Last Christmas, I wrote a story called The Office Christmas Party and gave people the opportunity to vote on the ending. Read the opening chapter here. The vote was unanimous as everyone wanted to see Luke ride his confidence and go and talk to Helena. The alternative was that he chickened out.
You may recall that things didn’t quite go as planned for Luke, so that surely leaves the question: how did things pan out in the other circumstance? Well, now you can find out. Enjoy!
I want to. I want to talk to her so bad. It doesn’t matter how much I want to though. I simply don’t have the confidence. I look at Joe with a despondent shake of my head.
“I can’t do it, mate.”
With that, I turn and walk away. I head out of the party, across the foyer, and into the hotel bar where it’s comparatively much quieter than the function room where the party is. I go to the bar and order myself a lager, then quickly change my mind and ask for a straight single malt instead; a double, no less.
I’m disappointed in myself. What a pathetic excuse for a man I am! I’m trying to justify why I’ve taken this cowardly course of action, but there is no justification. I could easily walk in there now and start gabbing away to her. It won’t happen. I’m too far gone now.
The single malt goes down quick and I order another one. I get drawn into conversation with a middle-aged bloke who tells me about how much he despises Christmas. He then tells me about how he met his wife. He then tells me about his first trip to New Zealand. I listen to him and react to his stories. I don’t tell him anything about myself. I have nothing to tell. I’m an empty shell where a man should reside. Where that man might be is anybody’s guess. The middle-aged bloke tells me several times what a nice lad I am. Like he’d know! He keeps buying me drinks though so I won’t complain.
Eventually, the man leaves the bar. He doesn’t say where he’s going but makes sure to shake my hand before he goes. I order another two drinks and decide enough is enough. I’m going up to my room and letting this night ebb quietly away.
I see co-workers gathered near the lift, so I take the stairs instead. It’s almost quicker to use the stairs than the lift! I go into my room, place the drinks on the bedside table, and switch the TV on. I’ll get out of these clothes after I’ve had a bit of this drink.
Just as I get comfy, there comes a knock on the door. I look towards it with annoyance. Who’s mithering me now? Getting up off the bed, I move to the door and pull it open.
A vision of beauty in a red dress stands before me. I can hardly believe my eyes. “Helena! What are you doing here?”
“Do you mind if I come in?”
“Uhm… yeah, sure.”
I stand aside and let her past me into the room. The awkwardness is back. She stands by the bed and looks at me with kind eyes and a warm, almost condescending smile. I pick up my drink from the bedside table and offer the other one. She declines with a slight wrinkling of her nose in distaste.
“Is everything okay?” I ask her.
“I was great until I found out why you suddenly left the party.”
“Oh? I didn’t realise I’d told anybody why I left,” I mutter.
“Joe came and spoke to me. He said… you have a thing for me.”
“At least I can count on my best friend to be clandestine!”
“Is it true?” she asks, ignoring my sarcasm.
“Not quite. The truth is that I…” Deep breath, Luke, “I have more than just a thing for you. I’ve been pretty much crazy about you since the moment I laid eyes on you.”
She responds with an expression that tells she’s happy to hear the truth from me. I’d maybe go as far as to say she looks quite flattered.
“I won’t lie to you, Luke. I’ve never actually looked at you in that way. I tend not to get involved with co-workers as it can get quite messy.”
That’s that then I guess.
“But…” Oh wait, she isn’t finished, “when Joe told me that you’re into me I felt immediately compelled to speak with you about it. Now that I’ve heard it from your mouth, I can’t deny that I’m intrigued by you. I’d definitely like to get to know you better.”
I smile from ear to ear. “Well, there’s no time like the present.” I gesture towards the bed for her to take a seat and she does so. I sit down with her and, after an initial silence that isn’t totally bereft of awkwardness, we begin talking. It’s all very safe at first, though we soon probe into one another’s lives a little more deeply. We’re learning more about each other the more information is exchanged. We’re stepping out of the darkness of strangers towards the light of friends.
