“Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.” - Rumi
“I think that’s all for today then.” I smiled as Jenny, one of our new hires, finished her presentation. “Have the final report on my desk by 5 PM on Monday – I’m flying out to Orlando on Tuesday morning.”
Everyone nodded in agreement and began packing up their things. We had just finished a meeting about a hotel client in Orlando. The rest of the team had been there the past week observing their internal control system, and I would be flying out next week with the full report to pitch management new recommendations to better improve their operations.
I mentally groaned, knowing I would waste another day just traveling. Don’t get me wrong, it used to be a lot of fun at first – traveling to different cities and countries. But when you’ve been doing it for the past six years, and you’ve been to just about every place in the country, it gets exhausting and boring quickly.
However, I wasn’t going to dwell on that right now. That was a problem for next week.
Kate and I were cleaning up the conference room when Sam poked her head in. “Hey, some of us are going out for drinks after work. You wanna come?”
“Hell yes!” Kate exclaimed. Chuckling, I nodded. “Count me in as well.”
“Cool!” Sam chirped. “It’s that Margarita Bar in Lincoln park – La Vaca.”
“I love that place!” Kate replied, stacking all the folders. “Their tacos are amazing”
“I’ll see you both there.” Sam shook her head as she left, no doubt to continue spreading the word.
Drinks after work sounded really good right about now. And the best part was, today is Friday and I didn’t have to wake up early tomorrow.
“Oh Kenzie, I almost forgot.” Kate turned to me as she and I walked out of the conference room. “Are you still up to date on the current tax laws?”
At the mention of tax laws, my face scrunched up in disgust. Those damn laws change every year, and they are a literal pain in my ass. This is why I chose a career in consulting over tax. I was afraid I would bore myself to death if I was filing people’s taxes – year after year. “Kind of. Why?”
“My parents are thinking of retiring next year and they were wondering how their retirement pension would be taxed if they have permanent residence in another country,” Kate said as her lips curled upwards in a smile. “Tax was never my strong suit in college.”
Now that is a good question. Racking my brain, I finally said, “Well from what I remember, they would still file taxes in the U.S and they’ll owe taxes on the worldwide income – which would include any traditional IRAs, 401(k)’s, other taxable pensions, and any other taxable income from investments. As long as their sole income comes from the United States, they won’t have to pay any taxes on it abroad. I can look into it more and find out for sure.”
“Yes please.” She gave me a sheepish grin. “You’re the best!”
Glancing down at her watch, Kate cursed under her breath. “Crap – I have to send a quick email before the end of the day. Just let me know when you’re ready to head out, and we can Uber there together.”
After I agreed, Kate scurried back to her office while I made my way up the stairs and towards my own office on the third floor. I was almost within the safe confines of my office when a deep voice stopped me dead in my tracks. “Ms. Anderson.”
Plastering a smile on my face, I turned on my heel to face Ethan. I could not for the life of me get myself to call him Mr. Thomas. First of all, I had met his father – the other Mr. Thomas – on a handful of occasions, and second of all, given the nature of our first meeting, I figured we’re way past formalities. I would also like to point out that while he may technically be my boss because he is an executive – he does not outrank me by much.
“I’ve been told you’ll be in Orlando next week.” His eyes roamed my figure, making me shift uncomfortably under his gaze. Friday’s are casual days so I wasn’t wearing my typical business casual clothing and heels. Instead, I threw on the first pair of clean jeans and white blouse I saw this morning. “Were you planning on stopping by the office there?”
It’s been a little over a month since Ethan transferred here, and let’s just say it’s been an adjustment. He was hell-bent on getting to know me, and I was hell-bent on staying as far away from him as possible – even though all I wanted was to tear his clothes off.
Staying away from him proved to be quite difficult when he would come into my office almost every day I was there and ask to take me to lunch. I managed to dodge him all but a handful of times when I couldn’t think of an excuse not to go with him.
I knew the nature of our situation was wrong, but I couldn’t bring myself to say no to him. On top of the occasional lunches, there were also the lingering touches here and there and the one-on-one meetings. Let’s just say that during those one-on-one meetings, my mind was on anything but the papers he was showing me or the clients he was talking about.
“No, I wasn’t planning on stopping by.” I kept my voice leveled. “Why?”
“I’m supposed to give a welcome speech to some of the new hires, but since you’ll be there anyway, I was thinking you might do it instead.” He continued to hold my gaze.
I cocked a brow. “What am I supposed to say in this little welcome speech?” I know that a lot of the higher-ups in the firm are part of the recruiting and onboarding process, but I was not one of those people. I simply did not have the time for it. In between my actual managing director role, I was also in charge of overseeing the entire Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Committee for the firm.
“I’ll send you the speech. All you have to do is just be there.” He shrugged with an easy smile. “Unless you’re too busy, in which case I can just fly out there myself.”
“No!” My reply came out faster and more eager than I anticipated. “Um... what I mean is, that won’t be necessary. I’ll do it. Just um... send me the speech and the details.”
