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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2237446-Ambivalence
by JD
Rated: E · Novella · Romance/Love · #2237446
Chapter 8: Slowly Fading
It’s around Midnight when my phone starts buzzing on my night stand. I’m slow to grab it, drowsy from my slumber. With one eye open, I swipe the screen to answer and produce an unrecognizable murmur.

“Hey,” Ryan says softly.

“Hey. Is everything OK?” I ask, rubbing my eyes.

“Besides not being able to sleep—yes. Everything’s fine. I couldn’t wait till morning to call you.”

“I think it is the morning,” I point out, resting an arm behind my head, finally able to open my eyes all the way.

“Technically it is...Listen, sweetie, I’m so sorry for the way I reacted earlier and for making you feel ignored. I know I let you down. My stress has been really high, and I let it severely affect my priorities. Can you forgive me for being so insensitive?”

My sleepy expression doesn’t change with his apology. I don’t necessarily feel better because of it, but I also don’t feel worse. I feel indifferent.

“I finally got the text you said you sent me. If it had gone through the first time I wouldn’t have been so hurt...But yes, of course I forgive you. And I’m sorry if I upset you. Nothing happened with Christian. Not only does he have a girlfriend—but I have a strong feeling he’s got this line drawn in his mind, with no intention of crossing it—out of respect for both of us.”

“I know.” He sighs, regretfully. “I had a moment of insecurity. It was hard knowing you were upset, while he was there and I couldn’t be. But you’re right. Christian is a stand up guy. I’d trust him with my life.”

“Me too,” I admit.

Our amiable conversation continues for a couple hours. I’m able to finally share in detail my experiences at Probe Research, and Ryan listens intently, responding with curious questions and proud praise. The softness in his voice suggests he’s genuinely happy for me.

As Ryan communicates his current professional life as teacher and student, I’m most intrigued by his lab group. The speed and interest in which he talks, suggests a great deal of enthusiasm in that new endeavor.

I roll over to my side and smile broadly. Listening to the animation in his voice is sending warm fuzzies over me. I suddenly have an excitement and admiration building inside me regarding his future. It’s stirring up some selfless emotions for once. In my heart I know Ryan deserves this happiness, even if that means we have to remain a part.

“I promise to call and text you more frequently,” Ryan says.

“Don’t stress about it,” I say, honestly. “You need to focus on you for a change. I’ll be fine as long as I know you’re happy and safe.”

I’m convicted by my own words, and I think it’s because I’m finally ready to face my life without the constant need of Ryan’s input, whispering in my ear. But more importantly, I realize it’s time for him to center his attention on the things that’s he’s passionate and excited about. I don’t want to be the one that holds him back.

“I feel the same way,” Ryan explains. “I want nothing but happiness and blessings to implore your life.”

“That’s already happened...” I draw out. “I have you.”

“Always,” he says with determination.“You also have tremendous support surrounding you. Don’t forget that.”

“I know...I love you babe.”

“I love you too.”

When we decidedly hang up, I reflect on our relationship for several hours, tossing in my bed with questions and doubts spinning in my mind. Something is changing my perception—altering my thoughts in ways I can’t shake. In ways I don’t want to admit, even to myself.

The love I have in my heart for Ryan is real and it’s prevalent. It’s almost like a mutual, comfortable understanding. But—and this is a big BUT—I don’t think it’s the kind of love I want.

All of that said, I’m at a standstill. Because truth be told, all the time and emotion I’ve invested in Ryan over the years, isn’t something I’m ready to just throw away and forget. He means too much to me. Besides, I wouldn’t begin to know how to walk away. I’m not that strong.

*

My third day at Probe Research is not quite as exciting as the previous day. But it’s only been an hour. Things could change.

Jenna has decided to keep Sam and I busy with an insane amount of filing. It’s a tedious task, but it’s one that has to be done. The problem is we keep bumping into one another in the small tight space. With no windows and stacks upon stacks of cardboard boxes in the corner, the filling/storage room gives the impression of a closet.

