“Mr. Grayson is unavailable to take your call, but I can pass on a message for you.”
Lydia was somehow juggling three binders, her smartphone, a stack of unstapled sheets, and a large coffee while handling the phone call with the utmost professional demeanor. She sounded downright automated.
“I will make sure your message reaches him. Thank you, Mr. Li. We look forward to the conference tomorrow.”
The phone dropped back into the pocket of her slim suit jacket, and Jia was left mystified by how exactly the woman had achieved such a feat when both of her hands were still full. Lydia seemed to think nothing of it as she proceeded to speed down the corridor with all the urgency of a Formula 1 car on a straightaway. Somehow, despite being taller than the blonde and most definitely possessing a longer stride, Jia found herself panting slightly to keep up.
“Daniel is our Chief Operating Officer,” said Lydia as they rounded a corner at breakneck speed. “But forget titles, and forget the hierarchy - after Mr. Grayson, Daniel is the second in command. Everything that costs even a single penny in this place, it all goes through him in the end, understand? That means nothing happens without his eyes on it. If you're used to annual budgets, get un-used to it real quick. He adjusts every department every quarter, and no exceptions.”
Jia had never had to deal with budgetary concerns in the first place, so she rather thought she wouldn't be bothered at all. Lydia clearly had no idea that she had little experience in anything beyond the almost the lowest rung of retail employment. But she wouldn't share that. She had the distinct impression that revealing it would only catapult Lydia into record-intensity convulsions.
“Daniel,” Jia repeated instad, the downward tilt of her inflection revealing her uncertainty. “Do you all normally address him by his first name like that?”
Click - clack - click - clack. Lydia’s stilettos ate up the tiles even more rapidly as she accelerated without warning. “Yes, that’s what he prefers. But since you’ll need it for sending faxes and other official paperwork, his last name is Durham. Got that?”
Jia nodded, and then remembered Lydia didn’t have eyes on the back of her head with which to see her. “Yes,” she said. “Daniel Durham, understood.”
She felt a rare pang of regret over not possessing a device on which she could store a reminder. Maybe she should invest in a smartphone after all, at least the cheapest one she could get. Struggling with a ten year old flip phone was getting harder and harder to justify with each passing year, but what could she do? These devices were becoming so expensive, and the phone plan by itself was already pricey -
“But he does have one rule. Don’t ever contact him outside of working hours, which for him is nine in the morning to five in the evening. Absolutely no exceptions, except in the case of death or dismemberment.”
Jia winced. “I understand.”
"I'm serious, Jia. No exceptions."
What, did she think that Jia had nothing else to do after work hours? What reason would she have to harass a man after he had gone home? A simple email would sort out such things nicely, and besides, that wasn't the man she would be working under anyway. If anything, the only person who she would need to contact after hours was probably going to be Mr. Grayson. She hoped not, but...
"Yes, no exceptions. I understand."
“Good. Here we are.”
Lydia came to a halt so suddenly that Jia almost collided with her, but quite luckily, she got away with just a minor sensation of whiplash in her neck. She quickly steadied herself and paused as her senior then turned and all but charged through a set of double glass doors. Jia scurried in after her, still wondering how Lydia could possibly be doing anything that required the functionality of opposable thumbs when her arms were clearly full.
“Meghan, I’m going in to see Daniel. And yes, I have an appointment. Just sent him a message, so hush.” Lydia breezed past the desk with an outraged-looking brunette woman sitting behind it.
“You can’t just - Lydia, get back here!”
“Goodbye, Meghan.” The blonde didn’t even miss a beat. She booked it with a fierce, determined clatter of her stilettos to the back of the receiving room and toward another set of double doors leading to an inner office.
“God, I hate you!” Jia heard ‘Meghan’ exclaim, but she noticed the woman did nothing but grumpily return to her paperwork. Pretty, Jia thought. Why were all the women in this place so beautiful? She felt out of place, clumsy, and so dull compared to them. She raked a self conscious hand through her hair, wondering how Meghan could have styled her hair with such a sweeping look like that.
