Amelia moved through the office trying to exude the air of someone who wasn't late on the job. Even if she pinned the blame on a traffic jam, 10:50 a.m. was late.
In a single movement, she slipped into her chair and turned on her computer. She was summoned over the P.A. system immediately and her vital signs went into free fall. Focusing on the facts, she managed to rein herself in. Lenny calls her a week after her change in attitude. This must mean good news, right?
"I'm glad you showed up an hour earlier than usual," Lenny's voice didn't sound upbeat. "You're still late despite your efforts." She bit her lower lip. Lenny cleared his throat. "I think it's better if we let you go."
"I—I… But…" Amelia had to force herself to complete a sentence. "But I'm working on improving my results. Can't you give me until the end of the month?" Today was a complete disaster. She should have checked her horoscope, or horror-scope in this case.
"I don't see the point in making this anymore drawn-out than it has been already. You are just not right for the job." Lenny's voice was emotionless. Powerless against the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, she blinked frantically to keep them in check, struggling to keep her breathing as normal as possible.
"So, this is it for me?"
"There's no need to be so dramatic. I'm sure you can built up a successful career somewhere else, just not here."
"You just fired me, so I think that means I can be as damn dramatic as I like."
Despite wanting to yell at him, Amelia kept her volume to a minimum. She couldn't believe how composed Lenny was.
"We're done here."
She walked out the office to the closest restroom as calmly as she could, and splashed cold water onto her face. Despair had replaced shock, and now anger was setting in. If only she knew this was going to happen, she'd called in sick. Drying her face, she took a long look at herself in the mirror.
She was going to be fine.
Amelia walked out the elevator, carrying her box of belongings and nailed a cab, when someone made her drop her things, accidentally bumping into her.
"Walker?" Barnaby adjusted his glasses. "I didn't expect to see you so early in the day. Everything alright?"
She bit her lip; yelling at Barnaby to vent her rage isn't a good idea.
"I'm fine," Amelia lied as she picked up her stuff.
"You need any help with that?"
"No thanks. I got it covered."
Amelia tried to appear positive and upbeat, despite the fact that she carried her I-just-got-fired starting kit. She could feel him studying her. She just held her lips in the same forced smile.
"Alright." Barnaby nodded. "Keep up the good work, but do take it easy. I don't want you to burn out too soon."
A compliment from Barnaby was as rare as finding a matching pair of shoes in the sale rack. Though his smile was kind, his eyes were searching hers for an explanation. The taxi driver was impatiently waiting, his fingers tapping against the steering-wheel. Barnaby shut the door; the driver took the hint and drove off.
"I'll drive you wherever, if you don't mind."
As Barnaby offered uncharacteristically, Amelia felt a horrible sinking feeling. She was putting one and one together and she didn't like the answer she was getting; he felt pathetically sorry for her.
"It's bad karma to help me. Today, my alarm clock ran out of juice. I picked the most uncomfortable bra I own, then left my cell phone on the monorail, I can't find my lip-balm anywhere even though I always have one in my coat pocket, and I got fired because my efforts to do better on the job wasn't good enough."
Having shared her day with someone, Amelia instantly felt better.
Clearly amused, "I don't believe in karma," Barnaby flashed her a pointed smile. His keys jingled as he walked over to his car, starting the engine and afterwards threatening he'll drive off in a minute. After a moment of hesitation she finally yields under the pressure and got in.
Not asking anything about her motivation to change had been difficult for Barnaby. Right now, however, was another story. A walk in the park was not going to make it any easier. Because of her, he was ignoring work. Barnaby, of all people, should understand that he can't mess around with his career. But instead he ignores every call the office made.
"You've never called in sick before, have you?"
"Am I that obvious?"
He watched the children play on swings and hanging from monkey bars. Owners walked their dogs. People resting under trees reading books or they huddled together having quiet conversation.
"Maybe you should go back to work."
He could only imagine what disaster his partner caused. He couldn't believe he was dragged here, by her of all people. "I'll just check my voicemail later."
He hated every minute of this.
"You know," she continued her stroll through the park. "I might have misjudged you, Barnaby."
"That's my line," Barnaby equipped a bored stare when she looked back. "I thought you were nothing but a fraud. This change of heart. You… You have no idea how to be a good person."
She frowned. "I guess I deserved that."
"I used to think that way."
With a shrug of her shoulders she closed her eyes and stretched out her arms with a yawn. He watched her.
Amelia's well-worn jeans accentuated the curve of her hips. Her t-shirt stretched tight across the front, hinting at the treasure that could be found underneath. But it was the carefree expression on her freckled face that mesmerized him.
"How about we just forget about the past," she said. "Let's start over."
She looked so relaxed, so free. So different from the woman he knew. And he didn't like it. He didn't like thinking of Amelia as anything but his rival in the Hero business; she's not even a rival to begin with anymore.
Barnaby tried not to open up to her for the rest of the day.
He concentrated on the children—anyone but her, really—crowding him in glee. But somewhere between building a sand castle in the sand box, tossing a football back and forth as more children were arriving by the minute, trying to steal the football as they missed and landed on the lawn with comic tumbles, and then eating a hot fudge sundae, he could no longer try anymore.
When they called it a day, he planned on grabbing dinner and going home, but Amelia's invitation for a home-cooked meal had him sitting in her apartment. He couldn't remember the last time a woman had cooked for him, unless he counted Samantha.
"Dinner was delicious." He washed his hands at the sink.
Amelia was efficient and talented in the kitchen. After her change in attitude, he knew she was hard working, organized and extremely bossy. But what he learned today was that she's funny, adventurous, didn't mind getting her hands dirty and an amazing cook. Those weird quirks of her finally made sense, too.
Barnaby glanced at the clock. Ten. Where had the time gone?
"I'm going home."
His apartment is bigger than Amelia's with less furniture and an amazing stereo system and a state-of-the-art flat panel screen. But it's a place to store his stuff and sleep. Amelia's apartment is a home. Everywhere he caught glimpses of her. In the colorful wooden frames surrounding family photos to the dark pink pillows on the comfortable couch.
Even the cat brushing against his leg every so often seemed to say Amelia.
"I'm sure you'll sleep well tonight, after today."
What about sleeping in her bed? Barnaby wasn't sure where the thought came from. Maybe because of the apartment furnishings, but still… What was he thinking?
She opened the door. "I had fun today."
It was time to go home. All he had to do was say goodnight and leave. But he didn't want to say anything. He wanted to kiss her instead.
A kiss would be unethical. Kissing her was definitely not an option.
The way she said his name made him want to go for it. He felt himself drawn to Amelia, to her full, oh-so-kissable lips. Barnaby straightened.
"We should do this again sometime."
Spending more time with her was the first thing he wanted to do, but the last thing he should do. Still, he couldn't openly ignore her. He'd just have to be careful around her.
"Great." She smiled. "See you when I see you."
"See you," he echoed.
He had fun today. A lot of fun. But how come he felt anything but relaxed right now?