It was nearly quarter to 11 in the night. Hannah Spencer worked away feverishly at the project closure.
“If it hadn’t been for my team’s last-minute goof-up, I would’ve been comfortable at home now.” She sighed, “Yet here I am just before the delivery date too.”
She had joined as a consultant for a prototype; it was a 3 week project and future projects depended on it. Her 2-member team had completed all the work, however, they’d missed taking a final backup of the files and the finished copy was corrupted. Talk about last-minute messes. It meant that the final checks would need to be made again, and Hannah sat going over the checklist.
Most of the office was now empty, barring a few security guards and perhaps the pantry boy, and of course Mr. Workaholic, Director of the Marketing Unit – Aaron Thorne. He sat in the cabin across hers, working late hours. It seemed his norm, but it certainly wasn’t hers. She liked to be home well in time. She could see him through the glass panels of her cabin, still at his laptop and his phone, talking away.
On the very first day in the new office, she and her team had been introduced to a few people over lunch. Aaron Thorne was one of them. He looked quite okay till he started to speak. While the other people had welcomed her and offered their best wishes and help, Aaron Thorne had been over with the pleasantries in a whiff and made it clear in no uncertain terms that the prototype project was crucial to his company as much as it was to her.
“The success of this project within the timelines is important. We’d like to propagate the output to our prospective customers.” He had said to her, following it up by telling her how much his team looked forward to the success of this project.
Hannah knew he was always about his business. They hadn’t talked much following that day apart from an occasional hello and formal greetings, and the only conversation had been about the progress of the project and if Hannah and her team were on track. Somehow, he’d always met her when she was having a break or an offhanded chit-chat with some employee. Even though, she was not reporting to him or was even connected to his Unit directly, yet, the moment he was around, Hannah felt a sudden uneasiness as though she wasn’t working properly; although the Director she reported to, Mr. McKenzie, was quite confident about her work.
She scurried to finish her work, making sure she’d paid attention to every detail and the checklist was completed. She knew it’d take just about 20-25 minutes more or so for her to finish her work. She checked her watch and continued to look through her checklist.
The light in the opposite cabin went off, and she heard the sound of Aaron Thorne talking on his phone coming out of the door. She looked up to see him lock his cabin and walk towards the elevator, still talking on the phone. Her eyes followed him down the corridor, and sudden panic caught her spine. Now, she was alone.
She hadn’t realized till yet that Mr. Workaholic’s presence had been a calming to her nerves. Usually, his presence had an opposite effect on her. She heard his faint voice from the far end of the corridor where the elevator was. She knew that in a minute, perhaps, the elevator would be there and he’d step in it and be gone. She’d be alone on this floor then, apart from the night guard. It didn’t sound very good.
Hannah looked at her checklist, “There are still 15 points to be verified. I cannot afford to leave even one unchecked.”
The success of this project meant a good opportunity for her team and they had certainly worked hard on this. The delivery was the next day, but she wanted to make sure that if anything was missed, they’d have enough time the next day to fix it.
She took a deep breath and resumed the checks, “Just maybe 20 minutes more and I should be done.” she told herself.
Aaron Thorne walked to the elevator. He spoke to one of his managers currently deployed onsite. He’d noticed Ms. Hannah working away at her PC. Her team was not there.
“Mismanaged!” he thought, “If it was planned and executed well, she wouldn’t be here left to complete the work after the team had. Just before the delivery too. I sure hope the output is good that I need to project to the clients. But if this is the way they work, I might want to have a word with McKenzie. He is confident about her. She and her team work well, he thinks. Perhaps, he needs to see this.”
He pushed the elevator button and waited while he spoke to the manager. The night guard who was posted near the elevator got up and walked towards him. Aaron looked at him and the guard nodded cordially at him before turning into the corridor. Aaron didn’t think twice about it. He was often working late and knew that the guards, whoever was posted, usually checked all the cabins and workstations regularly.
He was still talking to his manager when he happened to see the guard’s reflection in the glass paneled show window next to the elevator that was used to showcase latest news items in office. After checking the locked room next to Aaron’s cabin, he stopped outside Hannah’s cabin. Aaron may not have bothered about it, but the guard’s action the very next moment caught his attention.
