“Rent is due on the 26th of every month. Your parking spot is just down the alley around the corner of the building, number 3. If anyone else parks there or blocks you, don’t hesitate to come and tell me. The residents here are good people, so you don’t have to worry about them. This is an older building, so if there’s any plumbing or electrical issues, you let me know. Any questions?”
“No, I think I’m good. I’ll definitely let you know if anything comes up,” you said, looking around the apartment filled with cardboard boxes. It was a lot smaller in real life than the ad online but there was something charming about the architecture of old San Francisco.
Your landlord, Kenny Chang, was a man in his mid to late sixties who had a thick, Chinese accent but spoke English well. As he handed you your set of apartment keys, he gave you a small wave goodbye and left your apartment, closing the door behind him.
You turned to look at your new home and felt a strong wave of anxiety wash over you as you looked at the piles of boxes scattered everywhere. The moving men were nice enough to have set up your bed and matching dresser but everything else was left alone. Living in San Francisco was pricey enough and you couldn’t afford to hire people to help set up everything else.
Starting with the box labeled “Kitchen Stuff”, you set it on the kitchen counter and began taking out ceramic plates, bowls, and silverware. You opened the windows to let the fresh morning air in and could smell sweet spices wafting from the building across the street.
You searched through another box labeled “Electronics” and pulled out a speaker and plugged it into the wall by the kitchen counter. As you attached your phone to the port, “Crimewave” by Crystal Castles turned on and you went to work unpacking, enjoying the upbeat tune.
The hours seemed to fly by as your apartment slowly began to come together. The kitchen had everything placed in the cupboards and drawers, the living room had the couch and TV arranged, which finally left your bedroom. Being able to afford only a one-bed/one-bath apartment, you had to set up your work area in the living room, leaving everything feeling a bit cramped.
“Maybe in a few months I’ll get a raise and move somewhere bigger,” you mused to yourself. As you pulled out your clothes from your two suitcases and began hanging them in the small built-in closet, you noticed the sun slowly start to dip below the horizon. Your stomach rumbled when you realized you had not eaten anything since morning and winced when you realized you had failed to go grocery shopping.
“I really shouldn’t go out and spend more money than I have to…but then again, it would be nice to see the city at night,” you said.
Going through the clothes you just put away, you pulled out black leggings, jean shorts, your favorite tank top with a black and white owl design and a red flannel. As you threw them on the bed, you took a quick shower as you dried you hair with a towel.
The sun had already set has you finally finished changing. You grabbed your bag off the table, shoving your keys and phone into it and locked the door behind you. The short hallway led out to the front door as you walked out and down the short flight of porch stairs.
You pulled out your phone and searched for the closest bar that wasn’t too expensive for your budget. Lucky Pierre’s was the first one that popped up and you looked through the reviews to see if it would be the right crowd. There was a thread going around online that there were certain bars and restaurants that people should stay away from due to multiple gangs in the area. They didn’t like tourists coming in on their turf and were not shy of resorting to physical violence.
The bar was only a few blocks away and close enough to where you didn’t need to call for a driver. Besides, it would be nice to check out your new neighborhood and get a feel for the people of San Francisco.
You plugged in one earphone as you walked through the crowded sidewalks, seeing people dressed up in crazy costumes, angrily muttering to themselves on their phones and a few lucky couples gazing deeply into each other’s eyes.
After walking for about fifteen minutes, a yellow taco truck caught your eye, the smell of cooked meat and onions making your mouth water instantly. You looked both ways before crossing the street and getting behind the long line of people.
As you waited, the crowd around you talked amongst themselves, some discussing their current love lives or the job they were trying to get. Muffled music played loudly from the bars and clubs a couple venues down as a man let out a puff of watermelon bubblegum from his vape.
You finally got to the front of the line and ordered three soft tacos with shredded beef. It only took about five minutes of waiting as the man at he counter handed you your order on a paper plate with napkins. You quickly wolfed down your food as you walked toward the bar, enjoying the spicy salsa that stung your lips.
The place glowed even brighter with its colorful lights the closer you approached. Some people stood outside smoking perfectly rolled blunts and greeted you with a friendly nod as you passed them by and entered the bar.
