Click, clack, click, clack.
Alice's heels rhythmically met the floor every time she strode forwards.
Click, clack, click, clack.
The doors of the lift opened and Alice got in. She scanned her employees' card and the doors of the lift closed; the right floor immediately lighted up on the control panel. Even though the lift was made out of glass, Alice did not feel the least unsafe. As the elevator shot upwards to the highest floor of the building, Alice turned around to look at what was hers. From the elevator, she could see the Great Hall in all its glory at this early hour in the morning.
The welcoming hall of Rilex Internationals' Headquarters was already buzzing with life. By now, the employees started to come in, since it was already twenty-five past eight. In five minutes, their shifts would go in, which was why the puffing red-cheeked, suited monkeys walked way faster than they would normally do. They needed to make it in time, otherwise, they'd get a shot.
Alice watched them as the lift brought her up, feeling rather indifferent towards them. They were people she saw daily, talked to daily, but there was nothing interesting to be told about them. They went to work every day and rushed the last few minutes not to be late, spent 8 hours behind their desks doing whatever and then went back home. Most of them had families. Husbands, wives, children, perhaps a dog or two. They lived like that day in day out. It almost felt like she was watching people on a screen. You could see them, feel with them and watch them. But they were not real. Played personas, cartoon characters with a voice that belonged to someone else. They were the followers that a leader needed, but only because they would blindly do as they were told, not for any other beneficial reason, as they were as dumb as a box of rocks. Alice needed them to do the dirty work but deep down and she always praised them for their work but deep down, she despised all of them. She couldn't help it. They were on such another level - literally and figuratively - than her, that it was hard to emphasize with them.

The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. A robotic womanized voice told her that she had arrived at floor 19.
Floor 19 was completely reserved for the chief executive officer, her personal assistant and meeting rooms. Even Rilex's Board was one floor lower. When she got out of the lift, she immediately encountered David's desk, who was already filled with the broad-shouldered young man. Somehow, he always managed to be at work earlier than her. It was a bit off-character. David happened to be pretty laid-back most of the time and him being at work before her somehow pleased and annoyed her at the same time.
"Good morning, Miss R! Coffee? The usual?" he chimed. Alice nodded curtly to him and left to her office, not being able to send his enthusiasm at near half past eight in the morning.
She had just settled and had just opened her laptop when David came in with a white mug of damping black coffee. He placed it on the right corner of my desk. The earthenware made a clinking sound when it came in contact with the thin glass plate.
"I just wanted to say that the party planner will be here around ten o'clock. I have booked the small meeting room for two hours and have made sure that you are scheduled out for all your other appointments for at least an hour after that, in case you'll need more time," David informed.
"Make it three, I want to get it done by today," Alice replied, without looking up from her screen. She typed in her rather long password and went straight on to Excel.
"Want me to reschedule Mr Quinn? You were supposed to have an appointment with him at half past twelve. I can also inform him that the appointment will simply take place half an hour later."
"Let it be but make sure he is aware that we cannot start at strictly half past twelve. I do not want any of the appointments to be rescheduled for the next day."
"Sure thing, boss!" David smiled. "Anything else before I go?"
"No, you're dismissed."
David left the room, leaving Alice in her little five-by-five-metre cocoon. The damp of the coffee soon triggered her nose and even though it had not cooled down enough to drink yet, she still took it up and brought it to her lips. The coffee burned her gullet. By now she was used to it and it did not hurt anymore.

The party planner knocked on the door to her study a quarter early. He was a static, rather dull man, whose hair was as grey as his suit. He always had a straight back but loving eyes. He was the perfect kind of man who liked to listen, as was required from him when it came to his job. He was called Nick Mayer and was of German heritage. He still has a small accent, which was the only noticeable thing about the guy. Alice would never have taken a look at him if he was not in charge of Rilex's 40th-anniversary party.
"Come in," Alice said.
"Good morning, Ms Richmond," he greeted her submissively when he entered. She looked up and nodded, as a way of replying to him.
"Let us go one of the meeting rooms. That will be much more comfortable than staying here," Alice said. She stood up and went before him to one of the available spaces. She opened the door to the room that David had selected for them by scanning her employees' card.
Rilex's meeting rooms were nothing special. There was a large window that could be darkened if needed to be. A large, rectangle-shaped table with rounded ends was placed in the middle of the room. As this was one of the smaller meeting rooms, the table was just large enough to bear six chairs. The larger ones had tables that easily fitted fourteen. Above their heads hung a projector which pointed at the single white wall. In the corner were even a few whiteboards, since there sadly still were a few elder employees that did not know how to open a PowerPoint presentation without having to look for the right buttons first.
"Please sit down," Alice said, as she took her place at the head of the table. Mayer sat down on the left from her and immediately started up his laptop. Only a few minutes later he connected it wirelessly to the projector above and showed the first dia of his ideas.

