Stacie’s stay in Aubrey’s penthouse was remarkably relaxing. Despite Aubrey’s rigidity, living in such a lavish apartment proved to be quite the break, especially since the blonde willingly held to their deal. Stacie didn’t have to hear her full name pass from Aubrey’s lips for the entirety of her stay with the fashion mogul. Instead, she was waited on hand and foot by staff within the building. Aubrey had a private chef, maids that lived a floor below her, and a masseuse who lived several floors down in the building. Stacie was the pinnacle of pampered while under Aubrey’s roof. She couldn’t wait to tell the people at work, although she was sure they’d call her a liar.
The city roads and subways were closed down for three days following the storm as street cleaners picked up debris, and the flooding was taken care of. Stacie managed to go back to her apartment, but Aubrey surprised her once more by insisting on accompanying her. There was still plenty of rain and thunder, but the winds weren’t nearly as forceful.
It was an intriguing sight for Stacie and all her neighbors when Aubrey trailed behind the brunette wearing a Fendi coat and Ferragamo shoes. A Balenciaga bag was over the blonde’s shoulder, and a yellow Hermes scarf was wrapped around her neck. Stacie was positive Aubrey’s outfit was worth at least three months of rent. Stacie lived on the second floor, so the flooding hadn’t affected her too much, but the basement contained all the washers and dryers, which now teemed with murky brown water. Aubrey wrinkled a nose at the sight and skirted the top of the stairs as though the water was still rising. Stacie wasn’t too keen on the new subterranean pool either; she still hadn’t gotten cleared on exposed wires, touching the water was not a good idea.
“You can’t live here,” Aubrey snapped. Her expression of disgust, while previously entertaining, now was a point of concern for Stacie. What did Aubrey mean when she said Stacie couldn’t live here? Where should she live, then?
“It’s my apartment; I can’t live with you forever,” Stacie pointed out. Aubrey pursed her lips and fiddled with her phone; she looked like she wanted to argue but couldn’t find a good enough reason. The pout would have been adorable if Stacie didn’t know better. Right after Aubrey pouted, she usually got her way. “This is ridiculous, this building isn’t safe, and you’re going to die here. I demand you find another apartment to live in.”
Stacie leveled a baleful look at her boss. The reality Aubrey lived in must be magical if she thought Stacie would simply up and move at the snap of her fingers. “Yeah, I can’t afford to move, so I guess I’m staying here. Regardless of whether you think it’s safe or not.” Aubrey’s jaw tightened, and Stacie met the indignant gaze that was attempting to bore a hole through her head. “We’ll see,” Aubrey said in a clipped tone. Stacie didn’t like the way that sounded.
Aubrey kept Stacie hostage in her guest room for three more days while the thunder rolled over the city. While it was nice to swim in Aubrey’s heated private pool and use the penthouse’s private gym, Stacie was starting to miss her books and bed. She was also starting to miss sex, which was definitely something she couldn’t have in Aubrey’s apartment, never mind one of Aubrey’s many beds. Eventually, the storms passed, and Aubrey relented. With a list of new tasks for the next day and a promise she would speak to Aubrey the next day at the office, Stacie finally returned home. The apartment had peeling wallpaper, a hint of mold, and about five interchangeable pests depending on the season, but it was home.
Stacie arrived at the office at 7 AM the next day, holding two cups of coffee and clutching a receipt for reimbursement from the Elias-Posen accounting office. To her utter surprise, Aubrey was sitting at her desk with her computer on, tapping away. “Hi-” Stacie began, but Aubrey pointed to the seat in front of her desk and continued to type away. Her perfect eyebrows were furrowed over green eyes, lips pursed in concentration. Stacie casually sipped her coffee in the meantime and placed Aubrey’s drink on the desk coaster. “So you-”
“Shh,” Aubrey shushed her. The typing halted, and the blonde looked hard at the computer monitor for a second before smiling. “There,” She exclaimed, turning the monitor around so Stacie could see. Upon the screen in 4K resolution was a filled out and approved application for a relocation fund. Stacie blinked; the lethargy of the day immediately fled her as she considered the new information. Aubrey was quite possibly forcing her to move. “You’re kidding, right;” Stacie gawked at the digital document some more, eyes squinting as she read the fine print.
“You’ll be closer to the office and my apartment this way; it’s more conducive while you’re working here,” Aubrey answered breezily.
