What the hell is wrong with me? Robert asked himself again as he listened to his father drone on about the company’s progress. Why did I ask her all those questions?
Replaying his awkward conversation with Janelle was painful. He’d never been good with women, and even he knew the importance of having some tact. But her news had blindsided him and left him scrambling for answers.
He didn'twant her to go.
He hated coming here to Jones & Co., but it was a necessary evil and he’d resigned himself to his fate. One day he’d walked in, greeting everyone as he always did — an easy way of delaying the inevitable conflict with his father — and he’d seen her.
A new young woman, diligently working on her computer. The stack of books on the corner of her desk had been ridiculously intimidating, but the focus on her face was too intriguing to resist. He’d gone over and introduced himself by asking, “Do you get a lot of time to read on this job?”
She’d jumped a little and immediately reached out to grab the stack and move it out of sight. “I’m sorry,” she’d said. “I just got out of class and didn't have time to drop them off before coming here.”
Her pretty brown eyes had taken him in, and she’d asked, “Who are you?”
“Related to Mr. Jones?”
“He’s my father.”
They’d chatted briefly, until his father came out to harp on her for talking instead of working, and to remind Robert of his duty. He’d fought with his father that day, told him off for treating a new hire that way. Richard Jones had been too surprised by his son’s vehemence to really respond at the time, although Robert’s next visit had been particularly unpleasant thanks to his heroism.
Since that first meeting, Robert had looked forward to seeing her. She was so different from the other employees; she had fire, and he appreciated that, even if his father didn't. He hated the thought that he wouldn't see her again.
He threw a furtive glance at his watch. She was leaving in half an hour. How much longer could his father drone on?
“Are you even listening to me?”
He looked up. “Yes.”
“For Chrissake, pull your head out of your ass. We have a board meeting in a week, and you still haven’t come up with the final project.”
Robert fought down his anger. This is worth it, he promised himself. You’re almost done, and everything will be okay in two more weeks.
Calm, refocused, he nodded. “I’ll have it ready for you to present by the meeting.”
And his father was quizzing him again for information about the newest product launch. Thirty-two minutes later, Robert hurried from his father’s office, already scanning for Janelle. But her desk was cleaned out, her computer off, paperwork stacked neatly for the temp.
The night custodian looked up and gave Robert a smile. “Need something, Mr. Jones?”
“Have you seen Miss Rosen? I wanted to talk to her before she left.”
Tim shook his head sadly. “Gonna miss that girl. She was heading to the elevator with her box. She parks on the third level of the garage.”
Robert hurried away. The elevator’s lights were lit up like a Christmas tree; there’d be lots of stops before reaching the parking garage’s causeway. But no one ever took the stairs. He’d never been the most athletic guy, but he worked out. Sometimes. Stairs wouldn't be a problem.
* * *
Ten flights down, he realized this had probably been a bad idea. His knees were wobbly, and he knew he was sweating. But he might catch her before she left –
God, if I reach her in time, I swear I will do more squats at the gym. I’ll do more cardio. I’ll stop ordering take-out, he bargained as he barreled down two more flights. One more and he’d be at the causeway.
He staggered through the door and paused long enough to rest his hands on his knees, sucking in huge gulps of air. It always looked so easy to pull crap like this when it was up on a screen. Reality: gamers weren't cut out for this shit. A quick glance behind him showed the elevator had already passed the floor.
He cranked his head to look toward the garage. And there, just a faint outline, he could see her. Janelle, juggling a box filled with her personal items, headed toward her car.
He ignored the ache in his legs, the burning sensation at his sternum, and sprinted after her. “Janelle!”
She didn't turn around.
He could see her fumbling with her purse, getting out her car keys, putting the box in the trunk. She started toward the driver’s door, and there was so much damn distance between them —
“Janelle!” he bellowed one more time, desperation giving the call the strength it needed.
She turned, a funny look on her face, and waited as he ran up to her, gasping for air. He held up an index finger while he tried to get enough air to talk. She leaned back against her car, a bemused smile on her face as she took him in.
“Did you need something, Mr. Jones?”
He nodded. She waited. Finally, he was able to straighten and ask with only minimal wheezing, “Do you have plans for dinner?”
He wasn't about to give up now. He’d made his mind up. All or nothing. “I want to take you to dinner.”
She shifted a little and wouldn't quite look at him. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? You’re not working for my dad anymore. I hate his guts anyway.”
She wasn't convinced, so he kept going.
“And you can’t forget the Christmas party.”
There it was – a slight flush creeping into her cheeks as she tucked a strand of hair back behind her ear. She may not have been looking at him, but he knew where her mind had gone.
His had gone there over and over for months.
Heading out of the main party toward one of the quieter offices. Breathing a sigh of relief when he was away from the chaos outside. Only to turn and find her there, sitting quietly in a chair, reading some huge book.
She’d gasped when she saw him, nearly spilling her drink.
“Sorry!” he’d apologized.
“I – I just needed –“ She trailed off, looking embarrassed.
“Somewhere quiet? Me too.”
They’d talked for the next hour, and before he knew it, he was sitting across from her on the desk, taking in the way her face tilted up to his when she spoke, the way her eyes lit up with excitement as she talked about her plans for the future. He’d been stupid, short sighted.
But at that moment, leaning forward to kiss her had been the only logical option.
Just like now. Except this time, she didn't pull away. Didn't stammer out an excuse of why they shouldn't. Didn't rush from the room like he’d tried to ravage her at his father’s office party.
This time, she just looked at him nervously, eyes widening just a bit as he placed a gentle hand against the side of her face, curling his fingers around the back of her head, drawing her closer to him. This time, she made the noise he’d imagined she would as their lips met, a soft sigh.
And when he finally pulled back and asked, “Dinner?” again, she just nodded.