otel rooms were expensive in New York, a great deal more expensive than they were in Texas. Even in downtown Dallas, you could find a room for under eighty bucks if you were willing to forgo some luxuries.
Manhattan was quite different. The train ride from the Hamptons had taken most of her cash and her bank account wasn’t exactly overflowing. She figured it would take at least a week to find a place to live, so she needed somewhere she could afford for that long.
A tiny place above a Chinese restaurant in the East Village would be home for now. The rooms were small, but then her place with her mom had been pretty tiny. Though they’d managed to make it homey with paintings and pictures on the walls.
After checking into the hotel that smelled like fried pork dumplings and sweet and sour sauce, Fate set her bags on the floor and curled into a ball on the bed. She still had two weeks until she began her job at Maxwell Medical. She was supposed to be on her honeymoon until then.
If it weren’t for what miniscule amount of pride she had left, she would’ve called her new boss, explained what had happened, and asked if she could start sooner.
Checking her bank account balance on her phone made her want to throw up. After seven or eight nights in this tiny room, she’d be very close to broke. Her stomach growled and her chest ached with the hollowed-out feeling one only gets from being utterly gutted by life.
Fate curled tighter around a stiff pillow on the bed. She’d put all of her eggs in one basket¸ all of her hopes and dreams and plans for a future on Trevor. She got it now, why her mom played the Willie Nelson albums and drank herself into oblivion after breakups.
Because this is what it feels like to have nothing.
wo hundred is the most I can do, lady. It’s a good cut, nice clarity, but I base my loans on weight.”
Fate swallowed the last tiny ounce of pride, which had formed into a sharp-edged lump the size of the diamond engagement ring she was pawning at Big Phil’s Pawn and Pay. After a week of living on orange chicken and smelling like it twenty-four-seven, she was ready to do whatever it took to get her own place. Her wedding dress was on Craigslist and she was still kicking herself for tossing several hundred dollars worth of footwear into the ocean.
“Is there any other type of loan we can work out? I start new job in a week and I’m good for it, I swear.”
She was begging. In a pawnshop.
The heavy-set man with several shiny, gold rings on his fingers gave her a sympathetic smile. His hair was thinning and gray around the temples.
“I wish I could help you. I do. Best I can do is two fifty today. Bring me a check stub showing what you make and I could probably give you a payday loan for a little more.”
Fate sighed. Once she had a check stub, she wouldn’t need a loan. Not until the next month’s bill for her mother’s rehab stay was due anyway.
“Here,” Fate said, sliding the ring across the counter. “I’ll take the two fifty please.”
“Okay, so that’s two fifty and it’ll cost you that plus twenty percent to get it back. You have thirty days.”
She had no intention of ever getting it back but Big Phil didn’t need to know that. He did need her driver’s license though, so she handed it over and signed the papers. Once she’d signed, he placed several fifty-dollar bills on the counter.
“Don’t spend it all in one place now.”
“Right,” Fate said, disheartened that she hadn’t even come close to getting the kind of money she needed to put a security deposit down on an apartment.
At least she could eat something other than leftovers for dinner tonight.
he morning of new-employee orientation felt a great deal like the first day of school. Fate was so riddled with anxiety that she hadn’t slept and she’d ironed her navy-blue dress slacks twice. She tucked her white blouse into them and slid on matching navy heels. Melissa had told her to wear her red heels with them and that had been the plan. But she was no longer doing anything her former best friend had ever suggested.
“You can do this,” she said to her reflection in the mirror of the cramped hotel bathroom.
According to the Human Resources lady she’d spoken with, orientation would mostly be about reviewing company policies and the mission statement. She’d fill out her tax, insurance, and direct deposit paperwork and that would be it.
If payday didn’t come within the first week, she was going to have to downgrade from her current living situation to an even more affordable one. So either the YMCA or the street.
The journey to work ended up being a nightmare. Two wrong trains later, she ended up having to walk more blocks than she could count in heels to the giant skyscraper that housed Maxwell Medical. She was sweaty and her makeup was melting off her face, but once she entered the heavily air-conditioned marble-and-sandstone lobby, she felt as if she could finally breathe. It was all going to be okay. She had a job, she had hope, and soon, she would have a steady income.
She could survive without Trevor Harris. She could and she would.
Once she’d reached the main desk, where two attractive women and one handsome man sat, all three of them wearing headsets, she stepped around to the brunette who didn’t seem to be currently on a call. “Um, excuse me. Can you tell me which floor the new-employee orientation for Maxwell Medical employees is on?”
Upon closer inspection, Fate could see that the woman was supermodel attractive. She held a finger up indicating that Fate should wait, so wait she did. And then she waited some more. Checking her cell phone screen, she saw that it was already nine. Orientation was supposed to begin promptly at nine.
“I’m sorry to bother you. It’s just I’m running late and—”
“Eighteenth floor,” was all the woman said.