The cabinet we continue to fill alphabetically isn’t made to hold all the documents, but Sam and I do our best—which is my nice way of saying we shove as hard as we can until it fits.

“That’s like the fifth yawn I’ve seen from you in five minutes,” Sam says, shutting the top filing cabinet.

I fight the sixth one and fail. “I didn’t get much sleep last night,” I explain. “Ryan and I were up late talking, and I couldn’t sleep after that.”

“Everything Ok?” She asks, her voice pitched with concern.

“I’m not sure,” I say, tugging on my black skirt. “It’s complicated.”

“Are you still mad at him for ghosting you?”

I stay lost in thought for a moment, gazing at Sam’s adorable white blazer. “No, I’m over that,” I admit. “I understand that he’s busy. Besides, he shouldn’t have to worry about me every second.”

“I agree. He spends too much time worrying about other people.”

“Exactly, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what you and Jason said to me. I rely on Ryan as if it were a bad habit. I don’t want to be his dependent anymore. I want to be his equal.”

“Good for you,” she says, reaching into the pockets of her black pants.

“Yeah, except I’m worried that won’t be possible. That we won’t be able to rectify our unhealthy repetitive methods. We both have the tendency to placate one another’s mistakes and weaknesses. We rarely push each other out of our comfort zones. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we don’t make each other better.”

Sam’s eyes widen, and then flicker as if a thought suddenly clicks in her mind. “Does this conclusion have anything to do with a certain special someone? A certain muscular someone you hung out with last night?”

My lips curl up automatically, but then slowly relax. “Christian was incredibly sweet and fun, and I very much enjoyed our evening, but no—this has nothing to do with him. I’m struggling with my own ideas of a healthy, fulfilling relationship. I don’t know what I want anymore.”

“I think you do know,” she suggests, softly.

I breathe a heavy sigh. “Maybe. But I think I’ll feel different when I see Ryan in person next weekend.”

Jenna pops her blonde head in to check on our progress. When she sees we’ve completed her task, there is no praise or pat on the back. Just a straight face and a barked order.

“Sam, you can proceed to Bryce’s office. Ally, you can assist Garret with whatever he needs.”

Once she bolts, Sam and I share a similar displeasing glance.

“Is it just me or is she extra moody today?” Sam asks, exiting the room.

“Oh she definitely had a sharper tone,” I admit, following her.



As we stroll down the hall, Sam applies some chapstick to her lips, and I present her a suggestive smirk.

What?” She asks, already blushing.

“You’re about to make out with him, aren’t you?”

“No,” she argues, unconvincingly, turning her flushed cheeks away from me.

I chuckle absentmindedly. “Sam, it’s OK. Don’t be embarrassed. I’m not judging. I’d probably do the same thing if I were you.”

“Alright, fine.” She smiles coyly. “We’ll probably mess around a little. But why do I feel so naughty about it?”

“Because he’s our boss,” I point out.

Her voice drops. “But he’s also my boyfriend.”

“Exactly, so don’t worry about it. Have fun and enjoy your man,” I say, leaving her at the entrance of Bryce’s door.

I wink and smile as I go, even though I’m jealous on the inside. I’d give anything to make out with my boyfriend right now. To see and touch his face. Despite the skewed mental aspect of our relationship, the physical side is very compelling. Plus, Ryan is an incredible kisser. In a heartbeat, I’d press my lips to his.

*

My eyes light-up as I enter Garret’s office, immediately securing his as my favorite. The rectangle fish tank in the middle of his desk is breathtaking. It’s tropical plants and colorful fish pop against the dark blue background. But it doesn’t stop there. He has a second tank in the corner, custom designed in the shape of a cylinder. I open my mouth in awe at the beautiful pink jellyfish propelling themselves around the tank.

