Stephen let the smile slip off his face like oil as soon as the door closed behind the lawyer. The man was not unpleasant, but the whole lawsuit mess was tiring. A small omission on a client’s annual audit was turning into weeks of headaches for him. He dropped a coffee pod into the espresso machine behind his desk and drummed his fingers on the polished wood surface beside it.
Semidark Inc was a major client of his, and they were being sued, which meant Stephen had to produce years of documentation and emails. The trouble was, Stephen's team had missed something in Semidark's latest financial audit, which was now getting in the way of the lawsuit. Even though it was an honest error on Stephen's company's part, once it was discovered that they had allowed Semidark to hide things, heads would roll.
Thankfully it wouldn’t be his own head. Jamie had handled the report and would be the perfect intermediate scapegoat for this little speedbump. A small shame since Jamie was a capable employee. Honestly though, he still wasn’t sure how well he’d covered up propositioning Inho, so he didn’t mind getting her far away from himself. He was sure she’d land on her feet – getting fired wasn’t the end of the world. Any capable career person could fib their way around it in future interviews.
Maybe he would even offer her a letter of reference. It depended on how hard his company wanted to make an example of her. If they went after her legally for the mistake, he’d wash his hands of her immediately, but if not – a good reference. His coffee finished with a hiss of steam, and he sat down to enjoy it, conscience cleared.
His phone buzzed with a Facebook messenger notification. He tapped the notification, a profile pic of a smug teen showing his abs.
‘hows dinner friday tho?’ It read.
Stephen wrinkled his nose, then thought, what’s the harm? And replied his assent, along with instructions to a restaurant.
His nephew Connor had somehow found him online via his mostly-abandoned Facebook profile. They had been chatting cautiously for a few days before Connor suggested meeting. Stephen had some substantial doubts about the idea. He’d not spoken to his older brother, Connor’s father, since Stephen had left home at the age of 20.
Thinking back on that time made his coffee taste sour. His brother's words that he didn’t want a gay pervert around his young son never quite lost its sting. Connor had been a small child then, only seven years old the last time they had interacted. Stephen was surprised that his nephew remembered him well enough to seek him out; Stephen's name was probably cut out of the family records by now.
He tapped Connor’s profile pic and pursed his lips. A typical thirst-trap photo, Connor was flexing in the bathroom with his shirt held up in his mouth, abs on display, and a devious expression in his eyes. Connor would have recently turned 18 and Stephen had a very good guess about what kind of advice he wanted. He shook his head. He didn’t feel responsible for the teen at all. Stephen barely remembered that he even had blood relatives. But, knowing the stifling and sheltered household Connor grew up in, he could at least tell him what to expect from the gay community. Nobody needed to follow the same harsh path Stephen did when he moved to the city from his small conservative hometown. This kid would get eaten alive.
Well, it wasn’t his problem either way, but Stephen could buy him dinner and decide if he was too annoying to deal with then. Ultimately, he just didn’t want any threads tying himself back to the family. So if this teenager made things complicated, he’d cut him out in a heartbeat and feel nothing.
There was a gentle knock at the door and he looked up frowning. He had no meetings scheduled, and his secretary knew better than to let anyone get to his door. He went to open it himself, irritated.
He didn’t expect Jamie to be standing there, swaying slightly on her feet.
“Jamie, what’s wrong? Come in.”
He guided her to one of the leather couches and grabbed her a bottle of water from his mini-fridge.
“I’m just not feeling well,” she said, “I wanted to check if it would be okay for me to head home.”
Jamie had never asked to go home early before. Could it be she’d gotten wind of her likely termination? He put on a worried expression and a gentle tone.
“Of course Jamie, not a worry,” he sat next to her and patted her shoulder, “but what’s wrong, you look like you’re going to faint. Should I call an ambulance?”
“No, I’m fine.”
She did that annoying thing where a woman looks up and blinks to try to hold her tears in with gravity. Then, she began to sniffle. Stephen clicked his tongue in what could be interpreted as a motherly way, and grabbed her a tissue.
“You’re not fine,” he pressed, “Please Jamie, you can tell me. As a friend, please.”
"Well," she hesitated, before opening up.
It's almost sad, to fall for that so easily, he thought.
“I just broke up with my boyfriend, is all. It was a long time coming, but it’s still…you know, it hurts.”
“Oh, I see. There there. It’ll be alright.” He patted her arm with faux compassion.
Jamie started to cry in earnest, and a pleasant thought occurred to Stephen.
So, he’s single now?
He put an arm around her shoulders while she cried into her tissue and smiled a devilish grin over her head.