“Aubrey, you can’t just make me move. I have a lease, and don’t forget I have to pay off my college loans. I can’t just find and pay for a brand new ritzy apartment; I can’t afford it.”
“It’s been taken care of, Anastacia, don’t complain. At least you can get out of that cesspool now,” Aubrey said flippantly. Stacie stared at her in abject horror; all previously positive opinions of Aubrey had now combusted in her brain. What a controlling bitch. “My name is Sta-”
“Your name is Anastacia; it says so in the full name section of your job application,” Aubrey corrected her. Stacie felt the strong urge to punch Aubrey at that moment, a feeling that was far from unfamiliar to the brunette. “No one calls me Anastacia anymore; I don’t go by it. We had a deal.”
“A deal that ended the moment you weren’t staying at my place anymore. You’re back to being my employee instead of my guest, and as my employee, you must listen to company policy. If I say you move, you move.” Aubrey glared at Stacie with her usual look of self-importance. Her perfect face was stony and obstinate, kiss or punch? Kiss or punch? Punch was definitely winning out right about now.
After some more fruitless objections, Stacie was dismissed from Aubrey’s office with a printed PDF of the approved relocation application and another piece of paper for accounting. Stacie hadn’t even gotten a chance to read the second document before she was sent scuttling to the financial office two floors down.
The financial office was a lot less grand than Bella. The walls were a dull cream, and the lights had a yellow tone to them. The space was homier, warmer almost. Bella was blinding white lights and heavily contrasting blacks; this office was grey carpeting and brown leather couches. Stacie knocked on the door to the main financier; a man with long tapered fingers, black gelled hair, and glasses sat in a black rolling chair entering numbers absentmindedly. He looked up when Stacie entered and smiled. “Hey, you must be Anastacia; I’m Donald; Aubrey called ahead for you.” Stacie grimaced at the use of her full name and dropped the papers on his desk. “It’s Stacie; she insisted I move to fulfill my employment duties.”
Donald chuckled and gave a well-meaning roll of his eyes. “Yeah, well, whatever Aubrey wants, Aubrey gets. We try to keep her happy here since her father owns the other half of the building, and she does such great work with Bella. She’s really carried the mantle after her mother passed,” Donald chattered genially. Stacie raised an eyebrow at the accountant’s words.
“Her mom passed?” She exclaimed. Donald nodded solemnly, his fingers flying over the keyboard as his gaze switched from the form to Stacie’s face. “Yeah, it was a shame too. She was the original CEO of Bella when she died; all eyes were on Aubrey to take her place. She was practically born for the position as the only girl in the family. Spitting image of her mom too.”
Stacie’s mind whirled with the new information. She had figured Aubrey was a spoiled brat that never saw adversity in her life. She had no clue that Aubrey’s mother had died; she had always figured the Posen Matriarch was out sipping mimosas with a gaggle of rich women somewhere in the Bahamas. Maybe she didn’t have Aubrey as figured out as she thought.
“How did her mom die?” Stacie inquired. Donald looked up, lips puckered for a moment as he considered her question. She saw his eyes flit to the door and then back to Stacie. “It’s not really talked about here, but I guess... I mean, it’s all online. Everyone reported it for a couple of days. It’s not as though you couldn’t…” Stacie watched the man mutter to himself some more before he finally sighed and gave in.
“It was a storm, kind of similar to the one we just had. Aubrey had been working at the company since she was sixteen. It was after a private fashion show; her mom was coming back from LA on a plane. Aubrey hadn’t been answering her phone that day because she was out with friends. Her mom wasn’t able to get a hold of her, so she booked a flight to the city instead. It was a freak accident, but lightning hit the plane, and they crashed. Her mom died on impact.”
Stacie froze, she felt her jaw drop, but she couldn’t seem to close it again. Aubrey’s mother died in a plane crash caused by a storm. Aubrey’s twitching every single time thunder sounded made a lot more sense now. “Do you know what Aubrey’s mom wanted to tell her that made her fly out from LA?” A shrug and a blase glance met Stacie’s question. “No clue, probably something stupid, like what color taffeta the gala centerpieces should have.”
Stacie returned to the office with her mind reeling. Aubrey’s past was starting to make a modicum of sense; even though she didn’t like how the woman treated her, at least she was starting to ascertain why. Aubrey was out of the office upon Stacie’s return; a note was on her desk. Chloe looked up, beaming, fingers tap-tap-tapping away at her keyboard. “Hey, you just missed her, but good news, she trusts you now!”
