The Program Ch. 01byewebie©
Ok, I'm back. This is the first instalment of what looks to be a bit of a long one. I want to know what you guys think of it. Is it worth continuing? Characters seem interesting? I have the plot all worked out in my head, and it's just a matter of getting it on paper (or computer screen as the case may be). The only bad news is that it's going to be VERY slow posting. I'm sorry, life is a little crazy right now and will be until June-ish, but hopefully, there will be fairly regular updates to this story.
All feedback is welcome :)
Thanks for reading!
Bill punched a few keys and stared miserably at the screen. Some days it just didn't pay to be a twenty-eight year old programmer. His program wasn't working. He had been through hundreds of lines of code in the past two hours and couldn't find the flaw. He rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, shifting his glasses up onto his forehead to pinch the bridge of his nose. If his boss hadn't been in such a rush to get this done, they wouldn't be scrambling to fix all these errors. He sighed and reached for his mug of coffee only to find it empty. He growled and slammed it roughly onto the desk.
A small eep of surprise sounded behind him and he spun around in the chair, his defensive posture softening when he saw Taylor standing at the entrance to his cubicle. He smiled gently. "Sorry, Taylor. I didn't see you there."
Shy did not begin to encompass Taylor Peters. She was petite with red-brown hair that was forever pulled back in a low, messy ponytail. Her clothes were old and baggy, concealing any hint of a womanly figure and giving her the look of a little girl that raided her big brother's closet. He put her somewhere around twenty-one, but with her wardrobe and size, she had an ageless appearance. Regardless, she had to be younger than he was. He would swear her eyes were green, but they were perpetually hidden behind shaggy bangs and thick-rimmed glasses and she'd only met his gaze once or twice, seeming to choose talking to the floor over the people around her. At the moment, she clutched a stack of papers to her chest, the large flannel shirtsleeves covering all but the tips of her fingers.
Bill blinked. He could have sworn she just said something, but he had to strain to hear her. "Sorry, can I do something for you?"
"I have some memos that I need you to sign," she repeated, obvious effort on her face in an attempt to raise the volume of her voice.
He smiled again, the honest warmth in his voice seeming to put her at ease. "Sure, let's see what you've got." He felt bad for Taylor. There weren't many female programmers, and those he knew from school were all socially awkward or painfully shy, and since there were so few of them, they tended to be even more introverted. Combining that with being the new kid in the office left her destined to run papers until she proved her worth. To be fair, he'd only been here two months longer than she, and that was just six months now, but his boss had taken an instant liking to him. He accepted the pile of papers she handed him and hunched over the documents, flipping through them quickly.
Bill scrawled his name at the end, tucking his copy into a file on his desk, and turned to hand the signed copy back to Taylor. She wasn't where he'd left her. He almost turned a complete circle to find her staring at his computer screen, her fingers flying over the keyboard. She stopped, squinting at the screen. "Taylor, what are you doing?"
She jumped and quickly backed away from the computer looking as though she wanted to melt into the carpet. "Sorry," she whispered, gathering her papers and darting out of the cubicle.
He shook his head. That girl was like a skittish mouse. She had a habit of sneaking up on him and he'd never hear her coming, but the second he spoke to her she'd disappear. Turning back to his work, he skimmed the changes she'd punched in and his jaw dropped. It was perfect. He ran the program, checking for any glitch and there was none. He ran it again, ran a diagnostic, and ran it a third time just to be sure. Holy crap, that mouse had just saved his skin. He backed up a copy of the program onto his USB drive and picked up the phone to let his boss know that the program was ready to roll. After relaying the good news, he dropped the phone into its cradle and leaned back into the chair.
"What did she want?" a voice startled him from behind.
He jumped. What was with people sneaking up on him today? "I had to sign off on something," he muttered watching Chad's line of sight follow Taylor on her dash back to her cubicle. "What's up, Chad?"
"Man, I'd bet you she's one hot piece of ass." He grinned broadly.
Bill frowned. "Stop it, man. She's what, twenty? That's skeevy."
"It's legal. Under those clothes, I bet she's all curves," Chad quirked a brow and finally turned to face Bill. "Plus, all those timid little ones are hot as hell in bed. She's probably a nympho."
