It is with great trepidation that I’m posting an excerpt from my novel. No one has read it outside of myself and my partner so I’m really interested to see what other people think about it. Comments, good or bad would be much appreciated. All the characters are my own original creations so I hope you all like it.
Description: Interoffice Fraternization is the story of two women separated by the past, insecurities and one human resources manual. When Jocelyn Laurens comes to work at Betz Advertising Firm the young executive falls head over heels for fellow exec, Ryan Fisher. Ryan is a seasoned executive with a secret. In this roller coaster romance two women try to find their way to each other despite obstacles, employee policy, relationships and endearingly meddlesome best friends.
“Shit!” Jocelyn spat within the confines of her car as she crept through the sluggish Jersey City traffic. She had absolutely no patience for early morning rush hour, even after years of traveling in it.
“Time to get in the game.”
She placed her coffee in a cup holder so she could focus on weaving through the heavy traffic more efficiently. Jocelyn was destined to be late for her first day of work and was less than pleased about that fact. Despite her growing annoyance, she was thrilled to have opted to wear her dark suit, as opposed to the lighter one she entertained that morning. The deep navy gratefully hid the coffee stain slowly suffusing her pant leg.
“It’s bumper to bumper out there folks,” the radio announcer informed. “If you haven’t gotten to work by now, you probably won’t be making it on time.”
“Great,” she muttered aloud. And now I look like a crazy person for talking to myself.
Jocelyn had been shocked when she received the call requesting she come in for a “meeting.” This meeting had actually been an informal job interview. Not just any job either, but a managerial position. She had been so unprepared for the actual job offer that she took painstaking time to weigh her options. Only when she came to the conclusion that it’d be crazy to pass up such an opportunity did she decide to take the job. The position not only offered a change in title, but a significant change in pay as well. The biggest perk though was working so close to home. She relished the idea of no longer having into travel into the city. Even with the bumper-to-bumper traffic she much preferred her car to the over crowded PATH train.
Jocelyn was now a managing associate at Betz Advertising Firm, a reputable advertising house located in the curiously upscale Jersey City area of New Jersey. Betz Ads had New York City clientele but didn’t have to charge New York City fees since operating costs were just a shade cheaper than its sister city across the Hudson.
Six minutes after nine is what the clock on the console of her vintage Ford Mustang read as she found a spot and made haste to the entrance of the large, glass paned building. Her long legs strode as quickly as appropriate towards the elevator. She frowned as she passed through the lobby. Forgot this building had a coffee shop.
Seconds later she was arriving on the fifth floor of Betz Advertising. The offices were in the center of Downtown Jersey City and thankfully right off the expressway.
“Ms. Laurence, good morning.”
“Curtis, it’s Jocelyn, like I told you last time.” She smiled impatiently at the tall, slender, receptionist.
Curtis was alarmingly handsome, tall and lithe with a swimmers build. His features were dark and brooding while his attitude was as bubbly as a new spring day.
“I’m sorry, Jocelyn.”
“Where are they?”
“Conference room down the hall. They’re just walking in, don’t worry,” he shouted after her in what was clearly his typical singsong alto.
She stopped right outside the door to calm her nerves and needlessly smooth the lapels of her suit jacket. Those nerve-settling moments were shattered as she entered and found countless sets of eyes focusing on her and her alone.
“Ah, Ms. Laurence, good morning! Come in.”
Mr. Betz was a large stocky man with a receding hairline. While he was easy to talk to and quick to offer a smile, Jocelyn could tell very early on that he was not one to be trifled with.
He motioned for her to join him at the head of the conference table and it took everything in her not to cringe as he threw his clammy, yet expensively suited arm over her shoulder. That alone pushed all worries of tardiness from her mind.
I didn’t see touching in the job description.
“Team, it’s my pleasure to finally introduce you all to Ms. Jocelyn Laurence. She comes highly recommended from Axelrod and Kearney Ads and will be replacing Paige O’Hara as one of our team leaders. I am confident that she will be an invaluable replacement.”
Jocelyn shifted uncomfortably. She had been anticipating this introductory meeting, but she hadn’t expected to be put on display in front of half the company.
Mr. Franklin Betz Jr. continued his introduction as he went around the high gloss conference table of team leaders. Each team had either one or two leaders depending on the number of junior associates assigned to it. The higher reps didn’t have a team if they didn’t wish and were able to pick their own clients and projects.
