My steps are wooden as I plod away from my office. Clunky. Lumbering. Like I’m walking on century-old stilts.
My heart thrashes violently as I come to stand in front of the chief transporter, its sharp echo colliding with the countless thoughts sprinting through my head. I have to pause briefly before summoning it, trying to steel my nerves with a deep breath.
But my respiratory skills are further tested when its doors suddenly slide open, revealing a polished, stunning Renée, her expression serious as always, if not a little more Spartan than usual. A trim, beige pantsuit enhances her unapproachable demeanor.
I step inside, smiling in salute despite the almost debilitating pulsing in my chest.
Of all the times…
I wasn’t expecting to run into anyone at this hour, but especially not Zane’s executive assistant. I know it’s not unusual for employees to stay after work, but they’re typically secluded to their respective workstations, ensuring sparse movement in the main areas.
“Myers,” she says curtly, her simple acknowledgment distant but not unkind.
The abrupt sight of her shoves me further along an edge I was already teetering, feeling like a kid caught in pursuit of the cookie jar in the middle of the night. Not quite red-handed, but with plenty enough reasonable doubt to go around.
Renée, however, seems entirely preoccupied with her own activities, undivided focus directed at her tablet. I hit the top-level button before clasping my hands, feeling the awkward weight of the silence around us in the closed space.
Surprisingly, she breaks it, the suddenness of her voice startling me, but the ice in the air remains intact. “Mr. Zane is out of the office for the day.” Her eyes flit between mine and the transporter’s touchscreen pad implicitly. “If you have a message, I can relay it for you.”
She doesn’t come right out and ask why I want to see him. But, through the simple, straightforward offer typical of an assistant, the question hangs between us like a physical string.
I shake my head, my heart racing anew. “No, it’s okay. There was just a document I needed his signature on.”
Renée regards me, her brow arching. “Where’s the document?”
My stomach lurches into my throat, realizing my blunder too late. I stupidly said the first thing that came to mind. I scramble through it for an explanation I don’t have, feigning composure.
“It’s an e-document. Mr. Covington wanted me to relay a few more last-minute questions on his behalf. But, since he’s not in, I’ll just email him. I would have done that to begin with but Mr. Covington was insistent it be done in person, if possible.” I lie through my teeth with the straightest face I can muster, hoping the knee-jerk elaboration is convincing.
Renée’s unembellished expression doesn’t change and I find it hard to read her. I have no idea what she’s thinking. In some weird way, she’s a bit like her boss. Her eyes narrow ever so slightly, like she doesn’t believe what I’m saying.
“Very well,” she nods, redirecting her attention to her tablet once more, flicking at its screen with a fancy stylus.
I let out a silent exhale, never having been so grateful to be ignored.
Even greater relief douses me the second the transporter suspends its motion to slide open. Without another word, Renée walks out, her tense presence vacating the lift. My newly-gained knowledge of Zane’s apparent absence adds to my reprieve, and I can literally feel tightness give way around my rib cage.
I guess I’ll leave, then.
There’s nothing keeping me here anymore. I tap the button to my floor, finally able to breathe. Just before the doors close again, I spot Renée drop something in the distance.
She maintains her brisk pace, clearly not noticing, leaving it behind in her wake, completely absorbed by her work even as she heads home.
“Wait, you dropped something,” I call after her, quickly stepping out of the transporter.
An immaculate card punctuates the floor, narrowly abandoned. I crouch to pick it up, my eyes freezing when they fall on the words it contains.
A Valentine’s Day note.
Her Valentine’s Day note.
It’s…just like mine.
Exactly like mine.
The handwriting indiscernible. The spacing indistinguishable. There’s absolutely no difference. No distinction, whatsoever.
I blink rapidly for no reason.
There’s no way a person could get that kind of precision and accuracy over and over again, even with their own handwriting, no matter how meticulous they are. If anything, it would gradually deteriorate, much like with doctors who write prescriptions all day.
Renée’s heel-clad footsteps break my concentration, forcing my eyes away from the piece of paper. When she holds my gaze, I realize what I’m doing and get hold of myself, handing it over.
“Thank you,” she simply offers, taking it from me and sliding it back into her purse. “Have a good weekend.”
I swallow in spite of myself, hoping she doesn’t hear the new threads of strain in my voice. “You, too.”
Eventually, she disappears from sight, leaving me in the company of an unduly deteriorating mood.
That’s one good deed I would have been perfectly okay not doing.
I should have just minded my own business.
The knots in my stomach loosen, but a strange hollowness takes their place.
The change is instantaneous. I felt it the second I saw Renée’s note.
I don’t know why.
It’s not the first Valentine’s note other than mine I’ve seen today. And I was already well informed that countless more exist. So, I’d expect his executive assistant, of all people, to have one, as well.
And, yet…somehow, seeing it was a surprise for some reason.
I deflate against my will, feeling stupid. But, more than that, I feel angry for this ridiculous, weird sense of disappointment swirling around in my gut.
What the fuck was I expecting?
I’ve only known him for two seconds. Did I actually let myself think—even for a moment—that the rose and note on my desk were a romantic gesture? That he was giving me some sort of special treatment because of unexplained, random events at a charity date?
I must be out of my mind.