Chapters 8-10

Ch 8: A Night To Remember

To celebrate the success of the Common Grounds campaign, Cream reserved a restaurant in Islington for the night, the Rodizio Rico, an all-you-can-eat churrascaria, or Brazillian meat barbeque. The restaurant owed its origins to the fireside roasts of gauchos in the southern regions of Brazil. At Rodizio, passadors (meat waiters) came around every few minutes, with giant skewers of beef, lamb, chicken, pork or ham, which they carved straight onto your plate. The restaurant sat a hundred and ninety comfortably, but no one was sitting that night.

Cambria enjoyed parties, but only amongst people outside work, amidst close company where there was no claptrap, where she felt she could let her guard down. Cambria whiled away her days falling deep into her thoughts, and she enjoyed engaging in intellectual discussions with people. It allowed her the opportunity to air her ideas, battle test them, gain new perspectives on existing views, arrive at new conclusions. Above all, it gave her a chance to showcase a side she was very proud of. In public, she was very proper in her mannerisms—grammatically abiding, never swore, was seldom drawn into gossip–and people had a hard time breaking the ice with her. She was stringent with her reveal, and gave away very little about herself. Mostly, she preferred to linger long on surface topics before deciding to divulge anything personal... almost as a rite of initiation one had to endure before being allowed a peek into her private world. Funnily though, those who made it past the small talk found it arduous to engage at her level, and often wished they had remained on the plane of frivolous chit chat. Not wanting to feel unsmart, most of her colleagues avoided one-on-one conversation with her, especially suitors who were merely looking for a quick lay.

At parties, through years of being cast aside, Cambria grew good at detecting boredom in one’s eyes. She knew precisely when your mind started to wander, the precise moment before you’d excuse yourself to the washroom, so that you could rejoin the party someplace else. But she seldom let it get to that. She’d ask to powder her nose before you could. On her re-emergence, she would secure herself a place in an idle corner of the room, and smile, and be smiled at.

Because the party was thrown primarily to celebrate her and Timmy’s achievements, Cambria figured it would be polite to position herself close to him, just so people could collectively rather than individually toast their success. Although she recognised she played a big part in each of their campaigns, she felt undeserving of the garlands of praise bestowed on her. Deep inside she felt that her role was insignificant, that it was Timmy’s ability to swirl in the meaningful bits that put their work in a league of excellence.

To make matters worse, Timmy never took credit for his work. Instead he’d say, “It was all Cambria.”, “It was all Kim.”, “I have a great team.” Never would he say “Thank you” and leave it at that. Cambria held the opinion that this was his way of diffusing the awkwardness of being lauded. On the contrary, Timmy truly believed he stood on the shoulders of giants, and he deflected praise to where he felt it was due.

For the six months after Timmy was promoted, Cambria worked closely with him on a variety of accounts, and she found him a joy to be with. Whenever he was around, laughter was never far away. On a personal level, what Cambria appreciated most about Timmy was his ability to sense when something was wrong. And he had this gift to spot silver linings even in the grimmest of situations.

Timmy was always able to stay calm and collected under every condition, regardless of its magnitude. Whether he was addressing a boardroom full of company directors, or facing an unruly gaggle of reporters, Cambria had never before seen him fazed by a situation, up until that evening, when Monica de la Pena made her entrance at the restaurant. She noticed that the minute Monica walked in, Timmy’s eyes shifted to her, and he was distracted from that moment on. It did not surprise her though that Timmy was fixated on Monica. She had, after all, everything a man could desire; status, fortune, a sinusoidal figure, dazzling eyes, lips that could draw nectar from stone, and undisputedly (and enviably) the mother of all tits.


Timmy’s heart raced as Monica made her way over to him. Effulgent in a one shoulder white Grecian dress, its scalloped hem cut just above her well-toned calves, Monica looked like a goddess who had taken a wrong turn to Earth.

“Good evening,” she crushed him with her piercing olive green eyes.

“Just wanted to say brilliant job on the Grounds campaign,” she continued, acknowledging only him and not those around. Timmy knew not how he could be breathing so heavily, but still be breathless. He scrounged for a reply and managed his usual.

“Oh, no, no, no. It, it was all Cambria. Yah! She was the real hero in the war.”

Cambria rolled her eyes and smiled.

“So Timmy, achieving all you’ve achieved, what’s next on the horizon?” He found Monica’s queenly confidence intimidating.

Kim, who overheard the brewing conversation as he was passing by, caught Timmy’s vacant expression, and saw Timmy could do with a breather to unknot his words.

“Kids,” Kim swooped in. The circle of people parted to allow him within. Knowing that Timmy was head over heels for Monica, he proceeded to highlight that Timmy was for the taking. “We’ve got to find Timmy a good woman. Get them married off. And then bloody bug them to have children, to make sure his brilliance is passed on.”

The group chuckled. Timmy felt relieved that his wingman had arrived on the scene.

“How about you Monica? You plan to have kids some day?” Timmy asked.