The guard had walked out to the end of the corridor and was now walking back. He smiled and craned his neck to peep inside the room looking through the glass paneled walls. He then turned and checked around to see if Aaron or anyone else was around before turning to peep into Hannah’s cabin again. Aaron saw the guard taking one look at Aaron, standing with his back to him, and smiled as he walked to Hannah’s door.
Apparently Hannah didn’t know what the guard was upto. Aaron froze in his place. The guard didn’t bother about Aaron because Aaron was facing the elevator and he didn’t realize Aaron could see him in the reflection.
The elevator’s bell sounded and it stopped before Aaron and opened. It was a moment’s decision. Aaron ignored the elevator, and closed his call quietly. He didn’t, however, put the phone off his ear. He continued talking as though still on phone. Aaron walked back to his cabin, talking aloud into his phone.
“Oh, the new file. I haven’t had time to look into that. You should’ve told me it had important changes. I would like to go over all the changes before the urgent meeting tomorrow. I’m still in office. I’ll take it with me.”
The guard had immediately noticed Aaron’s return and walked on from outside Hannah’s cabin. Aaron feigned ignorance and opened his cabin door, and turned on the lights. He sat in his chair, pulled out a random file and stared into it.
“Yes, I have the file.” he talked into his phone. The guard was still lingering outside their door.
‘Perhaps, he feels I’ll take the file and leave.’ Aaron thought. With this thought, Aaron sat back. He wasn’t sure what the guard was up to, but it didn’t look well-intentioned. He flipped the papers in the file. Aaron needed to be sure the guard didn’t mean any harm, ‘I’d wait till I see if he’s meaning well.’
The next minute the guard knocked Aaron’s door, opened it, and stepped inside, “Mr. Thorne, any problem? Did you forget something?”
Aaron took the phone off his ear and looked at the guard, “A file. That’s all.”
“So, you would be leaving now, is it?” the guard asked. Aaron raised his eyebrows in question, and the guard hastened to explain, “I’d just wanted to check the cabin door locks.”
“I’ll be sure to inform you when I leave so that you can make your checks. Is that alright?” Aaron responded, icily.
The guard looked slightly disappointed, nodded and left. Aaron saw him walk past the corridor, and sure enough, he did slow down outside Hannah’s cabin but then hurried off to his desk by the elevator. Aaron looked back into his file. He wondered if Hannah knew about the guard at all.
After a moment, very offhandedly, he raised his eyes to see Hannah. She was completely immersed in the papers in her hand, feverishly looking into the PC monitor and the papers in her hand and then again. He looked back into his file. It didn’t seem she knew anything.
Hannah heard Aaron talking on the phone at the extreme end of the corridor and the same time, she also heard the footsteps of the night guard. She was too panicky by now to think of anything but completing her work and leaving as soon as she possibly could.
When she saw the guard walk past her door, a fresh sense of uneasiness came over her. It was only the guard, and weren’t guards put there for their security.
‘Oh come off it! He’s just a guard.’ she told herself.
However, nothing was putting her at rest right now. He may be a guard, but she didn’t know him too well; not that she knew Aaron well, but at least Aaron being there meant there was someone else on the floor too.
She pulled out her mobile phone and kept it right in front of her on the table, with the friend list open.
She didn’t bother the guard walking back from the corridor, because around the same time she heard the elevator’s bell and her back stiffened. Any moment now, Aaron would be off the floor. She gulped and sighed, and miserably looked at the checklist again.
“Just maybe 15 minutes more.” she urged herself to carry on.
In the next few minutes, things seemed to turn around. Aaron was talking loudly to someone about a file he didn’t know about and was walking back, apparently, to his cabin. She looked up to see him walking back rather fast, talking rather loudly, and then opening his cabin door.
“It seems he wants a file. Oh, please don’t find the file too soon.”
Part of her wanted to rush into his cabin to tell him to wait for a few more minutes; but the other part asked her why she thought Aaron was trustworthy, and why should she make it known that she was scared.
Aaron had, however, sat down. She saw the guard talking to Aaron about something and then leaving. It seemed Aaron was staying on for some time. Hannah felt relieved – of which she was surprised – and carried on her work.
