Terms of Enchantment Ch. 02bybrightlyiburn©
Chapter Two: A Little Bit of Change
Femme Magazine had begun in a huge, creaky old house and that was where it was still run. Corey hadn't wanted to work in an office building; she liked the old house. It had needed some renovating—fresh paint, new flooring, plumbing and electricity work—before it could be used a comfortable, full-time workplace. It was still a little creaky, not to mention drafty, but there was something about it that Corey loved. Marie Kellogg—the owner of Femme—had offered to get them a better place, but Corey couldn't imagine that there was a better place.
Her office was in the attic. The wide dormer windows let in a lot of sunlight. Her desk was set close to one window and there were extra chairs near the other. A carpet, patterned in pale, blush pink and mother-of-pearl, stretched across the floor, helping to chase the chill out during the winter. Metal filing cabinets were lined up against the far wall. Her employees, upon deciding that her office was too stark, had taken it upon themselves to hang decorative scrolls and prints on the walls and add in some potted plants which Corey found herself oddly fond of.
Corey, wrapped up in her work, didn't notice her assistant until the girl set a Styrofoam carton down on her desk. Startled, she looked up at Chrisie, a bubbly, slightly absent-minded blonde with the sweetest temperament. With her hair artfully tousled, wearing distressed low-rise jeans, a deep green top with a loose waist and fluttery sleeves, white crotchet platform espadrilles, and chunky bangles on her wrists, Chrisie looked as if she'd stepped right out of the pages of Femme. The girl was always up on the latest fashions and knew so many designer names that it made Corey dizzy.
"What's this?" Corey asked, pulling the Styrofoam carton towards her.
"Your lunch," Chrisie replied, smiling perkily. "Turkey on white with lettuce, tomato, and one slice of American cheese."
Corey blinked. "How did you know that?"
"It's what you eat everyday." Chrisie shrugged. "So it wasn't like it was difficult to guess."
"No I don't!" Corey protested. She looked down at the carton. "Do I?"
"You've eaten the same thing for lunch every day since you got this job," Chrisie told her. "I figured you must have gotten caught up in your work when you didn't leave during lunch hour, so I went and got it for you. Martello's, right?"
Corey just nodded. What else could she do? It had been very thoughtful of Chrisie to bring her lunch. I can't possibly eat the same thing every single day, Corey thought, opening the carton. Can I? She looked down at the sandwich—turkey and white, just as Chrisie had said—and tried not to sigh. That was difficult when you were staring down at the proof that you were boring. She pushed the carton away and looked up at Chrisie.
"I'm almost done with this," Corey said. "I'll eat after I finish. Thanks so much."
Chrisie smiled brightly and left the office. I'm pathetic, Corey thought, tossing down her pen. I'm just letting what happened the other day get to me. That's all. She'd felt weird after leaving Madame Zaira's tent. And not just because she'd spent that one short—and yet eternally long—moment gazing into Jace Black's amazing blue eyes. For some reason the world had felt bright and cheery. Even the fact that she was at a cheesy carnival, rather than working, had seemed...less bothersome. Heck, Corey had even been laughing at stupid jokes. And she'd invited Jace to get involved with the magazine.
Not that that mattered. Corey had told Jace to come during the week. Now it was Friday and she hadn't seen or heard from him all week. Maybe he got back together with Britney, she thought. Ugh...I should be working, not...not thinking about stupid stuff. She picked up her pen, determined to finish her paperwork, but as soon as she looked down at
it, her mind went blank.
She was chewing on the end of her pen—something she usually never did—when Chrisie came bursting through the office door, out of breath and looking excited. Corey nearly felt out of her chair, she was so startled. Chrisie stared, no doubt shocked to see her boss so off balance. For a moment both of them were silent. Then Corey threw her pen down and rose from her chair. She wasn't in the mood to have anyone question her behavior; she was doing enough of that on her own.
"Is something wrong?" Corey asked, keeping her voice cool and professional.
"There's a guy here to see you!" Chrisie exclaimed, bouncing up
and down. "He's so adorable! Is he one of the guys for that thing we're doing next month?"
Jace, Corey thought, inhaling sharply. So he'd come after all. "Possibly," she said. "You know it has to be a group decision."
