After finding his way to the freight elevator, exiting at the basement, and walking down a long, dark, lonely corridor, Mick knocked lightly—probably too lightly—on the “third one down on your left,” as a stock boy on the main floor had instructed. Mick waited, shifting from one foot to the other, but no invitation came. He knocked again, a bit louder this time, but still no response. He sighed, shoved the double doors open, and walked in.
He heard music, hard, aggressive, and grating. The poor lighting made it difficult for him to navigate through the racks of clothing and piles of material and mannequin limbs hovering like sentries on either side of the doors. But eventually he stepped free of the encumbrances and into an oasis of light. It shone down from a high ceiling and onto a lone figure hunched over a sewing table.
The sewing machine whirred and the young—woman’s?—hands moved quickly over the advancing material to keep up with the pull of the machine’s teeth. Her foot tapped to the beat coming out of a small pink iPod docking station.
“Hello?” Mick said, stepping forward. He paused and looked up at the ceiling as the music and cavernous room swallowed his voice. His eyes fell back to the woman, and he cleared his throat, tuning himself up to raise his voice. “Hello?” It came out only a tiny bit louder than the first, and he frowned. He didn’t want to startle her, but he opened his mouth and drew a deep breath—
The woman sat up straight, and her right hand shot out to pause the music. When she suddenly turned in her seat to look at him, Mick gulped back the shout before it passed his lips. Her rust-colored hair was parted into two playful, pigtails that hung to the bottom of each ear.
“Lost?” she asked, inclining her head and instantly bringing the image of Toffee, his Springer Spaniel, to mind. His chest ached a bit at that. She was back home in Arizona with his parents and siblings and probably the only member of his family who missed him. “Hello?” the woman said, getting to her feet and waving a hand in the air to recapture his attention.
Standing there, she looked much taller than he’d first thought, easily his height or even an inch taller. “I’m sorry. I’m Michael… Michael Argall. Human resources sent—”
“Oh yeah,” she said, strolling toward him and donning the red-framed glasses hanging around her neck. “You’re our new window candy.” She looked him over slowly. Mick fought the self-conscious knot that landed in his stomach and struggled not to fidget. “I’m Chelsea Roberts,” she said as she walked behind him, “but you can call me Bob.” Once she was standing in front of him again, her glasses making her green eyes look cartoonishly large, she said, “Good to meet you… Michael? Mickey?”
“Mick.” He took the hand she extended, as firm and big as his, but with shiny, silver manicured nails. “Nice to meet you too.” He handed her the paper the HR clerk had given him, and she looked it over.
“So you played statue one summer for school money?” Mick nodded, and she glanced up from the paper, smiling. “You were one of those metal men? Standing outside a bank?” Mick nodded, and Bob narrowed her gaze at him. “You don’t talk much, huh?”
“No need to apologize, hon.” She shook her head and headed back to her sewing station. “That Butterfly’s the best. She has a real good eye.”
He followed hesitantly. “Um… Butterfly?” That name hardly fit the woman he’d spoken to. Bob must be confused.
She took her seat and smiled at him. “The HR chick? Her real name is Agnes.”
Okay, that fit her.
“Butterfly’s her stage name. She’s a sweetheart.”
Bob laughed. “Trust me. Underneath that chilly, businesslike exterior is one warm and wacky individual.” Bob pulled a small, plastic, rolling container of files from under a table on her right and added Mick’s document. “Just get a couple drinks in her.” He nodded and glanced around for a seat. “Oh, pull up another stool from over there.” Bob gestured vaguely to Mick’s right as she dug into yet another box at her feet.
He took a couple of steps that way and found a metal stool slightly covered by a rack of dresses. “Uh… stage name?”
“Yep, she does a bit of acting and even writes poetry.”
“You sound smitten,” he said, scooting the stool closer to her station with his foot and taking a seat.
Bob chuckled. “Hardly. Just impressed.” She rose up from her search to look at him for a moment. “I think I’d like to be her when I grow up.” Bob returned to searching for something beneath the table. “Besides I’ve got Clyde. Works construction. He might be around here sometimes to help out, but don’t let him scare you.”
“Yeah. He’s a big guy.” She continued to dig through the box, and when Bob rose again from her search, she held a digital camera. “But he’s a sweetheart. Smile!”
The flash blinded Mick for a moment, and he reflexively raised a hand to protect his eyes. “Uh….”
“Relax.” She took another picture from a different angle. “I need to get some shots so I can figure out the best way to use you.”
Mick reluctantly lowered his hand and rose to his feet as Bob silently urged him to. When the flashing stopped, she approached him, staring intently into his face. Her eyes roamed upward, and she reached out and ran her hand through his thick, blond hair.
“Nice,” she whispered absently. Mick blushed slightly. “You’ll definitely rate the front window.”