Aaron looked at his watch. It was ten minutes past eleven. At the end of the corridor, he could catch a regular glimpse of the guard walking up and down in front of the elevator. He carefully checked Hannah again and she seemed to be immersed still. He was resolved to stay put till she was done.
Aaron kept on flipping pages from the file back and forth. After five minutes, there was more activity in Hannah’s room. She was putting the papers in her hand in a file and putting it into a drawer. She stood up and seemed to be shutting down her PC. He saw her scrambling for her handbag and rummaging through it. Seconds later, she brought out a bunch of keys – car keys. So, she was finally done.
Aaron sat still and waited. Hannah picked her phone and put it in her bag. Then, as though on second thoughts, she pulled out the phone again. Aaron sensed she was probably afraid. He saw her walking towards the door, and he instantly got up and picked up his laptop bag. He carried the file he was reading in his hand. Hannah locked the door and started to walk to the elevator. Aaron was only seconds away as he too casually walked to his cabin door, locked it and walked a few steps after Hannah. The night guard was already walking to the elevator door.
By the time he reached the elevator area, Hannah had pushed the button and was waiting. The night guard was just beginning to say to Hannah, “Would you like me to escort you…” when he saw Aaron walk up after her. He stopped talking at once, and looked between Hannah and Aaron.
Hannah sputtered a confused response, “Huh!”
Aaron ignored him and stared at the floor number flashing above the elevator. The guard looked disappointed again and went back to his station.
The elevator came on and they both stepped in it. Aaron pushed the button for the basement parking. There was no conversation in the elevator at all. He felt that Hannah stood very still, rather rigid. He avoided any eye contact and just focused on his mobile. When the elevator opened, Hannah nearly shot out of it and Aaron walked out after her. He walked to his car and was about to drive off, when he heard a car start and tires screech to a halt. He turned to see Hannah backing her car out of the parking.
She revved it up again and after a few sudden halts and turns, she managed to take it up the ramp. ‘Either she is an unusually bad driver or is in a panic!’ Aaron thought. He started his car and followed her car up the ramp. Hannah slowed down at the gate as the guard opened the barrier for her to pass through. Aaron followed her car out of the gates. Hannah still seemed to have problems driving. He half thought if he should offer her a ride home, but then decided against it.
Her car stopped right after the gates, she started it again and round the curb it stopped again. ‘I can’t drop her home, but at this rate she’d land herself in trouble.’ Aaron thought. ‘Maybe I’ll follow her car at a distance to see if she can go off alright.’
Aaron followed Hannah’s car at a safe distance.
Hannah saw in the rear view mirror that Aaron Thorne’s car was right behind. She didn’t know where he lived so she didn’t bother much. She was already much thankful that Aaron had somehow decided to leave right when he work was done. The night guard offering to escort her to wherever sounded rather off – it wasn’t his business to escort people anywhere. Maybe he was just being courteous, but all in all she was thankful that Aaron walked in right then. She didn’t want to get into any unnecessary chatter with either the guard or with Aaron. It was nearly 11:30 p.m. at the time.
The time was quarter to midnight and she was not still over the panic. The roads were empty apart for an occasional car. Her own car stopped and jolted a few times, because she was still quite unfocused to drive.
As she drove through, she noticed that Aaron’s car followed her. She wondered if he lived anywhere near her house. On the other hand, it looked odd, ‘Is he following me? Oh come off it. You’re exaggerating everything. At this hour, everything and everyone looks scary.’ she comforted herself, ‘Maybe this is his route too!’ She couldn’t help but feel good about another car of a known person just behind her.
Hannah arrived at her apartments and she was about to turn in when she saw Aaron’s car stop just before the gates. She paused and turned to look at him before she knew what she was doing. Aaron was looking towards her car. They had a brief eye-contact before Aaron immediately picked up his phone and put it to his ear. ‘Was that a call or is he pretending it?’
Hannah turned back and now it seemed that feeling better about Aaron returning to the floor was foolish. The man seemed to be following her! She drove inside and after parking couldn’t help but peek outside from behind a tree to see if Aaron was still there. Aaron was and he seemed to be peering inside the gates. She was quite shocked. She walked to the elevator of her building and hurried to her house. By the time she got to her apartment, she peered down the window without turning on the lights, Aaron was gone. There was no car anywhere. Hannah sighed relief and turned on the lights.
