Notes: Written from 2005-2012.
lmfao right? 8 years? that's crazy.
Exactly two hours had passed since I started checking the windows and Mistoffelees's litter box, and I had looked at the clock precisely eleven times. This time made twelve. I was running late for work again, but that was nothing new to me – I was always late. I took my time sliding my fingers across the latches on every window, moving counter-clockwise around the apartment with even, measured steps, and I even lingered to give Mistoffelees an affectionate scratch underneath his chin while I looked over his litter box. Satisfied, I grabbed my messenger bag and slung it securely over my shoulder, indulging myself in one last glance around the room. Everything was fresh, everything was locked, and everything was in place. In a word, perfect.
The only obstacle left was the door.
The door was perhaps my greatest enemy. I twisted my arm, stretching the sleeve of my pressed, slate-colored blazer over my knuckles, and seized the doorknob in a nervous grip. Simply standing for a moment, I allowed myself to breathe deeply and relax before I opened the door and shuffled outside. Once there, I only had to shut it twenty-six times, just to make sure it closed properly, and I could finally leave for work. I was being transferred today – I'd recently taken a step down from beat editor to copy editor and was starting work at a new newspaper after Mr. Wheaton had pulled some strings for me – and I wanted to make a good impression. The very best impression. I wanted to leave my new boss staring at his office door thoughtfully, saying to himself, Now there goes the best copy editor I'll ever have.
Of course, this was simply not to be. I was only on slam number eighteen when I heard the creak of a door somewhere behind me, and I turned to see my neighbor leaning languidly against the wall, his legs crossed at the ankles as he watched me through his dark eyelashes. I knew him only as Nicolas, neighbor and occasional annoyance, who blasted swing music in the middle of the night until Mrs. Norton our downstairs neighbor had to smack her ceiling with a broom.
His hair was bedraggled; some of it fell in dark waves as intended, but the rest of it was divided between twisting away in haphazard flyaways and matting itself to his head. He was still in a stained blue T-shirt and jogging pants, and, after my initial reaction of fear and distaste at the state of his clothes, I had an awful rush of guilt when I realized I must have woken him up.
Of course, I couldn't let myself be distracted. If I paused too long between slams, I'd lose my place, and I'd have to start all over again. So I grabbed the knob with my sleeve and pulled, almost growling when I didn't hear the satisfying click I was looking for, and aggressively continued with door slam number twenty-two.
Nicolas's voice was smooth when he spoke. "Having some problems there, Em?"
My eyelid twitched in a little muscle spasm that spoke volumes of my agitation. I glared at him from the blurry corner of my eye, where my glasses didn't quite cover my vision, and furrowed my eyebrows. "My name's Emerson," I stressed, unable to resist the urge to slam the door a little harder this time. Twenty-four.
"Yeah, I remember," he said, chuckling. He bumped his shoulder against the wall, pushing off, and dragged himself across the grungy hallway carpet to hover near my shoulder. He laughed again, the sound warm and dark, but it did nothing to comfort me. "Do you need someone to close it for you?"
"No," I said a little louder than necessary, mostly to drown out the sound of his voice. I mentally stumbled for a moment, wondering whether I was on twenty-five or twenty-six, and decided that it hadn't sounded right. With a disappointed noise, I resigned myself to endure the entire process again.
At around slam number twenty, take two, Nicolas leaned forward on the balls of his feet, pretending to inspect the door hinges. "Is there something wrong with it?"
"It isn't shutting right," I snapped, desperately trying to avoid being distracted again. I didn't want to have to do this a third time. "It's supposed to—" There was a brief pause as I slammed it on my second attempt for twenty-six and allowed myself an unguarded smile at the rewarding click it made as it closed. My head tipped sideways to face Nicolas. "It's supposed to do that," I finished, a bit breathlessly.
His eyebrows jumped up almost to his hairline. "I can't tell the difference."
"You wouldn't," I muttered and swiveled my head to focus on the door again, locking it before I allowed my hand fall away with a sigh of relief. I tucked the key in my pocket and fixed my jacket sleeve.
Nicolas tilted his head curiously, his eyes following my movements. "Why do you cover your hand with your sleeve?"
"Because it's disease-ridden," I replied without thinking to censor myself, flinching as soon as the words left my mouth. I hated having this conversation.
His expression turned decidedly dubious at that. "Your sleeve?"
"No, the door handle."
"Oh." He glanced between my face and the doorknob and scuffed his toe against the carpet. "Sorry, kid."
