The evening passed without any difficulties. After Alice’s speech, she was directed to her own table, which she shared with her Vice President Miles Campbell and her Board members. Besides Alice and Miles, the Board consisted of two older men and a woman, making a total of five Board members. One of the men was Samuel Jacobs, Rilex’s ex-Vice President when her father was still alive. When her father died, he took over Rilex, as Alice’s mother was not capable of leading such a large corporate. He stepped down the moment Alice had obtained her PhD in Economics and was ready to take over. She would have loved to have him as her Vice President, but he had declined her offer, for he reckoned that Rilex needed some fresh blood to run the company. Miles Campbell had become her Vice President instead but Samuel had stayed in the Board nevertheless. Alice was glad to have an ‘old rod’ on board, as he was the only one on the Board with decades of experience. Alice and Miles only just got started. Miles might be a few years older than she was, yet he still was experienced a youngster by the elder employees, even though his position was higher than theirs.
The other man on the Board was called Ivan Olsen. Having migrated to the Netherlands from Denmark when he was in his mid-twenties, he had never managed to lose his accent. Aside from Samuel, he was the eldest on the team, but had about as much experience in leading a company as Miles. Nevertheless, his cold appearance made him look like he knew what he was talking about most of the time and until now he has never been wrong. His eyes were icy blue and his skin milky; it was even paler than Alice’s. He had blonde hair but it was constantly combed back and forced to stay flat on his head, making him look bald. He was a stylish kind of guy, which was something Alice liked about him. With his straight posture, independent behaviour and sceptical looks, he reminded her much of herself.
Victoria García was besides Alice the only woman on the Board. Her mocha coloured skin, black hair and dark brown eyes were beautiful. High cheek-bones and full lips completed the picture. She was in her early thirties and she was probably the human definition of the proverb: ‘Still waters run deep’. Victoria barely says anything, but when she does, it’s mostly to point out any critical points. As a woman, she knows what it’s like to work in a male-dominated business world, which is why she lets Samuel, Miles and Ivan talk first before pointing out their flaws. Victoria is usually the one with the last call and Alice finds herself agreeing with her a lot. She is smart and used to be a scientist, which gives her a special way of looking towards things. And even though Alice was not a peoples’ person, she and Victoria hit it off pretty well. It wasn’t like they saw each other outside of work, but if she had to name the employee that she was closest with, then it’d be Victoria García.

At a little past nine, all the deserts were taken away. Some of the guests were still getting coffee, but a lot of them simply headed for the bar. On their way to the bartenders – who were giving the guests a small show by tossing their cocktail mixers into the air and catching them several times before pouring the drink – most of them stopped at Alice’s table.
There was CEO Arya, who had flown in from India to attend Rilex’s 40th-anniversary. He was and old man and hair had turned grey already, yet he had never started to grow bald. His wife was clothed in beautiful, flowery traditional clothes which suited her more than any dress ever would. Both of them greeted Alice warmly, which Alice replied with a nod and a polite little smile.
The second executive Alice was rather fond of, was a young woman. She was probably one of the tiniest people Alice had ever seen, but her bright personality made up for that. Amelia Thomas had only recently started her own business but it had grown out to a nation’s favourite in less than five years. It was the only corporate Rilex owned that had anything to do with fashion. Amelia’s company, Deliberation, focussed on making clean make-up products from, for example, algae. Many people seemed to like it and buy it, which was why Rilex was quick to claim Amelia’s business. Nowadays, she often dropped by to personally hand over her sales’ record, which grew bigger every month. The tiny woman was a hand full most of the times, but even Alice had to admit that her enthusiasm was addictive.
Several managers from the USA and the UK had flown in too, each of them stuck-up white men who still liked to attend her about how to run Rilex. They seemed to wear the same suits and their women were all skinny blondes with blue eyes. Alice despised them all, but she needed them, which was why she sometimes had to swallow her sharp words. Even though their companies were entirely controlled by Rilex, they still could pull out from under the contract if they gathered enough money to buy them out. Yet, she could not help to show her discontent whenever one of them made it over to her table to comment how beautiful she looked tonight. Of course, she looked beautiful. Alice was beautiful. But it was the least important aspect of her being CEO of Rilex Internationals, which was something many tended to forget. Sometimes she toyed with the idea of just firing them all and to put her own little pioneers in their positions. But that would be foolish. A leader needed their crowd to be at peace and a crowd was the most peaceful when they thought their ideas and opinions actually mattered. They did not. That was also something they failed to see, but it at least their tranquillity benefited Alice.

