Scarlett choked beneath Mathew’s iron grasp. “God, things are getting better and better.” Mathew was on the verge of toppling her over to the floor when somehow she managed to push the table in the front, jerking him away. By then, security and other staffs came and took hold of Mathew, who had fallen on top of a file rack, and Scarlett struggled to get her breath back.
James had also arrived in the office because it was the d-day meeting and he too rushed to the cabin. It didn’t take him much time to interrogate and figure out what Mathew had done. Without even pausing to think, he fired Mathew and asked him to leave the building within half an hour or it was the police who’ll be taking care of the mess.
Back inside her cabin, surrounded by the whole team, Scarlett was detached from the whole scene. What had just happened? Her throat was aching, even if it was only for a fleeting moment, Mathew’s hand had felt like a death grip. There were probably marks on her throat. But, something stood out in all this mayhem. For someone who had come in like a tornado, he surrendered far too meekly. Why? He had dared to strangle her in an office with CCTV cameras and security officers with guns, why would he go without even putting up a struggle? Come on, at least, a little bit of cursing a few very choicest words. But there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. He answered the questions, admitted to what he did, did not look a bit repentant, accepted the decision and walked way. There… over. Something was not right.
“Hey, You alright?” It was James again and the crowd dispersed.
“Yeah, am good. When do we leave for the meeting?” Scarlett cleared her throat and asked in a husky static-sort-of voice, while righting herself as discreetly as she could.
“Are you really up to it? The meeting could take long time. And after what just happened…maybe you should…”
“No way, James. I have spent more than a healthy… ehmmm… Excuse my throat James…. Well, quite a share of the past few days and nights…ehhmmmm….nights to get that damn deal down. You can’t ask me to back out now. Because I am not going to.”
That should do the trick to prove that she had all her wits with herself. James just chuckled listening to her and held the door open for her. It was never in Scarlett’s nature to sit back after any traumatic or disheartening event and immediately dissect, scrutinize and overthink about it. There was never any scarcity of such instances in her life. Instead she threw herself in work, anything-cleaning, washing, running, cooking, she just engaged her mind, brain and body, never letting them think on their own or feel on their own.
Was it her way of fighting away the stress? Possibly. No, it was actually true. Later, in the privacy and comfort of her room, she would think what really happened. By then, the edge of whatever the situation was would be off and she could analyze or understand it better and decide the course of actions, objectively. This meeting was exactly the same. A diversion and a necessary distraction. She would panic and break down later.
Back in the lobby of her office later, the team had arranged a surprise celebration for them. The deal was finally over. Everyone was appreciated and acknowledged for their big and small contribution. Scarlett felt good, despite the violent shade of the day, it turned out to be huge success. Someone opened a bottle of wine.
Oh hooo… Wine…! It did not go well with her the last time.
Sitting on the sofa, Scarlett looked at her hands. A shiver still ran through her spine when she thought about that moment of contact with Tristan. Tristan. Tristan Chase. Scarlett felt like she knew this mystery man, like she had something to do with him, but could not figure out what. She should find out more about him. But why, really…
By the time she reached her house, she was exhausted to the core. Scarlett did not even remember what she did at home in the past few days. Somedays, she had completely avoided looking at the painting. But thoughts were always there like a running commentary inside her head. Her creative avatar weaved stories and fantasies. Who said only princesses and damsel in distress needed rescuing? While her logical persona thought about ways to destroy the painting. She read about feng shui to detect and eradicate negative vibes and encourage positive forces in the house. She read about curses, spells and modern-day witches in between corporate laws and clauses.
Scarlett fell back sideways on the bed so that she could see the painting. She had avoided talking or calling out the name. Tonight she needed to talk, she needed a friend.
From the other side of the painting, a still life came alive. Or rather, as much as he was allowed to be alive. Tristan was yearning to talk to Scarlett. He wanted to listen to her sound, her laughter, her jokes and her pathetic songs. He missed her like hell. No, he missed her like life. One day she would be staring her eyes out, the next day she would avoid looking at the painting. The days he waited for her to be back, he was terribly disappointed. Then again, out of the blue she would wake up in the middle of the night and look at the painting and go back to sleep. And in the morning, it was like nothing ever happened.
He quit so many times in between but Scarlett’s sound always lit the fire of hope in him. He was on the verge of giving up once more that her voice reached the depths of despair in him again and warmed him up. He wanted to call out her name, and he did too… “Scarlett….”
“Did someone try to kill you? I know its absurd… for you… Did anybody do that, try to harm you?”
Why was she asking about murder intentions?
“Did you, for a moment feel that your life is going to end now? And there are just so many things yet to be done… yet to be said… so many people yet to be loved… Do you know that feeling?”
“Do you know what it feels like when the life-giving air is cut off from your body? When you feel such excruciating pain and you fear that this will probably the last thing you might feel? All you scream is help and you are afraid that nobody will come on the right time? Or worse, nobody will come at all?”
Tristan really had no idea where all this was leading to. But he did know a lot of the feelings and fears she was talking about. He was living them. It was his reality. Scarlett got up and stood by the side and said in a whisper, “Today Mathew barged into my office and tried to strangle me.”
Tristan’s heart broke at her words. Scarlett’s voice was laced with fear. She must be feeling lonely and scared. Scarlett hid it so well. But now she removed all her masks and she was herself. He knew from the tears in her eyes that she had held all this inside her heart and that she was breaking down, now in the blanket of nights, with nothing but the stars as witness. Scarlett slowly sank down on her knees and cried. It hurt him ten times more that he was there right beside her, totally powerless and helpless. He would move heaven and earth to hold her for a minute, to promise her that it’s alright, that I’ve got you… that she was strong, that she was brave… that she was a lovely lovely person and that he loved her…
But damn this life on the other side of the frame.