Three weeks later, Luna was stocking shelves with Galla in the early hour solitude.
“It’s a pity we’re not on the same shift”
Galla shrugged “Still better than the same day shift”
“True, and at least we are both here” indicating Level two with the flick of her hand.
“Maybe we should feign ignorance of classical music” Galla grumbled
“Luna” came the clipped voice through her earpiece.
“Send” as that unfocused, concentrating look came into her eyes.
“Visitor. L1, A2” Archer’s directions precise.
“Ok” Luna shrugged, then to Galla “I have a visitor. Waiting near the café downstairs.”
Galla looked at her watch, “Its 3. You knock off anyway”
“I guess I will see who it is first” frowning “Kai wouldn’t be off work yet” her face cleared as she looked at Galla and smiled “How about we form a band. For country music week”
“I should totally do it with the Sitar”
“I could use the flute”
They walker together to the elevators, Luna waving to Kai as she walked passed. Galla, as they passed Calais coming out of the lifts said “I’m going for 15.” He nodded as they walked past him and entered the lift before Galla continued, “Sounds like a duo to me. All we need in a name and to tell Archer.”
“Flusi?” Luna suggested as they laughed “country music week needs a sitar – flute duo band called Flusi.”
They were still laughing as they exited onto level one and then headed past the café. There were several people wondering around, the cold outside pushing them into the central heating. They came to the stage area, a raised platform next to the band area located in the left hand corner of each level in a customised performance area. However, it was not unknown for staff to participate by dancing up on the rows of stock, utilising the parkour of retail to challenge themselves. Standing in the recess between the stage and the multi-tiered café section was Chloe. Luna and Galla paused before Luna moved forward, a confounded smile on her face.
Chloe was like the last time, wearing a suit. Unlike the last navy skirt set, this was tailored charcoal grey pantsuit, the hint of glossy blue shirt collar complimenting the deepness of her skin. Her heavy wool jacket was unbuttoned to the warmth, a bag was sitting on the floor between her feet. Indicating the bag, “I thought you may like a knock off snack”
“Excuse me. I have just been called” Galla discreetly slipped away, smiling at her friends incredulous expression.
“Thanks” Luna stumbled to Chloe, as her palms started to sweat.
“Did you want me to wait here?”
“Ahh…Yes” Luna was attempting, unsuccessfully to keep the tremble out of her voice.
“Ok” Chloe smiled. Luna took the staff elevator to the basement levels and edged into the staff locker room. Galla, waiting and smiling, “Well, Beethoven”
Luna felt both exhilarated and terrified, “I don’t know. What I should do?”
“Luna. Please. I see you watching when we are on hummingbird. Waiting.”
“I do not” Luna feigned exasperation as she lied, for she had maintained some sense of longing for Chloe, some memory of sparked hope lingered within their meeting.
“Luna” sighed Galla as only a best friend could.
“ok, ok” Luna whispered, then laughed “She does leave quite an impression”
“What did Kai say?”
“Nothing” Luna frowned “It was nothing, 5 minutes 3 weeks ago. Not mentioned since Harper’s when you mentioned it” as she shrugged, justifying to herself.
“What did you tell Beethoven?”
“Um. I asked her to wait. No. Actually, she told me she would wait.”
“I don’t know”
“Yes. Yes you do. Stop whining.”
Luna smiled, then stood from the bench, “I am off anyway. I guess I could. Call me”
Galla nodded, agreeing to the safety call to encourage anything that would allow Luna to break her shell of isolation, “You know it. I need the gossip. I am on until 8, so will call then”
“Thanks” Luna shifted into her jacket, then shouldering her backpack. Galla stood and went to walk out, then paused and half turned back towards Luna.
“We still on for dinner before shift tomorrow night?”
Luna pushed her locker closed, then crossed the gap between them, still flustered, replying “Yes, of course. Remember”
As Galla returned to level two, Luna returned to level one. Chloe was waiting exactly where Luna had left her in repose. “I am ready”
“Ok” smile Chloe, picking up her bag as they walked towards the door and exited Pacer into the frigid air, the iciness enveloping them. As Luna pulled her thinning jacket around her, Chloe reached her gloved hand out and lightly touched Luna’s arms, “I have this idea. Are you game?”
Luna nodded. She had already committed to this, then looked towards a black town car that Chloe was indicating. A driver was standing at the door, opening it with an imperceptible nod from Chloe. They slipped in to the warmth of the interior and eased into traffic, constant yet muted. The heat of the interior loosened the conversation.
“So, are you going to tell me this idea?”
“No. Not at all. I want it to be a surprise” a knowing smile lulled on her lips.
“What, it wasn’t enough to being me food at 3 am?”
