Harsh sunlight filtered through the blinds, shining brightly on Rose’s face and practically blinding her when she finally woke up and opened her eyes. She grumbled incoherently and shifted back under her covers, trying to block out the glare. It didn’t help.
Seconds later, her ears were greeted by the nonstop dinging of her phone, one after the other. Unable to ignore it any longer, Rose huffed and threw off her covers, snatching her phone from her dresser and scanning the messages that were flooding in from her work chat.
-omg theres no way this is ACTUALLY happening
-scouts honor girls, seriously get here NOW
Rose squinted at the screen through bleary eyes. Needless to say, her work chat was not very work oriented, but even so, they’d never been this worked up before. The time at the top of her phone told her if she didn’t hustle out of bed at that very moment, she would most certainly be late, so against every bone in her body, she did just that, barely making it out of the house in two shoes that were from the same pair.
As the elevator took Rose up to her floor, she noticed something. Or, rather, someone. Tall and broad shouldered, the man did not look like the office building type. His dark gaze was focused fiercely ahead, and when Rose cleared her throat to say hello, he seemed to scoff in disgust.
“Are you… new here?” she said, undeterred by his mood. He sighed, finally turning towards her.
“Something like that,” he said, not unkindly. When he turned back this time, his stance was a touch less hostile. The elevator door opened, and both of them walked out. Rose watched the man turn the corner, curious. Her floor did not get new hires, and she had her suspicions that this man may have been the cause of the outrage in her group chat. Someone new would be the most interesting thing to happen at the office building since someone had “poisoned” the whole floor by neglecting to clean the coffee pot on their designated day.
Rose still had trust issues, and avoided the pot unless she was in serious need of caffeine. Which, she thought as the bouncing curls of her colleague Cecilia drew nearer at an abnormal pace, today was definitely that type of day.
“Rose!” Cecilia, or Cece as practically the whole floor affectionately called her, squealed. Rose smiled weekly in her direction. “Did I just see what I think I saw?”
A close talker by nature, she didn’t notice as Rose led her towards the coffee machine, snatching a flimsy foam cup from the counter and pouring a generous amount in. “Hmm? What do you mean?”
Cece seemed to realize they were at the refreshment counter and grabbed a stale cookie as she narrowed her eyes at Rose. “Hellooo? Don’t tell me you haven’t heard! You were just in the same elevator as our newly appointed boss!”
Rose nearly choked on the bitter coffee. “What?! What do you mean ‘newly appointed boss’?? What happened to Mike?”
If it was possible, Cece’s eyes narrowed further. “Gurl. Where exactly have you been?”
“Right, right, Mike retired, I remember- but I didn’t think a replacement was coming this soon. And I guess I assumed it would be someone moving up the ladder, not some rando!”
Cece took a sizable bite out of her cookie.
“You do have a point, but who cares! He’s yummy.” Cece waggled her eyebrows at that, licking the crumbs off of her top lip. Rose felt her cheeks go rose.
“Are you sure you aren’t mixing him up with the cookie?”
“Puh-lease, these cookies are horrendous and you know it. I have to get to actual work now, but meet me during your lunch break, ok?”
“Yeah, sure. Bye.”
Cece blew her a kiss away as she went, her hands and lips still stained brown from the cookie. Even if she was right about the cookies, Rose thought Cece was venturing into dangerous territory. You didn’t just call your colleague- much less your boss- yummy. It always ended badly, even in the books. Rose took another sip of her scalding coffee and shook her head softly to herself. The day was only beginning, and already she felt out of social energy.
She savored the feeling of the coffee burning her throat on the way down as she made her way to her cubicle and finally got to work.
Rose blinked. In a week filled with strange occurrences, she shouldn’t have been surprised to see another one staring her in the face- but yet, here she was, eyes comically widening as she took in the basket that was taking up practically a third of her work desk. Filled with chocolate, flowers, and other various care items, the basket would normally have been a happy, albeit odd surprise for her. But, as her suspicions were confirmed by the small tag wrapped around the basket handle in bright pink ribbon (she hated that shade of pink. seriously.), this was no ordinary basket. It was from her boss, who had signed the ‘from’ section of the label with ‘Your Romeo’.
The worst part is, it was actually his name. Romeo. Who was actually named that these days? Apparently, bright blue eyed bosses who took an endearing-but-still-slightly-creepy interest in random employees.
