New York felt different with Adrien; going through the airport was easier, so was navigating crowds and carrying luggage. But the whole city felt like background noise compared to the two of us. He had rented an Escalade for us to pick up at JFK, despite my protests that it was completely unnecessary, though I had to admit it was nice not to hail a cab. At some point on our layover mom had called to berate me for not calling her back yet, I felt thoroughly chastised and guilty to Adrien’s delight. But she had news; April set a date for her wedding, a little under two months from now and I was expected to travel to Jersey this weekend for the wedding shower. This meant they were going to meet Adrien. The thought nauseated me.
“Will Mya be waiting for us?” Adrien asked, his knuckles white as he held the steering wheel in a death grip.
“No, she’s in LA for another week while she apartment hunts with her dad.” I turned and smiled at him as I rested my head back. “We’ll have the whole apartment to ourselves for a while.”
He smiled faintly before he grimaced and tapped the brakes a bit too hard. “This is awful, why do you want to live here?”
I shrugged. “I walk so I don’t have to deal with traffic, but also it’s not like I’ll be here for that long if the contact Abigail hooked me up with comes through.”
“Will you be working in London, or is it a satellite position?”
“Not sure yet, I have the phone interview on Friday with them - I sort of hope its satellite but living in London would be cool,” I said happily. I’ve never been to London before.
“You won’t stay in Paris but you’re willing to live in London,” Adrien muttered.
“Oh, don’t be so bitter - it’s different when you don’t speak the language, you know that.” I rolled my eyes at his childishness.
“If you do have to move there maybe we should look at apartments together…”
Oh. My heartbeat faster and I reached over to take his hand in mine, we threaded our fingers together and he squeezed lightly. I had never lived with another boyfriend beyond him, and that was at his apartment, it was never really ours. But the idea of finding a place and decorating it together was so domestic and adult to me, it was something I suddenly wanted more than anything else. I was pulled out of my reverie as I felt my phone vibrating, I pulled it out and my blood ran cold - Camille. Time to face the music.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hi Holly, it’s Camille. Are you back in New York?” she asked robotically.
The sound of her voice made my stomach twist. “Yes, I just got back--”
“When can you get to the office?” she demanded.
I craned my neck to see where we were. “Probably thirty minutes.”
“Alright, we’ll see you soon.” She hung up.
I stared at my phone in a mix of fear and relief; it was going to be over one way or the other, but it was happening sooner than I anticipated. I sighed and ran my hand through my hair.
Adrien glanced at me as I worked on changing the GPS. “Sorry, we need to take a detour so I can get my ass handed to me.”
“That bad?” he asked with obvious sympathy.
“Unfortunately,” I grumbled.
I checked my purse to make sure I had everything they might ask for; the company card, my ID badge, and my contract. Not that the contract mattered now, they had a clause for voiding it and they were definitely going to use it. It felt like we crawled to the NEXT office, as we came around the corner the modern steel and glass building loomed above us eerily. The glowing blue letters and the packed parking lot was familiar but uncomfortable, I already felt like I didn’t belong. Maybe I never did. Adrien gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before I entered the lobby alone, the gleaming marble floor and mirrored walls creeped me out; showing a hundred versions of me as I approached the front desk. I was dressed decently enough; a black t-shirt dress styled to look like a sports jersey that hit my mid-thigh, black knee-high boots, and my hair in tousled beach waves. The silver bangles on my wrists clashed horribly with my heart necklace tucked under my neckline, but no one else would know it was there. My heels echoed around the space as I approached the woman with a Barney purple razor cut behind the desk. I didn’t know her name, we barely spoke since I found her to be incredibly rude.
Her head snapped up and she narrowed her gray eyes at me. “Name?” she snapped.
“Holly Mitchell for--”
“Rothstein, I got it. Take a seat.” She went back to tapping away at her keyboard.
I rolled my eyes and went to stand near the frosted double doors. I tried not to pick at my fresh manicure as my anxiety ate away at me, I had gotten it done in the lounge while we waited for our flight and the sparkling pink polish was too cute to ruin over this shitty job.
“Mitchell,” Ian called.
I glanced up and tried to hide my shock as I walked towards him, I hated that he was clearly going to be involved in this process. He looked more professional than he had when we met, wearing a full navy-blue suit with a white dress shirt, his mousy brown hair quaffed and styled perfectly. He didn’t let on that our last interaction was a nasty fight. I followed him down the empty, and weirdly quiet, hall to a conference room; the space had one long black desk with at least two dozen chairs, a massive TV on one wall, and floor to ceiling windows facing the door. Camille sat at the head of the table, her signature red hair pulled into a tight knot, her makeup done in all neutral colors, and wearing a blazer over a plain white t-shirt. In front of her was a stack of documents that I regarded with growing fear.
