The Secret Humankind – Chapter 03
“So, how did it go?”
I put my keys in the dish by the front door and glanced at my roommate. Penny asking after me? That was rare. Typically all she thought about was herself. I hoped this wasn’t a sign she was about to slip into one of her ‘moods.’
“Okay, I think. The receptionist said I should hear back in a day or two.”
I was positive I hadn’t generated any points in my favor during the interview, as my usual solution when unclear as to what to do was to stop talking. I doubted it had reflected well on me.
“The higher pay would be nice, of course.” Penny sent me a weighted glance. “I’d worry less about your ability to hold up your end of the rent.”
Good old Penny—always showing concern for others. Right…
With her long legs, red-streaked blond hair, and angular features, Penny made an impression wherever she went. And she liked it that way. The fact that I was plain and called little attention to myself suited my roommate just fine. My ability to ignore her didn’t hurt the relationship either, not that Penny ever noticed.
We might not pull each other out of a fire, but when she’d offered to give me a discount on my share of the rent in exchange for keeping the whole place clean and tidy, I couldn’t pass it up. Half the rent for a place like this had been beyond my means. With the added perk of not having to pretend to be interested in each other’s business, the arrangement suited both of us. A match made in heaven? Not on your life. But weirdly enough, it worked. “Thanks. Your concern is underwhelming.”
“As if.” Penny rolled her eyes. “Just hold up your end and we’re golden.”
I gave her a thumbs up and walked through the fancy living room with its giant-screen TV over to my plain and spartan bedroom on the left. Penny didn’t know I knew, but my roommate had gone through twelve other people before I’d found her. None had stayed over a week—sometimes their choice, sometimes not.
Self-confidence was a must for a model, but Penny took it to god-like levels. Yet she still had no idea why she couldn’t keep a roommate. But since modeling could at times be a cutthroat business and her personality and methods had left others in her wake, Penny had enemies, lots of enemies, and she often traveled for work. So she wasn’t fond of leaving the place without a body in it to discourage any childish retaliations. Enter me—convenient, dull, without any modeling aspirations. Perfect!
My phone vibrated in my pocket. “This is Julia.”
“Ah, Miss Xero. It’s Dawn Anghelescu from Remington Safe and Clean. I am pleased to inform you that you have the job if you want it.”
“Are you sure?” My face turned hot. I really must be tired to question Anghelescu’s decision like that. Idiot!
A soft chuckle came from the other end of the call. “Yes, I’m positive. I believe you’ll be a good fit.”
My cheeks only grew hotter. “Thank you. I—I’ll have to give two weeks’ notice at my current job. Though they may let me go sooner.” Harry was going to go ballistic. Too bad.
“Two weeks is perfectly acceptable. You’ll receive your offer letter via Fed Ex by tomorrow. It will include your new employee packet as well as an appointment for a full physical and hepatitis B shot—but let us know if you need to reschedule for any reason.”
“A hepatitis B shot?” I asked.
“Yes. It’s for your safety. People may not think much of CTS decon, but the work does have risks. No matter how prepared we believe we are, you can’t discount Murphy’s Law, so we cover as many bases as possible to minimize any potential hazards. It’s also an OSHA requirement.”
That made sense. There was a lot I’d need to learn.
“In a few days, you’ll receive a package with more paperwork to fill out as well as a couple of uniforms to get you started. There’ll also be a schedule and dates for a five-day training course. First time for you, but a refresher for some of our other employees.
“Welcome to our family, Miss Xero. We hope you’ll be with us for a long time to come.”
This was actually happening. I’d done it! Despite everything, I got the job! So why was my spidey sense suddenly screaming?
The following two weeks were a wild, emotional rollercoaster.
The offer letter arrived early the next day. After spending a listless night sure I’d imagined the whole thing, I had physical proof it was real. Then there was the salary—the salary! Twenty an hour was double what I made at the Golden Corral, with tips, and that was before the third shift differential of fifty percent kicked in. I stared at the paper with its shiny Remington Safe and Clean logo for thirty minutes, basking in the weird, giddy feeling flowing up from my toes. I had felt nothing like it before—never thought I would feel it. I was sure that only someone who’d won the lottery would have an inkling of what I was experiencing at that moment.
But when I came off the high, doubt nibbled at the back of my brain. It was too good to be true. It had to be, didn’t it? Or did it? Wonderful things happened to bad people all the time. So why couldn’t I have some luck swing my way for once?
Still, it wasn’t a big surprise when things got bumpy. I purposely didn’t turn in my notice until the end of my shift, not wanting to be around when Harry lost it.
What I hadn’t expected was him trying to make me feel like I’d betrayed him, like I owed him for putting up with me all this time. He even had the gall to try to guilt me into staying. Then there was Melody. Suddenly we were besties. She kept asking all sorts of questions—not that I answered any of them in anything but the vaguest of terms. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to get me to stay or figure out where I got the job so she could try to take it from me.
They were two of the most exhausting weeks of my life.
I had only one regret—Mrs. Conrad. I would miss seeing her. More than that, I worried about the older woman getting enough to eat, about Melody bullying her for tips she couldn’t afford, or that she wouldn’t be allowed to take some extra bread home once I was gone.
The next time she came in, I made sure we had a few private moments.
“Mrs. Conrad, make sure to sit in Mary’s area from now on when you come. She’ll take good care of you. Georgia is okay if Mary’s area is full. But you should avoid Melody at all costs.”
“Oh, dear, don’t worry about me, and call me Roxanne.” Mrs. Conrad patted my hand. “I’ll be all right. You deserve more, so I’m happy for you—though I will miss you.”
“Thanks. That means a lot.” I dropped my voice to a whisper. “Would, would you like to keep in touch? I’ll be working the late shift, but I can probably meet you somewhere for coffee now and again. Or I’d love to take you to lunch sometime. Not here, though. Unless you’d prefer not to.”
The old lady chuckled. “I’d like that. We can trade email accounts, or—are you on Facebook? You can find lots of eligible men there, you know.” She looked hopeful.
“No, sorry. Never been much for social media.”
“Ah, an old lady can but dream.” Mrs. Conrad gave me a wistful smile. “I guess I’ll have to figure out some other way to find you a promising young man.”
Ugh. I certainly hoped not. I didn’t have time to indulge in something fanciful like romance.