Tense, that would describe my mood today, well it would describe my mood just about all the time, actually. You see being the youngest VP in what used to be my Grandmother’s cosmetics company, everything fell into my hands, since you see my brother – the company president was an incompetent, disorganized idiot who played crazy golf in his office all day rather than deal with the day to day running of our business. It was a struggle, and I admit the fact that I was passed over for President in favour of Jason, despite the hours and the workload I put in, still ate at me. As it stood she still held position as CEO, but it was in name only, leaving the running of the show to Jason and I. Or should I say, just me. I dealt with it, and I tried not to let my underlying resentment of that fact affect my relationship with my bother. Yes, he was a fool, but he was still my brother.
I strutted into my office, as usual twenty minutes earlier than they expect me, leaving the rest of the office workers in a complete tizzy. They feared me, that’s for sure. The men were scared I’d cut their balls off, and the women were just plain scared. It’s not that I set out to garner the reputation of a ice bitch, but somehow, somewhere along the line, it just happened. And I just didn’t care enough to rectify it.
Sure I was standoffish, sure I was quick tempered and lacked patience for people and their problems. But that didn’t make me a bad person, and in fact, it made me a fucking amazing Vice President. Even in a recession I’d gotten our revenue up forty percent on the pervious year, so if I had to be an Ice Bitch in the eyes of my underlings, so be it.
“Paula, where is my coffee? And the fall schedule, is there a reason it’s not on my desk?
“Yes, Miss Stackhouse, sorry my skirt got stuck in the photocopier… again.”
“What were you doing? Sitting on it?” I glared at her and she just hurried to my desk with the papers and my coffee, which, I bet was cold.
Incompetence it ran in them all, apparently.
And I was right, as it landed all over my shirt. My crisp white shirt. Thankfully it was cold.
Count to ten, Sookie, count to ten.
“Oh, my GOD, I’m so sorry!” She gasped, grabbing some tissues off my desk, and patting me down with them. I grabbed them back off her.
“I got it!” I snapped and dried myself off, thankfully I kept two change of clothes in my office closet for occasions like these. Since I was surrounded by fools in every department and all.
“Thank you,” I said, “can you please go and … get changed, walking around with your ass hanging out isn’t how I do business.” I said, motioning to her now torn skirt. Honestly, how did that even happen?
“I don’t have…”I glared.
“Yes, Miss Stackhouse.” She said hurried, before scooting out of my office and to her desk and I went to change my blouse, and begin my day.
Someone was getting fired.
I looked at the address on the card that human resources gave me, and it seemed like I had the right building at least. It was large, overly so, sky scraper so. A large SCC adored the building, and on the revolving glass doors, as well as on the gold notice by the doors. Stackhouse Cosmetics & Couture. I knew about the company, my ex girlfriend used a lot of their products, I knew it was big business. What I didn’t know was why human resources was sending me to a clothes and cosmetics company to be an assistant. Not to be sexist or nothing, but I knew numbers, I didn’t know blusher from eye shadow, so I didn’t exactly think I’d be best for the job. But, the agency assured me I’d be fine, and that they were desperate… as was I. So, there I was. Signing in for my meeting with the VP of the company. An S. Stackhouse. Was she the S in the SCC? Hardly, I pondered, since she was only the VP and not the P…P.
I grinned to myself, because yes, PP made me think of pee pee, and I was twelve inside apparently.
I rode the elevator up to fourteenth floor, silently attempting to get my breathing under control, and soon the doors opened and that’s ladies who looked like they hadn’t had a square meal since they hit puberty stepped out, I was greeted by a mirrored floor, and glass and mirrored walls, and the clicking of high heels.
I was in hell.
All the women looked like supermodels, they all were dressed to perfection, and the men look like they too stepped out of some kind of Stepford machine of perfection. Not a hair nor a tie crooked. I felt suddenly self-conscious. I wasn’t in jeans, but I was wearing my trusted black converse, and my shirt was unbuttoned with a t-shirt underneath and I wasn’t wearing a tie. In fact, I didn’t even own one.
I so wasn’t getting this job.
You see my background was in numbers, math, science, I was a book nerd all things considered. But after Grad school I was feeling burnt out on the numbers game. I didn’t love it like I used to, and I wanted to find something else. There was more to life than books and numbers, at least that’s what my ex told me as she was dumping me for the lead singer in a band called ‘Social Suicide’. Seriously.
And so, with that I got the balls to try something new. Of course finding something new in a city like New York wasn’t hard if you looked carefully enough, but the fact was I had to make rent – now on my own, and I had to make it fast. So I signed up for temp agency, and being one of the only guys in the registering process amongst a lot of women, I questioned if I’d done the right thing?
I also questioned it as the receptionist looked me up and down with distain as I approached her pristine desk. I might as well give it a shot, I did pay for a cab here and everything so I wouldn’t be late.
