You inhale, long and deep, your eyelids fluttering in tandem with your heart as you watch the sign in front of you get larger and larger.
You walk ahead, still in utter disbelief as you near the acclaimed building.
You’re actually here.
For real, for real here.
After a relatively smooth, twenty-minute commute, you arrive at the physical pinnacle of your dreams over an hour early thanks to the trial run you did yesterday.
You’re wired even though you barely got any sleep. Your nerves shot to hell. Your skin buzzing. You reach for the door with a shaky hand, your breath stuttering as you suck in all the air around you, as if you’re afraid to touch it. As if the moment you make contact, you’ll realize that this is still all a dream and wake up to the most disappointing, mundane reality in all of existence.
Your eyelids drift closed with another inhale, your fingers wrapping themselves around the handle.
You swallow, standing still as a statue for several seconds, like you’re waiting for it to happen; for this incredible, lifelike fantasy to come to an end.
When you open your eyes again, the building is still in front of you and your hand is still on the metal bar, gripping it tightly. You stand there, both afraid to pull it and let go, struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of this moment.
Your fingers twitch when you finally jerk the door open, removing the last of barriers of this new frontier. Literally.
You make your way inside, eyes eagerly roaming, scanning every micro-section of the immediate interior. Expectedly, you’re required to clear a security checkpoint before proceeding. What’s unexpected, however, is just how thorough and extensive the screening is, easily matching what you’d expect at airports. X-ray conveyors. Metal detectors. Biometric scanners. Manual inspection. The works.
It takes a good while—and a whole lot of your patience—to pass through, eating away at a large chunk of the time you’d hoped would go toward actually getting set up.
What the hell is this, the damn Pentagon?
Once cleared, you look back on the security post—more like, series of posts, really—in disbelief all over again, wondering how in the world folks are supposed to start work on time when everyone has to go through this extreme, serial pat-down every single day.
A central lounging area greets you as you walk further, preceding the main reception up ahead. You inhale deeply as you approach it, trying to appear more confident than you feel, but you have to steel your nerves against the sudden spell of anxiety that pours down on you.
A slightly older woman sits behind the curved desk, the tawny waves atop her head clipped away from her face, enhancing the column of lines across her forehead. She’s on the phone, evidently stressed, barely registering your existence. When she finally looks up, she seems almost surprised to see you, as if you snuck up on her like a ninja when you’ve actually been standing here for a whole minute.
“Can I help you?” she asks, sounding somewhat indifferent, the question coming off as more of an afterthought.
Not the warmest reception for a receptionist but you decide to ignore it.
“Uh, yes, I got selected for the internship program this year. When I called in, I was asked to see Ms. Hillmer?”
“Just one second,” she replies, picking up the landline again. She punches in a number, holding the receiver to her ear as her eyes dart up to yours once more, like she’s trying to make sure that you actually are who you say you are.
“Hi, Jeannie,” she says as a muffled, indecipherable voice comes through on the other end. “The new intern’s here to see you.”
More correspondence follows; clipped, brief exchanges, like a tennis match but, unlike one, the conversation is over quickly.
“Okay, thanks,” the receptionist finally says, hanging up and turning her attention back to you. “You’re going to want to head to the fourth floor. Office four-o-one.” She gestures behind her. “Elevator’s up ahead.”
“Thank you,” you nod, walking in the direction she points.
Four lifts punctuate the connecting hallway, two pairs standing opposite each other. You summon the one closest to you, looking around as you wait for it to arrive. The main area seems empty. Quiet. But you anticipate an outpour of people with the typical morning bustle soon.
You glance at your watch, mildly annoyed. Thirty minutes have already gone by and you haven’t even located the main office.
The elevator to your left dings open first, its metal doors sliding away from each other. Even though the motion is a trivial, mechanical action typical of such an appliance, you can’t help but feel like this is a rite of passage; a grand gesture, welcoming you into its sanctuary.
You step into it, inhaling deeply as you hit the button for the fourth floor, nervous all over again when the doors close shut and the lift ascends.
You’re slightly surprised no one else is in here. You know there’s still half an hour left but there are usually a few early-birds in every workplace. Nonetheless, you’re grateful that the small, momentary privacy allows you to freak out—and subsequently compose yourself—without inhibition.
The elevator comes to a stop and slides open again a moment later, revealing another hallway. You step out of it with a surge of excitement-slash-nervousness, vaguely registering the sound of its doors closing behind you as you advance.
In a way, you feel like Alice when she first fell into Wonderland; treading lightly, keeping a close eye on everything so you can find your way around this uncharted, magical terrain.
Your gaze drifts to the corridor lined with offices on your right, latching on to the number beside the very first one.
Here we are.
You regard the bold, block letters on the glass door.
PROTOCOL AND ADMINISTRATION
It’s slightly ajar, but the shutter blinds on the windows are still closed. You knock on it softly, like you’re scared you might break it, anxious all over again.
Unexpectedly, silence ensues. You repeat the action, a tad less gentle. When you’re met with the same result, you push it open slowly, poking your head through, as if you’re lost.
Your eyes immediately fall on two men and a woman, so immersed in what they’re individually doing that they don’t seem to have heard you knock—or notice that a strange woman’s head is currently protruding through their door.
“Excuse me,” you blurt, clearing your throat when your existence continues to go unnoticed.
All three of them look up from their devices, their collective expression a mesh of slight confusion and surprise, much like the receptionist downstairs. You’d think they had noise-cancelling headphones on or something.
“Yes, come in,” the woman beckons, peering at you beneath dark, tapered bangs, setting aside the tablet and stylus she was seemingly hypnotized by just a second ago. “You’re the new intern?”
“Yes,” you confirm, stepping inside.
“Do you have your signed acceptance letter with you?” she asks, getting right to it, clearly too busy for introductions.
“Ah, yes…” you reach into your bag, taking out the document in question. “Here,” you smile sheepishly, slightly embarrassed by how crimpled it now looks as you hand it to her.
She slides into one of many seats, her gaze flitting between a computer screen and the letter as her fingers tap across the keyboard. It’s the only sound for several seconds, somehow adding to the bizarre awkwardness in the room.
The two men go back to being quietly engrossed in whatever it is they were focused on before your arrival, saying absolutely nothing. The atmosphere is…strange. Almost…tense. And you’re not sure why. Like you walked in on a massive, passive-aggressive argument or something.
Maybe this is what the early-morning drag is like here?
“Your department’s on the third floor,” the woman finally says, breaking the silence. She hands you back the acceptance letter, along with another document. “That’s a temporary employee form. Read over all the terms, stipulations and conditions. Then fill it out and sign at the bottom. You’ll need to see Dave Schapiro in 319. He’s the head of your unit. He’ll have to sign it, too. Then bring it back here.”
“Alrighty,” you nod, smiling to yourself at the mention of the familiar name.
You walk out, leaving the door ajar the way you found it and head back to the elevator. Normally, you’d take the stairs for just a single floor, but this is new terrain and you can’t afford even the smallest delay. Not on your very first day.
You make your descent to the third floor, your stomach twinging with the drop, but you know your nerves are far more to blame for the sensation than gravitational pull.
We’re almost there…