The short walk down the hall was silent. We took seats on opposite sides of the conference table, I was thankful. Jenny was setting the water pitcher down, almost spilling it noticing us entering together. Our folders were laid out and I noticed there would only be 5 of us attending. I noticed a glare from Jenny as she asked Janette if there was anything else to be done. Janette dismissed her before approaching me.
“Are you settling in okay Roni?” She asked kindly.
“I am, thank you. I can’t wait to hear more about this new project.” I said with an eager smile on my face.
“I almost forgot; I will send you the template for your expense account. Just make sure you turn it in monthly. I’ll be present during the meeting to take notes, so if you think of anything you need, just let me know at the end.” She said before turning to Nikola and asking if he needed anything. He shook his head with a smile, as she took her seat next to Peter’s chair.
“What! You have got to be kidding me!” A shout came from a different room. “Unacceptable!”
Nikola shot up out of his chair leaving the room closing the door behind him. I looked at Janette and she smiled sweetly, not concerned. Thomas a tall thin man I noticed from around the office with blonde hair and blue eyes opened the door and walked in. He was followed by a woman; she was around 5‘7 with long red hair. I was immediately jealous of her beautiful freckles on her face.
“You must be Veronica; I am so excited to work with you. My name is Isabella, you can call me Bella.” She said reaching her hand out.
I stood shaking her hand. “Please Roni, nice to meet you. Did you come with Dr.- I mean Peter?”
I shook my head in embarrassment, I had no idea what to call him around the office. This is why I always stuck to using proper names, it is less confusing.
“Yes, Peter is great. You will get used to his informal ways with his close staff.” She said soothing my anxiety.
“Good to know, I’ll be honest, it’s going to take some getting used to.” I giggled a little.
“As you know, Bella will be on your team. I am just getting her settled.” Thomas said as he took his seat. “I was placed with Nikola while he is here.”
He was never rude to me; I appreciated his straight-forward attitude. If he was ever not interested in something, he didn’t hide it. I remember Jenny trying to get him fired when he ‘advised’ her that the break area was not her gossip throne.
“Good morning, everyone!” Peter Chapman said walking into the conference room followed by Nikola. He had a smile on his face, but something was different about his aura.
“Apologies for my outburst. It seems my shipment from England has been delayed. Let’s get started, shall we?”
He spent the first part of the meeting going over the structural changes taking place. Explaining that Nikola and I would be running specialized teams, working together. I was shocked at the news but kept my expression neutral. Bella started as an assistant and worked up to a research analyst. I made a mental note to review her file and see if she would be the right person as Peter had suggested.
After 30 minutes he finally nodded to Janette who brought us each a spiral bound packet. I looked at the portrait on the front cover and noticed it from one of the German research papers I had in my files. It was a painting of a man with half human face half wolf.
The painting was commissioned in the 1500s, the attention to detail was too extensive to be made up. At least that was my opinion on it. Many other researchers felt the same way. I absently traced my fingers over the wolf staring at the beautiful colors.
“Roni?” Peter said to me.
I blushed… hard; I had no idea what he was just saying. “I’m sorry, this is one of my favorites.” I admitted shyly. He smiled before repeating himself, I was so glad he didn’t seem angry with my attention span.
“I mentioned you did extensive research on the portrait. We have a book that was recovered by the same family, it seems to be a diary from the 1500’s. It will be arriving with my delayed packages. I would like you and Nikola to get started investigating it when it arrives.”
“Of course!” I squealed louder than intended. A few giggles and chuckles were heard around the room. I realized there was no reason to be ashamed for being excited about our work. That is the only reason to go into this profession.
“Wonderful, everything we have so far has been put into this reference.” He held up the spiral binder. “At minimum I want weekly updates every Friday. I assume anything worth excitement will be brought to my attention right away.” His tone suggested he was stating what we already knew.
“Tuesday evening, I will be having a dinner at my house. I expect you all to be present, you may bring your partner if you have one. I look forward to a long happy relationship with us all as a team. Nikola, if you wouldn’t mind giving everyone an overview.” He leaned back motioning his hand across the table.
I barley heard the words while he spoke. He flipped through a few slides of pictures he had taken of the book upon receiving it. I was thankful to be interested in the pictures. I kept my eyes locked on the screen enjoying his voice.
The group clapped their hands pulling me out of my trance. I was immediately flustered since I was once again, not listening. I turned my attention back to Nikola who had his eyes locked on me. I looked around quickly and was thankful no one else noticed. It was like a strange hunger was there. He shook his head and sat back down.
“If there is nothing else at this time, we can all get to it.” Peter said from the head of the table glancing over at Nikola knowing something I wasn’t sure of.
We all stood and headed for our offices. I hurried to mine closing the door behind me. I pressed my back to the door and took a deep breath. My heart was pounding, palms were sweating, maybe my forehead too. Not able to find a cause, I was having problems calming down. The knock on my door caused me to jump off the ground and drop my binder.
“Come in!” I said as I fumbled to pick up the binder.
“Am I interrupting something?” Nikola’s smooth voice filled the room and my body tensed more.
“Not at all, is it lunch already?” I said confused to his presence.
“No, I was just wondering if you could send me any files you have from your research. I would like to compare it to my own.” He looked around the room as if something were missing. “Are you okay?”
“Of course, actually I had this ready for the meeting just in case.” I said pulling the drive from the binder handing it to Nikola. Ignoring his question about my well-being.
“Oh, wow great… Er… Thank you.” He said turning for the door. I felt a strange disappointment from him. “I will be back around 11:30 and we can head to lunch, I will drive.” He said over his shoulder.
I pulled out my phone to send a message to Travis. Dinner at my new boss’s house on Tuesday. Can you make it? I typed quickly before hitting send.
Immediately, I had a response. Tues no good. That was it. I huffed aloud to release my irritation. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t going to make time to at least put on the show anymore. We always went to any work events together. We needed to maintain the “perfect family” picture.