Read Chapter One of Something in the Air!

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One
Michaela
 
I wasn’t a weirdo, but I was definitely a creep.
Invisibility was my superpower, but not in the sense that I could make my body disappear. My invisibility came in a different form. Quite like a clock on a wall, looked at only when a person needed to know the time, I had a function but in general, people didn’t really see me, they didn’t spare me a second glance.
In a world where attention was a new form of currency (and I knew this all too well being the PA to a group of reality TV stars), this might seem like a bad thing.
But it wasn’t.
All my life, I’d preferred to go unnoticed. Everything inside of me was repelled by the idea of standing out. In my mind, being seen was dangerous. I avoided it like the plague, was relieved when people passed me by without looking too closely. What I truly feared was someone pointing me out all, Hey, you. Yes, YOU. You’re not supposed to be here. Now go away. Get out before I call the police.
But now, for the first time, I wanted to be noticed. Strike that, I wanted one person in particular to notice me, and it was wrong on so many levels. I admired him from afar, dreamt about him, pondered the likelihood of an alternate reality. I felt lit up from the inside out when he so much as smiled at me.
Yes, my feelings for James Khan were complicated, even more so because he was my boss. He was also nine years older than me and engaged to be married.
See? I really was a creep.
I sat working with my computer on my lap, while at the same time, my gaze kept wandering to him of its own accord. He had dark, close-cropped hair and the most beautiful brown eyes, eyes that held wisdom that lit a spark in me. His full yet masculine lips and broad shoulders never failed to make my stomach flutter.
I watched, admired, coveted. All the while I knew I could never, would never act on my secret attraction. James was unaware of the sunshine he shone on the world. He had no idea of the light he emitted, attracting lonely, emotionally malnourished, forgotten creatures like me from the shadows. Sometimes he’d cast me a glance, but it wasn’t cursory, wasn’t like someone checking the time. James saw me, and I wished to be invisible and illuminated all at once.
Could a person be torn apart by their own suppressed desires? I clamped down on my attraction to this man who could never be mine, stowed away my feelings in a locked vault, hoping they’d be starved of enough oxygen that they’d eventually die of asphyxiation.
James was a kind, honourable person. I knew he didn’t want me like I wanted him. When he smiled at me, he was simply being cordial. He was the sort of person who gave himself to others without expecting anything in return. Dad always said that you could get the measure of a person based on how they treat those who can’t give them anything, and James was as kind and accommodating to strangers as he was to his very best friends.
He took the time to ask questions, to get to know people on a personal level. At first, I’d thought he paid me this same kind of attention because he liked me in the same way I liked him. It took me a while to realise my error, to see that this was how he was with everyone, leaving me with a very embarrassing, very inconvenient secret crush.
And now, eight months later, well, I had to figure out a way to kill these unwanted feelings I harboured.
I used to think I was a good person. I tried to treat others as I would like to be treated, and I lived my life by the practice of knowing I was no better than anyone and nobody was any better than me. Another of my father’s lessons. But nowadays I suspected there were quite a few people out there who were better than me. People who didn’t desire a man who already belonged to another woman.
I brought my attention back to the screen in front of me and tried not to fixate on the glistening sweat that coated James’ skin. I worked for a group of free runners, my main place of work a state-of-the-art gym in Shoreditch, and James was currently in the middle of a workout.
I was one of two personal assistants who catered to the cast of the popular reality TV show, Running on Air. The show followed a group of free-running urban explorers as they completed parkour-style stunts in cities all around the world.
I loved my job. No two days were the same, and there was always some ritzy event to attend, or an episode to film, as well as all the usual humdrum duties of being an assistant. The cast weren’t due to start filming Season Five until the new year, so right now, they were all London based. This meant I was required to come to the gym each day, where it was inevitable that I’d see James.
When I saw him approach, my stomach did its usual dance, butterflies flitting about.
“You should get yourself a pair of those glasses with the blue light filter,” he commented.
I glanced casually up from my screen, pretending I hadn’t seen him coming the moment he headed in my direction. My heart pitter-pattered away like a frightened, eager little rabbit, eating up any tiny crumb of attention he deigned to bestow upon me.
