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“Am I in your way?” The guy asking the question leans to the side, but he makes no effort to get up. Dish water blonde hair, short sleeved T-shirt, long legs crossed at the ankles. And his feet are propped on my desk, with a sneaker heel resting on a stack of packing labels I‟d recently printed. See what I get for going to the ladies room? My expression must have registered PMS central, because suddenly Ryan springs from the chair like his butt is on fire. So yeah, I‟m pretty sure my face had everything to do with it. He scoots out of my way as I make a bee line for the seat he just vacated, and by the time I log back into the computer he‟s nowhere in sight. I‟m silently praying the night crew hasn‟t left us filling on-site orders they should‟ve completed, but after staring at a whopper of a number I can‟t help but get my grouch on. “I officially hate this place.” My complaint‟s greeted with a deep chuckle. Oh great. Ryan was listening. What‟s even more amazing is that he beat me in this morning. “You weren‟t supposed to hear that,” I call out, hoping he‟s not one of those guys who‟ll go for a smoke with the workers on the upper floors and loves to gossip. But maybe I shouldn‟t worry because people on the other floors act like we‟re got the plague simply because we‟re warehouse associates. Ryan‟s still close by, 'cause I can make out the tinker toy sound of his MP3 player. He usually has one earbud in and one out, so I get to listen to all his 90‟s alternative rock, the kind where the lead singer thinks that his life is so messed up it even makes me feel suicidal. Highly ironic, considering how much I smiled to get this job. I was dressed for success in my blue pinstriped two piece suit and leather boots, strutting like I owned the place, while the woman showing me around acted like I‟d just won the lottery.
“This is a fast paced, fun environment,” she‟d said, congratulating me for landing a job with Orman‟s, the number one store in the region while we rode an elevator that took us straight to the basement. It turned out to be the dead zone of merchandise, packed from the ceiling to the floor with items sold by the company. Instead of telling her “no thanks” I smiled and said I‟d be glad to work here. Especially since I had no other prospects. Well, that‟s not true. My old manager at Footlocker promised they‟d always have a place for me. I so need a drink. Preferably something with no pulp, so I pull out my travel mug full of orange juice. “Hey,” Ryan nods, then disappears again. “Hi . . . and good morning.” Now that I‟m semi-awake, I spot an elegant box loaded with pastries on the desk. “I see the higher ups gifted us with sweets.” Another chuckle, and Ryan answers, sounding like he‟s further away. “Yeah, we‟ve got the leftover spoils of some kind of production meeting they had on Monday.” “Monday? That means this stuff has been sitting up there for days.” Curiosity gets the better of me so I peel back the multicolored tissue paper in order to check out the goodies. Ugh. Just as I'd suspected. “I‟m not eating three day old-” Out pops Ryan‟s curly head from around a corner, chomping on what looks like a cheese Danish. He‟s got a finger raised so I wait a sec until he responds. When he takes a longer than usual gulp, I‟m wondering if I‟ll need to do the Heimlich maneuver because I‟m willing to bet that Danish is hard as a rock. He comes toward me with a bouncy walk, like he doesn't have a care in the world. "I meant to hand this over as soon as you came in," he says, and I can see he's dangling a flash drive that looks oddly familiar. "You left it here yesterday." “Uh, thanks.” I try not to snatch it, but the urge is too strong. There are things on that drive for my eyes alone. Only“How‟d you know it was mine?” I‟m hoping his answer is that he‟s seen me with it before, or that I was smart enough to label it. But I already know that neither one is true. I never labeled it, and I only pulled it out when no one was around. So I‟m fishing, but I‟m really bad at it. “I guess you noticed my name on the files?”