“Thank you, McKenzie.” He flashed me a charming smile. “But if I didn’t know any better, I would think you didn’t want to me come along on this trip.”
Well no shit sherlock. I already don’t trust myself around you, let alone in a city where nobody knows who I am and there’s nothing to hold me from acting out on all my impure thoughts.
“Not at all.” I rushed out, clutching my laptop tighter against my chest. “Just being considerate of your time, that’s all.”
“Whatever you say, McKenzie.” He chuckled as he walked past me, making sure to squeeze my shoulder in the process.
One-touch was all it took to make me gasp and for my stomach to sink – pathetic, I know.
When our Uber dropped us off in front of the restaurant where we were gathering tonight, Kate and I thanked him before making our way inside. There was a bright neon sign that flashed Taco Joint just above the entrance, and the outside was painted a combination of bright pink, yellow, and teal – being sure to attract the attention of anybody passing by. While the place didn’t look like much on the outside, the inside was bustling with customers and the loud and upbeat music made the walls shake. Kate and I spotted Sam and a few others from work, all gathered in the back of the restaurant occupying a large table.
“You made it!” Sam shouted over the music.
“You didn’t think we’d miss out on good food and good drinks, did you?” I laughed, settling into a seat next to Kate. As we all got to chatting, a waitress who couldn’t have been older than twenty-one came up to take our order. Since Kate had been here before, she took it upon herself to order us all a round of Mango Chile Tequila Shots and two pitchers of margaritas.
Our Friday night happy hour had turned into a full-blown party once a DJ came and set up at the front of the restaurant. I was also beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol. My face was flushed, I had to tie my hair up in a messy bun because I was feeling hot and I was seriously considering going home with the guy I was currently talking to. While he was no Ethan, he was pretty cute – and not to mention a total flirt.
I was on my second mojito and I was trying hard to concentrate on the words coming out of this guy’s mouth when I spotted an all too familiar figure walk through the door.
You have got to be fucking kidding me, I internally groaned.
I tried to ignore his newfound presence and focus on the cute guy in front of me, but that proved nearly impossible. Even with my back turned to him, I could feel his burning gaze from across the room. I eventually got tired of the guy in front of me talking about himself and went back to where Kate and Sam were sitting. The waitress had also just brought out a platter of steak tacos that looked to die for.
“Yum,” I said as I reached across the table to grab one.
“Who wants another round?” Tom from accounting shouted. Everyone at the table, including me, nodded in agreement.
As the drinks and food kept coming, I felt myself becoming more and more relaxed. As the night went on, some of the dining tables had also been pushed up against the wall to make room for an impromptu dance floor. After a couple of songs on the dance floor with Kate, I found myself needing some fresh air. Pushing the revolving door to the patio open, I stepped out into the night and allowed the cool air to prickle my skin.
Although the patio was currently not in use, it was still set up with numerous tables and fairy lights hanging from the poles. As I looked around, I saw someone was sitting at one of the tables smoking a cigarette and scrolling through their phone. Squinting at the figure, I saw that it was Ethan.
If I had been sober, I probably would have gone back inside and pretended like I didn’t see him out here - but of course, that wasn’t the case tonight.
Walking up to him, I said, “You know those things kill you, right?”
Ethan looked up from his phone, a bored expression on his face, however, once he saw it was me his lips twitched upward in a smile. “McKenzie.”
“Ethan.” I mimicked.
Like I said, I blame the alcohol.
“What are you doing out here?” I watched him lift the cigarette he was currently holding between his fingers to his lips. He took a long drag and exhaled expertly.
I wrinkled my nose in disgust when some of the smoke made its way around me. Taking a step back, I waved my hand in front of my face to make the smell and smoke disappear. “How can you smoke those things?”
“It helps with the stress.” He took another expert drag before letting the cigarette hang limply in his hand.
“So does yoga.”
“Is that what you do to help cope with your stress, McKenzie?”
My eyebrows pinched together. “Who says I’m stressed.”
“You’re right.” He snorted sarcastically. “My bad – that must not have been you in there ready to go home with the first guy who would even so much as look at you.”
“Excuse me?” I shrieked, my voice going up and my face becoming redder by the second.
“You heard me.” He replied standing up. He had abandoned his half-smoked cigarette by now, flicking it to the ground and stepping on it.
“And don’t even for a second thing that just because you put on a smile, people can’t see through it.” He had leaned in closer to me while he was speaking so that he was now towering over me. I tried to think of something to say, but all I could do was stare into his green eyes. “You’re lonely, McKenzie – and the sooner to admit that to yourself, the sooner you’ll stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“You don’t know anything about me!” I jabbed my finger into his chest for emphasis.
Ethan let out a sarcastic laugh. “I think I know you better than you know yourself right now.”
“Fuck you!” I shoved my middle finger in his face before storming back inside – straight for the bar.
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