Chrisie rolled her eyes. "Don't expect a whole lot of 'no's. It's just a miracle that K.D. didn't jump his bones right there on the floor of the lobby."
"Oh, good," Corey said sarcastically, following Chrisie out of
the office. "And here I was worried that some of my employees might not be behaving in a professional manner. Silly me."
Finding oneself the center of a dozen women's attention wasn't a bad thing, per se, but Jace still found himself feeling a little awkward. And it didn't help that every last one of them was attractive in one way or another. Not a single one outshone the others, either. You'd think a tall, leggy, stylishly dressed blonde would stand out in any crowd, but the small, chubby redhead who'd worn old jeans and a t-shirt to work was just as intriguing. There was just something about them, all of them. Jace couldn't put his finger on just what it was, though.
Their workplace was...well, not what he'd been expecting. It was in a house, for one thing. An old, slightly rickety, but charming house. What served as their lobby had wooden floors, a long reception desk with two Macs—a bright apple green and a neon orange—on it, one long, dove gray couch, and several matching chairs. Paintings and prints were hung on the cream colored walls, including a dramatic watercolor of horses racing through the surf. There were tall potted plants and draping hanging plants. It looked like...well, like it had been decorated by more than a dozen different women. Jace decided that he liked it.
At that moment he heard footsteps on the stairs. He looked up
just in time to see the bubbly girl who'd greeted him at the door—her name was Chrisie—leap the last few stairs. Corey followed at a much more sedate place. She was wearing another one of those white button down shirts. This one, at least, wasn't tucked in, and she was wearing it with a pair of pinstriped black pants that looked good. Hell, Jace thought, she looks hot and professional. How is that possible? Her hair was up, just the way it usually was, which was probably a good thing. Corey with her hair down would probably cause sensory overload.
As she came toward him, smiling slightly, he gave himself a mental kick. This is Corey, he reminded himself. Your little sister's best friend. Snap out of it. He really didn't know what was wrong with him all of a sudden.
"I'm glad you decided to join us," Corey said, in her most professional voice. She reached out a hand to him.
Jace took her hand. "I'm just sorry I couldn't make it sooner," he told her. "I've been too busy with work."
"Forgiven," the tall, leggy blonde assured him. She was watching him like she was a cat and he was a bowl of cream.
"Don't worry about it," Corey said, her smile becoming a little forced. "And steer clear of K.D. She bites."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," the blonde retorted, tossing her hair back over her shoulder.
Before coming in Jace had scanned through a few old issues of Femme that his sister had in her room. K.D. was the one who was always doing the articles about sex. She certainly looks like the type who could devise one hundred and one ways to make your man melt, or whatever, Jace thought, smiling uneasily. A man would have to be crazy to not appreciate the attention of a woman like K.D. He wasn't crazy, but he was cautious. It was going to be bizarre enough, being in a magazine, without letting his libido land him a spot in "The Top 27 Things That Turn Him On" or whatever the hell K.D. was devising for the
The laughter that filled the room was so warm and friendly that Jace felt himself relax. He was starting to wonder if maybe somehow he'd died and gone to heaven; how else would one explain a roomful of attractive girls who all actually liked each other? And the way they acted, so laid back and casual...sitting on desktops or plopping down on the floor like this was some kind of girly get together. Corey herself perched on the desk, next to the orange Mac. Jace had thought that Femme's headquarters would be stuffy and strict like its editor, but boy had he been wrong. He was starting to think that maybe he'd been wrong about the editor, too.
"Shae, could you get the recorder, please?" Corey asked, looking in the direction of the chubby redhead.
Shae held up a small, sleek, silver recorder. "You mean this, chief?"
"Well, I guess that answers that question." Corey turned her wondrous gray eyes on him. "And speaking of questions, we're going to
ask you a few. Then we'll make a decision—"
"Decision made!" Chrisie broke in.
"I second that," K.D. said, licking her lips.
A petite, dark-eyed girl who looked like she had some kind of Asian blood nodded. "He's perfect, Corey. We've got a few 'tall, dark, and handsome's already, but they're all boring."
Corey's nose crinkled. Something swirled in her eyes, some emotion that couldn't seem to decide whether it wanted to be exasperation or amusement. Jace decided he liked that look on her. Undecided...something she definitely needed to be more often. Usually it was the other way around. Usually girls were too wishy-washy. Corey needed some wishy-washy. A bit of indecision, mixed with a pinch of spontaneity and a heaping helping of good humor, and she'd be damn near perfect. Stop that! Jace thought, groaning inwardly. This isn't funny! It's just freaky!