“I didn‟t get that far." Whew. Relief is a beautiful thing. Only it‟s cut short by his slight grin, which pretty much confirms my fear. “I kinda checked one of your docs out.” My mouth is open in horror, so he drops his eyes, offering an explanation. “I really thought that list was for filling orders.” No he didn’t. He didn‟t! That list was just a joke. Part personal hit list and part . . . fantasy, yeah, that‟s it. My face is burning. And I know this much. If he read it, Ryan Thorpe is now my enemy. “What?” He turns around, as if my eyes tell him someone is about to tackle him from behind. When he faces me again he still looks bewildered. “Did I miss something?” “No, I was just wondering.” Spit it out, there‟s no harm in asking. “So what do you think of Pia?” Instead of his face lighting up, a frown appears. “Pia? Uh, she‟s okay.” I‟m such a coward. I‟m trying to stall, thinking up what we might have in common. Instead I can only come up with our co-worker Pia. “She‟s so funny.” I start laughing, and my voice sounds so phony. This is bad. I‟m willing to trade info on Pia for his silence. He‟s busy digging in that pasty box like it‟s a bin full of drastically marked down video games. “Well, she does laugh a lot. At everything." I‟m in panic mode but I don‟t want him to know. Why isn’t he saying anything about my list? I can‟t take it anymore. “So you read my whole list?” I blurt out, grabbing the packing slips with a bit too much gusto. “I bet you and Akeel had a good laugh, huh?” The new Danish he‟s just about to demolish hangs in mid-air, suspended between his mouth and his fingers. Those hazel eyes of his swing from the pastry, over to mine. “I didn‟t show it to Akeel. Maybe I would have if it was Calvin‟s, but I just wanted to find out who it belonged to.” You could have done that without being so nosy, I want to scream. But it‟s important that I keep it friendly. “It‟s a joke list with a few goals of mine, but some of them were put on there for fun.” I sound pathetic, truly pathetic. "It's just a list of things I hope to accomplish before I turn twenty." He finally takes a bite of his pastry. All that crunching muffles his voice. “When‟s your birthday?”
“In a couple of months.” My head is throbbing, and his chewing sounds like a jackhammer on concrete. I cradle the orders I need to fill in my arms, hugging the paperwork close to my chest, hoping my eyes look pleading enough. My lips twitch into something I‟m not accustomed to forming in the morning. A smile. “Please don‟t tell anyone okay?" He doesn‟t say, "no way, this is prime stuff, I’m letting everyone know," so I‟m thinking maybe chivalry‟s not dead. But he also doesn‟t say, "sure thing, I’ve already forgotten." And like a really bad TV cliffhanger he never gets a chance to respond because our floor manager, Calvin, is eyeing us like we‟re plotting to overthrow him. “College girl, is something wrong with your feet?” Calvin says to me. “Because I don‟t see „em moving.” “N-no sir,” I stammer, and though he‟s the same height as my little brother, I‟m stumbling in order to move fast enough. Calvin doesn‟t say anything to Ryan, but he gives him the look. We all know what that look means. Calvin has mastered the act of total communication without speaking. It‟s all in how he cuts his eyes. He even had the nerve to say he learned it from all the kids working there, like me. I doubt if I inspire the kind of fear in people like he does. At least I didn‟t think so until seeing Ryan‟s face this morning. I hear Calvin asking Ryan what my problem is, and most likely Ryan‟s shrugging, which is something he does quite often. I'm walking so fast that I almost bump into Akeel. “Good Morning Sienna,” he says, with a voice that sounds like he‟s relaxing on a beach. Every time I see Akeel I just have to wonder what lucky girl snagged him. “Calvin‟s already in a bad mood,” I warn him. “So watch out.” Akeel touches his gold chain, as if to make sure it‟s still around his neck. “Thanks for the heads up.” I can't help turning around just to watch his backside as he walks up the aisle, giving Calvin his standard greeting, "What's going on boss?" Calvin snarls something back, and Akeel replies with a soft chuckle. "Good morning to you too. Did you see the game last night?" “Which one?” Calvin asks. “Man, I lost money when the Ravens scored a touchdown in the last few seconds.” And they’re off. Akeel seems to know exactly what to say to get Calvin into a mood just a step above surly. And knowing Calvin, he‟ll talk about the Ravens until lunchtime. Ryan and Akeel greet each other with a nod and a
knuckle bump, then they brag about some guy faking out the opposing team's defense while running the whole length of the field for a touchdown. Talking about football even gains a smile from Ryan, who seems unaware of being the second highest vote getter for employee most likely to bring an assault weapon to work. Ryan Thorpe would be a perfect fixer-upper. I mean, he‟s got potential. All he needs is a haircut, a shave, some new clothes . . . and I‟m doing it again. I‟m busy checking out his butt and Akeel‟s when I should be packing orders. Stop it Sienna! Stick to the plan. It‟s all about the list. Rescuing a cute guy and remodeling him is number six on my list. It's something I've got to stop doing, but it's hard. Because I know Ryan could be so hot with a bit of my help. Only right now I need to make sure he stays quiet about what he found. By any means necessary.
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