You Own Me Chp 1

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I am off men. Having said that, it’s a little hard to keep that promise to yourself when your upstairs neighbor looks like an Asian Sex God. Thank goodness I have a psycho ex to keep me on track, right?

You know how people say “I turned out alright though?” as if, despite their sordid upbringing or being dropped on the head, they came out a functioning member of society. Well, when I say that, the whole room goes quiet, as if I dropped the N-Word. It kind of sucks being completely aware that despite your sordid upbringing or being dropped on the head, you are still a complete fuck-up. My life right now is like I’m constantly dropping N-Bombs.

My name is Lennox Moore, and I just moved to Santa Barbara, California. I’m eating through my savings like I eat a cookie: fast. I’m an event planner. I’m a good event planner. But the way I left my last job didn’t exactly give me time to find a new one.

Back in Seattle, I was pretty high up in the industry. I worked for Felicity Seattle (a pretty renowned event planning company) and planned everything from high profile weddings to private birthday parties for celebrities. I was known for my great attention to detail and the out-of-the-box creativity with which I planned parties. Clients requested me by name. Under different circumstances, I could have left and had a job somewhere else in an instant. However, the way I left, without a two-week notice or even a goodbye, left a bad taste in my employer’s mouth; so, here I am scrambling to find even the lowliest planning job.

Hell, at this time, I’d plan a pizza party at Chuck E. Cheese.

Back to the psycho ex. It’s pretty easy to connect the dots: he’s the reason I left, and he’s the reason I left so quickly. I can’t really talk about him right now, though, as I’m trying to move a new armchair in to my apartment. It isn’t going that so well. I’m reminded of that episode of Friends where Ross tries to move the couch upstairs, and fails. In my personal comedy of life, I can’t make it into the elevator.

Pivot!”

Laughing, I drop the chair and turn to see who the other Friends fan was. A petite woman with short jet black hair and caramel-colored skin is smiling at me. She looks like a punk rock pixie.

Need some help?” The pixie asked.

I bit my lip. After what happened with my psycho ex, I’d been a little wary of strangers lately. Truthfully? Of all people in general. Hesitantly, I nod.

Yes, thank you. That would be wonderful.”

I’m Zoe,” she said, lifting up one side of the chair. “You’re new here, right?”

I nod, struggling with the other side of the chair. How does this pixie lift her side so easily? She is half my size and not breaking a sweat. I, on the other hand, am sweating and grunting like a trucker about to come.

This building is pretty friendly. We’ll help you get acquainted,” Zoe continued, backing into the elevator and maneuvering the chair with ease.

I heaved a thank you and pressed the button for my floor. Zoe squealed, releasing the chair and clapping her hands. I nearly dropped to the elevator floor under the weight of the chair.

Same floor!” She said.

I smiled, warming to Zoe. With work constraints and the psycho ex, I didn’t have many friends when I was in Seattle. Strike that; I didn’t have any friends.

Maybe Santa Barbara will be different.

So, where do you work?” Zoe asked, sipping her espresso. That’s right, espresso. The obsession with all things coffee-related in Seattle was no joke and it had rubbed off on me from living there. After Zoe and I dropped the armchair off at my apartment, she invited me to her place for espresso. I agreed, happy to hang out with someone who had a mutual obsession for burning hot caffeine. Also, I was delighted to be with someone other than Meredith Grey for a while.

I inhaled the steaming espresso, letting the scent fill my nostrils, and contemplated Zoe’s question. It was a pretty short and simple answer: nowhere. I wanted to answer with a long, drawn out justification of my joblessness; I wanted to explain all the circumstances, and why it wasn’t my fault. But, I felt like that may be the espresso talking—it was too soon for that with someone I just met.

I’m in between jobs at the moment,” I said, cringing and going for another sip of my espresso while wishing the subject was something else. Anything else. Hell, I’d be fine talking about genocide if it meant I could avoid my joblessness and the reason for it.

Zoe nodded and took a gulp of espresso. “What does that mean?” Zoe asked.

I looked at Zoe, her eyes big and green. Honest. I like her. She won’t let me lie, even to myself.

Zoe’s apartment was chic and hip. Her stuff reminded me of things I would see at Thinkgeek or Brookstone. One wall of her living room was painted a really cool purple. The coffee table was all glass. The chairs we sat on were black and built at odd angles. She even had a jellyfish in a small, round aquarium on a ledge. I was mesmerized. Compared to my place, it was like being in a museum.

My apartments have always been decorated in neutral colors. It isn’t that I don’t like color, but living in a visually quiet space calms my overactive mind. If I lived in Zoe’s place, I think I’d bounce off the walls. Someone once told me I could be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. By someone, I mean a psychiatrist—well several of them. It’s not that I don’t believe their diagnosis, they’re probably right.

But, over the years, I’ve been given a lot of diagnoses. I’m on so many different drugs for so many different things they should name a new diagnosis after me called “The Lennox.”

