I nervously pulled on my black blazer and white blouse, while waiting to be called in for my long-awaited interview. After two long weeks of applications and rejections, I had finally earned myself a shot at getting a job.
I was sitting, impatiently, in a room full of chairs and people dressed up better than they normally would be for a Friday afternoon. Looking around, I found there was a sense of gray, as phones rang non-stop and people quietly talked quietly among themselves. The dull smell of dust and printer ink filled my nostrils, making me want to choke on the polluted air.
A secretary job for an office in downtown Ridgewood, Pennsylvania wasn't my first choice, but I couldn't afford to be picky. If I wanted to save up money for college, I had to accept whatever I was given.
Across from me sat a girl with wavy, brown hair that seemed to be staring at the clock as though she was going to be late for something. I mentally wished she would leave because I figured that she was my only real competition, compared to the three other males in the cramped office, who looked like they hadn't held a job for very long. She was quiet and calm, despite her constant clocks-staring.
"Ms. Knight," a serious, grey haired lady called out. "We'll be seeing you now."
I stood up, fixed up my dark brown hair, and then nervously made my way over to the interview room. Breathing deeply, I felt the old lady's cold blue eyes watch me move toward her, as though something in my movement would give away a terrible secret or a bad habit.
When I made my way into the room, I noticed two other males that were sitting at a long conference table. The wrinkly woman that had called me into the room sat on the far left of the other two men who appeared to both look as miserable as the older lady.
The man that sat in the middle had a stern, hard face and looked to be in his mid-forties, while the man that sat on the far right, was younger, with darker hair and eyes, and appeared to be in his thirties.
"You must be Ms. Knight," the guy in the middle greeted with a deep, rumbly voice.
"Hi," I greeted, shaking his hand. "Uh, you can call me Skylar…or Skye. It doesn't matter. Skye is what my friends call me…"
I smiled forcefully and then mentally punched myself for being so awkward. The older male in the grey suit gave me a disapproving look and the other two people on either side of him looked just as displeased.
I abruptly sat down and placed my work portfolio on the desk between me and the three depressive people. When the man in middle opened up my folder, his two colleagues leaned in to see the contents.
"You graduated from Ridgewood Collegiate with honors and awards in French and Math…," the elder man acknowledged as he looked over the contents.
"Oui," I joked before getting shot down with another disapproving look.
"You have no other previous job experience," the younger man with slick, black hair asked, eyebrows raised. It was the first time I had heard him talk, and I immediately noticed his snarky voice that seemed to fill the air around him.
"Uh, no, sir," I stammered. "I babysit all the time though. I'm pretty much the neighborhood go-to person if you need your kids to be looked after."
I laughed awkwardly and the younger man stared at me impassively.
"What has brought you here today," the older lady asked with those cold, blue eyes trained on me once again. "Why do you want to work for us?"
"I want this job to help pay for college," I explained. "That's why I want to work for you."
All of a sudden, the older man closed my portfolio and passed it to me with one hand, sliding it smoothly across the table.
"Thank you for your time and we will contact you if we decide you're right for this job," he told me with a deep-set frown.
"Would you say I have a good chance…," I asked, staring hopefully and clutching my portfolio.
"We'll call you," the older man repeated.
The air conditioning in Ridgewood Mall chilled my skin that had been baking in the late August sun. I had walked half an hour in the scorching sun wearing black pants and a black top, so now I was grateful for the change in temperature.
At the moment, Ridgewood Mall was filled with teenagers on summer break, which meant that the mall was full of colourful and unique people. It was a complete different setting than the one from the predictable, grey setting of the office building.
Suddenly, my phone vibrated in my hand. I looked down and read a text message from Abbey, my best friend since I was born; I see u!
I started to look around, and not too long after, I heard her familiar voice ring out over the chatter of shoppers.
"Skye," I heard her yell out from across the mall. "Over here!"
It wasn't that hard to pick out my red headed friend from the crowds of people that were at the mall that afternoon.
She was sitting at a food court table by herself and as I walked over to where she sat, I saw at least two or three guys look her way.
To say Abigail Birmingham was beautiful was an understatement. Her unusual curly, red locks and ivy green eyes made her stand out in the biggest crowds and her tall, fairly busty figure made her even more appealing.
I, on the other hand, was much shorter than she was with straight, dark brown hair and a fairly average appearance. The only thing that could possibly make me stand out next to Abbey was my sky blue eyes that I had inherited from my mother.
