Hans’ gaze bounced back and forth between Megan and myself. Since she was practically draped across my desk with her arms around me and her lips just about buried in my hair, his eyes didn’t have far to go. His brows disappeared under his bangs. “Oh, pardon me,” he said. “I just wanted to introduce myself, since I saw you two disappear after the meeting, but…. I can come back later.”
My cheeks went scarlet as I saw the speculative twinkle in Hans’ eyes reach entirely the wrong conclusion, but I was too rigid with embarrassment to reply. Megan, however, was as unflappable as ever.
“Oh, no,” Megan said as she straightened and disentangled herself. She slid to her feet and smoothed down her skirt. I watched Hans’ gaze follow the motion of her hands appreciatively before he yanked it back up to her face. I could hear the answering smile in Megan’s voice. “By all means, stay. There aren’t any spare chairs, but we do have other surfaces available if you like.” She gestured to the spot on my desk that she’d just vacated, and Hans laughed in reply.
Hans stepped into the room, grinning broadly. “I’ll stand,” he said. “But thank you for the offer.”
Megan shrugged as though to say ‘your loss’ and hopped back onto the front of my desk with her legs crossed and dangling off the edge. She folded her hands in her lap. I don’t know how she does it, but Megan has always been able to strike just the right tone with people. I mean, sure: Hans’ clothes and easy smile seemed to indicate he was a calm, laid back person… but we didn’t know that. It could have been that he wasn’t in a suit because it hadn’t been pressed when he’d gone to pick it up, and he was just smiling because he’d vindictively arranged to have his Viking mafia contacts burn down the dry cleaners’ shop with its employees still inside as an object lesson to others. Megan never seems to be fazed by these possibilities, but I can never stop thinking about them. So it’s always a little awe-inspiring when I get to watch her work her magic on someone. I was perfectly happy that she was the one engaging Hans, and with her easy flirting there was no way he would be holding onto his first impression of us. Probably.
Regardless, I did my best to scrunch down and disappear behind my monitor without being obvious about it.
“I’m Megan,” Megan said. She held out her hand and Hans came the rest of the way into the office to shake it. When he let go, Megan used it to point at me. “And this is Abigail,” she said. Hans started to reach for my hand, but Megan and my monitor were in the way – and I wasn’t reaching back because I was involuntarily clutching the fabric of my jeans (fortunately hidden under my desk) and couldn’t make myself let go – so he turned the gesture into a sort of casual wave of greeting. I think I managed to jerk my head in a nod of acknowledgement, and then Megan stole his attention back.
“You’re probably already aware, but we work in graphic novel imports,” Megan said as though I weren’t being socially awkward at all. First meetings are hell. “Fumiko is also part of our group – but she works from home. You’ll get to meet her at the New Year’s party, I’m sure.” Megan was practically beaming with cheerful friendliness. “So, what can we do for you?”
Hans smiled back at her – I don’t know how she does it, but he was obviously charmed already. I was still trying to force myself to calm down enough to uncurl my fingers. “Well, as I said: I saw the two of you hiding in the back at the meeting, and when you disappeared afterward I thought I should make a point to stop by and introduce myself more personally. But also, Mr. Salvatore mentioned that the two of you – ah, three,” he corrected with a nod for absent Fumiko, “-were his newest hires. So I decided I should start by getting your perspectives, first.”
“Oh, splendid,” Megan said with a cheerful smile.
Hans grinned back. He bowed and flourished his hand expansively. “I am but a humble intern, at your service.” He straightened and turned away from Megan. “Shall I sit with you first, Abigail? I can fetch another chair.”
Now, I have issues with a lot of things: strangers, authority figures, and casually charming, highly attractive men are three of them. I’d been okay with Hans when he’d been on the other end of a crowded break room and largely unaware of my existence. But now that he was right here, in my space, addressing himself to me – just standing there with his lips half-turned in a smile and a friendly sparkle in his eye – I couldn’t stop thinking about timber wolves and brutally murdered bunnies.
Part of me wanted to say he could have my chair if I could have his lap, but the part of me that didn’t want to end up disemboweled and feasted on in a dark, primeval forest took over. And that part of me decided to counteract Hans’ easy going charm, heroic physique, and “I’m a sexy Viking” accent by employing a healthy dose of aggressive dislike.
“Can you read Japanese?” I asked.
