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Bad Idea: The Complete Collection
Author: Nicole French

Chapter One

 

 

Layla


BOOM!

The 6 train stops with a thunderous jolt and a screech of breaks. A minute later, I jog up the stairs of the subway stop on Park Avenue and Twenty-Third, following the herd of people exiting the station.

Straight up Park is the elegant architecture of Grand Central Station; the other way, the looming buildings of the Flatiron District. It’s one-thirty on a Monday, and people scurry on and off their lunch breaks. I hear Spanish, some kind of Creole, English speakers with myriad accents, all jumbled together with the horns and throttle of the cars making their way through the impermeable Manhattan traffic. A few of the nearby corners boast coffee carts and nut vendors, the smells from which waft through the frigid January air. This is New York, chaotic and colorful, a city I have come to adore since moving here to start college.

I glance around for a coffee shop. That’s the one thing I miss about Seattle: decent coffee on every corner. The cheap stuff from the carts here makes my stomach hurt if I have too much. Since I already had two cups before my eight o’clock class this morning, I’m at my limit for what Quinn, my roommate, dubs “Borough Battery Acid.”

“Excuse me, miss.”

A deep baritone voice interrupts my thoughts, and I twist around to get out of the owner’s way. The stereotype about people in New York is that they’re mean, but that’s wrong. It’s just that there are certain social codes everyone here knows—codes like “don’t stand like an idiot in the middle of a busy sidewalk,” “don’t stand in front of the subway car doors during rush hour if you’re not getting off at the next stop,” and “never, ever drive through a crosswalk when pedestrians are present.” “I’m walking here!” is a real saying; I’ve used it myself. In a city of almost eight million people stuffed into a few small boroughs, no one has the patience for those who don’t know the rules.

Yeah. It’s a lot different than Washington.

“Sorry,” I say quickly as I step to the side.

The speaker is obscured by a tower of boxes stacked on a creaky dolly, which he’s trying to maneuver through the crowds.

“No problem, sweetie.”

He pushes by, providing an excellent view of a set of wide shoulders and a prize-worthy ass in tight blue cargo pants. Seriously, the way some men’s butts look in uniforms should be illegal. Sometimes I wish that catcalling were normal for women to do, not just men. It would level the playing field a bit. Plus it would be really satisfying to whistle after someone who looks like this guy.

Curious to see if his face is as good-looking as the rest of him, I watch to see if the hot delivery guy will turn around. But he just continues doggedly about his business like everyone else.

I shrug and check my watch again. Time to go. A small deli on the corner catches my eye. It’s not exactly espresso, but it will do the trick. My stomach will just have to deal.

 

 

“Fox, Lager, and Associates, how may I help you?”

The receptionist’s voice rings out loud and clear while I wait in the small conference room behind the donut-shaped desk. The office is cool and modern, with blonde wood floors and furnishings capped with brushed metal fixtures. The name partners, Steven Fox and Gerald Lager, pose with boy bands and pop singers in dozens of photos lining the walls along with gold records from said artists.

I was hired take the place of the regular night receptionist while she’s on maternity leave. It’s the kind of job I hope will look good on law school applications in a few more years. I’m the perfect candidate: nineteen, in my second year at NYU. Major...yeah. That’s a different story. I’m supposed to be an attorney one day—my promise to become pre-law was the entire reason they agreed to send me to NYU.

I sit alone at the long oval table, peering at the pictures and trying to distract myself from first-day nerves. The perfect, white-toothed celebrities only make me that much more self-conscious. This is an entertainment firm, where everyone works for perfect-looking people and looks like they could be one of them. April, the current receptionist, could be doing spreads at Vogue. I, on the other hand, with my petite, curvy stature and thick wavy hair, don’t look much like a fashion model. Anything but, really.

“Layla?”

Karen, the office manager and my new boss, stands in the doorway. Even at first glance, you know Karen is the kind of woman you don’t want to mess with. A thirty-something woman with a business degree and a penchant for very high-heeled shoes, Karen was born and raised in the Bronx and is the third child out of five from a family of Puerto Ricans who operate a lot of the hot dog carts in Central Park. She was the first of her family to go to college, and she didn’t mess around, graduating summa cum laude from NYU’s school of business. These are all such critical elements of her personality that she divulged them to me during my interview. It was a scare tactic, I guess—she thinks I’m just a rich kid from the suburbs, and she wanted me to be afraid of my boss.

Well, she got what she wished for. Karen scares the hell out of me. Still, maybe we’re more alike than she realizes. Like my dad, a native of Brazil, Karen takes major pains to erase any implications of her less than affluent upbringing. She wears shoes that no office manager in Manhattan has any business buying, and the waterfall of straight, caramel-colored hair is most likely the product of a very sleek and expensive way of taming hair that probably looks naturally a lot like mine—wavy and unruly.

She obviously works really hard to fit in here. It reminds me of my dad’s insistence on trading in his BMW every year whether we need to or not, or the way he refuses to let anyone call me anything other than American. I’m not Latina, I’m American. I’m not Brazilian, I’m American. He’s terrified of anyone thinking of me or us as something different.

I pull at the hem of my H&M skirt as I stand. I don’t look terrible, but my skirt is slightly wrinkled after I sat in class all morning, and my gray sweater is pilling everywhere. My parents might have money, but they don’t share it with me. My dad, for all his pretentions, is also a big fan of the “bootstraps” mentality. He pays for my tuition, but beyond that, I’m on my own.

“Are you ready?” Karen asks.

The only thing Karen can’t mask is her speech. A thick Bronx accent curves over every word. But accents don’t bother me. I’ve been deciphering my dad’s Portuguese-laced English my entire life.

I nod, holding up a pad of paper and pen. “Absolutely.”

Karen leads me through the halls while lecturing me on my duties. The office is constructed like a horse shoe, with Karen’s and the partners’ offices lining the exterior arc. Inside the shoe, junior associates, assistant, and one intern all sit around small wooden desks, which are blocked off from the front lobby and reception area by the conference room in the middle of everything.

I listen, take notes, and look curiously around at the groups of assistants with headsets and the few attorneys whose doors are open. Every so often, Karen stops and squints her eyeliner-laden lids as if examining me for character defects or an inability to understand the basic tasks of answering phones and keeping things stocked. I just nod, jot a few more details on my legal pad, and we continue with the training.

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