“Lupe! Wake the hell up!”
“Go away, Marcus!” I groaned, throwing a pillow at him.
“Lupe it’s 9:30 in the morning! You’re an hour and a half late for work!”
I jolted awake and flung back my covers, rushing into the bathroom. “You’re kidding! Oh my God, I’m so dead! Does Papa know?”
“He’s the one who sent me here,” Marcus called from my bedroom. “He wants to see you as soon as you arrive.”
I brushed my teeth hurriedly and pulled my hair up into a sleek bun. I slipped on the first dress in my closet and grabbed a pair of heels on my way out. Marcus helped me into my blazer, handed me my bag and a cup of coffee and we were on our way.
“What the hell happened this morning, Lupe?” Marcus inquired as we rode the elevator up to my father’s office.
“I have no clue! I went to bed on time; I guess I forgot to set my alarm. Thank you for helping me by the way. You’re a saint.”
“Anything for my Lupe,” he said, giving me a quick hug as the doors to the elevator slid open and we walked out. “Fair warning though, your father is extremely angry. He yelled at me for like ten minutes before Serena came--”
I stopped dead in my tracks. ”Serena is here? What the fuck is she doing here?” I hissed.
Marcus shrugged and knocked on the door to my father’s office.
I took a deep breath and pushed the open the door.
“Good morning Mr. Marino, Mrs. Marino,” I greeted politely, plastering on a fake smile.
Serena rushed forward and enveloped me in a very tight and unwanted hug. I kept my arms at my side as she gushed about how much she missed me.
“Mija you have not been taking my calls! I have been so worried about you!”
“I saw you on Sunday, Mrs. Marino. It really hasn’t been that long.”
She finally released me, much to my relief. “Why are you calling me Mrs. Marino, Lupita?” She asked confusion etched into her perfect face.
“Why don’t you ask Mr. Marino?” I said pointedly.
“Cut the bullshit already Penelope,” my father said angrily. “You’re not a child.”
Serena looked positively shocked by his words. I would have laughed at her expression had I not been busy glaring at my father.
“Francesco!” Serena scolded, pulling me into her arms again. “Do not speak to Lupita like that!”
I rolled my eyes but was secretly glad to have her on my side.
“Please don’t undermine me in my place of work Serena,” he said tightly.
She glared at him. “Rethink your tone, Francesco.”
“Uhhh...so can I go?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” my father said, redirecting his attention to me. “Have a seat.”
I sat down in the chair opposite my father’s desk and Serena sat next to me.
“There’s really no need for you to sit in on this meeting, Serena--” my father started.
“Nonsense. The last time you spoke to Lupita alone, things didn’t go so well did they?”
I could feel the tension radiating from my father but he continued on as if Serena wasn’t there. “This is the second time this week that you have failed to perform your duties at an acceptable level. Perhaps I was too hasty in naming you CFO after you completed your master’s degree. Many people said that your appointment was only because you are my daughter but I argued against that, knowing your capabilities.”
He stood and paced the length of his office before turning around to address me again. “Maybe I was wrong. You are being relieved of your duties as CFO effective immediately.”
Both Serena and I gasped in shock. “Are you firing me?”
Serena let loose a stream of swear words in Spanish, all directed toward my jackass of a father.
“If you would both be quiet and let me finish, you might understand better,” he said calmly as if he had expected this reaction from us.
We both quieted down and Serena placed her hand over mine in a strangely comforting gesture.
“I think you still have some lessons to learn, Penelope, but no, I am not firing you. I am putting you on probation. You will be taking on a more hands-on role in the Jacobson Design project.”
“What does that mean?” I asked angrily.
“It means that you will be responsible for approving every decision that arises in the project. After getting permission from me of course.”
“How is that different from my role with acquisitions and mergers?”
“You will be on site with Mr. Jacobson every day until the project is completed. I will review your performance then and make a more permanent decision.”
“Francesco, don’t you think you’re being a little harsh?” Serena asked.
