I stared at the computer monitor in front of me, the blinking cursor nagging me to complete the next sentence of my speech for an upcoming local women's luncheon. But Darian, seated on the other side of my desk, with my laptop before him as he clicked and tapped away, his thick brow furrowed in concentration, had proved to be more than enough of a distraction to keep me from being productive. And what I found most disturbing was not knowing why this young man, little more than half of my thirty-nine years of age was a distraction for me in the first place.
It wasn't as if I went around in search of cradles to rob. Only two months before my encounter with Darian, I'd frowned at the spirited attempt at flirting I'd received from a man just three years my junior. I just liked my men older, wiser, and more mature.
But considering the fact that dating was the least of my concerns anyway, with the life I preferred to live, Darian's age didn't matter one way or the other. I liked to be free enough for my life and career to take me down whichever path the next stop of my journey led; and there'd yet to be any man worth more than, at most, a few days of my time.
So a kid barely out of puberty wasn’t someone who I’d usually even give a second look. At least, not the kind of looks that I found myself giving Darian.
Darian’s tall, slender frame had caught my eye as soon as I'd entered the Renaissance Hotel banquet hall over a week before. It was quite apparent that he was young, but the way be carried himself was effectively deceptive. His demeanor made him seem significantly older than he was, and the tuxedo uniform he donned only added to his charm. He wore maturity like a cloak; that I could see even from a distance. And those sexy eyes, and temptingly luscious lips...
But that was beside the point, I told myself, mentally slapping my hand and forcing myself to turn back to the task at hand.
And as soon as I'd begun typing away, finally back in the zone as the words flowed freely, I heard the chair creak when Darian rose from the chair. I looked up to see the boyish, triumphant grin on his face as he moved my way, stopping to stand directly next to me as he placed the laptop on the desk's surface.
"So, take a look at this and tell me what you think." He clicked on a desktop icon he'd created entitled, S. Jackson website.
A banner with a logo featuring my name appeared on the header of the page. I marveled at how much he'd changed and updated the site in just a matter of minutes. The website pages were much more visually appealing and much better organized. I was impressed.
“Not bad. Not bad at all. Where were you last year when I shelled out way too much money to have someone set up that mediocre site for me?"
He cocked his head to the side playfully, as if remembering. He rubbed his chin and said, “Hmm...last year? I was kinda tied up at a pre-med summer program at Meharry."
The light-heartedness of before seemed to slowly seep out of the room the minute he mentioned that. Great way to remind me just how young you are, I thought. But it was a much needed reality check. I cleared my throat and straightened my face, hoping to return to the professional atmosphere I tried to maintain. I nodded my head in approval.
“Great work, here," I said, as I clicked through and studied the pages of the newly updated website." I looked over to notice his eyes directed on my notepad next to the keyboard.
“You keep your task list on a pad like that all of the time?"
I pushed the notebook away, unsure of why I was now embarrassed about my archaic method of task planning. I nodded and continued clicking through the website. "Um-hmm."
I glanced over to see one of his long fingers pointing at my notepad. And when I directed my eyes up to his face, I was met with his raised eyebrow and eager expression. “Do you mind if I try something for you?” he asked.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the flashing of the graphics he’d just added to my website; and I felt silly for having reservations about trusting him when he’d already proven he was trustworthy.
I handed the notebook to him. “And your phone, please.”
Now it was my turn to raise a doubtful eyebrow at him. My trust could only go so far.
“I won’t mess anything up. I just want to add something that will help you out.”
I let out a nervous breath as I reached over to pick up my phone from the desk and hand it over to him. He returned to his seat across from me, and began tapping and swiping at the phone’s display screen.
As I watched him fiddle around, I second guessed my decision to let him play with my phone. And I kept one eye on him as I shifted slightly in my seat to continue typing my speech.
“Done,” he exclaimed minutes later as he leapt from the chair and returned to stand next to me on the other side of the desk. I retrieved the phone he held out for me. “Right here,” he said as he pointed to a new application icon on the phone, “is where I added a new task manager app for you to add your daily to-do list.”
He was standing close enough that the hairs of his arm tickled my forearm. The electricity that pulsed through me surprised me; but more than anything, it annoyed me. I didn’t exactly appreciate my body’s decision to go rogue and react to him of its own accord.
