Junior Year (excerpt)

 When he turned the corner, her mouth fell agape. Moving swiftly across the office, speaking low in the same, serious tone she remembered so clearly, was Noah. He looked the same as he did that night, a little fresher, and without the five o’clock shadow, but the same no less. Tall, and sharp, with that intense look in his eyes. She watched him, dumbfounded, as he headed directly for her.

In a panic, she quickly lowered her head, sinking into her chair. He passed right by without even a glance in her direction. Still, her face was burning. Had anyone else noticed? No, it didn’t seem so. Still, he would notice. Sooner or later. Probably sooner. Her heart hammered against her chest as the realization of the situation sank in deeper and deeper.

He was her boss.

She’d thought about him constantly since that night. The mysterious man who bought her drinks and listened as she went on and on about her shitty past and her shitty relationship and her shitty apartment and her shitty— She gasped out loud as remembered exactly what she went on and on about that night, and Janet looked up at her. “What’s the matter?” she demanded.

 ”Umm, nothing,” Christian lied, getting to her feet.

 I’ve been at this new job for almost two weeks now, and God, I fucking hate it. Those were her words. That was what she’d said to him. She had to leave. She had to get out of there. She hated that place, anyway. Plus, it wasn’t like she was getting paid. It wasn’t worth the inevitable humiliation. No, she had to leave.

She stuffed her phone in her pocket, reached for her purse— Shit. Her purse. She locked it away. I think I’m going to start locking my stuff up. I swear the guy next to me looks like some sociopath serial killer, or at least a klepto’… In a huff, she plopped back down in her seat and fumbled for the drawer key. Just as she got it in her fingers, Jack emerged from the back office. “Christian?”

She popped up, feeling flushed. “Yes?”

“Come on back for a minute. Mr. Hale wants to meet you.”

Her heart sank. She tried to think of any excuse, any excused at all to get out of there, but her mind was blank. “Oh. Well. Alright, then,” she stammered. “Of course.”

Still, though, she stood there, staring toward the office, willing her unresponsive feet to move toward it. Jack looked back at her, puzzled. “Ah. Now?” he probed.

“Oh, right,” she said, finally advancing forward. She smoothed her blouse, ran her fingers through her hair, and a sudden blanket of relief settled over her as she realized it was straight. That’s right, she straightened it the night before! Maybe he wouldn’t recognize her! After all, it was dark in the bar, and her hair had been pulled back and curly, and she’d been dressed down, and he was a bit tipsy. Wasn’t he? She couldn’t recall. Still, there was a chance he wouldn’t remember. A small chance…

She took a deep breath as Jack pushed the door open and motioned for her to go in. Noah was sitting behind a large desk, leaning back in an oversized, leather chair, flipping through mail. He didn’t look up as she approached, and in her desperate panic, she thought, for a moment, that maybe he wouldn’t look up at all. But then, Jack stepped in after her, slamming the door behind him, and Noah jumped.

His eyes darted up and settled on Christian. They immediately flickered with recognition, bulged even, and then went to Jack. She watched as his features miraculously settled into an unreadable expression. She’d seen it, though. The initial shock of having her there, right in his office. He remembered her, no doubt about it. “Mr. Hale, this is our new intern, Christian Trimmel,” Jack introduced. “Christian, this is Noah Hale, founder of this agency.”

Christian couldn’t breathe. In fact, she thought she would die right there. Just drop dead of humiliation, right at Jack’s feet. “Well, hello,” Noah said, his voice as confident and silky smooth as it remained in her memory. He never took his eyes off of her, not even to blink. His stare seemed to swallow her whole. “It’s good to meet you. Christian, is it?”

“Yes,” she choked out.

He leaned back in his seat, still examining her. “So you’re the new intern, huh? I’d love to hear what you think of everything so far.”

Her face reddened.

“Everything is great,” she squeaked.

“Yeah? How about the staff? Did they welcome you alright? Was everyone… hospitable enough?”

She could practically hear her own drunken voice, slurring, they have to be the most unwelcoming group of people I’ve ever met. Hasn’t any of them ever heard of hospitality?

She thought she might sink into the floor at any moment. In fact, she wished the moment would just come already. “Yes. Very.”

He nodded. “Great. Because here at the Hale Agency, we’re more than just coworkers. We’re like a family. Isn’t that right, Jack?”

And my stupid supervisor, always walking around spouting off some bullshit about being a family. I thought my family was fucked up. I wish you could meet these people…

Noah looked at Jack who nodded emphatically. “Yes, I say tell them that all the time! Don’t I, Christian?”

Noah’s eyebrows raised and a grin tugged at the corners of his lips. For the first time, Christian realized he was enjoying it. He wasn’t angry. He was amused.

“Well, then. I’m glad everything is working out for you. You’ll let me know if there’s ever a problem, won’t you? Anything like… oh, I don’t know, bogus assignments—”

“I’ll let you know!” she breathed, dropping her eyes. She was cringing on the inside.

“Great. You both can go back to work.” Exhaling, she spun and hurried toward the door, only she heard his voice before she could escape, summoning her back. She paused and slowly turned back to him, not moving from where she was by the door. Jack stopped, too, and Noah nodded at him. “She’ll be out in a minute,” he said.

“Of course,” Jack replied, and hurried out, shutting the door behind him. When he was gone, Noah leaned forward in his seat and motioned to the chair in front of his desk.

“Have a seat,” he said. Hesitantly, Christian obliged, and for a moment, Noah’s eyes just played over her face, over her hair, over her blouse, over her trembling fingers gripping the arms of the chair. “I see you’ve changed your hair,” he said, finally.

“God, I had no idea!” she cried. The words simply came flooding out of her mouth. “I didn’t know you were… you. I was drunk that night, everything I said, I didn’t mean any of it—”

“Really? None of it?”

Of course not. She meant it all. “Well… I mean, some of it, maybe.”

“So you don’t feel like the tasks you’re assigned are meaningless, bogus wastes of your time?” Her mouth hung open, helplessly. “And Darren Reynolds doesn’t look at porn at his desk?”

She raised an eyebrow. “How did you know I was talking about Darren?”

He laughed. “Just a hunch.”

“Oh, God. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” She dropped her face in her hands and shook her head. “I was just having a really bad day when you met me. I was drunk and emotional, probably on my period or something—” She stopped herself. Too much information. Too much information! a voice inside her head screamed. “Do you think we could just forget about it? Is it possible to remain professional, from this point forward?”

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “We’re both adults.”

She let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Mr. Hale.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Not that professional, alright? Call me Noah. I try to get everyone else to do it. Maybe if you do, it’ll stick.”

“Alright, then. Noah.” She stood and made her way to the door.

“Christian,” he called again.

She turned and looked at him. “Yes?”

“I like your hair like that,” he said, eyeing her in that peculiar way again. His gaze was still so intense, just not the serious intense she was used to. As he sat there, staring at her, it was a different kind of intense. “And that color on your nails. It does go with your skin tone. I’m glad to see you again. I’m glad that you’re here.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Me, too.”

He chuckled. “Hopefully one day, you’ll mean that. Now would you do me a favor and send Jack back in here?”

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