Jocelyn tried to listen and catch as many names as possible, but she missed far more than she caught. Betz Ads was a large company and even just the managing staff filled the entire room. The only names that really mattered were those of her team, who weren’t present at this meeting, and that of her co-team leader.
“And finally,” he finished, “your partner in rhyme, Ryan Fisher.”
Mr. Betz’s lame attempt at a joke was pushed to the rear of Jocelyn’s consciousness as her eyes were frozen and her motor functions became inexplicably stricken.
“Ryan is a veteran here…” He continued to blather on, but Jocelyn was still otherwise occupied. Before her sat an olive skinned beauty, how could she possible pay attention to work?
The woman, Jocelyn now knew as Ryan, wore a tailored cream white suite with a black silk blouse underneath. Her hair was curly and hung just above her shoulders framing her face beautifully. Jocelyn couldn’t quite make out her ethnicity, but really what did that matter?
“Would you like to say a few words, Jocelyn?” She was startled by the sound of her own name. Flashing her cockiest smile, she could have sworn she detected the faintest of eye rolls from Ryan, but she quickly brushed that thought away. No one could resist Jocelyn Laurence’s charm.
Ryan wasn’t even mildly impressed as the new girl came in. Thinking of her as the “new girl” and not the new woman helped to maintain her petulance. It helped that Mr. Betz was all but falling over himself to introduce Jocelyn.
Ryan tried her level best to disregard Jocelyn’s understated beauty. She wasn’t what could be considered textbook beautiful, but her large brown, almost black, eyes were arresting. Her full lips were lightly tented with a tasteful amount of gloss yet no other makeup could be detected. She also noted her full breast led to a narrow waste and womanly, round hips which all adorned a decidedly fit frame.
Ryan did her best to ignore those things and that became easier as she remembered the context of the meeting. She didn’t want a co-team leader. Yes, she had been saddened by Paige’s maternity leave and subsequent resignation; they had grown to be great friends over the years. However, Ryan was positive she could run the team of six junior associates sufficiently enough on her own. Mr. Betz apparently did not agree.
“Ryan, I trust you to take Jocelyn here under your wing and show her the ropes,” he beamed at her.
“Of course, Mr. Betz.” She pasted on a winning smile and hoped no one could detect her annoyance.
“Great.” He turned his attention back to Jocelyn. “Would you like to say a few words, Jocelyn?”
Ryan watched with twin emotions as Jocelyn flashed an almost freakishly bright smile. Her emotions alternated between disgust and curiosity.
“Just that I look forward to working with all of you and forming a strong working relationship,” she rushed out in a smooth contralto.
What a kiss ass, Ryan thought as Mr. Betz ended the meeting and everyone went to greet the new employ—girl.
Jocelyn used the free moment she finally had after the meeting to unpack her things and begin arranging her desk. Looking to ensure no prying eyes were watching, she pulled out disinfecting wipes and got to work. The rest of her day would be filled with meetings and further introductions, so these few quite moments were very welcome.
She was startled and pleasantly surprised to find Ryan standing, or rather hovering, in her doorway.
“Geez! You snuck up on me there.” Jocelyn resumed her cleaning. Why bother hiding it now that she’s already seen me?
“I’m sorry. I was just coming to check on you and to make sure you were settling—is there something wrong with the office?”
Jocelyn looked bashful. “No, why do you ask?” That’s it Jos, play coy.
“Well I just noticed you’re cleaning and I’m sure that was done over the weekend.”
“Yeah it was. I’m just getting a few spots they missed. I can be a kind of obsessive compulsive sometimes.”
Jocelyn wasn’t thrilled about revealing her mild disorder to a virtual stranger, but she was even less enthusiastic about potentially offending her new coworker. Her compulsive cleanliness had a tendency to offend those who didn’t understand it. If nothing else Ryan would spread the word that Jocelyn was neurotic and she would be spared the burden of having to explain herself to everyone else.
“Oh, okay then.”
Ryan continued to watch as Jocelyn scrubbed away vigorously. She cleaned inside the drawers as well as the entire outside of the desk before moving onto the shelves. Being stared at didn’t help Jocelyn’s embarrassment.
“Did you need something?”
“Yes,” she replied loudly. “I wanted to know if you would like me to set up a meeting with the team so I can formally introduce you.”
“Well, that’s nice of you, but I’ve already arranged individual meetings. It’s in the process of being done as we speak actually.”
“Yes. Curtis is—speak of the devil.”
“Hi, boss lady,” he chirped happily as he squeezed passed Ryan.
“Don’t call me that, for the hundredth time,” she replied tiredly.
