“I don’t really know why I’m here.” Jesse shrugged slightly, uncomfortable under the weight of the rather cold eyes that watched him so carefully. “I suppose you hear that a lot, though?”
“Often enough.” She nodded her head, stereotypical glasses sliding down her nose. “How do you feel about seeing a Therapist, Mr. Pearce?” Did she give the word the capital letter or did he?
Jesse couldn’t help squirming in the soft cushion of his chair. Shit! This is what he didn’t want, this feeling like a little boy under his mother’s eye. He hadn’t enjoyed it when he was a little boy and he certainly didn’t enjoy it now.
He let his gaze wander around the expensively furnished office rather than look at the woman sitting in the chair in front of him. She was younger than Jesse and attractive enough, but like the office there was a chilly edge to her that he found unnerving.
“I’m not sure, and call me Jesse, please,” he prevaricated, licking his lips nervously.
“I think you are, Mr. Pearce. Go ahead and tell me.” There was a brief pause and a professional smile. Jesse supposed it was meant to be reassuring, but it was anything but.
“Uncomfortable,” he mumbled. Christ, this kind of on the spot pressure was killing him; it’s why he was a CPA, not a stand-up comic, for heaven’s sake! He always needed time to go and stew, to process. How the hell was he supposed to know what he was feeling at the very moment he was feeling it?
“Because I’m a Therapist?”
Fuck, he hated that kind of circular crap and there was that damn capital letter again.
“Because you’re a woman,” he blurted out finally. He wasn’t sure that was really the reason, but it sounded better than saying “because you look like a dried up, judgmental old bag and no way in hell am I telling you anything about myself”.
“Ah.” She nodded again. “Based on your age, I can understand you might have difficulty relating to a woman.”
“You do?” Jesse looked at her suspiciously. He wasn’t that much older than she was. She didn’t have to look so damn smug.
“It’s quite common with men of your generation,” she smiled as she briskly replied, but Jesse noted there wasn’t a trace of warmth or compassion to be seen. “I’ve learned not to take offense. Luckily we have some excellent men on staff. Let me give you a referral.”
Jesse left the rather oppressive office, gratefully clutching the slip of paper in his hand as he let his feet quickly find their way down the tiled hallway. He wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or insulted.
It was a short drive back to the office, and Jesse hurried into the towering glass and steel building seeking the shelter and comfort of his familiar space. This had been a difficult trip outside of his comfort zone, and even with a new appointment scheduled, he wasn’t sure he was ready to try again.
He nodded curtly to his assistant as he rushed past, briefly noticing as he did so that the curly-haired young man wouldn’t meet his gaze. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time Jesse had made him nervous.
Jesse gave a grateful sigh as he closed the door to his office and leaned his back against the cool surface of the wood. What had he been thinking to let his sister talk him in to this? Why would he even think he would be able to let his guard down enough to share his inner turmoil?
Because you’re so fucking desperate! his inner voice mocked. You’re tired of trying to meet someone’s expectations only to find you’ve disappointed them once again.
Giving himself a shake, Jesse sat down behind the desk, glumly eyeing the stack of pink phone messages that stood out on the gleaming surface and the blinking light on his phone that indicated even more waited.
At least business was good, he thought as he began shifting through the files that were carefully stacked on his desk for review. Thank heavens for tax season. There was no time to think, no time to be lonely.
Hours later, Jesse placed his reading glasses on some papers and wiped a hand over his face. He hated to do it but he was going to have to tell MacKenzie, MacKenzie’s managing partner that they needed to do a complete audit on the firm’s books. The signs were all there; skillfully hidden, but still visible to his experienced eye. Something wasn’t quite right with the firm’s accounts.
The only flaw was the firm’s accountant was also a MacKenzie.
Nothing like stirring up a bit a trouble within the family ranks, but then that was one of reasons he was paid so well. As he rubbed his eyes again, Jesse wondered if Dennis had made a fresh pot of coffee. Rather than buzzing for a cup to be brought in, he thought a stretch and a brief walk might do him some good.
Jesse yawned as he stood, stretching his hands toward the ceiling and enjoying the pull on his muscles. He needed to make time to go to the gym tonight. He had missed his last couple of nights and his slot in the ropes would be rescheduled if he missed another.
He heard voices as he approached his office door and frowned briefly. Dennis was a good enough assistant but he spent far too much time socializing. Jesse was going to have to speak to him again, no matter how much he would prefer not to. There was another noise Jesse didn’t recognize, some strange little … whimpers? Is that what he heard?
Jesse sighed with exasperation and opened the door to see just what was going on now. He stepped out into the open area and gasped as his foot hit a wet patch on the marble tile. His arms windmilled for balance and he thudded into the wall as he struggled to keep from falling.
