“Fine.” I swallow the lump in my throat. “Then I quit.”
I set his coffee down on the Mahogany table and pretend my insides haven’t just turned to jello. The two caterpillar-sized eyebrows on Rob’s head knit into one. “You can’t quit, Keira. Because you’re fired!”
I spin around and rush out of the corner office of my long-time boss, Robert Stoop. I only make it halfway to my thin, wooden, scratched desk that someone probably dug out of the trash before I have to grab hold of a desk to steady myself. It hardly helps. I think I’m going to be sick. This is just like in eighth grade when I tried to prove I had a backbone by breaking up with my month-long boyfriend, Connor, only to be ghosted by him and never given the chance. Why couldn’t Rob just let me quit? Save me a shred of dignity. It would be the least he could do after all the things I’ve done for him. He yelled so loud with his door open. The whole room probably heard him fire me.
“Are you OK?” asks Jason, the man whose desk I am gripping for dear life. Jason, who also happens to be the sexiest man in the office. Maybe even the whole city. The man I may or may not spend hours a day fantasizing about while I’m pouring Rob’s coffee and copying his files.
“I’m fine,” I reply. “Just a little dizzy.” Warmth spreads over my cheeks and down to my chest. Curse these Irish genetics. I probably look like a lobster right now.
I run to the supply closet and lock myself inside. It’s small, with not even room to sit down. Thanks to budget cuts this year it’s nearly empty. But it’ll do. Considering I’ve been at this company for five years and still don’t have my own office, it’s the best option I’ve got if I want solitude.
Quietly the words of my therapist rise to the surface. “What should you do when you get these anxious feelings, Kiera?”
“Watch YouTube and eat vats of chocolate ice cream?”
“Oh, Kiera. No. Take deep breaths. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Do this until your pulse steadies.”
I’d rather have ice cream. But seeing as I’m in a closet, I guess I’ll give breathing a shot. I close my eyes and focus on my breath. I ignore the smells of must and sweat (I knew I forgot something this morning—deodorant).
Hey. This is actually helping. Maybe that therapist knows a thing or two after all. Maybe it isn’t just a waste of two hundred dollars every month.
A knock at the door startles me and I bump my funny bone into the empty shelf behind me. “Keira?” Jason asks. “Are you sure you’re OK?”
What is he doing over here? This is embarrassing enough without the pity.
“Great,” I say back. “Never better.”
But my shaky voice betrays me. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions. That’s why I never had a future as an actress. Audition after audition with no callbacks. Year after year I just keep trying, hoping something will get me out of this hole. But who am I kidding? Just because I was good at performing in churches in rural North Carolina doesn’t mean I can handle the pressure if a director asks me to pretend my stomach doesn’t hurt. Pretend you aren’t cold, Kiera. Pretend your childhood dog didn’t just die, Kiera. Pretend!
If only I knew I’d never make it before I moved to New York. Before I became an “assistant.” Before I learned that being an assistant is code for “do everything no one else wants to do with barely enough pay to afford your 300 square foot apartment.”
The doorknob shakes as a key turns the lock and it opens to reveal Jason’s concerned face and a bored-looking janitor. My breath catches in my throat. Why does he have to be so beautiful? And so out of my league. It isn’t fair.
“That was really harsh of Rob to fire you. I think you’re an awesome assistant. I could ask my dad if he could talk to him.”
I don’t need his pity and I definitely don’t need him to run to his dad and beg for my job back. I quit. Even if Rob fired me two seconds later… I quit. I’ve been wanting to say those words for a year and a half and I finally did it. That has to count for something.
“Rob treats you like crap. You would probably enjoy this job if you worked under someone better.”
Someone like you, Jason?
“Someone like Rebecca,” he says with a smile.
Upon hearing her name Rebecca leans over and waves. Her cleavage shakes back and forth with more vigor than her hand. All the men in the office love Rebecca. Perfect, big boobed, clear face Rebecca. If you think she’s so perfect why don’t you marry her?
“Rob’s word isn’t final.”
I do have rent to pay. It’s due next week. What will happen to my houseplants if I end up homeless? You never see homeless people walk around with plants. Pets maybe. Never a ficus and a succulent.
“No,” I say. “Rob was right to yell at me. I’m not the best assistant. I forgot his dentist appointment yesterday and I forgot to give him the message that his mom’s brother’s cat died and he never sent a card and now she’s mad at him.”
He puts a hand on my shoulder and I nearly melt into a puddle. Everything inside of me zings. “None of those things were your fault.”
Isn’t everything though? My current life has no one to blame for it but myself. I turn 25 next month and what do I have to show for it? I should have just stayed home in North Carolina. I could have gone to college to be a doctor. Who am I kidding? I hate needles. But I could have done something.
In a serendipitous fashion, my phone buzzes. It’s a text from a number I don’t recognize. “Thank you for auditioning with us yesterday.” My heart stops beating for a moment. Is this another rejection? I don’t know how many I can handle in one day.
“Are you alright, Kiera?” Jason asks.
I open the rest of the text. “We would love to offer you the part of Rizzo in our upcoming musical, Grease. Welcome to Broadway, Ms. Keira.”
“Oh my…” I show Jason my phone because I am at a complete loss for words. Finally, after all this time. This is my chance!
“That’s incredible,” says Jason. “Congratulations.”
I grin and grab an empty box at my feet. “Want to help me clear out my desk?”
“Keira!” yells Rob, barreling towards us. “Is our fight over now? I need you to deliver the last files from the Donavon case. They’re due today.”
“Looks like you’ll have to deliver those yourself,” says Jason, stepping in front of me, forming a barrier. “Keira is moving on to better things.” He grabs my hand and pulls me towards the door. “How about you go on and I’ll bring you all your stuff later?”
Am I dreaming or is he flirting with me? And standing up for me?
“Keira,” says Rob. “You can’t be serious. Come on, it was just a misunderstanding. You need this job! I know you do.”
I share a grin with Jason which gives me all the courage I need.
“I quit, Rob. Officially.”