Rose did not want to be that employee. All week, Romeo had showered her with attention, whether by commending her work in office meetings, or in much less subtle ways like this one. It was strange enough that an attractive stranger had magically become their new boss, but for him to take interest in her? And romantic interest for that matter? It wasn’t just weird, it was plain ridiculous. And just so…
Surreal. Fake. Fictional. She felt a shiver go down her spine and frowned, looking over the basket and setting it under her desk. Despite his constant advances, Rose didn’t really find herself compelled to like this guy back. She barely even knew him, and though it was kind of him to give her credit for her work in ways that Mike (bless his heart) never did, it was still a little excessive to continue bringing her things when she was sure she’d made her disinterest clear.
She shoved her brain back to work mode and opened her laptop.
For her boss, Romeo was very inclined to take her away from her job.
Rose fought the smile eating its way up her face as she entered the Starbucks. After weeks and weeks of increasingly grand attempts, she had finally succeeded at warding away Romeo with a single curt text.
Romeo, I’m truly flattered but I can’t hold it in any longer. I’m not interested.
He had been silent for one day. Two. After a third, she'd decided that she deserved to treat herself to her favorite drink- an Iced Caramel Macchiato- from Starbucks.
She finally lost the battle and cheerily greeted everyone in line as she waited for her turn.
“Hi, what can I get you?” The barista smiled at her, and she smiled back. He had green eyes just a shade shy of starbucks’ logo.
“Just one Venti Caramel Macchiato, please!”
“Can I get a name to go with that beautiful face?”
Rose giggled despite herself.
The barista blushed as he scribbled something down on the cup.
“Alrighty, that’ll be right up.”
Rose practically skipped away to await her caffeine-y goodness. She still had a good twenty minutes to get to work, and had lunch scheduled with Cece and the girls at a nearby brunch spot to look forward to. Could her day get any better?
She approached the counter to take her drink from the barista- the same one from earlier.
“On the house,” he said, winking, and handed her a brown bag along with her drink. Rose thanked the man and left, noticing only after she had eaten the whole chocolate chip cookie he had given her that there was a phone number scrawled along the bottom of the bag in sharpie. Rose’s eyes widened.
Was this her life now? When had she become Wallen’s most eligible bachelorette? It wasn’t that she hated romance- and the guy had been nice! But warding off Romeo had left her starved for some alone time, and she wasn’t in the mood for another pursuer. She crumpled up the bag into a tiny wad.
If she didn’t call, he’d know she wasn’t interested, right?
Rose watched her phone from across the room like she had just been informed it would explode any second now. Which couldn’t be possible, considering it already had.
As a woman in the 21st century, she was used to the odd DM on her instagram from one guy or another. But this was no DM. And this was not just another guy.
Hey Rose, how have you been? I know it’s been a while, and this is kind of out of the blue, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About us. I miss you. Give me a call? Love you!
As soon as she had skimmed it and then double checked the sender, Rose had dropped her phone like it had burned her. High school sweethearts did not send their exes messages out of nowhere. Certainly not seven whole years later. Did he even have hair anymore?!
Finally a little recovered, Rose picked up her phone and blocked his number. She deleted the chat for good measure.
Whatever god was bent on giving her a romance would have to be sorely disappointed once more, because Rose wouldn’t give in that easily.
She was merely sleep deprived.
At least, that’s what she kept telling herself like a mantra in her head. Rose stared at the dressing table like it had just done a little dance and was about to do it again.
Honestly, she thought, that would have been preferred to what had actually happened.
She had just been sitting on her bed, finishing up some reports from the work day, when she had rescued her eyes in the distance to give her eyes a small break from the screen.
That’s when it had happened, right before her eyes. There was a book on the dresser- old, worn and dog-eared, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d read it- but as she stared, thinking up the next words in her sentence, the book had disappeared. Poof. There one second, gone the next. She couldn’t even remember the title of the book if she tried. More than once this month she had wondered if some god was playing a cruel joke on her. First, her boss. Then, some poor barista who’d likely only meant well. After that, her highschool sweetheart had decided to make a brief reappearance in her life.
And that had only been the beginning. Day after day, it seemed love was literally in the air, choking Rose alive.
Now, just when she’d thought that she was finally opening a new chapter in her life, albeit forcefully, by making the decision to move her work to home for some “personal days”, this had happened.
