"Juliana?" Ms. Sams’s voice coming from the opening of my cubicle startled me, breaking my concentration.
I turned in my chair to face her, "Yes, Ms. Sams."
She stood over me in her sailor-look-alike, red suit. Her clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume. She reminded me of a bad Linda Evans impersonation, completing the mockery with yellow, smoke stained teeth.
"Would you mind staying a little later tonight? Mr. Mason would like to speak with you after work," Her lips curled at the edges in her attempt of a friendly smile. It came across more as a grimace.
My mind whirled with the possible reasons my boss could possibly want to speak to me. Not just that, but he wanted me to stay after work for our little conversation.
Ms. Sams tapped her ugly, red-toed, velvet shoe impatiently waiting for my answer. Linda Evans called, she wants her shoes back, I thought to myself, fighting to stifle a giggle.
"Of course, Ms. Sams. I'd be happy to." Bitch.
She gave a weak, condescending smile as she turned on her heel and headed back down the cubicle.
“Good morning, Ms. Sams.” My co-worker Amelia called from the next desk as she passed by.
“Good morning, Amelia.” Ms. Sams squawked as she passed.
Amelia gave a her a sarcastic salute behind her back, then leaned over the partition separating our cubicles. “So you excited about tonight?”
“Shit. I totally forgot about that. I got roped into staying late again tonight. Mr. Mason wants to see me about something.” I rolled my eyes, trying to seem as blasé as possible, but my lips twitched at the corners.
“Uh huh. I saw that. You’re long time crush has asked you to stay after work, and now you’ll be fantasizing about him all day.” Amelia said, wiggling her eyebrows.
“I do not have a crush on him. Yeah, he’s hot, but there’s a lot of hot guys. Besides, someone like him wouldn’t be interested in someone like me.” I turned in my chair hoping to change subjects. It didn’t work.
“Someone like you? What’s that supposed to mean? Have you not noticed how men turn their heads when you walk past? You know, you turn down more dates than anyone I know.” Amelia’s brows were drawn down over her eyes, and she had her arms perched on top of the partition. She wasn’t going to let me off the hook, no matter how hard I tried to look uninterested.
“Whatever. I’m just not ready to date yet.” Anyone else would’ve taken the hint and left well enough alone. Unfortunately, Amelia had known me my whole life, and wasn’t anyone else.
“Damn, Ana, it’s been over two years now. Time to let it go. Not all men are pricks, you know.” She threw her hands in the air in exasperation.
“Oh, yeah, and you’re the expert on relationships.” I hissed as sarcastically as I possibly could. I wanted to make sure she realized how far she was pushing me.
“Hey, I get a relationship all the time. They’re just short term.” She said dismissively.
I couldn’t help myself, I laughed at her. “Slut.” I declared.
“Prude.” She returned before sitting back in her chair. “Just try to get out of lover boy’s office as fast as possible, and we’ll wait for you.” She called over the wall.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said more to myself than out loud.
I scooted my chair back into my desk, and tried to focus on the words on the screen of my computer, but my mind wouldn’t stop returning to thoughts of my boss. Though anyone rarely saw him out of his office, when he did come around, every female stopped to watch him move through. I had even seen a few women freshen their lipstick as he made his rounds near the cubicles. I don’t think he’d spoken more than two words to me since I started over a year before. Now he was requesting a meeting with me. A private meeting. After business hours. My stomach clenched, and butterflies tickled as I tried to
consider every possible reason he could want to see me. Was I getting fired, laid off, promoted? Of course, in all honesty, I did have a minor crush on him, but every woman in the office did. Maybe I’d get lucky and get to play out one of my long running fantasies of him seducing me and making love to me on top of his desk.
As the afternoon wore into evening, I was still unsuccessful concentrating on any real work. I answered a few phone calls, and read a few emails, but that’s about as far as I could go. The fear and anxiety of the upcoming meeting was niggling at my brain and burning my gut. What in the world could he possibly want to talk to me about?