“Well someday maybe. But I’m wary about you men. You’ve got a tendency to unload your seeds and then leave them screechlings entirely in our care.”

A flurry of coughs rippled through the males in the group, followed by a deep, collective “Nah!”

Someone threw in, “We’re not all like Timmy.”

The weight of Monica’s gaze shifted to Cambria. “Now Cambria’s a woman. She knows what I’m talking about.”

A petition for support.

Cambria jerked. With all eyes turned to her, awaiting her response, she went stiff across the shoulders, and bore a contemplative smile as she ironed out a reply in her head. Personally, she was always peeved by Monica’s stuck-up demeanour, and had never been so keen to deny her an accomplice. But did she have grounds to disagree? She found she did.

“Well, I may have a slightly different point of view in regard to this matter.” Everyone waited anxiously for Cambria to continue.

“How so?” Monica asked curiously.

To dampen the blow, Cambria put on a sweet voice, “Well... I like little babies.” As she spoke she folded her arms as if she were cradling a real baby, and she gently swayed from side to side.

Monica pouted her annoyance, then offered Cambria a polite but slightly disappointed smile.

Timmy was spellbound by the heart-warming display of affection Cambria showed for her make belief baby, and he felt as if the world paused, to afford him the chance to etch that moment in his mind. He was always privy to Cambria’s kind and gentle nature, but he merely wrote it off as timidity, as part of her non-abrasive demeanour. But after her display, he was now convinced that those soft qualities were the essence of her, and he felt he had just been allowed a peek into her centre.

For the rest of the evening, Timmy could not get that image of Cambria out of his head, of her softly rocking her arms, her eyes cast downwards with the warmth and tenderness of a mother truly in love with her child. As he worked the crowd at the party, he found himself constantly stealing glances at her. And when she looked back, he turned away, afraid that she would discover he was observing her. And the unexpected occurred. He experienced an emotion he had never before encountered with regards to her–jealousy. Each time a guy struck up a conversation with her, he felt protective of her, and he wanted to ward them off. The worst was when Gavin, Cream’s most drooled-over designer, his hand guiding her back, ushered her to one corner so they could talk privately.

Gavin had a bit of a reputation, of lodging himself into every woman he set his eyes on. Even though he usually only bedded one at a time, he had a contingent of willing subjects on call, a relatively public list he did little to hide. Quite detestably, his lack of discretion did not seem to bother any of them. In fact, many brazenly bragged that they were a part of the deck, and didn’t at all mind being shuffled. The guys at Cream were constantly baffled by how the fairer sex was so madly drawn to Gavin, hovering over him like seagulls at a pier. Amazed by his tally and curious of his allure, they always watched to see if Gavin stood further from the urinal than other guys. He did. Only because he knew they were watching.

Timmy was certain of Gavin’s intentions as he leaned in close to talk to Cambria. And he loathed the way Gavin was appraising her with his opportunistic eyes. Each time Cambria smiled or laughed at one of Gavin’s comments, he felt the urge to rush over, to disrupt the conversation, to make it awkward for him to pull any prurient moves, to save her from being his next conquest. Timmy breathed a huge sigh of relief when Cambria pulled away from Gavin, but in the next instant became tense again, realising she was walking over to him. He forced himself to take a couple of deep breaths to quell his panic.

“I shall be taking leave from our little soirée and just wanted to say goodnight before I head off.”

“So soon?”

“I’d really love to stay, but I’ve been fighting a losing battle to convince my eyes to stay open. I think the events of the week have finally caught up with me. And it’s a pity that they had to have this do on a Thursday. So no sleeping in tomorrow.”

“No, just take the day off. Seriously, Cambria. You’ve been a star all week. All month actually.”

“No. There’s just so much to be done. I think by this time next week, everything will be out the door, and we’ll have room for a breather.”

With some reluctance, he agreed with her.

“I saw you talking to Gavin earlier.”

Cambria twisted her face into a pretzel, “Pffffft, that nutter?”

“Why?” Timmy asked, anxious to know.

“I’ve never met someone more forward with his advances, with more presumptuousness.”

Timmy flashed a knowing smile.

“You wouldn’t believe what he said to me.”


“This isn’t going anywhere, right?”

Timmy nodded.

“Gavin asked me if I had any plans after the party, and I told him yes, I’ve got a date with my bed. He replied, what a coincidence, after this, I’ve got a date with your bed too. I chuckled and told him, ha, ha, that’s funny. He then attempted this licentious confession on me. He professed that he has had his eyes on me for some time now, and that if I were up to it, he’d really like to pollinate me.”

“Noooo,” Timmy’s eyelids peeled open fully, “did he really use those words... pollinate”

She nodded.

“He didn’t.”

“He did so,” Cambria sternly confirmed. Timmy tried to smother his amusement but failed. And she, surprised that he would be so amused by the whole thing, laughed along.“The nerve,” she topped up. They laughed even harder, clutching the giggles in their bellies. There was silence as they both caught their breath.

