Andrei stared up at the high ceiling full of his new company’s boardroom. He’d seen many like it, but the lacquered ebony table with its white marble center in-lay was stunning. Several forms, NDAs, and contractual agreements lay before him, signed and in a neat pile. His fountain pen laid on the papers, acting as a paperweight as he sat back. Andrei leaned temple to hand, his hazel eyes following the grey veins of the marble.
The sound of heels on stone woke him from his reverie and looked up to the glass doors in time to see Lizzie open them.
“Thank you so much for waiting, Mr. Stukinski. Please follow me.”
She wore a smart pencil skirt and a white blouse. The centerpiece of her attire was a neat, little, pinstriped vest. It brought Andrei’s attention to her narrow waist. He forced a smile as he looked her in the eye.
“Where to?” he asked, his Eastern European accent thick despite decades in North America.
She smiled, her hand still on the handle of the door as she waited for him to gather his pen and papers. Andrei tucked his pen in the breast pocket of his short-sleeved shirt as he stood. He walked out of the glass doors, and she let go to keep pace with him.
“You already met the team leads,” she said as she led him back to the main entrance.
She waited and gave a small smile, her eyes narrowing but only by a few degrees.
“The papers?” she asked while raising her brow.
Andrei’s eyes widened as he nodded and handed her the stack. “Of course,” he coughed.
Her eyes lingered as she looked him from head to toe. Lizzie returned to her desk and pulled out a large manila envelope. She lined up all the forms, placed them in the envelope, and sealed it by removing the paper that guarded the adhesive. As the final step, Lizzie placed a sticker with addresses on the envelope before putting on the pickup pile for the courier.
She picked up her tablet and a headset before smiling at Andrei again. “Let me show you our facilities. You start next Monday, right?” she asked.
Andrei liked the dimples that showed on her cheeks when she gave a genuine smile. “That’s what Ambrose said.”
Lizzie’s eyes narrowed again, a glint of mischief in their dark depths. “How do you know Mr. Arrivelchi? I’ve been his personal assistant for years, and you’re the first friend I met!”
Andrei chuckled as he shrugged and looked at the matte toes of his dress shoes. “Oh, Amb and I go way back. We’re part of a trio. If you’re lucky, you might even meet Sven.”
“Sven?” Lizzie asked as she moved to the glass door right of her desk. She opened the frosted door with the company name embossed on it. Lizzie nudged her head to it while holding Andrei’s gaze.
Andrei put his hands in the pockets of his slacks as he scurried along. “Yea, we’ve all been friends forever.”
“Oh, so, like childhood friends?” Lizzie asked as she followed him through the doors, letting them close behind her.
Andrei grinned as he shrugged again, leaning his head to the left as he glanced away. “You could say that.”
Lizzie held the tablet to her chest as she narrowed her eyes at him. Makeup, lashes, and dark eyes blended together, reminding Andrei of dark chocolate. Her lips pressed together as the corners threatened to pull apart.
“You’re all about those non-committal responses, Andrei, aren’t you?” she asked.
Andrei chuckled. “Please, Andy, only family bothers with the whole thing.”
One corner shot up at that. Andrei grinned as Lizzie turned away before she smiled outright. “So, welcome to Neox, we’re happy to have you, yada, yada, yada, insert corporate cool-aid here.”
Andrei snickered as he followed her. The main room he first entered was a large open concept kitchen. She pointed to his direct right.
“That room is for jackets, boots, and it has lockers if you need them.”
Andrei quirked a brow. “Lockers?”
Lizzie turned back to him. “Some technicians use the gym on the fifth floor. You’re welcome to it, as well.” She looked at his lean frame and his less than impressive biceps. “Though if that’s not, your thing, we also have a ping-pong table,” she said, pointing to the back of the kitchen.
Andrei looked at the high tables and bar stools all around. He eyed a Foosball table in the opposite corner from the ping-pong table. At the back of the kitchen stood a full bar, high windows lined all available walls, showing the skyline and brightening up the large space.
“Woah,” Andrei said wide-eyed.
Lizzie put a finger up. “Special occasions only. You need one of the team leads, mine or Mr. Arrivelchi’s permission to open anything. And if it’s from the top shelf, only Mr. Arrivelchi can open it.”
Andrei swallowed. “No kidding, he’s got the best stuff up there, the showoff.”
Lizzie scoffed. “I’ll take your word for it.”
Andrei looked back at her, his hands still in his pockets. “Not your thing?”
“More of a tea drinker.” She admitted.
Lizzie stopped and veered on him. One delicate hand on her hip as she rose a perfect eyebrow at him. “Why’s that funny?”
Andrei straightened and coughed into a closed fist to cover his smile. “Well, umm, how appropriate that the lady named after the British Queen would prefer tea over alcohol?”
Lizzie blinked fast, her long lashes flapping like butterfly wings. She turned back and continued to lead him through the office.
“Double fridges if you want to bring your lunch. There are restaurants or fast-food places on the ground floor, if not. Next is the smoothie station. Fresh fruits come three times a week, so if you work on the weekend, you won’t have much choice FYI.”