"Seriously, Chad, you need help." Bill shook his head. Chad already had a reputation in the office, and Bill found it less than appealing. If Bill had his way, he would never work on another team with Chad. Unfortunately, Chad was his immediate supervisor and team leader. It was a decision that Bill deeply regretted wasn't his to make.
"You're such a Boy Scout, Bill. You need to loosen up." Chad clapped him on the back. "What were you on the phone about?"
Bill raised a brow, glaring until Chad took a step back out of Bill's personal space. "I was calling Matthews. The code is done."
Chad let out a whoop. "You know what this means?"
Bill frowned. "What?"
Bill shook his head. "You have a one track mind."
Everything in the office seemed to kick into high speed. With the repair of the code, there was little left to do but launch. But Bill found he suddenly had a lot of time on his hands with little to do. There was supposedly a new project coming up soon, but management had yet to assign the engineers anything to work on.
He worked on a few of his outside projects, bringing his laptop in to finish a few of his personal ideas. He became so wrapped up in his work on Friday that he found it well after hours before he packed up to leave. Stuffing his laptop and a few files into his case, he shouldered the bag and started out of the abandoned office.
The muffled sound of a voice reached his ears and he perked up. He had always been one of the last to leave, and the idea that anyone was left working when he was gone irked his pride a little. He followed the sound, weaving through the cubicles before finding the source. He chuckled to himself as poked his head into Taylor's cube. Her screen was angled away from the entrance, so he couldn't see what she was working on, but she had headphones in and was humming along to the music. He crossed his arms and leaned against the side of the cubicle, watching her work.
After a minute or two, he cleared his throat, "Taylor?" She nearly jumped clear out of her skin, turning mid air to face him. Her eyes were the size of saucers and her mouth formed a perfect 'o' shape. She scrambled to rid herself of the sound blocking earphones. The look of surprise on her face was endearing, and Bill found himself slightly pleased with the result of startling her. "Hey, sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
Her face flushed and she became suddenly interested in his shoes. "I didn't know anyone was still here," she whispered, her hands had disappearing into the depths of her large hooded sweatshirt.
Bill smiled and twin dimples appeared at the corners of his mouth. "I'm actually on my way out. I heard you singing and couldn't help my curiosity." She glanced up and met his gaze for a fleeting moment before twin spots of colour appeared on her cheeks.
"I didn't think anyone would hear me," she said softly.
Bill dropped to squat on his haunches, managing to catch her gaze. "You want to grab some dinner?" She chewed on her lower lip, twisting her fingers in a very childlike manner. "Come on," he prodded. "I hate eating alone."
A fleeting smile crossed her lips, but she shook her head. "No, thank you though."
"You sure?" his smile broadened when she shook her head again. He straightened and readjusted his bag. "Alright, but next time you're working late on a Friday, let me know. I know a place that does some great Chinese delivery." He was pleased to see a smile on her face when he turned to leave. He even suspected he heard her say a soft good-bye.
Bill choked on the champagne as his boss clapped him on the back. "Well done, kid. You just saved me a few months of work and a few years of stress off my life."
"Thanks, Mr. Matthews," he grinned; the festivities and alcohol combining to make him just a little giddy.
"Nah, call me Jason." His boss raised his glass and clinked it against Bill's. "Next step, kid, is getting you into a suit." Bill grinned and nodded, feeling very much like a kid with the way his boss was treating him. "Tell me, Bill. How did you fix that code? It's been giving us trouble for months now."
Bill shrugged. "I had a bit of help, and I was staring at it for weeks."
"Well, I like your dedication. Good work, kid. Keep it up. Now enjoy the launch party." He clapped Bill on the back again and wandered off into the crowd.
Bill tried to stomach the idea of more champagne, but he'd had enough already. Truth be told, he wasn't much of a drinker. He wasn't much of a socialiser either, come to think of it. Sure he was more social than the other engineers, but that didn't say much. He preferred a much more quiet, personal atmosphere than a boardroom packed with half-drunk middle management that he didn't know. With a sigh, he set down his glass and wandered back toward the cubicles. He hadn't seen Taylor at the party and she deserved a break as much as anyone.
He popped his head into her cubicle, mildly disappointed to find it empty. He slapped the opening with his palm, now aimless. Something caught his eye; Taylor's coat was still draped over the back of her chair, her bag stuffed under the desk. That was strange. She rarely strayed from her cubicle, and with no reason to be running errands, he wondered where she went.
