No matter what time of the day it was, the old city never rested. The streets of the Business District thrived with the normalcy of gritty metropolitan hysterics, which would explain why I stood in the middle of the sidewalk with opened arms and eyes of outrage at 6:30 AM.
I spat a delayed curse before I eagerly trailed my kitten heels toward the nearest bodega. I figured using an awkward smile as currency would have been enough to have afforded me some loitering time around the small shop. Too bad for me, the nonplussed man remained nonplussed; he made it obvious he knew I wasn’t about to buy a loud tie-dye shirt with a giant print of our city’s name across the chest.
I get it; I get it.
Every day he tried to make a living, and I had been on my way in an attempt to do the same. He made the daily effort to present neatly displayed products to tourists, and I tried not to show up to my new job without looking like a huge fan of Pollock.
I had hoped the handful of seconds that passed by would alleviate the shunning factor. But it was apparent my ruined pleated skirt wasn’t going to garner any sympathy from the vendor.
Usually, I withstood the relentless nature of city-bred dwellers. But, with this encounter, bodega man could have kissed my ass. As the universe would have it, a new notch on the calendar began with tragedy for one person.
For some reason, city folk detested my presence or worse didn’t even notice me at all– my skirt’s new pattern being thanks to a combination of a loose top to a traveling coffee cup and a stranger’s body slam to my shoulder. If only I could have made that moment of impact a trifecta and presented that closeted linebacker with a dignified middle finger.
Feeling snubbed for long enough, I took long strides away from the establishment that was a shit imitation of the rainbow. With a pointed finger up to the sky, I waged war. “This better not be the beginning of a series of unfortunate events!”
Though, the sense left in my head reminded me that I had to refrain from starting an already shitty day by threatening a higher power that could smite me at any moment. He would probably have the most beautiful angel flutter down from above and douse the remains of my coffee all over my freshly-smited body.
Of course, that mental cinema reminded me that my caffeine disaster would happen near the building I needed to enter.
Relax, girl. You can do this.
I finally turned my attention up to the tall building in front of me and was impressed with its stature once more. Ah, Leoné Investments– a prestigious and private investment firm... that I hadn’t heard of until a week ago. Either way, I was super excited to meet Mr. Steineckert again. He was one of the most relaxed interviews I ever experienced, and he was so impressed with my resumé that I was hired on the spot and permitted to start on a crisp Monday morning.
This is supposed to be a proud day!
A reset, jolly version of myself trotted to the nearest trash can and dumped my traveling mug. I entered the glittering building with a beam so strong it hurt my cheeks. Normally, a smile should have been contagious, and it had been for a good second until the twenty-something, blonde receptionist looked down to my skirt.
“Oh my, God,” I muttered, glancing down at my clothes. “I can’t do this.”
She took heed of the wrinkling of my face that ran obviously foreshadowed an impending breakdown and threw her pointer finger in the direction of the public restrooms. I mouthed my ‘thanks’ and frantically scampered to the ladies room. I pushed the door and was punched in the face by the scent of lavender and vanilla.
“Yes, yes. Calming aromas and shit,” I chanted in a panic, before sadly snickering at my accidental ‘Wakka Wakka’.
But my fun disappeared as I pondered over how I was going to attempt to wash my skirt in a public restroom.
Do I plank across this marbled counter or do I let someone walk in on me splashing water in front of my crotch?
To my dismay, two women entered the bathroom to see me splashing water on my crotch. I gave them an absent smile and then refused eye contact as I continued to hog the other air dryer. When they left in awkward silence, I dug into my purse for my phone.
“Good, I have five minutes,” I sighed in relief.
Half-dried, I prayed that I didn’t look as bad as I thought while my eyes scanned over the rest of me. The slate gray blazer was still fur-free, and my eggshell blouse was spared in the collision. Three times, I adjusted the C-Team underneath my shirt though I didn’t need to. I supposed the innate gesture was a small way to piece back some of my pride.
“Ugh, whatever,” I spat in defeat and pushed my way out of the bathroom, purposely avoiding the receptionist’s watchful eye.
Veiled in shame, I skirted across the lobby to the dual set of shiny elevators. The shine was so nice... and clear... and hateful as it reminded me that I looked like a wrinkled, watered down mess.
At least my bun and baby hairs are still intact.
The thirty seconds I had to wait for the elevator felt like an eternity. The doors eventually parted, and the cargo rushed out, unafraid to knock me in the shoulders. I pinched my lips and stepped in to hit the ‘31’.
Several floors in between the thirty-first floor, I displayed more awkward, but confident, smiles to the surely employed men and women. A handful returned warm-natured appearances while the others hardly noticed I was there– typical and expected.
The parting doors eventually unveiled my floor and, once again, I viewed the replica of the iconic black circle on a white canvas on the wall. I remembered witnessing it at the same hour last week when the elevator doors first parted during my interview with Mr. Steineckert.
