The Temp

By Bits All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Thriller

The Glass Tower (Madison)

I nearly did a double take before strolling through the turnstile of the magnificent building towering above me, brandished almost completely in pristine glass and polished metal. A sign beside the door outside warned that there were workers above cleaning the windows, and to watch out for falling water. I peered above at the speck of equipment hauling a plank slowly downwards to begin the next set of windows. A few drops of water is nothing to worry about. As long as it was just water and not bodies, I thought with a shiver as I stepped carefully into the building.

The lobby was just as—if not more—fascinating than the exterior; grandly minimalistic with furniture artfully placed in few but sufficient places along low, immaculate walls as white as snow, topped by frame after frame of glass. In the centre rose a wall of dark wood ending in a grand, flickering electric fireplace. The flames danced, casting the illusion of warmth across the shining white tile. Along the left wall was a security guard seated behind a large desk topped with a stack of neatly arranged newspapers, a silver table bell, and a phone with a notice that read “Please dial ‘0’ if there is no one here to assist you”, while the guard had his head bent towards his phone, unaffected by my entry. I guess he wasn’t going to be of much help. To the right of the fireplace was a set of escalators, whirring as step after step rose and descended in an endless circuit. To the left was a wall of elevators, each one with its doors shut, working mechanically behind the scenes. I trudged past the guard and up to the elevator bank, panting from all the speed walking and trying to catch my breath. I checked my phone quickly. 7:29am. Boo-yah! I pumped my fist discreetly in the air before quickly flicking the volume switch off on the side of my phone and shoved it in bag.

There was a standalone sign in front of the elevators claiming that they were going through renovations, so out of the potential four elevators, only one would be available for the time being. I groaned, smacking the call button several times with more force than necessary. The security guard at the front desk cleared his throat and I glanced over to see him watching me, suspiciously. My face flushed and I prayed for the elevator to hurry, eyeing the above panel showing the red, digital numbers creeping down a slow descent.

When the rickety elevator made it to the main floor, I climbed on, hitting “24” and the closing button immediately, watching the buttons illuminate a dying blue without checking for other patrons who may have also needed to board. Once the doors shut, it jerked into motion, lifting me through the bank at a startling speed as I watched the faded numbers ascend, blinking rapidly behind the metal panel on the left of the doors. I assessed the area around me. The elevator was mirrored with reflective metal. My reflection stared back at me from all sides with a sickly green glow, cut off from the hip with a support handle and wood paneling, worn with age. I leaned closer to the murky metal for a better look, patted at my hair, and swiped at some residual lipstick that missed my lips in the hurry. I peeked down at my heels and spotted some flecks of mud on the leather front, trekked onto a dirty, worn carpet of a regurgitated green. I quickly bent and licked my finger, smudging away the dirt. Satisfied with my appearance, I adjusted my posture and stood firm, nodding. I can get through this.

The elevator rumbled to a stop on the 24th floor, the doors slowly easing open with a sharp ding announcing my arrival. I stepped onto plush mahogany carpets, my heels sinking slightly into the dense material, and took in the sight.

“Wow,” was all I could manage. I entered through the glass partition making a slow pivot, admiring the modern detailing of the upscale office, accentuated by a backdrop of the downtown core from the 24th floor.

Windowed offices with spotless ceiling to floor glass extended along the back wall to the right past a corner I couldn’t see beyond. The offices were separated by slivers of wall, each adorned by an individual piece of artwork to distinguish where each office ends and begins. Occupying the entire side to my left was a grand, singular office, decked out with expensive furniture and amenities. From where I was standing, I could see a kitchenette in the back left of the office; the counter topped with crystal glasses, tumblers, and flutes, along with a decanter filled halfway with an amber liquid. A conference table with a saucer phone atop a solid, lacquered surface stood positioned in the centre, with a projector and screen consuming the entire back wall. The view out the windows on the other side shone a lightening sky; the darkness of this morning shifting and permitting the sun to peek through, painting the clouds in fiery reds amidst the scattered blues. City lights sparkled in every direction, reflecting off a winding river in the distance. I needed to ask whoever owned that office for a pay raise; surely they could afford it.

Peeling my attention away, my eyes hovered over to the rest of the lobby, focusing on the sleek, black chairs, tucked away in the waiting area. I grew fascinated by the abstract sculptures set atop pillars encased by glass boxes, positioned creatively between gilted sconces in the few areas not occupied by tall windows. My eyes eventually wandered to the slabs of marble encasing the Receptionist to my right. She was a thin woman with brown, tousled hair and slim framed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, accompanied by a smattering of freckles, with thin, pale lips moving endlessly. Her hands travelled in superhuman speed as she manned the phones, repeatedly squeaking, “Good morning, Wallace & Co. May I put you on hold a moment? Thank you!“, until 4 flashing lights blinked on the switchboard, waiting in queue.

