R S Burton
I, Ruby Moritz, had made it.
After four years, countless all-nighters, and over fifty thousand dollars spent on student loans, I had made it…albeit as an office junior.
Of course, I was still one of the lucky ones. I’d managed to walk out of my college graduation and into a semi-well-paying job at the largest marketing firm in Worthington.
Sure, I was charged with filing papers and fetching coffee, things I could have easily done without a degree, but it wasn’t forever, and it paid the bills…just.
Today had started like any other.
After dragging myself out of bed, I’d showered in my almost non-functioning shower and dressed in my thrift store-bought work clothes before eating a bowl of what was supposed to at least resemble oatmeal.
When I was finally ready, I caught the train and two buses to the city where I worked.
Just like every other morning, I leapt off the last bus as it pulled into the stop in the city and began the brisk walk toward the office, dodging numerous other people who were on their way to work.
But today was different in that I’d missed my second bus and had to catch the next. With such a strict timeline, I was well on my way to being late, and after only four weeks on the job, I didn’t want to ruffle feathers.
I looked at the lock screen of my phone. Five minutes. I had five minutes to walk five blocks.
I picked up the pace, readjusting my brown satchel over my shoulder. My long brown hair was down, and for a moment, I regretted my decision not to pull it up into a bun as the wind rushed through it as I moved.
My black heels barely had time to clip the ground as I turned my brisk walk into a jog. The smell of coffee and gasoline filled my senses, which caused a smile to paint across my face.
Yes, every morning was the same, and while it was monotonous to some, it just made me feel comforted. The anxiety of being almost late seemed to melt away.
I ran through the front door of Clarke Industries only a minute before I was due to start, swiping my card on the security marker as I passed through.
Breathless and almost surely a mess, I stood at my cubicle and placed my satchel down. I was about to attack my in tray when my manager Stacey walked over with a black folder and a large smile upon her face.
“Ruby, may I speak with you in my office?” she asked. Her brown eyes were bright and her smile inviting, but her words were enough to turn my blood cold.
My stomach twisted into nervous knots. I couldn’t afford to lose my job—not with my parents both gone… I had no support; I only had myself and this job.
I’m only two minutes late to my desk. She isn’t going to fire me over two minutes, is she?
I swallowed hard and tried not to look as desperate as I suddenly felt.
“I’m sorry, my bus was late. It won’t happen again.”
Stacey held her hand up and shook her head, which stopped me from making any more excuses.
Worry settled in my gut, and I shifted in my seat.
“Just come to my office in five. Make yourself a coffee first—oh, and me too.” She grinned. “Black, no sugar.” She turned on her heel and walked across the floor, back toward her office.
With nervousness coursing through my veins, I forced myself to stand and made my way into the kitchen.
A group of my fellow office juniors sat at one of the tables in the corner talking in hushed voices.
“Didn’t you hear?” one of the girls whispered. “Tobias fired Josanna this morning.”
“But Josanna was Mr. Clarke Sr.’s PA for years,” another replied, sounding aghast.
“Since Tobias was a little boy,” the original girl added. “Apparently, she was telling him how to run the place, and he’d had enough.”
“He’s so horrible,” one of the girls complained.
“But so incredibly hot,” another added while fanning her face.
I rolled my eyes. Tobias Clarke was Clarke Industries’ new CEO. His father had died three months beforehand and left the business to him.
I’d never met the guy, but I had seen pictures. He was attractive, but all this hearsay…well, it didn’t make everything everyone said about him true.
“Anyway, he’s sent word down here for a new PA.”
Their hushed whispers continued, although I shut off and finished making myself and Stacey a coffee. The last thing I needed was to get involved with office gossip.
Once I was done, I walked across the office, ignoring the continued whispers from the staff on the floor. Obviously, news had spread. I knocked on Stacey’s door and peeped my head around it.
“Coffee, black, no sugar.” I smiled.
“Come in, Ruby. Please take a seat.” She gestured to a small black leather chair on the other side of her desk.
