A Country Mouse
Open a bank account. Do laundry. Try not to think about Andrew Williams.
Open a bank account. Do laundry…
Don't think about Andrew Williams.
Don't think about him.
I sucked in a breath, smoothed my hand to flatten down the crease in my pants, and knocked on the door to 17B.
Paul opened the door, a smile on his face. "You're early again!" he said, looking pleasantly surprised as he took in my appearance. "And don't you look nice."
I smiled weakly at his compliment. I had worn the best blouse I had and the slacks I used to wear for my waitressing job at a rather upscale restaurant in Brook Valley. It was the best outfit I could put together for my first day at work.
Almost the exact moment I stepped into the studio, Andrew Williams walked out of the door that I barely saw yesterday, and suddenly my heart leapt into my throat.
I swallowed. It had been three years since I really dated anybody. Three years where I had thrown myself into studying and waitressing, so there wasn't much action on the romantic front. Three years, but it wasn't like there hadn't been any attractive guys in my life. There was Jason, who was a waiter at the burger joint with me. He had been quite cute. There was Wade, who manned the local coffee shop. Even Jordan, whom my sister had flirted with endlessly for the past year, was very attractive. No, it wasn't as if I had never seen an attractive guy before.
But there was something about Andrew Williams that was different. He wasn't cute in the way that I found the guys in Brook Valley to be.
No, Andrew Williams was straight up eye candy, and it was making my heart beat in such a way that I was sure he could see the pulse my neck jump erratically, even if my face remained stoic.
This was definitely not good. If this was my reaction on the second day of meeting him, I had to stop immediately before this progressed any further.
He's your boss, Violet.
Andrew's eyes met mine, and I forced myself not to look away as my mouth went dry. His gaze was piercing and lingering.
His eyes scanned me up and down, taking in my button down blouse and my slacks. Then he turned his face away from me, but I couldn't mistake the twitching of his cheeks, as if he was smiling.
I frowned, but his face was neutral again as he turned back to me. He didn't say anything besides, "We got you a desk," and nodded towards one of the corners of the room.
I blinked, looking over at the corner he had gestured to. There was a plain white desk there, with a computer and a phone and one of those swiveling black chairs.
"Here, let me show you how to set it up," Paul said, walking me towards the table. Andrew had turned away again.
All that morning, Paul showed me what to do. How to make phone calls, how to answer them, where to mark the schedule for the both of them, and all the files I needed on the computer.
All morning, Andrew never even glanced over at me, instead focused on something on his computer at his desk in the other corner.
By 11am, I felt like I was being fed an overload of information, but I was busy taking notes, determined to get it all right. Paul was relentless in dishing out information.
"...and if Entertainment Weekly calls, it'll usually be Molly who's on the phone. And if it's not Molly, make sure to ask for Molly, because she knows what we want. And remember, Andrew will do shoots that need flying out, but nothing that'll take more than a week. Unless it's one of those special spreads for National Geographic. You know what I'm talking about, right?"
My head was spinning as I struggled to take down all this information. I had never heard someone talk as fast as Paul did. And I had no idea what he was talking about in regards to the special National Geographic spreads, but I scribbled that down as well.
"Shoot!" Paul said suddenly, looking down at the clock they had placed on my new desk. "It's 11:15! I need to check out that location in Chelsea at 11:30. I bet their lighting setup is a total disaster. We're going to have to do it over again…"
And then, muttering to himself, he quickly grabbed his bag and jacket and was out the door before I could even look back on the schedule he had showed me and figure out just where he was going.
It was actually quite a relief for me when he left, because that meant I didn't have to scribble any more.
I leaned back on my chair, letting out a small sigh and trying to acquaint myself with everything Paul had just told me. Apparently, I was in charge of taking in phone and email requests for photo shoot bookings, and I was also responsible for organizing their schedules.
I got back to my computer, trying not to look over in Andrew Williams' direction. With any luck, this ridiculous reaction I had to my new boss was going to be over before it becomes an issue.
But five minutes later, Andrew spoke.
