Episode 6: "Tempest"
Part One

Lana's Office, Fi-Lo Office Supply Company Suite, Blount Building

Lana stared out the wide paneled window of her office, her eyes gazing past the rain streaming down the other side of the glass. Thunder roared after flashes of white lightning emanated from the low ceiling of gray clouds in the sky. The downtown skyline peeked through curtains of precipitation, sporadic lights of yellow, red, and blue at various elevations.

She had no strength to hold up her cheerful walls nor halt her redundant recollection of the charity dinner's events. She blamed herself for her sorrow, for planting the seed of encouragement in Jake's mind, for inspiring his heart to chase after Kendra. I've lost him forever. The phone rang, startling her. She pressed the speaker phone button. "Yes, what is it, Mae?"

"Jake's called, line one," Mae's voice boomed back from the speaker.

Lana shut her eyes, trying to close off her apprehension. She longed to hear his voice in spite of the imminent pain its sound would cause. She had to handle this maturely. "Thank you, Mae. Put him through." She drew in a deep breath, trying to stay calm. She picked up the receiver.

"Lana, hey, I hope you're not too busy to talk," Jake's throaty voice echoed from the earpiece. Lana swallowed, a sudden lump lodged in her throat prevented her from speaking immediately.

"No, uh, you caught me at a good time," Lana tried to speak as normally as possible. "How are you?"

"Not so good," Jake replied. "About the charity dinner, I feel terrible for leaving you like I did. It should have been just for one song and I really regret not coming." He chuckled. "I could have prevented Bryce McKeon from staining your dress."

Lana was pleased, then confused. "Bryce McKeon? My dress? So that's the guy's name."

Jake laughed. "Yeah. I'm really sorry. So am I forgiven? Please say yes. Don't make me beg. I'll make it up to you, I promise."

Lana sighed. Of course she would forgive him. "It's all right. Don't worry about it."

"Whew, thanks, Lana. You're the best."

"No problem. Hey, I'm gonna head home before this storm gets any worst. I'll see you at In Field Fly."

"Cool, catcha later, Lana."

"Bye, Jake," Lana replaced the receiver, grinning from ear to ear. She felt much better, but wondered what really happened between Jake and Kendra, especially while she was in the ladies' room cleaning her dress. She shut down her computer, gathered her outgoing mail, and locked up her office.

"Mae, these packets need to be mailed first thing in the morning. Thanks." Lana placed the mail on Mae's desk and bid her goodbye. She strode down the hall to the elevator. She pressed the down button for the elevator and waited patiently until the doors opened and allowed her access. She stepped in and pressed the first floor button. The elevator doors closed and descended before pausing at the next floor. The door opened.

Lana looked up, finding herself face-to-face with none other than accident-prone Bryce McKeon.

Part Two

Blount Building

Thunder crashed, the elevator lights flickered, and Bryce felt as if lightning had struck the floor on which he stood. There she was in front of him, Lana's eyes fixed with a veil of obscure violet-blue, her dark hair pulled into a French twist, her skin glowing with a smooth exuberance.

"Hi," Bryce breathed, incredulous.

Lana nodded back. "Going down?"

Bryce still stood outside the elevator, whose doors began to close on him. He quickly held out his hand to stop the doors and, looking sheepishly, joined her in the elevator. At first they stood in silence. Bryce drew in one deep breath after another to keep himself calm, inhaling the pleasant scent of Lana's perfume which hung in the elevator's poorly circulated air. He sensed the aroma of citrus and flowers, a combination he found titillating. Yet the sweet smell also roused him self-consciously as he began to sweat, worrying about his own visual and olfactory attractiveness. He also felt the uncomfortable weight of the silence and finally he broke it.

"I really wanted to apologize," Bryce turned to Lana, "For what happened at the Pub, and at Thurium's. I mean, I wanted a formal apology. Well, to give you one, yeah."

Lana frowned, her eyes casting an uncertain glance at him. "I was hoping to forget about those unfortunate incidents. You bringing them up justifies the furthest distance I should stand away from you now."

Bryce laughed nervously. "Ouch," He stabbed his chest with the proverbial stake through the heart. "Look, I wanted to say I'm sorry. Look," He held up his hands, "I'm empty-handed. I can do you no harm." No sooner had the words escaped from his lips, a deafening crash of thunder answered him, causing the elevator to jerk to a stop and the lights to short out. "OK, I didn't do it." Bryce joked.

Lana looked at him strangely. "Must have been the storm," She pressed the emergency button, turning on only one of the emergency lights. "No, no, we can't be stuck here," She pressed other buttons but to no avail. She pounded her fist against the control panel.

"I don't think that's going to work," Bryce remarked, sinking to the floor. Lana glared angrily at him.

"Well, at least I'm trying to do something about the holdup." She tried to read the instructions sign above the control panel.

"The electricity is out, we have to wait until it comes on again," Bryce said matter-of-factly.

Lana was too exasperated to listen to him. "Why is it that every time you come near me, something goes wrong?" Lana folded her arms in front of her. "Are you some sort of mystic cataclysm sent to torment me?"

"Is that what you wished for?" Bryce was beginning to feel agitated by Lana's sour attitude.