“Yes, yes I know. Sorry.” He turned to Jocelyn. “Okay, new boss lady, I’m almost done.”
Jocelyn never stopped her task. “Almost?”
“Yes, actually Ryan you’re the last appointment I need to set for Jos.”
“Jos? That’s a little informal don’t you think?”
“I’m just shortening it up. You don’t mind do you Jos honey?”
“That’s fine.” She would have agreed to anything she was so distracted by a spot that only she could see. Is this white out or…milk?
“See,” he turned back to Ryan. “It’s fine.”
Ryan scowled. “How is eleven A.M.?”
“Skyler’s at eleven,” he noted referring to his iPad.
“I think that’s free.” Curtis swiftly ran his finger across the tablet to confirm.
“No,” Jocelyn chimed in this time. “Lunch with Mr. Betz.”
Ryan and Curtis shared a look. Jocelyn noticed and stopped polishing her bronze nameplate. “Something strange about that?”
Curtis shrugged but remained quite.
“It just seldom happens,” Ryan informed. “He’s nice enough, but unless its client related and can potentially bring in several million, he’s not likely to grace we meager mid-level execs with is presence. Today was the first time he’s been on the floor in I don’t know how long.”
“Oh, well…I guess that’s changing.” Again Jocelyn flashed that cocky smile.
Ryan quickly looked away. “What time is good Curtis?”
“Are you free around four?”
“Do I have a choice?”
He looked down then back at her. “Not really.”
“Pencil me in, or whatever the equivalent is on that…thing.” With that Ryan turned and left.
Curtis rolled his eyes and huffed. “Queen B” strikes again.”
Jocelyn frowned. “Queen B’?”
“Yeah, it’s just a little interoffice nickname we have for Ryan,” he said in a dramatic stage whisper. “Don’t get me wrong we all love her to death, but sometimes I wonder just who stuck the stick up her butt.”
Curtis emailed Jocelyn’s schedule and sauntered out before she could get into the appropriateness of the moniker. “See you tomorrow.”
Jocelyn sat and thought about Curtis’ words for a moment before that spot demanded more of her attention.
“Today I met the woman I’m going to marry.” Jocelyn casually announced as she slid into the booth. Her smile was bright to the point of bursting.
The three other women at the table all released a collective groan at the familiar exclamation. It wasn’t the first time Jocelyn had fallen in love at first sight. No one believed for a second that it would be the last. Not when her fancies tended to change with the tides.
“Don’t make that sound! I’m in love.”
“Here we go again,” Shiloh, the youngest member of the group, parried. While she was only two years younger than the groups collective twenty-eight, her old soul and insightful observations made her seem much older.
“Don’t you tire of being in love so often?” Katrina asked.
“I never tire of love, it’s grand,” Jocelyn all but swooned. In truth she had only truly been in love once and that was with Katrina.
Katrina was the closest to Jocelyn in the group. She’d met the petite, Haitian and Cuban woman while at college. They had taken an immediate liking to each other and became fast friends. Over time Jocelyn found herself falling for Katrina’s bedroom eyes, creamy complexion and agreeable disposition. She balanced out Jocelyn’s extreme Type-A personality.
Shortly after they met a relationship formed. As time progressed, however, both felt they worked best as friends rather than lovers. In true lesbian fashion they made the transition back into strictly friendship. There had been little difference between the two relationships besides the sex. The bond they shared often led to difficulties with new lovers, but they wouldn’t dream of changing a thing.
Jocelyn thought she had achieved true love once after their relationship had ended, but quickly found that to be misguided. She had yet to find a woman since Katrina who loved or desired her to the capacity she felt she deserved. Katrina was the weighing point that all others were measured against, and none thus far held up.
“It’s not love, its infatuations. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it,” Tonya finally commented.
Jocelyn could only smile at her friend.
With her quite and sometimes brooding personality, many mistook the mahogany skinned woman’s disposition for disrespect, but that was seldom the case. Tonya had a strong will and vast knowledge. She chose to speak only when necessary or truly moved to. The other members of the group would often seek her guidance because they knew not only would she put great care into any advice she offered, she’d also be painfully honest if necessary. Most importantly if she didn’t know or had no frame of reference she said nothing. Silence is golden and few people knew that fact and exercised it as adroitly as Tonya.
“Well you can all be sick of it but I’m not, so you’ll listen.” Jocelyn pulled off her suit jacket and rolled up her sleeves.
“So, who is she?” Shiloh asked knowing full well they had no choice but to listen or at least feign interest. Jocelyn would demand attention until it was granted, be it begrudgingly or otherwise.