She quickly averted her eyes when she realized she had been staring over her shoulder, unsure if she had even been noticed. Unlikely, probably. To be fair, with a gale-force storm like Lydia whirling into the vicinity, she supposed her chances of sticking out was about the same as a single leaf in a hurricane.
Indeed, the brunette was still throwing glare after glare at Lydia and Lydia only.
What a relief. Jia let out a slow, quiet breath. It was good to know that she could still fly under the radar, at least. She didn’t plan on staying here long anyway, but with the way things were going in her life, people seemed uncommonly interested in making her life harder than it had to be. No sense in risking it by letting anyone make eye contact with her, much less acquaint themselves with her.
Lydia’s knuckles rapped twice on the white door with two sharp knocks, and this time, she waited for an invitation. “Daniel,” she said through the door, her voice crisp and loud. “I’m here with my assistant, Jia Moon. Mr. Grayson would like me to leave something with you, and also to collect the report he was waiting for.”
The smooth tenor that came from within the room surprised Jia. A young man? She had thought it would be a gruff, old, possibly lecherous old man who would have such a prestigious title like Chief Operating Officer, but then again, the CEO of Pandora Lights was none other than the youthful Atlas Grayson. Maybe it was one of his school chums, Jia thought dubiously. Rich people did things like that, didn't they? Slide in a few favors and cushy jobs for each other?
The door opened, and Lydia stepped through. Jia followed in quickly afterward, chasing her heels - and gaped at the sight that met her. She knew that man, she thought. She couldn’t possibly forget a face like that -
“Hello, Ms. Moon. It’s good to see you again.”
“Close the door behind you, please.”Jia floundered for an instant before she regained the sense of mind to respond to the request. Right, the door. She hastily stepped forward so that she could let it latch shut behind her, but her stare quickly darted back to pin itself onto the young man again. He was the Chief Operating Officer? But how…? Maybe she just thought she recognized him, she told herself, but that couldn’t be it: he had recognized her, too. He had even called her by name.And there was no mistaking that face, of course. A woman would have to be blind to not confess his beauty, with those elfin features and striking green eyes.She didn’t realize she was still staring goggle-eyed at him until Lydia discreetly jabbed her in the side with a well-placed elbow in passing. “These are the documents,” the woman was saying, and Jia catapulted herself back into the present with a firm mental slap. She succeeded just in tim
“Last night?”“Yes,” said Daniel, and Jia had to force her facial muscles to relax so that she wouldn’t remain a dead ringer for a marble statue, paralyzed by panic. Those extraordinarily intelligent eyes wouldn’t miss a thing; she needed to say something to dispel his curiosity before he delved any deeper.She had to act natural, casual. And bored, too, she thought frantically, but without making it obvious she was hiding something. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally pique his interest by being too mysterious.But what should she say? Should she lie? But what if he then asked Atlas, who might or might not reveal everything anyway? Maybe a half-truth then - but Jia couldn’t rifle through the facts and figure out which were ‘boring’ enough to safely tell.Whatever you say, don’t say that it’s a funny story, she told herself sternly as she took in a deep breath, still scrambling for the right words
Daniel already knew how and where and when everything had begun, but the true dilemma had been knowing how little Jia could get away with telling him. She didn’t want to reveal the minute details of her home situation no matter how helpful he wanted to be, or even genuinely seemed to be.But without the proper context, it was impossible to make him understand why she had been so afraid of getting the police involved, why she had begged Atlas to let it all go, and how he exercised such a lopsided advantage over her now because of it.But above all else, Jia knew her priority was to extricate herself from Atlas Grayson’s powerful grasp. She had responsibilities, two kid siblings who depended on her back home. Whatever Atlas’s game was, she knew it couldn’t possibly be good for her.There was no reason to believe this bogus “position” he had given her as the assistant of his assistant would even pay her any wages, muc