A clatter from the back offices had his head snapping up. He squinted, spotting one office with the light still on. He frowned and headed toward the light. The door was slightly ajar, and the closer he got to the office, the more he was convinced something was wrong. Noise of a scuffle followed by the distinct sound of a slap reached his ears and he shoved the door open.
Bill froze. It took a minute for his mind to catch up with the scene he saw. Chad bent over the large oak desk, one hand on his belt and the other pressed firmly against Taylor's chest, pinning her down in front of him. A large red welt was slowly darkening on her cheek.
"What the fuck, man?" Chad shouted. "Get the fuck out!"
Bill blinked, shaking his head to try to focus. "Chad, what the hell?"
"Can't two people have a good time without some asshole interrupting?"
Bill furrowed his brow, glancing at Taylor. For the first time he could remember, she met his gaze head on. Her eyes were red-rimmed, wide, and panicked; her lower lip trembled; and her clothes were in disarray. "Taylor?" he asked softly, holding out his hand.
She didn't hesitate. She pushed ferociously until she could scramble out from under Chad, rushing to Bill's side and clutching his hand. He edged in front of her, putting himself between her and Chad. "You should know that she came in here looking for me," Chad stated blandly. When Bill didn't respond the silence in the room stretched out, no one willing to speak first. Chad straightened and turned, leaning his hip against the desk and crossing his arms over his chest. He cocked an eyebrow, "So. What are you going to do, Boy Scout?"
He sucked in a breath. "You're drunk."
"Probably." Chad said with a wry grin.
"We're going to leave," Bill told him. "And you're staying here."
Chad waved his hand dismissively. "Do what you want." He turned away from the door, planting his hands on the desk.
Keeping Taylor behind him, Bill backed from the office and closed the door behind him. Once outside the office, he turned to find Taylor ready to fall apart. He dropped his hands to her shoulders and she jumped, raising her eyes fearfully. "Hey, it's ok," he whispered, reaching to catch the sides of her oversized flannel shirt and button it over the tank top she wore beneath. "Do you want to get out of here?" She nodded vehemently.
A few minutes later saw Taylor tucked in the passenger seat of Bill's car as he pulled out of the parking ramp. "Do you want me to take you home?" he asked softly.
"No," she whispered staring absently out the window.
He shot a worried glance her way. "I can take you to my place, if you want," he offered. She bit her lower lip, her brow knitting. She thought about it for a moment before nodding. "Ok, but if you want to leave, you only have to tell me. I promise." He saw her nod and turned back to the road.
When he finally opened the door to his apartment, he dashed in ahead of Taylor, frantically snatching articles of clothing, old pizza boxes, and dirty dishes to hide them from sight. It was the first time in a long time that he felt self-conscious about the bachelor state of his apartment. He turned to find Taylor still standing uncomfortably in the door. "Taylor, you can come in. I know I have a couch here somewhere in this mess." He ushered her to the sofa, turning to close the door and heading for the kitchen. "Do you want anything to drink? I think I have some soda."
Taylor sat gingerly on the sofa, tucking her feet beneath her and gazing around his apartment curiously. "Do you have a beer?" she asked softly.
Bill glanced up from behind the open fridge door in surprise. "Beer? Um, sure." He rummaged in the fridge; pulling out two bottles of beer and popping them open before returning to the couch. He settled next to her and handed her a bottle, waiting for her to take a sip before asking, "Are you ok?"
She glanced up and nodded without thinking. Bill sucked in an angry breath catching sight of the welt on her cheek. He slid a finger under her chin, tilting her face to the side to get a better look at the mark. Her cheeks coloured under his scrutiny and she pushed his hand away, fidgeting with the bottle she clutched in her lap.
"Damnit, Chad," he cursed under his breath, heading to the kitchen and retrieving an icepack and towel. He struggled to choke back a fit of fury. When he got his hands on Chad, he'd be sure to return the favour, but the welt would bruise if they didn't get ice on it soon. "Here," he said gently, squatting in front of her and carefully holding the ice against her cheek. "Just... Just hold that there for a few minutes."