Okay then. So she wasn’t in Texas anymore.
Sprinting into an open elevator, Fate nearly knocked over a raven-haired woman with a stylish haircut she envied immediately. The sleek woman’s blue eyes were like lasers burning over her.
“Excuse me. I’m so sorry,” Fate told her, leaning forward to press the number eighteen on the elevator panel.
“Maxwell Medical new-employee orientation?”
Fate nodded. “Yes, and I’m late. I got on the wrong train and I’m not from here and…this is probably much more than you care to know.”
Several men in business suits shuffled to allow the dark-haired woman to stand closer to her.
“I’m Gwendolyn Scott,” she said, moving a designer purse and a stack of files to her other hand so she could offer one to Fate. “Please call me Gwen. I’m helping out with orientation today, and I have the paperwork, so they can’t start without me.”
Fate exhaled and shook the woman’s hand. “Fate. Buchanan. And that’s the first good news I’ve heard in…forever.”
They stopped on several floors and had to let a few men out before both of them finally exited on the eighteenth.
“Don’t be nervous, Fate,” Gwen told her as they entered a conference room labeled with only the letter B. “I’ve only been working here a short while, but so far, it’s great.”
“Um, this may be completely inappropriate to ask, but how often do we get paid?”
Gwen smiled, flashing bright, white teeth that were so perfect they could’ve been veneers. “The first and the fifteenth of every month. Your first payment will be a check you’ll have to pick up in HR, but after that, it will go directly into your account. When do you start?”
“Next week.” Fate did the math. She wouldn’t have worked a full two-week pay period by the first of July, but it would be better than nothing. What in the world she was going to do until then, she had no idea. She made a mental note to apply for night and weekend shifts at some of the diners she’d passed on her way to Maxwell. Maybe she could survive on tips until her paychecks kicked in.
“I’m one of the assistants to the director of marketing. They said they hired a few recently.”
Gwen smiled again. “They did. I’m one of the recent hires as well, but I interned here my last year at Columbia. Collin Pierson is the director, and he’s…interesting. So far, not a bad guy to work for though.” Fate followed her new colleague into the conference room, where people were still standing in line for name badges. “Well, I better get these to Collin so we can get started. I look forward to working with you, Fate. It was nice to meet you.”
Fate smiled and nodded as she picked up her name badge. She found an empty folding chair at a table full of women who looked to be about her age. Engaging in conversation with Gwen had put her temporarily at ease, but glancing around the room, she felt shabby compared to the sophisticated-looking people around her. People who had not gotten on the wrong train and had to walk a million blocks while sweltering on the sidewalks. No one else looked quite as haggard or disheveled as she felt. They looked as if they’d been beamed into the room.
It’s not a modeling job, Fate.
As multiple speakers introduced themselves, Fate had to remind herself that she belonged here, that she’d graduated magna cum laude with two degrees, one in marketing and one in business finance. She might have looked a little rough around the edges, and Trevor and Melissa had each shot a cannonball through her self-confidence, but she was ready for this. She had to be.
The morning passed quickly in a blur of motivational speeches, clear, concise presentations on sexual harassment, and a detailed explanation of the company’s ‘no intracompany dating’ policy, before they took a break for lunch.
Fate stepped away from a group of women discussing going to a local deli. She knew she’d appear rude if they invited her and she turned them down, but she also knew she couldn’t afford a twelve-dollar ham sandwich.
She’d resigned herself to seeking out a vending machine when Gwen waved her over.
Gwen turned to a young, tan, blond-haired man who looked more like he belonged on the beaches of California than here in New York.
“Fate, this is Collin Pierson. Mr. Pierson, this is the newest assistant that HR has hired.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Pierson,” Fate said, extending her hand to his. “I look forward to working with you.”
He grinned and small creases appeared at the corner of warm, brown eyes, making her wonder if maybe he was older than he seemed at first glance. “Nice to meet you too, Miss Buchanan. I’ve seen your résumé and your qualifications. I think you’ll make an excellent addition to our team.”
“I hope so.”
“Do you ladies have plans for lunch?”
Gwen shook her head. “I was hoping someone would order Apollo’s, but I was the only one who wanted Greek food.” Her lower lip thrust out in a pout and Fate didn’t miss how long their boss’s eyes lingered on her mouth. Gwen, however, seemed completely oblivious. Fate wondered how serious the company was about that ‘no dating among coworkers’ clause.
Mr. Pierson’s eyes gleamed when his gaze met hers and he winked. “You like Greek food, Fate?”
I like all food,
she almost said but thought better of it. She decided to go with, “I’m not a picky eater,” instead.
“In that case, Gwen, go ahead and order a few of those wraps you like for the entire department. Put them on my account.”
Gwen grinned like a kid on Christmas. “They’re called gyros,” she said playfully. “See, Fate? We feed our employees. You’re going to love it here.”