I welcomed the soothing feel of the water as it flowed from the shower head and beat against my back. It slowly took the edge off of the bundle of nerves that had seemed to collect there. The funny thing was that most of my tension hadn’t come from a full day of speeches and interacting with attendees. No, the start of that anxiety could be pinpointed to when Darian had leaned forward to hug me only minutes before.
Had he sensed the thoughts that had been going through my head about him the entire day? Had he seen me direct one too many glances his way while on stage? I’d hoped that I’d been discrete about it. The last thing I wanted was for him to get any ideas. But as I stepped out of the shower and began to towel off, I wondered if my body had gone against my wishes and let him know all of my secrets. Had it taken it upon itself to let him know that the attraction I sensed from him, was mutual.
I hadn’t missed Darian’s lingering stares, nor the way he’d found any reason to hang around just a little longer than necessary every evening in my office. But there was a line there that I’d never dream of crossing. In my entire professional life, affairs with co-workers had been completely off-limits. It wasn’t as if I’d never had the opportunity. There were plenty of men who’d flirted and plenty more who’d approached me with unwanted advances. But that was one rule of mine that had always been non-negotiable. And any attempts at breaking those rules were promptly shut down. But for some reason Darian had even a hard, serious woman like me willing to reconsider her own rule and move that line back, if only just a bit.
This is the last hotel trip we make together, I thought, as I slid into my favorite soft textured, coral colored nightslip. With that thought, I forced out the last of my anxiety, now satisfied with my decision. That was how it would have to be. We couldn’t do anymore trips like these. At least not alone together. I wished that I’d listened to my initial reservations about bringing him along on that trip to record the speech, but I guess optimism combined with naivete had taken over and won that battle. But I was no longer naive about it; the situation was just not conducive to a healthy working relationship with Darian.
The loud rap on the door startled me just as I pulled back the sheets to climb into the hotel bed. Speak of the devil, I thought when I’d reached the door to peek through the peephole. I drew in a deep breath to collect myself and pulled the door open to come face to face with a clearly contrite Darian.
I’d perfected my entire spiel; I’d rehearsed it on the walk over to Sylvia’s hotel door. And I’d stood outside a few minutes more until I’d formulated the words well enough in my head so that I knew there was no way I would come off as an imbecile. I couldn’t afford to further damage the already precarious situation.
But when she opened the door in her nightgown, a simple soft-toned ensemble that complemented the hue of her glowing skin, I was lucky that I could even manage to remember how to breathe properly. The sight of her bare arms and legs alone were enough to make simple life-sustaining autonomic activities difficult.
“You’re back,” she said, her arms folded over her chest again.
“I...uh…” I cleared my throat, hoping that could jog my memory and help me to recite the speech I’d polished only moments before. But the hint of her curves under the light fabric was distracting. Just look her in the eye, I told myself. No. The way she looked back at me with her round bright eyes proved just as distracting. The floor, the floor’s always safe, I thought, looking down at my feet as I shuffled them uncomfortably .
“You’re really pushing it, Darian. Why would you come back?”
“I just wanted to let you know again, how sorry I am.”
My grasp of simple communication was slowly coming back to me, but the whole thing still wasn’t going nearly as well as I’d seen it in my head before she’d opened that door. “I know that what I did was reprehensible. And I’m sorry for even putting you in a situation like that.” Stop looking at the floor. How can she believe you when you’re studying the leather on your freaking shoes?
I forced myself to look back up into her chestnut colored eyes. She looked so pissed; but I knew I had to at least get through this. I could run back to my room and lick my wounds later, but for now, I needed to get this out.
The sound of a door opening stopped us both, though, and I looked over to see someone stepping out of a room a few doors down. Sylvia stepped forward to peek at the source of the noise. And the smell of sweetly-scented soap on her skin wafted forward, assaulting my senses. Damn, that smell was going to make doing this even harder than it already was. The gray-haired woman, easily in her seventies, looked directly at us with a deep scowl marring her face. It was clear that she didn’t appreciate us chatting in the hallway. Sylvia looked back at me and grabbed my arm to pull me inside.
She closed the door and walked to the other side of the room; almost as if getting as far away as she possibly could in the small space. She stopped just before the window. “You’re right, Darian. What you did was unacceptable. And I do appreciate your apology. But I think this whole thing is getting a little too awkward for me, and for us.”
This wasn’t how it had played out in my head. In my mind, she was supposed to realize just how sincere I was, smile, and tell me that it was fine now, and she’d see me tomorrow. But there she was, saying exactly what I’d hoped to avoid in the first place.
“So, you...are you going to have to let me go? Are you firing me?”
Sylvia moved to sit in the wide beige chair in the corner of the room. She sighed. “No, I’m not firing you. And that’s precisely why we can’t be in settings like this.” She used a hand to gesture around at the hotel room. “And it’s why it’d be best if we aren’t alone together. Something...very inappropriate...”
