On Monday, Erin was at her desk listening as Allison called Kai to congratulate him on winning the contest. Erin emailed him the contract to sign. Kai replied that he would drop it off at the office the next day so they could open the escrow account to pay for the materials and subcontractors. He would be managing the entire project, reporting directly to Allison and the Chief Operating Officer.
On Tuesday, Erin wore a skirt and heels as she usually did when a meeting was scheduled, so Allison wouldn’t think it was odd. But she did pick her best hip-hugging skirt and a button-up shirt that could go down an extra button for a nice sexy effect. As sexy as a librarian could look, but she felt motivated to try.
When Emily buzzed that Kai had arrived, Allison told Emily, “Give us five minutes, then take him to the conference room.” To Erin, she ordered, “Let Harry know that Kai is here.”
Harry was their Chief Financial Officer and he had papers for the checking account that he needed Kai to sign. Erin had coordinated the paperwork with his assistant to be sure they had everything set.
Allison took those five minutes to examine her face in a mirror, applying makeup and slicking down her fly-away blond hairs.
“Look at you! You act like you’re going on a date,” Francesca said from her computer. “I’m going to have to get a look at this guy, if he’s all that.”
Allison didn’t like being poked, and Francesca knew it. But she had been at BioEnd longer than both of them, and was enough of a fixture to get away with things that Erin never would have tried with their boss.
“If this guy knows what’s good for him, he’ll fall right in line,” Allison bragged.
Erin expected Kai to be distantly polite with her after what had happened in the subway. It made sense that Kai would underscore their new working relationship by being civil, nothing more.
But from the first moment he saw her, his eyes lit up and his voice lowered slightly as he said hello. As if he felt it, too. Like they had gone from strangers to connected somehow.
She focused on her iPad, checking off the items as Allison and Harry went through them with him. It was a complex job, and she hadn’t realized how much Kai would have to do to make sure it was a success. Any overruns would come out of his commission, so he would be motivated to make sure the project came in on budget.
While they were meeting, a steady flow of office staff filed by the glass walls of the conference room. It was funny, especially when Francesca and a few others sashayed by a couple times before they got their fill. Harry didn’t notice with his back to the glass and his figures in front of him, but Allison did, and she didn’t like it. Erin was fairly certain Kai also noticed the unusually heavy traffic in the hallway.
When they were done, Harry packed up everything, including Kai's signed copy of the contract, and congratulated their new coworker before he left the conference room.
Allison thoughtfully tapped her pen on the folder in front of her. “We need to get some publicity stills first thing for our announcement. I’m thinking we can use that model you made of the sundial. And the model of the bench. The light through your window was quite nice and it should make for some interesting shots. No more black and white portraits.” She leaned forward. “It doesn’t do justice to your beautiful eyes.”
Erin had to look away. Allison couldn’t be serious, not with Erin sitting right there listening! Allison was just trying to get control of the situation, as she always did with the people she worked with. But her cougar-like approach was not a flattering look.
Kai didn’t smile back. “Whatever you say, Boss.”
Allison hesitated. He had just barely emphasized the word “Boss.” He was pointing out the fact that he worked for her. Allison sat back. “I’ll come by tomorrow with our photographer.”
Now Kai did smile. “I’m busy tomorrow. But I could do it tonight.”
“I’m busy tonight. And I don’t think the photographer would be free on such short notice.”
Erin decided to help Kai out, if he was going to fight back. “I’ll text John to find out.”
Allison and Kai kept looking at each other, and Erin was reminded of the way he had squared off with those guys in the subway. The tension was not as deadly, but it did fill the room.
After only a few seconds their freelance photographer responded by text. “He’s free this evening. He asks how about 5:30?”
“Fine by me,” Kai said easily.
“I’ll send him your address,” Erin said.
Allison was smiling tightly. “Good, I’m glad that worked out. I’ll handle the interviews and give the media a couple of nice quotes from you. I’ll pass them by you tomorrow.” She stood up abruptly, holding out her hand. “Welcome to BioEnd, Kai. I’m sure you know your way out by now.”