“Timmy...” Cambria swallowed and paused for a moment.


She timidly lowered her eyelids. “For some time now I’ve wanted to thank you for being such a great mentor to me. And for giving me opportunities that most could only dream of. I know that all the favouritism you’ve shown me causes some disconcert in the group. And I know it’s hard to justify some of your decisions to stick me in the big projects. I feel very blessed that you’ve invested so much belief in me. Thanks for always making me feel so special.”

“Don’t even mention it kiddo. No crime making a special girl feel special.”

“See, you’re doing it again. Really, you’re a great inspiration to me. I’ve never told you, but the last few months have been some of the best I’ve had here at Cream. I just thought you should know.”

This was the most heartfelt praise Timmy had ever received, and he cast frantically for a reply. “Well thank you.” And he left it at that.

“See you tomorrow then.”

Shyly avoiding her eyes, he replied, “Yeah, see you.”

Cambria swung away, and weaved her way to the restaurant’s entrance. As she was walking out the door, she looked over her shoulder. She noticed that Timmy’s eyes were fastened on her. So she raised her hand, curled her fingers lightly, to again bid him goodbye. Caught unexpected, Timmy felt embarrassed and instinctively reciprocated with a stiff wave. He watched her walk out the restaurant, taking his heart with her. As the door swung close, cutting off that last glimpse of her, he felt as if the party had lost its lustre, and he found no reason to be there anymore.

Timmy suddenly felt claustrophobic in the room packed with people. Perplexed by this surge of emotions for his protégé, he wanted to be alone, to have some time by himself. Time to analyse and understand this new tangle of emotions that had manifested itself in him.

Timmy made a quick round to excuse himself, citing the same reason that Cambria used for her departure. And he left.


When he got home, he threw his keys on the dining table, proceeded to the couch in his living room and became a frozen silhouette in the dark. Staring into the unlit doorways of his house, he experienced a deep loneliness he had not felt in a long time. Looking at the lap of luxury that surrounded him, he sighed, The guy with everything... but nothing.

When Timmy’s parents died, they left him with a huge fortune he had no idea they had. Based on who they were and what they did for a living, Timmy always figured they were rich. But it was only until their will was read that he discovered they were 8 million rich.

Growing up, Timmy lived with his parents in a medium size townhouse in a decent part of the city. They lived comfortably, not lavishly. As a child, he got to travel frequently, a lot more than his peers. And this was their only indication of affluence. Following their death, Timmy chose to fend for himself rather than rely on the help of others. He always felt that he did not deserve his parent’s money, and only used what was needed to get himself an education abroad, in America.

A year after his studies, upon returning to London, Timmy had his close brush with death. This was the time he ran his heart to a stop in Whitechapel, in front of the hospital that pronounced his parents dead. It was there that he fell in love with the student nurse assigned to change his beddings every day. Two years into their couplehood, his relationship with the nurse ended abruptly and badly. Reeling from the break up, and at that time feeling the need to meet his eccentricities as a budding Art Director, Timmy spent a sizeable chunk of his inheritance to design and build a house in the sky. Composed in a Balinese style, his four bedroom home sat on the rooftop of an 18-storey luxury apartment building, right on the water’s edge in Canary Wharf, London’s upscale financial district. Timmy architected every inch of the house himself. In the building stages, he belted up and applied whatever woodcraft skills he had acquired from his summer months on Laeso.

This dream home of Timmy’s nested cosily within a lush rooftop garden of flowering shrubs, creepers, ferns and fish-filled rock pools. It was fashioned out of dark tropical hardwoods, bamboo and plant fibres. A thatch roof supported by dark teak wood beams kept the place cool and dry.

To regulate the extreme conditions found on the rooftop, Timmy made sure the house had a wrap around veranda and ample slatted shutters. This permitted airflow and controlled the light coming into the house. Despite being close to the sun, Timmy’s architectural marvel stayed cool in the summer and glowed with a gentle warmth. The house dealt with the cold differently. It was designed to capture the thermals rising from the apartments below in the winter time.

Without upsetting its natural aesthetic, Timmy contemporised his living space with indulgences you wouldn’t find in your typical Balinese hut. A state-of-the-art sound system, which he concealed in the ceiling and beneath the floor boards, offered a subliminal auditory experience. To help ease him out of sleep each morning, Timmy programmed his home to come alive with natural sounds. Each day it was a different theme. Some days he woke up to the purr of the sea and the fleeting call of sea gulls. Some mornings he was in the forest–the sound of rustling leaves, distant bird calls and crooning insects filling the air. Other days, he awoke by a gurgling brook with restless fish (trout that announced their presence by arcing out of the water, and plopping back in).

Timmy’s bed sheets were made of 1500-threadcount Egyptian cotton, and he always felt as if he lay on butter. Because he had ample space in his bedroom, he treated himself to an elephantine mahogany bed, two feet broader than a King. He had always envisioned having a wife on the opposite end, and two kids sandwiched between them. Timmy’s bed choice was a decision he later regretted. Sleeping on it he always felt insignificant, as if he were a life raft lost at sea.

