I stand there, engulfed in a crowd of strangers…completely frozen.
All the cheering instantly stops, the room falling dead silent.
My eyes go wide impulsively, every inch of me beyond startled as I look ahead.
I…I could have sworn I just heard my name.
For a second, I’m sure I mishear; that my imagination is playing a cruel, untimely trick on me. But Covington’s confirmative gaze finds me through the assembly, his eyes settling on mine.
“Come on up, Reausalind,” he motions, his expression a mesh of encouragement and something I can’t quite pinpoint. Everyone else’s collective gaze mimics his and turns to me, the entire crowd following his line of vision.
I blink rapidly, snapping out of the stunned daze I’ve been sinking in and force myself to walk even though my legs suddenly feel like lead.
Unfamiliar people part in front of me as I place one foot in front of the other, feeling more confused and anxious than I think I ever have in my entire life. But I feign confidence to the best of my ability, trying to ignore the countless stares in my direction amid the deafening quiet.
My hesitant steps are the only sound for several seconds, and all I can hope in this moment is that they’re loud enough to cover up the erratic, monstrous heartbeat emanating from my chest.
Covington and the other picks are only a few feet away, but it feels like an odyssey by the time I join them. Perplexed, I stand next to the CEO and those he called before me, with no idea what to think or do.
“Once again, give it up for the Zanergy team,” Covington says into the mic. A chorus of claps thankfully overturns the uncomfortable silence, but with far less cheering and enthusiasm than before it abruptly went mute.
“Thank you for your time, everyone. And to commemorate this joyous occasion, free lunch on me for everyone. Whatever you want.”
More claps follow, with a few appreciative whistles thrown in, but I can’t help shake this weird, sudden tightness in the air.
“I’d like to see the newly-appointed Zanergy team in my office immediately after this,” Covington concludes. “Everyone else, please resume your duties as usual. Thank you again.”
And, with that, Covington takes his leave. Everyone follows suit, dispersing from the lounge. For several seconds, I simply watch everybody else because even though the head guy’s instructions were crystal clear, I’m not sure what to do.
I…I feel like I just got punk’d.
But, as soon as the thought forms, I have an internal face-palm moment.
Oh, my God…of course!
This is probably just the type of prank they pull on newbies. An indoctrination ritual, of sorts. It has to be.
Why didn’t I realize it sooner?
A bit of the tension in my spine lets up and a small sense of relief washes over me at the realization.
Still…talk about initiating the new intern.
Covington and everyone else up there will no doubt be gauging my reaction, waiting to see what I’ll do and make their initial assessment of me based on that. This is a first impression test.
I have to keep my cool.
I scurry into the nearest available elevator, squeezing between other bodies attached to unfamiliar faces en route to their respective floors. I keep my eyes on the closed doors ahead as we collectively ascend, wishing I could take the stairs instead—and enjoy the accompanying privacy and stress-relief the mini work-out would offer—but I don’t have the luxury of time right now.
All eyes instantly fall on me the second I walk into Covington’s office, and all conversation completely halts, everyone going pin-drop silent while a strange, awkward tension quickly saturates the room. I do a silent head-count, noting that everybody who was called is already present, a few of their faces somewhat familiar from seeing them downstairs.
I realize I’m the last one to arrive, and I have no idea whether I should say hello or offer any sort of greeting considering everyone else’s expression:
An unmistakable mesh of disbelief and unveiled disapproval.
This. Is. Not. A. Prank.
My stomach promptly knots up at the realization, a string of dread slithering down my spine as I struggle to swallow.
There’s nothing remotely funny about this. Not a single person says anything, but the discomfort in the air is almost palpable, and all I can do is offer a taut, nervous smile when I make eye-contact with the woman I just happen to stand next to.
For a few seconds that feel way too long, we remain motionless in tense silence, waiting on the man who assembled us here. Thankfully, he comes in before I give in to the urge to run straight ahead and jump out of the nearest window, closing his door behind him.
The room’s collective gaze falls on him as he takes his seat. It’s like they all want to ask what the hell he’s thinking, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. Hell, I want to do the same. But Covington doesn’t seem to notice the off energy in the room. Or, if he does, he’s doing a superb job at ignoring the hell out of it.
He gets straight to the point, diving into the briefing on the Zanergy account. He gives a quick overview, history, time-line and summary of the current flagship project in question, Z to A. As much as I try to, I can’t for the life of me focus on anything he’s saying because, one: I’m truly, completely and entirely lost, having no prior knowledge on this company and no experience in the traditional energy sector in general and, two: there’s an obvious, bright pink elephant in the room.
I feel beyond awkward standing among people I don’t know. People who clearly disapprove of my attendance here even as I question it myself. I don’t know how much time passes, but it genuinely feels like hours and, by the time Covington is done, I have no more insight on this venture than I did when I walked in.
“You’ll receive some more correspondence over the course of the day concerning the account,” he concludes.
Several questions from almost all of the team members follow, surprisingly none about me even though I can practically hear the complaint and discontentment in their tones whenever they speak.
Some more exchange about the account ensues between the members, each person chiming in at least once, demonstrating their knowledge of and confidence about both the company and project, and, therefore, their justification for being in this office right now.
It’s clear that they’re all thinking it, even if they don’t voice it.
I’m pretty much ignored for the entire duration of the meeting, and even though I feel really awkward about it, I can’t wrong them for feeling how they feel about my surprise addition. Still, it sucks that I have to endure this when there isn’t a single part of me that even wants to be here.
The meeting finally adjourns, and everyone starts to shuffle out of Covington’s office, continuing their conversations on their way out.
For a split second, I’m caught between leaving with everyone else and staying back to talk to Covington. But my eyes decidedly turn to the CEO, still sitting at his desk.
“Hang around for a bit, Myers,” he says just when I’m about to open my mouth, as if he was waiting for me to say something.
Eventually, the last person exits the office, leaving just the two of us.
His eyes level with mine. “Have a seat.”