray vision, he would know otherwise, however. But he didn't, and so he would never get to know what he'd caused. I had too much pride to have anyone feel sorry for me. I would spit on his... and her pity. The biggest punishment I could serve back to both of them was my deafening silence.
He had never bothered to call me and make amends, let alone even explain himself. Oh, I had given him a loud and clear message via text that was surely his cue to stay away- and I do mean, far away. The only reimbursement I had received for my ill-spent time and emotion on him was his gazes... the sad, longing looks from afar... His crystalline blue eyes a mirror of the hurt I knew was in his heart. Did he hurt because he'd injured me, or just feeling sorry for me? Rhetorical, I know. But really, I had hoped, wished he'd bothered to call me, email me. Well, needless to say, it was over, and no matter how much my heart was breaking, and no matter how painful it was to see in my mind's eye their intimate embrace, the tender way he moved the lock of hair from her face, the way she gazed up into his eyes...
It was enough. I angrily stood again, replaced my iPod and began my furious walk. Everyday the pain lessened. Fuck Josh Daniels. I didn't need him.
"And so, Isabelle, it's set then," my boss Victor Bradshaw said with a pleasant finality, his warm green eyes full of favor. "I believe you're the right person to send to New York for this project. The staff of our sister magazine is excited to have you on board for a few months."
Nothing could smear away the smile that seemed to be tattooed to my face right now. Out of the entire staff, Victor was sending me to shadow and write for the New York city branch of The Windy City Times, only their version was called New York Now. The two branches were owned by the same publishing company that had houses both here in Chicago and in Manhattan. He even told me that there was a chance that I could stay on permanently, but he scowled at that.
"You're ordered to return, though, Izzy," he said with a sad smile. "What would we do without you here in Chicago? It wouldn't be the same. Hell, it won't even be the same with you gone for ten weeks as it is! You better do us proud!"
It didn't take long for the word to spread that I was taking a little sabbatical in New York. Honestly, I breathed a gush of relief, thinking that it had come at a crucial time given the tension that ensued between Josh and myself. To hell with Molly. She knew full well the best thing to do was to stay out of my sight. I hardly mourned the loss of her friendship. Josh was another story. Even though he had taken out my heart and crushed it, Renee had been totally right. My feelings hadn't disappeared. Not by a long shot. And it sickened me that they remained.
"So, you're headed to New York later this week, huh?" Josh said cheerily to me, though I read through his façade. It amazed me at how well I could read him. Underneath he was afraid to approach me, but of course he had to play it off. I glanced around and realized the majority of the staff was gone. It was just him and me in the area.
"Yep, my flight leaves at 10 am Friday morning," I said with little emotion in my voice. I barely made eye contact as I rummaged one last time through my desk drawers. I wouldn't see this place again till the beginning of August.
"Are you taking Pixie?" He asked casually.
"No, my cat is staying with Renee," I answered firmly. "No pets allowed in the apartment they're putting me up in."
"Oh," he uttered. "Um, Izzy?"
"Yeah?" I still barely made eye contact. When he didn't respond for nearly ten seconds after that, I finally met his gaze. My heart leapt in my chest as I did so. It killed me. I saw before me the man with whom I'd laughed and shared intimate moments. It seemed so long ago that we were in that delirious place when relationships are new. But, that was all over now.
"Good luck in New York," he said softly, his eyes reflecting the sadness again. Whimsically, I thought that it took a lot of guts to approach me considering I had barely risen above freezing temperature with him. But I continued my frostiness. I just didn't have it in me to treat him any better than that. I was hurting still so, so much.
"Thanks," I said appreciatively, yet coolly, as I lifted my laptop bag onto my shoulder. He stood motionless, his eyes unable to meet mine. I passed by him without a second glance and when I was out of his gaze and earshot, I cried all the way to the El station. I could be soft and vulnerable outside of his radius, and that's exactly what I let myself do.
I stood and watched the goings-on of Chicago whirl around me. It would be a long time before I would gaze upon the picturesque skyline around me... the proud Sears Tower, the intricate Wrigley Building, the busy bridges crossing the Chicago River, the thunder of the El passing by overhead... all pieces that fit together to form the comfort of my home. The pull that the city had on me was so strong that my heart saddened a little when I thought of how long I'd be away. However, I needed to fly away from Josh and all the hurt that surrounded our situation. I had faith that I would return with peace once again in my heart. The distance would do me good. I took in my grand city in daylight once more as I wiped tears from my eyes. The El slowed as it approached my stop and I stepped off. The sense of change was upon me.
The hustle and bustle of Manhattan wasn't unlike that of Chicago. I fidgeted in a professional black dress and stylish black flats all the way to the building where New York Now was being put together. I would be formally introduced that morning, and I didn't want to make anything less than a perfectly professional first impression.