"It's not your problem," I murmured, suddenly more uncomfortable than before. The palms of my hands itched, so I quickly unzipped my bag and began fumbling through it for the bottle of Purell I always kept there. I squeezed a generous portion onto my hands and dropped the container back into the proper compartment, muttering to myself as I vigorously rubbed my hands together. I noticed Nicolas giving me a strange look and shrank back against the wall, embarrassed. "It's not your problem," I repeated, catching his stare. "It's mine."
He nodded and flicked his eyes briefly up and down my frame, lingering on the messenger bag slung across my shoulder and the striped charcoal tie that rested primly against my pressed shirt. He slanted his head to the side and asked, "Going somewhere special?"
I frowned at him as I rearranged the white cuffs of my button-down. "Not that it's any of your business, but I'm being transferred."
He shifted to rest his shoulder against the wall space next to me. "What exactly do you do?"
"I'm a copy editor." I paused at his blank stare. "I work for a newspaper."
"Hmmm." His lips curled in a slow, lazy smile. "It suits you."
I forced myself not to glare. "I'm honored, I'm sure."
Unfazed, Nicolas's smile never faded as he glanced at the watch on his wrist. "If you need to be there by nine, you're late," he informed me with amusement.
"What?" I followed his gaze to the ticking hands of his watch and my eyes widened. "I need to leave now!" I nearly tripped over my own feet as I sidestepped him to avoid any contact before I raced down the stairs. I could have taken the elevator, but elevators came with the danger of plummeting three stories or being chopped in half by a metal door, so it generally wasn't an option for me.
I was almost to the bottom of the stairs when I glanced up and saw Nicolas's head peering at me over the ledge of the top of the stairs, still grinning. "Good luck, kid," I heard him call, and I stopped to glare at him before I pushed through the revolving glass doors of our building with my shoulder.
When I finally arrived at the office, I was flushed and out of breath. My hair was a mess, so I hurriedly tried to arrange the dark blond strands as best I could and approached the front desk with a wary expression. There was a short, stocky man seated at a computer, sporting out of style side burns and a thick mustache. His intense eyes snapped to meet mine and I had to fight back a near-audible gulp.
"Emerson Lyre," I answered, trying to distract myself by looking around the room. It was bright and almost harshly lit with white lights on all sides. Fluorescent, I guessed. "I was just transferred here by—"
"By Mr. Wheaton, I know," he cut me off with a vague, fake sort of smile and seized a black phone from its cradle. He tucked it between his ear and shoulder and dialed with quick, efficient stabs of his fingertip. "We've heard a lot about you, Mr. Lyre," he told me while the phone was ringing.
I gave him a tight smile and fiddled uncertainly with the strap of my bag. "Good things, I hope."
He didn't reply. Whoever he'd called must have picked up, because he spun in his chair to face the wall, and I took that as my cue to butt out and continue my evaluation of the office. I could see a few baskets hanging past the doors outside, overflowing with tiny pink and red flowers, and there was a healthy-looking fern in the corner. I was debating whether or not to take a closer look when I heard the slam of the phone, and I jumped in surprise. The man was staring at me with that same intense, faux friendly expression, and his smile widened to bare his white teeth.
"Mr. Kincade will see you now," he said.
I nodded and backed away from the desk. I was just about to turn and leave when a thought struck me, and I twisted and opened my mouth to ask a question, but he beat me to it.
"There's an elevator at the end of the hallway," he instructed, pointing down the hall with the tip of his pen. I cringed inwardly.
"Where are stairs?"
"Next to the elevators."
"Excellent," I said, breathing a relieved sigh. "Where's his office?"
"Fifth floor. Mr. Kincade's office is at the end of the hallway on the right."
"Thanks," I said with a tense smile and nodded. My feet couldn't carry me away fast enough, and I was even insecure enough to break into a jog on my way up the stairs. And that was how I made my second bad impression of the day, wandering into Mr. Kincade's office with red cheeks as I struggled to get my arm back through my sleeve. I'd had to pull it over my hand again to open the door.
His secretary spared me a disinterested glance, her red lips forming a thin line across her face. She made it seem like a burden when she tilted her chin back, curly hair falling carelessly untucked from behind her ears, and addressed me with a lazy snap of her gum. "Can I help you?"
I narrowed my eyes and adjusted my glasses, noting with extreme distaste the dirty gum wrappers and lipstick-stained diet soda cans cluttering her desk, and cleared my throat.
"My name's Emerson Lyre," I introduced myself, careful to keep the tautly stretched smile in place. When all she gave me was a dull, blank gray stare, I felt compelled to elaborate, "I'm here to see Mr. Kincade."
She gave the appointment book in front of her a lazy glance. "You're not on his schedule."
"The man at the front desk downstairs just called."
She rolled her eyes. "Well, he didn't call me."