“She’s beautiful,” she began simply. “Short, light complexion, she has the prettiest hazel eyes—almost green. And her hair! It’s curly, and long, and makes you want to run your fingers through it. Oh, and there’s a tiny little beauty mark on her left hand in the shape of heart. It’s adorable!”
“You and these light and bright women. What nationality is she?” asked Katrina.
“I can’t make that out.”
“You’re one to talk, mellow yellow,” Shiloh joked.
“I’m not yellow, I’m Cuban. There’s a difference,” Katrina said defensively. The table erupted in laughter.
“Whatever, we know Jos loves light pixies.” Shiloh surmised and the group readily agreed.
Jocelyn threw down the tortilla chip she had been nibbling. “Not true. Color doesn’t matter and she’s not a pixie.”
“How tall is she?” Tonya asked.
Jocelyn pretended to find a myriad of shapes and sized attractive, and to her credit she had dated a variety of women. But she tended to primarily be attracted to short, slender women. It’s just what she liked. The others never wasted an opportunity to tease her about it since they were all curvy in different and unique ways.
“Um, about Kat’s height five-four.”
“Build? Is she voluptuous?” Shiloh prodded.
“I wouldn’t say voluptuous. She’s…got a few curves.”
“Pixie!” The three women said in unison.
Jocelyn laughed in spite of herself. “I don’t have to take this.”
“You still haven’t answered the question, J.” Leave it to Tonya to keep the group on focus.
Looking around pointedly, Jocelyn took great interest in her surroundings. “Yes I did. Where is the waiter?”
“No, you didn’t,” Tonya pushed. “And you’re deflecting. Answer the question. Who is she?”
Jocelyn avoided three pairs of expectant eyes. “She’s my um…she’s my coworker,” she blurted.
“Uh oh,” Shiloh said.
Again everyone agreed.
“So, give me the details,” Paige demanded impatiently across town. Ryan had rushed home to inform her friend and ex-coworker of her replacements arrival. They had speculated greatly as to who it would be over the passing weeks. Ryan was up twenty dollars for guessing it would be an outside hire if she herself didn’t get the position.
“Nothing much to tell really,” she lied. She removed her shoes and jewelry getting comfortable for what was sure to be a lengthy conversation.
Of course there was plenty that could be said of Jocelyn Laurence. She could start with her curvaceous shape, her expressive brown eyes, or maybe even that mischievous grin with a single dimple that promised of things unknown. Not to mention her creamy skin that was the exact shade of perfectly churned milk chocolate. That was all coupled with her apparent intelligence having acquired the much sought after position.
“There has to be something,” Paige demanded. “Do you think she’ll be good for the current projects?”
Ryan sighed happily as she sank into her mattress. “We really didn’t have time to hear any of her ideas. Mr. Betz was flaunting her around then she spent the day riling up the staff for meetings and such.” Ryan paused. “Oh, she’s having lunch with Mr. Betz tomorrow. That’s something.”
Ryan heard a loud gasp on the other end of the phone just as she expected.
“I kid you not. She didn’t mention why.” Ryan looked at the television then thought better of it. “I assume more, ‘welcome to the team,’ talk. I just don’t understand all this preferential treatment. He’s never shown any special interest in either one of us or any other mid-level exec. Why her?”
“I detect a note of jealousy.”
“Not jealousy,” she defended. “But in the time we’ve worked there have you ever had lunch with Mr. Betz? Heck have you ever even had a meeting alone with him? We were even hired by someone else.”
Paige agreed. “You think she’s really just that good?”
“She better be.”
“So what does she look like at least? Is she hotter than me? We know how hard it’d be for her to live up to all this.”
Ryan thought about that statement. Paige was a beautiful woman. Tall with long red hair, she was slender, statuesque almost. Ryan had to pick her words carefully now, however.
“Well, she’s about five-ten. She has shoulder length straight hair, layered with bangs, curvy.”
“Fat?” Paige sounded hopeful.
“No, not fat. How can I describe it?” Ryan thought a moment. “She has that coke bottle thing going. Almost Marilyn Monroe, but a bit more sturdy.” She felt happy with that assessment.
“Wow,” Paige breathed. “What else? Is she black, white? Give me more.”
“Black, I guess, but she may be mixed with something else too.”
“Not exactly, I don’t think. She doesn’t look like one of her parents is white. It’s another ethnicity. Makes her look a little exotic.”
Paige sighed heavily pulling Ryan from her musings of just what Jocelyn could be mixed with.