She nodded mutely and heaved a sigh. Bill gave her knee a squeeze, forcing a smile even though he could feel her tense under his touch. She blushed, "I'm fine."
Bill kicked the blanket off and sat up on the couch, running a hand through his hair. He couldn't sleep. After finishing a six-pack between the two of them while watching a bad late-night movie, Taylor had asked to use his shower. He had a feeling that she'd been wanting to shower since she'd arrived, but it wasn't until the alcohol kicked in that she'd shown the courage to ask. He wished he'd told her no, or at least encouraged her to go straight to sleep.
Instead, he'd let her take the shower and borrow some clothes. And then she'd come out of his room wearing a pair of his shorts and a long-sleeved tee shirt. His clothes were huge on her; she'd had to roll the sleeves to keep her fingers free, and had rolled the waistband of the shorts, exposing her slender legs up to mid thigh. Her hair was loose, the shaggy ends curling around her face and spilling over her shoulders and down her back. The wet tips soaked the shirt, making the worn, white cotton even more see-through. Chad had been right about one thing: she was nothing but curves. Petite, curvy, innocent, sexy...
He groaned as he realized the image was burned into his mind. She's just a kid, he thought miserably. Quit being a pervert. He fiddled with the blanket still strewn across his lap. Sleep seemed out of the question now, but he didn't want to wake Taylor. He sighed and fished his laptop out of its case; maybe he could get some work done.
At first, he thought he had imagined it, but then he heard it again: a soft, muffled cry from his room. "Taylor?" He was on his feet before her name was off his lips. He stopped in the open doorway, bracing himself against the frame. She was curled up on her side, her legs kicked free of the sheets, and his eyes quickly moved up her legs, along the curve of her hip. Her hands were balled around the sheet and her hair fanned out around her shoulders and across the pillow. Bill bit back another groan; he wasn't going to forget this image any time soon either.
Her brow furrowed and her body tightened, curling into a smaller ball, her hands fisting in the sheets. A small moan escaped her lips, followed by a series of unintelligible words. She jerked with a sudden cry, and Bill pushed off the doorframe. She must be having a nightmare, he thought, settling carefully next to her on the bed. "Taylor," he whispered.
Taylor whimpered, her face contorting as if in pain. "No," she moaned.
It was the first word Bill could identify, and it worried him. "Taylor," he rested a hand on her shoulder.
"Mick," her body tensed and something that sounded like a sob shuddered through her.
"Taylor," Bill shook her. "Come on, wake up."
"No!" she shrieked, her eyes shooting open. Startled, she grabbed his hand from her shoulder, torqued his wrist, and twisted his arm behind his back.
"Jesus, Taylor," he blurted out. As suddenly as she had grabbed him, she let him go, a horrified expression crossing her face. She scooted back on the bed until she collided with the headboard, and managed to make herself smaller by pulling her knees up to her chest. Bill rubbed his wrist absently and sighed, reaching out to comfort her. "Hey, it's ok. You were having a nightmare."
Taylor's wide-eyed stare would have broken his heart if the quivering of her lip hadn't caught his attention first. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Hey," Bill forced a weak smile, "it's alright." He flexed his wrist back and forth to show her. "I'm more worried about you. I'm sorry I startled you," he set a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Are you ok?" She took a shaky breath, glancing nervously around the room before nodding slowly. Bill furrowed his brow, aware of the small shudder that ran through her. "I'm wholly unconvinced."
Taylor reluctantly met his questioning gaze. "I have nightmares all the time, it has nothing to do with Chad," she said softly with another shudder.
Bill took her shoulders and guided her gently toward him. She rested her head against his shoulder, sniffing quietly as he wrapped an arm around her. He could feel her still trembling, chilled by the air on sweat-dampened skin and the lingering torment of her nightmares. "Cold?"
She nodded and a shiver racked her body. He released her, frowning when she drew her knees back up to her chest. He pushed himself backward on the bed, scooting toward the headboard and past the top of the quilt. "Come here," he said gently, relieved when she untangled her limbs and crawled onto his lap. He tugged the blanket up her back and folded his arms around her, resting his chin on the crown of her head. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," she mumbled, smoothing her fingers across a wrinkle in his shirt.
Bill tilted his head to the side, trying to gauge her mood by the expression on her face. "Who's Mick?"