Every account and transaction I had completed in the last year was stored in my computer, so I decided to go through each as thoroughly as time allowed. I couldn’t find any obvious mistakes in the few I was able to go over, but it could still be something I couldn’t locate. Damn, what if I did something to cost the company money? I’m definitely getting fired.
“Ana!” Amelia called out, snapping her fingers at me and dragging me out of my internal fight.
"What?” I said, dazed, looking up at her standing in my cubicle doorway.
“Did you hear anything I just said?” She said, leaning against the opening of my cubicle, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her purse over one shoulder, and her coat hanging over one arm.
I could feel the heat rushing my cheeks, “No. I’m sorry, what’s up?”
“I said I’ll see you later.” She said through a knowing smile, shaking her head teasingly.
“Later? Oh shit. Is it time already?” The day had flown past without me noticing.
“Yeah, I’ll see you later.” I gave a half-hearted wave, but my mind was already reeling with the upcoming meeting.
I waited until the office was empty, pushed my chair from my desk with my hands against the edge, stood, ran my hands down my skirt, and slowly made my way to Mr. Mason’s office. I had procrastinated as long as inconspicuously possible.
As I shuffled along, I watched my feet move across the generic Berber carpet that covers every office floor, mentally counting the steps. The door was in front of me entirely too soon. I paused outside the door, wiping my suddenly clammy hands on my skirt, and rapped my knuckles on the wood twice.
“Come in, Ms. Benson,” Mr. Mason called through the closed door.
I took one more deep breath, releasing it slowly, and turned the knob. The door swung open with ease, and led into a large, but bland office. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see in his office, exactly.
It held a large mahogany desk, that faced the east window, a wall of shelves filled with books, and a few manila envelopes were scattered on his desk. That was it.
There were no plaques or awards, no degrees or certificates, and absolutely no personal pictures.
“Please, have a seat.” He said, waving his hand to the two chairs across from his desk.
Instead of sitting in his own chair, he propped his hip against the edge of the desk directly across from me. “Can I get you anything, Ana?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.” My shoulders were beginning to ache. I hadn’t realized I’d bunched my back in anticipation. I relaxed as discreetly as possible, adjusting my sitting position to make it look more natural, and concentrated on slowing my accelerated heart rate.
“Very well. I suppose your wondering why I asked you to meet me after work.”
Well, duh, “Yes sir. I am.”
He pushed at the edge of the desk with his hands, and hopped up to sit completely on top of his desk. I found this odd for a boss, but being as I knew nothing about this man, I wasn’t about to judge what he did in his own office. It also made keeping eye contact difficult with his crotch so close to me, and him sitting on the very desk I had fantasized about for over a year.
“I’m in need of a personal assistant. Mine recently…became unavailable. I’ve gone over the employee records, and with your attendance, eye for detail, and work integrity, I felt you’d be the best candidate.”
I sat there staring at him, my mouth hanging open, like a moron. I closed my mouth to avoid looking feeble, shook my head to clear it, and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, did you just ask me to be your personal assistant?”
I swear his eyes seemed to glimmer slightly, as an amused look crossed his face. "Yes, that is exactly what I asked you. Of course, the hours can be odd at times, but you’ll be paid three times what you’re making now. You’ll have use of the company vehicle, as well as my personal jet for business.”
I found myself blinking entirely too fast. The words company car and personal jet echoed in my ears. I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t find my voice. I cleared my throat and tried again.
“I don’t really have use for the company car, I have my own. As for the jet, well, let’s just say I’m not a fan of flying.” I admitted, though sheepishly.
Mr. Mason smiled, dropped his head, attempting to cover his amusement at my admission, then lifted his head, composed again. “Of course, you don’t have to use either, if you don’t find the need. But, they will be at your disposal should the situation arise.”
He was so damn calm about the situation, not to mention articulate. He talked about the car and jet as if he was offering the use of his gloves.
He held up a hand, “Please, Michael.” He said, cutting me off, then waved the raised hand to encourage me to continue.