I shook my head adamantly, moving toward her. “No, I promise. It won’t. I just jumped the gun earlier and…I promise that won’t happen again.” As I spoke those words it took everything in me to keep my eyes glued on hers and not the satiny-smooth leg that she’d crossed over the other.
She was quiet; too quiet, and for an agonizingly long period of time, as she sat with her hands folded in her lap and staring at the cream colored walls ahead. Her voice was softer than I’d ever heard before as she said, “We’ll try again, Darian. But,” she looked up into my eyes, “this is it. No more chances. ”
It never felt so good to be off of the hook than it did in that moment. “Thank you. You won’t be sorry.” Just as I placed one foot forward to move in her direction, I stopped myself. That’s what got your ass in trouble the last time, I chastised myself mentally, as I moved backward in the other direction, toward the door. “I can’t thank you enough. And I’m sorry. Again.”
I was out of her room before she even had a chance to get out of the chair to see me out. Somehow she’d found it in her heart to have mercy on me. And no way was I going to mess it up again.
“You need anything else before I head home?” I glanced over my computer monitor to see Pamela in my office doorway.
“No, I’m fine,” I answered. “Is Darian still out there?” It had been just over a week since the hotel incident and we’d both successfully avoided mentioning it since then.
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“ ‘Night,” she said, disappearing from view. I heard her say goodbye to Darian and then the open and close of the office door. We were left there alone, for the first time since we’d been back.
I looked over at the hallway just outside my office door when I heard Darian’s footsteps approaching. “Sylvia?”
“Do you mind if I head out now, too?”
“Sure. Were you able to finish uploading the video to all of the social media sites?”
“Okay, I’ll take a look at them later. Have a good night.”
“You too. See you tomorrow.”
When I heard the door close behind him, I could feel the tightness in my shoulders relax. I was grateful that the entire week he’d been committed to leaving before Pamela went home for the evening, ensuring that we weren’t left alone in the office. I had to hand it to him, he was definitely sticking to his side of the deal and keeping his distance. And that’s why I couldn’t understand why I was still so damned unnerved around him. Especially considering that being unnerved just wasn’t an emotion that I was in the habit of feeling.
I practically peeled out of the parking lot of Sylvia’s office. I still had to rush home to change into my tuxedo uniform and then try to make it back to the suburban Dallas hotel in less than an hour. I couldn’t afford to be late; especially since I’d practically crawled back to my boss, Greg, to beg for my position back. He hadn’t seemed too excited about the idea at first, but I already knew that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I knew for a fact that he was short at least one server, since I’d called Robert as soon as I came back from the trip with Sylvia and found out that he’d recently quit without two weeks notice. Lucky for me, Robert was fed up with the job, effectively forcing Greg’s hand. Greg hired me reluctantly, and told me to be ready for the next event a day later.
I hadn’t told Sylvia yet about returning to my second job, and I hoped that I wouldn’t have to. If I could get out of there before five every day, I was usually left with just enough time to make it to most of the weeknight events. I didn’t intend to tell her anything for as long as possible.
After the incident the week before, I’d never quite felt as certain about my position with her anymore. She could have, justifiably so, let me go at any moment, and I’d be left without a way to pay for my last year of undergrad. But I wouldn’t let that happen; the fighter in me couldn’t let that happen. And the other advantage was that as long as I worked the catering job and she let me stay on with her, I was inching closer to the amount I knew I’d need for tuition for the entire year.
Despite my fear that I could be terminated without warning, I wondered if this had actually worked in my favor after all. Working two jobs would ensure that next year, my tuition would be one less thing to worry about, and I’d be that much closer to medical school.
Darian sat in the chair across from me, and I tried to remain as stone-faced as I could when I said, “There’s another conference coming up in a week, in New Mexico.”
He was silent; the only acknowledgment of what I’d said was the slight nodding motion of his head as his eyes stayed on mine.
“I ..um…” I cleared my throat, frustrated that my mouth had become inexplicably dry. “I was unable to find another professional videographer in time, and I’ll need you there to record just this talk, if you can.”
The pause that followed filled the room with nervous energy, mostly mine. He was hesitant, and averted his eyes. “I may have another event to attend that evening,” he finally said.
“An event. With Crowley Catering.”
“You’re working for them again?”
“Why?” I asked.
“I just needed to save more money for school, and I figured working two jobs would be the best way to do that.”
I could see the lie in his eyes. I placed my elbows atop the desk and steepled my fingers, my eyes on him as I tried to read his face to determine what was really going on with him.
“You do know, that when I said what I said on our last...trip...that I only meant that allowing ourselves to be in questionable settings could lead to something that we’d both regret.” The slight raise of one of his eyebrows was not lost on me. What did that mean? I wondered, but continued, nevertheless. “And considering the fact that I am your employer, there is already an unfair power imbalance there...”