“Cambria? Who would have thought?”

He shook his head. Timmy was well familiar with the dreariness of post party blues. But what he was experiencing that night was far more heavy. By himself in an empty house, beset by the melancholy of an old unplayed piano, he felt irrelevant to the world. That night, to not magnify his insignificance, he opted not to subject himself to the vastness of his bed. After kicking off his shoes, he prepared for sleep on the recliner in the living room. Eyes closed, he allowed his mind to journey into the quiet corners of his soul, to try and learn what incited the flurry of emotions that had gained control over him. The only thing he was sure of was that it all started at the party, as Cambria rocked her arms. I like little babies. Those words, spoken so innocently in her Creamy voice, repeated in his mind. He wasn’t certain of Cambria’s age, but reckoned he had 8 candles on her, maybe more. He considered it, and concluded that it was a gap wide enough to churn gossip, to raise an eyebrow or two in some circles. And he started to question if what he was feeling for her was love, or merely some fetish for mothering ingénues he was unaware of. Over the years of working with Cambria, he had felt nothing for her. Nothing.

His eyes still closed, he allowed snippets of their past to play through his mind, like movie trailers spliced onto a single reel. Now and then, he paused and rewound, to try and spot any forming of a latent desire that may have fallen beyond his knowing. He dipped into the crevices, sieved through the scrapings, but found nothing, nothing to justify his passion.

Timmy had a pre-determined set of attributes that he looked for in his only, and he carried it with him like a glass slipper. The qualities that he revered were not a match to Cambria. He veered towards women with a stately confidence. Mostly, they tended to be outspoken, someone he could listen and talk to for hours. Cambria was just too reserved to be his type.

Who is this voice, this voice communing with my soul, he threw into the dark.

Growing more restless by the minute, Timmy started to wonder if maybe he needed to reconsider ‘his type’. With his career going places very quickly, he questioned if he was too caught up with trying to find a partner to match his celebrity. He sometimes wondered if this was the case with Monica de la Pena, that maybe, he was not attracted to her as a person, but to the social status she carried.

Despite the glass slipper not fitting, the only thing that occupied his mind that night was Cambria, the image of her, her smile, her smell. Timmy scoured for a reason to call her, to hear her voice. He floated up some, but none that were valid for that time of the night.

To try and quiet his mind, Timmy deployed his thoughts to other things: to ongoing projects at work, to new running techniques he was planning to experiment with, to memories of past romances. The diversion worked, but was fleeting. Each time his mind relaxed and lowered its guard, it meandered back to her.

Ch 9: Friday After The Party

“Am I asleep?”

Timmy hated how that question answered itself.

He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his cell phone. 5:30, the time showed. Realising that he was past getting any decent sleep that night, he got changed and went for a run, an hour earlier than his daily usual.

Timmy felt sluggish and ached all over. But stepping out into the cool dawn renewed him. He enjoyed his runs each morning and felt incomplete if this part of his day was unfulfilled. His daily routine was such. Wake at 6:30. Freshen up. Run. Back by 7:30. The three Ss. Watch the news over breakfast. Head to work when the morning rush had eased.

There were a lot of things that Timmy loved about the early hours. He found the light soothing; the air—crisp and sweet. He also liked the deadness. It was a good type of dead, not of a life that was, but of a life to be. It was life on the onset of commencing, full of hope and promise, like seedlings in the moist earth waiting to be coaxed out by the sun. He enjoyed watching the day unfurl into a hive of activity, easing from quiet to vibrancy. He loved the smell of dew glistening on leaves, the aroma of waking bakeries, the sound of cars stuttering to life, the flit of hands poking out the front door to retrieve the morning paper. He also obtained an odd sense of fulfilment seeing store owners flipping around their signage, from ‘closed’ to ‘open’. Each morning, as the sun kissed the cool earth and left her radiance everywhere, he felt as if the world had been cleansed of the previous day, and renewed itself.

Timmy knew his route well, was well acquainted with every crack, every hump, every recess on the asphalt. The pavements of London were his domain, and he knew he could count on his morning run to still his mind, stem the recurring thoughts of Cambria. To his chagrin, his workout turned into an extension of his midnight ruminations—she was all he thought about the entire time. Starting out earlier than usual, Timmy headed home before the sun had fully risen, the city still in a yawn.

After each run, Timmy relished the sensation of being lacquered with sweat, loved the feel of his soaked jersey against his skin, stuck to him like cling film. Sometimes, he would stick out his tongue to catch the sweat pouring down his face, just to savour its saltiness. That day, it was different. He fell into a panic, was seized by an urgency to get out of his clothes, to jump into the shower and drench the sweat off his body. He had but one thing on his mind that morning: to get in to work as quickly as possible.