Erin was still gathering up her stuff as Allison opened the door. “Come on, Erin. We have a lot of work to do.”
When Allison's back was turned, Kai gave Erin a grin and a thumbs up. He looked so boyish suddenly, like they were kids conspiring behind their mom’s back. She almost laughed, but Allison would have jumped all over her.
The last thing they heard was Kai whistling as he came out of the conference room behind them. Allison picked up her steps, as he walked the other direction toward reception.
“Arrogant asshole,” Allison muttered. “They’re all like that. So sweet at first, until they get what they want. Then you see their true colors.”
Erin was afraid to say anything and have Allison's anger backlash on her. After all, she had just helped Kai get the better of Allison. But Allison was so focused on the fact that he had dropped her in a deep freeze the second the contract was signed, that she couldn’t see beyond that right now.
“At least John knows what I need. You’ll have to be my eyes and ears, Erin. Make sure he gets a shot through the sundial with Kai's face behind it. You know like the Vessey Davis kind of angle? And try to position the bench so the light shines through it. I know the real ones won’t look like that, but it will be sharp in the photos if you can get it right.”
“I’m going?” Erin asked.
“Yes, what do you not get, Erin? I’m counting on you to make sure I have the shots I need. I’m not breaking my date tonight. And I’m not trekking all the way out there to no-where’s-ville just for work.”
Allison didn’t bother to ask if Erin had plans. But Erin didn’t have much of a life outside of work. Leaving her friends and family behind had been hard, and it was tough to make new friends in the city. She had considered getting a roommate, but she had never had a roommate before. She had lived at home while she got her degree.
Erin felt lucky that she had managed to befriend the two women who lived on the ground floor of her building. Michele and Katie were a really sweet couple, in their early thirties. They asked her to go for drinks at some of the local bars every now and again. They were fun to hang out with, but usually Erin went for her morning pancakes alone or read in the used book store on Saturday afternoons. She met a lot of guys in Williamsburg, and had gone on a surprising number of dates. But none of them had clicked with her. Too young, too old, too weird, too pushy… she got to the point she could tell an unemployed actor from an unemployed musician at a single glance. After a couple of dates and her refusals to have casual sex, they usually stopped calling.
Now she would have to go back to Kai's studio. The scene of the crime, so to speak. At least she would have John there for protection.
But the more she thought about it, the more she wondered if it would be necessary. She didn’t think Kai would make a move on her. He was a coworker now, and he had very neatly put Allison in her place when she tried to flirt with him. But then again, that could be his latest tactic in their dance. It had certainly made Allison sit up and notice, and she might even treat him with more respect now that he had proven he wasn’t her lap dog.
There was no reason to think Kai was really interested in Allison. But when Erin ran into the Human Rights Director in the bathroom, she blurted out, “What’s the company policy on dating coworkers?”
Mrs. Roberts didn’t seem surprised by the question. “As long as he or she isn’t in your direct chain of command, it’s fine. So if you want to date Allison, she’s off limits. As is Fred, and of course, Mr. William. You’re not thinking about dating Mr. William, are you, Erin?”
“No!” She hadn’t considered that Mrs. Roberts would think she was asking for herself. But she was relieved to find out that Allison couldn’t date Kai under the terms of her contract with BioEnd.
“Now if you and Francesca wanted to date, you could since you’re coworkers. It’s not anyone’s business. In fact, it’s better if you can keep your behavior private during business hours. The less talk the better for everyone involved.”
Erin laughed at the idea of dating Francesca. “I won’t need the info, but thank you.”
“It’s always good to know what you’re getting into before you take a big leap.”
As Erin returned to her desk, she thought that was the kind of advice her own mom would give her. Too bad she couldn’t tell her mom what had happened in the subway with Kai. Her parents would flip out if they thought she was in danger in the city. Her mom wasn’t shy about telling Erin how bad the city was. Her mom wanted her to move back upstate—she kept offering up Syracuse as only an hour away, and Albany not much further. As long as Erin could come home for dinner once a week, her mom would have been satisfied.
Erin wished she had someone she could talk to. But she was on her own.