The meeting definitely took up more than two hours and Alice was glad Mayer had shown up earlier. The extra time was needed, even though they did not have to talk through much anymore. The overall theme and decorations had already been chosen in one of the previous meet-ups. The only thing that needed revising was the guests' list.
"So, if I understand correctly, each guest is allowed to bring two more?" Nick Mayer said as he took his glasses off to look Alice in the eye better. She wondered why so, as he probably could see better with his glasses.
"I suppose each of them would like to bring their wife and maybe a child. If we expect each of them to bring two guests, we will be able to receive unexpected guests too," she replied. With big festivities like this, there were always some guests who either brought too many or too few guests with them. Most of them appeared together with their wife or husband, but there were also quite a few who liked to bring other relatives or soon-to-be-CEOs. Alice did not want to send anyone away, but she neither wanted to throw away too much money in investing in too many people. If each of them was allowed to bring two extra guests, which most did not, she was able to seat most other unexpected guests.
The party planner took a note and nodded.
"Now, if you would just look through the list one more time…" he muttered, as he handed her the printed piece of paper with the names. There were over two hundred, but Alice scanned them quickly. Within minutes, she handed it back.
"You do not want to make any alternations?" he asked her. Alice shook her head.
"It's exactly how I want it to be."
"Are you sure you want to invite Olympia Woolf to the feast?"
Alice shot him a foul look, which caused Mayer to look away immediately.
"I am very much aware of the people I am inviting. I do not need anyone to tell me whom I can and cannot invite," she hissed.
"Yes, of course, Miss…" he muttered quickly. He started collecting his stuff, only to stuff them way to hastily into his back. Mayer put away his laptop without even shutting it off. "I will immediately start to lay out the groundwork for the invitation cards. You will also receive a schedule for the other preparations within a week."
Alice nodded sternly, her irritation-level still high. She took the last sip of her coffee and stood up to shake his hand. A little shakily he took hers and shook it quickly. He let go and immediately averted his eyes.
"I will wait with anticipation for the schedule. Also, let me know when any changes have to be made. I want to be fully informed about everything; even the colour and the type of flowers that will be used are of importance to me, so I expect frequent updates, daily if necessary."
Mayer nodded. "Yes, of course, Miss."
Alice gave a quick, short nod before walking towards the doors, the party planner quickly following behind. Like the little ass kisser he was, he wanted to shake her hand one more time before he left, yet he still couldn't look her properly in the eye. Alice could not help to feel a bit content at that.
After a formal goodbye, she retreated to her office. The rest of the day went smoothly, as Rilex Internationals was running smoothly as well.

It took another two and a half months before the anniversary of Rilex would be celebrated, but the time went by fast. She looked forward to seeing the result since the big party was the only thing that made Alice's life a little less boring than usual. She spent a lot of time making sure everything was perfect; roses in the colour of Rilex Internationals' colours, white and Bordeaux red; a banquet with two entrees, a main course and a dessert; a walking buffet afterwards with the most delicious tiny bites; a dance floor which will also be used for waltzing; a stage on which she would be giving a speech; three bars with corresponding lounge seats; and last but not least: waiters and waitresses serving her guests with style and mindfulness. Everything needed to be perfect. Everything was going to be perfect, as Alice Richmond did not take anything less than perfect for an answer.