After another 20 minutes, Hannah had taken a warm shower and changed into her night clothes. She was thankful that her work was done, ‘We seem to be in a good position to deliver tomorrow.’
At the same time, she couldn’t help but wonder why on earth would Aaron Thorne follow her! ‘What did he want?’ she thought as she stirred herself a cup of hot chocolate.
Hannah sat in her bed with her cup and thought back to the last half hour in office.
‘Aaron had left, but he came back because a file was missed. He sat reading his file. But when she got out, he got up and left too. He was carrying a file. So he could’ve read that at home? Then why did he wait?’
She remembered how uneasy she was when the guard walked around in the corridor. ‘I was sure glad he came back, but the man followed me home! Why? Did he want something? If he did, why didn’t he … he didn’t try anything though. And he had enough time, enough chance.’
Hannah picked up a book and attempted to push the thought out of her mind. However, after a while she didn’t realize when she began to think again of Aaron Thorne.
‘What was he doing? What did he want?’ She remembered seeing him outside her apartment building. ‘That look on his face — was he worried? And when he was trying to peer inside the premises — he surely looked concerned. Was he worried for me?’
Hannah put her book down and sat up in her bed. She went through the events again. She wasn’t sure what happened or what Aaron wanted, but one thing looked possible – Aaron was only helping her it seemed. ‘If he had wanted to do anything, he had enough chances and time. No, Aaron was helping me. He was definitely making sure I was okay.’
Hannah smiled. She turned on her laptop and opened the company’s mailbox. ‘There is sure to be Aaron’s number on the company’s address book.’ and sure it was. Hannah got his number and sat wondering if she should do what she was thinking of doing. It was 12:30 am. Yes, it was proper.
Hannah typed a message and sent to Aaron’s number. And waited.
Aaron was finally home. He had changed and was preparing for bed when his mobile beeped. It was a message from an unknown number. Aaron wasn’t interested reading messages from unknown numbers this late in the night. He decided to ignore it.
A few seconds later, he picked up his phone. He might as well see it and be at rest – just in case it was something important.
The message read:
Aaron was taken aback for a moment. He read it again – there wasn’t much to read.
‘Hannah! Is this her? I don’t know many Hannahs. Did she send it to me by mistake? She has my number!!?’ Aaron put the phone down feeling caught off-guard. ‘What does she want to thank me for? Does she know? How?’
Aaron put the phone on the nightstand and lay down, thinking. The only possibility seemed that she saw him outside her apartment. That brief eye-contact – maybe she understood. He picked up the phone and read the message again. ‘This sure is awkward.’ he thought, and put the phone down again.
‘Well if she knows…’ he thought, ‘it can’t be helped.’ He again picked up his phone and read the message. A thank-you needs to be acknowledged.
Aaron typed a message and sent it to Hannah.
Hannah waited for ten minutes and when no response came in, she thought Aaron might’ve slept or ignored it. ‘Maybe I misunderstood; maybe he was just on his own route.’
She picked up her book again feeling a little silly. Well, she did what she had to. She’d barely read through a couple of paragraphs when her phone beeped. Her eyes widened and she leapt to her phone to see what it was. Aaron had responded.
She was excited, but the moment she saw Aaron’s name flash, she felt a discomfort in her belly. ‘What if he asks me why I thanked him? At this hour! Oh no! What have I done!’ With much uneasiness, she willed herself to open the message. But when she did, she smiled.
Now Hannah knew she was right. Aaron was helping her, and she’d done the right thing by thanking him. She felt she was right in feeling it was better to have Aaron in the office, and she really wasn’t silly in thinking so. Little did he know how relieved she felt when he came back from the elevator!
She felt she ought to let him know. She typed another message to him.
Aaron was still having a hard time figuring out how she knew what he had done. ‘There’s no way she could’ve known why I stayed back or followed her. She didn’t look aware of the guard outside her cabin, let alone me by the elevator.’ His phone beeped and he was surprised to see another message from the same number. He opened it.