"We'll put you over here, Chitown," my new editor Brice Cavanaugh said quickly. I had a feeling I would be picking up that New York accent sooner or later as I listened to Brice give me the run down. "You'll find coffee and a vending machine back through those doors in the break room, though I'll tell ya what, it gets pretty busy around here!"
I smiled and started to unpack my things, eager for the next staff meeting that would happen that afternoon. It would be then that I would get my first writing assignment and get better acquainted with my team of writers. This was such an amazing thing to happen that would give my writing career an amazing boost! I tried hard not to think of Josh as I glanced over to the entertainment writers. No doubt I was the last thing on his mind, so why did I let him come into mine?
"Chicago, huh?" A masculine voice spoke, startling me from my familiar, painful reverie. "You looked kinda sad just now. Do you miss it already?"
He walked nonchalantly around the corner by my desk and leaned on the fake cubicle wall. I was slightly taken aback by his cocky demeanor, but being the red-blooded American female that I am, my heart fluttered as I noticed how good looking he was. He was over six feet with perfect black hair and amazing brown eyes that were as dark or even darker than my own. He was tanned, his olive complexion deep and rich, and his face had a tiny bit of a five o'clock shadow. He smiled and that was enough to make my heart rival an Olympic gymnast. He wore faded jeans and a simple white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up near his elbows. His hands were strong and firm as he reached out to shake mine. I smiled shyly.
"I heard about you," he replied. "I'm Jeff Augastino. I cover finance and crap like that."
I smiled as he explained his position on the staff. He had majored in finance and economics, and had even worked briefly on Wall Street, but all the stress of such a demanding position just hadn't been worth it to him. Writing was his passion, and he was even in the midst of getting a book about investments and the economy published.
"I've accomplished quite a bit for being just thirty," he said evenly, eyeing me with curiosity. "So how about you?"
"Well, what do you want to know?" I replied. I wondered if he was trying to intimidate me or get in my pants? I wasn't getting just a casual, "I want to get to know you" vibe from him. "I'm from Chicago, I got my degree in journalism from Northwestern, and I love what I do. Simple as that. I write creatively when time allows it, but I'm pretty driven with this job. It's my passion."
"Yeah?" He said softly, his brown eyes narrowing as a cocky smile spread. "It's good to have passion. For everything. Not just your job."
My eyes met his and I smiled a saccharin sweet smile that made him flinch for not more than a millisecond. It was enough, though, to drive home my point.
"Mr. Augastino," I said firmly, jutting my chin forward as I spoke, my eyes wide and my hand on my hip. "I expect that working with you and the rest of this staff will be a very rewarding experience for my career. I'll have you know that I bring nothing to the table but talent and professionalism." I leaned in and lowered my voice for emphasis. "And I do mean, nothing but talent and professionalism. I just wanted to make that clear."
I had very much managed to understand his innuendo, and when I stood firm against him, he seemed nonplussed. He rubbed a hand over his chin and smiled as he walked by. He stood near me, and I caught a whiff of his subtle cologne, reminding me of rich leather and spice. I bit my lip in spite of myself. This man was infuriating! I just left a very maddening situation in Chicago- I didn't need to find myself in another one here in New York!
"Isabelle," he said gently, close to my ear. "I look forward to working with you."
He walked away without another word, and I found myself looking back at him. I rolled my eyes and sat, hoping he would stay in his own little niche far away from me.
"Don't let Jeff get to you," a female's voice said humorously. I recognized her from Brice's earlier introductions. Bradlee Gold- theater and music. She was short and petite with auburn hair that looked too rich to be real, and funky black glasses. I knew immediately I would like her, plus she had a name that no one could forget. "He's a flirt, but a genuinely nice guy. He's recently divorced, but he doesn't like to talk about it."
"Yeah, I picked up on the flirty part," I said, feeling aggravation. "The last thing I need is that. I kinda left Chicago behind for a while to... get over someone."
"Oh honey," she said with sudden gusto. "From your lips to God's ears! Do we ever get over the bastards who break our hearts and leave us to whither? You and me, girlfriend. There's a wonderful bar a few blocks down we're going to check out after work. Get ready."
I laughed, knowing she was the exact kind of friend I had needed to make on this excursion.
She was thirty three and had grown up on Long Island. Of course! That's where her amazing accent had originated! I could've listened to her all evening, and actually, it just about was. If Bradlee could do one thing well besides write, talking was her forte.
"So, I brought this guy home last year for the entire family to meet him," she said as she swirled her martini in its glass. "Five minutes with my family, and he was ready to head back to the city. I guess the whole big Jewish get-together with everyone wanting to know everyone's business was too much for him. Now, I've blabbed long enough. What's the story, Isabelle?"