My heart skipped a beat. Had I come to the wrong place? Was Mr. Kincade not the person I was supposed to see? Was my job being given away to someone else right now because Mr. Wheaton had given me the wrong name and some walrus-looking man downstairs had phoned the wrong person?
I stopped, closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. I'd gone over this information a dozen times before today, so the odds were that this secretary was in the wrong, not me.
Opening my eyes, I forced my voice into the most pleasant tone possible and said, "Look, can't you call down there and ask him or something? I was just there—"
"I'm busy," she said, giving me a pointed look as she poised her painted crimson nails over the keyboard and began typing. After a few moments, she paused long enough to say, "If you'd like, you can call back later and I'll set up an appointment for you."
I stared at her, unable to comprehend how this situation could have possibly gone so wrong, and said, "I don't need to call back and set up an appointment, because I'm here, and he knows I'm supposed to be here, so I don't really see why—"
I stopped at the abrupt creak of a door opening. I turned my head to find a man in a black suit walking into the room, brushing at the gray streaks in his chestnut hair. He flicked his gaze between the secretary and me while a weary expression grew on his face.
He approached the woman with a sigh. "Michelle, I thought we went through this earlier. We have an intercom for a reason."
She pursed her red lips more tightly, light-colored eyes darting to meet her boss's with obvious guilt and annoyance. "But sir," she protested, "he didn't—"
He held up a hand, motioning for silence. "I don't care. If you can't do the job, then I'll phone the temp agency and have them send over someone else."
Her mouth remained open in a surprised little o, but she managed to hold her tongue.
Mr. Kincade's expression softened briefly. "In the future, just send them in, and I'll deal with it if they're not supposed to be here, okay?"
She glanced at him poutily from beneath her eyelashes. "Okay."
"Thank you. Now, Mr. Lyre…?" He stepped to the side, propping the door open with his foot, and gestured for me to walk inside. I ducked inside and absently fingered the strap of my messenger bag as I looked around the room, focusing particularly on the cushioned chair placed in front of his desk for visitors. There was no way in hell I was sitting in that.
He closed the door and claimed his seat in the squashy swivel chair behind his desk while I remained standing. He was kind enough not to say anything. I noticed that he was leafing through some folders on his desk, and I was struck by a question.
"How did you know it was me?" I wondered aloud.
He offered me a faint smile as he closed the folders with a snap. "Mr. Wheaton's told me a bit about you. Sorry to ruin the introductions like that." He leaned forward, elbows on his desk, and stretched his arm for a handshake. "I'm Jonathon Kincade. Nice to meet you."
I stared at his hand in a brief panic, overwhelmed by the possibility of diseases crawling across his knuckles, and quickly avoided shaking hands by suddenly shoving my fists into my pockets. I cleared my throat. "Uh, yeah, nice to meet you. I'm Emerson Lyre, but you already knew that."
His smile faltered, making me flinch inwardly with shame. I hated being rude, but there was absolutely no way I was ever shaking hands with this man. Not unless we both had gloves on. Kincade leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed over his stomach and studied me with a somewhat guarded expression. When I didn't say anything, he gave a little sigh and began idly poking at the folder on his desk again, eventually pulling a sheet out and staring at it.
"So, I understand that you were working on several articles before you were transferred." He tapped the paper he was holding against the desk, narrowing his dull green eyes. "I know you're joining us as a copy editor, but would you be willing to pick any of those up to publish for us?"
I bit my lip. Felt the world tilt. How could I explain to him that I was stepping down to copy editor because I'd fucked up being a beat editor so royally?
I couldn't. So I just shrugged and said, "Probably not."
Kincade tossed the paper down onto the desk and leaned forward. "You okay, Lyre?"
"Fine, sir," someone who sounded an awful lot like me managed to say.
Kincade rubbed the stubble on his chin, squinting. "You look like you're about to pass out, so I'll let you go for the day. Get here a little before nine tomorrow and I'll show you where you'll be working, okay?"
I hadn't realized how tense I'd been until my shoulders drooped in relief, and I even managed to hesitantly flash a smile. "Okay. Thank you, sir."
"No problem, no problem at all." He got to his feet, shuffled around the desk and brushed past me to open the door, gesturing with both arms to the open doorway. "I'll see you tomorrow, then. Bright and early!"
"Bright and early," I echoed with considerably less enthusiasm as I strode into the other room. Keeping my head down to avoid Michelle's venomous stare, I slid my jacket sleeve over my fingers as casually as I could. I took a deep breath and studiously focused all my attention on the door, overlooking any confused or disgusted stares they were possibly sending my way. I opened the door and stepped outside.
The hardest part was not shutting the door twenty-five more times once I was in the hall.