The inside was completely lit in black light, giving everything a neon-glow effect. The music seemed to vibrate against the walls, making it hard to hear. An old pinball machine stood in the back with a woman tattooing someone on their face, making you shudder. You weren’t uncomfortable with the idea of tattoos but the idea of getting one on your face made you flinch at the imaginable pain.
You walked up to the bar and waved down one of the male bartenders wearing tight pants, rainbow suspenders and a rolled up white shirt with a curly mustache.
“What can I get for you, hon?” he asked.
“The cheapest beer you got? Kind of on a budget,” you said.
“Oh, aren’t we all?” chuckled the bartender. He pulled out a beer from the cooler below him and uncapped it for you as the foam rose to the top. You tilted the beer as a sign of cheers and took a sip, the sour taste making your face pinch in disgust.
“That’s what happens when you order the cheap stuff. I’m sure a pretty thing such as yourself can convince someone to buy you something better than that piss water.”
You turned to see a very androgynous person saddle up to the bar seat next to you. Judging by her voice, you could tell she was female, but her buzz cut hair, round glasses, and bright purple shirt gave her a unique look compared to everyone else.
“I’m not looking to convince anyone,” you told her. The woman barked out a laugh as she looked at the bartender and raised two fingers at him.
“Give me and the poor girl a shot, sweet cheeks. And I’m not talking about the ones on your face either,” she smirked.
The bartender rolled his eyes and pulled out two shot glasses while filling them with a honey-colored liquid.
“You don’t have to do that,” you said.
“Oh come on, it’s just a shot. I’m not going to hold you hostage for it,” said the woman.
“Okay…well thanks, I guess,” you said. You picked up the shot as you clinked it with the woman’s and downed it in one go.
“The name’s Lenni, nice to meet ya. So, what’s a nice girl like you doing here all by your lonesome? Got a hot date?” she asked.
“Um, not exactly,” you said as you gave her your name. “I actually just moved here from-”
“Los Angeles, right? It was the hot weather I bet. But it was more like a new job as a graphic designer for Travel Time, am I right? Gotta admit, your portfolio isn’t too bad, you’ve got talent. You know, I’ve been looking for a new graphics designer since our last guy quit. I’ll pay you way more than any travel company can afford.”
“W-Wait, how did you know-”
“It’s all over your Invite page silly. Or should I call you Jinx? It’s the name you’ve been using forever,” interrupted Lenni as she laughed at your shocked face. “C’mon girl, you know there’s no such thing as privacy these days!”
“But how did you manage to look me up so quickly? You don’t even have your phone out,” you said.
“Who needs phones when I have this precious baby right here,” said Lenni as she extended out her arm. Your eyes widened at the rectangular bulge that was protruding out of her arm.
“What the hell is that?” you asked.
“Just a little something to help me keep all my secrets safe and sound,” she giggled. “Now, let’s take a look at your work!”
Lenni pulled out her phone from her pocket as you saw your private pictures from your own phone light up from the reflection on her eyeglasses.
“What the fuck- what are you, a hacker or something?”
“Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! Head leader of Prime_Eight, at your service! Oooh, now here’s some pictures that didn’t make it onto your portfolio. You know, I’m not one for black lingerie. A little boring if you ask me, but it’s something that can be looked over.”
You snatched the phone from her hand and slammed it to the ground, giving it a few extra stomps with the heel of your shoe.
“Who the hell do you think you are, going through my stuff without permission?” you hissed.
“Wow, you’re a little firecracker, aren’t ya Jinxy? You know that phone costs money right?” said Lenni. Her face got too close for you liking but you refused to back down. You continued to stare at her face when you felt someone lightly grab you by the shoulder.
“Hey, hey, let’s not get too crazy now. We’re in a public place.”
You turned to see a young woman with bold green and blue eye shadow. Her hair had cornrows on one side and flowed into a loose ponytail in the other. A man stood behind her wearing a mask with a studded mouth and emoticon eyes that seemed to glare at Lenni.
“What’s a troll like you doing out of your cave anyways, Lenora?” taunted the masked man. “I thought you only crawled out to see us. Frankly, I’m hurt.”
