“Josh, go away. We’re girl talking,” Katie yelled when Josh asked if it was safe to come to the kitchen.
“And I can’t join why?” Josh asked as he kissed her cheek and hugged her from behind. They’d been dating since before I knew her. She may talk a big hookup game, but he was the only one for her.
“Fine, but you’re out at the first bro comment,” Katie said as he reached for one of her cookies. “Hey, get your own!” She slapped his hand away playfully before he pulled up a chair to join us. “Ok, so just to fill you in. Our very own Sophia Penn has a hot date this Saturday.”
“A tentative hot date,” I qualified.
Josh held up his hand in a high-five before realizing it wasn’t girl protocol. I slapped it anyway, but Katie sent him a warning glance.
“Anyway, so I had some wine, he kissed me after or maybe I kissed him. He initiated. I may have grabbed him and you know...” I gestured toward the air as if that should fill in the gaps.
“No no. Don’t hold back any of the good parts,” Katie said, smiling behind her wine.
I sighed dramatically, watching as Josh pretended to lean in on his elbows like he was right there with us. “Well it was hot. I don't even know how to explain it. It was just..."
"Fireworks?” Josh interjected. I could tell that Katie wanted to say something, but she was mid-bite into a chocolate chip cookie, so she was left to slap Josh’s shoulder as I continued.
“Definitely fireworks. And it was so sweet and perfect, but then I went and ruined it. I may or may not have insinuated that I wanted to stay over and have...fun.”
“Yes, get it girl!” Katie shrieked. “Wait, but you didn’t, did you? You're here which means you're not there. Which means no fun. Why no fun!”
“Oh, that wasn't my call. He stopped. Said he wanted to wait."
This time, it was Josh who was caught unable to speak. I waited because I really did want a guy's opinion or whatever Josh qualified as. He was a little bro-y at times. I tried not to hold it against him.
“So he didn’t want to have sex with you? You sure he plays for the right team on this one, Soph? I mean I’ve got this awesome cousin I could set him up with...”
Katie slapped his arm so hard I thought I saw his childhood flash before his eyes, and he held up his hands in defeat.
“Shutting up now.”
“Strike one, mister. This is a two-strike game. Don’t ruin girl talk,” she said before turning her attention back to me.
“It was actually really sweet, and he showed me his parents’ wedding picture and their vows.”
Josh made a face, forcing me to pause. “Are you sure he’s not playing you? That’s pretty heavy for a first date.”
Katie looked at him murderously, but he held up his finger, indicating that there was more.
“Look, this may earn me that second strike, but I know guys who’ve done this before. They see a girl they want, they lay it on heavy, and then when they find some deal breaker early on, the girl is left wondering what the hell happened to her perfect happily-ever-after. I’m not saying this is the same, but be careful. How much does he really know about the real you?”
“Josh...” Katie started, but I set my hand on his shoulder.
“No, Katie, he’s right. He may be that guy who’s ready to settle down, but I still need to guard my heart a little until I figure out who he is. I mean most of what I know of him is from Google. Slow might be healthier."
“Ok, fine, but you know what’s also not healthy. Getting less than five hours of sleep. You have work tomorrow. We’ll finish this later.” Even Josh nodded, which meant that I probably looked scary tired.
“Fine, but I’m not happy about it. I have two more days to get through and then I’m a free woman.”
“Hallelujah!” Katie shouted before I closed my bedroom door, snuck in a quick shower, and then fell asleep reimagining that kiss.
“Come in, kiddo. I’m just organizing my desk so I have something to do,” Uncle Oscar said as I walked in. His office was one of those breathtaking, all-glass rooms with views of the city and the surrounding flora and fauna. And by that, I meant those ridiculously tall palm trees and the animal-print-wearing reality show hopefuls that were always strutting through the streets.
“You wanted to see me?” I asked as he gestured toward the chair in front of his desk.
“I know we've discussed this before, but I was hoping you might have had a change of heart."
"About staying. At least until the merger is settled. Ari mentioned the need for a personal assistant who already works at ARK, and I’m sure you can understand why. He wants someone he can trust and who won't be adjusting to culture shock during the move."