If Hans was startled by the non-sequitur he didn’t show it. “No,” he admitted. “Why?”
I found myself glaring at him. I didn’t want to, but I was on over-anxious autopilot. “Because, in that case, what you can do for me – instead of fetching another chair – is to go tell Mr. Salvatore that you’re fired and that if he wants to get me an intern I’d appreciate it if he found one who was competent enough to not be a waste of my time.” I smiled sweetly and Hans actually took a step back, stunned. He was probably used to women just swooning at his every suggestion – I know I would’ve loved to, but I just couldn’t stop. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’m busy enough that I don’t really have time to teach you three alphabets and a foreign language.”
Fortunately, Megan interrupted before I could go any further – and thank God, because my verbal filters had completely shut off and I was mere syllables away from spouting crazy shit all over the place. Hans looked so stunned I probably would have tried to tell him not to feel bad about it because no one really expects a Viking sex-god, bunny rapist, vampire hunter to spend a lot of time studying foreign languages, and Mr. Salvatore really should have checked for that during his onboarding interview.
But Megan hopped off my desk and interposed herself between Hans and me. Of course, Hans was tall enough to easily look past her – but movement catches the eye, and Megan was Megan. Between his height and her curves I wasn’t sure if he was looking down at her or down her blouse. In either case, she made a good distraction. My irrational dislike of the man ratcheted up a couple notches – almost on par with my desire to crawl under my desk and hide.
“Abby translates the works we have licenses to,” Megan explained for me. “It takes a lot of concentration and attention to detail, which is why we decided she should work in here and I would take the secretarial desk when Mr. Salvatore gave us this space.”
Hans glanced my way, but apparently thought better of trying to start another conversation with me. He turned back to Megan, who was going to get a crick in her neck if she kept looking up at him like that. “I see,” Hans said. “And what do you do?”
Megan beamed up at him. “Technically, I’m the department manager – but we’ve been doing this ever since it was our hobby in college, so really that’s just for the paperwork. In our actual workflow, I scrub the scanned pages, select fonts, and transcribe the English translations onto the cleaned files.” She took Hans by the arm and led him to the door. “Come on – if you’d like to get that chair and sit with me, I can take you through the process. Unless you’d rather sit on my desk?”
Hans let himself be led off. “Oh, no,” he said with a chuckle. “I wouldn’t want your coworkers to get the wrong idea.”
“That would be terrible,” Megan agreed easily. “Why, I’d have to take you as my paramour, then, just so it would be the right one.”
Hans stumbled on his reply and Megan laughed. “Go find a chair,” she said as she gently pushed him out the door. Hans wisely retreated. Megan watched him go and then when he turned a corner she turned back to me.
“Are you okay?” Megan asked – and since knew me and my issues, she did it without humor or accusation. Just genuine concern.
I managed a tight, nervous nod. “I’ll be fine,” I said. “Thank you.”
Megan smiled back at me – a little bit sad; a little bit wry, but taking me at my word. She was a social creature. I was not. And this wasn’t the first time she’d seen me flub an introduction. Then she shook her head.
“Oh, Abby,” Megan said with a grin – a real, heartfelt grin. She draped herself against the doorway. “Believe me,” she said while making a show of fanning herself, “Taking that man off your hands will be a pleasure, not a problem.”
I gave her a shaky laugh, and she gave me a wicked grin. Then Megan slipped out of my office, pulling the door closed behind her.
And I was glad. Because Megan is an amazing friend, and a social person – and I know she worries about me and my social anxiety, but I can’t help it. And I don’t want her to worry. But I have my issues, and I deal with them as well as I can, and…. Have you ever been in a situation where you were so nervous you just wanted to fall apart, but you had to keep yourself together as well as you could, but the effort and stress of it just made everything worse and worse and worse?
When Megan left I took a shuddering breath. When I let it out I slumped at my desk. I buried my face in my arms and…I didn’t cry. And I didn’t want to make any noise, even if no one should be able to hear me in the closed office, so I didn’t sob, either. But when I was done I had to sniffle and scrub my eyes and my cheeks hurt and my breathing was a little ragged.
So I fished a tissue out of the box in my drawer and blew my nose. And I wiped my eyes with my sweater sleeve, and I took my mouse and opened the files for the manga I’d been translating.
I have issues, I know it. Introductions are hell. I’d do better next time. But for now I had work to do and someone else’s fiction to lose myself in.
So I did.