Page 7

“Not today,” I said, looking up the aged brick of the business building, “I’ll see you guys at lunch.”

Class was endless. My mind fil ed with thoughts of Sasha, Jared, and Claire waiting in the unforgiving desert sun to save Ryan from himself. As time wound down, I felt more and more angry. Guilt fol owed me everywhere I went, and the lack of sleep left me irritated. By the time class dismissed, I pushed through the door, paying no attention to the flabbergasted looks of the students I shoved past.

Kim stopped me in my tracks. “Whoa!”

A few breaths were necessary before I could speak. “Sorry…I was…I don’t know.”

“Class was that bad, huh?”

“I don’t remember,” I said, rubbing my temple where it had met with Kim’s bony shoulder.

Kim looked down the hal , and then back at me. “Okay. What’s going on with you? You’re not yourself.”

“I’m just tired,” I said, sliding by her to escape down the stairs.

On the Greens, the closest bench took the brunt of my anger when I slammed my backpack into it before sitting down in a slump. My next class was in ten minutes, and I had no motivation to listen to the monotonous rules and itinerary.

The students passed, chuckling and chattering with the energy expected on the first day of school. The summer sun was already too warm for the early hour, and with no breeze, I could feel the beads of sweat forming between my clothes and the wood. Campus didn’t feel like home, anymore. I felt years from the giggles and laughter I shared with my friends, sitting at lunch, and coffee shops, and the pub. My mood grew worse, and I refused to budge from my bench.

And then he sat beside me.

“Warm day, huh?” he asked without looking in my direction.

“I guess.”

“Did you miss the bus?” he asked, peeking at me from the corner of his eye.

I sighed. “I let it drive away so the love of my life could save me with a cab ride.”

He smiled. “I’m going to make this okay, Baby. Ryan...the dreams…we’re going to figure this out.” He took me under his arm, and then pressed his lips to my forehead. I let myself melt into his body, and the anger gradual y slipped away. Backpack in hand, he gently tugged my fingers. “May I walk you to class?”

A quick nod from me prompted a slow pace across campus. We walked in silence, but he squeezed my hand intermittently to encourage me along. It didn’t feel right to be there without Ryan’s smiling face. The thought of nights at the pub or study group only being a reminder to everyone of his absence—and why he left—was discomforting to say the least.

The day was long, but I muddled through it. Jared drove me to the office after classes, and dealing with Grant, mountains of paperwork, and training took my mind off darker thoughts.

“We’re moving you today,” Grant said with his bright smile and deep dimples.

“Moving where?” I asked, wondering what else I could possibly train for. I had been in every department of the company, and had just begun the managerial training. In truth, I had mastered everything Grant could do long before my internship, and could do it better. I had excel ent rapport with the clients, and because of my hard work over the summer, the employees had embraced me. Short from sending me overseas, there was nothing I hadn’t seen.

“Over there,” Grant nodded.

I didn’t turn around. I knew where he was gesturing. He was moving me to my father’s office, the one space in the entire building I had avoided.

“I don’t need to do that, yet,” I said, trying to mask my unease.

“Nina, you’re the CEO of this company. It’s time you took the office.”

“Why the hurry, Grant? Are you looking to retire?” I asked, fidgeting with my blouse.

“I’m not asking you to run the company, but you can’t gain respect from the staff filing downstairs with the interns. Solidify your position with your employees before you graduate and take over.”

The elevator opened and Sasha appeared, gliding a tube of lip gloss over her too-bright lip stick. “Grant, a package for you was sent to our office by mistake,” she said, handing him the large, paper envelope. “I saw a shirt exactly like that on a homeless woman this morning,” she said, staring at me with repugnance. “There are better places to shop than the community thrift store, Nina, real y….”

I looked down and then back at her, suddenly open to the idea of changing offices. “Sasha, glad you’re here. Grant wants me to take my father’s office. I’ll leave you in charge of transferring my things.”

“You’re…?” Sasha looked to Grant for indemnity, but he raised his eyebrows expectantly. Her expression scrol ed through several emotions ranging from shock, anger, to defeat, then final y turned on her heels. “I’ll take care of that right away,” she said through her teeth.

Had I slept the night before, my mood would have soared, but I simply looked at the door of my father’s office and sighed.

Grant patted my shoulder. “You’ve earned it, Peanut. And if it makes you feel better…I like the shirt.”

“Thanks,” I said, sliding from his touch.

Carl from maintenance exited the elevator, and passed by with a tool bag, a bucket, and a squeegee. He stopped at my father’s office door and peered at the black block letters on the glass.

Jack Grey CEO He pul ed a box knife from his pocket, and began scratching at the letters.

“Don’t!” I yel ed. Carl froze, and I hurried to the door, smoothing out the Y of my father’s name. “Leave it,” I said softly.

“Yes, ma’m,” Carl said, clearly rattled. He shot a glance to Grant, and then left the way he came.

“I’m sorry. I assumed you’d want your name on your door. I thought you’d like it,” Grant said.

“They can both fit,” I said. “Just put my name under his.”

“You’re the boss,” Grant said, his expression matching his tone.

I pressed the button to the first floor, and then leaned against the back wal of the elevator. “Too much for one day,” I whispered.

Above the door, the number one lit in a soft glow, accompanied by a pleasant dinging sound. The double doors spread open, and I squinted from the sunlight penetrating through the glass wal s of the lobby. To my surprise, Jared stood at the revolving door.