By: Erin Noelle

The sound of my heels clicking on the tile mimics the ticking of a bomb counting down to detonation, and I become more unnerved with each step. Finally, I reach his office. Before knocking on the door, I inhale and exhale deeply, praying I don’t fuck this up.

“Come on in, Blake,” he calls out prior to my knuckles making contact with the wood. I guess the receptionist alerted him of my arrival.

Twisting the knob with my clammy hand, I push open the door to find a middle-aged man standing up from his enormous workstation and walking towards me. He’s a wiry-thin guy with a headful of curly red hair and a face covered in freckles, and he’s dressed in what I’d consider business casual—a long-sleeved polo shirt with khakis. Extending his hand as he gets close, his bright smile reaches his green eyes.

“Good morning,” he welcomes me with a firm handshake. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Joseph Thompson, CEO of JDT Graphics, and we’re happy to have you join our team.”

His friendly nature helps push some of my nerves aside, and slowly, I begin to feel a little better. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Thompson. I truly appreciate the opportunity to work here. I’ve always loved to design and create, so I hope I will be a helpful addition to the company.”

Nodding, he beckons me over to some chairs. “Please, come sit down and let me tell you a little about what exactly we do here and what your role will be.”

Following him to the sitting area, I keenly listen to him explain the different projects his company has been associated with, and the ones they’re currently working on. Most of their endeavors are marketing-related—usually graphics for commercials and print ads—but they’ve recently signed a contract with Decker Enterprises to work on the improvement of several video games. My specific position will be to assist the lead designer, Jae Liu, on this latest undertaking in pretty much every capacity.

“I’m going to warn you, Blake,” he says honestly. “There will most likely be some late nights, and possibly even a few weekends associated with the position; we’ve been given pretty strict deadlines by the parent company. It was important for me to find someone who didn’t have a family to rush home to or feel guilty about neglecting. I’ve been assured this won’t be a problem for you, but I want you to confirm this before we get started. I have limited knowledge of your background, and the information that has been shared with me will go no further. I will do everything in my power to help you begin your new life here.”

“No, sir, Mr. Thompson,” I quickly answer, “no family or anyone else for me to hurry home to. Other than your receptionist, you’re the second person I’ve spoken to since moving to California a couple of weeks ago. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.” I’d already been briefed on what information Mr. Thompson had been given; all he knows is I am a protected witness who needed to start over fresh, and no other details were divulged for his safety and mine.

“Excellent,” he beams, “now let me introduce you to Jae. I think you two are going to get along great.”

Following him into one of the offices I’d passed while walking down the hall, we enter a space nearly identical to his. A massive workstation with three oversized monitors are set up towards the back left corner of the room, and there’s a small lounge area with a mini-fridge and microwave against the right wall. At first, I don’t see anyone, but when Mr. Thompson calls out her name, a tiny Asian woman emerges from behind several cardboard boxes stacked close to the workstation.

“Good morning, Mr. Thompson. Sorry, I’d gotten lost in all these reviews,” she explains with a chuckle. Turning her attention to me, she smiles widely and offers me her petite hand. “You must be Blake. It’s so nice to meet you, and to get some help with all of this.”

Shaking her hand, I once again force myself to return the smile. It’s not that I dislike these people, or have bad first impressions—quite the opposite, actually—it’s just been so long since I’ve had any reason to be happy, the muscles in my face have all but forgotten the expression. “Pleasure to meet you too, Jae. I’m looking forward to it.”