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I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t be nervous. I caught my reflection in the elevator’s pristine glass – it acted as a mirror and reminded me of my imperfections.
“Come on, Penelope you can do this.” I muttered the words under my breath and straightened the creases that had implanted themselves across the thighs of my almost too tight pencil skirt. I’d been promising myself I wouldn’t be the fall girl anymore. By what seemed some fluke of judgment from the Gods above, I had a job at one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. I felt certain my A minus average through law school had nothing to do with it, but I’d been assured by the firm’s senior partner they were quite particular and not just anyone could work here.
The lift pinged, and I took one last look at myself, buttoned my jacket and then thought again and unbuttoned it before stepping out of the lift into the lair of the litigation department.
I’d been assigned to work with Samuel Baxter, the firm’s newest partner. I’d been here just over twelve months, but this man’s reputation for eating and spitting out his juniors was legendary. An assignment to Samuel Baxter appeared tantamount to the Firm giving up on you and sending you on your way.
I couldn’t afford to be on my way. Period.
“I’m Mr Baxter’s new assistant, Penelope Smale.” I announced myself to the teenage receptionist who made fleeting eye contact.”
“I’ll let him know you’re here. Please take a seat.”
I felt like a client of the firm, and not one of the hundreds of employees who roamed between the twelve floors of the building emblazoned with the initials of Fleet, Tate & Baxter.
The reception area of this floor looked no different to those of every other I had visited. My swipe card hung from a lanyard around my neck, the Firm’s initials FTB running at regular white intervals through the blue.
“Mr Baxter will see you now,” the receptionist gave me a grim smile, “His office is down the hall, the last door on your right.”
Why did I feel as if I was walking toward my own execution?
Every step down the long corridor took me past the doors of fellow employees who I knew would be head down, frantically trying to find a way to work themselves up through the ranks to Associate and then the holy grail of partner.
The collegial atmosphere of working together as a team that I’d imagined while I fought my way to the top at law school seemed absent from the work culture of FTB, especially in the dog-eat-dog world of litigation.
Your future is dependent upon how you went on your last case. Do well and you’d get another great assignment. Fail, in the eyes of the Firm, not necessarily the eyes of the Court and you may as well pack your bags and get out of Dodge.
An assignment to Mr Baxter, however, had the effect of turbo-charging the process. I knocked on the door and waited. A small sheen of sweat had begun to form on my palms and I wiped them, out of habit, on the linen of my skirt.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened the door.
My heart pounded, the sound a drum beat in my ears.
“It’s Ms.” Oh, Lord why did I feel the need to correct him. I would have slapped myself except with my brain behaving like a fried hard drive, I could barely think.
He cocked one long dark eyebrow toward his jet black hair and locked eyes with me. The drum beat in my ears replaced in an instant with a rush I could only equate to the sudden moving of the tides “You’re late. I can’t abide tardiness.”
“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.” What a jerk! It couldn’t have been more than a minute. I had no control over the number of staff that got on and off the lift between the ground floor and the twelfth.
“I’m pleased to hear that,” he leaned back in his chair, relaxing for a moment and displaying the taught lean body sheathed in the white of his business shirt. “Sit, Miss Smale.” He emphasized the word ‘Miss’ in a no-nonsense I’m-the-boss-and-I’ll-do-as-I-please manner. Everything about, this man should have put me on my guard. Instead he sucked me in, his voice clawing at some deep and carnal part of me that had been slumbering since my hideous breakup with Johnny. My reaction caught me off guard – my entire being torn between the impulse to run and the overwhelming desire to tear that pristine business shirt off him.