New year, new me

I didn’t realize how tight my grip on the bathroom sink was until my fingers began to turn white. Breathe Amal, just breathe, I reminded myself as I stared into the mirror.

I only met Oliver 48 hours ago and now here I was, ready to meet him at a fancy executive building in downtown LA. I tugged at the ends of my blazer as I replayed the other night over again in my head.

I could walk out of here and never see Oliver again or I could take a deep breath and channel my inner Sophia. She already told me everything I needed to know about his family…well, everything from the gossip rags. If I was caught in a lie, what was the worse that could happen?

I closed my eyes and stood up straight. “1…2…3…” I counted to myself before I pushed through the bathroom door. I walked up to the receptionist and said, “Amal Ansari. I’m here to meet with Oliver Bennett.”

Her eyes perused a list on her desk. I watched as she wiggled her fingers until she found my name. “Oh, there you are. Actually, Oliver just got called into a meeting. You’ll be seeing Kristen today.”

My lips tightened as a sharp pain hit my stomach. “Kristen?” I managed to mumble her name.

“Don’t worry she’s a sweetheart.” She had a petite frame, topped with ginger-colored curls that bounced with each step as she walked around her desk to meet me. “Right this way.” She smiled and gestured for me to follow.

I took another deep breath and trailed behind her. We walked into a small glass conference room. “You can have a seat. Kristen will be here in just a few.” She smiled again as she shut the door behind her.

What I really wanted to do was frantically pace back and forth and dramatically knock my head on the wall. Instead, I sat there and twiddled my thumbs as I watched people walk by.

“Amal?” I heard my name and spun my head around so quickly it was borderline self endangerment. “Hi, I’m Kristen!” A fairly young, tall, slender woman walked up to me. She had a nice demeanor, but you could tell she had an edge in her eyes. Her hair was pulled up high into an impossibly-perfect ponytail.

I stood up from my chair and casually wiped my sweaty hand on my blazer. “Hi,” I reached for her hand. “Nice to meet you.” I added a confidant smile, although I’m pretty sure it actually looked pathetic.

“You as well.” She smiled as she pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket. “Oliver told me a little bit about you.” Her fingers raced across the keypad as she continued to talk. “UCLA, right? When are you free to start?”

I looked dumbfounded as Kristen looked up from her phone when I didn’t immediately answer. “Uh..” I tried to remember what I told Oliver. “Today?”

“Great!” Kristen’s voice chirped. She went back to texting as she walked out of the room. “Follow me.”

“Wait…” I scurried to catch up to her quick pace. “Aren’t you going to interview me? You know, make sure I’m the right candidate for the job and what not?”

Kristen waved her hand and rolled her eyes as if my question was totally invalid. “Oliver personally recommended you. That’s the only reference you need.”

We walked down a long hallway until we ended up in a room full of cubicles. Employees were talking to each other loudly, goofing off and laughing. They were dressed trendy and cool, kind of like the décor of the office. Kristen cut through the room and walked into an empty cubicle.

“Here’s where you’ll be sitting,” she said as she set down a stack of papers. “These are some confidentiality forms, for obvious reasons,” her eyebrows went up as she continued. “We can’t have our employees running around selling stories. We need you to fill these out before the end of the day,” she said as she tapped the pile with her perfectly manicured nail. She gave a quick nod and briskly walked away, but not before stopping and turning around for a brief second to say, “And oh yeah, welcome to Golden Coast Records.”

I took a short breathe in and looked around. This is MY cubicle. This is going to be my new life! Sophie is going to freak out. Oh my God, is this real life?

I took another glance around and saw Oliver in the distance. He was in a meeting in another glass conference room. He looked bored and his eyes grazed over the room of workers before he spotted me. I gave him a quick smile before I tapped the watch on my wrist. I had less than an hour to make it from downtown L.A to my third period class. I grabbed the stack of papers Kristen had set down and quickly rushed out the door.

I felt my phone buzzing in my purse just as I exited the building.

Senior free period is uh-mazing! I slept in all morning LOL let Senioritis kick in!

I smiled and shook my head as I read my best friend Chloe’s text.

Oh Chlo, I’ll see you in class!

I raced over to Melrose High and made it just as the bell rang ending second period.

“Amal!” Chloe shouted my name. “Amal, wait up!” I heard her sandals clicking against the tiled hallway as she ran towards me. I turned around to greet her.

“Chlo!” My arms flew up in the air as she embraced me in a tight squeeze. We squealed from happiness as a group of confused sophomores walked past us.

“When did you get back from Toronto? You’ve been totally M.I.A.!” Chloe gave me an annoyed look about my lack of texts lately. But then she smiled and asked, “So, how was it?”

“It was amazing! Sophia took me to this really awesome industry party where I met a cute boy and we talked the whole night, only to find out he’s the son of a major music record label owner and his assistant just up and quit her job and Sophia and I somehow convinced him to hire me instead. Oh and he thinks I’m a college student at UCLA.” I so badly wanted to tell Chloe. But the two-minute warning bell rang sending us into a panic.

“Shit! My class is on the other side of school! I have to go!” Before I could even say a single word about my summer, Chloe was gone, the sound of her smacking sandals fading.

Luckily, I was just down the hall from my Chemistry class. I walked in to find only the front row of seats open. Great. I liked sitting in the back of the class. I was always left alone to do my work and no one ever really bothered me. Or noticed me, for that matter.

I sat down and began pulling out my notebook and pencil bag when Grayson Adler walked into my class. I had only had a crush on him since last year when I first laid eyes on him. We were in the same after-school SAT prep course.

I watched as Grayson’s hazel eyes examined the room. He was avoiding eye contact as he tried to search for a seat. All the empty desks were vanishing one-by-one. The final bell rang and the only empty seat left was the one right next to me.

Awkward was the word. That’s how it felt when he slowly sunk into his seat. I gave a side-eye look towards him and he happened to look at me in the same moment. I quickly looked back at my book and could feel my cheeks starting to burn. Yup, definitely awkward.

The teacher started talking, doing the normal first day of school spiel. Don’t drink the chemicals, wear goggles, use the eye wash station if you’re a klutz.

He started to walk around the class and said, “Ok, now I’m going to be assigning your lab partners for the remainder of the semester.” I looked around and saw maybe three people I was friendly with in class. I crossed my fingers and waited.

“You….and you,” the teacher said, pointing at Grayson and me and then kept moving on.

Great. The butterflies for Grayson that had died down a year ago were starting to flap their wings again.

He turned his head towards me and rolled his eyes. “Oh God.”


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