Daniel had barely opened the door when a hand forcibly pushed it open the rest of the way, forcing him to step back to avoid being brained on the wood. Jia was twisted around at the waist in her seat to stare over her shoulder at the unfolding scene. All the strength in her body had fled when she heard Meghan’s stammered warning, making it impossible to trust her legs to hold her up.“Ex - excuse me.” Meghan squeezed out from between the two men to beat a hasty retreat. They were staring at each other over her head with an intensity that made even Jia’s skin crawl, and she was sitting ten feet away. She could only imagine how the poor Meghan was holding up in the middle of the crossfire. “I’ll be out of your way, then. Mr. Grayson, Daniel.”Meghan must have been even more nervous than she looked; she dropped slightly in what appeared to be a flustered, hasty curtsy before she clattered away on her heels.Meanwhile, Daniel and Atlas
Jia sat in stunned disbelief as Atlas and Daniel discussed the terms of her employment, now official, between themselves. Daniel occasionally deferred to her on some select points, giving her a pointed look when he expected a reply, but it was all Jia could do to nod and go along with whatever he suggested.Atlas definitely noticed it all, she thought numbly. She had seen him watching her with that piercing, ice-cold gaze on several occasions. More than several, actually. She was fairly certain he had been glaring at her for more than half the conversation.“If that’s all, that will all be in writing before you leave for the day, Ms. Moon,” Daniel was saying as he rose from his seat, and Jia quickly sprang to her feet with only the slightest of clumsy stumbles to follow suit.She cursed the black stilettos she wore again for their part in nearly making her fall over herself just now, but she didn’t have long to ruminate on the
The door latched shut behind Jia, and she had the distinct notion that what she was feeling right now was similar to being trapped inside the gated chute of a rodeo ring with a bull pawing the ground in her direction. Difference was that Atlas Grayson looked a lot more intimidating than any bull she knew of.“How do you know Daniel?”Jia hesitated only long enough for Atlas’s eyebrows to begin furrowing. Uh-oh. “We met a while ago, just once,” she said quickly. “I haven’t seen him since.”“When? And how?” he insisted, refusing to be deterred by vague details.Jia grimaced inwardly. She hadn’t wanted to bring up the topic, as embarrassing and awkward as it was. But it would do her no favors to lie to soften the blow against her pride, either. “It was when I first applied here,” she said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible. “I met Daniel, and he was able to help me.”“Help you h
Jia had taken her lunch exactly at noon as Lydia instructed (though she had been too nervous to eat anything at all, even if she had had the pocket money to spend on a lunch in this too-expensive commercial district). She was just now returning to the office after twenty minutes of wandering the stairwell at the back of the building, ten minutes before she was due back. Lydia, however, didn’t seem surprised by her early return, and instead was visibly pleased.“Oh, good,” the woman said as she pushed in her rolling chair under the desk and scurried to the door on click-clacking stilettos. “Now, don’t do anything while I’m gone. I’ll be back as soon as I can, and if Mr. Grayson needs anything done, do not do it. Let him know I’ll handle it since you can’t do anything yet.”Jia stepped to the side and held the door open for Lydia to pass through. “Okay,” she agreed. “Enjoy your lunch.”She took no of
“Maybe I should try to contact Lydia,” Jia attempted to say again. He hadn’t heard her the first time when he had been slamming his fingers on the express elevator button three times in a row. “But I don’t have her contact information, so if I could get that from you -”“You don’t have to do anything,” he interrupted. “Just stand by the door and make sure to turn away anyone who’s looking for me until the meeting is over.” The doors slid open with a hiss, and before they had even fully withdrawn, Atlas was already standing inside the elevator carriage and in the middle of turning around. “Quickly,” he snapped.Jia nearly jumped at the biting impatience in his voice, but with the quick reflexes of someone well accustomed to responding to the barked orders of unreasonable superiors, she scurried inside to join him just before the doors closed behind her. With a hum, the cab began to descend.Lydia had warned her against this