Janelle Rosen grit her teeth and reminded herself to breathe. “Of course, Mr. Jones,” she responded calmly. A few swift clicks of the mouse, and the report — which he’d requested she proofread a little over an hour ago — was speeding to his inbox through the annals of cyberspace.
No apology was offered for saying her name incorrectly. He didn't thank her. Didn't even acknowledge her hard work. For the millionth time that day, she decided she hated her boss. But a tiny smile spread across her face when she glanced at the time.
Correction: she hated her soon-to-be ex-boss. As of six o’clock tonight, her internship was over, and she’d finally be free of the slimy old man. She’d had no say on her placement; the economy was so depressed, the college had a difficult time finding any placements for its business students. She’d at least been fortunate enough to find a position with a local firm. Some of her classmates were commuting over an hour to their placements.
Nevertheless, it was frustrating to deal with Mr. Jones’s daily doses of cruelty — snide comments, aggressive body language, openly expressed opinions about the lack of worth women provided in the private sector, and so on — but a week ago she’d gotten an interview with a new company. Her second interview, this one with the company’s founder, was tomorrow morning, and she felt confident.
Literate Solutions was a small start-up, focused on using immersive technology to provide interactive e-books to adults with reading difficulties. The atmosphere there had been infectious, and she’d quickly learned that all the employees were passionate and dedicated to the company’s cause. She’d be trusted to use her creativity and literature background, and the lure of freedom was powerful.
She tried to push the thoughts of tomorrow from her mind. There were still emails to write up, final paperwork to push through for her temporary replacement, and her desk to clean out. Just the thought of that made her giddy.
The elevator dinged, and the familiar “Evening, Mrs. Mokes” directed at the front receptionist made Janelle’s heart do a funny little flip. He was back.
Every two weeks, Mr. Jones’s son, Robert, stopped by the office. She didn't know if he did it out of a sense of familial obligation or because he had to, but his visits were one of the rare high points of her internship.
She quickly looked back at her computer screen, wishing she didn't react so much to his presence. Ever since they’d almost had a moment at the company Christmas party, she couldn't get him out of her head. Which was bad, since she was leaving and he was the boss’s son.
But the sound of his voice, light and almost playful as he greeted each staff member on his way to his father’s office, was so distracting.
She could see movement from the corner of her eye, and feigned concentration on the task at hand. Not that it mattered.
“Miss Rosen, did you mean to type ‘please’ three times in a row there?”
She mentally grimaced at the mistake, but tried to play it cool as she looked up at him. He was leaning against her desk, his hands stuffed in his pockets, a winning grin on his face. Robert was everything his father was not. Instead of an aged suit, he wore casual wool trousers and an untucked dress shirt with a sweater thrown over it. The white Converse sneakers only added to his air of informality. His light brown hair was just a bit too long for the business world, and she was fairly certain that he had a forearm tattoo, since she’d caught a glimpse of something under his sleeves one day when he’d reached across her desk to take a pencil.
She was so distracted by him that she was amazed to hear herself respond, “I was trying to emphasize my point.”
“I see.” The smile deepened, and fine creases appeared at the corners of his eyes. “You meant to emphasize the importance of making my father’s coffee correctly?”
No way out of this one, genius. “Yes. That’s what I meant.”
Robert shook his head, eyes dancing with mirth. “I know he’s a son of a bitch, but will making his coffee incorrectly really set him off?”
Janelle knew the smart thing would be to avoid the comment entirely and change the topic of conversation to something safe. Like the weather.
Instead, her brain —which had decided it was already done with the internship, clock be damned — shared, “It might. And I want my replacement to be prepared.”
The change in his tone surprised her. “Yes. My internship ends tomorrow.”
For some reason, Robert’s expression changed. The friendliness was gone, and he pulled his hands from his pockets and set them firmly on her desk, deliberately invading her space as he shifted his weight forward. In that moment, she realized that there was something he and his father shared.
“You can’t leave.” His words brooked no argument.
Shock was her first emotion, followed swiftly by irritation. “Yes, I can,” she said. “I’m leaving in exactly–” — a quick glance at the clock — “–one hour and twenty-two minutes.”
“Why are you leaving?”
She couldn't help it. Robert glared when he heard her snort at his question, but didn't move from the desk.
Still, he was Mr. Jones’s son. She didn't want to insult his family, even if his father deserved it, on the last day she’d ever see him again. So she settled for, “My internship is over.”
“That’s a crappy reason.”
She tilted her head. “Maybe. But it’s true.”
“You could stay if you wanted.”
“I don’t want to stay.”
Why wasn't he letting this go? “I can’t explain.”
He leaned in a little closer, and she caught a hint of his spicy cologne. “Is it my father?”
Oh, so not going there. She pushed back a little from the desk, unnerved by Robert’s intensity. “I think Mr. Jones is expecting you,” she said in a lame attempt to distract him.
Too bad it didn't work.
“My father’s an ass, but you’re good at this job. Tell me that you’re not just jumping into the first thing you can find so you don’t have to put up with him anymore.”
She realized she was biting down on the inside of her lip and stopped. Self-doubt was not helpful at this point.
“Janelle –” His voice had softened. “You’re leaving for something better, right?”
Literate Solutions seemed perfect for her. And she’d been looking forward to tomorrow’s interview so much...until Robert had walked in and started questioning her. And having him so close was making her feel dull and confused because she didn't want to have to say goodbye to him.
Think of the future. She straightened in her chair and met his concerned gaze. “The job I applied for is one I really like. I think it will be a good fit for me, and I like the company’s attitude toward their consumer base.”
And like that, his concern was gone. Happy, smiling Robert was back. “Good. I’ll drop in on the old man then.”
It wasn't until the office door closed behind him that she was able to let out a shaky exhalation and try to refocus on her final tasks. She erased the repetitions of “please” Robert had pointed out in her email, but as she finished it and clicked send, all she could think about was Robert Jones and his strange reaction to her news.