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A new principle of social awkwardness

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When you hail from Gotham, skyscrapers that obstruct your vision are a common sight. In Star City, however, they don't block out the sun and make for a murky afternoon in most parts of town – they somehow create a brighter atmosphere, redirecting the sun's beams instead of absorbing them. The result is dazzling: even with the scant morning sunlight, few shadows obscure the plaza in front of the Queen Industries headquarters, and the tower itself acts as a beacon from afar. Quite fortunately so, or Harley might not have found her way back here without bothering too many passers-by or taking a cab. And she'd much rather soak in the scenery unhindered. At least for one or two blocks at a time. This way, she can map out the entire city little by little and remember where all the cute shops and cafés are she's made a mental note to visit. Getting a general impression of her surroundings and the living quality of its people is important for her day job.

Which is where she is headed now, scaling the steps to a building twice the size than its offshoot in Gotham, trying not to let its vertigo-inducing height overwhelm her again – last time, she had to grab the railing to steady herself before she'd teeter backwards in a dizzy spell. This time around, she fares better and her awe makes her pause for only a handful of seconds before she hurries on.

The automatic doors slide open to a cool and lofty interior that's bathed in natural light. Polished green marble paves the way to an equally polished receptionist who welcomes Harley with a smile made for the billboards, confirms her appointment, and directs her to the elevators. As luck would have it, one of the elevators is currently on its way down, passing the second level.

She thanks the receptionist and crosses over to where another woman is also waiting for her ride up. The elevator dings and Harley walks faster, not wanting to make the woman wait. Turns out, the woman must have been thinking the same: her fingers press down on a button, which Harley surmises must be the one to close the doors, because that's what the elevator announces it's about to do.

Oh no, you don't. Harley vaults forward and slams her briefcase between the chrome doors, which promptly inform everyone within earshot they're opening again. The woman, who hasn't taken her eyes off Harley once, does so now to look at her watch, as though Harley were at fault if she ran late to a meeting or something. Well, tough luck. The second elevator was on the twenty-second level and Harley saw no reason to twiddle her thumbs until it was all the way to the ground floor again if she had the chance of catching the first one. Time is money, my friend, as you so rudely demonstrated.

Once securely inside the elevator, Harley smooths down her skirt and draws herself up. She matches the other woman's unapologetic gaze and presses the 'close doors' button. Then, she chooses the 24th floor. The woman is headed for the 25th. That's quite a ride together. In a fit of mischief, Harley covers both buttons with her index and middle finger, stares the woman square in the face and drags her fingers down both rows until all the buttons are lit.

The woman arches an eyebrow at Harley, who's rubbing some feeling back into her fingers with her thumb, because damn, those braille bumps were not made for skimming.

So now she's stuck with this woman in an elevator that's stopping on every floor, because Harley thought it would be a good idea to thumb her nose at the gal. Part of her wants to get out and wait for the second elevator, which, at this point, would be the faster option, no matter where that one is stuck. Another part of her, however, relishes the cloud of annoyance that's forming on the other woman's brow. She could get off anywhere she wanted to as well, and yet she prefers to award Harley with a pointed stare. Maybe she thinks Harley would obstruct her path and she'd have to shoulder her way through. Hah, yeah, that would be funny.

What's not so funny is the doors announcing their opening and closing for the third time. Then again, the faint sigh Harley perceives makes it worthwhile after all.

"You started it," she hisses, before another employee joins them in their death-trap and boggles at the amount of destinations said death-trap is set to.

Harley's all simpering innocence and the woman just barely stifles an eye-roll by checking her watch again. The newcomer mirrors the movement, maybe more to show off his gold Patek Philippe than to actually check the time. It doesn't really go with his gray, off-the-rack suit and his walnut dress shoes; then again, in Harley's unpopular opinion, nothing goes with brown shoes. They're simply an eyesore. Now this girl, she has more style, with her mint-green blouse and her anthracite skirt that's hugging extremely shapely hips. Though Harley might be biased – pencil skirts are her weakness. Harley allays the urge to touch by running her fingers over her own skirt.

When the guy gets off, Harley immediately misses him. Even with his back to them, his presence has mellowed the sour rivalry they had going on and now that he's out of the picture, something akin to awkwardness is creeping in to fill the blanks. Too bad she'll have to live with it for another twenty floors.

"Do you get a lot of visually impaired people here?" she asks once the doors have ceased speaking again.

The woman stops fingering her collar, surprised to have been addressed in a non-confrontational manner. "I have a couple with me in Finance, and there are more in the other departments. Mr. Queen is a bit of an idealist, not wanting to turn anyone away at the door."

"Funny you should say that, seeing as you have to climb steps to get into the building."

"Wheelchair users have access through the parking lot, but you see what I mean."

"So you don't agree with Mr. Queen's efforts?" This is good. The more they chat, the more she can ignore the talking elevator. She needs to talk to someone about that, get some impressions about its utility.