I leaned back against my desk chair and studied the application. He’d already added that day’s list and the tasks that I’d marked as completed, were grayed out . Once again, he’d impressed me . I smiled up at his grinning face. He was clearly pleased with himself.
“You know, I could have done this before. I just like doing it the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing like putting pen to paper when I plan out my days.”
His grin slowly fell as his face grew serious.
“But,” I assured him, “your resourcefulness keeps surprising me. And I definitely appreciate that.” I watched as his lip curved up again into a slight smile. “Thank you, Darian. You’ve helped me much more than I’d anticipated, young man.”
And just like that, his face became stony again. He glanced up at the analog clock on the opposite wall. “Well, I have to get going. I have a job tonight at the Omni.”
“You’re still working with the catering company?” He’d been at my office for at least half of the day, and had spent several hours every other day of that week volunteering and assisting me with small tasks. This was the first I’d heard about him still working his other job.
“Yes,” he answered. “Almost every evening.”
I nodded my understanding. “Tuition, right?”
“Right,” he said. “I can’t exactly quit, just in case this doesn’t work out.” He gave a nervous smile, and lifted his laptop messenger bag, sliding it onto his shoulder. “Well, goodnight, Sylvia.”
He turned to head toward the door, but I called out to him just as his hand reached for the doorknob. When he turned to look at me, I drummed my fingers on the desk, just before glancing at the new and improved website on my computer monitor. “If you’d like to make this your only job...you may do that,” I said, my eyes serious as I looked into his, noting how they’d brightened with my words. “I like you. And I like your work. And I’d like to have you work for me full time. I have several upcoming conferences that I will need help with this summer, and it would help to have a full time, readily available assistant. It hasn’t been two weeks yet, but I don’t think we need two weeks. So...if you’d like to resign from your other position…”
“Thank you,” he said, rushing back to my desk to shake my hand vigorously. “I really appreciate this.”
I smiled at his excitement and nodded. “No need to thank me. You’ve proven yourself and your ability. You have a good night.”
“Thank you again. Goodnight.”
I stood at the back of the conference room, filming Sylvia with the digital camcorder placed atop the tripod. I was really starting to love this job. It gave me an excuse to keep my eyes glued on her for hours on end without seeming creepy or risking her recoiling in response to my ogling.
I'd suggested that she film her speeches and events in order to place them on her website, and to also have them professionally edited and packaged for mass distribution. And considering how sharp of a woman she was, it was actually amazing to me that she hadn't already done so. Luckily, she’d eagerly accepted my suggestion and told me that we'd start at her next event.
But I don't think I was the best person to take on the role of videographer. I'm sure I'd spent more time watching her then verifying that the speech was being recorded properly.
When I recognized that she was nearing the close of her speech, I began packing up. As she accepted the crowd's applause and spoke with audience members, I prepared a table with her business cards and brochures, along with her upcoming event schedule.
Sylvia eventualy made her way to where I stood, flashing me one of her brilliant smiles. When she’d taken her place behind the table, I helped her pass out paraphernalia, still impressed with how well she worked the crowd and charmed everyone she met. And when she’d look over at me, her eyes gleaming, I knew I was just another one of the masses under her spell.
“You can leave everything on the bed, there,” Sylvia said, as she held the door to her hotel room open. I walked past her, dropping the bags which held her supplies and paraphernalia from the evening.
I heard the door close behind me and turned to see her removing her earrings before she disappeared behind the partition which separated the area in which I stood from the vanity area.
“The turnout was great this evening,” I heard her voice echo from behind the wall.
“It was,” I said, growing nervous with the realization that I was in her hotel room with her, alone. “And you were great tonight. It’s like, I don’t know, you transform when you’re on the stage.”
I looked up to see her move toward me, her reddish-brown hair now loose and tumbling down past her shoulders in loose waves. I gulped. It was the first time I’d seen her without one of her rigid, harsh updos. And seeeing her that way only made my attraction to her that much harder to hide. I shuffled my feet, turning the front of my body out of her view, so that she couldn’t see just how hard it had become to hide.
“Thank you,” she said. And I could hear the smile in her voice, as I kept my eyes averted on the red and black patterned hotel room carpet. “So let’s see it.”
I whipped my head up at her. “See what?”
“Let’s see what you’ve got.” I’m sure my eyes were as wide as saucers until she pointed to the camera bag on the bed. “Let’s see that footage.”