“Oh my God!” Dennis’s curly head popped up from underneath his desk. “Mr. Pearce, are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Jesse muttered as he stepped away from the wall and straightened his tie. “Why is there a wet spot on the tile?”
“Uhm … yeah. Sorry about that. I was just getting something to clean it up. Won’t take me but a minute.” The young man looked nervously down below his desk again and back up at Jesse. “Is there something I can bring you?”
“I just wanted a cup of coffee,” Jesse grumbled. Now he had to apologize for walking around his own office?
“Why don’t you go back to your desk? I’ll bring it in and then clean up the floor.”
“You don’t have to do that, Dennis. Just call for one of the maintenance staff.” Jesse looked quizzically at his assistant. He knew he had a tendency to be short, but most times he really did try to work around his instinctive lack of cordiality. Was that a word? Look at that, one visit to the shrink and he was already questioning himself.
“Really, it’s no problem,” the young man babbled, practically shooing Jesse back towards his door. “Won’t take me but a minute.”
Jesse paused outside his office as he realized Dennis was repeating himself. “Is everything okay?” he asked hesitantly. He wasn’t normally prone to asking such things but this appeared to be his day for stepping outside the box.
Panicked brown eyes swiveled up to meet his. “Fine! Everything’s fine!” It was more than obvious that everything wasn’t.
The noise was soft and low but even so Jesse heard it. There it was, that small, almost whimpering sound again.
“Did you hear that?” he asked Dennis, looking over the young man’s shoulder.
“What? No! I didn’t hear a thing.”
Even as the denial fell from the young man’s lips the small sound came again.
“It sounds almost like a child.” Jesse’s curiosity was roused and he pushed past Dennis and began looking carefully around the office.
“Don’t be silly…” Dennis began, only to stop when a glance from the piercing blue eyes skewered him where he stood. Shit! he muttered under his breath as he watched his employer walk around the office. He was in for it now.
As Jesse walked near Dennis’s desk he heard the noise again, louder this time. With a grunt he knelt down, looking up to see his assistant cover his eyes with his hand as Jesse pulled a small box towards him.
The movement startled the box’s occupant and Jesse fell back on his rear as a small, furry creature leapt towards the sides and attempted to lick Jesse’s nose with an eager pink tongue.
“It’s a puppy!” Jesse said in amazement as he reached in and picked up the wriggling ball of golden fur. Soft whines and yips greeted his action as the small bundle hurtled himself toward Jesse in a frenzy of tail wagging and licking.
“I’m really sorry, Mr. Pearce,” Dennis confessed, his words tumbling out in a rush almost as frenzied as the puppy’s tail wagging. “I found it out by the dumpster when I was having a smoke and I just couldn’t leave it there and I know I shouldn’t have brought it up here and I’m really, really sorry….”
“Breathe, Dennis.” Jesse held the puppy up in the air, bringing him to his face and away again, much to the pleasure of the small pup. “Who’s a good boy, then? Who’s a good baby?”
Dennis stared in amazement as his usually dour and humorless employer suddenly morphed into a smiling puddle of puppy goo.
“So that’s puppy piddle I slid in, eh?” Jesse looked pointedly at Dennis.
“What?” Dennis replied dazedly as he continued to look around for his boss instead of the stranger that had somehow taken his place. “Yeah, uh, sorry about that.”
“So you’ve said.” Jesse tucked the bundle of fur under one arm and rose effortlessly to his feet. “What do you plan on doing with him?”
“Is it a him?” Dennis asked with sudden curiosity, the question distracting him from the flexing of his employer’s taut quadriceps.
Jesse just gave him another look.
“Well, I didn’t exactly get a chance to check these things out!” Dennis began defensively. “I was too busy trying to … to….”
“Hide him from me,” Jesse helpfully finished his sentence.
“…hide him from you.” Dennis sat back down at his desk, shoving the small box out of the way with his foot with a sigh. “I can’t keep pets at my apartment, but I couldn’t leave him outside in this weather. I’m thinking I’ll run an ad.”
Jesse stroked the puppy a few more times, enjoying the solid warmth beneath his hands and trying not to think about the fact that he hadn’t touched anything or anyone that soft and warm in far too long before handing him over to Dennis. “He’s a fine fellow. Someone should be glad to take him off your hands.”
Dennis took the puppy carefully and looked up at his employer. “So, is it okay if I keep him here until I find a taker?”
“Only for a few days.” Even as Jesse wondered where his common sense had taken off to, he found himself smiling at the picture Dennis made holding the wriggling puppy. “We are a tax office, not a kennel. Just be sure to keep him out of the way when clients or the big boss show up.”
“You bet!” Dennis promised excitedly.