It took at least another half an hour before most of the people were seated again. In the meantime, Alice had changed seats. The Board was now shattered all across the Great Hall and to avoid getting embarrassed by sitting alone, she made her way over to the lounge seats. There were several round lounge couches stationed in the corner of the Hall, with a small coffee tables in the middle. Most of them were already occupied by families or groups of friends and Alice wanted to head for one of the empty ones, when she heard a familiar voice ringing over the low grumbling of the human mass.
Alice turned around and was barely prepared for the woman to run towards her with open arms. Astonished by the sudden hug, she was unable to move. Only when the brunette let her go, she was able to breathe.
“Alice Richmond, I swear you get prettier every day.”
Alice looked up – she had forgotten how tall she was – and smiled. It was less tight than usual, but the feeling felt a bit weird upon her lips. She huffed.
“Says the one who recently signed at a modelling agency.”
The woman, which Alice knew as Amaia Fournier, couldn’t help but to grin. The tall woman was a daughter of a successful CEO, just like Alice was. Only her father was still alive and Alice’s wasn’t. They kind of grew up together. When Dexter Richmond had passed away, however, Alice had completely dedicated her life to her studies and her contact with Amaia had disappeared slowly. Now they only saw each other on parties like these. Whilst Amaia could pursue a different kind of career – one that she really wanted to – before she would arise as head of her father’s company, Alice was running one of the biggest internationals in the world. Sometimes she envied Amaia’s great amount of spare time, but that jealousy was quickly forgotten when she realised that she had achieved her dreams already at the ripe age of 26. Why would one get jealous of another’s life if they had not achieved anything yet?
When Alice peeked over her shoulder, she noticed that the other daughters were sitting on the same couch Amaia had been. She recognised their faces. Soon-to-be-CEOs or soon to be married off. Some were fortunate enough to be born as the first child and inherit the company, like Alice and Amaia. Others were first-borns but the company was still passed down to a brother and others had never been in line to lead anyway. Either way, most of them still had a high position within their family’s company. And with Rilex hovering above them all, Alice knew their names by heart. Yet, only Amaia had ever been the one who spoke so freely and informal to her. Alice didn’t know whether she found it annoying or pleasing. Perhaps both.
Still, she sat down next to Amaia and the other women. With all eyes immediately turned to her, she felt like a leader once more. And why would she not? Obviously, she was the most important person in the room.

When everything had calmed down again, Miles took his chance and climbed up the stage. Barely anyone noticed him, until he slightly tapped on the mic with the palm of his hand to see if it was working. Miles cleared his throat, taking a few seconds until he had everybody’s attention. The happy chit-chatter of Rilex’s guests died off within seconds. All eyes were again pointed at the stage, only this time Alice was able to sit back and enjoy it herself as well. Even though she would not admit, the speech had tired her out and she wasn’t planning on participating in any of the activities for the rest of the evening. In fact, now that all the formalities were over, she really wanted to go home. Of course, there was no way she could sneak out without being seen. She still needed to get by a lot of other acquaintances of Rilex. Throwing away an opportunity like this to strengthen Rilex’s bonds with the other corporates was a waste. Still, the thought alone tired her.
“Excuse me,” Miles started. He waited for the last conversations to die out before he continued, “Ladies and Gentlemen. I am Miles Campbell, Vice President of Rilex Internationals and on behalf of Miss Richmond and myself, I would like thank everybody for coming once more. I hope everybody enjoyed the diner. For the rest of the evening, you can help yourself to something to drink or some snacks. But for now, I would like to invite everyone to the dance floor.
As some of you might know, Dexter Richmond used to be a fan of waltzing. At Rilex’s 5th-anniversary, it was first introduced. We would like to continue the tradition in honour of Dexter.”
The disc jockey in the back of the room started the music at a dozen men and women appeared from behind the scenes. Like the true actors and actresses they were, they waved and blew hand kisses in the direction of the guests. One man even pretended to catch one, although Alice was pretty sure it had come from one of the male dancers.
They were lean, slender people. The women wore white flower dresses, which swirled around their legs as they were helped off the stairs by the men. Their partners wore white blouses tucked into their pants and a Bordeaux red vests. Their hair was slickened against their skulls and from a distance, you couldn’t even see they were different people. The men walked exactly the same way, wore the same outfits and smiled their white teeth brightly. It was almost as if she saw six pair of clones dance. The only difference between the couples was the hair of the girls, which variated from red to black.
The performers danced on the song, which Alice – for once – did not recognise. It must be a smaller or modern composer, she reckoned, as she knew every classic musician by heart, Wagner being her favourite. It was a delight to look at. The men swirled the women around, who shot secret glances at people in the audience. Her guests seemed to be enjoying themselves, as many eyed the dancers with enthusiastic smiles.