In the span of those few months, Alice received confirmations of all of her guests. Every single one of them had let her know that they would be attending and Alice was pleased to know that they found her empire important and powerful enough to come to the party. There was only one confirmation that was still lacking. Olympia Woolf had not reacted upon her invitation. Alice could not help to feel a little bit smug and a little irritated about that at the same time. Was she too intimidated to even reply? Or did she think of Rilex as too little of a competitor to even come?
There were only a few days before the anniversary of Rilex Internationals and by then, Alice was all fixated on getting everything on the feast right. She was checking the delivery times of the roses again when someone knocked on her door.
"Come in," she said, without looking up from her laptop. David popped his head around the mahogany wooden door.
"Miss, there is someone here for you," he said, his voice a little hesitant. Alice looked up, her eyebrows pulled up uninterestedly.
"They do not have an appointment. Send them away."
"Yes, I know.. it's just, I would have, you know - but, ehmm…-"
"Say it, David," she barked at him.
"They're here from Woolf Industrials."
Alice stiffened. For a moment, she doubted whether to send them away either way. But the thought of seeing Olympia Woolf's head in person filled her with an excitement she had not felt a long time ago.
"Let them in."
"Right away, Miss," David said, and he disappeared again.
Alice didn't even have any time to close her laptop before the door was opened again. The powerful swing made the doorknob slam against the wall, which caused her eyebrows to knot immediately. Alice looked up, her insides already boiling, only not to find Olympia Woolf.
There was another woman standing in front of her. Her whole appearance was simply off. It did not belong to the world Alice lived in and she immediately felt a burning hatred for the person standing in front of her.
The first thing she noticed were the deep black eyes, staring mischievously at her from under her dark hair that was just long enough to fall over her eyebrows. Her skin was tanned, unlike Alice's, and her smile arrogant; self-satisfied; cheesy almost. As if she knew stuff that Alice did not - which was not possible, of course. There was a fresh, little cut on her lower lip; the wound had not dried up and turned dark brown yet but had stopped bleeding. Her whole outfit was simply black. Black ripped jeans, black Dr Martins that reached up her calves and a black Guns N' Roses tank top that displayed her tattooed arms. She could even see some curling up her neck. Her ears were pierced multiple times, with a tunnel in each ear as the cherry on top. The woman looked almost like a criminal and Alice could not help to gaze down and check whether her shoes had stained the floor. They had not.
"Who are you?" she barked. "I am expecting someone from-"
"Woolf Industrials," the woman in front of her chuckled. "Did you really think Olympia was going to deliver the message herself?"
Alice's cheeks flared. "What is her answer, then?" she said through clenched teeth.
"She declines. My sister has no intention of coming to Rilex. Who can blame her? She would have been thrown into the lion's den."
"Your sister?" Alice said slowly, pronouncing - almost tasting - every syllable.
The woman rose her left eyebrow mockingly. "Oh my, you don't know who I am, do you?"
Alice tensed the muscles in her jaw. She could feel her teeth grinding over each other.
"Should I?" she answered indifferently, trying to brush off the fact that she indeed had no idea who was standing in front of her. My sister…
A feeling told her that she ought to know, even though the woman looked like nothing of her interest. The tattoos, the pierced ears, the twinkling dark eyes that seemed too wise for her age and the mocking grin that she had seen the jocks in high school wear so many times.
"I had thought that you would have known everything about my family, Miss Richmond. It almost feels awkward to introduce myself," the woman chuckled, quasi-dramatic. "Ray Woolf, to your service."
Alice's eyes narrowed.
"Dexter Woolf's eldest daughter? Rachel Woolf?"
"I prefer Ray, but, yes," the woman - or Ray - laughed.
"I thought you were-"
"A myth? A legend?" Ray snickered. "I know it all. But no, I am real and yes, I am involved in Woolf Industrials, as many might not believe."
Alice sat back in her chair and pushed up her chin, enforcing her already arrogant vibe. She rose one of her eyebrows.
"And Olympia lets her older sister run errands for her? How pathetic," she hissed. Ray noticed the change in behaviour. Her eyes seemed almost to darken, although they were already pitch black from themselves.
"Whereas my sister likes to hide behind her large walls, I like to check out the competition first. And I know you like to too, otherwise you would have never invited us to Rilex's anniversary party."
Alice huffed.
"Sadly, you are not coming. It's a shame, is it not," she said slowly. The corners of Ray's mouth curled up a bit more. It reminded her of a villain's smile.
"It is. I would have loved to learn more about you."
All the alarm bells in Alice's head started ringing. With tensed muscles, she pushed herself away from her desk and stood up. Ray stayed exactly where she was but followed her with an amused look. Alice slowly came near. Her heels slowly clicking on the white floor. Her heart seemed to beat at the same pace her feet walked. She stopped when she was only two metres away from Ray Woolf. Alice noticed as she looked straight into her eyes, that Ray's gaze was flying up and down over her body for a split second, before returning the gaze.
"If there's anything else Miss Woolf would like to let me know, then say so. Otherwise, there is no reason for you to be here anymore."
"No, but I want you to know that, unlike my sister, I look forward to the next time we meet, Miss Richmond. It was my pleasure," Ray answered with a satisfied little smile. "You're already so much more than I had expected."
And with those words, Rachel Woolf turned around and left the office, leaving a heated CEO of Rilex Internationals with a burning feeling inside her stomach.

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