“Don’t play cutsie with me, fuckface,” spat Lenni. “I only came here to warn you to stay away from the new guy. Judging by his record, he would be more suited for Prime_Eight than you wannabe vigilantes.”
“Scared that we’ll win him over, Lenni?” grinned the green-eyed woman. “I think you’re trying to round up as many people as you can. I mean, your whole brand is looking a little stale with the whole cat theme going on.”
“Cats have and always will be the pinnacle definition of the Internet, Shitara. I thought someone as creative as you would know that. But what can I expect from some booger brained losers like you?” said Lenni. “Cross me again and all of you will regret it.”
Lenni raised two fingers and pointed at her own eyes and at the two strangers as she took a huge puff on her vape and blew it in everyone’s face. You tried not to flinch as she walked out of the club and turned to face your two saviors.
“Thanks for that. What an asshole,” you quipped.
“That’s Lenni for ya. Hope she didn’t scare you with her horrible one-liners. I’m Sitara by the way. This is Wrench,” she nodded toward the man next to her.
“Nice to meet you guys,” you smiled. “Um, you can call me Jinx.”
“I can’t believe you actually smashed Lenni’s phone to bits! Very impressive,” said Wrench. His eyes gave a winky face and you giggled at his reaction.
“Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But there’s no way I’m paying for it, not after she tried to blackmail me,” you said.
“Typical Lenni, always trying to weasel her way into people’s lives. What’d she hit you with? Dropping your credit score, selling your social security or pretending that she’ll be you to reconnect with your old lovers?” questioned Wrench.
“No, none of that. Just some pictures that I’d like to keep private,” you mumbled. Wrench’s mask turned to big circles before going back to their original X’s.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” said Sitara. “We’ll protect your stuff for you. No one deserves to be at the mercy of Lenni’s slimy hands.”
“But how? It looks like she’s already hacked into everything I own. She had all my information in the palm of her hand,” you said.
“Don’t you worry, we’ll have Hawt Sauce send an invasive little virus that deletes anything new downloaded in the past 48 hours,” assured Wrench.
“Really? I mean, you guys must be hackers to do that and I don’t think I can afford to pay you-”
“It’s alright, really,” said Sitara. “DeadSec isn’t like other hacker groups. We do things to enlighten the people, not scam or threaten like Prime_Eight does.”
“Thank you so much, but are you sure? I can’t help but feel like I owe you in some way,” you said.
“No worries! DeadSec is by the people, for the people!” exclaimed Wrench excitedly. “Although we do accept payments of cheep bear, mushrooms if you have them and sometimes even a cute photo, nothing nude, unless you want to-”
“Knock it off, Wrench,” said Sitara as she elbowed him in his side. He let out an agonized grunt but you could tell it didn’t really hurt him.
“How about I take you guys out to eat sometime? Anywhere you want! Well, maybe somewhere in the lower price range,” you laughed weakly.
“Awesome! There’s this burger place in Oakland that is simply de-lish!” said Wrench. “Sure, there are gang wars, shoot outs and moody prostitutes, but you can’t get great food anywhere else!”
“Um, sure, whatever you guys want,” you said.
“Cool. Here, I’ll give you my number. Wrench’s too,” said Sitara. You smiled as she gave you her number while Wrench gave you his after.
“Can Hawt Sauce come along too? He’s actually going to be the one doing most of the work on the virus,” asked Wrench.
“Sure, the more the merrier!” you replied. “I think it’s best I start heading home. I’ve had enough drama for one night.”
“How far away do you live from here?” asked Sitara.
“Only a few blocks. Walking’s no problem,” you said.
“Wrench will walk you then,” said Sitara. “The neighborhood isn’t too bad, but there’s safety in numbers. Go on Wrench, I’ll meet you back at HQ.”
“Uh, sure,” said Wrench. His eyes turned to question marks as you shrugged at him. “The night awaits us, m’lady.”
You laughed as he gave a short bow and curtsied at him in return as the two of you walked out of the bar into the warm night air.
“You know, you didn’t really have to walk me home. I told you it’s not that far,” you said.
Wrench shrugged his shoulders as the two of you walked through the streets of San Francisco. Your apartment complex was less than a block away but there were still people out and you could hear someone having a house party filled with loud music and the smell of grilled food.