Garret is so focused on his work, he doesn’t even notice me admiring his aquarium themed office. Once I move closer to his desk, he peers away from his computer and meets my gaze with a smile.

“Hey, I didn’t see you come in,” he says, swiveling in his chair.

I notice he’s back to wearing khakis and a casual dress shirt. The palm tree print is fun and quirky and suits his personality better than yesterday’s ensemble.

I tuck a stray hair behind my ear and take a step closer to the fast-moving fish. “You’re office is incredible. How did this all come about?”

Garret stands with a smile and moves to the front of his desk. “My uncle designs and builds aquariums, and after many persistent requests, he made my dream become a reality.”

I bend over slightly to see the fish swimming in his desk. Yes—in his desk!

“This is a freshwater tank,” he says, crouching to one knee. “And these little vibrant dudes are cichlids. I’ve already had to replace them once. They grow quite big.”

My eyes dart from one fish to the next. It’s entertaining to watch them zoom around the tank, almost as if their playing tag.

“Do they have names?” I ask, touching the glass with my finger.

“That bright yellow one skimming the top is Elena. The white one chasing her is Stephan and the black striped one hiding under the rock is Damon. Then we have the light purple Caroline and the orange Tyler.” He pauses for a moment, tilting his head. “Ah, their she is. Translucent Bonnie is by far my favorite...And lastly, there’s Matty blue eyes.”

I lift my brow. presenting a puzzled yet amusing look. “You don’t peg me as the type of person that would watch The Vampire Diaries.”

“Why not?” He laughs. “It’s my girlfriend’s favorite show. She insisted on naming them all.”

“Sure she did.” I tease, curling my lips to a smirk.

His amused smile travels with his lengthening stance. “Trust me. If I had my way, they’d all be named after characters from The Office, or something equally brilliant. But I kindly compromised because I love my girlfriend, despite her indignation with me at the moment.”

“Uh, oh,” I say with a small smile. “What did you do?”

His quick sigh accompanies the crossing of his arms, as he perches on the edge of his desk in a defeated disposition. “She’s been asking me to have dinner with her parents, but I’ve been incredibly swamped and haven’t been able to squeeze them in. Her patience is quickly thinning.”

My mouth drops. “No freaking way,” I say, excitedly. “You’re Britt’s boyfriend, aren’t you?”

“How did you know that?” He asks, furrowing his brow.

“She’s the counselor at my school. I’m a T.A. for her sixth period.”

“What a small world.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” My smile quickly fades when I remember Britt’s sorrowful face. Out of sympathy and loyalty to her, I shove Garret in the shoulder. “You’re being a real jerk. What’s wrong with you?”

“Damn,” he says, massaging his arm, pretending like I actually injured him. “My girlfriend must’ve left quite the impression.”

“Yep,” I admit easily. “It wasn’t all bad, but you definitely need to stop being a workaholic.”

After allowing the shock of my harsh judgment to sink in, Garret defends himself. “Come here,” he insists, moving to the side of his computer. “Do you see this tower of paperwork?”

I nod.

“This is just a fraction of what is acquired of me. And all of it has to be tediously entered into a database.”

I roll my eyes. “All I’m hearing is an excuse. She offered to help you. So let her.”

“She works all day. I’m not about to drag her down here to spend hours in front of a screen to do my workload.”

I sigh at his stubbornness. “Except she wants to help. It sounds like you need to learn how to accept help from others. Starting with me.”

“With you?” He laughs, incredulous.

“Yep,” I say, enthusiastic. “Jenna sent me here to help with whatever you need. So put me to work. Maybe I can help put a dent in that pile of yours.”

His pleased smile sends a wave of warmth around my heart. “Alright. Let’s get you set up then.”

Garret grabs a folder from his desk and drags over a black folding chair to the small desk across from his. I set my phone on the edge of the desk and wait for his instructions.

“Do you feel comfortable entering this data to the template I’ve created?” He asks, opening a laptop.