"Is that...is that what you've been up to?"
“I may not have been as subtle as I thought, but you have to admit my intent was good. He mentioned something about the two of you getting to know each other better outside of work." Uncle Oscar seemed a little surprised by this but he rarely worried about anything for longer than a few minutes. At least never in a way that showed. "I didn't know he was so committed to following through with my idea but it seems like you two have really hit it off. The move from New York can't be easy on the poor guy but you've become fast friends."
Friends. Definitely, Uncle Oscar. That's exactly what was going on.
I tried not to smile as he made a grumpy face.
"Need me to look over anything for the party tomorrow? Maybe a last minute cake flavor change to really keep me on my toes?"
"As if. As long as there’s cake, I’ll show up to just about anything. Don't tell the board or they'll be bringing in sheet cakes to lure me back into this prison of an office."
“You sure we aren’t related?”
“Don’t I wish, kiddo. You’re the daughter I always wanted,” he said with a slight frown.
I knew deep down it killed him that he never ended up with my mother. And hell, I was still trying to drop hints that the divorce had been finalized last year, but I imagined being someone’s second choice for two plus decades plays a toll on your heart, no matter how much you loved them.
“And you’re the dad I always wanted.”
“Mr. Belvida, your 10:30 has arrived,” Meghan’s voice rang out from the speaker by his desk.
“One moment, Meghan. Offer him some tea.” He paused for a moment before pushing all the extraneous things from his desk into one of the drawers.
“I’ll give you ten bucks if you ask Marjorie to organize it all by color,” I said with a smirk, but Uncle Oscar just shook his head.
“I knew the troublemaker in you was alive and well, but no, I’ll go through it all later. I believe Ari is stopping by around lunch. Perhaps you’d like to join us?”
“No, that’s ok. I’m sure I’ll be running errands for the party along with the other interns.”
"I'm pretty sure between the two of us, we might be able to throw around enough weight to get you out of it." He smiled. "One last shot at blatant nepotism while I've still got the chance?"
"Not a chance."
“I have a feeling he’ll want to stop by regardless.”
I nodded in agreement as I stepped back into the main office. The thought of seeing Ari made me smile as I headed back to where Aubrey should have been. Only, all her stuff was missing. Her pictures from Cabo with her honors sorority, all of those sweet postcards from her fiancé, who was a freelance travel photographer. They were all missing.
“Where’s Aubrey?” I asked Tory, who was in the middle of folding name cards.
“She’s no longer working here,” she replied softly, her voice not betraying anything. I knew what that meant. Marjorie was out for blood today. “I’m covering Aubrey’s tasks until they can find a replacement. Shouldn't be too long. Everyone would kill to work at a place like this according to the Devil.”
“I have to go see her, don’t I?”
Tory nodded before returning to her task. You could see that she was terrified of being fired again.
I walked toward Marjorie’s office, noticing how everyone seemed buried in their work, which was strange considering there was usually someone trying to sneak in a little social media check here or there.
“Marjorie,” I said along with a quick knock on the door. She had her phone held to her ear as she scribbled something down on a scrap piece of paper. Her navy pantsuit was intimidating as she paced before the glass window, her stride calculated and predatory.
“Mhhmhh...yes...blue and white...buttercream icing...no, absolutely no rosettes...this is for a corporate event not am 80 year old’s birthday party...yes, and keep the lines clean this time.” Marjorie hung up the phone without even giving a goodbye, which I thought was a bit rude, but it was her way of doing things.
“Is there anything that needs to be picked up for the party?” I asked as I stepped toward her desk, closing the door slightly so that everyone in the office wouldn’t know the bitch work I was about to do.
“Actually, yes. I need you to call the Gala and confirm our room. Mr. Belvida requested that the lunch be switched formal to business formal. Be sure to get those updates to everyone. Ensure that the seating arrangements for the office are appropriate,” she said as she typed a few quick notes onto her computer as I scribbled her instructions onto my pocket notebook. “I expect to be at the main table, of course. From there, do your best to minimize conflicts. You’re responsible for making this a harmonious afternoon for Mr. Belvida. It's the least you can do, all things considered.”
