“It’s very nice to meet you, Kelsey,” I said, smiling widely and offering her my hand to shake. She looked at me strangely, with a sort of glazed expression.
“It’s nice to meet you too, sir,” she said as she glanced back at Sara. Sara looked down at my hand quizzically and back up to me before speaking to Kelsey.
“Okay. Well, we’ve already gone over everything that Chloe left. Here’s your desk.” She led the temp over to Miss Mills’ chair.
A strange feeling crept over me at the image of someone else sitting there. I felt my smile falter and I turned to Sara. “If she needs anything she’ll let you know. I’ll be in my office.”
Kelsey quit before lunch. Apparently I came off “a bit gruff” when she managed to start a small fire in the break room microwave. The last I saw of her, she was in tears and sprinting out my door, wailing something about a hostile work environment.
The second temp, a young man named Isaac, came in around two o’clock. Isaac seemed highly intelligent, and I looked forward to working with someone other than an emotional female. I found myself smiling at the sudden turn of events. Unfortunately, I spoke too soon.
Every time I passed Isaac at his computer he was online, looking at captioned pictures of cats or watching a music video. He would quickly minimize the window, but unfortunately for Isaac I wasn’t a complete idiot. I diplomatically asked him to not bother returning the next day.
The third was no better. Her name was Jill; she talked too much, her clothing was too tight, and the way she gnawed on the cap of her pen made her look like an animal trying to free itself from a trap. It was nothing like the way Miss Mills would pensively hold the end of her pen between her teeth when she was deep in thought. That was subtle and sexy; this was nothing short of obscene. Unacceptable. She was gone by Tuesday afternoon.
The week continued on in much the same way. I went through five different assistants. I heard the booming laugh of my brother in the hall outside my office on more than one occasion. Jackass. He didn’t even work on this floor. I began to feel that people were enjoying my misery a bit too much and maybe even saw it as a case of reaping what I sowed.
Although I had absolutely no doubt that Miss Mills had already been informed of my temp nightmares by Sara, I received several texts from her throughout the first week, checking on how things were going. I began looking forward to them, even checking my phone periodically to see if I might have missed an alert. I hated to admit it, but at this point I would have traded my car just to have her and her harpy disposition back.
Besides missing her body, which I did desperately, I also missed the fire between us. She knew I was a bastard, and she put up with it. I had no idea why, but she did. I felt my respect for her professionalism grow during that first week apart.
When the second week went by without a single text from her, I found myself wondering what she was doing and with whom she was doing it. I wondered briefly if she’d had any more phone calls with Joel. I was pretty sure they hadn’t seen each other again, and she and I had managed to reach a precarious cease-fire regarding the flower incident. Still, I wondered if he’d ever called to follow up and whether he would try to begin something when she was home.
Home. Was she at home now, with her father? Or did she think of Chicago as home? For the first time, it occurred to me that if her father was very sick, she might decide to move back to North Dakota to be with him.
I started packing for my flight on Sunday night and heard my phone chirp from the bed next to my suitcase. I felt a small thrill reading her name on the screen.
Pick you up tomorrow 11:30. Terminal B near arrival screens. Text when you land.
I paused for a moment as it sank in that we would be together tomorrow.
You’re welcome. Everything go ok?
I was a bit taken aback that she had asked about the rest of my week. We were in such uncharted territory here. While working, we texted and e-mailed frequently, but it was usually restricted to simple yes or no answers. Never anything personal. Was it possible she’d had a similarly frustrating week?
Great. You? How is your dad?
I laughed as I pushed send; this situation kept getting stranger. Less than a minute later I received another one.
He’s doing fine. I’ve missed him but am excited to come home.
Home. I noted her word choice and swallowed; my chest was suddenly too tight.
Setting the alarm on my phone, I placed it on the nightstand and sat next to my luggage on the bed. I would see her in less than twelve hours.
And I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that.
Just as I’d hoped, the flight to San Diego had given me time to think. I felt loved and rested after my visit with my dad. After his appointment with the gastroenterologist put us both at ease that the tumor was benign, we’d spent time together talking and reminiscing about Mom, even planning a trip for him to come out to Chicago.
By the time he kissed me good-bye, I felt as prepared as possible considering the situation. I was nervous as hell to face Mr. Ryan again, but I’d given myself my best pep talk. I’d done some online shopping and had a suitcase full of new power panties. I’d thought long and hard about my options, and I was pretty sure I had a plan.
The first step was to admit that this problem was more than just the temptation of proximity. Being a thousand miles apart had done nothing to calm my need. I’d dreamed of him nearly every night, waking each morning frustrated and lonely. I spent far too much time thinking about what he was doing, wondering if he was as confused as me, and trying to glean every bit of information I could from Sara about how things were going back home.