6 - Weakness

Jia breathed a sigh of relief when Lydia finally put away the binder full of the Dos and Don'ts of dealing with Atlas Grayson. The other woman was still barreling through a heated scolding session on how inappropriate Jia's conduct had been back in the CEO's office, but after twenty minutes of haranguing her for it, she finally seemed as though she were beginning to tire out.

“I understand," said Jia, keeping her voice patient and calm as if soothing a spooked horse. “It won't happen again.”

“I told you to never question him! Even things like how he would like his coffee or how the day is are off-limits, and then you go and directly contradict him - !”

Jia resisted the urge to jump up and flee the room. Of all the ridiculous insanities of her circumstances, the reverential fear the assistant had for her boss had to take the cake. What was this, a cathedral? Was Atlas Grayson the pope? She swallowed the resigned sigh building in her chest, knowing that releasing it would only rile up her colleague even more.

“Lydia," she said quickly when the woman paused to draw breath. Here was her chance to both stem the flood and also to find out exactly why Atlas Grayson wanted her here, since it seemed like she wasn’t going to be allowed to ask him directly. "I was wondering, am I your substitute? Am I only expected to come in on days that you can’t make it?”

The blonde hesitated just before letting loose with another barrage of rebukes, and her cheeks slowly ballooned with air as she mulled over Jia's question. A long moment passed as she visibly struggled to come up with an answer. Finally, her eyes widened with impatient exasperation, and she tossed her hands up in a gesture of helplessness.

"Well, I don't know anything!" she told Jia with a burning confidence that the latter could only dream of matching one day. "I only just started two weeks ago. I didn't even know you would be coming in!”

Jia blinked. “You what? You started two weeks ago, you said?"

Strange. Incredibly strange. Sure, Lydia seemed to be a little flustered (and had also made the mistake of asking Mr. Grayson a question at least once, if memory served), but her primped and polished, loud self-assurance had given Jia the impression that the other woman was a seasoned employee. Atlas certainly hadn't hesitated to burden her with all his demands as if she were so experienced.

“Yes. And let me tell you, the one they tried to train before I came in to replace her lasted just a week. And the one that trained us - well, trained her first, then me - was only here for three months. You can't imagine how complex and demanding this position is."

“I'm...sorry to hear that," Jia said carefully, slowly becoming more confused by the second but unwilling to delve into matters that would only amount to more headaches. She certainly didn't intend to stay here long anyway, so if Atlas Grayson decided to fire her and send her home, then at least she could start looking for a real job to replace her now-failed restaurant gig.

Unfortunately, Lydia was all too eager to share her burdens anyway. “And can you believe it, she only stayed to train me for four days, and then she just up and ran away. Just left! I’m lucky I’m incredibly adaptable and brilliant. I managed to figure the rest of it out myself a few days ago - you’ll be just fine as long as you pay attention to what I say. Like when I tell you not to question Mr. Grayson -”

Jia pressed her lips together into a thin line as Lydia launched herself wholeheartedly into the second act of her Broadway tirade. The blonde even reached behind her desk to retrieve a tie and pull her hair back as if she were preparing for a battle, or at the very least a sound thrashing. At the sight, Jia let a small, inaudible sigh escape and hung her head.

Today was definitely going to be a long day.


“Don’t make eye contact with the models,” Lydia advised as she barged through the glass doors from the street and led the way back into the headquarters’ lobby with long, fast strides. She clutched a drink carrier with three custom coffees nestled into it to her chest as if carrying a precious treasure. “They’re safe as long as you don’t provoke them. They’re a little more in tune with their animal nature than the other talents are, so they can get a little feisty.”

Jia started. “I’m sorry, what?” What was this, a zoo? Did the talents she saw milling around all get placards for their enclosures and keepers to tend to them? Animal natures...what on earth?

“You know how it is. The whole sensual thing they have to do day in, day out. It makes them a little wild sometimes, gets into their heads. Also, do you remember where we’re going?” Lydia snapped her fingers with a decisive flick of her wrist before pointing backward over her shoulder at Jia.

“The express elevator,” she replied automatically, and she sneaked once more glance at another passing fair-haired model sweeping past her, all mile long legs and fierce, kohl lined eyes. Wow.

“And how do we use it?”

Jia whipped her head back around just in time.“We scan our ID badge.”

“Right. We’re picking yours up after we give Mr. Grayson his coffee.”

Lydia quickly served into the small corridor and came to a stop in front of the express elevator doors, temporarily silencing the clatter of her heels on the floor. She flicked her badge in front of the scanner before letting it snap back on its retractable string, and then she glanced back at Jia - who was now gaping not at the models, but at the marble and chrome texture lining the elevator threshold instead.

"And stop doing that,” she snapped. “Never ever stare.”

Jia flinched in surprise at the sudden hardness in Lydia’s tone. That was a voice she hadn’t heard before from the woman- sure, she spoke with all the brisk crispness of a stiff autumn wind, but she had never sounded so harsh. She blinked and drew back, firmly subdued.

Lydia sighed and looked forward again. “Trust me,” she said, softly this time. “You can’t ever show weakness here. Staring at things like that around here is a dead giveaway that you’re new and fresh, and that means you’re weak. Never show anyone what you’re really thinking, or what you’re feeling. Swallow everything down and stick it out, no matter what.”

Jia stared in silence, deeply perturbed by the woman’s abrupt seriousness. What had brought all this about? And why did the dynamic Lydia seem so - drained now, with no warning at all?

“It’s related to another sort-of-rule, one that’s not in the binder.” The blonde rolled her head back, carefully stretching her neck and shoulders with the drink carrier still in her arms. “It’s just a personal one, I guess. But one that everyone knows and follows.”

Jia felt her lips moving to ask before she could stop herself: “What is it?”

Lydia forced a grim smile at the elevator doors.

“Don’t ever let anyone see you cry.”

Comments (1)
goodnovel comment avatar
Trisha Sunshine
That place sounds scary to work at!

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