Working the furthest thing from her mind, Rose went down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theory facebook groups and reddit pages discussing the “simulation theory” of life. She had never been one to go down that path before, but with the way her life was unfolding, her brain couldn’t grasp any logical explanations.
The more she thought about it, the more she felt like it actually made some semblance of sense. It wouldn’t just explain the disappearing book- something akin to what she imagined as an author backspacing a sentence that they didn’t like- but the way her life had been turning. Whatever game her life was, maybe it was supposed to be romantic?
The blue light was definitely making her crazy.
Rose exited her fifty something tabs and shut her laptop with finality. Surely, after a good- she checked the time- five hours of sleep, everything would be much clearer.
“Cece. I mean it, I’m serious!” Rose whispered harshly at her friend, her gaze darting around the room to make certain no one was listening in.
Cece’s blonde curls bounced around her face as she shook her head, her fingers tracing the rim of her foam coffee cup anxiously.
“I-I’m not sure I follow, sorry. You said what? About the ‘simulation’? Is this a video game we’re talking about? I didn’t peg you for the gamer girl type, but I’m sure Chris would be pleased.” Cece winked as she took a sip of her cream filled coffee. Chris was Rose’s newest pursuer, and her body physically recoiled at his mention.
“Ew. And no, I’m not talking about a game. I’m talking about life as we know it! Think about it. What do you even do every day?”
Cece looked as hurt as Cece could look, her nose scrunched and hair falling over her face.
“I go to work. Same as you.”
“Sure, but what else?! I’m worried about you. I don’t want you to be a…” Rose’s hair slapped against her face as she looked back and forth for any evesdroppers. “Side character.”
Cece’s eyes widened and she moved a little farther away from Rose.
“Um…Rose? You getting enough sleep at night?” Cecelia’s voice was suddenly softer. Her brows knit in a mix of confusion and worry. Rose sighed exasperatedly.
“I’m fine! Can’t you see?!” Her voice came out a little louder than intended, and she cleared her throat before speaking again. “Look, lunch break is almost over, okay? I’m gonna share with you some articles that you might find interesting. I’m not crazy. I promise.” She gave what she hoped was a convincing enough smile that said ‘I’m not completely out of my mind’.
Cece pressed her lips together in what clearly said ‘I do not believe you one tiny bit’.
Rose was fifteen minutes late for work, but she hoped the dark circles under her eyes would save her the trouble of answering to anyone about it. She’d missed her alarm, bus, and somehow managed to leave the house in one pink sock and one green one.
Cecelia had answered none of her texts that night or morning, but in and of itself that wasn’t weird. It was the fact that her last message- catch me at lunch break again to discuss, ok?- had bounced back. Either Cece had spontaneously decided to buy a new phone, or…
Rose pressed the number 4 button on the elevator wall repeatedly as if that would make her floor come up faster.
The elevator slowed to a stop at the third floor. Rose stifled a scream. Romeo walked in, barely even sparing her a glance as he stood to the far left corner of the small boxy space.
Rose gave him the same treatment, eyes glued to the doors of the elevator, willing them to open.
She rushed out, almost brushing against her boss and ex admirer.
Thankfully, she didn’t. Without regard for any of her colleagues, she made a beeline for Cece’s desk, hoping to make sure she was at least mulling over the articles she had sent her. And…maybe something else too.
The door to her cubicle was shut. Rose swallowed. Cece never kept her door shut. Hesitantly, Rose knocked on the door.
“Cece? Cecelia. It’s me, Rose. Can I come in?”
Rose pushed the door open, bracing herself for what she might find on the other side.
Whatever she expected, an empty room was definitely not it. She frowned.
There was a tap on her shoulder.
“Miss Rose? Shouldn’t you be getting to work now? You’re already late.” Romeo narrowed his eyes at her. There wasn’t a hint of his previous affection in his gaze, and only slight annoyance and impatience were evident in the hard set of his jaw. A beat passed. He raised his brows. “Rose?”
“Sorry! Sorry. Where’s Cece?”
Romeo shook his head in confusion.
Rose tried again.
“Cecilia Black? The woman who works in this office.”
“This office has been vacant since before I entered as the new management. Is everything alright?”
Rose backed away slowly, mouth opening and closing rapidly as if she was gasping for air.
“What did you just say?” she whispered, hand going up to grip her forehead.
“Rose? Do you need to lie down?”
She never got to finish her sentence. The world went white.
She slammed her laptop shut, the files officially deleted.
Maybe romance wasn't her genre.