I slog through the uniquely dome-shaped entrance of the Core complex, morose and anxious when I should feel relieved it’s the end of the workweek.
A normal person would be happy to get a break from the constant bustle and hectic agenda. Instead, I’d rather take on the stress of a taxing job than that of what I’m contending with right now:
The utterly perplexing and increasingly-unclear prospect of a date with Atlas Zane.
A part of me hopes he’s forgotten about it. Based on his scarcity since the last time I saw him for more than thirty consecutive seconds—which, ironically, was when his massive, insane donation procured said date—and the sheer amount the Z to A project requires from its creator, chances are, he has.
Several days after, however, I still can’t understand why he did it in the first place.
My mind journeys back to that stage, recalling vivid images through hot, suspended lights, overseeing a crowd of nameless faces…while focused on a single one. Zane may as well have been front and center even though he was all the way at the back; regal and majestic, attracting onlookers as though he were the main attraction.
Lord knows, he was the center of attention.
I’d largely avoided his gaze but never heard him make a single utterance…until he did.
He didn’t even attempt to bid on anyone else. No. You can’t even call it that. He dominated. Usurped the auction and effectively ended it with absolution. There was no competition.
There were enough participants to go around. And he clearly has more than enough green to do the same. But he didn’t even try to play along. It was like finalizing a business deal. Nothing more than snapping his fingers and making something happen. Instantaneously. And no matter how many times I replay that moment in my head, the one thing I can’t, for the life of me, get is why.
I try not to read too much into it, but can’t make the tiniest lick of sense of that afternoon. It’s like he was there…just for me. As conceited and narcissistic as that sounds. I have no other explanation. No method to the madness I witnessed and experienced.
Nonetheless, it remains as bizarre and illogical as when it first happened.
I have no doubt he attends charity events and the like all the time, but I imagine the kinds he does are well out of Sweet Heart’s league; private, exclusive, and very much isolated from the general public.
And certainly not with a date auction to incentivize donations.
My mind is still buzzing with the memory as I take the transporter to my wing, but it comes to a screeching halt the moment I step out of it.
Spatters of red and opal occupy the space where my door should be. A disproportionately tall bouquet sits in front of my apartment, its sheer height effectively concealing the bottom half of the entrance, blocking it off.
Blood-smeared and paper-white roses alternate in sync, tall and flagrant, like they’re reaching for the sky, breaking their monotony in an exquisite, geometric configuration.
Holding them together is a peculiar, crystalline structure forged into a stunning, intricate design; like a stem-less, asymmetrical wine glass.
It almost appears to be hovering; each rose contained in separate compartments that, on their own, resemble bottomless champagne flutes. Like some sort of interconnected, multi-part vase.
It’s…well, I’m not entirely sure what it is.
But it’s superbly gorgeous.
A florid arrangement.
A florid masterpiece.
In more ways than one.
I look around tentatively, my eyes darting down the corridor between each door. None possess the current eccentricities mine does.
Frowning, they return, gluing themselves to the dazzling display in front of me.
Twenty-two of them.
Evenly split down the middle.
I’m no floral connoisseur but I presume these things are usually grouped by the dozen. This, spectacular as its presentation is, is one shy of each.
However, I don’t think much of it because the fact that there are any present at all takes overwhelming precedence.
And without any indication of why.
The main lobby is quieter than normal when I head back down, especially for a Friday. A few people are scattered about the lounging area, but no one I recognize.
Hank looks up from the reception as I approach.
“Hey,” I wave.
‘Hello, Miss Myers.” His greeting is as prim and proper as his attire. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too,” I smile. “Speaking of which, I think someone accidentally left some roses in front of my door.”
He signs off on a digital pad embedded in the triangular desk. “Actually, those are for you.”
My eyes squint impulsively, puzzled as they stare at him, my head shaking in rebuttal. “Me? That can’t be right. I wasn’t expecting any.”
He offers a demure smile. “Mr. Zane had them delivered.”
My eyebrows shoot up into my hairline. “Mr. Zane?” I’m stunned into a pause, blinking as words escape me. When I can find some, all they amount to is, “Are…are you sure?”
His lips produce another professional grin, conceding. “I was asked to bring them to your door myself.”
My eyes bulge at that, stunned all over again by this unexpected dump of information. But, just as quickly, I get my wits about me, remembering today’s earlier events.
“Wow. Thank you so much! Must have been a pain hauling hundreds of those things all over each complex,” I sympathize, picturing his lithe frame transporting tons and tons of roses across multiple stories. “I can only imagine how long it took.”
He shakes his head. “You misunderstand. Apologies for not being clearer. Mr. Zane didn’t do this for all the residents. These were flown in specifically for you a few hours ago.”
A pause ensues.
If I thought I was confused before, I was sadly mistaken.
My mind does a double flip at Hank’s words and all attempts to make sense of them fly out the window—along with not overthinking the implication of Zane’s securing bid.
First the auction, now this.
The whole thing is bizarre in every way imaginable.
I’ve never received flowers before today. From anyone. Aside from utter confusion, I feel…conflicted. They are beautiful, no question about it. But they’re also…extravagant. A tad over-the-top for my modest taste. The environmentalist in me viewing them as almost…wasteful. Especially for a platonic gesture, even if there is a sense of formality attached to it.
Social propriety aside, I would’ve much rather preferred observing them in a botanical garden. Or planting them myself. Like Adam’s tu—
Suddenly, it hits me.
I haven’t once thought about him today.
Yet another oddity all by itself.
I guess he technically did gift me flowers. But that’s not the epiphany currently flooding my brain matter.
For the last five years, on all previous Valentine’s Days, without fail—even after giving up hope of anything happening between us—I couldn’t help but mull over him, my thoughts always straying down that endless, heartbroken road and getting the better of me as everyone and everything around adamantly reminded me that I needed to be with someone both romantically and sexually on this particular day of the year. And Adam is the only person I’ve ever felt either of those things for.
But he hadn’t crossed my mind at all.
Not until this very moment.
And, even then, only in reference to something else.
In comparison to someone else.
Granted, I’m in a completely new environment, my attention monopolized round the clock by endless tasks and duties. I barely have time to think about my next meal between adjusting to my new life at Zanergy and making the most of my internship at Earth Cap. It’s only natural that wistful ruminations of my first crush be relegated to the back of the bus, as well.
I’m still speaking with Hank about the elaborate bouquet sitting upstairs, trying to wrap my head around what he just told me when he stops mid-sentence, his eyes extricating to look above it.
I arch my brow, puzzled by his abrupt pause and adjustment of expression. I follow his line of vision impulsively, turning to look over my shoulder…and mine nearly explode in their sockets.
Atlas Zane emerges through the main entrance, his powerful build encased in an obsidian suit, the sight of him magnetic, effortlessly drawing alertness and inciting vigilance as he walks inside the complex…
Right in my direction.