I did a quick double take, “Ok, Michael. This sounds great, but wouldn’t Ms. Sams or John be better suited for this sort of position?” I could feel the skin on my forehead crinkling with my raised eyebrows, but there was really no way to hide my surprise.
Michael grimaced when I mentioned Ms. Sams. So he had a hard time stomaching that smelly woman too? I grinned to myself.
“As I said, I’ve gone through the employee files, and you are the absolute best candidate. I need someone dedicated to their job, someone reliable. Your file says you’ve only missed one day in the last year. Is that correct?”
I chewed the inside of my cheek, trying to recall my absence. “Oh, yeah. My flight was late coming back from a business trip.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve never even taken a sick day.” His voice raised slightly for emphasis.
“I don’t get sick. I’d rather save my personal days for something else.” What that something else was I wasn’t sure. Eventually, I hoped to take some sort of vacation. I craved a little excitement, like most women craved romance. Hell, I would’ve loved an exciting romance even more!
Michael leaned forward, holding his weight on his hands, and his grey eyes watched me through his thick black lashes.
I dropped my gaze, a little uncomfortable with the sudden scrutiny, and tried to think clearly. “What exactly would this job entail? Would I be picking up your dry cleaning, taking your kids to school, walking your dog? What?”
Michael chuckled softly, “No kids, no dog, and no you wouldn’t be picking up my dry cleaning. You would, however, run business related errands for me, maintain my work and personal schedule, things like that. I promise there are no sordid or nefarious details to this job.” His smile was absolutely intoxicating.
I felt like he was laughing at me, but in reality I was laughing at myself. Michael was gorgeous in a Greek god kind of way. His dark hair was combed into sexy waves, but not plastered down like most guys do. His grey eyes were the color of a storm cloud, his body chiseled from rock. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just hire some beautiful, young secretary to do his biddings, but as long as he was paying me, I wasn’t about to argue.
He had no kids; did that mean he wasn’t married, or that he just hadn’t started a family yet? Only one way to find out.
“Would I be responsible for Mrs. Mason’s schedule, as well?” My stomach clenched waiting for the answer. Please say you’re not married. Please say you’re not married.
He shook his head, “No. No Mrs. Mason.” Yes!
Michael looked to be around thirty, but a lot of executives married late in life.
Besides, who was I to judge? I married early and look where it got me. Either way, he hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend, and he had just admitted he wasn’t married. Therefore, I wouldn’t feel guilty flirting during private hours.
I watched out the window for a series of heartbeats, pretending to be distracted by a pigeon resting on the window ledge, while trying to rectify the situation in my head.
Screw it, I thought to myself.
“I’ll do it. I mean, I’ll take the job.” I sounded a little more overzealous than I had intended, but he didn’t seem to notice.
He hopped gracefully from the desk, and extended his hand out to me. I stood, overly aware of how close he was, took his hand and shook it. His hand was warm, soft, yet calloused.
“Great. You’re first job is to report here tomorrow around ten in the morning.” He said with a sharp nod.
“Ten? I usually come in around seven thirty. Don’t you need me before then?”
“Nope. I won’t be in until later, so there’s no point in you being here, either. I’ll leave a list of instructions on your desk before I leave tonight.” He answered.
I studied his expression for a moment, but nodded my head and turned to leave. An itch began in the middle of my spine, more like a tingle. I turned to find Michael watching me, his eyes locked on mine. Ok, that was weird.
I made my way out of his office, pulling his door closed behind me. I stopped by my desk to gather my things, and plopped down in my desk chair heavily. The computer had been turned off over an hour ago, but I still found myself staring at the blank screen. The more I thought about the situation, the wider my smile grew. I was going to be Mr. Mason’s, excuse me, Michael’s personal assistant. I was going to be in charge of the boss’s personal affairs.
My chair squeaked underneath me as I did a little celebratory dance, stifling the squeal that was building in my throat. I’d just let that go in the car.
A low, throaty cough startled me. My face immediately flushed, burning my cheeks with humiliation. I turned slowly in my chair, dreading the look on my boss’s face.