“So, how do you like San Francisco so far?” asked Wrench.
“I love it! Sure, everything’s expensive, but it’s totally worth it,” you said. “Um, can I ask you something?”
“It’s about the mask, huh?”
“Well, yeah…not that it’s weird or anything,” you said as your face grew hot. “I really like it-I mean, it’s cool and…different.”
“Thanks! I designed it myself. Batman’s got nothing on me,” said Wrench as his eyes ‘winked’. You laughed and wondered what he really looked like underneath. Surely he wasn’t that bad looking, not with the confidence he had.
“Kinda makes me want to have one,” you said. “Though maybe less spikes.”
“But it’s the spikes that make the look, baby!” crowed Wrench. You bit your lip to hold in your laughter, loving his energetic personality.
“Well, this is me,” you said. The two of you stopped in front of the porch as you pulled out your new set of keys. “Thanks for walking me home, it was very nice of you.”
“Not a problem! It is a knight’s job to escort the princess home safely!”
You barked out a laugh as you saw two men standing across the street turn their heads to look at you. Wrench caught them staring and motioned for you to come closer.
“You didn’t tell me you lived near Tezcas?” he whispered.
“Who, them? Eh, there were a bunch of guys like that back in L.A. You leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.”
“San Fran’s a little different. If anything happens, anything remotely fishy, or squirrely for that matter, you let me know.”
“What are you going to do, beat them up?” you snorted. You meant it as a joke but judging by Wrench’s upward arrows, it looked like he was serious.
“Oh no, that would be way too easy. I’m much more creative than resorting to something as simple as a beat ‘em up.”
“Oh, really?” you chuckled. “As a hacker, I’m sure you can think of something more imaginative than resorting to physical violence. Would photo shopping their selfies to make it seem like their sucking on a bunch of hot dog weenies suffice?”
“I like the way you think!” said Wrench. “And here I was going to resort to blowing them up into itty bitty pieces! Your idea is way better!”
“Thanks,” you said. “So…I’ll see you later?”
Wrench nodded as you waved goodbye and walked up the porch steps. Just as you opened the door, you heard Wrench clear his throat from behind you.
“Hey! So, there’s this party that DeadSec’s throwing in a few days by the bridge. You down to come and party with some degenerates?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” you smiled.
“Cool, cool, see ya then!” said Wrench. He held up his hand in the peace sign and jogged down the street. Once he was out of sight, you walked into the apartment complex and locked the main door behind you.
Out of the two people who lived downstairs, one had their lights turned on that you could see from underneath the doorway. Jazz music played softly in the background as you walked up the staircase into the second level and down the hall into your apartment.
You hadn’t even spent the night in your new place, but it felt like home as you walked through the small living. Grabbing your phone out of your pant pocket, you scrolled through your Invite page and wished you had taken a picture of the bar you went to.
Just as you were about to turn in for the night, an alert popped up onto your screen. It looked similar to an Invite notification, but this one was different and had a picture of a digitized skull next to it. You were about to swipe it away when an unknown number sent you a text message.
Join our channel! It’s for DeadSec members only!! You’re one of us now!! :-D –Sitara
You let out a sigh of relief, glad that it wasn’t another hacker going through your phone. You accepted the invitation as the app began to download, the icon of a purple skull icon appearing on your screen. As soon as it finished downloading you clicked on the app as another pop up asked you to make a username. You typed in your usual screen name ‘Jinx’ and searched through your phone for a good picture.
You found one of your favorite selfies of you at the beach jumping in mid-air. You and your friends would make fun of people that would take those photos and suddenly felt yourself missing them terribly.
You made it part of your profile pic and promised yourself that you would take another one, this time in San Francisco. As you scrolled through the DeadSec feed, you saw some pictures of Sitara, Wrench, and a guy that wore a beanie with a green hoodie.
Thinking that this must be one of their other members, you liked at least one picture of each member, hoping you weren’t coming off too strong or needy of friends. Just as you were about to close the app, a notification popped up onto your screen.
Wrench has liked one of your photos!