It means . . .” I said, my eyes wandering into another room full of big monitors. “It means that I quit my last job quickly, and now I can’t find a new job.” I left out the fact that my old boss was harboring a grudge and spreading false rumors about me. Total bitch.

She hated me before I left. The C-U-Next-Tuesday was just using my quick departure as an excuse to burn bridges up and down the West coast.

You work with computers?” I asked, still looking at the other room.

Zoe stood up and walked toward the room. I stayed put until she asked me to come with her. Taking my espresso with me, I hurried over.

The room wasn’t as big as the living room, but it wasn’t small. Posters of games I had never heard of lined the walls in frames. I sipped my espresso, gauging the room. Three monitors made a trapezoid bridging three desks, and below was an electrical setup I couldn’t understand if I had the Made for Dummies manual in my hand. It was definitely high-tech.

Do you work with computers?” I asked again, feeling a bit stupid.

Zoe nodded. “I work in IT. Fixing things and the like.” She fingered the computers lovingly and looked back at me. “I might be able to help you. With, like, a job.”

I laughed. “I don’t know anything about computers. Well, I can turn them on.”

Zoe smiled. I was really beginning to like her a lot. Her smile wasn’t patronizing or fake; it was warm and inviting. I’d never had a friend who truly cared about me, who wasn’t in it for something else. Zoe seemed like she could actually be a friend, someone I could trust.

Not in IT,” Zoe said, still smiling, “I know a couple of players here.”

You know event planners?” I asked, surprised.

You’re an event planner?”

I realized I hadn’t actually told her what I did. I nodded dumbly, still looking at her Star Trek-like setup, impressed. I only have one laptop, and I know how to look at funny YouTube videos. At this point in my life, that was all I needed.

I know people who know event planners,” Zoe mused. Zoe downed the remainder of her espresso and I eyed my own; it wasn’t even halfway gone. I was such a lame Seattleite letting a Californian outdrink me.

Zoe sweetly placed a hand on my arm. “We will get you a job in no time.”

I swear espresso makes you high. No, not high, just clear. It’s like I can see everything with more clarity. I’ve never had one this strong before. I’m a Seattleite goddammit, I should be able to handle my caffeine! We practically invented coffee, I mean after the Africans. I want to do something. I want to go back to my apartment and finally unpack everything. I want to go and kick my ex-boyfriend’s butt. I want to—

Ow!” I rubbed my forehead. Are they putting walls in the middle of hallways now? I looked up to see the culprit of my bruise. It was him, the unnamed Asian sex god of my building. And he’s glaring at me. Still absolutely gorgeous, with long black hair pulled into a tight bun and eyes the color of night, he looks like a samurai. I can actually see his muscles bulging through the tight sweater he’s wearing. I glare back, because it’s better than stripping naked.

Are you alright?” He asked, touching my forehead.

His hands were rough and calloused, but when they touched me they were so incredibly gentle. I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch like some swoony schoolgirl. I snapped out of it and then snapped at him, because it was better than stripping naked.

Yeah. I, uh, I mean it’s probably just a slight concussion,” I said.

He took his hand from my face and eyed me. He appeared confident, like he wanted me to run into his sculpted chest. He hadn’t moved an inch since we ran into each other. We were so close that I could smell him. Involuntarily, I noted that he smelled like the earth at night.

You should watch where you’re going,” he said, his voice now harsh and firm. He pushed past me and made his way to the elevator.

I opened my mouth to make some quick, stupid comeback like “No, you watch where you’re going!” But, he was already out of earshot.

I frowned, feeling sad and invigorated at the same time, like back in grade school when my crushes acknowledged me by pulling my hair or calling me stupid. Shaking off the encounter, I decided it was probably best to unpack my new life. As I made my way back to my apartment, I met two more people, but I managed to avoid physically running into them: Claire and Tom. They lived on the same floor as me.

We saw what happened. Watch out for Vic,” Claire said.

Vic?” I replied, curious.

The handsome man you just ran into,” Claire said.

Tom made a comment about him not being that handsome, and Claire just laughed. Their stable and cutesy relationship made me want to vomit and cry at the same time.

He lives in the penthouse, but you’ll often see him making rounds of the building,” Claire continued. “He isn’t the friendliest, but he’s good to have around.”

I shrugged at her words, whatever they meant, and continued on my way.

My apartment was mostly empty. I hadn’t had time to pack in Seattle, considering I’d just upped and left. I had four boxes, and they contained mostly keepsakes. I wanted to cry. I’d spent years accumulating furniture, linens, and all the assorted knickknacks; I had had to leave it all behind. That shit ain’t cheap.

Sighing, I sat on the edge of my new Ikea bed. This was just the beginning.