“What’s the matter?”
“She’s beautiful, smart, apparently skilled in the ad game. It’s just a matter of time before she takes my best friend too.”
I see petulance is going around. “Oh, no sweetie,” she cooed through the phone.
Due to her pregnancy Paige’s hormones had a tendency to be all over the map. Her emotions were a bit unpredictable so Ryan tried to be mindful of what was said. She had slipped onto Paige’s bad sad one day and had a bear of a time getting back onto her good one.
“No one’s going to take me away. You’re a beautiful woman who’s going to have a beautiful baby soon. No new girl could ever overshadow that.”
“You always know how to make me feel better.” Her smile was evident even through the line.
“I just appeal to your vanity,” Ryan joked. “Always works.”
Paige laughed heartily. “Okay, well I better go. The hubs will be home soon. Don’t let the new girl intimidate you. You’re destined for upper management.”
“Thank you,” she said genuinely. Paige also knew how to appeal to her vanity in turn.
“Call me if you need anything at all. Promise me.” Paige refused to hang up until she received a promise from Ryan. She was well aware of how closed off and isolated her friend could be. Ryan hated to need anyone.
“I promise. Good night, mommy to be.”
Paige giggled into the receiver. She relished just the thought of being a mother. “Night sweetie.”
Ryan felt lighter having spoken to Paige. They had both worked at Betz for over five years and were hired only months apart. This helped them lean on each as they navigated their way through the male dominated field of advertising. A friendship formed easily from there.
She liked to think she confided everything to Paige. But there were those things she never felt comfortable telling anyone, things that lie dormant in her until a sight or a smell resurrected them. At those times she opted to fold inward and introvert her emotions until they passed. That always worked best. That kept her safe.
Ryan was well aware of her nickname “Queen B” and had no problem living up to everyone’s expectations if it helped get the job done.
Jocelyn drug herself into her darkened loft apartment not even bothering with the lights. The open floor plan allowed for easy maneuvering. The first day at Betz Ads had drained even her energy reserves and she was looking forward to days that weren’t so hectic.
Undressing to her underwear she sat on the bed and waited for her laptop to boot. Despite her fatigue she also had a business of her own to run. Jocelyn and her friends had started a small interior decorating business a few years prior while in college. It was designed to create “conformable living at a comfortable price,” as they liked to say. While starting up was a bit touch and go with that motto the recent changes in the economy gave them a definite edge over the competition.
Interior design was a love Jocelyn hadn’t recognized until after graduating college and nearly completing her Masters Degree. At that point going back to school wasn’t an option so she decided to do it on her own, self taught know how. Once she realized she was capable, with the help of her friends, she decided to make it an official business.
It proved to be a reliable source of extra income necessary for an entry-level rep. Now she was making much more money as a manager, which meant more money for her business. That prospect alone put her in good spirits, despite her fatigue.
Her email was flooded with vendors offering deals, letters of appreciation from recent clients, additions from current clients and, surprisingly, requests from perspective clients. This new development never ceased to amaze her. Jocelyn could remember the days when she had to convince family to allow her to do a single room for free just to build her portfolio. Now she had to turn clients away due to time constraints.
The scolding shower felt glorious on Jocelyn’s sore muscles. She felt the day’s concerns melt off her skin and she imagined watching them circle down the drain. All but one olive skinned concerned left her. Jocelyn had a tendency to fixate on things and not stop until she obtained them or crashed and burned. In true Cancer fashion she also had a tendency to drop or abandon things she no longer felt worth perusing, women included. She didn’t foresee that happening with someone as beautiful as Ryan. But all these feelings could disappear in a heartbeat.
To make matters worse her friends had berated her at dinner. Everyone knew office romance was seldom advisable. Betz even had a strict clause in the employee handbook that said in no uncertain terms that office relationships were strictly prohibited. This clause required a signature and remained in each employee file.
Can’t image what happened to make that necessary.
Then Tonya in her infinite wisdom brought up the most important point asking, “Is she even gay?”
Jocelyn wasn’t sure, but she couldn’t know so soon. Her friends told her their usual in these situations.
“Be careful,” Shiloh said. She had never been one to deter anyone from what they wanted.
“Be patient, don’t rush,” Katrina added knowing fully that Jocelyn would barrel ahead full speed until she either lost interest, was successful or was rejected.
I’m going to feel this one out, she told herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth. No rush. What happens, happens.
“She may not even be that beautiful after I get a better look at her tomorrow,” she murmured as she began to dress. I hope.
