You stand there, engulfed in a crowd of strangers…completely frozen.


All the cheering instantly stops, the room falling dead silent.


Your eyes go wide impulsively, every inch of you startled to oblivion as you look ahead.


You…you could have sworn you just heard your name.


But…that’s impossible.


For a second, you’re absolutely positive you misheard; that your imagination is playing a cruel, untimely trick on you. But Covington’s confirmative gaze finds you through the assembly, his eyes settling on yours.


“Come on up, Constance,” he motions, his expression a mesh of encouragement and something you can’t quite pinpoint. Everyone else’s collective watch mimics his and turns to you, the entire crowd rubbernecking in visible confusion, following his line of vision.


You blink rapidly, snapping out of the stunned daze you’ve been plunged into and force yourself to walk even though your legs suddenly feel like metal.


Unfamiliar, questioning onlookers part in front of you as you place one foot in front of the other, feeling more confused than all of them combined and far more anxious than you think you ever have in your entire life. But you feign confidence to the best of your ability, trying to ignore the countless stares in your direction amid the deafening quiet.


The soft clicks of your hesitant steps are the only sound in the whole room for several seconds, audible solely—no pun intended—because of the complete lack of competing noise, and all you can hope in this moment is that they’re loud enough to cover up the erratic, monstrous heartbeat emanating from your chest.


Covington and the other picks are only a few feet away, but it feels like an odyssey by the time you join them. Perplexed, you stand next to the CEO and those he called before you, with absolutely no idea what to think or do.


“Once again, give it up for the Zanergy team,” Covington says into the mic. A chorus of claps thankfully overturns the uncomfortable silence, but with far less cheering and enthusiasm than before it abruptly went mute.


“Thank you for your time, everyone. And, to commemorate this joyous occasion, free lunch on me. For everybody. Whatever you want.”


More claps follow, with a few appreciative whistles thrown in, but you can’t help shake this weird, sudden tightness in the air.


“I’d like to see the newly-appointed Zanergy team in my office immediately after this,” he concludes. “Everyone else, please resume your duties, as usual. Thank you again.”


And, with that, Covington makes his exit. All in the vicinity follow suit, dispersing from the lounge gradually.


For several seconds, you just stand there and watch everybody else leave because, even though the head guy’s instructions were crystal clear, you’re honestly not sure what to do.


I…I feel like I just got punk’d.


As soon as the thought forms, you have an internal face-palm moment.


Oh, my God…of course!


This is probably just the sort of prank they pull on newbies. Like an indoctrination ritual or something. It has to be.


A bit of the tension in your spine lets up and a small sense of relief washes over you at the realization.


Still…talk about hazing the new intern.


Covington and everyone else up there will no doubt be gauging your reaction, waiting to see what you’ll do and make their initial assessment of you based on that. This is a first impression test.


You have to keep your cool.


You scurry into the nearest available elevator, squeezing between other bodies attached to unfamiliar faces en route to their respective floors. You keep your eyes on the closed doors ahead as you collectively ascend, wishing you could take the stairs instead—and enjoy the accompanying privacy and stress relief the mini work-out would offer—but you don’t have the luxury of time right now.


All eyes instantly fall on you the second you walk into Covington’s office, and all conversation completely halts, everyone going pin-drop quiet while a strange, awkward tension quickly saturates the room. You do a sweeping, silent head-count, noting that everybody who was called is already present, a few of their faces somewhat familiar from downstairs.


You’re keenly aware that you’re the last one to arrive, and you have no idea whether you should say hello or offer any sort of greeting considering everyone else’s expression:


 An unmistakable mesh of disbelief and unveiled disapproval.


Oh, Jesus…


This. Is. Not. A. Prank.


Your stomach promptly knots up, the string of dread down your spine pulling itself taut all over again as you struggle to swallow.


Your assumption of a playful, albeit warped stunt was just that. An assumption. One which, against all logic and common sense, turned out to be one hundred percent wrong. There’s nothing even remotely funny about this.


Not a single person says anything, but the discomfort in the air is almost palpable, and all you can do is offer a tight, nervous smile when you make eye-contact with the less-than-enthusiastic woman you just happen to stand next to.


For a few seconds that feel way too long, you all remain motionless in tense silence, waiting on the man who assembled you here. Thankfully, he comes in before you give in to the urge to run straight ahead and jump out of the nearest window, closing his door behind him.


The room’s collective gaze follows him intently as he takes his seat, like everyone wants to ask what the fuck he’s thinking—including you. But Covington doesn’t seem to notice the off energy in his office. Or, if he does, he’s doing a bang-up job at ignoring the hell out of it.


He gets straight to the point, diving into the briefing on the Zanergy account. He gives a quick overview, history, time-line and summary of the current flagship project in question, Z to A. As much as you try to, you can’t for the life of you focus on anything he’s saying because, one: you’re truly, completely and entirely lost, having no prior knowledge on this company and no experience in the traditional energy sector in general and, two: there’s an obvious, bright pink elephant in the room.


Your presence.


You feel unusually inept and self-conscious standing among people you shouldn’t be. People who clearly disapprove of your attendance in this exclusive space even as you question it yourself. You don’t know how much time passes, but it genuinely feels like hours and, by the time Covington is done, you have no more insight on this new corporate venture—or how you got involved in it—than you did when you walked in.


“You’ll receive some more correspondence over the course of the day concerning the account,” he concludes.


Several questions from almost all of the team members follow, surprisingly none about you even though you can practically hear the complaint and discontentment in their tones whenever they speak.


Some more exchange about the account ensues between the members, each person chiming in at least once, demonstrating their knowledge of and confidence about both the company and project, and, therefore, their justification for being in this office right now.


Unlike you.


It’s clear that they’re all thinking it, even if they don’t explicitly voice it.


You’re pretty much ignored for the entire duration of the meeting—which only makes you question why you’re here even more—and even though you feel extremely awkward about it, you can understand the passive aggression directed at you. Still, it sucks that you have to endure this when there isn’t a single part of you that even wants to be here.


The meeting finally adjourns, and everyone starts to shuffle out of Covington’s office, continuing their conversations on their way out.


For a split second, you’re caught between following after your unimpressed, shotgun “co-workers” and staying back to talk to Covington. But your eyes decidedly turn to the CEO, still sitting at his desk.


“Hang around for a bit, Myers,” he says just when you’re about to open your mouth, as if he was waiting for you to say something.


Eventually, the last team member vacates the office, leaving you there by yourself.


Covington’s eyes level with yours. “Have a seat.”



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