Andrei looked over the fruit basket, the berries, and the mixers. “Noted,” he replied, keeping pace with her.
“Probably your new best friend, Mr. Graveyard shift.” She continued as she pointed to a counter to the right.
A cherry red and chrome espresso machine took up the entire counter. Andrei groaned as he eyed it.
“Fucking show off,” he whispered as he took a step to the machine.
“We keep regular milk, almond, and soy in the fridge,” Lizzie said as she threw a thumb over her shoulder to the fridges from earlier. “If you have another preference, just let me know, and I’ll be sure to keep it in stock.”
Andrei sighed. “No, no. I won’t sully such a beautiful machine with the indignation of… milk.”
Lizzie crossed her arms. tablet over her chest. “So, black coffee?”
Andrei looked at the machine and back at Lizzie. “Duh. May I try?”
Lizzie scoffed. “Sure, go ahead.”
Andrei jumped at her approval. He ground the beans and filled the portafilter. Lizzie watched as he moved from one step to the next with ease and familiarity.
“Wow, we’re you a barista in college?” she asked.
Andrei rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe,” he said as he flipped the switch, and his shots began to poor.
“We’re still on non-committals?” she asked with a gentle pout.
He looked at her with a grin. “Well, I dunno. I normally make people beat me at a game of their choice before I give straight answers.”
Lizzie snorted. “For real?”
Andrei looked away. “Some of us are shy.”
Lizzie’s eyes fluttered. “You? Doubt it.”
Andrei flipped the switch off without looking. Lizzie eyed the espresso cup with the coffee stopped right at the lip of the miniature cup. She looked back to Andrei. He shrugged and looked away, moving to get a saucer for his cup.
She gave the side of his face a crooked smile as she took a step forward. “So? Does it meet your expectations?” she asked.
He put the cup down, eyes closed as he savored his sip. He exhaled, his brows creased. “He’s such a bastard,” he whispered.
Lizzie frowned. “Mr. Arrivelchi?”
Andrei did not open his eyes, his knuckles white as he gripped the miniature cup. “Putting Kona beans out. Like these beans can be harvested in any region! Like this, coffee can be appreciated by any pallet!”
Lizzie snickered. “He did ask me to change them for you today.”
Andrei snorted. “Of course, he did.”
“Okay, what’s the deal between you and Mr. Arrivelchi! I have to know.” Lizzie said, placing a hand on his upper arm.
Andrei rose a brow at her. “So, what’s the game gonna be?” he asked.
Lizzie groaned. “You’re serious?”
Andrei shrugged. “The first one’s free, but after that.” he trailed off.
Lizzie smirked as she leaned back to rest her weight on a single lean leg. “Fine, Soul Calibur 7. No using Cervantes, though!” she said with a frown.
Andrei put a hand on his chest, and with a solemn look on his gaunt face, he nodded. “You have my word.”
Lizzie smirked. “So? What’s the deal? How do you know Mr. Arrivelchi?”
Andrei smiled as he sipped his espresso. Lizzie watched how his long hands though elegant, almost swallowed the cup.
“We met when I was young and brash, not quite kids, but not adults either. Ambrose taught me everything worth knowing, and I will always be grateful to him for it. He was family when I didn’t have any.” Andrei admitted.
Lizzie gave a soft gasp, her hand coming to cover her parted lips. She frowned and gave a dry snap of her hand on his shoulder. “And you said you were shy!” she snapped.
Andrei burst out laughing. She snapped his shoulder again, and he laughed harder. Lizzie’s cheeks flushed as she cleared her throat.
“Whatever, let me take you to your desk and to meet your peers.”
Without another word, Lizzie pushed open another pair of glass doors. Andrei finished his drink quickly. He placed his cup with its saucer next to the espresso machine and followed Lizzie. The next room was large, open, and the ceiling was twice as high as anywhere else. Desks were dark and grouped in fours. The majority of the surfaces were taken up by double monitors and multicolored keyboards. Andrei’s eyes flitted between desks and faces as he hurried to keep pace with Lizzie.
“When you start on Monday, your team leader will introduce you to all the techs, but this is your desk,” Lizzie said as she put the tablet, she had been carrying on the desk.
She pulled out the chair and stood beside it.
“Please take a moment to scroll through the inventory and specify your work station needs. If you need something outside of the inventory, make sure to specify it in the final section. If you have any other questions, you can ask the other techs on your team.” Lizzie pointed at the other guys with an open palm. “The blonde is Braxton, and Kyle is the guy with the sleeves. Ryan is the guy with the Overwatch hoodie, and Lars is the guy built like a fridge.”
Without another word, she turned like a soldier on her heels and stalked away. Andrei sighed as she walked away without a backward glance. He looked at his new teammates.
“Hi,” he said with a wave.
The big guy that Lizzie had described as ‘built like a fridge’ crossed his arms and rose a thick brow at him.
“What did you do?” he asked with a deep voice.