She turned to me, a bright smile on her face marred with distinct creases etched between her brows. From the stress, no doubt; I’ve had my fair share of exhausting experiences while working as a Receptionist with the endless phone calls and forced pleasantries all day. Not my ideal work environment, but it pays the bills. She must have been in her early 30s, though it was hard to tell for certain. Not when stress is capable of adding another 5 years to your appearance, unbidden.

“Hi, you must be...Madison?” She asked, ducking her head to read her notes. I nodded sweetly before she turned away, dialling an extension quickly into her phone. “Hi, yes, she’s here. Sorry, I have people waiting on the other line. Sure, will do.” And she hung up, quickly tending to her waiting calls, and leaving me to myself.

I stood by the open glass partition waiting awkwardly, pondering whether I should remain standing or take a seat. I settled on the former, and as time went by, my confidence began to ebb, feeling utterly bland in such a high-scale office. I checked the time on my watch discreetly: 7:38am. I thought I could hear the hands ticking, so I began to match it in time with my breathing, inhaling a breath every 4 seconds, then expelling it in another 4 seconds. I continued this with my eyes closed until my shoulders slumped and my teeth unclenched. I was calm again. Briefly.

My eyes fluttered open at the sound of approaching voices, presumably male. One was a more hurried, raspy whisper, while the other was light and soft spoken, though I couldn’t make out a word either of them were saying. My pulse quickened in anticipation as I straightened my back and took a deep breath. Around the corner of the windowed offices came two men in crisp suits; one a tad older with dark, greying hair, while still retaining his handsomeness through his hardened features, and the other stood a step behind him, young and sincere.

The younger one had light brown hair swept into style, held by a light wax atop his head. The soft hair bounced with each step, and as he got closer, I noticed a loose strand sweeping across his forehead. I dropped my gaze to his eyes, a delicate hazel staring right back at me sternly. He was clean shaven with a small mole on his jawline, a perfect imperfection suitable for his kind face, positioned below noticeably soft lips. They had both stopped their conversation as soon as they turned the corner, sizing me up, and I tried my best to remain calm while my heart did cartwheels.

“Grant Wallace, President. My colleague here is Ryan Winters.”

The older one, Grant, piped up, being the first to greet me as he gave me a very blatant once over; a sweeping glance starting from my inexpensive heels to my frizzy, bed ridden hair. Heat flowed through me, marking the course of his gaze. I responded cheerfully with my name, sticking out my hand for him to shake and remembering to smile bright. Fake it ’til you make it, right?

“I know,” Grant said dryly, cutting around and reaching past me to hit the call button on the elevator. I dropped my hand and laughed awkwardly until it simmered into a dry cough.

Nothing can possibly get more tense than that just got.

“You’re late.” He says.

I guess I spoke too soon.

I felt my eyebrows pinch together, already wanting to be back in my apartment, laying peacefully in my bed without a care in the world. It was hard to believe all that has changed within the span of a half hour. I’m not sure if I was ready for this after all, but then I thought of my bed and my apartment, possessions I unfortunately wished to keep, and will also unfortunately need money to do so. Resolute, I squared my shoulders and refused to lose my composure.

“I can assure you that I was here at 7:30am, sharp.” I responded cautiously, adding an inflection at the end to make my assertion sound more like an innocent question. He shook away his cuff and tilted his sparkling designer watch up in exaggeration.

“Yet it is now 7:41am. I believe you should have begun working at 7:30am, not arriving at that time.” I opened my mouth to retort, but was quickly interrupted, silencing me with the brunt of his authority. “Ryan will take you to the shared office where you will be working alongside him, and under me. I am leaving for a meeting, and won’t be returning for a few hours. Ryan, make sure she takes note of that. I leave her in your somewhat capable hands.”

The elevator arrived just in time and Grant stepped on without a word, whipping out his phone to distract himself as the doors inched closed. I stood rooted to my spot, stunned and borderline shaking, watching the closed elevator doors. After a moment, Ryan cleared his throat behind me, and I turned to him, his hand extended towards me, waiting. I immediately took his hand in mine and apologized, suddenly embarrassed by my behaviour.