“Don’t even bother Serena,” I said, staring at my father with what I hoped was an indifferent expression. “I appreciate you trying to stick up for me but there’s no use. I’m already aware of how little my dear father thinks of me.”
I stood up and endured another hug from Serena. “You call me if he keeps giving you a hard time,” she whispered in my ear before releasing me.
“Send me an email with the details,” I said to my father. “I have lunch with Mr. Jacobson in an hour.”
“I’m surprised you agreed to have lunch here,” Brett said as he pulled out my chair for me.
“And why is that?” I replied, sitting down.
“Your father told me you dislike the attention you get here.”
I rolled my eyes. “It can be rather annoying having to respond to, ‘Oh my gosh you’re Penelope Marino aren’t you?!’ every thirty seconds. The staff here is friendly but it can be overwhelming.”
Brett snorted. “There’s a life-size portrait of you and your father in the lobby; Are you really surprised that you get recognized here?”
“Yeah that. That’s the first thing that needs to go.”
Brett rubbed the back of his neck and made a face. “Yeah, about that.”
He looked at me with a sheepish expression. “Your father emailed me a little while ago and told me that you’ll be on site every day? Do you do this with all of your new ventures?”
I felt my cheeks burning with embarrassment. “Not always. My father is trying a different approach to this project.” I set my napkin on my lap and stared at him. “Why? Is working closely with me going to be a problem?”
“Shields down Lupita,” he said with a laugh. “I was just curious. I think working with you will be just fine.”
“Great!” I said with a smile. “Now, let’s get to work. I’d like to see the timeline you have for the project and--”
“Slow down there,” he interjected, grinning at me. “We haven’t even ordered food yet. And besides, don’t you think we should get to know each other a little?”
“This isn’t a date, Brett.”
“I know. You’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t want to date me. However, we are going to be working together for a while and it’d be a lot easier if we could be friends.”
“I suppose that’s true,” I conceded. “What do you want to know?”
“Uhhh, let’s start easy. What do you like to do for fun?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like what do you do in your free time?” Brett smiled up at the waiter as he set a basket of bread on the table.
“I don’t have free time,” I said, casually taking a sip of my water.
“You don’t have free time?” he asked in disbelief.
“Not really,” I replied with a shrug. “I work every day except Sunday and Sundays are spent at church with my father and his wife followed by a painfully tense dinner at their estate. I wouldn’t exactly call that ‘fun’.”
“Wow,” Brett said after a long moment of silence. “And I thought my life was boring.”
I pondered his statement for a while before responding. “I guess I’ve never really thought of my life as boring. Just uneventful. My cousin Alicia’s the one who has all the fun.”
“She’s a singer right?”
I nodded. “Super talented. Also, very likable. She shines in social settings; I shine in boardrooms.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
The waiter returned and took our orders in between gushing at how happy he was to be serving me. Brett told me about how his company usually tackles projects and we figured out a way to involve me in the process without compromising efficiency. Overall it was a pretty successful meeting.
After lunch, Brett walked me out of the hotel where my driver was waiting to take me back to the office.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow, Lupita?”
“Bright and early,” I replied with a smile.
“Perfect. And might I suggest you dress down a bit?”
I glanced down at my dress and heels. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing now?”
“If you’re going to be ‘hands-on’ you’ll need to dress the part,” he chuckled. “We start construction and demolition tomorrow. Work boots and a hard hat would be more appropriate.”
“Yeah, because I have those in my wardrobe,” I replied sarcastically.
Brett laughed so heartily I couldn’t help but smile again.
“You find some work boots and I’ll get the rest of the gear you’ll need.” He glanced at his watch. “Oh shoot. I’ve got to pick up Malachi in thirty minutes. I’ll see you tomorrow!” He jogged to the curb, hailed a taxi and was gone.
“Well isn’t this going to be fun,” I said dryly as I watched the taxi disappear down the street.