I looked over my list, making sure I had everything right. I had one day to do a full seating arrangement chart on top of getting everything in place with the venue, caterers, and vendors. We were an intern short and Tory looked seconds from a quarter-life crisis. What could possibly go wrong.
“Aubrey sent a mass email yesterday with everyone’s food selections. Fill out the forms for the caterers with the new seating chart by this evening and then send it over to me for approval. I understand that this is a lot considering Aubrey’s departure, but I trust you can handle the responsibility.”
Departure. That's a nice way of saying you fired her. I bit my cheek to keep focused, but all I wanted to do was scream at the monster who was going to come out victorious in all of this. My success would be her success. And her success would mean she'd live on to ruin a few more lives when the next batch of interns showed up.
“Yes, of course.”
With that, she waved me out, and I hopped to my work, trying to figure out how long it would take me to finish everything. It sounded deceptively simple, but there were office cliques, close to a hundred people attending, and I didn’t know a third of them, which meant that Tory was my new best friend until I could get everything within a reasonable arrangement.
“Good morning and thank you for calling The Gala. This is Amber speaking. How may I help you?” the bright and bubby voice said through my desk phone the moment I sat down.
“Hi Amber, my name is Sophia Penn. I’m calling to confirm the use of your Fiora conference room tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for ARK incorporated.”
I pulled up my seating chart template for the hundred guests, trying to maneuver name cards around that I knew as I sat on hold for the confirmation.
“Ms. Penn?” she called, drawing me away from my multitasking. “Unfortunately, the room is under renovation due to water damage. We’ve been calling all week. No one has returned our calls."
I sucked in a deep breath. Of course.
"May I ask who were you calling?"
"Farah Moore. It was the only number attached to the reservation. Does she still work at your office?"
I looked over at Farah's empty cubicle.
"No, she's not. Thank you for your help. We will figure something out about the venues." I hung up the phone slowly, trying to figure out what I should do. Unfortunately, my body wanted to panic. So I was going to need to do a little of both if I wanted to keep it all together.
“Tory,” I whispered as I approached her cubicle. “Ok, so there’s a major problem for the party tomorrow.”
Her eyes bugged out for a moment, and I tried not to mess up any of the details as I relayed what happened.
“Oh my god. Marjorie’s going to go on a rampage.”
“I know, but that’s the thing. She knows. That’s why she fired Farah and I'm guessing Aubrey. This is actually grounds for dismissal, which sucks but this is a total Marjorie move."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say she broke the pipes herself," Tory said, giving me a conspiratorial look.
"I wouldn't put it past her. But I need to think of a place and fast.”
“It’s for a Friday afternoon. No one’s going to take on such a big event this late in the game,” Tory whispered as she kept folding the cards, as if there would still be an event. "See this. This is me being hopeful. We're going to get it done. Just start calling places. I'll finished the name cards and get the seating chart squared away." She stopped mid-fold. "You've got this, girl."
I grabbed my purse and headed toward the elevator, throwing my blazer on over the mint green dress that felt cute this morning but was definitely not made for stress sweat.
I walked out onto the street, heading toward small dog park by the building. It was built by some ultra-rich CEO with a toy poodle, so the grounds were actually well maintained. I sat under a shaded bench as I began to dial every number I knew, hoping that I could get through somewhere.
By noon, I was almost out of options and freaking out, but at least I was surrounded by happy puppies. That made it a little better. Every once and a while I’d feel a wet nose hit my leg, which was a nice distraction from the trash fire that was my choice of career.
I was at the last number on my list. It was one of the smaller convention centers located right down the street, but it would be a long shot.
“Thank you for calling the Lafayette. This is Carla. How may I assist you?”
“Hi Carla, I’m calling on behalf of ARK incorporated. I’m looking for a last-minute location for a corporate party. Do you have anything available for tomorrow?”
“No, I’m sorry. We’ve been booked up for months.”
“I understand,” I said, trying not to sound utterly destroyed, but I was. I hung up the phone and sat there for a moment, trying to figure out how to tell Marjorie. If I was lucky, she would probably whip out my file and burn it before my eyes as a parting gift but really, that was on the tamer side of what I imagined would happen as I walked the death march back to my office.