"Ok, look, the last thing I need is for you to mock my every comment. Things are bad enough, and then you come along to make matters worst. Enough already."

Bryce didn't know what to say. He stared back at her, torn between his helpless attraction to her and his ignorance to her true self. He began to wonder how he could feel for such a harsh, rigid woman he barely knew. His instincts had failed him and his heart felt the sickening twinge of disappointment and regret. His hopes had diminished, too quickly for him to counter with his bravado, his ego's emotional strength. He even wondered why this disappointment felt more excruciating than any other affliction he'd known.

Lana read the demeanor her bitter diatribe had caused Bryce, regretting her words of reprimand. She saw the way he cocked his head to the side, as if he were fighting to keep a front of pride from retreating. His eyes, she remembered as brilliant with an envious green, traced the tiles of the floor when they rightfully deserved recognition of a more aesthetically pleasing subject. His lips were drawn taut, pursed with an unnatural grimace. Her heart sank, dreary as the world's weeping outside that day.

"Bryce, I shouldn't have said those awful things," Lana began to apologize, kneeling on the floor beside him.

Bryce snapped to attention. "How do you know my name?"

Lana was perturbed by the question but answered anyway, "Jake Herrington mentioned you were the one who spilled the martini on me..."

"Oh yes, Herrington," Bryce understood. Remembering her prior tirade, he grew despondent again.

Lana was quick to catch his mood change. "Anyway, I'm sorry for what I said. They were just unfortunate coincidences, and I know you had nothing to do with the power outage."

Bryce laughed uneasily. I might have wished for it, Bryce thought gleefully. "Apology accepted, but on one condition," Bryce hesitated dramatically.

"Which is...?" Lana eyed him wearily.

"That you'll forget my hapless first impressions and allow me to formally introduce myself to you."

Lana smiled warmly. "It's a deal."

Bryce breathed a sigh of relief, then cleared his throat and stuck out his hand. "Hi, I'm Bryce McKeon. And with whom do I have the pleasure of meeting?"

Lana shook his hand gently. "Lana Whitmire. The pleasure is all mine."

Part Three

Blount Building

"I've been working for Fi-Lo Office Supply Company for a year and a half now, six months as fiscal supervisor for the Bay Area Division," Lana explained to Bryce. "My predecessor retired, so I basically trained under her during her last year. A lot of late hours were invested to get me where I am. That, and well, being in the right place at the right time."

"That's quite the success story," Bryce commented. "Do you see yourself as an executive some day?"

"Maybe, but I think I'm more effective where I am now, in the middle of the daily operations. At least I know exactly what's going on," Lana fiddled with a loose strand of her hair. "And what do you do?"

"Me?" Bryce ran his fingers through his dark hair. "I run my own architectural firm. I'm going to start an office here. I left the other office back home in Pensacola for my older brother to run."

"That's amazing though, your own business," Lana was impressed. "Something from your own creation, your cultivation. I'd certainly feel well accomplished."

"Yeah, but for now I'm just a one man firm, with Grayson Realties as my first client. I'm designing a new condominium for them."

"The Graysons run a real estate empire in the Bay Area."

"Do they? I figure I'll be working freelance for them quite a bit then."

"So that's why you moved here? To start a new business?"

Bryce hesitated before answering, a touch of uneasiness in his voice. "Pretty much, yeah. Simon talked me into coming. I thought it would be a nice change. I've lived in the same place for most of my life."

"Yeah, I know what you mean about change. I'm from Jacksonville, and moving here has been a breath of fresh air. I feel good, like I'm really independent, maybe even accomplished."

"You seem like you really keep yourself together real well."

"I do? I try." Lana laughed, silvery peals of pleasure to Bryce's ears. He blushed at his own comment. "Do you like it here so far?" she questioned.

Bryce had been asked that question more often than not since he had arrived but for the first time, he didn't mind answering. "Yes, I like it here a lot." He smiled, swelling with the excitement he felt when he first saw her. He found enough courage to beg a deeper question. "So you were Jake's date to the dinner the other night?"

"Yes, but we might as well have not gone together," Lana bristled, her voice retaining a slight edge. "He left me halfway through it to dance with someone else. But it's not like he's bound to me. He's one of my best friends. It made him happy."

This day keeps getting better and better. Bryce was thrilled. He felt the depth of her selflessness when she talked about Jake. Her company was more comfortable than he expected, after their initial clash. She wasn't bubbly, self-conscious, or agitating. He found himself genuinely liking her.

The lights came to life while the elevator jerked into motion. Lana braced the brass railing to pull herself to her feet, but Bryce held his hand out to her.

"Please, allow me," Bryce's eyes met hers and Lana's heart pounded with a quickened pace. She found a mystifying visage cloaking his olive green eyes, touched with longing and attention. Flattered by his noble gesture, she slipped her hand into his. Gently, he lifted her to her feet and she couldn't help noticing the mild flexing of his muscular biceps. Stop it, Lana. Don't even think about it, She told herself.

"Thank you," Lana blushed shyly. The elevator doors opened and outside, a group of people awaited their departure. With a parting nod, Lana stepped off the elevator and walked away, not looking back.

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