“Pleasure to meet you.” He said warmly, and I brightened up, smiling genuinely at him. I couldn’t help but notice as he glanced at my lips a moment, then returned to my eyes, staring intently. For a moment, it was like it was only the two of us on the entire floor, awkwardly displaying our immediate attraction to one another. I placed my other hand on our connected hands, encircling his hand in mine and he stiffened, his grip tightening. “Pleasure is mine.” I responded, barely audibly. I’m not one to normally flirt, but I may have added a hint of seduction to my voice, just for the heck of it. After what felt like eternity, we let our hands fall mutually. He ran a hand through his hair, glancing downwards bashfully and I grinned, suddenly embarrassed enough for the both of us. My eyes flicked up to watch his hand glide through, my heart fluttering slightly as his hair settled back into shape. He smiled shyly and nodded behind him, clearing his throat slightly into his fist before talking.

“If you will follow me, the office is just back here.”

He turned and began to walk so I followed after him, maintaining a safe distance. Before I turned the corner, I glanced back at the Receptionist to say my thanks, but she was already eying me with an odd expression. I couldn’t place the look behind those accusing eyes, shielded by her glasses.

The thanks tumbled from my lips, fading away as she returned to her perpetually ringing phone. Confusion settled over me, replaying the last few minutes in my mind to figure out what I may have done to offend her, but I drew a blank. I focused back on Ryan, continuing in his stride, thoroughly perturbed. What the hell was her issue?

I shook off the bad encounters of this morning as Ryan led me to the very back of the office. Around the corner we passed an elite boardroom encased in frosted glass, though you could make out the distinct silhouettes of chairs seated around a large oval table, and a wide screen along the wall. Around the next bend, we passed a brightly lit kitchen with large commercial appliances, rather than the standard toaster and microwave used in most offices. Atop the island counter was an array of fresh fruits and a wicker basket with a few leftover muffins. We curved around the final corner of the square floor plan, ending with a large corner office, tucked away in privacy. Only the door was embellished with glass, while the rest of the office was sustained by a solid, milky wall as smooth as silk, I confirmed, as I ran a finger along the seemingly powdered surface. He scanned an access card extending from his hip, and after a distinct beep followed by a single click, he pushed open the door, pressing his back against it to hold it open. Still standing in the doorway, he gestured for me to go ahead of him.

I brushed past him and examined the new office I would be occupying for the next 2 weeks. The tall windows along the back wall to my left went from the ceiling down to a cushioned bench seat. I walked towards it and gazed out at a magnificent view of the downtown core of towers upon towers and winding one-way street jams. I watched as a fluid circuit of cars gradually inched along in the haze of morning traffic in numerous directions. A mass of undoubtably tired individuals trudged along in course to their destinations, meandering in crowds. Just before turning away from the window, I witnessed a woman across the street trip in her heels, spilling some of her coffee on herself. She threw her free hand up in frustration, peering down at her blouse and swiping at the liquid with her bunched up sleeve. My mood began to sour as I realized that I would be stepping into the life of a working professional once again; back to the early mornings, the coffee, the packed trains and terrible traffic, and trying to please everyone again. I questioned once again if I was up for the task. This job would be the ultimate test.

I turned and observed the rest of the room; on the far left was a large desk occupying a monitor, phone, and an array of paperwork. The area seemed to be lived-in, so I identified it to be Ryan’s side of the office. On the right was a smaller wooden desk that curved into an “L”, tucked into the back corner of the room by the door. Behind the desk were hundreds of fluorescent files, sorted into grand wall cabinets extending along the portions of the office backed by the plaster wall. The room instilled a calming feeling with dark wood and dim, sensual lighting, similar in quality to an old library. I would take this office over the grand office back by the lobby any day.

I turned back to Ryan who still stood casually inside of the doorway, hands in his pockets and watching me carefully. I walked over and joined him by the door.

“So, we’ll be sharing this office, huh? I’m sure you would much rather have all of this to yourself.” I waved around the office with a swoop of my hand. “It’s magnificent!” I smiled at him and he returned it, shrugging innocently. He can even make a shrug look cute.

“I would enjoy having my own office, yes, but something tells me you will be good company.” He turned away instantly, heading over to his desk to retrieve a slim navy binder before returning to me, unaffected while the door clambered shut. “This is an instruction manual I managed to dig up written by one of our old assistants before my time here, but it may be outdated so if you have any questions or need to clarify anything at all, please do not hesitate to ask me. I’m right over there, after all.”

He gestured over to his desk with a smirk before handing the binder over to me, though he didn’t let go as I grasped the other end. “Welcome aboard.” He whispered, smiling like he was in on a secret we haven’t yet established.

Our eyes locked for a moment, pondering the implications in his words and tone, before he let go of the binder and strut back over to his desk, reclaiming his seat. I followed in his example and sat at my new desk, flipping open the binder to the first page, but it was impossible to focus, not with all that has happened this morning, and with something already possibly brewing with Ryan. I needed to make sure to give my thanks to Andrea, because other than for the Grinch I had for a President, I had a feeling I was going to seriously like it here.

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