In my gut, I had a feeling that black circle on the wall foreshadowed success, or maybe it was just a coincidence that I landed the position twenty minutes later. I didn’t think it could, but somehow, when I saw it again, it allowed some shreds of confidence to find me.
It wasn’t hard to memorize the way back toward my new manager’s office, and I was happy that what little coffee I gulped before the accident aided in my brain’s superb functionality so far.
Three paces to the left, take a right around the corner and walk ten more paces. That was hard. Bleh.
My knuckles rapped on the cherrywood-varnished door, and I peeked into the slender window on the side. The long-legged man quickly ended a phone call on his landline and jumped from his seat.
“Ms. Young! Right on time,” he greeted.
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you again, Mr. Steineckert,” I cheered, maybe with a little too much glee.
Girl, chill, you’re not unemployed anymore...
Still, I felt I had to overcompensate for the callous internal dialogue that loudly prayed that he didn’t notice my half-dried appearance.
He shook my hand with another grip that was far from firm, “Yes, it’s nice to see you again, but please call me Chris.”
“Oh okay... Chris,” I snickered.
He had a nice, sincere look that shut down the negative thoughts infecting my brain. I was sure it was the generous flush of light freckles that added to his contagious smile.
Though, I saw an abrupt change in character when he scratched through his short auburn cut and cringed, “Actually, call me Chris-the-worst-manager-ever because I actually need you to follow me into your first meeting... now.”
My glow faded, my stomach turned, but I replaced my surprise with a strained smile. Chris hustled back to his desk and grabbed a fresh notepad and pen that he placed in my hands when he returned to me.
“We’ve got to take the elevator up to the boardroom, and when we get in, just stay to my side,” Chris instructed in a hurry. “I’m sorry that this is the introduction to the space, but as a senior manager I’m in charge of setting up the equipment in the room.”
I nodded in fear with my new notepad and pen clutched to my chest. My brain struggled to imagine what kind of meeting was about to go down. I wondered if I was even supposed to be attending the meeting.
We sped out of the elevator onto the thirty-second floor, hustled down a narrow hall, and entered an enormous room. In it was a large table, a projector, and a nice view of the city park through the large window panes. My lips parted in awe, but I had to remember to stick close to my manager as he had instructed.
Barely a minute later, a young leggy, blonde with a shattered bob walked into the room chaperoning three suited men inside.
Damn, her outfit is loud! A lime green dress and shoes?! Lord...
“Please have a seat close to the projector, gentlemen. Mr. Leoné will be with you within the next five minutes,” she smiled to the shortest red-faced man who found interest in her aesthetic.
“Will you be staying?” the admirer questioned, trying to burn his eyes through her bright green dress.
“No, sir. Unfortunately, I have duties to attend to. But my manager, here, will be present and more appropriately suited for this morning’s meeting,” she winked and pointed her arm toward Chris.
“Thank you, Renee,” Chris tried not to laugh.
She smiled at her manager, but once she turned on her heels, she took a glance at me and returned wide eyes of exasperation and relief. I felt her pain but concealed my amusement by looking down to my feet.
Chris extended a gesture of kindness to the departing Renee’s fan in the middle. “Fred Willoughby, I’m Chris– Leoné’s Senior Trade and Risk Manager, and this is–”
“Mmm hmm,” the man grunted, looking at Chris’s hand before he briefly gave me an incredibly negative look down. “Where do I sit?”
Really, little man?
How dare he be rude with wig-hat of a toupee like his? But of course, I knew the overall friendliness was to end sooner than later. The one with the weak patch of hair atop their head? Added to the list of people who would enjoy my middle finger! My nice manager guided the trio down the table before he signaled that I sit on the opposite side.
As I took my seat, I stole a glance at the little and bitter proprietor that took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead and neck. The only thing that stopped me from gagging was the heavy stomps approaching the boardroom. My brow lifted; I was anxious to know who the next heavy-footed visitor might be. My question was answered when a man in a tan suit entered the room.
My brows transformed from a quizzical formation to that of mild surprise. I had to admit that despite the stoic look on his face, there was a soft brown-haired and pretty-faced man extending his palm to the jackass sitting down. My brain scattered off and started applying elaborate font and wondering what generic magazine headlines would be plastered around his head. He was one of those strangely attractive people who could look an ovulating woman in the face, tell her he hates children, and somehow walk away knowing her phone number, email, dress size, and– at minimum– the last four digits of her Social Security Number.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he said in a gruff tone, appropriate for his cutout appearance. “I see you’ve already met Chris and...”
Words left him, once he looked to Chris’s left and saw my random ass seated next to him with my bugged eyes and stamped on smile. A pair of dark, olive green eyes were staring me down in question. He was much more intimidating when he wasn’t in motion.
Willoughby might need to pass a sis a handkerchief too.