Eventually exasperation and amusement reached a compromise. Corey rolled her eyes and tried very hard not to smile, but he could tell just how much she liked the women she worked with. Enough to put up with almost anything.
"I think it's only fair," Corey said, "that Jace go through the same screening process, if you will, as all the other men we've interviewed. But all of your...opinions have been noted." She sent Shae a stern glance that was ruined by the hint of a smile tugging at her lips. "Let's begin. Have a seat, Jace."
Most of the questions they asked were simple things. Like how he'd come to the decision to interview for this particular special in their magazine. And things like how many siblings he had, how he got along with his parents, what kind of childhood he'd had... Jace wasn't certain how such questions helped them reach a decision, though. He kept his eyes on Corey most of the time, trying to gauge her reactions without much success. At least the view is rather nice, he thought, then, argh, stop that! Why was he such a dope when it came to women?
Because you don't pay enough attention, a voice in the back of his mind whispered. You've known Corey for nearly your whole life and you only noticed less than a week ago that she has freckles. Well, now that was something of an epiphany. Jace supposed he hadn't paid enough attention before. He wasn't sure why he was paying more attention now, in fact. Less than a week ago he probably wouldn't have noticed a girl like Shae. Less than a week ago he probably wouldn't have had a second thought about the way the room was decorated or how every woman in the room was attractive in her own way. Maybe he was finally changing for the better.
I hope I won't get asked all these questions a second time, Jace thought. They're dead boring. Then he winced. So much for a sudden epiphany. Well, Rome wasn't built in a day, after all.
"So then you don't have a job?" K.D. was frowning at him now.
Jace hated career questions with a passion. "I have a job," he told her. "I just don't...I guess I don't have a real goal in life. I don't know why, honestly. I want to have a goal in life. In fact I'm pretty sure I have one...I just don't know what it is yet."
This, at least, earned him a round of giggles. Hopefully 'that was funny' type giggles and not 'geez he's a moron' type giggles.
"Plenty of people don't know what they want to be when they group up," Corey said quietly. "Even grown ups. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Jace stared at her. Everyone else stared with him. She stared back with wide, innocent gray eyes, looking slightly bemused, as if she couldn't understand what she'd said to draw so much attention to herself. I don't get it, he thought. As long as I can remember she's looked at me as though I'm the biggest idiot on the planet. What gives? Since when had Corey started giving him the benefit of the doubt?
His mind wandered back to the carnival. Jace had only gone along with the whole Madame Zaira thing because Jenna had wanted to go so bad. He'd actually considered tracking the woman down before the carnival and paying her to give his sister some really cool fortune or something. Just the kind of thing to make her day. Not that he'd had the time, of course. Jace hadn't anticipated that whole wish thing, either. He didn't believe in magic but...what had Corey wished for? What had made her look at him like that?
Corey cleared her throat softly. "Um...anyway...I think we should...get on with it."
"We only have the last question, anyway," Chrisie said. "Jill?"
Jill was a tall, skinny, knobby-kneed kind of girl. She looked about sixteen, folded up in a chair with her legs against her chest, her chin resting on one knee. Thanks to Jenna, Jace had watched the movie Flashdance more times than he cared to remember, so he had a feeling he knew where the inspiration for her leggings and too-big sweatshirt had come from. Jill had long, thin hands that she folded delicately, one over the other, as she looked at him. Jace got the sudden feeling that he'd better not screw this one up. He wasn't sure
he was doing so well to begin with.
"Dating your best friend's ex," Jill began, smiling benignly. "Is it okay or isn't it?"
"Hey, don't go easy on me now," Jace quipped. "I can handle tough
questions, you know." That earned him a few smiles and some laughter, which he thought—hoped—was a good thing. "Well, um...not that you should like, jump into bed with your best friend's ex as soon as they've broken up or anything. That wouldn't be cool. But, I mean..."
"Go on," Corey said, smiling encouragingly.
"Okay, look," Jace said, sitting back and spreading his arms. "I know the popular opinion is that dating your best friend's ex is something only an evil person would do. But...what if you fall in love with them? You can't help that sort of thing. Are you supposed to ignore your feelings?"