The cold wind curled the collar of his overcoat into his cheek. He hugged the warmth tight to his body by crossing his arms, and he quickened his step. When he arrived at Cream, the corrugated steel door shielding its front entrance was still anchored to the ground. Not wanting to leave his hands exposed to the cold he reached into his trouser pocket and browsed for the right key. He had locked-up after work enough times to single it out by feel alone.

The first in, he was not greeted by the lovely receptionist usually at the front desk. Each morning he’d stop and talk to her for a bit, to get a measure of the offices’ mood.

Timmy descended down the stairs into the basement and stopped at Cambria’s desk. Being around her things intensified his longing for her. Of all the creatives Timmy noticed her desk was the neatest.

Storyboards were in sequence, slanted against the inner edge of her low cubicle divider. Stacks of research, organised using colour coded tabs, were arranged in perfect vertical alignment. She only had 3 items pinned to her board. A birthday card she had received from Bailey, her best friend at Cream. Next to it, there was a magazine tear-out of what was probably her next dream destination. It featured the luminescent cliff houses of Oia in Santorini, set against a deep blue Mediterranean sky. The third item was a close-up photo of Cambria, cheek-to-cheek with a girl of five, maybe six, possibly a niece. Timmy could not see their eyes. Their smiles had taken up all the real estate on their face. He could tell from the off-centeredness, and from the tight crop, that the photo had been self-shot with the camera held out at arm’s length.

“You’re in bright and early,” a voice that Timmy recognised as Kim’s rang across the room.

“Hey Kimbo,” Timmy looked up and walked in Kim’s direction, a little guilty that he had been caught snooping.

“I tried to reach you last night. Where the hell were you? Not like you to leave a party early. I called to make sure everything was alright.” As Timmy got closer, Kim noticed the rings under Timmy’s eyes. “Jeez, you look like death. Late night romp?”

“If only,” Timmy managed to roll his heavy retinas.

“I’m headed to the deli. Care to join me?”

It was signature for Timmy to have two, sometimes three breakfasts in one morning; artery cloggers when he was in the mood: bangers, hash browns, eggs, bacon, fried tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, sometimes all heaped onto a single plate. Though a stickler for conditioning his body to run, he paid little concern to his diet. On a regular day, swallowing over 20 miles of road from his morning and lunch time runs, Timmy felt thermal throughout the day, his body an internal furnace combusting everything it was fed. That morning, his heart residenced in his belly, he felt not a twinge of hunger.

“Nah, I’m fine. Have a nagging pile of things to get through today. Should best get a start on it.”

Kim raised an eyebrow, crinkled his forehead, then caved in, “Alright mate.”

Kim dropped his things off at his desk and went back up the stairs. Timmy was by himself again. He had the urge to go back to Cambria’s desk, just to be near her things, but fought off the disturbing voyeuristic urge.

As he sat at his computer to go through his emails, he found that nothing he was reading was registering. So he started to reorganise his desk, a first for him. Timmy was the poster child for untidiness. To start with, his desk looked like autumn ground cover beneath a shady tree, layered with years of reports, project briefs, ticket stubs, office memos, chewing gum wrappers, meeting notes, receipts. He never found any reason to reorganise, figuring that things fell in their natural order, chronologically, like the rings of a tree. When he needed to find something, all he had to do was peel into the past. The things he needed the most, usually lived on the surface.

Timmy’s desk served as a template for the rest of his room. Clothes lay strewn all over—on the couch, beside it, under it, behind it, before it—a mingled mass of dress shirts, running jerseys, neckties, socks, shorts, slacks. Most of his apparel was half worn, some brand new and still in their crisp plastic sheets.

Timmy ran a hundred or so miles a week. As a result, he wore out his shoes very quickly, a pair every two weeks. He retired his trainers in the corner behind his desk, in a heap Cambria once referred to as the Elysian Fields for shoes, the place where dead soles go when they die. To everyone’s surprise, despite being a breeding ground for bad odour, Timmy’s room smelled good, thanks wholly to a portable air ioniser that vacuumed the air the same time it wisped a scented herbal mist. This gift from heaven came from his former personal assistant, Chloe.

As the office started to fill at 9:30, Timmy found he could no longer focus on tidying his table. Each time someone descended the metal stairs into the basement, Timmy felt his chest tighten, and relax soon after, after he discovered it was not Cambria. Stuck with a half-organised desk, he regretted ever starting, seeing how there was no longer any order to the disorder. At 9:42, his heart lurched forward. The footsteps coming down the stainless steel stairs were distinctly hers. He was amazed that he recognised her sound. He must have subconsciously picked it up through the years. Males generally thudded down. Females clinked. Cambria clanked.

Cambria was never comfortable in heels, no matter how low they were. She only wore them to work and big events. Over the course of her professional life, she grew more accomplished with walking and standing in them, but had never been able to master the stairs.