Jocelyn was proven wrong first thing that following morning. She skipped brewing her own at home to make time to stop for coffee in the lobby of the building. Ryan clearly had the same idea.
Jocelyn got her first opportunity to openly observe her new coworker. She wore another beautifully tailored suit, shoes matching the bag making a tastefully fashionable ensemble. The low heels still added an inch or two and Jocelyn mused that she was even shorter than she originally thought. She found that fact impossibly cute.
“Mocha latte with skim milk, please,” she ordered oblivious to Jocelyn’s presence.
“Make that two. You have good taste in coffee.” She smiled down at the other woman.
Jocelyn didn’t neglect to remind herself to take it slow and play it cool. That was difficult now that she could see the hazel color of Ryan’s almond shaped eyes.
“I have good taste in everything,” Ryan shot back.
Jocelyn quirked an amused brow. “I’m sure you do,” she quipped before turning to the cashier. “I’ll get this.” She pulled out her money clip.
“I can pay for myself.” Ryan reached into her purse.
Jocelyn had already paid informing the cashier to keep the change. “Like I said, I got it.” “Wait, let me pay you back.”
Jocelyn back peddled into the awaiting elevator. “No time, going to be late for my nine-fifteen.” Never once did the dimple-baring smirk leave her face.
As expected Jocelyn’s day was hectic, but she felt confident that she had a good handle on what each team member did. She was also up to speed on what projects they were collectively responsible for. Finding each member of the six person staff unique and talented in their own way, she was looking forward to working with them.
The only note worthy occurrence had been Junior Associate, Jake Manti making his attraction to her inappropriately obvious. It was clear that he wasn’t accustomed to be being turned down. He had an air about him that exuded entitlement even though he was her subordinate. Beyond that, with his prominent chin, wavy black hair and square shoulders, he had the rugged good looks that she was sure made many a woman roll over and beg.
Jocelyn had grown accustomed to this brand of attention from years of being a woman in a male dominated corporate climate. Most men expected her to play the role of gracious female happy to be given an opportunity. That by no means described Jocelyn Laurens. It was, however, her first day and she had no intentions of ruffling any feathers…just yet. She’d save that for the second week. Instead she politely and professionally made it clear to him that not only would any relationship outside of strictly platonic be inappropriate, it was also against company policy. Her response brooked no argument yet was delivered with an air of companionable superiority.
Lunch with Mr. Betz had been a bit more interesting, though only marginally. He had a private lunch delivered to them in his personal conference room on the seventeenth floor. Jocelyn noticed he said things like, “We’re counting on you,” or, “We have faith in you,” several times throughout. Something seemed strange about the entire exchange, but she simply smiled graciously and made sure to note it mentally.
The day was coming to a close and she was grateful for it. Taking out her laptop she got totally engrossed in her work. She hated using company time to work on her personal projects, but she had no choice. So engrossed was she that she missed Ryan’s knock.
“I’m so sorry. I guess I got a little caught up here,” Jocelyn apologized.
Ryan spied the laptop. “What’s that?”
“Design I’m working on.”
Jocelyn spun the computer around for a better view. On the screen lie the structural lay out of a room and shapes that represented furniture. It helped Jocelyn see the proportions of the furniture in the space prior to purchase and assembly.
“This space is so oblong it’s killing me trying to get it perfect.”
The smaller woman pondered for a few moments. “I like it, but it seems to be missing something.”
“Yes,” Jocelyn said excitedly. “I was just thinking that it was missing something, but I can’t put my finger on what it is and I’d like to keep as much space for foot traffic as possible.”
“Is this a hobby or something?” Ryan sat back in her seat.
“No, it’s my other job.”
“My own business actually,” Jocelyn explained. “My friends and I started doing interior decorating projects for fun, but we found we had a knack for it. It turns out people were seeking affordable interior design so we started this business. I do most of the room configurations and light carpentry, my friends divide color scheme, furnishings, accessories and other stuff.”
“Wow, that’s something,” Ryan conceded with a nod.
“Thank you,” Jocelyn paused. “And so you know, this will in no way affect my work here I assure you.”
“I do not doubt that.” Ryan smiled.
Man she’s beautiful. Is it possible that she looks better today than she did yesterday? “I’m exhausted and hot.” Suddenly. “You mind if I remove my jacket?”
Ryan shifted uncomfortably under Jocelyn’s heavy gaze. Her face was unreadable but her eyes spoke volumes. It was a look she had seen in the eyes of many men. In no way was it lascivious. Simply put, she was being checked out.