“You have to start somewhere. May as well be memorable” Chloe’s deep smile was infectious. Luna laughed with genuine delight, relaxing into the chocolate pool of Chloe’s eyes.
“How did you know that I was working?”
“You don’t need to know. Honestly”
“Really….” Luna raised her eyebrow, a whispered arch of a smile edging at the corners of her lips.
A considered smile crossed Chloe’s face “A couple of days after we met, I had you on my mind. I called Pacer and all Archer said was that they could not release any personal information pertaining to staff. Would not even tell me whether you were on shift or not, as I was not on an approved contact list. So I was forced to cultivate insider contacts.”
“That sounds impressive” Luna said “Yet it has been weeks since you were in. Who was your contact? This insider?”
“Not really” Chloe indiffidently shrugged before an outrageous smile shone across her face “I just know how to get what I want. Scheduling difficulties meant I could not get in earlier”
“Scheduling difficulties? What do you do?” Luna asked incredulously as the car glided against the curb elegantly to a stop.
Chloe’s warm smile distracted Luna long enough for the driver to open the door to the footpath, where Chloe indicated “Go on”
Chloe led the pair into a lobby, softened by recessed yellow and gold lightening, where she directed Luna to the elevator, and upon entering, pressed the silver penthouse button. The elevator made no sound and shifted skyward with limited carriage movement. In an all too unnoticeable time, the door slid open to an ante-room. Chloe led Luna, carefully watching all the time, observing through the unlocking of main double heavy oak doors and up a delicate black wrought iron spiral stair case, recessed in the corner of the room that they had entered, and into the early morning star gifted sky.
“Wow” Luna exhaled softly, her hands reaching out to caress “This is amazing. Beautiful. What is this place?”
‘This is my home” Chloe answered, leading Luna through the maze pathway of the glasshouse, teaming with vibrant plant life. The chilly air was kept out of the garden by delicately intricately stained glass walls and a crystalline liquid glass roof, bound by the cohesive spider webs, black twisted metal. The glass was tailored so finely, discreet and intense, the cool blue sky black glinting galaxy stricken above. There was a small grass recess, Luna could hear water tumbling over stones and splashing into a pool. For Luna, it was breathtaking, her sense of wonder twisting away towards the day. Chloe led Luna through to a small timber bench near the stone waterfall and began to unpack roasted walnuts, honeyplumb cherries and two bottles of warm mulled wine.
“This is a garden” Luna breathed.
“But how” Luna reached out and caressed a fern, then stood to look into the pool, refracting the distorted night sky beauty.
“Contractor’s, money and influence can come in very useful” Chloe was taking unfettered pleasure in Luna’s visceral response to the rooftop glasshouse.
“Immeasurably beautiful. Really.”
“Thank you. Here” placing a plate and glass on the edge of the timber bench near where Luna was sitting. Luna returned to pick them up and sit down, still gazing around, taking in the splendour and details.
“Thank you for this. I would never have thought that this could have possibly existed in a city such as this.”
Chloe smiled, grateful for how inspired Luna was, a gift with her presence in the garden sanctuary, then replied with a gentle laugh, “Well. They are rare. Unless you follow strangers with them home often.”
Luna shrugged defensively “Eh. You were allowed to do this?”
“What kind of answer is that?” Laughed Chloe, lifting the air between them, “It helps when you own the building.”
“I was taught all about strangers and the dangers that they represent. All manner of strangers” Luna’s face became troubled, drifting towards darkness before she quickly smiled, forced and weak and attempted to cover by asking “You own this building?”
The warmth on Chloe’s face fell, wavered for a moment, hesitating at the strange seriousness in Luna’s voice and within her reply. Concern filtered heavily as she asked “What did I say?”
Luna shook herself and then settled into a more radiant smile, before answering “Sorry. Nothing. This looks perfect. Smells divine. This building is huge. You own it?”
Chloe waved off Luna’s comment, shrugging, drifting into indifference “It is as it is.”
“Apathy in privilege” Luna teased.
“No. Never. Complicated” Chloe, half joking, said, hands up in submission.
“Ok” Luna understood complicated. It dominated her life, structured her past, dictated her future. Chloe looked sharply at Luna for such an unequivocal acceptance of the explanation, then allowed it to pass. Chloe observed this intense young lady, fascinated by her unreadability. It was easy to see why she had left such an impression at Pacer and had remained indelibly etched inside Chloe, who, impelled by this foundling attachment, pursued without hesitation.
The pair nibbled on the food, sipping the wine, relaxing towards each other in spirals of warmth and pleasure. The two together were inescapably enthralling to each other, a blending of the wine like delicate intricacy. Hours became suspended, minutes stretched for eons inside galaxy awakenings. Luna and Chloe cocooned themselves inside halos of cotton candy, preciously devouring the tastes of each other.