I head to the lobby and find Amanda behind her desk with a tall, pretty young African American girl about her age standing with her. "Hello Sara,” this newcomer greets. “I'm Lynn, and I'm interning here this summer."
Lynn is dressed in a cream colored suit, and her hair and makeup is impeccable, but her personality is casual and warm. I chat with her, and Tesse, also an intern, and girl who been at the hostess stand the night of the gallery event I’d attended, joins us. I'm pleased that I like everyone I’ve met. I feel good with these people. Unfortunately, Mary, a pretty, and rather robust blonde salesperson closer to my age, is so busy she can only wave and give me a quick greeting.
“So, Amanda,” I say when I am finally alone with her again. “Is it common to be given testing on wines and music to work here?”
She nods. “We have so many events that Mark uses the testing to determine where we can best service the clientele. In fact, we have a wine testing Wednesday night.”
My stomach knots. Could wine really be my undoing?
“Excuse me,” a woman in dark-rimmed glasses says, appearing at the desk. “Can someone help me with a Chris Merit piece, please?”
An image of Chris standing in front of me, holding his jacket around me, makes my belly do a flutter. “I would be happy to help you,” I offer, suddenly very eager to visit his display again.
Amanda looks shocked, and I assume that means I’m not allowed to be on the floor yet. I pretend not to notice and head to the sales floor.
An hour later, the woman has left with a six-figure purchase that has me glowing with excitement, and I am glowing with the rush of having made a sale.
Ralph winks at me as I pass his office, which I’ve now discovered is next to mine, ah, Rebecca’s. My stomach growls and I realize I haven’t eaten anything and a glance at the ridiculously expensive, absolutely fabulous antique clock in the hallway says it’s two o’clock. Jeez, how did that happen?
I turn back to the reception area to ask Amanda if I can run out, and find myself toe-to-toe with Mark. He is taller than I remembered and I crane my neck to meet his stare. “Ms. McMillan,” he says tightly, and I am immediately aware of his displeasure. Why is he displeased? I just brought in six figures to the gallery.
“Mr. Compton,” I say.
“Why have you not completed your testing?”
“I was, ah, helping customers.”
“Did I tell you to help customers?”
I wet my lips nervously, and his gaze flicks over my mouth. It’s unnerving. He’s unnerving me again. “I just thought-”
“Don’t think, Ms. McMillan,” he says tightly. “Do as I say.”
Old, familiar feelings spiral down my spine, feelings of inadequacy, of needing to please--a moth to flame that is sure to burn me alive--surface. I reject them and straighten. “I took every test I’m capable of taking. I don’t know wine or opera or classical music. I’m sure you’ll find the job-related ones to be exemplary.”
“All the test are job related,” he corrects, “if you wish to operate at a higher level, which I understood you to say, you did. Did I get that wrong, Ms. McMillan?”
There is a crispness to my name that was not there before, and I am remotely aware that I am in front of an open office that is Ralph’s, that he can hear and see everything.
“No,” I reply softly, firmly. “You are not wrong, Mr. Compton,” and I am shocked to realize I have emphasized his name as he did mine. There is a rebel inside me that refuses to sink into my old habits, and I am suddenly proud of myself. “But I cannot test on what I do not know.”
“Testing allows me to decide where to start teaching you,” he says in rebuttal.
“At the beginning,” I reply. “Since the only thing I know about wine, for instance, is what color it is when it’s in my glass.”
He arches a light blond brow. “Really? That much?”
“That much,” I confirm.
He considers me a moment. He’s good at doing that, considering me, putting me on edge, no doubt on purpose. “Do you have a laptop?” he asks finally.
I frown, not sure where this is going. “Yes.”
“Do you have it with you?”
“So you know how to use it?”
I am so not pleased with the snarky question. I lower my voice, unable to stop my reply. “That’s a little like asking a rich, arrogant, gallery owner, if he knows he’s a rich, arrogant, gallery owner.”
His eyes light up with amusement. “I am rich and arrogant, Ms. McMillan. I like being rich and arrogant. I thought you too, wanted to be rich yourself. Or was I mistaken?”
My throat goes dry. Rich? Is he joking? “I don’t recall any such opportunity.”
“And you won’t until you learn what I need you to learn. Since I can’t trust you to stay off the floor, take your laptop to the coffee shop next door. Amanda will give you a study manual so you can remedy your...deficiencies.”
I narrow my gaze at him, aware he is trying to bait me. I’m not going to bite. I give a nod. “Of course, Mr. Compton. I’ll get right on that.”
His lips twitch. “Check in before you leave for the night. I’ll want to quiz you.”
Fifteen minutes later I walk into Cup’ A Cafe next door to the gallery, and the rich scent of brewing coffee, and something distinctly chocolate, touches my nostrils. If the coffee tastes as good as this place smells, I am going to love it here. Not to mention the decor, all warm browns and leather, with a hardwood floor, is soothing in a way that contrasts the caffeinated high people come here for. I can use soothing right now.