Its almost like I can feel her eyes on my skin, she thought. But why would she be checking me out?
“You mind if I remove my jacket?”
“Not at all.”
Jocelyn shrugged out of her grey suit jacket letting it fall down her arms. Her chest protruded slightly as she reached behind herself drawing Ryan’s eye momentarily. The matching vest Jocelyn wore did nothing to confine her ample bosom. The material only pushed up and together that which Ryan was trying to avoid. To add insult to injury Jocelyn opted to undo the first couple buttons of her blouse.
“Much better,” she breathed. “So lets get started, shall we?”
“Yes…um, lets,” Ryan stammered.
“Well after speaking with the entire team I surmise we have about three projects in the works right now. Is that correct?”
She cleared her throat. “Basically, this is our slow time of year.”
“I figured. It was the same around this time of year at my previous firm. So what exactly would we do for these projects? No offense, but the team seems to be on top of everything.”
“None taken. We’re mostly checks and balances for smaller projects such as these. When larger ones come down you and I work on them primarily and the teams job is to just assist.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Jocelyn beamed. “I’m accustomed to it being me and me alone. This will be a nice switch.”
She has the prettiest smile. Ryan shook her head in rebuke of her thoughts.
“No, sorry. Just…tired,” she lied.
“I fully understand,” Jocelyn commiserated. “I’ve had nothing but meetings, lunch and more meetings all day.”
Ryan suddenly remembered what she wanted to ask. Lunch with Mr. Betz was a red haring. She didn’t expect Jocelyn to understand just how exceptional it was.
“How did lunch with Mr. Betz go?” She tried to keep the eagerness out of her voice. “If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
“No, its fine.” Jocelyn sighed heavily before she began. “It was okay, enjoyable even.”
“You don’t sound sure,” Ryan probed. Easy girl.
Jocelyn paused for a moment. “Can I be honest with you?”
“I certainly hope so.”
“I feel like he’s was trying to convey a message,” Jocelyn replied pensively as she swiveled back and forth in her chair. “Something deeper than just, ‘welcome to the fold,’ you know what I mean?”
Ryan frowned. “I’m not quite sure I do.”
“Well he kept saying things like, ‘we’re glad you’re here but…’ Then he’d go on and on about the importance of the job and the faith he and the board have in me. All things that in any other context would be perfectly normal, but then I remembered the fact that you told me no one else had this special meeting.” Jocelyn added air quotes with her fingers around meeting. “It all seems a bit askew.”
“I think I understand. You think there may be an underlying message to his exuberant attitude about you being here,” Ryan figured.
“Right.” Jocelyn nodded. “But, for all I know I’m making something out of nothing.”
“Maybe…Mr. Betz is turning a new leaf. The company has been experiencing some loss lately. A new hands-on approach could be helpful.”
“Perhaps. Anyway, it’s getting late.”
Jocelyn was eager for a subject change. The idea that Mr. Betz was expecting something that she wasn’t quite privy to didn’t sit well with her.
“Let’s talk business.”
The remainder of the meeting was used to discuss advertising. Jocelyn found that Ryan had a hand in some rather large ad campaigns, some national, but due to the fact that she was a member of someone else’s team she didn’t get full accreditation for them.
Ryan was now responsible for her own ads, but only to the discretion of higher executives. They pick which projects they want then the others trickle down the ranks. The managers could and should bring in clients, but the larger clients usually choose to be handled by upper management.
All in all it was Jocelyn and Ryan’s job to manage the projects they had to the best of their ability and to also maintain good client relations. Mentoring the junior staff was also a large part of their responsibility.
“Well that all sounds simple enough,” Jocelyn announced. “Thank you for taking the time with me to get a handle on things.” She rose extending her hand.
“No problem. I think—what’s that?” Ryan drew back before their hands connected.
Jocelyn found Ryan referencing an Equal Rights paperweight she had gotten at a gay pride festival some years back. It had become more of a tool to mark important files and paperwork than a statement about her sexual orientation.
“Oh, that’s my equal rights paraphernalia. Picked it up at Pride a couple years ago. I try to support my people,” Jocelyn explained with a smile. “Do you think the boss will freak?”
Jocelyn wasn’t so worried about how people would react to her sexuality, but she was worried about how it would affect her career. If asked she would never deny she was a lesbian, but she also knew when to pick her battles.
Ryan face read of staunch disapproval.
“I’m sorry. No, I don’t think he’ll freak. Mr. Betz is old school though. You might want to play it cool on the equal rights stuff outside of your office.”