When I closed the distance between us, her dozen or so freckles became more evident on her cheery face.
"There you are," she smiled. "You ready to do some therapy shopping?"
"Definitely," I muttered as she stood up. "That interview was terrible! Everyone was all serious and gloomy."
"Do you think you got the job, though," Abbey asked while we made our way to the opposite end of the mall.
"I highly doubt it," I muttered. "But who cares, I would never want to work there anyway."
The chatter of all the people in the mall definitely beat the ringing of phones and the sound of the photocopier any day.
"At least you're sharply dressed," Abbey replied, trying to lift my spirits.
"Ya… but it's too hot to where this," I replied, gesturing to her jean shorts and her white t-shirt with a cute green monster on it. "I probably smell terrible."
Abbey leaned over and smelled me, "You smell fine."
"I wish I was you," I complained, ignoring her weirdness. "I mean, you have a scholarship and you already know where you want to go in life."
"Well," Abbey started. "For some people it takes a little time for them to figure out what they want to do in life. I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was little."
I sighed, "But it's not fair. Why can't I be really good at something? I'm just average… at everything."
"That's not true," Abbey argued, punching me in the arm. "And stop bringing yourself down! Why don't you go back to high school with your bother? Take some courses you never took before and then maybe you'll find something you like."
"I don't want to go back to high school," I complained. "Why would I want to do that?"
"I don't know," Abbey sighed in defeat. "It was just a suggestion."
I frowned and decided that I was now in that state of mind where I would just criticize myself.
"I can't even get a boyfriend," I complained. "You've had tons! I mean, even my looks are average. My family's average, and they make an average income…and we live in an average house on an average street…in an average freaking neighborhood!"
Abbey stopped walking and frowned at me, "Now you're not being fair to yourself. You're family's not average; they're nice, lovely people. And you will get a boyfriend because you're pretty. So stop bashing yourself."
I crossed my arms as we stood in front of one of those punk stores with the many band t-shirts and cool belts, "That's easy for you to say, Ms. My-mom-is-a-model-and-I-inherited-her-killer-looks. Not to mention your dad's owns his own dentistry so you don't have to even worry about your University tuition."
Abbey sighed and put her face in her hand, "I can't put up with you when you're like this. I'm done trying to cheer you up."
I looked away from her and muttered an apology for being complicated "I just wish the universe would throw me a bone once in a while," I explained as I regarded a manikin in the store window that was dressed in a superman t-shirt. "Why can't I be a superhero or something? Like him. Superheroes would probably get paid lots of money for saving the world and stuff."
"You want to be a superhero," Abbey asked flatly.
"Why not," I shrugged. "I'd be special and…different. And I'd make tons of money. Look at Tony Stark. He's rich and famous."
"Oh gosh, you're becoming delusional," Abbey mumbled, grabbing me by the arm and steering me away from the store. "You do realize that Tony Stark and Superman are fake, right? Superheroes aren't real, at least, not in the sense of having super strength and stuff. I think either the job hunting or the heat has gotten to your brain. Things in the movies aren't real, unless stated otherwise. Got it?"
"Fine," I sighed. "It would still be really cool though."
Abbey gave me a weird look while a group of guys walking by checked her out.
"Ok, but what about the consequences of being a superhero," she pointed out. "What happens if the bad guy comes after your family and friends like he normally does in the movies? Or what if he finds your weakness and kills you?"
"I'd take care of it and I'd be fine," I assured her. "Just like it always is in the end for the superhero."
"Not all the time…," Abbey warned. "Look at Spiderman…he lost his best friend."
"Well I wouldn't let that happen," I smiled at her.
Abbey laughed, "You need help."
I laughed too, "Ya, probably."
"So where do you want to go first," Abbey asked, gesturing to the other end of the mall ahead of us. "Anywhere is fine with me."
"Same here," I agreed. "Let's just start at the opposite end of the food court. That way, we can make our way back and have something to eat when were done."
"Alright," Abbey nodded. "Sure."
For the rest of the afternoon, my red headed best friend and I shopped around the Ridgewood mall, and by the end of it she had three times as many bags as I did.
I looked at my three bags and then back up at Abbey as we sat at a food court table and ate our late lunches together.
"What," Abbey argued. "I offered to pay for that cute fall jacket for you, but you wouldn't let me."