"I don't seem to be too lucky in the love department," I said shakily, taking a swig of a very tart appletini. "Great friends, great job, sucky love life. Part of the reason I took this little exchange is to get away and mend my heart. I made a big mistake and got involved with a colleague."
I went on to tell her the entire story and she listened sympathetically. Her facial expressions made me giggle as I told her all the details- including the flowers, the sex, and of course, Molly.
"There's a warm seat burning just for her in hell," she laughed, swallowing down the rest of her drink. Her eyes met the door and her expression changed. "Well, look who's coming."
I smiled, not really letting her words register until I turned my gaze and felt a presence at the table.
"Evening ladies," he said smoothly. "Mind if I join you?"
Augastino. He grinned at both of us took a long swig off his Heineken.
"I kinda overheard you two talking earlier, and since it's right on my way home, I thought I'd stop in."
"Have a seat, Handsome," she said to me rather than to him. "I'm just learning the basics on our friend here from Chicago. Why don't you have a seat?"
He slid into the wooden booth next to me and I smelled once again his delicious cologne. I couldn't help but notice his strong hands again. Wait... Stop. I shook my head and motioned to the waitress.
"What'll it be, Bella?" he said softly. "Bella seems fitting for such a lovely lady, right Bradlee?"
"You Italians," she muttered. "Always trying to be the lovers, huh?"
"I'm half Irish, too," he answered humorously, then added. "And I don't have to try, babe."
Bradlee rolled her eyes and then excused herself from the table. "Behave yourself, Handsome."
The waitress returned with a second appletini which I sipped nervously. I couldn't help but notice Jeff's presence. Everything about him was so attractive, but so wrong for me to go down that path.
"I make you nervous, don't I," he said rather than asked, sighing. "Look, Bella, for what it's worth, I'm sorry for today. I didn't mean to make you feel awkward or anything. Hey, you don't mind it if I call you Bella, do you? You're so pretty."
His amazing brown eyes met mine and I smiled confidently, laughing a little. The appletini was doing its job. "I think it's a pretty good variation for Isabelle. Sure, I don't mind."
"Good," he said, stretching a little. "So, I have season tickets to the Yankees. There just so happens to be a game this Friday night. Any way I can twist your arm into going with me, Cub fan?" He smiled, making his handsome face light up. He was so good looking.
"Oooh, he's testing my loyalties," I said softly, flirting a little. "I think a Yankees game would be a good time, as long as I can wear my Cubs hat, of course."
"Right on," he said jovially. "But, I'm not so sure about the Cubs hat. I might have an extra Yanks hat for you."
"I'm teasing," I said, elbowing him.
"Mmm, I like the way you tease," he whispered in my ear. "You're very sexy, Isabelle."
"Oh yeah?" I replied coyly, fully aware that the drink had gone straight to my head. My little display earlier in the news office was officially out the window. I was not acting like a professional.
"Ugh," he uttered. "So hot."
I felt myself melt. If I hadn't had two appletinis, I may've been offended, but damn it all, it felt good to flirt with a sexy, attractive man. If I had been at all infuriated with him earlier, it was hardly the case now.
The evening progressed wonderfully, and I stopped after my third drink. I had already bonded with two of my new colleagues. It was great to have the burden lifted, at least for a little while. It wasn't till bedtime that I thought briefly of Josh, and I wondered if he had thought of me at all? My thoughts quickly changed to Jeff, who had managed to intrigue me in spite of myself. I had flirted like mad with him and he had with me, as well. I would be careful not to let this interfere with my time here, but I had a quick feeling that it would.
Friday night came at last. The first week in New York had gone off without a hitch. I had made some new friends, found that I worked very well with my team of writers, and I had gushed when I saw my first piece published in New York Now. I had written an editorial type of piece to introduce myself. I would be working closely with the tourism and events team. I had won Brice Cavanaugh's heart for all time, or so I believed.
"You're a hot piece, Wilson," he bellowed. "People are impressed with your style. Keep it up!"
Life was good so far, and it felt amazing to be away from the drama in Chicago. I did, however, miss my best friend.
"So, he's taking me to a Yankees game tonight," I told Renee on my cell phone as I slid out of a casual black skirt and a red blouse. "He's amazingly handsome, my friend."
"Hmmm," she sighed. "You're in New York less than a week and you've already got a date. I'm so freakin' proud of you!"
"Yeah, and I need to hustle because he's coming to pick me up in twenty minutes. I'll talk to you soon!"
I had managed to pick up a tight black t-shirt with a sparkly Yankees symbol on the front of it. I paired it with some low-rise denim Capri pants and stylish strappy black sandals. I brushed my dark hair and reapplied some more make up. I appraised myself and thought that I was looking pretty hot.