I sat across from a very intimidating woman. She was thin and muscular, probably middle forties but the way she kept herself she didn’t look older than thirty. Her sandy blonde hair was pulled back into a neat chignon, she had light bronzer on her high cheekbones, and wore a beige pantsuit. She was eyeing me like I were a broken piece of china she had just purchased.

I won’t lie to you, Lennox, your history worries me.” Great. The way this woman is eyeing me makes me want to get up and leave now. But I won’t. Because of Zoe. She was the reason I even had this interview, and I wasn’t going to disrespect her by leaving in the middle of it.

I was meeting with the CEO and owner of Simply Santa Barbara, a premiere event planning company in Santa Barbara. The CEO, however, didn’t look too pleased to be meeting with me. “I know Zelda personally, and she doesn’t have many kind things to say about you right now.” Bullshit! I had worked my ass off for Zelda, the head of Felicity Seattle, for years. Just because I didn’t give her two weeks’ notice, suddenly I’m the crackhead who stole her diamonds. She hated me because I slept with her son once—just the once.

Yeah . . . not smart, I know. Remember how I said sometimes I can be impulsive? Remember how I said some people think I’m crazy? Well, all valid points. When I first started working for Zelda, her son Owen was doing some kind of architecture or plumbing work. I don’t know, we didn’t exchange pleasantries.

I fucked him in the bathroom. Maybe that’s why I think he’s a plumber. Anyway, we went our separate ways after that, but somehow Zelda found out a year or two later and has hated my guts ever since. I was already established at the company when she found out so, insert legal garbage here, she couldn’t fire me. Besides, I was dating my boyfriend by then (unaware he would become a psychopath); I wasn’t still having sex with her son. I assumed Zelda would get over it. Seriously, it was just a onetime case of bathroom sex.

I wanted to say as much, but instead I held my tongue. That is, until this CEO woman said this:

I think I might need someone with a little more experience.” She readjusted some papers.

I have experience!” I blurted out.

Her eyes widened, startled.

I’ve been in the industry for years! Celebrities request me by name. I’ve put on weddings that would make Narcissus stop and look.” I shook my head, not even sure if she was still listening. “I didn’t have a choice, Bethany.” Now I was in deep, I just called her by her first name. I must be losing my mind. I looked her in her eyes and, to my surprise, she was listening. “I had no choice but to leave and now Zelda is spreading rumors. She’s petty. She’s always been petty.”

I sighed and stood up. It was useless. I may as well start looking for a new career.

Tell me more.” Bethany’s voice interrupted my departing pity party bus.

What?”

Tell me more.” Bethany’s tone was clipped, she obviously wasn’t used to being asked questions. “Why did you have to leave? Whatever the reason, it can’t be an issue here.”

I sat down and stared at the marble of her desk. Should I tell her? Could I tell her? I hadn’t told anyone, not even my father. How do you divulge your most intimate secrets with someone you didn’t even know? With someone who didn’t even like you?

It was my boyfriend,” I started. “My ex-boyfriend. He hurt me and he . . . threatened me. I couldn’t tell anyone where I was going because I didn’t want him to know. I guess now you know so here’s hopin’ you don’t tell.” That was the gist of it. There was so much more meat and so much more terror, but I hoped that what I shared satiated her curiosity. I didn’t think I could talk anymore about it.

She stared at me, her light brown eyes calculating. “You’ll start on Monday,” she said. “Nine in the morning and no later.”

I closed the door to my apartment and sighed. It was only three in the afternoon, but I felt exhausted. The interview had taken almost two hours, and the beforehand primping and prepping had taken three. All I wanted to do was curl up with a good book.

I grabbed my e-reader and headed toward my favorite spot: the armchair by the window. It afforded a great view of the ocean. The sky was currently a steel blue, but without clouds. It was early September and the weather was still warm. Bay weather—not too hot and not too cold. In the mornings, the marine layer would cover the sky, causing a slight chill, but nothing like Seattle. I loved it here. From my window I could see the waves crash against the sand.

I turned on my e-reader and was about to delve into some romance, when I realized I hadn’t talked to my dad in a while. I’d been ignoring his calls for weeks; it was easier that way. Well, it was easier for me. I didn’t want to tell him his little girl had upped and vanished into thin air and wasn’t going to see him for a while—maybe never again. He loves to forward emails. I used to delete them without a glance, but now, being so far away from him I wanted to read one.

I set my e-reader down and made my way to the desk. Sure enough, there was a forwarded email waiting from dear old dad. It was a dancing goat video from YouTube. I rolled my eyes, but inside I was laughing. I could picture his smile as he watched the video and decided to forward it to me.

I was about to turn off my laptop when I noticed another email, this one from an unknown sender. Curiosity got the best of me and I opened it.

BITCH.

My eyes widened at the first word.

I kept reading.

YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM ME FOREVER.

YOU’RE MINE.

I’M COMING FOR YOU.

I gulped, instantly regretting reading the message. He didn’t sign it, but I knew who sent the email. Dean, my psycho ex-boyfriend.


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