“I don’t wear glasses,” I replied shyly.
“You don’t have to. They’re for people whose jobs require them to look at screens all the time. The lenses filter out harmful blue light. You’d also look cute in a pair of those chunky hipster frames,” James said, wiping some of the sweat from his neck with a towel.
I rubbed at the same spot on my own neck, then instantly dropped my hand. There went those pesky mirror neurons, making me mimic James and revealing my attraction. I was pretty sure he didn’t notice. Innocent people often presumed everyone else was as pure as they were. He had no clue of the corrupt thoughts that swarmed inside my head. Then again, him telling me I’d look cute in glasses seemed a little flirtatious, right?
No, wishful thinking.
“How is blue light harmful?” I asked. I already sort of knew the answer, but I wanted to listen to him speak. The deep, masculine quality of his voice was like a symphony to my ears.
Ugh, I really had it bad.
James gave a sheepish grin. “Okay, so I’m not an expert. I think it causes eye strain, and it keeps you up at night if you look at your phone before bed.”
“But I like looking at my phone before bed. Sometimes I’ll be drifting off to sleep and suddenly wonder what year Napoleon died, so I grab my phone to check.” I paused to shoot him a little grin. “The answer is 1821, in case you were wondering.”
“Isn’t that the type of information that can wait until morning?” James asked, a hint of amusement shaping his lips.
“By morning, I’ll have forgotten.”
“Well, then why not keep a pad and pen beside your bed so you can scribble down reminders? That way, you won’t forget.”
“Hmm, that’s a good idea.” I mentally shooed away the errant thoughts caused by James mentioning my bed, despite there being zero sexual connotations. Yet more evidence of my creepiness.
“Happy to help,” James said, eyes twinkling. I felt like they didn’t twinkle like this with everyone. It was like when you walked into a room full of people and spotted your close friend. Your eyes made a warm, happy sort of shape to know a kindred spirit was present.
I dragged my gaze away from his, clearing my throat and trying to rid myself of the light, airy feeling he solicited in me. “Did you read that article about the Russian ice slides?” I asked.
One of the things James and I bonded over was our love of the website Atlas Obscura. Its main focus was highlighting obscure places to travel around the world, but it also featured little known historical facts, which were our favourite.
James shook his head. “No, I’ve been offline the last few days. Preparation for Season Five has been keeping me busy.”
I tucked some hair behind my ear. Was I imagining his eyes following the movement? “Well, I thought it’d interest you since you’re such an adrenaline junkie,” I teased, even though out of the six stars of Running on Air, James was definitely the most moderate. He was the reliable one, the one who planned diligently, weighed the pros and cons, and took as little risks as possible.
“In the 15th century, the Russians started building these giant ice slides,” I explained. “They were made from wood and there were steps at the back to climb to the top. They’d pour water down the slide, which would quickly turn to ice in the cold. People then went sailing down the ice in a sled, you know, for fun. They think this is what roller coasters evolved from.”
“Sounds like those 15th century Russians knew how to have a good time,” James replied with a grin just as the door to the gym opened, letting in a cool gust of air.
Diana, his fiancée, swept into the building, wearing a long fawn-coloured winter coat. Her stylish heels clicked on the floor, and her sleek dark bob shone under the fluorescent lights. Her sudden appearance brought a swift end to our discussion, a conversation that meant far more to me than James would ever know.
My heart sank to the soles of my black ballet flats as I swallowed and did my best to act natural, returning my attention to my laptop. We were having an innocent chat, but somehow I felt like I’d just been caught committing a crime. I guess because my feelings for James were far from innocent.
Diana didn’t spare me a glance as she approached and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing what seemed like a possessive kiss to his lips.
I really couldn’t wait for this crush to fade, because watching these two made me feel like a thousand tiny pins were jabbing my heart. It made me feel like the lowliest, loneliest soul to ever grace the planet.
Right. That was it. I was getting back on Tinder. At the very least, I’d darken the doors of some dimly lit night club and force myself to chat someone up.