You smiled as you saw the familiar masked man under your beach picture. He had also given you a couple blue hearts with a dolphin emoji. As soon as he had commented on it, you saw more comments from Sitara and the guy in the green hoodie.
Damn girl, you look sexy! -Sitara
80% of the world’s oceans are undiscovered. What mysteries lie beneath? –Hawt Sauce
“This must be the one’s who’s going to help with the virus,” you mumbled to yourself. Soon, other members of DeadSec began liking your picture and putting their own comments underneath it. It felt nice to be welcomed so quickly in a big city.
You plugged your phone into the nearby charger on your nightstand and dressed into your favorite oversized t-shirt and comfy flannel shorts. As soon as your head hit the pillow, you fell into a dreamful sleep filled with neon lights and strangely enough, a talking taco that joyfully shouted your name.
It seemed way too soon when you heard your alarm sound off. You grumbled incoherent curses as you struggled to swipe it off on your phone, finally silencing the blaring horns. The sun had barely started to peak through the old buildings and you knew it was best to get ready for work before you hit heavy traffic.
Taking a quick shower, you carefully picked out your outfit, hoping to impress everyone at your new job. Back home, it seemed necessary to dress in colors of blacks and navy blues, but checking out the company previously, you found the staff to be much more laid back than the travel companies in Los Angeles. Settling on a mauve pink, cotton jumpsuit with a light gray sweater, and beige flats.
Racing toward the kitchen, you grabbed a few granola bars and a bottle of water as you threw everything into a brown, leather backpack. Lastly, you grabbed your laptop filled with your current projects and ideas that you were going to present at work. You quickly checked the bus schedule and saw that you were only a few blocks away from the nearest stop.
Your phone said it would be about a five minutes walk to the bus stop and you suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline course through you. Locking your apartment door, you jogged down the staircase and out into the brisk San Francisco air. There were only a few people out on but the streets were already filled with people in their cars on their way to work.
The walk wasn't long, probably because you were jogging the whole way and regretted wearing such uncomfortable shoes. It would’ve been easier to call for a driver but with your bank account being low enough as it was, riding the bus for a few weeks would have to do.
You reached the stop just in time as you got in line behind a small crowd of people. As you paid the bus fee, you took a seat near the back and plugged in your headphones. The settings were set to shuffle as you listened to some classic salsa music.
After twenty minutes of watching the city pass by, you finally came to your stop and exited the bus. The building to your new job was just around the corner and you felt the butterflies inside your stomach grow rapidly with each step you took. Although the building was a little on the smaller side, it was a pretty successful start-up compared to all the other major travel corporations. Out of all the hundreds that had applied, you felt incredibly lucky that you had managed to get a job as part of their graphics team.
As you walked inside, you noticed the office looked more spacious on the inside than it did outside. Four rows of desks stood neatly from across the room and you could see a break room behind glass doors in the back. Most of the desks were filled with people on the phone or focused completely on their computer screens.
“Oh hey! You’re the new girl, right?”
A pretty redheaded girl with freckles sprinkled across her face greeted you with a big smile as she held out her hand.
“I’m Claudia Murphy, I’m the head manager of Travel Time San Francisco,” she said as you shook her hand. “We talked on the phone earlier remember?”
“Of course, it’s nice to finally meet you,” you grinned. “I’m really excited to start working here, it’s practically my dream job.”
“We’re so happy to have you! Not to mention that your portfolio is simply amazing! So much talent, I couldn’t let you get away,” she giggled. “Here, let me show you to your workspace.”
You followed Claudia near the back as she began talking to you about all the ins and outs of working.
“In case you haven’t noticed, we do things a little differently here than any regular work environment,” she said. “I know the job application says work hours are from eight to three, but if you want to come in earlier, that’s totally fine. Also, you get a one-hour lunch, I personally recommend the Chinese restaurant down the street and they have the greatest chow mein.”
You nodded politely has Claudia went on about other work policies, the other staff members and their jobs and more importantly, what you would be doing from here on out.
“So, one more thing. About once or twice a week, you’ll have to go out onto the field and take pictures of beautiful San Francisco! Mostly landmarks, museums, artists alleys, anything that will catch the eye of tourists and make them want to come and spend their money here,” said Claudia. “Think you can handle it?”
