“Ah, yes. Harold, your boss, was supposed to give you a tour of the offices, but I think he got called away to an important meeting.”
“Oh,” I mumbled, slightly disappointed. This was the Harold Richardson of Richardson & Sachs. I was really looking forward to meeting with him.
The receptionist pressed a button on her intercom. A few seconds later, a young woman–probably no older than I– hurried from around the corner. She had beautifully wavy black hair, a curvaceous, hourglass figure, and she wore her lips an attention-grabbing ruby red. This woman was wearing a bright yellow dress and expensive Louboutins that screamed look at me I’m here. Her posture, her expression, everything about her screamed command and control. She glared at me, inspecting me up and down.
“This the new girl?” she snapped.
“Er, hi, I’m Tia,” I said, sticking my hand out to shake.
“I don’t care,” she stated firmly. I took my hand back, thoroughly shocked. Had I done something to offend her?
Shit. Not a good start.
“I’m Eliza,” the woman continued. “Listen up, newbie, because I’m not going to repeat myself.” She started walking back the way she came, leaving me no other option to follow on her heel. Eliza walked with purpose, beautiful locks swaying as she stepped. “Research is up on the fourth floor, billing and receivable is on the third. Firm partners get the corner offices on the top floor, and you’ll notice that one of them is empty.” Eliza stopped abruptly. She turned, jabbing an accusatory finger into my shoulder. “I’ve heard about you. Top student at Harvard, right?”
“We may be colleagues here, but don’t get it twisted. You’re my competition. I’m going to be partner one day, and I’m not going to let some pretty airhead who got lucky get in my way. We clear?”
This wasn’t what I had been expecting. The sharp hostility that practically radiated off of Eliza’s person had me feeling small, isolated in a world that I thought I was prepared for.
“This way,” she snapped, wagging a finger at me. She gestured toward a small cubical. “This will be your desk. One of the other junior associates will get you settled in.”
“When is Harold going to be free?” I asked, asserting myself.
Eliza rolled her eyes at me. “Don’t know. You feel free to interrupt him to find out, though. I’m sure he’d love it.” And with that, she walked off, leaving me in a dazed state of confusion.
No, this wasn’t what I had been expecting at all.
By the time the day was over, I was thoroughly exhausted. I left the building with my head hung low. This was only the first day, but I already felt so defeated. None of my coworkers seemed willing to help me. I didn’t get to meet with any of the name partners, and I had felt like a puppy lost at the dog races. Everybody was too busy, too ambitious to take a second to even consider me. I sighed, slinging my purse strap over my shoulder, trudging out in bitter silence.
Somebody to my right whistled. I turned to find Alex leaning against the building, a small bouquet of flowers in his hands. I tried to smile, to wipe the worry and tiredness from my face.
“You look like shit,” he chuckled. He handed me the flowers, which I accepted hesitantly. They smelled wonderful, sweet and warm.
“I feel like shit,” I admitted, casting my eyes down. “What are you doing here?”
“Just wanted to see how your day went. Rough day, I take it?”
“Yeah,” I grumbled. “Though, to be honest, that doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
Alex’s cool smile melted away, replaced with concern. “How about I take you out to dinner?”
“Alex, I told you I’m not–”
“I know, I know,” he said quickly. “Just think of it as one roommate welcoming the other, okay? A mini welcome to the building party.”
At that very moment, I saw the familiar bright yellow of Eliza’s dress in the corner of my eye. She halted, glared at me, and then shot Alex one of the dirtiest looks I had ever seen. She noticed the flowers in my hand and muttered something under her breath –probably nothing pleasant, either.
“Sure,” I finally answered, “let’s go to dinner.”
“Excellent. I know a fantastic place around here.”
Eliza rolled her eyes, jealousy clear on her face.
I promised myself that I was going to be the perfect gentleman. I held the door open for her, I pulled her chair out to let Tia settle in, and I let her choose the wine. André, the restaurants maître-d, hooked me up with a great corner table closest to the window, which looked out into the busy street. While I was never one for mood lighting, the gentle glow of the nearby fireplace and the lights of the city skyline set a relaxed and warm atmosphere. Tia had looked so stressed and dismayed when she walked out of Richardson & Sachs that I couldn’t help but bring her to one of my favorite restaurants in an attempt to cheer her up.