The song had almost come to an end, when suddenly someone got up from the audience. A young girl. Perhaps fifteen or sixteen. Not yet full-grown but already showing the unmistakable curves that belonged to the female body. She still had braces and a youthful, cheeky glint in her eyes. Looking at her clothing, Alice reckoned she must be the daughter of the Aryas. Her black hair was put up in a bun, which was decorated and held in place by orange silk. She was dragging a boy with her; a young man that she recognised as the follow-up of one of her Korean acquaintances. He was lanky, seeming too tall for his age. A bit uncomfortable, he let the girl – who was at least two heads smaller than him – drag him to the dance floor. She grabbed his hands and led them towards her hips before getting up on her toes so she could wrap her arms around his neck. They awkwardly started dancing along.
It was clear that none of them had ever danced before. The girl seemed to pick up the pace faster than the boy, though, and even from Alice’s table she could see that she was the one leading. Despite the young man’s unsuccessful attempts to dance along, the smile of the girl could not be wiped off of her face.
The dancers suddenly started to take notice of the unfamiliar couple awkwardly dancing along to them and started to give them directions. Within minutes, they danced along to the rhythm and actually joined the dancers in their circle of twirling and twisting.
After seeing that the two youngsters fit into the dance perfectly, more couples started to get up. Within minutes, the whole dance floor was loaded with guests. Old CEOs holding their wives. Teenagers and children. Colleagues. Even strangers, who had never met before but were willing to try just to be able to dance along. Alice watched them with some sort of disgust.

She was able to handle the clumsily dancing guests for a few minutes but eventually got up to leave. Right when she wanted to leave the table, her exit got blocked by the large belly of someone she recognised all too well. The smell of beer that came along was enough to make her stomach turn and her face scrunch up in disgust. Alice looked up, right in the tiny pig’s eyes of Casper Green.
Green was a filthy, greasy, enormous middle-aged man that probably looked more like a wild boar than a human. Hauled in a suit, he looked entirely out of place. His large belly almost made the buttons of his blouse jump. His hair was black and fell over his forehead in a little curl, slick with grease which made his fatty head even less appealing; something which Alice had not thought would be possible. He had an enormous moustache, that would tingle every time the man smelled food. Because of his mask, his little eyes were accentuated even more.
He was probably the most disgusting man Alice had ever met and the perfect example why parents should first test their child’s skills before letting them be in charge of their life’s work.
“Mr Green. What a pleasure,” she forced out of her mouth. The fatty man in front of her smiled, causing his black moustache to curl up in a way that Alice did not want it to be. He took another large sip of his beer, which was poured in a glass as big as a carafe, and extended his hand to her.
“Would you be interested in a dance, Miss Richmond? Everybody else is seeming to have fun and it would be such a shame if the CEO of Rilex was not joining the festivities. It’s also, somewhat, your anniversary, is it not?”
Alice clenched her jaw together.
“I don’t dance, but thank you for the invitation.”
“Oh, come on! I know you know how to dance. I know Dexter taught you how, even though those lessons must have been a little difficult for a five-year-old girl. But now that you’re older, you probably can dance very well! I am a great dancer myself as well, so of course, I’d be willing to teach you, if you could just-”
With every word that came out of his mouth, Alice felt herself getting angrier and angrier. How dared he to belittle her like that? Was she not his boss? She did not let anyone else tell her what to do and if she declined, so be it. Alice was boiling with rage and about to throw out a bunch of sharp, rather un-professional accusations, when someone cleared their throat. The sound came from behind Casper Green. At first sight, there was no one to be seen, which was not that surprising if you took note in how big Casper Green’s body actually was. The colossal man turned around, his greasy moustache lowering when he pressed his lips tightly upon each other and his bushy eyebrows knotting together.
“Perhaps, Miss Richmond would rather have interest in a dance with me?”
“I was first, buddy,” Alice heard Casper Green reply rudely. “And I’m sure she prefers dancing with me; a man who is working so close with her and Rilex Internationals. I do not recognise you, so you must be a representative of one of those tinier corporates.”
By now, her curiosity had taken over. It was rare for new people to approach her, let alone someone of a smaller company. Alice Richmond was known for having an iron grip on her employees and every enterprise that worked under Rilex. Not many dared to doubt her or address her. It was extremely rare – it had actually never even happened before – that someone of a smaller company approached her. She did not know whether to feel amazed, curious or a tad disdainful. That person sure had some balls to walk up to her.
On top of that… the voice sounded strangely familiar. Though, she did not manage to connect the voice to a face or even a name.
Alice stepped forward, so she did not longer had to peek over Casper Green’s big shoulders anymore, and her eyebrows shot up almost instantly. She quickly controlled her facial expression, trying to remain her neutral self. It shouldn’t surprise her that she did not know who the person in front of them was. But honestly, it shocked her a little bit, as she knew every name of every person attending the party. Had she forgotten someone? She at least needed to appear like she knew, which was why she quickly took control of her facial expression again. Her face grew neutral again; bored almost.
The person did not seem to be affected by Casper’s harsh tone. Instead, they kept smiling a somewhat cocky smile. They did not even pay any attention to Casper Green but instead stared in Alice’s direction the whole time, as if they hadn’t even heard Green talk to them. A pair of deep, twinkling dark eyes were focussed on hers from behind a simple black mask. They wore a black suit. Despite the simple design, Alice recognised it as a Louis Vuitton, one that costed more that 4000 dollars. It helped to create broader shoulders than the person actually had and to emphasize their waistline. Together with that arrogant smile and sharp jawline, the person was actually quite attractive, even Alice had to admit that.