“I’d be happy to,” I say, taking a seat.

“Great, let me know if you have any questions.”

“OK. Will do.”

I take a deep breath in preparation and open the folder that reads: BUDGET FOR STANELY CORPORATION. With only three pages inside, I’m able to type up the data rather quickly. I only have to ask for help once, in which Garret jogs my memory from my sophomore computer class on how to add all the cell boxes.

I’m granted another folder and notice a familiar name on the paperwork: MR. HOBART. I begin filling in the spreadsheet, with a smile resting upon my lips. The meeting about his new product went better than I could’ve imagined yesterday. Bryce seemed to like my idea. But the question I’m asking myself now is...did Mr. Hobart like it?

As I type in the first line of expenditures, my phone dings at me unexpectedly. Worried I’d look unprofessional by checking it, I peer over at Garret first. His head is locked on his computer screen as his fingers type at warp speed.

When I reach for my phone, I’m surprised to see a text from Ryan. Included with his message is a picture from a spontaneous beach trip last Summer. Sam, Ryan and myself are encircled by three Australian brothers and their short dark-haired friend. The ocean waves and golden sand is our backdrop, along with the edge of a withered volleyball net.

BEST BEACH DAY EVER are the words that come to mind when I reflect on that trip. Not only did we make four new friends, we had a blast playing volleyball for most of the overcast day. And the only thing I regret is not applying enough sunscreen around my cherry print swimsuit. My ears were as red as the cherries on my top.

Ryan’s text reads:

I was scrolling through photos on my phone last night and came across this fun adventure. I remember you convincing me to leave the house and enjoy a day at the beach with you and Sam. For many reasons I was reluctant to join in, but I’m happy I went. We had hours of fun that day. Do you remember wrestling on the sand? You have no idea how tempted I was to kiss you by the end of it.

A burst of joy and fondness enters my heart. Ryan’s recollection is making me grin ear to ear. I wish I had known back then that I was a temptation for him. Maybe I would’ve been brave enough to make a move.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I also remember the excuse you gave for not wanting to go. You said Sam and I would probably end up shopping most of the day and you’d be bored. But it turned out much differently. Those shirtless Australian brothers were quick to join us and there little friend lugged that ice chest over shortly after, offering us all water and then giving volleyball a shot. He was terrible though, wasn’t he? No matter. It was still a perfect day. And you should have kissed me! Why didn’t you?

I’m surprised by his immediate response.

I don’t have a good reason, other than fear and stupidity. But I wish I had stolen a kiss or two. Missed opportunities are going to be a thing of the past. When I see you next, kisses will be planted everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

My face heats up as a warm tingle courses through my body. It’s a good tingle. An excited tingle. But most of all, a nervous tingle. Ryan already gave me a taste of what’s to come, yet I’m still anxious about our first time. Maybe because my idea that we’re meant-to-be is slowly fading. At least I still have a week and a half to sort out my vacillating emotions—before I see him—before I really see him.



A Star Wars themed ring tone startles me and I drop my phone on the ground. Garret answers his phone as I quickly pick mine up. I set it down and begin typing again, but not for long. My attention is grabbed by Garret’s loud voice.

“Bryce wants to see you in his office right away,” he says, urgently.

“Oh,” I gasp, immediately alarmed. “I’m not in trouble, am I?”

He chuckles with the scooting of his chair. “No silly. Why would you be in trouble?”

I stand and then blush at my ridiculous thought. “I don’t know. It’s just the way you said it.”

“I know my brother can be a bit intimidating at times, but I promise he’s not someone to tremble over. And if you saw his red Power Ranger nightlight I think you’d feel the same way.”

“Really?” I laugh, unable to imagine such a sight. “A Power Ranger nightlight?”

“Shh,” he gestures with his pointer. “That’s one of my best kept secrets.”

I giggle with my stride and stop under the door frame. “Thank you for that. Even if it’s not true, I appreciate the sentiment.”