“Hi, Eric Northman here, for S…Stackhouse.”
She looked up, her eyes widened.
“Um, no?” I said.
“Are you here for the modelling gig? I mean only a male model would get away with coming to see her dressed like that, and when I mean get away with it, I mean just barely.”
“I’m here for the PA job.”
She burst out laughing. Really not a good sign.
“Okay then, this, I have to see. I’ll show you to her office, ” she said as she slipped out from behind her space, slipped on her heels and sauntered in front of me until we were in front of yet another glass wall, only this one I couldn’t see though.
“Miss Stackhouse, there is an Eric Northman here to see you.”
Secretary said, a smug air in words.
“He said he’s here for the PA position.”
Silence from inside the room, before I heard a sigh.
“Send him in. And get me the May report from the Paris S/S season sales will you, I need to check something.”
“Of course, anything else?”
“No. That’s all,” said the voice, clipped and frightening.
“You can go in now…” The redhead said, smirking again and she clipped against the floor with her oddly shaped shoes.
“Mr Northman?” The S Stackhouse said, and she wasn’t at all what I was expecting.
She wasn’t a dragon breathing fire for one thing. I almost dropped the folders I was holding in my hand.
Damn it, butter fingers.
“Mr Northman, not to be… picky, but on the sample resume they sent, they said it was Erica. So you can understand my confusion here.”
Typically I hire female assistants, for obvious reasons… I want someone who is familiar with the company, our products, the branding, and of course has the ability to meet my needs.”
I wonder if all her needs were being met. She was hot, that was my first thought, after scary as hell, she was hot. Slim, not shocking there, but she wasn’t as skinny as the girls out front. She had tone and muscle. And boobs. Great boobs from my point of view. She was polished and shiny with wavy blonde hair twisted into an elegant ponytail, a sensual looking royal blue wrap dress encased her curves, stopping just above her knee that led to long looking legs. She wasn’t as tall as the girls out front either, but she had a presence that they didn’t have. She had an attractive face, striking blue eyes, icy, just like the rest of her, and perfectly glossed tinted soft pink lips. She was stiff though, in her stance and in her conversation, this woman took no shit. Or she just didn’t take A shit.
Either way she didn’t seemed too familiar with the word relaxed.
“I may not know much about makeup or whatever, but I do know business, I’m good with figures… I have a my résumé here if you’d like to…”She snapped it out of my hands.
“Graduated top of your class at North-western, that’s… impressive.” She raised a perfect brow.
“Thank you. That’s nice of you to say, I get the impression now much impresses you.”
Shit, me and my big mouth.
She simply raised a brow again, and continued reading.
“So you’re good with numbers then, Masters, PHD…all in a field that has nothing to do with cosmetics or business.”
“No, but it’s problem solving, and number crunching, something most businesses deal with on a daily basis, unless this one is both number and problem free?”
Again, with the mouth. Shut up!
This time she stopped reading, putting my resume on the desk.
“You’ve got opinions then, that’s new. Most people who walk through that door are so scared of me they almost pee a little. Not you.”
I stood a little taller then, if it was possible. I took her comment as a compliment, whether she meant it as one or not, and I pushed my glasses to stop them sliding down my face as she looked me up, and looked me down.
I felt naked under her gaze.
“Eric.” I clarified. “My parents weren’t that cruel.”
“Lucky you.” she said, dryly before she moved her fine ass in that fine skirt behind her massive desk.
I looked him dead in the eye again, after letting him stand there for a few seconds, unsure of what to do next.
“Mr Northman what do you know about SCC?”
Deer in the headlights.
“I … um… you guys have a fashion line… and you do makeup and all the women here are super skinny and judgemental, and… you guys really like mirrors.”
Her eyes widened slightly, but she said nothing until a full minute later when she spoke again. Yes, I counted.
“Okay, Eric. Here’s the deal. You start now because I’m already behind and just don’t have time to interview anymore people today, this is a trial basis lasting six weeks. If you manage to survive that trial period, you’ll be hired signing a year to year contract. If that’s something you think you can do?”
“I thin- I know I can.”
“Good. Go out front, there is a girl named Paula sitting at a glass desk to the left of my office, tell her to come in and see me, you, take her place and her desk and there will be someone with you shortly to show you the ropes. Got it?””I got it. I mean, yes. Thank you.”
She looked down at her work, as if I wasn’t there.
“Do I… Now?”
“Yes. Now, Mr Northman,” she said again without looking up. I guess I’d been dismissed.
Ten minutes later, the woman named Paula came out of Stackhouse’s office, in floods of tears. Coming towards me with a sad and hurt look on her face. I was sitting at her desk, oh… I was her replacement.
She sniffled as she was handed a box.