The woman shrugs. "Disability should not prevent you from getting the job you're most qualified for. However, achieving a quota just for the benefits does more harm than good."

"Are you talking harm for the company or the individual?"

"Both, actually. It's not a rewarding experience if your job's overwhelming and your co-workers have to pick up the slack."

"So what are you suggesting? Hiring fewer disabled people?"

The woman is now leaning against the back of the elevator, one arm crossed in front of her chest, the other angled so her knuckles touch her chin. It directs Harley's attention to what appears to be an engagement ring – her only other piece of jewelry apart from her simple watch – and she wonders whether it's a calculated or unconscious display. "Hiring the right people for the job, whoever they are."

"How do you know who's right? Sometimes you've got to give people a chance to grow into their job."

"That's not for me to decide. I just review the costs associated with the new hires." The woman adjusts her glasses, as if to shift Harley into focus. "Are you new?"

"Am I that obvious?"

"You're asking a lot of questions."

"Surely questions aren't frowned upon here."

"It's just an observation. Questions arise more frequently when you're new."

"I'm only new to the surroundings. I'm a transfer, in fact. From the Gotham branch."

The woman's blue eyes sparkle with recognition. "Is that so? I used to work in Gotham myself for a while. Stagg Enterprises."

"Oh, the pharmaceutical company? That's nice. I wouldn't have expected to meet someone from Gotham right off the bat." She extends her hand. "I'm Harleen, by the way. Harleen Quinzel. Though my friends call me Harley."

"Christina Bell." The woman's grip is sure, but my god, does she have soft hands. Harley doesn't ever want to let go.

An amusing thought tugs at Harley's brain, and before you know it, it's tripping off her tongue. "Did anyone ever tell you your name sounds like Christian Bale? You know, the actor?"

"I'm not familiar with him."

Seriously? What world does she live in? "American Psycho? Equilibrium? The Prestige?"

Christina shakes her head.

"Um, it's a pretty name, anyway." Smooth, she thinks. Very smooth, Harley. If you're lucky, Christina's just going to think you're a dolt, not that you're hitting on her. Wait. Is that what I'm doing? "So this is where I get off. It was nice chatting with you despite the, ah, rocky start."

Christina's smile makes her forget they got off to a bad start. "Don't let it happen again."

"We'll see about that."

She waves goodbye with a grin as the doors close behind her, but behind that facade, Harley's confused. It's not often that Harley loses sight of what's going on inside her, emotion-wise.

This incident (and her reaction to it) would need to be analyzed further.

***

The rest of the day is a breeze. She's set up in her own office and gets acquainted with the people she will be working with closely, although their names escape her at the moment. She's been too preoccupied with remembering the timbre of Christina's voice, the sheen of her hair, the softness of her skin.

Self-analysis became moot after that. If someone takes up residence in your head like this, it can only mean you fancy them.

Already Harley is devising plans on how to find out where exactly she works, so Harley can happen to walk by. She mentioned Finance, so Harley'd better work out the cost for that motivational seminar that was such a success in Gotham and scored her a place in Star City. With that in hand, she'd have an airtight reason to be sauntering by Christina's office.

A knock on her door interrupts her plotting. Tessa, her direct supervisor, pokes her head in.

"Oh, Harley. Hi. Good you're still here. You're wanted in 2701."

"Who's that?"

"That's Ms. Bell's office. Are you already setting up a company-wide program I should know about?"

"Um, no. I can't tell you why they'd want to see me already. Maybe it's a review of some performance analyses Gotham sent? That's my guess."

"Better go find out then."

***

Harley thought her own department was spacious, with its roomy cubicles and high ceilings, but Christina's office was something else entirely. Wall-high windows providing a breath-taking view of the city below alternate with thick granite columns that lend the arrangement stability; without them, Harley might feel she'd fall right off the edge of the building.

Behind the plate glass windows separating Christina's office from her PA's workspace a black leather settee with matching armchairs surround a low glass table with a bonsai on it.

Christina glances up from her desk when Harley enters.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Please, sit." Christina offers her the white designer chair across from her.

"What can I do for you?"

Christina places a folder in front of her and opens it. Harley spots her own CV. "I've taken a look at your file. You've racked up quite an impressive resume."

"Thank you." Harley wonders what the other woman is getting at. She was hoping not to talk business during their next encounter, but she'll take what she can get.

"It says here you're an organizational psychiatrist."

"That's correct."

"I assume that means you're adept at reading people in an office setting."

"Excuse me, but where is this heading?" She has the vaguest sense that she might be blackmailed next, but she can't for the life of her imagine with what.

"Are you free tonight?" Christina rests her fingers on the table. Her bare fingers.

"What?"

"I'd like to take you out to dinner if you don't mind."

Does she ever? Whatever this woman has planned, Harley's sure she's going to find out. Until then: "I'm free."