Yes, I might be the daughter of a vicar, but that didn’t mean I believed in saving myself for marriage. Dad was a man of the cloth, but his views on many things were a lot more modern than some of his peers. People always assumed I was a virgin because of my upbringing, like I was hiding a promise ring somewhere, which wasn’t the case at all. But then, I also wasn’t some expert man tamer, either. Like a lot of people, I found myself dwelling somewhere in the middle.
“Are you ready to go grab lunch?” Diana purred, her mouth at his ear now.
“Just let me shower real quick and then we’ll go,” he said.
 She pouted. “Don’t shower. I like you sweaty. Besides, you know I don’t like to be left waiting.”
“Fine.” James cast her an indulgent look. “At least let me put on a clean T-shirt.”
“Go on then, but be quick,” Diana allowed, giving him a cheeky pat on the arse as he left.
I opened up a blank email and speedily typed a bunch of nonsense to give Diana the impression I was super busy and not in the market for a chat. I heard her heave a sigh and made the mistake of glancing up.
“Mirella, isn’t it?”
She always got my name wrong. Probably a tactic to make me feel like I was so unimportant I wasn’t even worth remembering. Leanne, the only female cast member of Running on Air, and my favourite person to work for after James, had told me Diana was a barracuda. Hell, maybe she had to be given the man she was engaged to. The combination of his good looks and warm, kind personality meant women were probably constantly coming onto him. I didn’t envy her position.
“It’s Michaela.”
“Right. Michaela. How are you?”
“I’m well, thanks.”
“Any plans for the weekend?” she went on. I felt like I was at the hairdresser’s.
“Not really.”
She came closer, studying me as she gave a little smile. “Seeing anyone?”
“I’m strongly considering reactivating my Tinder profile if that counts,” I answered.
“I’ve always been so curious about Tinder, but I’ve never really been single long enough to try it out.”
I wasn’t surprised by that. I bet she’d always been scooped right up as soon as word spread that she was back on the market. Ella Easton, the prettiest girl in my village growing up, was only ever single for a few days at a time. It was never long before some new beau managed to snag her. I wondered how that felt, to be in such high demand. Seemed a bit stressful, if you asked me. Everybody lusting after you. Most people might envy the position, but I shuddered at the thought. I was more inclined to obsess over one person than yearn for lots of admirers, hence my current predicament with James.
I took Diana in, aware that even if they weren’t engaged, I’d still never stand a chance against her. There wasn’t a single thing about Diana that wasn’t appealing. Normally, even the best-looking people had one feature that was slightly flawed, a little imperfection to offset their beauty, make them seem more human. Studying Diana, I couldn’t find a single one.
Perhaps her imperfection lies on the inside, a voice in my head whispered. But that was just me grasping at straws, wishing for there to be something wrong with her so that I could feel better about crushing on her soon-to-be husband.
Thankfully, I was saved from further conversation when James reappeared in a fresh T-shirt. “I’ll be back in about an hour, M,” he said, grabbing his coat as he ushered Diana out of the gym.
That was another thing that made me like him. He’d bestowed me with a nickname. Sure, it was just a letter, but it felt affectionate, even if it was only meant in a friendly, platonic fashion.
Ugh. Platonic. Was there a single other word in the English dictionary that had the ability to make a person feel quite so shitty about oneself? Whatever its antonym was, that was how I felt for James. I warmed to him from the very start. You know when you meet someone and the two of you are on the same wavelength?
Yes, in spite of the fact that he was nice to everyone, I still felt like there was a little something extra between us. A friendly something extra on his end, of course. We just got each other. When I worked with him, we usually ended up talking the entire time about our lives, the world, politics, anything, and everything. I thought it was pretty rare to meet someone like that, which was what made my unrequited attraction all the more painful.
Anyway, I’d get over my crush soon enough. I had to. It was unprofessional and he was getting married in seven weeks. I felt a stab in my chest every time I thought about it, but I kept reminding myself that I was probably just fixated on him because I saw him all the time. I needed to start going out more and meeting new people. I needed someone else to channel all my needy affections on. Someone who was actually available to receive them. But how could I do that when my head and my heart wanted one person in particular and no substitute would do?
I cast my mind back to the day James and I first met, and allowed myself to live in the memory for a brief, blissful moment…

 

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