I placed her coffee down and then sat down too.
Stacey looked at her computer and typed something in. Then she placed her hands on her desk, lacing her fingers together.
A sinking feeling hit my gut. I was the last staff member hired; they were letting me go.
I really was being fired. It had all been too good to be true.
Getting work right out of college was a pure stroke of luck, but I figured at Clarke Industries, I’d at least have a steady income and job security. I’d be okay.
In time, maybe I could even afford to live in a nicer place.
Suddenly, it seemed like those hopes were burning up in flames. I sighed and resigned myself to my dodgy apartment with the dodgy shower on the dodgy side of town.
It was fun while it lasted…
“You look worried.” Stacey smiled as she picked up the coffee cup and raised it to her mouth.
I turned my own cup around in my hands and let the warmth radiate from my palms to my fingers. Worried didn’t even begin to cover it.
“Are you firing me?” I choked out. It was better to rip the Band-Aid off and know sooner rather than later.
Stacey chuckled and pointed to her computer. “You studied business and marketing in college, yes?
“You have an innate understanding of this kind of business that most of the women in this office don’t. The way news travels down here, no doubt you’ve heard the boss is looking for a PA.”
I screwed my face up. Was she insinuating that I take the job? Me? I’d been here all of five minutes. Not to mention, I had no actual experience.
I had a plan: I was meant to work as an office junior for a few years, work my way up the ranks gaining vital knowledge along the way.
Skipping all of those steps and racing straight to the top, it seemed strange and sudden.
“I’m new. Surely, there’s someone who understands this business more?” I remarked, looking up at the woman who seemed to be about to offer me the job of a lifetime.
Her eyes were bright, and her smile wide. “Actually, no,” Stacey replied. “You’re the best fit for the job, Ruby.”
There were women out on the floor who had been here for almost twenty years. I struggled to believe my education outweighed their extensive experience.
There had to be another reason she wanted to give me the job.
Something I couldn’t put my finger on.
“Oh,” I mumbled finally, unable to verbalize any of my thoughts.
“Of course, you’ll get a pay increase—say, to the tune of an extra fifteen thousand per year.”
I swallowed hard. Thirty-five thousand a year was enough to survive on, but fifty thousand meant I could move out of my doldrums sooner—and I could pay off my rising mountain of debt quicker too.
It was more than a little tempting, to say the least.
I looked down at my hands and tried to weigh up my options, but my mind was overrun, and I couldn’t make sense of the situation.
“Mr. Clarke needs someone immediately, I’m afraid, so you’ll need to decide rather quickly,” she murmured, interrupting my thoughts.
I get a choice?
I looked at Stacey. Her eyes were wide now. Obviously, she was under pressure to find someone quick, and if I said no, she’d have to go back to the drawing board.
Saying no meant coffee-making and filing for the foreseeable future. Who knew when something like this would happen again? Probably never.
“I’m in.” I smiled. I had to jump headfirst and figure the rest out later. This was what I had studied for. Risk or not, I had to take a leap of faith.
Stacey relaxed into her seat and nodded. She pulled the black folder off her desk and held it out to me.
“There is your new contract. You’ll be working the same hours, but as you’re probably aware, Mr. Clarke will most likely require your assistance outside of normal working hours.”
I understood. I didn’t have much of life, so all-hours work wasn’t going to be a problem.
“Right, well, you may pack up your things and head to the top floor, Ruby. I have faith in you.” She smiled sweetly, but for some reason, her over-the-top kindness now seemed fake.
I left her office and walked with my coffee back to my desk. The hushed whispers around me were now followed by pointing…pointing at me.
News had already spread that I was the PA’s replacement, and I hadn’t even picked up my purse yet.
Silently, I gathered my things before taking a deep breath. I carried my satchel, the folder, and my coffee to the elevator, all the while knowing all eyes were on me.
I pressed the button and waited with my back to the whispers. Then, when the silver doors opened, I stepped inside, turned around, and looked out at the floor of women who were staring back at me.
