You vaguely register the sound of the slotted click, your back pressed against the door, all your weight leaning into it involuntarily; your legs suddenly weak, still clutching the knob behind you, the cold bite of metal seeping into your palm.
You remain there for several seconds, in the same position, unable to move. To do anything. Your brain simultaneously numb and on fire. A half-formed exhale sputters out of you, and you realize you were still holding your breath, the trudge back to your office a complete and utter daze. And then, like a light switch, your body abruptly flips, blood surging uncontrollably through every inch of you, shooting straight to your fingers and toes, your stunned somberness lifting, replaced by a sharp, concentrated wave of restlessness. Your legs move without your permission, carrying you forward to no particular destination. You pace back and forth aimlessly, trying and failing to keep up with your newly agitated, racing mind. And you feel like you’re about to completely lose it; having traded one overbearing problem for another—one a million times more distressing and precarious. Even as you curse every fiber holding you together for the billionth time, you can’t stop yourself from wondering how the fuck you ended up in this situation all over again. How you ended up making the dumbest mistake in all of existence.
You can’t even fathom the idea; genuinely unable—or perhaps just too afraid—to envision what this insane “interview” is going to be like. Even as the thought burrows its way into every inch and crevice of your brain matter, looming over your head like a solid, portable cloud. You can practically feel it ricochet inside your skull, the very notion just too boggling; actually asking a man you just met—one who intimidates the crap out of you without even saying a word and also happens to be your boss’s boss—the most private—not to mention vulgar—questions you can ask another human being.
And, worse…hearing the answers to them.
Thoroughly and truthfully.
You know you’ve technically already done it once, but that was a careless, unbelievable freak accident. A damning byproduct of gross negligence. This is going to be something planned. Premeditated. Intentional. There’s just no comparison.
What makes it even more daunting is not knowing the questions. Having absolutely no clue of what you’re going to ask.
What you’re supposed to ask.
You can’t adequately prepare yourself for what you’re unaware of—or the accompanying mental toll you’re positive you’ll have to endure as a result of the responses coming your way, if his first was any indication.
Though, somehow, you imagine that even if you did have the stupid game with you, it would hardly make a difference. For all your studious and research-inclined tendencies, there’s just no practicing for something like this.
You grow lightheaded, on the verge of passing out from excessive, uncontrollable over-thinking. A part of you kind of hopes you do. It might actually be the best thing that could happen to you right now if it gets you sent home early and awarded the rest of the day off.
But no such luck.
When you can no longer afford to stay consumed by your overshadowing thoughts and locked away in the safety of your office, you plummet head-first into the workday, having to distract yourself with meetings and lab rounds, employing write-ups and summations to elbow your way through anxiety and agitation. The combination has you highly strung all day, so nervous that you lose track of time. Before you know it, people are packing up their stations and exiting their respective workspaces.
Your heart bungee jumps into your throat when you check your watch.
You walk back to your office brimming with apprehension, your heart skipping as you watch people go the opposite way, in blissful departure for the weekend. You lock yourself inside once more, your breathing becoming labored all over again, your fingers trembling against the knob. You can’t stop yourself from pacing anew, your feet finding every inch of the room repeatedly, leaving virtual skid marks on the carpet until the involuntary action wears you out. You stop abruptly, standing still for a moment, absently staring into a wall.
Silently, unwillingly, your countdown commences. And you’re nothing short of powerless to stop it.
Forty-seven minutes until your first interview with Richard Zane.