She’s a fascinating young woman. The more stories she tells about her life the more I want to know. I’m very open and honest with her too. I tell her about my not-so-thrilling life outside work and the fact that I haven’t had a girlfriend in a long time and she hangs onto my every word, asking more probing questions about everything I say. When she said she wanted to get to know me she wasn’t lying.
The conversation is bringing her out in a new light. For months I’ve obsessed from afar. Now I have a personality, a person even, to attach to the beautiful shell that encases it. What I feel for her is already running so much deeper than it had before. It appears that the feeling is mutual. We’ve been gradually shuffling closer to one another. The conversation becomes tenderer. We look at one another for a lingering moment and both slowly begin to lean in. We’re actually going to kiss—
A knock at the door!
“What the…?” I gasp in frustration. “Who the hell could this be?”
I get up, trying to shrug off the frustration, and make my way to the door. I open it and, to my surprise, it’s the girl from the lift from earlier. Her expression is one of playful flirtation.
“Hello,” I say in a questioning tone.
“That’s enough talking!”
She launches herself at me, sending me stumbling back into the room, and starts showering me with kisses. I do all I can to fight her off and it takes several seconds for her to back off. Only then does she realise that I have company.
“Oh,” she mutters awkwardly.
I know neither what to say nor how to react. I look at Helena with complete perplexity. Her expression is very difficult to read. I go to speak and all that comes out is a stutter. Say something, Luke. Say something, damnit!
“Helena… I…” is the best I can manage.
“Well… I think I’ll take this as my cue to leave,” Helena says, and she gets up off the bed to head for the door.
I rush towards her and take a hold of her hand. “Please, Helena. I don’t know this girl. We spoke in the lift earlier, but that’s the first I’ve ever seen of her.”
“I’ll leave you guys to it,” the girl says quietly as she slips past us both. “Uhm… sorry!”
Neither of us responds to her as she leaves and Helena fixes me with an intense stare. I don’t know how to explain this at all.
“You spoke in the lift and yet she somehow knew exactly which room you were staying in?”
“Yeah, I kinda told her what room I was staying in. I didn’t think she’d come knocking on my door.”
“It’s none of my business really. You’re free to do whatever you like.”
“Helena, please. You have to believe that this was a totally freak incident. If I’d have thought she might come knocking on my door do you think I would have let you stay?”
“I don’t know what to think, Luke. All I know is that I want to leave. This could all be completely innocent, but I’m not going to risk being made a fool of.”
“I wouldn’t dream of making a fool of you,” I plead desperately.
“I’ve got to go, Luke,” she says with a hint of regret in her voice. “I’ll see you in the New Year at work. Have a nice Christmas.”
She kisses me on the cheek, gives me one last sad look, and then leaves.
“Merry Christmas, Helena,” I murmur as I close the door.
I’m alone. My chance with Helena has come and gone.
The morning sun couldn’t be less welcome as it shines through the window and wakes me. I forgot to shut the damned curtain! My head is in tatters. I look to the bedside table where two empty glasses sit. I obviously polished off the whiskey before falling asleep. I was apparently too drunk to undress as well.
I move until I’m sitting on the edge of the bed and I can feel my brain take a few seconds to catch up. Never mind hungover; I’m still drunk! From there, I attempt to stand. So far, so good! I haven’t fallen yet. Now for the big test—let’s see if I can walk.
I manage to make it to the bathroom where I do what needs doing before splashing cold water on my face. I also take about thirty-six gulps from the tap to lubricate my dry mouth and throat. The complimentary coffee is going to come in great use this morning!
I step out of the bathroom and out of the corner of my eye I spy something on the floor by the door. Intrigued, I go over and pick it up. It’s a small scrap of paper and on it is written a phone number and the name ‘Nicole’. It takes a few moments for my brain to engage and then I remember the girl from the lift that effectively ruined my chances with Helena. My initial feeling is one of anger followed by the thought that I should throw the scrap of the paper in the bin.
Then I think some more. Nicole was very attractive. She was also obviously really into me. Why else would she have remembered my room number? Yes, she might well have destroyed things with Helena. On the other hand, it could well be the start of something else entirely.
I’m not going to throw her number away. In fact, I’m going to send her a text right now. Why not?