Tess had been sitting at that desk for a small eternity when someone passing shoved a pre-packaged salad under her nose. Sandra had left her with lots of notes and information, and systems to be learnt. Ultimately Tess had learnt her job was going to be keeping Mr Sinclair’s seemingly very busy professional life in order. Which sounded kind of boring, but at least keeping one person in order was nice and straightforward. Not like being ushered around the building on all sorts of errands she didn’t understand. Still though, as straightforward as it all seemed, Tess was tired and her head hurt. She had spent the last forty minutes staring at a piece of scheduling software, trying to work out how to enter the instructions for a meeting left on a scribbled post-it. She was relieved when the salad bloke crept into her vision.
She took the salad off him and sort of frowned at it, unsure of what to do next. The bloke was a scruffy twenty-something who, she imagined, had a mountain bike tethered outside the building. She could smell him, he smelt musty and twenty-somethingish. Like Lynx mixed with sweat. ‘It’s his’ the sweaty twentysomething gestured toward the office where Tobias Sinclair had his head in some papers. ‘Oh’ Tess responded. She looked toward the glass, but by the time she turned back, twentysomething had disappeared. Tess looked down at the plastic package in her hands, ‘okay’ she said to herself ‘now what?’.
She stared at it for what seemed like a very long time. Twentysomething had also left a bottle of mineral water and some plastic cutlery. She looked over it all and thought about 80s power lunches, and kale, and suddenly she wanted a chocolate brownie. Her stomach rumbled, she thought about lunch, she looked at her watch. Suddenly it was gone one, and she hadn’t done anything that morning, but at least she was getting paid for it. She sighed and stood up sharply. Reluctantly she picked up the useless excuse for a lunch. No one really ever liked eating kale. Then Tess took a deep breath and walked around her desk. She stopped in front of the glass wall and tapped the door lightly, which felt kind of ridiculous. He could see her coming. Still, it felt like the polite thing to do.
A ’come in’ rang out as she pushed her way in, which she’d planned on doing anyway. Was she supposed to wait? She’d have to figure that out later. She looked up into the very sharp, tired looking eyes of Tobias Sinclair. He kind of looked like an angry cat that was too sleepy to be its usual angry self. She carefully placed the salad, water and cutlery down on his desk then stepped back. She was aware of how clinical and proprietorial she must have looked, like she was preparing him for surgery. ‘The… um salad guy dropped this off’, she said standing stiffly. Tobias surveyed the objects and tapped at the side of the salad as though trying to discern its contents. ‘I’m Tess, by the way’. She felt awkward, but then that was hardly her fault. Tobias looked up at her, then his eyes followed her body all the way down to the floor. It was a tad unnerving. ‘I know’ he said, looking back down at his papers. A moment passed. He was really shit with people, that much was obvious.
As Tess contemplated what she should say next he looked back up at her. ‘I’m Tobias’ he said, ‘or Mr Sinclair. Whichever you prefer’. He gestured about, his eyes widening and his voice deepening as his body worked its way up to the conversation. What did Tess prefer? She didn’t realise she’d have to decide. She thought ahead, thinking she might avoid calling him anything. While she was pondering this Tobias’ eyes had come to rest again on the salad. She could see he hated it, but he seemed the kind of man who would eat it anyway.
Feeling her own stomach rumble, and out of niceties, she turned as if to leave. ‘Do you need me for anything right now? Or is it okay if I…’ she gestured toward the door, Tobias’ brow knotted. Tess felt the air hang heavy and empty. ‘Um. Go to lunch?’ she said lightly. ‘Yes, of course’ Tobias looked back down at his papers and began to shift them about. ‘Whenever you want to go is fine, unless I have something in particular I need you for. But I’ll let you know in advance’. ‘Great’ Tess responded, still unsure of herself. She edged toward the door and slipped out as Tobias became distracted by the paperwork.
Tess took herself to the atrium, with its modest attempt at housing an array of tropical plants it felt like a natural paradise compared to the minimalist clinician’s office that was Callahoun & McCormick. As she sat down she felt her body breathe a sigh of relief. Relief from tension she didn’t even know she was carrying. She opened her eyes for what felt like the first time in months. A normal job with particular hours, in a particular place, with particular people. This was all she wanted; a schedule. Now she could work on the other stuff. Yeah, there was the most likely chance that Tobias Sinclair would become the man she had been warned about. By next Wednesday she could find herself having an anxiety attack, crying in the stairwell. But right now she was okay, right now she felt safe. And right now, compared to everything else she’d had to deal with so far in her life, Tobias Sinclair didn’t seem so bad.
If you want to read from the beginning go here.