"Only because I would have felt bad if you bought it for me," I insisted. "It was sixty bucks!"
Abbey sighed as she took another bite of her salad. She had been a vegetarian since she was nine and refused to eat anything made of animals.
"You know," she suddenly brought up, with some food still in her mouth. "That guy at that table has been staring at you for a while now."
She pointed over my shoulder with her fork and was terribly obvious about it.
"Well don't point," I freaked out at her. "And don't be mistaken either. He's probably looking at you."
"Nope," Abbey said simply, still staring. "He's definitely staring at you…and he's really cute, one of those tall, dark and handsome types."
"Really," I asked, perking up. "W-Well…don't stare!"
I started to eat my teriyaki quickly and put my head down. Finally taking her eyes off the mystery boy, Abbey looked over at me and then shook her head.
"What," I asked, hunched over and with a mouth full of food.
Abbey started laughing uncontrollably, "And you wonder why you can't get a boyfriend. You always act funny and terribly unattractive when a boy seems interested."
I swallowed the food in my mouth, "Well if he can't like me for who I am then he can go you know where."
Abbey raised an eyebrow at me, "That's funny. I remember you just complaining that you couldn't get a boyfriend."
I let the embarrassment show on my face as I crossed my arms.
"Love is complicated," I mumbled.
Abbey laughed again, "Whatever you say, Skye."
Abbey leaned over to take another bite of her salad and I leaned over to whisper at her without being obvious, "Is he still looking?"
Abbey looked up and shook her head, "Not anymore."
Slowly, I turned around and looked behind me at a guy that was sitting at a table with another blond haired guy around his age.
"The one with the dark brown hair and ruggedly handsome good looks was staring at you," Abbey informed me.
"He's so cute and handsome at the same time," I breathed. "He reminds me of an actor…"
"Which one," Abbey inquired.
"I can't remember," I told her as I stared. "Are you sure he was staring at me? You're not just trying to make me feel better, are you?
"Nope," Abbey smiled. "He was definitely looking at you. I pinkie swear."
"I want to give him a very long hug," I accidently thought aloud, making Abbey burst into laughter.
"Oh my," she laughed. "I can't believe you just said that."
Suddenly the cute boy in question had turned to look back at our table, making me turn around so quickly that I almost fell off my chair.
Abbey looked at me and smiled, "He's staring at you again."
She started to laugh and joke about something, but I wasn't paying attention.
What had caught my eye was a guy dressed in black several meters behind my friend. He had clearly heard Abbey laughing and was looking our way…and holding a gun.
"Abbey…," I said quietly, but she never heard me. Instead, she continued talking about the handsome boy that was staring at me.
"Abbey," I exclaimed, as things started to click inside my head.
With little notice, I leaned over the table, took my friend by the shoulders and pulled her down to the ground with me. Some shots rang out and then it went quiet. I wasn't sure what was going on but people were yelling and some were hiding under tables like us.
My heart was pounding, and when I looked over at Abbey her eyes were wide and shocked. She seemed disoriented as she tried to grasp what was going on.
"Stay down," I managed to whisper fiercely.
I watched Abbey nod her head as a loud ringing sounded in my ears. My head was spinning and a few more minutes later, people had started to get up and the man with the gun had vanished.
A lot of people were on their cell phones to 911 and their family or friends.
"Sh-Should we call 911," Abbey asked shakily.
"I think a lot of people have that covered," I told her.
My friend was still shaking slightly, and it had seemed that when I had dragged us both down to the floor, her salad had spilled all over the place.
"S-So much for my five dollar salad," Abbey half-heartedly joked.
"Ya," I smiled weakly at her.
"Oh my mother Earth, are you alright," a voice came from behind us.
Both Abbey and I turned to see Abbey's next door neighbour, Daphne rushing toward us. A lot of people in Abbey's neighbourhood like to call her 'Daftne' though, because she was largely known as a genuine hippie. She was most notably into tree hugging…quite literally. I noticed she was wearing a dark purple coloured dress with many beaded necklaces around her neck as she made her way toward us.
"Are you alright," she asked, running over to Abbey and wrapping her in a huge bear hug.
"Ya, I'm alright Daft-, uh, I mean Daphne," Abbey stammered as she struggled to breath in the bigger woman's grip.
Daphne's very long, brown hair almost obscured Abbey from view as she held on tightly to her most favourite person in Ridgewood. Since Abbey was a vegetarian and Daphne couldn't have kids of her own, Daphne treated Abbey as though she were her own daughter.