He stopped. No one was smiling anymore, so Jace figured now was a good time to quit. What's the big deal, anyway? he wondered, glancing around from face to face. Oh well...maybe it's just me being stupid again. It wasn't the first time he'd gotten himself into trouble with that opinion. There'd been a time when Britney had been bitching about how one of her friends—who had been her best friend the day before and suddenly become a slut—was dating the ex of another one of her friends. Jace could still hear Britney's slightly whiny voice, complaining about what a traitor her friend was. He'd made the mistake of asking what kind of friend would ask another friend to sacrifice their happiness simply because she couldn't get over it. Not one of his brighter
"That's not the appropriate answer," Jill said.
"But just because the majority of people consider something to be right or wrong," Chrisie put in, "doesn't mean it's so."
"We're not going to start this philosophical shit again, are we?" This came from a girl sitting behind the apple green Mac. Her hair was
the same color as the computer and she looked like she probably had some issues going through metal detectors. "If the man has enough balls to not give the answer most women want to hear, more power to him."
Corey's smile looked a little forced. "Thank you, Vel," she said. Her gaze turned back to Jace. "And thank you. Now, we'll have to discuss—"
A dozen female voices started speaking at once. Some of them got up from where they were sitting to approach Corey. Watching them made Jace feel oddly nervous. He wondered what it would be like, working with them. Even though it would be brief, he'd still get to experience yet another kind of...of...well, not hobby, exactly, but it wouldn't really be a job for him, either. Maybe he could learn something, even if he was only working with them for a day. Who knew, maybe he was meant to be a journalist or something?
Chrisie broke away from the crowd and came towards him. She reminded him of Jenna in away; it was probably all that spunk she had. And her completely and utter disregard for someone else's personal space, as demonstrated by the way she perched on the arm of the chair he was sitting in. Jace looked up at her and saw that she was grinning at him. Fortunately it wasn't the same kind of grin that K.D. had given him earlier. That would have felt...weird.
"So, you've known the chief for a long time, right?" Chrisie asked.
It took Jace a moment to realize that she meant Corey. "Oh, uh, yeah," he replied, shifting uncomfortably. "I mean, she and my little
sister have been friends for pretty much their whole lives."
"Have you ever seen her with her hair down?" Chrisie wanted to know.
"No." Jace leaned forward eagerly. "Have you?"
"Not even once," Chrisie told him. "We were going to have an office pool on whether or not it's unbelievably gorgeous, but no one wanted to bet against it."
"I sure wouldn't," Jace said.
The lobby had gotten quiet. Both he and Chrisie looked over at the desk, where the rest of the Femme staff were. Everyone was watching them except Corey. She had her head down, staring at the little silver recorder that Shae had handed her. Jace could see that the tips of her ears were red. He couldn't think of a single time when he'd seen her blush. Corey was confident, professional, and serious. She never let her hair down and she never blushed. At least, not before that night in Madame Zaira's tent. But I don't believe in magic or wishes, Jace reminded himself. And even if I did...what would Corey have to do with getting some meaning to my life? Nothing at all. Really. Right?
Corey stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror standing in the corner of her room. She was wearing a pair of comfortable old gray sweat pants and simple white camisole—her usual pajamas—but she was more concerned about her hair. It fell down over her shoulders and to her hips. Because she kept it braided all day it was wavy and a bit frizzy. Not that it matters, she thought, turning slightly and pushing her hair back from her face. I mean, hair is hair...just because...It's not because Jace said... Corey sighed and turned away from the mirror. When had she become so uptight?
She flopped down onto her bed. Jace had had to leave for work shortly after the interview had ended. She'd told him that she'd let him know later on if they were going to choose him for the magazine, but that decision had been made pretty much from the moment he'd set foot inside Femme's headquarters. Corey could have vetoed it, if she really wanted to, but...well, she didn't. She wanted Jace to be in Femme and she wasn't sure why.
Corey thought back to that afternoon and the sandwich that Chrisie had brought her. Even more than whatever the heck had happened in Madame Zaira's tent—not that she was admitting that something had actually happened—that had been a wake up call. Every day was the same. The most exciting thing in her life was Femme and, while she loved her job, that really wasn't saying much.