“Not a problem,” you said. “I’ll start this weekend.”
“How about tomorrow? I would normally assign you a partner but it’s summer and we’re already stretched pretty thin right now. For today, I want you to really work on our social media pages; take notes on what needs to be changed and send me a format so I can finalize it. Any questions?”
“I’m good for now. Again, thank you so much for this opportunity, it means so much me!”
“Come to me for anything. My office is right over there,” said Claudia, pointing to the left side. Her office wasn’t as big as you’d thought and it was nice to have a manager who wasn’t so grand.
As you took a seat by your desk, you pulled out your laptop and instantly began transferring all your files to your work computer. Most of them were pictures of downtown, graphing charts and different fonts and textures you had downloaded a few days prior. You watched the bar slowly start to load when a guy that looked a few years younger than you come up to your desk with a sheepish grin.
“Hey, you need coffee or anything? I’m Liam by the way, Time Travel’s finest intern.”
“Nice to meet you, Liam,” you laughed as you gave him your name. “I would love one if you don’t mind? Cream and lots of sugar.”
“You got it! Oh and I don’t know if Claudia told you, but Dusan Nemec is paying us a visit today. Fingers crossed it goes well.”
“Who’s that?” you asked
“He’s the CTO of Blume Corporation; super rich billionaire that’s thinking about buying us out. Although, Claudia doesn’t seem too eager about merging.”
“Monopolies can be dangerous,” said Liam. “Some of us could loose our jobs in the process.”
Your eyes widened in alarmed at the thought of losing your job just when you started. Liam noticed your reaction and gave you a reassuring look.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to freak you out. Trust me, Claudia won’t give up, not without a fight.”
You bit your lip and nodded your head as Liam gave you a weak smile and waved a small goodbye. As you looked back to your screen, your phone vibrated against the glass desk, notifying you of a text.
You swiped it open and saw a pic of Wrench with two thumbs up, Sitara smiling in the back and Hawt Sauce with a peace sign.
Good luck on your first day! We’re so proud of our baby girl! <3
You laughed as you sent a quick thank you and a couple of smiley emojis. Despite the troubling new you had just heard, it was nice to know that something was going right in your new life.
“How do you like working here so far? Better than your last job?”
“Oh yeah, way better,” you said. “I can’t believe I actually get paid to do what I love.”
You and one of your coworkers, Maya, had just sat down to eat lunch in the break room. A large TV played quietly in the background while other members of your team sat down on one of the dark purple couches and talked amongst themselves. Maya’s desk was right in front of yours and the two of you had hit it off instantly.
“So, I have to ask,” said Maya as she flicked back her long, dark hair. “Think anyone here is cute?”
“Not here at work,” you smiled. “I met someone the first day I moved in.”
“Really? What does he do?” asked Maya.
“Uh, he works on computers,” you said.
Maya gave an approving nod as she continued eating her food and you were glad she hadn’t pressed any further. You had looked up DeadSec when you were on your break and realized that they were a lot bigger than you imagined. From dealing with corrupt companies to hackers like Lenni, it seemed their goal was to make sure that people’s freedom was never undermined.
Maya’s smart watch began to beep and she let out a deep sigh as she cleaned up her lunch.
“Gotta get back,” she sighed. “Maybe we can hang out after work sometime? There’s this club that plays the best music, not the everyday songs you hear on the radio.”
“Sounds fun,” you said. “Would it be cool if I bring a couple friends?”
“Of course, the more the merrier! Bring your guy, too,” she winked. You held back a laugh as you felt your cheeks warm up just a bit.
As the rest of your coworkers trickled out of the break room, you were starting to regret starting your lunch so late. Everyone so far had been really nice in welcoming you and you wished you got to spend more time to get to know them better.
The granola bars you packed earlier did nothing to cure your rumbling stomach and you regretted not packing a proper lunch the night before. Looking through your bank account app on your phone, you figured that you had just enough to buy a week’s worth of groceries before getting your first paycheck. Unfortunately, you would have to stick to the usual cup of noodles and maybe some roasted chicken if you were lucky.