Finally letting go of my best friend, Daphne backed away and wiped away a tear from her brown eye with a wrinkly hand.
"I almost thought that…," she started before shaking her head and making the many beads around her neck rattle together. "No, don't think so negatively Daphne."
She took a deep breath and put her hands above her head, then lowered them and wriggled her fingers as she exhaled.
"Knowing that you're leaving for University so soon makes me sad," she admitted. "But thinking that I'd never get to see you again…scared me. What am I going to do without my fellow vegetarian? Mother Earth must have graced you for not eating her precious creatures."
She closed her eyes and started rubbing her hands together as if she were praying or something.
I looked at Abbey and smiled. Daphne's absurdness had calmed my nerves, and I could tell that Abbey was a bit more relaxed too.
"Actually," Abbey spoke up, interrupting the woman's ritual, or whatever she was doing. "If it weren't for Skye…I don't think I'd be standing here."
"Oh, yes…Skye," Daphne exclaimed as she suffocated me in another one of her bear hugs. "Skye, my lovely Skye."
Daphne loved saying my nickname. She had said it was one of the best names she had ever heard.
"Um, it was really nothing. Anyone would have done the same," I managed to mumble in her grip.
Daphne didn't get a chance to respond because the mall security had come over to usher us all outside.
A few minutes later, we were standing in the parking lot with a hundred or so other people, who were clutching their things and on their cell phones still talking to their relatives or their friends. Daphne had left us to talk to someone that was in her club for vegetarians and hippies, so Abbey and I were left alone with our things scattered around us.
Looking around, I realized that Ridgewood wasn't as small as I thought it was. It wasn't the type of town that was practically deserted or the type of town that was close-knit where everybody knew each other. It was actually bigger than that. I wasn't sure what to classify it as because it was smaller than a city as well.
Suddenly, I felt somebody poke me in the ribs, hard.
"Hey," I complained. "What was that for?"
"For spacing out," Abbey told me. "I was wondering if you're going to call your parents."
"Ya," I sighed. "I suppose I should. If I don't, they're going to get freaked out if they see this on the news."
"Ya," Abbey nodded. "But I wish we could at least go sit in our cars and turn on the AC, but we're not allowed to leave. There's not even any shade out here to stand in."
I gave my red headed friend a dirty look and she took a single glance at my formal attire and smiled apologetically.
"Sorry," she apologized. "I forgot…"
"Right," I said unenthusiastically.
Suddenly, Abbey looked over my shoulder and started to act funny.
"I'm going to leave my bags here," she explained as she started to walk away. "I'm going to go phone my parents."
She pointed in the direction she was going and then turned around and started walking away at a fairly brisk pace.
"Wait," I called out. "Where are you going?"
I sighed frustratingly and turned around to see what made her leave so suddenly.
"Hi," the guy from before greeted. Not the guy that had been holding the gun, but the guy who had been staring…at me.
"Oh, uh…hi," I stammered. "I-It's nice to meet you. I'm Skylar, but you can call me Skye…that's what my friends call me."
I put on a forced grin and wondered what was wrong with me.
Luckily the brown haired boy with no name chuckled at me.
"Nice to meet you Skye," he said in a beautifully deep voice. "I guess I should introduce myself then. I'm Blair."
I smiled at him and tried not to say a word. I feared that if I did try and speak, I would say something weird again.
"What you did to save your friend was amazing," Blair complimented.
"Oh, really," I asked. "That was nothing. I don't even know what came over me."
I took the time to take in his appearance as he regarded me. He had on dark blue jeans and a blue and green plaid shirt that was unbuttoned at the top. To put it simply, he looked amazing.
"You must be pretty warm in that," he gestured toward my dark clothing.
"A little bit," I admitted. "But I'll be fine."
There was an awkward pause before Blair continued.
"To be honest, the real reason why I came over here is to ask you something," he started. "I was wondering…if you would want…"
He trailed off and stared at me with a smirk on his face. I held my breath and blushed. Was he asking me if I wanted to be his girlfriend? I realized that couldn't be it. After all, we had just met. Or maybe it was love at first sight?
I waited for him to continue, but he just stood there and smiled at me. I was pretty sure he was teasing me now as I realized the chances that he was going to ask me to be his girlfriend were pretty low.
Finally, he spoke up again and said the last thing I'd ever expected him to say.