“You know she’s the devil, don’t you? She’s pure EVIL. She’s a bitch and she…” Paula said as she threw some of her things into the box. I just didn’t know what to say. I didn’t deal well with crying women, never had.
“Oh, you will be. You won’t last a week with Satan in there. Trust me, she’s the Devil! Get out while you still have your dignity.” She said throwing the last of her things haphazardly and turning on her too-high-heels and marching towards the elevator.
Well, this job just got ten times more interesting than my time at Parrot Palace, that’s for sure.
He was completely incompetent. Or so I thought, as I watched him from my glass office. The whole way around, the three walls allowed me a full view of the floor, but they couldn’t see inside at all, unless I flipped a little switch and made it so. I loved modern technology.
I had to bite my lip to stop myself from laughing though when he gave me his answer about what he knew about the company. No one had ever been that …uninformed before. And because really – was he serious? And as well as that, had anyone else given me that answer I would have dismissed them, but there was something playful in his tone that told me he wasn’t just ‘stupid’ he was fucking with me. No one was usually brave enough to fuck with me, ever, and least of all on the first meeting.
I sighed. I really didn’t have time for this new… confliction. And yet I still watched.
I watched as he stumbled twice from his desk to the front desk, then I watched him try to figure out the phone system, and then I watched as he met Pam.
Pamela was my right hand woman in a sense. She ran the magazine department, I had final say on all issues of course, but she was copy-editor in name and in career, since I was more product, design and consumer aware. Pam was the one who knew how to organize my thoughts and my wants and needs into our monthly issues. I watched her size him up, and down, and up again, and I saw his blush all the way from where he stood. Bright red, so whatever she had said to him, he wasn’t used to it.
Or, maybe he was and it was just his game.
I knew in this business everyone had a game plan, everyone. From the editors to the janitors and it was always important to keep in mind, because as the boss they all wanted something from you. It wasn’t ideal, in fact sometimes it was a pain in the ass, and it made me extremely cautious of people in general. When someone always expects something off you in someway, it’s hard to let new people in, there is only so much meat on the bone after all.
Pam sauntered into my office and sat on my desk, she was the only person who treated me like she did, because she could, because she was my friend.
“Trial basis,” I said reading the reports I was behind on, ignoring her.
“He’s hot. If I where on that team I’d play with him. You should play with him.”
“Pam, we have a meeting in ten minutes, can we not do this now?”
“When can we do this then? Sookie since Quinn… you’ve been sat in your tower like a prisoner, no men, no fun, no nothing. That’s just fucking sad. You work hard, you should play hard too.”
“Yes, because you are all about balancing, right Pam?”
She grinned, “right now I’m balancing three women and a guy I’m trying to figure out if I want to fuck him or just be him,” she mused.
Pam had sworn off men in her early teens, but every once in a while she found one that held her attention, and libido enough to fool around with. She classed herself as Trisexual, if she had to, though she hated labels – ones that weren’t designer and hanging in her closet. They were the only thing that sat in her closet though, she was a serious advocator for equal rights, something I took on board and bled through to our products for various charities and functions we hosted every year for the cause.
“I don’t have time to play. Hell, I barely have time to eat.”
“You have been plummeting weight, Lafayette told me he had to alter your clothes again. Miss Two.”
So I was stressed, running an empire was stressful. Especially when I did all the work and my brother reaped all the praise, but really I wasn’t bitter.
“Pam it’s fine.”
“Are you eating?”
“Of course I am.”
“Yes, of course you are. All alone in your big empty penthouse -”
“I have Tina.”
“She’s a cat, Sookie, and I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Do you have a copy of the new product reports?” I tried to change the subject as she held them in front of me, and when I went to reach for them, she snapped them back. Irritating me to no end.
“Woman do not test me, I’ve had a hard enough day as it is.”
“Yes, I see that. Firing that idiot and hiring the yummy hella awkward model.”
“He’s not a model,” I stated, and she leaned over my desk to look out at him, I looked again too, this time he was squinting at the laptop with the headgear for the phone finally in place.
“And please don’t say ‘hella’.”
“He should be. I mean, we could beat the awkward right out of him. A three piece would look sexual on him, spiff up the hair, lose the glasses… ”
“I like the glasses…” I mumbled.
“Ohh, so you are still alive in there then. Interesting,” she teased.
“Pam, he’s my employee and has been for all of a half hour. Can we just drop it. Anyway, you know I don’t like people.”
“Yeah, that explains Quinn.”
I rolled my eyes again, she wouldn’t let that go would she?
“It was a relationship… it ended, move on.”
“No, it was fuck buddies and you got bored, or he got bored, you still never told me what went down there.”
“It’s not important,” I dismissed.