All with looks of relief clearly present on their faces.
As the constricting box began to move up, it suddenly felt like a moving cell taking me to imminent death. The supposed relaxing elevator music may as well have been the Imperial March.
My heart thudded against my rib cage so hard, cracking a rib felt like it might actually be possible.
When the doors finally opened again, a rush of nervous energy pulsated through me, to the point I was afraid I would faint.
I wanted to run away, back to the safety of the second floor, but with nowhere else to go, I stepped out anyway onto the dark navy-blue carpet that stretched up the hallway, ending at a state-of-the-art white desk.
I hadn’t been up here before, but it was clear from first glance that up here and down there were worlds apart.
The dull browns of the cramped office space were gone and had been replaced by crisp white walls adorned with artwork I could tell cost far more than my monthly rent.
I walked down the hallway eyeing the desk at the end. I placed my things down and looked around.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I walked behind the desk and looked down. My computer was brand-new and top-of-the-line, with three screens instead of the two I’d had downstairs. To the left was a small water filter and all the stationery one could ever want.
I ran my fingers over the paper clips and stapler.
I was still taking in my surroundings when I heard someone clear their throat behind me.
My blood ran cold for the second time in less than thirty minutes, and I stiffened as I turned around to face the owner of the cleared throat.
It was clear right away that pictures did him no justice. The man was gorgeous in every sense of the word.
In the flesh, he seemed taller somehow—at least 6’2” and well-built, with sculpted muscles I could make out through the snug fit of his navy-blue suit.
He had his hands in his pockets and a deep frown on his face. He was clean-shaven, and his lips were drawn in a thin line, while his icy blue eyes were as cold as a winter’s night.
Although his disapproval was apparent in his face, he was still attractive—more than, in fact—but I could tell he was completely closed off.
“I asked for a PA, and Ms. Jones sends me a child,” he huffed.
I frowned. Who was he calling a child?
It was a well-known fact Tobias himself was twenty-seven, only five years older than me.
I was going to start this position as I intended to go on, and I didn’t intend on being some jumped-up CEO’s doormat.
“With all due respect, sir, I am twenty-two, educated, and willing to serve as your PA. Judging by the look of relief on my colleagues’ faces as I stepped into the elevator just now, I might be the only one willing.”
I was sure now, more than ever, that my appointment into this role wasn’t about my qualifications.
I was last on the floor, and first into the firing line.
Tobias’s mouth curled slightly, and I couldn’t tell if he was amused or offended. “Education means nothing, Ms.…” His voice hung, waiting for my response.
“Moritz,” I offered, my throat dry.
“Education means nothing, Ms. Moritz, if you cannot back it up with skill.”
“Well, hopefully, I’m skilled then,” I replied, forcing myself to sound strong. “You’re just going to have to take your chances.”
Tobias Clarke pulled his hands from his pockets and folded his arms across his chest. He watched me without speaking for almost a minute before raising an eyebrow and turning on his heel.
“I don’t take chances, Ms. Moritz,” he explained, his voice unforgiving. “You won’t last a week.”
Tobias walked into his office and closed the frosted glass doors. I watched his shadow move across the floor until I could no longer see him.
I let out a strangled breath. He wasn’t kind, he wasn’t approachable—in fact, he was quite possibly the business version of the Grinch. He had no faith in me, and to him, I was dispensable.
At least downstairs, I’d had job security. Now, I was wedged in between flourishing and unemployment.
I had to make this work.
I sat down, and the plush leather seat melted around my body. At least for now, I could stress in comfort.
I opened the folder containing my new contract and read through it. It was standard, stating my new salary and expectations.
The job came with benefits such as comprehensive health insurance and a dental plan to die for, but with Tobias’s harsh critique in mind, I had to wonder if I would even be here long enough to notice any of it.
I couldn’t go back now. I was here, and I was going to have to do my best to prove him wrong.
I reached for a pen from the stationery tray beside me and signed on the dotted line.
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