Clanking occurs when your footwear flaps as you walk, and this is more likely to happen upon descent than when walking level. It all had to do with leverage. To avoid clanking, sufficient downward pressure needs to be applied to the front of the shoe, so that the rear of the insole is tipped upwards, against the heel. This was something Cambria had a problem doing. She could not curl down her toes enough. It would have helped if she wore heels with a closed back, or shoes with straps, but she chaffed easily. So she avoided those styles like the plague.

Cambria was happy that she did not stay long at the party. Though it was the most thrilling February of her life, the late nights at Cream were starting to wear her down. Rejuvenated after her 10-hour sleep, the spring in her step was more pronounced than the day before. As she made her way to her desk, she noticed Timmy peering through his door at her. She bypassed her table and headed straight for his room. Timmy scrambled to look busy.

With as much life as she could muster, she asked in jest, “Good morning Timmy. How are we this morning?” mimicking the trademark phrase Timmy used throughout the day, every day. It was only after she greeted him that she noticed how awful he looked. And she wondered if the joviality with which she delivered her question was out of place. It was typical of Timmy to look artistically dishevelled, but today he looked unkempt, and gaunt.

“Morning Brie. Couldn’t be better,” Timmy answered with a smile. To his own surprise, he wasn’t lying. As Cambria walked in, he felt as if an angel had descended upon him. He wanted so badly to hold her in his arms, but at the same time felt unworthy of her touch. His heart, which raced as she was making her way to his room, started to steady as she stood there talking to him. At first, he was certain of this, that were he to come face-to-face with her, that he would be overwhelmed by his emotions and be suffocated by them. But what he experienced instead was a sense of peace, a displaced tranquillity restored by her presence.

“Any plans for the weekend?” Timmy asked.

“Just going about my usual.”

“And what is that? Your usual?”

“Oh! Laundry, ironing, prepare my lunches for the week. Read a book.”

“You cook much?”

Cambria chuckled. “Does anything that takes less than three steps count as cooking?”

“In my world it does.”

“I cook a fair bit if that’s the case.” They traded smiles.

“So what’s the book for the weekend?” Timmy enquired, trying to prolong the conversation with her.
“I’m at the tail end of a book I’ve wanted to read for years now. Prozac Nation. Have you read it?”

“No, I’ve not. What is it about? Is it any good?”

“It’s about the author’s paralysing journey through mental illness and depression. Many of her accounts are scarily lurid. I like books with real life accounts, not so much biographical work, but stories with slice-of-life descriptions. If you like, I’ll lend it to you when I’m done. But I hope it won’t cast a shadow on your day.”
Timmy kept a library of books in his office; in disarray on the shelves they lived on, much like the room they lived in. The selection was telling: books on religion, Mayan semiotics, political books, parapsychology, marriage survival guides, transcendental meditation, even books for cigar aficionados. Eating up the most shelf space were books on running; every dimension of it..

“Sure, I’d love to read it... when you’re done with it that is.”
Timmy struggled desperately to think of something else to say to her, to keep her in the room longer, but words failed him. The silence became awkward.

Placing her hands together, Cambria resorted to, “I should probably start my day.”

Timmy disagreed, but nodded in agreement.

He watched as she made her way back to her desk, her heels accentuating the movement of her hips as she walked. As she leaned forward to switch on her computer monitor, her knee length skirt rode up her legs, conceding a glimpse of her inner thighs through the split. He took in the svelte lines and sensuous tone brought about by the light strain on her calves. Timmy felt dirty defiling her in this lewd fashion. He turned away, wrestled with his urges, and in the next instance, found his attention fixed on her again. Afraid someone would notice him staring, he forced his eyes from the door and stared goggle-eyed at his computer screen, befuddled by the ghost that had taken over him.

Cambria was surprised at Timmy’s morning chattiness. It wasn’t that he was not usually chatty. They just hadn’t gabbed on much about her personal life. Mostly they talked about work, about world issues, life philosophies, economic theories, religion, topsoil stuff. The most personal question she ever got from Timmy was probably, “What do you do for fun?” to which she rattled off a litany of favourite past times. And their conversations never progressed beyond that depth.

Throughout the morning, Timmy made several attempts to do what he failed at the night before, and that was to figure out what made this whole thing with Cambria come about. Frustrated when his self investigation turned up more questions than answers, he grew resigned to the possibility that this anomaly fell well beyond his comprehension. The sensible thing to do, he decided, was to just closet up his inclinations—a foolish endeavour he discovered soon after, almost immediately. To try and shut her out of his mind was as effective as an attempt to dam a river with gauze. Timmy could not stem it, let alone contain it... this urge... this unrestrainable passion... it seethed through the pores, poured from the seams. He couldn’t take it anymore. He was going to ask her out for coffee.

Timmy stopped halfway out the door, arrested by the need to compose what he was going to say. He was taken aback by his sudden loss of spontaneity. What once came as a routine “Let’s discuss this over coffee,” was now a jittery effort akin to one buying his first condom at a store. He felt tight in the gut, as if someone had braided his intestines. Felt like he was being constricted—but torn apart at the same time. He eventually cited an upcoming project as the purpose for their meeting. Cambria upped and went with him, taking a pen and a notepad with her.