It took her a moment to realize Casper Green was staring at her as well, waiting for a reaction. His hopeful eyes betrayed that he wanted her to choose for him.
“Like I said; I don’t dance,” she clarified once more, trying to get out from both of the two hopeful watches. Casper Green’s gaze softened, but the two deep dark eyes only twinkled more; as if it was one big game. The grin grew and Alice did not know whether to think of it as endearing or annoying. Annoying, probably. She did not like to be questioned.
“Of course, as you wish,” Casper Green hummed. “I wish you a wonderful evening.”
“Likewise,” Alice replied to him with a half-assed smile. Casper Green winked at her once – which was something she never ever wanted to see again – and left her alone. She had expected the stranger to do the same, but they kept in place, not moving any of their muscles. By now, the interested gaze started to make her nervous. Nervosity, on its turn, annoyed her. And irritation did not advance her mood.
Now that Casper Green had left, Alice could not help but to narrow her eyes at the newcomer.
“And who are you, if I may ask?” she asked immediately. A low chuckle sounded through the air. It was soft; just loud enough for Alice to hear.
“Dance with me and you might find out.”
Alice scrunched her nose. She did not like games like these. In fact, she did not like games at all. And the way the stranger in front of her smiled – cheekily, as if they were barely older than a high school student – made her even more appalled of the idea of taking this dance. Alice Richmond was not to be played with, especially not by some sort of underdog from a new, small corporate.
“What makes you think I am interested in your name enough to dance with you?” she said icily. The grin grew only bigger – how upsetting!
“You wouldn’t have asked for my name otherwise, would you?”
From the mischievous glint in the deep, dark eyes, Alice could tell that they had long figured out that it annoyed her that she didn’t know their name.
“One song. Then you’ll tell me your name afterwards,” Alice said. She raised one of her eyebrows sternly, making clear she was not to be messed with. Still, the grin grew only bigger.
“What makes you think I have to listen to you? I’m the one with wanted information. What can you offer me in return?” the stranger smiled.
“A dance.”
“That, and a drink. Whiskey, perhaps?”
“I’m more of a wine person. And before I commit myself to anything, I’d like to know whether the name I’m getting is worth it,” Alice replied neutrally. Of course, she would never have a drink with this person, but she liked to make them think they indeed had a chance. Perhaps it was just some suitor that wanted to capture her heart by acting all mysterious. In the end, his name would not even matter and she would be disappointed in herself that she had even taken the dance. Alice was almost inclined to decline the proposal… almost.
The thing that stopped her was the feeling of a déjà-vu, which grew stronger with every passing second. There was something about that voice, those eyes and that smile that reminded her of someone. Yet, she did not know who. It made her incredibly curious, for some reason. And… didn’t she ought to know all the names of her clients?
Not knowing the stranger’s name was a flaw in her being and Alice hated flaws. Did she not always strive for perfection?
“Well, let’s find out then.”
The person smiled widely – a smile that seemed to be too big for their face – and offered her their hand. Alice looked at it warily for a few seconds.
Nevertheless, she took it and together they walked towards the dancefloor.

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