"Violet," he called out, looking up at me.
I curled my hands into fists under the table and forced myself to look nonchalant as I looked back at him.
He was standing up. "Can you help me grab a couple of boxes? They're in storage. It's just three blocks away."
"Yup, sure," I said, getting up to go with him.
All the way across the hall to the elevator and as we waited to go down to the lobby of the building, we didn't talk to one another. I thought Andrew might have glanced at me, but I couldn't be sure. I tried to look anywhere but him.
The elevator seemed unusually slow. We stood in silence side by side for a while.
"How old are you?" I asked suddenly, and then mentally cringed. I don't know why I did that. I was pretty sure I was not allowed to ask my boss that question.
But when I turned towards him, I saw that, to my surprise, Andrew was smiling.
Or at least, he looked like he was trying hard not to smile. The corners of his lips were twitching, and I could only stare at him in confusion. But then, he finally couldn't hold it in again and turned towards me and grinned.
I didn't even know what I had done to make him grin, but if I was going to go on the path of not developing a hugely inappropriate crush on my new boss, he was going to have to stop smiling at me.
"I'm twenty-four," he said, his eyes still sparkling with amusement as he looked at me. I glanced away, wishing the elevator would hit the lobby floor already. He spoke again, "How old are you?"
"Twenty-two," I replied in a mutter, determinedly not looking back at him in case he grinned again.
Thankfully the elevator hit the first floor at that moment. Andrew walked out, and I suddenly found that I had to keep at a very brisk walk just to keep up with him.
It was true what they said about New Yorkers. They did walk a lot faster than people in the rest of the country did, especially people in Brook Valley. That, compounded with the fact that Andrew was a lot taller than I was, made it rather hard for me to keep up.
I was already trailing him by the time we were outside of his building.
"Excuse me, ma'am, ma'am!"
And suddenly, I was facing a middle aged, homeless man instead of Andrew, who had kept walking, apparently not even noticing that someone had cut me off from him.
"Err…" I said uncertainly, wondering if I should run to catch up with Andrew before it was too late.
The homeless man flashed a rather toothless smile at me. "Could you spare any cash, ma'am? Anything would do. I'm very hungry. Just enough to buy a hot dog would be fine."
"Oh, a hot dog," I said, instinctively reaching for my purse. "What is that, two, three dollars?"
"Three on the stand on the corner of 72nd and Columbus, which is the one I like," he said eagerly, holding out his hand.
I dug through my purse. Aha! I did have cash on me. Digging out three one dollar bills, I pressed them into his hand with a smile. "Here you go," I said.
"Thank you ma'am!" he said eagerly, flashing me another toothless smile before moving away.
I smiled a little to myself. For the first time since that day, I felt somewhat useful.
Then I remembered that Andrew had probably lost me at that point. Shoot. My smile slid off my face, and I practically ran towards where I last saw him when I collided with someone.
"Oof," I said, as the person I ran into gripped me on the shoulders to steady me.
I looked up, surprised to find that it was Andrew who I had just crashed into.
I swallowed. I could feel the muscles on his chest and quickly stepped back so that we were a safe distance apart. He was grinning at me again, looking very amused.
"I was just catching up," I said quickly.
"You just got to New York," he said as a reply. It wasn't a question.
I looked up, to find that the corners of his lips were still twitching upwards. I frowned at him, wondering what was so funny.
"I got here two months ago," I replied. "Why do you ask?"
Instead of answering me, Andrew nodded towards the area where the homeless man I had just given three dollars to was lingering.
"Oh," I said. "Oh, he wanted a hot dog."
Andrew raised an eyebrow at me. "I don't pay you enough money for you to donate to everyone here who wants a hot dog."
"But he was hungry," I said, frowning.
The side of Andrew's mouth curled up, but he didn't say anything else on that matter. Instead, he let go of my arms, and we started walking again. This time, though, he slowed down noticeably and I was able to fall along at an easy pace by his side.
"So if you're so new to New York, how do you know Blake?" he asked.