“I’m sorry, one more thing. Would you mind meeting me at Starbuck’s before coming in? I’d like to introduce you to my partner, as you’ll be dealing with him a lot, as well.”
“Yes, of course.” I stammered. He had obviously witnessed my little show, but graciously, didn’t mention it. That didn’t, however, improve the heat in my face. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
I gathered my purse with as much dignity as I could muster, and quickly shuffled out of the cubicle. He moved, allowing me just enough room to pass, but I could still feel his heat against my bare arms. I couldn’t force myself to look at him as I passed, terrified he’d start laughing.
You are such a dork, I reprimanded myself as I headed to the elevator.
The parking garage was in the basement, so I had another six floors to replay the recent humiliation in my head. Just let it go and enjoy the new raise, I kept telling myself.
As the elevator door opened, I ambled into the garage, my heels echoing throughout the concrete enclosure. I’d forgotten to take my keys out, completely distracted by all the changes to my night. I rooted around, my head almost buried in my purse, and didn’t notice the soft footprints sounding close by.
My key had slid into the door lock easily, and I began to unlock the door, when a hand grabbed my shoulder from behind, forcing me against my car. The stranger’s body had me pinned, preventing me from turning.
“What do you want? I don’t have any money, but you can have my car.” My voice came out breathy, but I managed not to sound panicked.
“You know what I want. I’ve told you enough times, or are you really that stupid?!”
My ex-husband’s voice growled in my ear. The smell of alcohol wafted across my face as he spoke, and I turned my head away from the stench.
“John, you’re drunk. Just get off of me and leave. If you don’t I’m gonna call the police.” My heart was beginning to speed up, thundering against my rib cage.
“Really, you’re gonna call the cops, huh?” John snatched my bag off my shoulder, and threw it across the garage. “And how do you plan on doing that, you stupid bitch?”
The self-defense class I’d taken started ringing in my ears. Nose, eyes, knee, groin. Take out the weakest points.
I threw my head back as hard as I could, and felt the back of my skull make contact with something. The crunch of bone was proceeded by a painful howl. His grip loosened just enough for me to pull out of his grasp. The elevator was about twenty feet away, and I ran full force for the doors, my eyes sweeping from side to side, looking for help or a convenient weapon. I had mace in my purse, but it did me no good when I didn’t have a clue where the hell John had thrown the damn thing.
I had only six feet to go, but he caught me. He grabbed a full handful of hair, yanking my head back painfully. I couldn’t help the yelp that escaped my lips as several pops indicated a lot of hair had been ripped from their roots. My balance was thrown off momentarily, and by the time I regained my composure, a fist was planted against the side of my face. I didn’t see it coming, and had no time to block it.
My knees wobbled, then gave out. My pantyhose - and the skin beneath - ripped against the hard concrete. I opened my mouth, attempting to scream for help, when another blow caught me in the mouth. The sweet, coppery taste filled my mouth, but I didn’t feel any teeth give way. The blow had, however knocked me backwards, smacking my head against the parking lot.
The concrete floor was cold and hard. My back pressed hard against it, as John climbed on top of me and wrapped his hands around my throat.
“You gonna come home with me?” He said, spittle landing on my face. His breath was enough to make me gag, and between the spit, and cigarette and booze breath, I almost lost my cookies.
“Fuck you.” I managed through busted, swollen lips.
He tightened his grip, enough to make my spots appear before my eyes, and cutting of any more colorful words I may have thought of. “Wrong answer. I told you, if I can’t have you, no one can. Kind of a clichéd way to die, huh bitch?”
I stretched my hands up, my nails finding purchase on his face. I clawed at him, frantically, but he didn’t release his hold.
The spots before my eyes were being swallowed by grey. I was losing consciousness.
The face of the man who had terrorized me our entire marriage was quickly fading behind a black curtain. His face would be the last thing I saw before dying. Dear God, not yet.
A loud, bone rattling growl resounded through the garage. I saw John’s head whip up in fear, then the world went away, and I drifted into nothingness.