Oh, it’s true,” he says with conviction and a smile.

I leave his office with a big grin, thankful for the lighthearted friendship developing with Garret. And even though there is something intimidating about his brother—I felt it the first time I met him—between our friendly exchanges and Garret’s commitment to soften his reputation, I’m confident I can handle Bryce.

*

I expect to see my best friend when I enter Bryce’s office. But it’s only him and his tailored white collared shirt and skinny navy tie. He’s on his cell phone, talking in his professional tone of voice. I walk towards him slowly, but then backpedal as he beckons me with his hand to shut the door. I do so quietly and with a strange twist in my stomach. Why do we suddenly need privacy?

I take a seat in one of the leather chairs in front of his desk and avoid his face, unsuccessfully. While waiting for his conversation to end, I notice his thick eyebrows move around a lot when he speaks. It’s amusing to watch. I tilt my head a little and glance at the dark shadow on his face from a lack of a morning shave. It annoyingly adds to his attractiveness.

I’m frustrated with the fact that I find him engaging. Not because he’s my boss, or Sam’s boyfriend. But because it’s distracting my thoughts—clouding my judgment.

Power Ranger nightlight.

Power Ranger nightlight.

“Sorry about that,” Bryce says, setting his phone down. “How are you?”

“I’m good.” I smile, crossing one, knee-high black boot under the other. “You?”

“Couldn’t be better,” he grins, opening one of the drawers on his desk.

“Where’s Sam?”

“She’s looking for the kitten and trying to find an ideal place for a cat box,” he says, unable to conceal the disapproval in his voice.

I hide my smirk. “Oh, OK.”

My eyes grow big when Bryce sets two small glasses and a bottle of alcohol on top of his mahogany desk.

“We’re toasting to our success,” he says, pouring the hard liquor into the square shaped glasses. “Mr. Hobart not only loved your idea, but he claims he’ll be using our marketing team for all his future needs. He even recommended us to several other potential clients. And that incredible news merits a mini celebration...Here.” He slides me a glass and I stare at it, unsure of what I should do or say.

The concerned glance he wears is coupled with quick appeasement. “I apologize if you don’t like bourbon. I’m not a fan of champagne.”

“It’s not the choice in alcohol stopping me,” I say peering at the glass for a second. “I’m only eighteen, remember? Or did you forget that important detail?”

He shakes his head. “I didn’t forget. Age doesn’t concern me. You should know that by now.” Leaning back in his chair, he holds his glass loosely, propping one leg onto his knee. “It’s one drink kid. Besides, why would I let my star intern get in trouble? Humor me, will you? Celebrate. You deserve it.”

Peer pressure paired with a compliment is a bad combination. I quickly cave to his request, despite my unsettling reservations. My small sip of the smooth, expensive tasting bourbon isn’t half bad. “Sweet and flavorful,” I say clearly.

“Just like our friendship,” he says, reaching his class out in front of him, waiting for me to lift mine to his. “To more favorable ideas and your bright future here at Probe Research,” he adds.

After our glasses clank, I present him a look of skepticism.

“What?” He asks. “Did I read you wrong? Do you not like it here?”

“I love it here, but that’s not the problem.” His silver-blue eyes quickly narrow, but I respond before he can open his mouth. “I need you to clear up some things. Because I don’t think you’ve been completely honest with me.”

“I see.” His neck muscles grow tense as he sets his glass down. “Please continue.”

“Tell me if this is accurate,” I begin nervously, my glass practically glued to my hand. “You never planned on creating an internship. You only asked Sam to be your intern so you could spend more time with her and the only reason I was offered a position is because Sam wanted it.”

No words come from Bryce, just a hard to read expression lingering on his face.

“You lied to me about talking to Garret,” I continue. “He never brought my name up the other day. So that speech about me having potential was—well, I don’t know what that was all about.”

“Are you finished?” he finally speaks, calm, but with an itch in his voice.

