"Perhaps it just might," he admits, and I am pleasantly surprised at the very human admission, the tiny bit of vulnerability he allows me to see with it.

He taps the folder. “There's plenty of reading for you to do in the folder. Amanda will get you set up on the computer and then there will be online testing. Pass them and we’ll talk about just what your role will be here. If you can play with the big dogs, and interact with Riptide quality transactions, I can assure you that money won’t be an issue.”


My heart races with this news. Could this really be happening? Could I really have the chance to make art my life? “I’ll get right on the tests.”

He leans in closer. “I see something special in you, Ms. McMillan. I’m hoping you’re going to prove me right.” Without another word, he pushes to his feet and leaves the room. I stare after him, my teeth worrying my bottom lip, my heart in my throat. I didn’t manage to get an answer about my salary, but I tell myself he’s alluded to a sizable package. Most importantly though, I am frustrated at myself because I haven’t asked about Rebecca. You will, I promise myself. When the time is right, you will.

Chapter Eight

Thirty minutes later, I have managed to claim my new office, on loan from Rebecca of course, which I refuse to let myself forget. Amanda has already logged me into the computer and headed back to her desk. I am now alone, with the door shut, ready to start to work.

I pull up my new email and I have a message waiting from Mark, or rather, Mr. Compton. I wonder if he intends to stay that formal with me, but then, it appears he has with Amanda, so I would assume that to be the case. I click on the email.

Welcome Ms. McMillan:

You will find a link to a number of tests below. Each is a timed evaluation to ensure you cannot use the internet for help, though I'm sure you would never consider doing such a thing.

May the odds be ever in your favor, and mine as well.

Mark Compton

I laugh at the reference to Hunger Games, and I am shocked but pleased that my new boss has a sense of humor. I feel silly now to have been so intimidated and affected as I was by him during our meeting. Logically, I know I was responding to this fascination I have with this world, this deep desire to belong here, that wasn’t about him at all. It was, and is, about me, about my past, about ghosts and skeletons I'm being forced to face just by sitting at this desk. And the journals, I remind myself as the soft scent of roses I now associate with Rebecca teases my nostrils.

I pull open the drawer to my right and find a lighter and set the flame burning on the candle. The flame flickers with life and my gaze falls on the brilliant rose colors on the wall. I picture Rebecca sitting here and somehow I feel as if she is over my shoulder, but it is not frightening. In fact, I feel almost comforted, as if the dancing fire from the wick is a sign she is alive and well. I feel hope that she will return, and perhaps I will have a place in this world as well. Do I dare believe I can chase this dream and really make a living at it? Excitement and hope expands within me. I want this so badly it hurts and it frightens me. I know why I have never tried and one of those reasons, money, seems to be resolved with the inference I will be paid commission on my sales. The other reason though, is dauntingly big. If I fail, if I must go back to my old life, it will destroy me.

“You have to try,” I whisper to the empty room. “You have to.”

New resolve forms and I shake off my fears. If I am to stay here, if I can prove I’m worth keeping around, then I need to get busy. I quickly dig into my testing and though the questions are challenging, I am pleased at the ease at which I complete the first few exams. I’m just finishing up a fourth, and stretching, considering seeking out a caffeine escape--this time one that is supposed to be cold--when I hear a knock on my door.

“Come in,” I call, not sure why my stomach flutters in anticipation of my visitor, but the feeling isn’t completely unwelcome. It’s been a long time since every piece of my day has felt like an adventure.

An Asian man in his late twenties appears in my entryway. "I'm Ralph, the accounting dude.”

"Ralph," I say, with a nod, and I barely contain a smile at both his ‘dude’ reference and his red bow tie and crisp white shirt. There is something friendly about this man that I like instantly.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," he says, clearly reading the meaning in my smile. "I don't look like a Ralph. My folks wanted me to fit into the American mold but they weren’t American enough to know ‘Ralph’ isn’t exactly a cool name. But I like that it’s unexpected. It disarms people right off the bat, and like you, it makes them smile."

"I like that,” I say, smiling even bigger now. “I think you should be in sales. You could make that work for you."

He snorts. "And deal with all the arrogant rich people that come in this place? No thanks." He softens his voice. "Mark is all I can handle."

Laughter bubbles from my lips. "You'll have to share your secrets to that little trick."

"I'll buy you coffee sometime soon and tell you all his secrets."

"I'll take you up on that."

He waves and departs, pulling the door shut behind him, and I return to my testing. An hour later, the material has turned daunting and my mood has shifted from energized to frazzled. I can see why I might be tested on random collectible items, if I am to work with Riptide, but wine, opera, and classical music? I know absolutely nothing about these non-art subjects and I decide now might be a good time to find out how lunch works around this place.

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