Spotting a few leftover doughnuts, you quickly got out of your seat and peered through the bright, pink box. All that was left was a powdered jelly doughnut and a glaze. Taking a quick look around, you grabbed them both and shoved the glazed one into your mouth. Even though they were hours old, they still tasted fresh albeit a little stale.
“Do they even feed you here? Judging from the way you scarfed that pastry down, I’d say not.”
You turned to see a tall man that looked to be around in late twenties sporting a man bun and beard to match. His gray sweater matched his sweatpants perfectly and his slip-on shoes were so new, you could smell the fresh rubber coming off them.
“I just forgot to bring my lunch. Besides, they’re not that bad,” you said as you started on the jelly. Even though he was handsome, there was something about him that rubbed you the wrong way.
“I’ll have a talk with your boss. It’s important that all employees must be well nourished if they are to stay on task throughout the day,” chuckled the man.
“I don’t think we’ve met, do you work here?” you asked.
“No, but there’s a possibility I might buy out the place, so you’re not too far off,” he said. “I’m Dusan Nemec, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Same to you,” you said as you gave him your name. You tried to keep your composure, remembering this was the billionaire that Liam had just talked about earlier. “I’m sorry, but why would someone like you want to have Travel Time?”
“Someone like me?” Dusan asked with an amused grin.
“Yeah, like, you’re already rich with your own company, why bother with a company like this?”
“I see it for its potential. Not only do you cater to places worldwide, but also you encourage locals to explore more of the city that they already live in. There’s also the simplicity of your app, making it easier for one to plan out their next vacation or weekend out. Travel Time is a hidden gem and I’m willing to make it shine.”
“Right, well I better get back to work,” you said. “Nice meeting you.”
You tried to make your way out of the break room but Dusan stepped from side to side, making an awkward dance between the two of you. Dusan smiled as he stood to your right and stayed there. Just as you walked past him, you felt his hand on your shoulder, gently stopping you from leaving.
“One more thing before you go,” he said. “If I’m being honest, I’ve seen your work and you’re very gifted. We could use talent like you at Blume and your pay would be double than what you have here. When the day comes that we merge with Travel Time, and trust me it will, you’ll want to have friends in higher places.”
The opportunity was one of a lifetime, but there was something odd behind his cold, bluish-gray eyes. Such a striking color would leave you breathless but they provided no warmth or reassurance.
“Thanks, but I’ll stay here for now,” you said warily. “Can’t abandon them on my first day.”
Dusan smiled as he let go of your shoulder and pulled out his phone as his thumb hovered over the brightly lit screen.
“Well, if you do change your mind, or would like to talk about anything, give me a call. I’d like to keep in touch with someone of your caliber. Here, I’ll give you my number.”
You were slightly taken aback by his boldness, but realized it wouldn’t hurt to have someone like him around. If what he was saying were true, it would be horrible to lose your job so soon after moving. As you pulled out your own phone, you noticed Maya from across the room, grinning like the Cheshire cat as you logged his number into your phone.
“I hope to hear from you soon,” said Dusan. You nodded as you walked out of the break room and could still feel his lingering stare as you sat down at your desk. As you pretended to look through your computer, you saw Claudia approach him with an irritated look on her face.
“So, what was Dusan talking to you about?” asked Maya as she swiveled around in her seat to face you.
“Wanted me to join him at Blume if this place ever gets bought out. Not that I would though,” you assured her.
“Well look at you with all the luck,” said Maya. “But you got his number right? Maybe he sees something he likes.”
“Doubtful,” you scoffed. “I’ve heard of big companies doing this kind of thing; buy them out and keep a few of the staff so they don’t look like complete assholes. Besides, I can’t leave you guys just like that when I only just started.
“Aw, you are too sweet. But really, if he asks you out, say yes. If I can’t have a billionaire boyfriend, I must live vicariously through you,” said Maya as she wiggled her eyebrows.
You rolled your eyes and saw Claudia lead Dusan to the front doors. Even though you didn’t know her for that long, you could tell the smile that was plastered to her face wasn’t genuine. Just before Dusan left, he took a quick scan of the office as his eyes finally set on you.
“Say bye to your boyfriend,” whispered Maya.
You shot her a look and gave a short wave to Dusan. He smiled as he nodded in return and left the building with Claudia close behind.
