Page 5

“Problem? Not at al ,” Sasha said with the sickeningly sweet laugh that liberated her from most awkward situations she’d created for herself. “I apologize, Nina. I didn’t realize you were so sensitive,” she smiled.

I looked to Mr. Patocka. “Are we finished here?”

“I’m finished with the meeting, but I need you to come to Grant’s office with me, Nina. He needs to brief you on a few things before you start back next week.”

The other interns filed out of the room, shaking hands and saying their goodbyes. I nodded to each of them as they made a bee-line to the elevator, but not before meeting Sasha’s cheap grin with one of my own.

Mr. Patocka escorted me down the hal and into the elevator, punching button four, where my father’s office stil resided. Grant’s office was on the opposite side of the floor, paral el to Jack's. Half of his wal s were covered in degrees and pictures of polo ponies, and the other half al owing the sunshine to pour in from large windows that overlooked Fleet Rink.

Mr. Patocka knocked on Grant’s half-opened door. “Er…Mr. Bristol? Nina’s here to see you.”

“Bring her in.”

I walked into his office, sitting in a puffy green chair, feeling amiable for a change. Grant had worked for my father for ten years, and like every cliché rise-to-the-top story, Grant started at entry level. The only thing that would have made his story any more boring would be if he’d began in the mail-sorting trenches, had we kept a mail room. But Grant didn’t begin his days at Titan as a mail boy.

He began as an intern.

“Nina,” Grant greeted me over his thin, square glasses.

“Grant,” I acknowledged with a nod.

Grant looked at Mr. Patocka and smiled politely. “Thank you, Eugene.”

Mr. Patocka ducked from the door and shut it behind him. Even though I saw Grant as somewhat of a weasel, the rest of the employees regarded him as their personal savior.

“Okay, what’s with al the formalities, Grant?” I said, crossing my arms.

“Give me a break, Peanut,” he smiled.

He sat in his chair, leisurely crossing his ankles on top of his desk. I frowned at his ridiculous argyle socks. They resembled the very thing I hated about Grant Bristol. He was handsome in an annoying, maddening way. His light, brown hair and clean-shaven baby face made most women at our office swoon. He was wel dressed and wel spoken, and I suppose he was even funny at times. Al of which made me want to plant my fist straight into his square chin. He reminded me of the token soap opera star. His words were fake, his smile was fake, and his very presence affected me like nails on a chalkboard.

“Ugh…you know I hate it when you call me that,” I groaned. “If we’re going to work together you’re going to have to stop that, Grant. I mean it.”

“Anything you say.” He smiled with his too-straight, too-white teeth. “I want you here when you’re not in class. If I could do it, you can do it. No excuses.”

Attempting to keep my temper in check, I stood and offered a smal grin. “See you tomorrow.”

“One more thing…,” Grant said. I turned and waited. “Nice skirt, Peanut.”

I stomped out of Grant’s office, trying not to kick anything on my way out. When I pushed through the front door, I saw Jared’s Escalade parked against the curb across the street as usual, only this time he stood against his door looking extremely uncomfortable while Sasha leaned against his car on her shoulder, not six inches from him. I could see that he was trying to be polite as he kept his arms crossed, careful not to react to her flirtation, but my eyes zeroed in on Sasha giggling and touching his shirt, chest and arms with every other word.

“Nina! Hi, Sweetheart.” Jared said, my interruption a relief. He pul ed me into his arms and made a show of planting a kiss on my lips.

“Hey, Nina,” Sasha gushed. “I was just tel ing Jared that we should double date sometime.”

“No,” I snapped, my patience far beyond its limit. Jared walked me to the passenger side and opened the door.

“I can get into the car on my own,” I said acerbical y.

“Nina….” Jared smiled, amused at my mood.

“Don’t Nina me,” I said, looking straight ahead.

“Wel ,” Sasha call ed from the other side of the SUV, raising her eyebrows. “I guess I’ll see you on Monday. It was nice to final y have a chance to talk, Jared.”

Ignoring Sasha’s final attempt for his attention, Jared watched me for a moment, trying to decipher my emotions. Final y, he walked around to his side, and slid in beside me. He watched Sasha trot across the street and then shook his head. “You don’t honestly think I was—,”

“No. I don’t think you were flirting with her,” I grumbled.

Jared pul ed away from the curb and nodded. “Good, because that is completely ridiculous. Not only am I madly in love with you….she’s….”

Jared shook his head, making a series of disgusted faces as he tried to think of the correct description. “She’s something else.”

“That’s a word for it,” I said, crossing my arms.

“How was your meeting?” he asked.

“You mean you don’t know?”

“I kept tabs, but it was difficult to get the details with Sasha two inches from my face. Is Grant stil a jackass?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“What’s wrong?” Jared paused a moment and then his eyebrows shot up. “Oh.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. I didn’t mean anything,” Jared said, trying not to smile.

I shook my head, watching the trees pass by the window. Eli had once told us that when we made a commitment in a physical way, Jared’s senses concerning me would be heightened. I stil wasn’t sure what that entailed. Jared never let on that anything had changed, but when his former urgent curiosity about the motives behind my moods or feelings had al but disappeared, I knew something was different. I cornered him on more than one occasion to explain his new attunement, but he always seemed to maneuver his way out of the conversation with an efficient and irresistible diversion.

“Do we stil have lunch plans?” I asked, my attention stil focused on the passing landscape outside the window.