Chapter 3: Blueberry Muffin

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I was the first to arrive at the office and had to find my way in the semi darkness to reach my cubicle. Situated at the loneliest corner, my cubicle was not known to many. I found it thrilling whenever I brought any of my colleagues to this cubicle.

"Your boss wouldn't know if you are sleeping!" Said one of them.

"She wouldn't even realize if I'm not here," I added with a short laughter.

The cubicle was the only nice thing I had in the office. (Okay, the coffee machine and pool table were cool too, but I didn't use them often).

The cubicle was where I squeezed my creative juice from 9 till late at night, 5 days a week - that was if I was not required to be at customers' sites.

"Great! You're early today!" A familiar musky smell of perfume greeted me. I turned around and saw Nazrul in a brand new suit and tie; his extra shiny shoes told me that something big was happening today.

"Hi! Good morning!" I chirped and faked a happy face. I was not glad to see him so early. What he did yesterday was so...

"I'm sorry about yesterday, Allysa," he said with a low voice and glanced around to make sure no one else was around to hear it. "I shouldn't have reacted like that. I should have offered you some good advice. But I was... Ugh! I was a huge mess yesterday. You know we lost the Kenanga project, right?" He asked about a huge tender he was working on. I nodded. The whole company knew about the wrong strategy used.

"It's okay, I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have burdened you with petty things." Having to return to live in Kedah was not petty, it's huge. But I didn't want to sound whiny.

"No. It's important to me and to the company. We can't afford to lose you. You are our most important asset, Allysa. We can hire anyone any time, but talents like yours are not easy to find." He brought his palms together and I waited patiently, wondering if he was going to say Namaste.

"I'm just one of the designers here, Naz. The rest are a lot better," I tried to sound humble but the things he said flattered me a little.

"You always know how to win the customer's heart - that's why you're different." Nazrul flashed his million dollar smile and I didn't know how to stay humble anymore.

"Thank you," I said, still standing in front of my cubicle holding my handbag. "But if my mom insists that I return to Kedah, I'll have to quit, unless this company sets up a branch in Alor Star," I tried to be funny but Nazrul narrowed his eyes and pursed his thin lips.

"You can't leave, Allysa. It would be such a waste of your big talent." His hands were now on his hips as his voice deepened.

"I'll try to convince her that I can take care of myself. I want to stay and work in KL; I love it here!"

"What I can't understand is why she wants you to return to Kedah. Did you do anything that upset them?" Nazrul gave me an inquisitive gaze and I let out a long sigh.

"I was mugged last month, remember?"

Nazrul rubbed his brow and stared thoughtfully at me before saying, "wait! Our staff that was robbed near the LRT station was you?" He looked at me in disbelief.

"Yes, that was me." I remembered exactly that I called him the next day about the incident and excused myself for not being able to attend a meeting he had arranged with a customer. It just slipped from his mind, I guess.

"Yeah, KL is becoming a dangerous place," he murmured. "But your mother can't use that reason to get you to leave KL."

"Unfortunately, my apartment was robbed the following week. And it happened while all my housemates were away. I told you about it. Don't tell me you forget about it too!" My index finger pointed at him on a reflex and I narrowed my eyes.

Nazrul nodded with a serious expression before asking, "what happened after that? They say bad things come in threes...." He didn't continue with his question when the floor suddenly became bright. We blinked our eyes a few times.

A familiar voice called out, "Nazrul, Allysa... You two are early today." It was Zureen, my manager. She was usually the first to arrive every morning. At fourty three, single and never married, work was her life. She was always the last to leave every day too.

"Hey Zureen!" Nazrul paused to eye my manager's attire before he whistled. "You make Gucci look good!"

Zureen blushed and I half expected to see Nazrul kiss her hands.

"Oh! This is an old bag," said Zureen dismissively but I knew it was only last season's bag. She bought it when we had lunch at KLCC.

"We - Allysa and I are attending the product launch I told you about - The Nusantara teak furniture," said Nazrul as he stood right next to me. His arm was on top of my cubicle divider. From a side view I was sure it looked as if he was hugging my shoulder.

Zureen snapped her fingers and her face lit up. "Yeah! I almost forget about it. That is a very good event. I'm afraid you must attend." She looked at me almost apologetically. "I was supposed to call you last night Allysa, but I was stuck in a meeting with Tengku Adam until very late. Can you go with Nazrul?" She grinned at me. "Nazrul told me it's going to be a good opportunity for networking among designers."

I looked at Nazrul's expensive suit and then at my pink cardigan and jeans. "I.... I am not dressed for events." I could feel my face getting hot. How was I going to attend a prestigious product launch in my casual wear?

Zureen turned her door knob and signalled for me to come inside. "I have a few spare skirts that go well with that cardigan." Her eyes darted from my jeans to my purple running shoes. "You can borrow my heels too."

"I can't wait to see Allysa in skirt and heels," Nazrul teased me. Zureen chuckled as I raised my index finger but decided not to point it at Nazrul. Instead, I said, "give me five minutes. I need to change. While waiting, can you get me some blueberry muffins from the pantry?"

He was already busy pressing the keys on his cell phone. But I knew he was hiding a smile - a cynical one. And I'm sure he was not going to get me any blueberry muffin. My stomach started to growl. I turned on my heel and entered Zureen's room.

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