Time in the conference room was removed from reality; everything seemed to move horrendously slow but when I stole a glance at my phone, I realized I had been sitting there for close to an hour already. I’m sorry Adrien. It made me feel worse that he was sitting around waiting for me. Camille read page after page of my contract and a whole section about voiding it; when she mentioned why I was being let go I saw red.
“You owe the company fifteen thousand dollars,” Camille stated bluntly.
The blood drained my face and my mouth was drier than the Sahara. “Excuse me?”
“Your company card, it’s obvious you abused the privilege and it’s not something we can let slide.”
I almost gave myself whiplash with how fast I craned my neck to glare at Ian. “What the fuck is this?” I hissed.
“You can’t blame me,” he snapped.
I turned back to Camille as I felt my hands start to shake. “Where did I spend fifteen thousand dollars? When did I spend it?” I demanded.
“An upgraded hotel stay in something called the ‘eugenie suite’. Along with room service charges, taxis, alcohol. The room alone was over ten thousand.” Camille’s amber eyes felt like they were going to set me on fire.
“I didn’t upgrade us!” I screamed in a horribly shrill voice. “Ian did, he upgraded our tickets to first-class, he booked the hotel stay at the Haussmann, and the only dinners I had were paid for by other people.”
“That’s not what the documentation I have here says--”
“I don’t care what it says! I didn’t do anything with that card other than going to a tapas bar with--” I stopped and froze, my mouth hung open. Ian had paid for tapas, with my card. To show me what I could and could not use it for, and I had him hang on to it until we left. I fumbled for my purse frantically, pulling out my wallet and ripping the card out of its slot. Camille said something, I ignored her as I flipped through my paperwork desperately until I found it; the documentation on my card, it listed the company name and the number, along with the limit. I scanned the numbers multiple times as my heart rate started to go down again. He had swapped cards; my documentation had a different credit number. I shoved the paper in her face with a smug look. “Here, I have proof.”
Camille frowned and read over the paper as I slid the card over to her. “This can’t be right…”
Ian rolled his eyes and his voice dripped disdain, “Camille, for God’s sake, you can’t be taking her seriously - she sold information--”
“I didn’t sell anything,” I snarled. I glowered at him as I dug my nails into my knee. “I have morals and you didn’t respect that.”
“Ian, let me say your card,” Camille said in a bored voice.
Ian went pale and I noticed the muscle in his jaw twitch as he clenched hard. “Is this really necessary?”
She gave him a tired look and he caved. Her eyes scanned the numbers and I watched her lips part and her brow furrow in confusion. “We’re going to need further investigation--”
“You have my card; you have proof that I wasn’t the one that paid for all of that.” I took a steadying breath. “I expect my final pay on Friday.” I stood up and ignored Ian’s cry of anger as he started to shout.
I was halfway down the hall when Camille called my name and rushed to catch up with me. “Holly, just a moment!” Her heels sounded like gunshots with how harshly they rang around the empty space. “If this wasn’t your fault then we don’t have to let you go.”
I paused and turned to her, I crossed my arms and regarded her with distrust. “I thought Ian told you I sold information…”
She let out a beleaguered sigh. “It doesn’t matter, the article was dropped anyway after Vivienne Westwood and Blanche Bouchard held some sort of press luncheon.”
I glanced over her head to see Ian standing down the hall, watching us. I thought about what Abigail said; about the other interns, assistants, whatever they were. “Why did the other girls quit?” I asked with slow deliberateness.
“What other girls?”
“Ian’s other assistants, the ones that went to Fashion Week with him,” I replied. I knew they had either quit or were fired, but I wanted to hear her say it.
She shrugged exasperatedly. “They left; I don’t know what you want from me - I don’t work in HR.”
“Did you ever hear weird things about his behaviour with them?”
Camille drew in a sharp breath and her mouth hung open. “Are you accusing him of something Ms. Mitchell? Because that is a very serious thing--”
“Yes,” I said with a glare. “I am. I’m telling you that Ian’s behaviour is inappropriate, and I believe he accosted more than one young woman.” I checked the time; I had been here for an hour and a half. “I have to go; you have my contact information if you need a testimony. Good luck.”
I ignored her shouting as I exited the building. I didn’t know what to feel; elated that I was off the hook, devastated at how easily I could have had my professional life destroyed, indifferent to the behaviour of the two of them. I took a deep breath of the nasty, smog-filled air and stared up at the sky for a long minute. The blue-gray color was familiar and comforting, but the gentle smile Adrien gave as he opened the door was better.
“Everything alright?” he asked.
I laughed mirthlessly. “I have no idea.”
I chewed my lip and turned my back on the building. Adrien’s emerald eyes regarded me with a mix of sympathy and warm love. I pushed forward and caught his lips against my own, everything would be okay. I could almost believe myself.
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