“How do you know that?” Stacie asked.
“Look!” Chloe pointed to the note on Stacie’s desk. Stacie had the letter in her hand; her eyes quickly absorbed the verbiage.
I have decided that it’s time you were responsible for the book. You know where I live, and I figured that you could manage to transport one binder regardless of weather since you managed to transport me in the midst of Joshua. I expect that Chloe has informed you of what is appropriate behavior when upon the premises. I know you wouldn’t dare to disappoint me. I expect the book as soon as it’s finished. Make sure no watermarks, coffee stains, or blemishes grace the cover or else. I hope you won’t take too long; the key to my elevator is with Chloe.
PS. I found the perfect apartment for you; it has windows overlooking the city and an efficient maintenance crew. I have called them, and they expect you tomorrow at 6, you’re still due at work by 7 sharp.
Stacie blinked, the familiar internal conflict rising once more. Kiss or punch? Kiss or punch?
Stacie had been waiting forever for The Book to arrive, and finally, at 11:30 PM, she got it. Once the over-glorified group project was in her hands, she was scrambling to call a car and make a break for Aubrey’s apartment. Anything to be one step closer to her bed. The car, thankfully, sped through the streets of NYU with little to no issue. It only took ten minutes for Stacie to pull up in front of Park Place, sprinting in Louibuitons with a giant white binder tucked under her arm and dry cleaning slung over a shoulder.
The elevator ride up was slow going as it proceeded up fifty floors before finally opening with a soft ding. Stacie crept towards the living room, where she placed the book centered on the end table to the left of the right couch. Taking a deep sigh of relief, she dropped the dry cleaning on the doorknob to the closet but hesitated at the sound of a piano riff. Frozen in terror, she turned around to face the piano only to find it empty. Stacie exhaled in relief, but her thoughts were scattered by the continuation of the piano, the soft tinkle of the keys was followed by a soft voice. Aubrey was singing.
“Yesterday I died, tomorrow’s bleeding,” Aubrey crooned from somewhere above Stacie. The brunette did a complete spin as she attempted to pinpoint the blonde’s exact location in the penthouse. She couldn’t help being drawn by the other woman’s voice; unable to think better of it, Stacie began to climb the spiraling staircase upwards towards the next floor. Past the dining room and up into Aubrey's private living space. Stacie popped her head up over the landing and saw Aubrey sitting at a polished black piano. A fireplace was situated against the wall, languishing beneath open windows with lace curtains. Aubrey was still singing away; her eyes focused on the instrument before her.
“And I’ve lost who I am, and I can’t understand.
Why my heart is so broken, rejecting your love
Without love gone wrong, lifeless words carry on,
But I know, all I know is that the end's beginning.”
Stacie knew this song, she had to pull it up from the dregs of her memory, but she had heard it at one point or other from some of her angstier friends in high school. Unwittingly, she began to hum along. As the song continued and the piano wove its way through the lyrics, Aubrey’s voice melded with the light humming that emanated from Stacie. Lost in the music, the blonde didn’t notice Stacie’s presence until the music stopped, and Stacie continued to hum lightly for a moment.
Upon detection, Stacie and Aubrey froze; both immediately looked at each other with equal amounts of horror and embarrassment. Stacie’s cheeks flushed red, and Aubrey’s ears and chest became a brilliant scarlet. Stacie didn’t know what to do. Did she say hello? Did she just run? Did she tender her resignation letter now? “Hi, uh, I put the um. Yeah. I’ll just;” Stacie jerked her thumb in the direction of the back wall before doing an about-face and sprinting from the apartment. Pieter, Bless him, sat waiting in the car patiently, smiling, polite and curious. “That took you a long time,” The man said in his thick German accent.
“Yup, I may have just signed my own death warrant,” Stacie trilled nervously. Pieter gave her a look of concern but didn’t comment. Instead, she felt the car give a slight jerk as he accelerated away from the Woolworth building, where Aubrey had her home. Amidst the trip, Stacie wondered how she was going to face Aubrey the next day. How was she going to save her job now? What would Aubrey do to her? Did she still have to move if she was fired? Most of all, she managed to process why the moment had terrified her so much. A tiny voice in her mind sounded with the one question that was going to haunt her in her sleep that night: What was the significance of that song to make Aubrey cry like that?