Chris happily explained to his curious boss, “Ada! Ada Young, our new intern that is simply shadowing this meeting, Mr. Leoné.”
Wait a minute! Hold up!
The picture on the Leoné Investment’s site did not match the same face that held the caption ‘Owner’. This was the Mr. Leoné of Leoné Investments?
You know what? He’s probably the son or something. Duh.
Rightfully so, stand-in Leoné didn’t seem to care about who I was and made his way to his place near the projector. The few times I attempted to watch Mr. Leoné weave a negotiation with Mr. Willoughby, I found it easier to stare at my notepad. The gripping glare from sales-pitcher to the prospective client contradicted the subtle and convincing words coming out of his mouth. It was safe to say he had the stats and the right speech to give to a hatin’, red-faced man that ultimately worked in the end.
Half-an-hour had passed by, and before I knew it, they exchanged a quick shake of the hands. Fred Willoughby and his assistants had sealed an agreement with Leoné Investments.
“I would love to escort you out, Fred, but I have a conference call in ten minutes. Let Chris walk you out,” the Leoné stand-in insisted, patting Fred’s back and ushering him to the door.
The new client of Leoné Investments didn’t appear pleased, though he did just put the responsibility of his finances in this Leoné’s hands. I briefly caught a smug look of success on the pretty face when he strutted back to the table.
“Just stay in here, and don’t say anything. Mr. Leoné won’t have anything to say to you or even notice you’re here,” Chris advised to me, before rushing to complete his impromptu task.
I did what I was told and laced my fingers over my doodle-covered notepad. An inkling of curiosity told me to look up and take a peek at the man who hunched over the table and fiddled away at a tablet. He had already returned to work-- surely trying to swipe his way towards another win for the day.
And what have I accomplished today?
Embarrassed about my three sentences of notes and unexplainable drawings, I flipped over the pad and kept my eyes down on the table.
“And what did you think of that meeting?” I heard a rumble from across the room.
I pulled the pen cap out of my mouth and looked around. It couldn’t have been him because Mr. Leoné was in the same position and tapping away at his fancy device– my existence rightfully unknown.
My pen was seconds away from entering my mouth again, but Mr. Leoné interrupted me when he cleared his throat. From my peripheral, I could see he was glancing in my direction.
“Oh. Oh! Me?” I stupidly blurted. “I assumed you were FaceTime-ing or something...”
“Yes. Yes... you,” he droned and rolled his eyes.
That eye roll though...
My lips curled in before I answered, “Umm, it was interesting. I didn’t understand a good portion of it, considering it was investment jargon, but I was able to follow until the last, verbal handshake.”
“‘Interesting’? That’s not a good word,” he scoffed, glaring down at the small screen again. “Fred has been a tough client to land. I just won him over in thirty-three minutes.”
With skepticism, I glanced around the room and asked without thinking twice, “Then why was he so hard to land before this meeting?”
Mr. Leoné stopped poking at his tablet and twisted his head to the side.
Girl! Your mouth!
My eyes widened, and I turned away from his glower, as he pronounced, “Fred Willoughby won’t make a deal that isn’t in person, and it took fifteen months to get him to show up. He is a confident and proud man.”
Fright aside, I feigned curiosity and didn’t hide my skepticism. While deep in thought, I started spewing the first thing that came to mind.
“Considering how he was fidgeting and sweating through his cashmere suit, I’d like to think otherwise about that rock-solid pride and confidence. If anything, a man like that considers asking for even the smallest form of external help as being on his hands and knees... possibly explaining why it took so long to get him to show up with human supports on both his sides. Even after all that effort and with that fragile ego Willoughby has, Leoné Investments may rarely be accredited as a necessity and as merely an accent to him... to be frank...,” I faded, realizing that I was probably saying way too much.
His chin tilted down, but his eyes were on me and void of emotion.
“Go on,” he grumbled.
“Uh... umm, I may guess... he is the type that wanted to make you wait just to bruise your ego,” I added, followed by an internal dialogue of immediate regret.
“Ego?” he prompted with a questioning brow.
I trod lightly. “Well, you did time your ‘win’ just now, yes? You had to have known how quick you would have the account if you already planned to engage in a conference call in less than ten minutes...”
“You’ve got a sharp tongue,” he immediately followed with one-sided lip curl.
“I’m only hoping my mouth didn’t just get me into trouble,” I whispered to myself, finding the tabletop the appropriate place to permanently keep my attention. “Probably did.”
Out of nowhere, the unknown Leoné lowly inquired, “Has Chris preoccupied your schedule at noon?”
“I uh... hmm?” I blubbered, not having a simple answer to a simple ass question. I ended up shaking my head as a response.
I mean... I don’t even have a desk yet.
His lick of a smile vanished, and my fear grew tenfold in my stomach when I heard, “You. My office. Noon sharp.”