At the cafe, he was unusually quiet throughout their discussion, and found himself grasping none of the ideas Cambria was parading. He developed a new cognisance of her and found himself fully focused on the details of her manner, on her accentuations. The curls of her mouth as she spoke, the way she used her index to twirl her hair when deep in thought, how she leaned forward when conveying the interesting parts of a story, how she bit her lip and looked upward when reconsidering a thought she had just announced.

Cambria had mesmerising hazel eyes, which in equal degree, pierced as much as they lured you in. Timmy made several attempts to look directly into them, but found himself breaking contact before he could fully dip into her Creamy browns. He was smitten by how talkative she was, now that he wasn’t hogging the conversation, and how his approval meant so much to her; the way her face lit up whenever he agreed with her on a point. Timmy felt that he could watch her for hours, analyse her like mathematics, and not say a word.

Towards the end of their hour-long discussion, Cambria noticed that Timmy had not touched the strawberry scone he had ordered.

“Are you going to eat that, or poke it with your fork all day?” she cheekily asked.

Timmy looked up at her, and back down at his scone. Amused by her forwardness, he drew a one-sided smile.
“Nah! I haven’t had much a stomach of late. Would you like to finish it for me?”

“Not after you’ve Jack-the-Rippered it like that,” she goofishly grinned. “Half an hour ago, maybe.”

“Why the loss of appetite?”
“New girl in my life has filled my stomach with butterflies,” he revealed jokingly, but only in manner. Although it was his natural instinct to hide his feelings from her, a larger part of him wanted so badly to share it with her. He was fully aware that his butterfly comment would open up a can of worms, but he could not help himself. He enjoyed the exhilaration of dropping the idea into her head, of flirting with the possibility of her learning of his desire.

“Really?” Cambria reacted excitedly, but withdrew her enthusiasm immediately, until she could determine from his face if he was joking or serious. His face did not give away much. But Cambria knew from experience, that whenever someone was in love, there was always an inclination to want to talk about it. So she enquired further.

“Who is it?”

“I was just joking, Cambria.”

Timmy felt a tingle when he spoke her name. He always thought she had an alluring name, but only at that moment was he fully cognizant of how beautifully it rolled off his tongue.

“You can tell me. I swear, your secret’s safe with me.” She placed her hand on her chest, in the fashion of one pledging allegiance.

“I was joking. Seriously.”

“Try again, hombre.”

Her grin turned into a giggle.

“Is it Monica?”

Timmy’s eyes widened.

“Everyone’s been speculating that you have a fancy for her. It’s her isn’t it?”

She sensed she was on the cusp of getting a confession from him, and leaned in fully to catch his answer.

“No, it’s not her.”

“Aha!” Cambria exploded deliriously, her synapses pricking to life. “You’ve just admitted to a someone. And that the butterflies do exist. So, if it’s not Monica, who is it?”

Timmy smiled as he shook his head, amused and bewildered by how quickly she dissected his words and arrived at conclusions of her own. Now feeling the heat, he veered the subject away from himself.

“You mentioned that everyone was speculating it’s Monica. Who’s this everyone anyway? And why on earth would they think I had an interest in Monica?”

“Well, we just always see how you crawl into your shell whenever you’re around her. How your eyes never leave her when she’s in the room. How you hang on her every word.”

“You said ‘we’. I take that as admission on your part that you are a member of this ‘everyone’ you were referring to?”

Cambria laughed, amazed by how Timmy so smoothly turned the witch hunt around. “No, I just happened to eavesdrop on a few conversations.”

“And you agree with what THEY were saying?”

“No. I did not agree with what they were saying.” She paused. “I merely, did not disagree.” She leaned back in her chair with a guilty cheek on her face.

Satisfied by his riposte, Timmy breathed a sigh of relief. A little too soon.

“So if it’s not Monica, who is it? Is it Chloe? Let me guess. Her sudden departure left a big empty in your heart, and you are only now starting to realise it?”

Timmy palmed his forehead and smiled at her persistence. He was always bedazzled by her power of conjecture, but this was the first time he saw it applied outside the realm of work, in gossipy gossip.

“No. It’s not Monica. And it’s not Chloe.”

She waved him on. “Keep going.”

“Who knows... maybe it’s you,” Timmy dared to say, figuring the self allegation was preposterous enough to be disregarded.

Cambria felt a warm blush spread across her face as Timmy’s eyes connected with hers. From the flatness of his voice, she could not fully tell if he was pulling one on her. But she got an inkling he was half serious more than he was half joking.

A moment of uneasiness hung between them, but Timmy let it steep. When it got unbearable, he diffused the awkwardness by asking, “You sure you wouldn’t care for some of my scone?”

They both laughed. The witch hunt had been called off.


