Rocked by Him(5)

By: Lucy Lambert

But now, crammed in there like a sardine, the anticipation, the nervous tension, built in me like a spring being slowly compressed.

It didn't help that people moved in and out of the elevator at practically every floor, the digital screen above the door advancing with an aching slowness.

Then, when it finally did display "32" in big red digits, I almost didn't make it! A fat guy with a loosened tie got in as I tried to get off, crowding me back. I shoved my arm forward, trying to trip the sensor to keep the door from closing.

For a moment, my heart lodged in my throat as I thought it might just close on me anyway, but it reopened.

Everyone glared at me as I got off for delaying their trip upwards those few extra moments.

I stepped out into the air conditioned hall, breathing a sigh, trying to rid the air around me of the pungent smells that followed me from the elevator.

A black sign with white lettering read "STYREX ->" so I turned and followed it to a set of double doors. I was happy that I chose to wear flats instead of heels that day; my legs felt so shaky I knew I would have fallen or stumbled.

The first layer of the Styrex office was a small reception room, a dark-haired secretary tapping away at her computer behind some half-moon desk. She gave me a practiced smile when I approached.

"May I help you?" she said, ignoring a red light that started blinking on her phone.

"Umm... Yes. I work here," I said, "Err... I mean, I start today. I'm Jennifer. Jennifer Snow."

Should I show her my driver's license? I wondered, my hand straying down towards my purse and the little black wallet tucked within.

"I understand," she replied, not blinking an eye at my apparent inability to string a sentence together.

Then she turned back to the keyboard, her fingers flying. They were painted a bright red, like the warning light on a car's dash when you've forgotten to put your seatbelt on.

I pulled the sleeve of my jacket back to glance at my watch. I sucked in a breath.

I was late! It was the elevator, I knew. I hadn't thought to provide for the lengthy ride up.

The receptionist glanced at me, and I smiled at her. I could feel my lips quiver. An urge built inside me either to laugh or to cry. I didn't really know which. They both seemed appropriate.

Then the receptionist's smile vanished for a moment before she could plaster it back on when she looked at me.

"I see you're Bud Loughery's new assistant. His office is to the back, at the corner. I'll let his secretary know you're on the way."

"Thanks," I said. I started walking to the left, around her desk.

"Watch yourself around him," the secretary said, stopping me in my tracks.

"What do you mean?"

She pursed her lips and looked up at the ceiling as though regretting saying anything."

"It's just... He's..."

A man in a charcoal suit, a black briefcase gripped in one fist, walked in. The receptionist immediately turned her attention to him, leaving me standing beside her desk for a moment.

Whatever it was about him, I doubt it was any worse than what I'd left behind at my apartment.

A set of double doors painted slate-grey guarded the entrance to the office proper. Their metal handles, the latches gleaming in the fluorescent light from the ceiling, called to me. My right hand itched with the desire to reach forward and yank one open, revealing for the first time the next stage of my life as an adult.

My hand seemed alone in its desire to discover what lay beyond. My stomach twisted, and a cool sensation spread along the small of my back. And, to top it all off, dry mouth!

Jerry's face popped into my mind. What if something like that happened at work?

A ridiculous thought, I guess. But then again, just a few hours ago breaking up with my live-in boyfriend seemed ridiculous as well!

For a moment there, I actually considered turning around and going back to my apartment.

The apartment I would lose in about a month if I didn't take this job.

That in mind, I told myself how childish this was. It's just a job! I told myself.

So, squaring my shoulders and taking a deep breath, I grabbed one of those cold metal handles and yanked the door open.

I strode in, doing my best to look confident, like I knew what I was doing, why I was here, promising myself that I would leave this place better than how I found it.

As with most offices, it was largely a cubicle farm. Those ubiquitous grey wall dividers drawing a maze though the place. Somewhere to my left, a bank of printers and photocopiers hummed. The air blew so cold out of a duct that I felt my arms pebble with goosebumps. Men in white shirts and ties wandered around with folders under their arms, or fixated on their computer screens at their desks. Women in grey skirts or pants-suits did largely the same thing.

To my left were doors leading into offices, each fronted by a desk with another woman sat at it, most of them busy answering phones or tapping at their keyboards.

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