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong my friend. Relationships are important, with actual people, not products or consumer reports or launching PR days… being outside with the three dimensional people, touching, feeling, fucking. It’s important.”
“Well, if it’s so important can you please go fuck off somewhere else and leave me in peace until I read these?”
She raised her brows, normally I reined in my potty mouth, but sometimes and mostly it was around Pam, I let loose.
“My little Sookims is still in there,” she singsonged on her way out of my office.
“Call me that again and you’re fired.” I smiled and she winked before she rolled her eyes at me.
“We’re doing dinner tonight, no arguments. I’ll send a town car for you at six.”
Before I had a chance to argue, she walked out. I loved her, I did, her interfering I loved a little less though. She might have been right though, I had worked myself into a cocoon of sorts. Work became my everything. It became all I had time for, all I made time for. My last quote unquote relationship had been with John Quinn, he was everything that had nothing to do with my world and I loved it. He knew nothing about fashion, or cosmetics, brands or magazines. It was perfect for me. We’d meet, we’d eat, and we’d fuck, not always in that order, but it was what it was. To me, it was a relationship because it was all I thought I wanted, and it was all he wanted too. So for a short period of time my nights were less lonely, I was less lonely, I was less… alone. Now, there I was at thirty with a thriving business life, and a non-existent personal life. I didn’t want to be so guarded, but it was a by-product of my job, I became the ice-bitch so they feared me, and in a way they respected the consistency, and that I got stuff done better than anyone else. The bad part of that was people rarely wanted to be friends with an ice-bitch, or date them for that matter. I never let anyone get close enough to see my weaknesses, for some reason it was something that scared me, so in closing myself off to do a better job at work, my life – what little I had outside of it didn’t really exist anymore. I wasn’t so sure when exactly I allowed that to happen…
For a moment I wallowed in my own self pity, that maybe this wasn’t who I needed to be, that I didn’t need people to fear me instead of like me and get to know me. But then the phone rang, and it was business as usual, they didn’t care that I cried at romantic comedies, or that I loved to watched reality tv in my pyjamas, or that I was scared that my cat judged me. No, they cared that I knew my stats, and had the balls to launch an expensive high end product in the middle of recession and have it sell out in a matter of hours. They cared that I got them profit, that I got my business profit, that I sat with the most respected in the cosmetic and fashion world at events all around the world and that I held my own with them, for a country girl from Louisiana, that was none too shabby.
But I cared about my life, I wanted more for it than just being married to my work, but for now I was who I was and I had to do what I had to do, as cliché as that sounds. And what I had to do was run a business.
As I glanced at my hapless assistant I knew it was time for the ice crown to go back on, and for the self pity to be tucked away for another day.
“Northman!” I said and he came tripping around the doorway, folders in hand.
“Yes?” He said, again this one had no fear, I liked that. No one else looked at me like that, like they weren’t totally terrified of me.
“We have a meeting, I need you to take notes, can you do that?”
He nodded before handing me some papers.
“Two advertising firms left messages for you to call them back about the magazine shoots for next Wednesday and asked if the models were to your liking… um and then some Gabba guy’s office called about um…well he had an accent and he was speed talking so… it was something about France and in December and if you’d call them back at your convenience…”
I exhaled loudly letting him know my annoyance with him as I snapped the rest of the messages from his hands. God, he wrote like a third grader running out of paper. Why such tiny writing for such a big guy? I wondered.
“Meeting, it’s in the board room. You can follow me since Lafayette hasn’t arrived to give you the full tour yet.”
“Take the dictaphone with you, make the notes from that later… and Mr Northman?”
“We aren’t having a paper shortage, it’s okay to expand your lettering so that I won’t need a magnifying glass to read them, okay?”
“Oh…” He blushed, “I’m so used to numbers and dealing with my research I guess my writing skills have suffered.”
I nodded then. I agreed with that.
“I’ll have an iPad on your desk in an hour. I trust technology isn’t something you struggle to grasp?”
“No, that should be easy enough, thank you.”
“Good, you can do all your note taking and appointment making from there. There is also a work phone being organized for you. Lafayette with run thought all of this with you, including your preferces. We’ll discuss salary and hours after the tour, understood?
He nodded again.
“Good, and Mr Northman, I have one rule about the phones. When I call, you always answer, or you’re fired. Clear?”
He nodded again, silently taking it all in. Again, no fear. It was odd and not something I was used to at all if I was honest. It was why he interested me. He didn’t seem fully ass backwards, and his résumé told me that he had brains. Even if he didn’t know how to work his body, tripping all over himself like he was. There was potential there, rough and unpolished … and in his case un-ironed as it was. But, it was there and I’d give it a shot. Hope springs eternal, right? And I always had hope that I’d find someone to work under me that could handle all I could offer. For now, maybe this Eric Northman was it.
“Good, let’s get started then, shall we?”