"I know his girlfriend," I replied as we crossed the street. "She's my best friend."
"Hmm," Andrew said, seemingly thinking this over. "Blake's girlfriend, huh? I think I've seen pictures of her. She's…" he paused, thinking of the right word to say.
Pretty. That's how people usually described Marina. She had one of those girl next door faces that got more attractive the more you looked at her.
"...short," Andrew said instead, surprising me.
I frowned at him. "She's my height!" I protested.
He answered by grinning at me again, and I gulped.
We didn't say anymore as we kept walking. I stole a surreptitious glance at him. I didn't think I was short, but Andrew was pretty tall. He was probably just over six feet, and the way he dressed made him look incredibly cool.
Stop it, Violet.
We ended up turning into a building that was, like he said, just a few blocks from his studio.
"They have a storage unit in the basement," Andrew was saying as he punched the code to enter the stairwell. "I keep some of my old photos there, but now that I got a new filing cabinet for my studio, I want to take them back."
"Right," I said, trodding to keep along down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, he reached in his pocket for the key and opened the door to our right.
It was a small, dimly lit, but very organized storage space. I looked around, taking it all in. There were many cardboard boxes around, all of them with lids on them.
"I just need these two," Andrew said, pointing to two on our left. He picked one up. "I'll grab this one. Can you grab the other?"
"Sure," I said, moving to pick it up.
Andrew was still looking at me. "It's not too heavy?" he asked, looking at me uncertainly.
I shook my head. I had held bins of dirty dishes that had been way heavier than this. It was a standard sized moving box, and I could tell by the weight that it was pretty packed with stuff, but I had no trouble walking back up the stairs and out of the building.
By the time we were outside, however, I was afraid we were going to lug it three more blocks back to the studio, which I wasn't sure I could handle, but Andrew set his box down on the sidewalk.
"Here, just put yours down," he told me absentmindedly as he crouched down, lifted the lid of his box, and peered inside. "I just want to see that they're the photos I want. Can you get a cab?"
I set the box down on the sidewalk. Right. Get a cab.
I had actually never, ever been in a cab before. It sounded ridiculous, but I had grown up in a town where everyone either drove or took the bus, and I had gone to college in a relatively small college town as well, where there was never a need for a cab.
Waving at the oncoming traffic, I watched helplessly as one cab after another zoomed past me, the drivers not even glancing my way. Maybe they were all full?
Then I heard a noise from beside me and turned back to see Andrew watching me with a look of wonder on his face.
"What are you doing?" he asked, his eyes wide as he stared at me.
I frowned at him. Hadn't he just told me to get a cab? "I'm hailing a taxi," I replied.
For another second, he kept staring at me. Then he laughed, a light, hearty laugh. I don't think he had meant for it to be mean, but it flustered me nonetheless.
"What?" I protested, still frowning at him.
"You're hailing a taxi by what, waving hello at them?" he was still grinning at me. Then, without waiting for me to answer, he stepped forward to stand on the curb next to me. He raised his arm, and almost instantaneously, a driver swerved across the lanes and pulled up on the curb next to us.
"Right," I muttered to myself as we got in the cab. I folded my arms once I had sat down and buckled my seatbelt and looked out the car window, feeling extra attuned to the fact that I was like a fish out of the water in New York City.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see movement. Unable to help it, I glanced over at Andrew, only to find that he was looking at me.
"Is everything okay?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Fine," I said, trying to answer as nonchalantly as possible. I scuffed my feet on the bottom of the taxi. We were almost back to the studio now. I recognized the way. Just one more light and we'll be there. "You must think I'm…" I paused unable to find a word for it. "...an idiot."
Andrew stared at me, looking genuinely surprised. "No," he said quickly. "Not at all. I think you're…" he trailed off, turning away from me without saying anything further, but I could tell that he was smiling.
"What?" I asked, frowning.
But at that moment, the cab had arrived at our location. Andrew pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to the driver. "Keep the change," he said.