“Oh,” I said, relief washing over my face. I stepped forward and unzipped the camera bag, pulling out the digital camera.
I could smell her natural scent mingled with the faint, fading odor of her perfume when she reached out to take the camera from me. She kept her eyes on the video as she slowly walked over to the other unoccupied bed. She sat down, and continued to watch the video, as if studying and critiquing every movement made and every word spoken.
I was getting bolder by the minute as I watched her, and before my brain could tell my feet otherwise, they moved of their own free will, until I was sitting next to her on the bed.
A questioning look crossed her face before she smiled at me. “This looks good, Darian. Thank you.”
“No. It wasn’t me. I had a great subject to capture.”
I was almost sure I saw a hint of red on her cheeks before she said, “You and your flattery, young man.”
There it was again. Young man. Damn, how many times was she going to call me that? I was getting tired of hearing it, because the words seemed to carry a sharper sting when it came out of her mouth. It made me more conscious of the fact that she most likely saw me the way my parents did. As a young, naive kid . And I knew I was far from that.
She must have read the upset on my face, because seconds later I heard her say, “Something wrong?”
I was quiet for a moment as I debated. Should I tell her or just let it go. Was it even worth mentioning? It was, I finally decided. "I just don't like it when you say,'young man'. It sounds as bad as kid, or child, or son."
We locked eyes as she seemed to weigh out the best thing to say. "Maybe you're right. I won't call you that if it makes you uncomfortable."
The tension from my tight jaw released and I was grateful that she was taking me seriously. She powered off the camera and closed the viewer, placing it beside her on the bed, before reaching out to pat my leg. “You’re very mature for your age. I have to give you that. And you’ve contributed quite a bit in the short time you’ve been working with me.”
She rose from the bed and extended her arms in a demonstrative, overexaggerated stretch. Just enough for me to get the hint. I stood with her. “It’s been such a long day,” she said, “I’m going to need a shower and a good night’s rest.”
“I guess that’s my cue,” I smiled at her.
She smiled back, nodding. I headed toward the door, but the same boldness that had taken control moments before, now urged me to turn around and stop dead in my tracks. Sylvia peered up at me, confusion returning to her face. I leaned down to hug her, and she brought her arms around to lightly return the embrace. When I pulled back, though, I’m not even sure if I had enough time to process what happened next, or even how it happened. All I knew was that my lips had met hers, and the tense stiffness I felt in her mouth lessened as I felt her lips part. It was slight, but there was no denying it. But before she could fully return the kis, she pulled back and pushed me away forcefully.
Her face was a mixture of stunned shock, anger and disappointment.
The apologies tumbled out of my mouth. I had to say something, and wanted to get it out before the tongue lashing and cursing out that I knew was sure to follow, came.
“I...I’m sorry..I didn’t mean to…” I ran a hand over my head, barely able to make eye contact with the stewing woman who stood across from me, her arms folded across her chest indignantly. “I..please don’t...I mean...I’m sorry. I’ll go.”
I heard her voice behind my back as I rushed to quickly close the distance between me and her hotel door. “Darian.”
I took in a deep breath before turning to face her, the crimson color of her honey cheeks clearly illustrating her disgust, or maybe it was embarrasment. I waited for her to continue. “That was very inappropriate. And I’d advise you not to try anything like that again,” Her arms remained stiff across her chest, as if shielding her body from another unwanted advance. I felt the air rush out of my lungs; my disappointment in myself surpassing her disgust. “Now, goodnight.”
I turned on my heels fast enough to make my head spin, and was out of her room and down the hall within seconds. When I pushed through the door and into the hotel room , I let myself fell back onto the bed. If it were physically possible, I could have kicked my own ass around that room. There I was, with one of the best damn gigs in my life thus far, with one of the most amazing women I’d ever met, and I’d flushed it all down the toilet. There was no way I couldn’t be fired after that stunt. But losing the money from the job didn’t matter anymore. What upset me the most was the fact that I’d never see her again.
I stared at the swirl-textured ceiling, weighing out my options. I could stay there and wait for the other shoe to drop, and let the tension build between us, awaiting my inevitable termination. Or I could get up and try to see what I could salvage of the situation. I’d never been a person to run from anything, not once, in my twenty-one short years. I jumped up and moved back to the hotel door. There was only one acceptable way to handle it.