He didn’t waste time, and jumped in before I could finish my statement, “So you’re saying that if I didn’t work for you, you would have let me kiss you that night?”
I blinked rapidly as my breath caught in my chest. “No…” I breathed out, shaking my head adamantly, “I didn’t mean that at all.” He had me flustered, a feat which no man had achieved in years. I took a moment to compose myself, and leaned against my chair back before continuing. “What I mean is that I never have any type of relationship beyond a professional one with coworkers. And I’d especially never consider one with an employee, especially one of your…”
“My what? My age?”
The tension in the room was palpable. My efforts to explain my thinking and smooth over the situation had gone terribly awry. “Well yes, but, I still don’t think you’re quite hearing what I’m saying …”
My eyes widened and once again, my breathing slowed as I watched him move in closer until he was standing at my side. He leaned back, resting slightly against my desk, his leg grazing mine. I shifted, moving my chair back until it hit the wall behind me; anything to avoid the physical contact.
“So, consider this my verbal resignation," he said. His eyes were dead serious and intently focused on me. He may have been young, but he seemed to have a way of making even a mature, seasoned woman feel like a nervous schoolgirl. What the hell…
I stood, closing some of the distance between us. Because the way he hovered over my petite, seated frame only seemed to give him more of an advantage. I shook my head. “Maybe you're not understanding what I’m saying. I was not implying that you should resign, just that we should try to make the best of a pretty awkward situation.” I watched as his eyes directed down, away from my eyes and were now clearly examining my lips. I paused a moment, swallowing away my unease, and pressing my lips together in a self-conscious gesture.
He placed a hand on the desk and leaned toward me, until his face was inches from mine. “But I have to. I have to resign. If that’s the only way that you’ll let me do this,” he said, just before stroking my cheek. My eyes slid closed of their own volition as I felt his hand move down to my chin, cupping it tenderly. “Or this,” I heard him say as he bent down to kiss my parted lips.
I knew that what I should have done was push him away, slap him, and tell him to leave my office and never come back. But that was easier said than done. Convincing my body to do the wise thing was virtually impossible as I allowed myself to sink into his long arms when I felt them wrap around my back and pull me into him.
For whatever reason, Darian had crossed my path weeks before; and whatever had bound us when our eyes locked in the banquet hall that night, was stronger to fight than anything I’d experienced. But why, oh why, did I have to experience it with him?
My heart beat a manic drum-like rhythm with each step closer that I came to Sylvia’s hotel room. She walked beside me as I carried the supplies and equipment from the evening conference.
"It's this one, " Sylvia said, stopping before the room numbered 732. The pounding of my heart was now ringing in my ears with the rush of blood through my body as I watched her slide in her card key, unlocking the door.
She pushed open the door and held it as I walked in past her. I placed the items down onto the desk in the room. But the soft click of the door as it closed behind me made me whip my head back to look at her.
Since our kiss in the office days ago, Sylvia had again managed to pretend it had never happened. There was no mention of our shared intimacy, or even of my proposed resignation. I'd accepted the fact that she just didn't take me seriously after all, at least not in the way I wanted. And I'd decided just before boarding the plane to New Mexico that if her wish was to keep me at arm's length, then I'd respect that.
But as she moved toward me, I noticed the strange look in her eyes; a concentrated, simmering hot type of stare.
She grabbed my hand and looked up into my face, a grin curving her lips upward. “You're staying here tonight, right?"
When I was able to recover from the shock and realization that she was serious, I nodded my head fervently as an incoherent stream of words spilled from my mouth. “Y...yea..I...can..sure..I'll stay."
Her hand crept up my arm and she pulled me toward her. She reached up to run her fingers along my jawline, her eyes never leaving mine. She tugged at my shirt, pulling me closer.
I bent over, lessening our marked height difference and allowed her to hold my face between both hands as she brought my mouth toward hers for a kiss. I breathed in every ounce of her, relishing in the taste of her again. The feel of those lips against mine was an obsessive thought that had played on repeat in my head since the night I'd first sampled them in her office. A surge of sensation rushed through my body, settling in my groin with the rapid flow of blood that settled there. My need for her was evident; and as I enclosed her waist with my arms pulling her flush against me, her moan was proof that she'd felt it as well.
Now that she'd opened herself to me, neither of us were forced to pretend what we felt didn't exist, nor did we have to fight what we really wanted. I let my hands trail down her back, to cup her round buttocks. In one swift movement I easily lifted her petite frame and she instinctively wrapped her legs around my waist, her thighs squeezing my waist possessively. I brought her to the bed and after laying her down, enjoyed a languid realization of the fantasy that had replayed in my head since I'd first laid eyes on Ms. Jackson.