Jocelyn stared at Ryan disbelievingly. She has to be kidding. “Stuff?”
“Yes, speak and the like.”
“So you think I should hide who I am?” Jocelyn crossed her arms over her chest.
“No, not at all,” Ryan stammered. “I just think it best to maybe not make it a huge deal. For the good of your job,” she added.
Jocelyn examined Ryan through guarded eyes. “Mm hm. I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.” Her smile was forced.
“Sure, no problem. I guess I should go, if we’re done here?”
“We’re definitely finished.”
“Alright. Well, see you tomorrow.”
“Bright and early,” Jocelyn feigned cheer as she waited for her office to be vacated.
The moment she was alone she picked up the phone. It was answered after a few rings.
“Kat, I’ve just fallen out of love.”
“Already? This has to be a new record, even for you,” Katrina’s voice sounded genuinely surprised. “What happened, she wear her hair the wrong way? Wait, she walks funny. No, she’s a man!” Katrina joked.
“That was once!” Jocelyn fumed. “And no to all of those things, smart ass.”
“Then what is it?”
“She’s a homophobe.”
Ryan made haste to her office after attempting to leave Jocelyn’s as evenly as possible. She wasn’t expecting such fear and anxiety to be aroused upon finding out her coworker was gay. Why should it matter to her if Jocelyn was homosexual? Curtis’ hair was practically on fire and that wasn’t an issue.
You’re attracted to her that’s why.
From the moment Ryan laid eyes on Jocelyn and that smug grin she felt those long buried feelings resurface. That wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was her gaydar had gone haywire when she saw Jocelyn. And it had nothing to do with how she looked. To all those who didn’t know better Jocelyn could be the picture of heterosexuality in the stereotypical sense. But Ryan could tell immediately and that terrified her.
She plopped down in her ergonomic desk chair and felt those old feelings of fear and anxiety creep into her chest. Before she knew it she was strangled by the feeling of being back in college.
Ryan watched her mother’s face make the dramatic transformation from barely restrained jubilation to confusion. Her disappointment mounted as she watched that confusion morph into downright repulsion.
That hadn’t been the reaction she expected when she told her mother she was in love. It hadn’t been the expression she expected to paint her mothers countenance when she was the happiest she had ever been.
The rest had been a blur. Her decisions were no longer her own. She questioned her actions and in turn her intentions became compromised. One compromise led to one alteration of action. Actions led to belief and belief to denial.
When the smoke cleared on Ryan Fisher’s life she’d lost the first romantic love she’d ever known to maintain the only familial love she had left.
The phone ringing jolted Ryan from her morbid thoughts of the past. So flustered was she that she snatched the phone up without first consulting the Caller ID. She would pick it up any way, but she generally like to be prepared.
“Fisher.” Her voice was a strangled whisper though it was her motive to sound far more chipper.
“Ryan? Are you alright?” a masculine voice sounded over the line.
She cleared her throat in an attempt to get her vocal patterns to some semblance of normalcy. “Reed?”
“You don’t know my voice by now sweetheart?” he quipped. “How romantic of you.”
Ryan rolled her eyes at his dry wit. Oh, how she wished she’d checked the Caller ID.
Reed Wallace had been Ryan’s boyfriend—should he even be described as such—for some time. She never really considered him her boyfriend but more like the man she had been dating.
He appeared at a time in her life when conformity was making way to loneliness. He was nice enough and non-threatening in his effeminate manner. Ryan had grown comfortable with him, even cared for him in a friend-with-benefits type manner. She couldn’t manage to produce deeper feelings for him than that, even after years of effort.
“I’m sorry,” she lied. “It’s been a crazy here.” I’ve been crazy here.
“I know the feeling, it’s been a mad house here as well. That’s why I called,” he announced cheerily. “I would be honored if you’d accompany me to dinner tonight. Maybe afterward we could go back to my place for a nightcap.”
She regarded the innuendo in his voice with reproach. “As lovely as that sounds, I think I’d rather just take a hot bath and head straight to bed.”
Ryan drenched her words with sincerity. She’d grown so adept at putting off his advances that she pondered if a career in acting had been overlooked.
Reeds response did little to hide his feelings. Ryan felt the usual pang that cropped up whenever turning down one of his many not so subtle advances. As much as she wanted to put him off she still scrambled to console him.
“How about tomorrow night?”
“Excellent,” he responded happily before closing the line.
She let the dial tone ring in her ear several moments before placing down the receiver.