By: Leddy Harper

Her cheeks flamed. I watched as her throat worked with a harsh swallow, her gaze flitting around my desk, avoiding me altogether.

“Can we sit down and resume the interview?” I remained standing, waiting for her to make the decision. Once she nodded and took her seat again, I took mine and proceeded. “You will have your own office”—I pointed to the wall behind her—“right through there. It has its own door to the hall, and the receptionist will handle your calls as well. Off by five every evening, unless of course you’re out of town, and every weekend and holiday off. Evaluations are quarterly, and bonuses at the end of the year based on hours worked. Do you agree to this?”

She nodded at the same time my office phone rang. I groaned with irritation. The receptionist was new, and it seemed as though he didn’t understand how to use the intercom. Instead, he simply transferred calls, regardless of whether I was busy or not. I held up a finger and lifted the phone from the cradle.

It took me a second to understand who was on the line. She was hysterical, but eventually, I realized who it was when she said she needed me to come home. I knew she hadn’t been up long, and after the night she had, her frantic disposition didn’t surprise me. To appease her, I promised to make it home. I had to finish up with some urgent work and then I’d be there with her until she calmed down. It didn’t happen often—that she’d ask me to be with her—but when she did, I was there. I would always be there.

I hung up the phone and returned my attention to Eden, apologizing for the interruption. “I’m sorry, but I have to run out of the office for a little bit. I guess the interview was pretty much finished. All I need now is your answer. I’m offering you the job…if you’ll take it.”

“Of course. Thank you very much, Dane.”

“You can head down to HR and fill out all the new-hire information. They’ll discuss salary and benefits with you. We’ll meet here tomorrow morning at eight. Does that work for you?”

“Yes. Thank you.” She stood and headed for the door. I followed her and held it open, but I paused when she bit her lip and turned to me. “What exactly am I telling them when I get there?”

“I’ll call down and let them know to expect you. Just tell them Dane Kauffmann sent you.”

She stilled, her motionless chest hinting at her halted breaths.

“See you in the morning, Eden.” I winked at her and then exited my office, leaving her behind in stunned silence. All the while, my grin never wavered. I shouldn’t have been hopeful, I shouldn’t have been smiling, but I couldn’t help it.

I braced myself before opening the front door. I didn’t know what I’d find once I walked in. I didn’t know what condition she’d be in or how dark my day would get. I prayed for the best and unlocked the deadbolt.

“Gabi,” I called out into the quiet room.

I heard rustling on the couch, but I couldn’t see her. When I walked closer, I found her curled up with a blanket, crying to herself. I knelt on the floor in front of her, mere inches from her face.

“Gabriella, what’s wrong? Talk to me,” I begged with soft, coaxing words, hoping they’d help calm her down.

But they didn’t.

They never did.

She shook her head and closed her eyes, keeping it all inside like she always did. She’d begged me to be with her, I’d dropped everything and came home, but now she met me with total indifference. Always a contradiction and conundrum.

Looking at her, it was hard to miss the drastic change in her over the years. I could vividly remember the first time I ever laid eyes on her…in the tenth grade. She was always quiet and kept to herself, but wherever she was, my eyes would follow. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.

Even though she had aged some—much like we all do after twelve years—and the stressors of life had altered her appearance dramatically, I could still see a glimpse of that girl I’d fallen in love with. It was what kept the hope alive. She had the biggest dark-brown eyes, and they captivated me from the very first glance. Some used to say they were too big for her face, but in my opinion, they held so much life. They were the perfect size. They fit her. She still had those same eyes, but more recently, they were bloodshot and dim. She cried all the time, and the life they once held was almost smothered. It killed me to look into them. I wanted to make her happy again…but I didn’t know how.