Almost as soon as we carried the boxes to the studio, Andrew's phone chirped. He pulled it out, raising his eyebrows as he checked the text message.
"Shoot, I have to go check out the location in Chelsea," he said, frowning at his phone and grabbing the coat that he had just taken off again. "Can you just put the photos here into the filing cabinets?"
"Sure," I said.
Andrew smiled at me, and with that he was out the door again.
As soon as the door shut behind him, I sat down, laid my head on the cardboard boxes in front of me, and let out a sigh. It was actually a relief to be alone. My proximity to Andrew, compounded with the fact that I couldn't seem to wrap my head around how to behave in New York, made me way too jumpy.
I opened the lid to the cardboard box in front of me. Vanilla folders stacked one in front of the other filled the box. Taking a closer look, I found that each one had a tab with a printed label on it. Entertainers. Time 100. Yellowstone. Greece. Tokyo.
Pulling a stack out, I frowned as I considered what to do. Andrew had simply told me to put them into the filing cabinets, but I might as well sort them.
Setting the folders on the floor, I pulled one out after another, stacking them into piles. Portraits went together. Nature scenery went together. Cities went together.
I took a look at a few of his photos. They were nice, sure, but I still didn't quite understand the appeal of all this photography. During my brief stalking of him online, I knew that Andrew's photos sold for thousands of dollars. They were featured in galleries across the country.
By the time I was done with sorting all of them, it was almost two in the afternoon. I had put most of the folders in the cabinets, and the two cardboard boxes were empty.
I was just about to push them to the side when I realized that there was still one folder in the second cardboard box. I almost missed it. It must have been tucked at the bottom, beneath all the other folders. I reached down and grabbed it, glancing at the tab.
Unlike the other ones, which had printed labels on the tabs, this folder was the sole one with a label that was handwritten.
I frowned at the writing. The title was also the only one that was someone's name. The folder itself felt so thin that I wondered if there was any photos in it.
I felt a strong urge to open the folder and take a look, but something about it made it seem wrong. I had glanced at some of the other photos without thinking anything about it, but somehow this folder felt different.
It felt private.
I was probably just being ridiculous. It wasn't as if Andrew had said, 'Don't look at my photos,' but somehow I just couldn't bring myself to look inside the folder.
I jolted at the sound, dropping the folder titled Abigail in the process.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Someone was pounding on the door.
"Uh, just a minute!" I called out, picking up the folder again and hurrying to put it in the filing cabinet, along with all the other folders I had just sorted.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Then-
It was a girl's voice, and she was sounded very impatient.
Stepping over the cardboard boxes, I quickly made my way to the door of the studio and opened it.
In the doorway was a very slender, very tall girl. Granted, she was wearing heels, but even without them, she probably had a good five inches on me. I couldn't help but notice how good her figure was. She was wearing a tight black shirt tucked into skinny jeans, her heels were at least four inches tall, and she was very pretty.
"May I help you?" I said, trying to smile at her despite the frosty look she had given me when she saw me. She did not look happy to see me at all, and I couldn't help but notice that the smell of alcohol lingered on her.
"And who the hell are you?" she asked, narrowing her eyes and flicking her long hair over her shoulder imperiously. She stamped her feet on on the ground, almost, as I thought about it, like a small child who didn't like that things weren't going her way.
"I'm Violet," I said, wondering just what the heck I should do when drunk, model-looking girls showed up at your office. "I'm-
"Oh gosh," she said with a twitch of her lip that bordered on a sneer. "You're not his type at all." She drawled out the last word, looking down at me with narrowed eyes still. "You must be really good in bed to make up for all this…" she moved her hand up and down as she gestured towards me, and suddenly I couldn't help but feel my cheeks heat up.
"I'm sorry," I said, gripping the door handle and struggling to remain as stoic as possible. "But who are you?"
The girl continued to glare at me. She was wobbling a little. Probably had something to do with that alcohol smell. Then, with another imperious hair toss, she said haughtily. "I'm Andrew's girlfriend."
And then she promptly stumbled and fell forward onto me.