Ch 10: The Ensuing Weeks

Timmy: Where can I score some Prozac? Your book has gotten me really down. Think I’ll buy some blades OTW home. /----
Cambria: LOL. What’s up Timmy?
Timmy: Just looked over your mocks for the new account. Wasn’t so sure about the font choice.
Cambria: What’s wrong with it?
Timmy: Nothing wrong with it. Just find it a bit overused across the work we’ve been producing.
Cambria: Oh?
Timmy: We’ve used Century Gothic for Bell. Century Gothic for Common Grounds. And now this.
Cambria: Oops. Century Gothic’s my fall back font. When in doubt... Cent Goth. :\
Timmy: Ya, I pretty much guessed.
Cambria: Do you have a replacement font in mind?
Timmy: Hmmm! No one knows fonts better than you.
Cambria: True. But no one applies them better than you.
Timmy: Maybe we could try a sexier font like Cambria, bold but elegant. Wonderful curves, pleasing to the eye. ;)
Cambria: Ha, ha. Don’t like the uppercase Q. Her tail is too big.
Timmy: Yeah, I’ve noticed her tail too. Looks fine to me.

Cambria looked over her shoulder and shot Timmy a look of amused disbelief. Through his door, he responded with a Cheshire grin.

Following the dawn of his feelings for Cambria, every conversation with her seemed unnatural, every invitation for coffee more contrived, and he preferred to chat online with her, flirting with her in ways that decreased in subtlety. It was really difficult to concentrate at work whenever she was around, so Timmy tried working from the cafe down the street, only to soon learn, that he did not have to see her, to see her. He started to spot her likeness in other women—random strangers—and it took but the slightest semblance to renew his needing.

Despite his years of working with her, Cambria had remained an enigma to him. Because they shared so much in common by way of work, that was all they talked about. Cambria also had this habit of deflecting questions aimed at her back to the enquirer. The chatterbox he was, he often bit on the bait, and divulged more than he indulged.

Each time her name was brought up in group conversation, Timmy seized the opportunity to inconspicuously enquire about her. Every chance he got, he tiptoed into subjects inevitably linked to her to try and learn more. But the more he uncovered, the more intrigued he grew. Each door he opened led to three more, and his discovery of her became much like an attempt to cure thirst with sea water.

He got close to everyone she was even mildly pally with, to see if he could pick up any indication of how she felt about him. Recognising that they were a channel to her, he treated them nicer than he normally did, in hopes that they would drop in a good word. Throughout the day, he sat glued to his computer, anxiously waiting for her to make an entry on her blog, or post an update to one of a handful of social networking sites she belonged to.

One day, Timmy stopped and questioned if he was going too far with his infatuation with Cambria. He felt he had become the hunter, and she the prey, and it shocked him that he had unconsciously become a different person. Someone he did not want to be.

Before he became consumed with Cambria, Timmy was proud of the way he lived his life; to the fullest, with little pause, with little regret. The only thing he bemoaned in recent memory was the decadent home he had built for himself. Figuring the money could have been better used to aid the needy, he almost sold off his property. He pulled back at the last minute, deciding in the end to keep it as a reminder, a reminder of a mistake never again to be repeated, a reminder he woke up to and went home to every day. It took him awhile, but he eventually found it within himself to discount his folly as an indulgence that caught him at a moment of weakness. He also found a way to atone for it. Timmy arranged for every penny he earned at Cream to be deposited directly into the bank accounts of five causes he supported. Bolstered by his inheritance, Timmy did not have to work to survive. And he found that the most effective way to keep himself motivated at his job was the knowledge that the charities counted on his paycheque each month.


It was a flicker that persisted into a flame, that doused the fire in his eyes.

Sleep continued to elude Timmy, and he looked more and more gaunt each day. The torment that he lived with was from having no outlet for his feelings. He felt as if the chambers of his heart were not large enough to contain his love for her, that at any point, his sternum would give. Each night, trapped in the loneliness of his house, he slid into a state of brooding disquietude. The twisted irony that plagued him each day was this, that thinking of her served to both fill and contribute to the emptiness that ravined itself within him. Yet he never felt more alive. He now had something real to live for, something to look forward to everyday, and life held new meaning for him.

Quite often, in the breathless silence of the late hours, he pined for Cambria and longed to hear her voice. So he started to save voice messages that she left on his phone, each a sparkly little gem. He listened to them over and over again. Of the constellation, his favourite was, “Hey Timmy. The funniest thing just happened [giggle]. It’s all gone pear-shaped. Those muppets printed the piece in greyscale. Just like you suspected they would. Will just wait for you to get in on Monday. And we’ll sort them out together.”

Cambria possessed the roundest, most natural laugh. And it poured a rainbow into his heart each time he heard it. Timmy found this message special not because of her giggle, but in the way she concluded the message; with the words ‘we’ and ‘together’ in the same line. Often, as he lay in bed, he snuggled his phone against his cheek, and played his favourite recording till he slid into sleep, his ear on her voice.

> Chapters 11-14

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