I gave one of those awkward half smiles to the George, the security guard, before pressing the up button and trying not to slump over. After three months of hard work, I was still going to fail. I was one day away from making it through a full three months with the she-devil that could open any door in the industry, and I was falling short by one freaking day.
I tried to hide my grimace as I turned to see Ari walking past security and toward me. God, his timing was impeccable. He leaned in to give me a kiss on the cheek before standing back to his full height. For some reason, he looked absolutely radiant, but maybe that’s what actually being able to sleep in looked like.
“I was coming to see you and Oscar. How’s your day been?”
I pursed my lips as I thought about how to explain what was happening before settling on a lie. Sometimes it was just easier.
“Long. I’m exhausted, and it’s not even close to over.”
The elevator arrived and we filed in, the others deciding to give us some privacy and waiting for the next one to open up.
“Is everything ok?”
“Just trying to get the party planned and something fell through. I’m on my way to tell Marjorie.”
“Is it something she can fire you for?” he asked, his green eyes darkening.
“She fired Aubrey for it earlier. Basically, the venue for tomorrow’s going away party has water damage and of course no one had anything available because of how soon it is and there’s nothing I can do now because I'm not Jesus. I can't multiply fish and I definitely can't make venues appear out of thin air,” I said as the floor dinged.
“We could use my restaurant,” Ari said, making me pause in my walk to the firing squad. “It’s a few miles from here, but it’s big enough to accommodate everyone. It's no trouble."
I closed my eyes, trying to imagine everyone cramming into some small corner restaurant before my headache returned twofold.
“That’s ok. Marjorie would never go for it.” I started off toward her office, but Ari followed me instead of heading to the main office, only a half step behind.
“I’ll offer it myself. She’s been there before,” he said as he leaned over to knock on her door. Instantly, Marjorie hung up on whoever she was talking to and waved him over like she'd just won Miss America.
“Mr. Bellisario. To what do I owe...the pleasure?” Marjorie gave me a look as I followed him in that said she was definitely not pleased to see me.
“Your intern Sophie and I were throwing around ideas for tomorrows event and I'd love to have it at Girasole. I know you've had your venue booked, but I think it would be better to have it in a more casual setting." Ari looked back at me before smiling. "
"I understand what you're saying but surely it's too late to move everything."
"I wouldn't ask if it were anyone else," Ari said, his voice lowering in his I-get-what-I-want way.
Marjorie’s face contorted as though that was the last thing she expected him to say before placing a fake smile across her face.
“We will get it done. Why don’t you stay here and confirm the details while Sophia finishes her work,” Marjorie said as she motioned for him to sit.
“Actually, I’ve made lunch plans with Oscar, but perhaps I’ll stop in another time. There is much I'd like to discuss with you still.”
“I look forward to it,” she said with a sickly-sweet smile.
God, she made me want to barf sometimes.
"I owe you," I whispered the second we were out of earshot of her office. It was strange how the rest of the world seemed to melt away when we stood together.
"Lunch. Today. Right now."
"You're getting lunch with my uncle!" I reminded him. "Which you're late for, by the way."
"Fine. Drinks after work at Girasole. One appetizer. No exceptions,” he said, his voice pretend stern.
“Deal. Meet me outside at 5. I’ll be there no matter what,” I said, trying not to think about how much work I’d have to do to make that happen.
“Did you just make a date with Ari Bellisario?” Tory whispered as soon as I sat in my cubicle. She was now sitting in Aubrey’s chair, preparing a corporate email about the goodbye party.
“We’re just going over to the new venue for tomorrow. Nothing more than that,” I lied, not sure why I didn’t want to tell her the truth. It's not like it would matter after tomorrow anyway.
“Mmhmm, sounded like it to me,” she said with a wink before adding in the new location and sending off the email. “Now let’s finalize this seating chart so you can actually be on time for this non-date.”
“You’re a life saver,” I said as we blew up the table arrangements to get a good idea of where everyone should be placed.