May I share something?
Aaron was more taken aback by this second message than he was with the first one. Well, he couldn’t say No — it would be rude and by now, he was curious – though at some level he felt, ‘Oh! I don’t care, but do if you need to!’
Hannah waited eagerly for a message from Aaron, and when her phone beeped, she opened the message immediately – half-excited, half-nervous.
She typed the response nearly as feverishly as she had completed her checklist at work.
Aaron had sat up in his bed now. Though he didn’t care – or so he told himself – he knew another message was on the way and he couldn’t sleep till it was there. The phone beeped and he opened the message.
You may not know but I was not easy with working late. But when you left, I became a little anxious. You have no idea how thankful I was when you came back for some file you had missed. Well, thank you, again!
Aaron read that message twice. He was right. She didn’t know what the guard was up to. He was glad too that he came back. She was afraid. He read ‘a little anxious’ and remembered how panicked she looked in her room and then, while driving, and chortled.
He wondered a few minutes if he should tell her more. There were things she should’ve seen and didn’t. Even now, she was trusting him too. He smiled.
He typed another message. And sure enough, she responded as he expected.
Hannah felt the communication was done and laid in her bed. The hot chocolate was over and she pulled up the blankets. She smiled to herself and closed her eyes. The phone beeped again.
Hannah wasn’t expecting a message again. She picked up her phone and read the message.
May I share something?
Hannah was surprised. Aaron wanted to share — what? She remembered the concerned look on his face, and wondered. She replied immediately.
Aaron knew his message would catch her as off-guard as her message had caught him. Yet, he felt a bit eager to see how she’d react. He waited, and when it came, he opened it quickly.
Aaron smiled and responded. He knew what he wanted to tell her, even if he this time didn’t know how she’d respond.
Hannah lay waiting and wondering what he wanted to share. All sorts of thoughts, possibilities and theories ran through her mind as she waited a very difficult few minutes. Finally, the message arrived and she opened it.
There was no file missed.
There were no new changes.
There is no urgent meeting tomorrow.
I came back for you.
Hannah felt her heart stop for a second. She didn’t know what to make of it. She thought back to those moments when he walked to the elevator, and then walked back. She wondered why he’d come back for her. She hadn’t asked for anything.
Her hands trembled when she typed her response.
Aaron smiled and waited. He lay back wondering how shocked his message would leave her. The response answered him.
Yes, she was clearly reeling under shock. It was time to put her at ease. He sent her the response.
Hannah got the response and yes, this one was true to Aaron’s reputation – somewhat vague, but a sermon.
I saw something you didn’t. You should be more careful.
You should avoid staying up so late. Your team wasn’t there either. It isn’t a great idea to stay up late alone. One of them should’ve been with you.
Hannah smiled. He did lecture her, but she could see the concern. She sent the response.
Aaron waited this to see how she’d respond to his hidden ‘accusation’. He was again taken aback by her message.
I agree. But, one of them had his mother hospitalized for a surgery, and I sent the other one along to help him. So, I thought I’d catch up on last-minute checks.
What did you see that I didn’t?
Thank you, again!
Aaron smiled a bit. McKenzie was right about her and her team, he reckoned. They do work well. She wasn’t mismanaged as he’d thought. She sounded very sincere. No wonder her team works well with her.
After a while, he sent a final message. That was all he wanted to say.
Hannah wondered what was it that he saw that made him return — for her, as he put it. Her phone beeped again.
Tell you some other time. It’s okay!
She put the phone down. He showed far more concern than someone would in his place, returning for her and making sure she got home safe. Whatever, he’d seen, he couldn’t have been wrong. He wasn’t as all-business as she’d thought.
‘He’s all right, then!’ she smiled and closed her eyes to sleep.
Aaron hadn’t expected a response after his last message and he was right.
Tomorrow, he’d need to see the Security Head over that guard’s activities. They would’ve been captured over the CCTV in any case. This one needed to be dealt with, but the moment’s priority was taken care of.
It was just a chance. If he hadn’t seen the reflection, he may not have been back. She was scared, and understandably so.
‘But she isn’t insincere. She’s all right.’ he smiled, and saved her number on his mobile.