“Doesn’t he seem a little off to you?” you asked Maya.
“All billionaires are weird. Now that I think about it, he’s probably into some really kinky stuff, like getting peed on or something.”
“Gross!” you giggled. “I refuse to do anything like that.”
“Oh come on, what if he promised you a new Lamborghini? Or offered to pay your rent for the next year?”
“I’m not that into cars.”
“I see…you haven’t exactly denied the rent, though.”
“Okay, I might just have to take him up on that one,” you admitted.
The two of you laughed but stopped immediately as Claudio approached your desk with a serious look on her face.
“Did he say anything to you? About the company I mean,” she asked you.
“He wanted to know if I would like to join after he buys this place out. But he won’t, right?” you said.
“No, no, of course not. We are doing just fine without him. I have the perfect team and he knows it. Just wants everything for himself like the selfish prick he is,” said Claudia.
You raised your eyebrows and tried to hide the smile forming on your face. You never had a boss that talked badly about others, especially in front of their coworkers.
“Ignore me, I’m just a little stressed that’s all,” said Claudia. “So, I expect some new photos of by the end of the week and I need that new update to launch tomorrow if possible.”
“You got it, chief,” said Maya, giving her a salute.
Claudia gave you two a weary smile as she headed back into her office. You could her through the glass window as she sat down onto her desk and put her hands into her face, massaging her forehead.
“Damn, she must really be stressed over this whole buyout,” said Maya. “Never seen her this bad. Then again, a fifty million dollar payout will do that to you.”
“That’s how much they’re offering?” you gasped. “How has she not taken it?”
“This is her baby, she’s put more hours into this place than all of us combined. Then again, if she takes the deal, she won’t have to work another day in her life.”
“Baby or not, I’d take it hands down,” you said. “Not having to work for the rest of my life sounds pretty nice.”
“Right? Hey, have you checked out the Painted Ladies houses? We’ll need an updated photo for our main page…”
For the rest of the day, you and Maya worked on your own projects, occasionally making small talk throughout. Liam would stop by and give his own input on Dusan’s offer and it just made you all the more nervous. Just because Dusan had offered you a job after the buyout didn’t mean it was permanent. He could keep you for a few months and then let you go, sending you jobless in an expensive area.
The clock finally struck five, signaling you and your coworkers that the day was over. You gathered your stuff as you said goodbye to Maya and Liam and walked out of the building toward the nearest bus station.
The bus ride home was short, your thoughts filled with the events of your first day. Claudia seemed great for a boss, more relaxed and easygoing than the ones you had previously. Maya was really fun to talk to and you could see yourself becoming really good friends with her.
The bus pulled in at your stop and you suddenly felt your body sag as you got off. Your back hurt from sitting straight all day and your stomach ached painfully from not eating properly.
As you walked down the street toward home, you noticed a group of three men standing a few feet away from the stairway entrance to your building. Your eyes quickly scanned the area, realizing that you were completely alone.
You made a point to not look at them and continued walking as you quickened your pace. You held your bag tighter and reached for your phone inside. Just when you were only a yard away from the stairs, one of the men turned his head and gave you a creepy smile.
“Hey, senorita! You’re new here, right?” he called.
You didn’t acknowledge him as you hurried up the steps and pulled out your keys, stabbing them into the lock. As you opened the door, you slammed it behind you and used the bolt lock, hoping they would hear it and leave.
“Hey, don’t be so mean! We just want to have some fun!” jeered another.
You could see their silhouettes through the glass door as they laughed together, finally leaving after a few seconds. It took a moment before you were finally able to move your body and jogged up the stairs. Usually catcalls like that wouldn’t bug you, but the fact that you had moved into gang territory without knowing left you extremely uneasy.
You were finally able to breathe properly as you entered your apartment, leaning against the closed door behind you. There was a security camera outside the building that gave you some comfort, but still left you paranoid.
Just as you were about to knock out for the night, your phone vibrated and you pulled it out to see a text from Wrench.
The others and I will pick you up for the beach party we’re having! That cool with you?
You smiled and sent back a thumbs up as you headed toward your bedroom thankful for all the friends you had made.