“One more thing,” I say before taking another sip of my drink. “There are some horrible comments about you on the internet. And an article about you being under investigation for tax evasion. What is that all about?”

The look of disappointment on his face causes me to take another drink. Bryce does the same, only, finishing his glass with one, slow backwards cock of the head.

“First of all, I’m a little hurt that you’ve been holding all that in,” he begins, resting his arms on his desk. “I thought we were closer than that. I thought you had this great, open and honest dialect with me.”

My chest tightens. “I do,” I argue. “That’s why you’re hearing all of this from me now.”

“OK.” He sighs. “Let me address the internet scandal first, because that’s the easiest to clarify. When I first started this company I had a business partner. It started out promising and he certainly helped get the company on its feet. Long story short, he was caught stealing—embezzling funds from various accounts. I fired him and cut all ties financially, but he still fought back, and produced some unsubstantial claims. But you have nothing to worry about. I haven’t heard from him in months. My lawyer said he’s serving time, a year, maybe two.”

His reasonable explanation brings an ache to my chest.

“As far as the conversation about your potential,” he continues, fidgeting with his watch. “I meant every word. Maybe I pushed the truth a little, but I promise it was only to build your confidence. And it worked. I put my faith in you and you quickly validated that potential yesterday...But you’re right about one thing. I didn’t plan on starting an internship. However, I’m glad I did. Having you and Sam here has been a breath of fresh air. I have no regrets.”

“I have one,” I say, softly.

“And what would that be?” He asks, biting on his lower lip.

“I never should’ve doubted your integrity. I’m sorry.”

He relaxes into his chair, lightly gripping the arm rests. “Don’t even worry about it. We’re good.”

His convincing smile lifts my guilt, and I stand to leave. But the shame hasn’t left me. I’m still embarrassed by my accusatory speech. More than anything I want to flee and get back to helping Garret.

Bryce stands and aims his confident stride towards my awkward standing position; my arms and ankles are crossed as I wait for him. It’s the most uncomfortable three seconds.

“Do me a favor, will you?” He asks, his voice serious. “Never hold back. Always tell me how you feel.”

“Why?” I frown, inadvertently.

“Because it keeps me on my toes. Challenges me in ways I need to be challenged.”

I shrug. “If it helps, sure. I can do that.”

“Great.”

As we walk towards the door, my back is met with a warm hand and it surprises me. A cold prickle runs down my spine. Bryce has always kept a professional distance with me—until now that is.

“I really appreciate you.” he says, gently rubbing my back—just long enough for me to feel uncomfortable and question his motivation. “Your friendship means a lot, and I know it means a great deal to Sam that we’re friends.”

I open the door and angle my body side ways. “Yeah, that’s the impression I got as well. Sam needs everyone to get a long all the time, but unfortunately her childlike fantasy doesn’t always exist.”

“But for now it does,” he suggests, grasping the edge of the door with his hand.

“Yes...for now,” I emphasize as a warning.

I leave his office with a small wave of the hand and a faint smile. Just when I think I have Bryce all figured out, I don’t. One minute he’s inspiring and the next he’s kind of shady. Ugh. I should have finished my drink.

*

“Hey, I thought you’d be gone by now,” Garret says as I enter his tranquil office.

“Is it five-thirty already?” I ask, suddenly feeling a slight buzz from my adult beverage.

“Quarter till,” he answers.

I sit in my chair and check my phone for messages, centering my balance in the process. There’s one text from Christian. It’s a picture of a bowl, loaded with several scoops of ice cream. Underneath it says:

Having a scoop of your favorite. What do you think?

A warm tingly feeling sweeps over me. Our first date was a trip to get ice cream, where he fed me a bite of my favorite flavor: mint chocolate chip. If he’s attempting to pull on my heart strings, it’s certainly working.

Ha! That’s not a scoop, it’s a mountain! Looks yummy though. I wish I could share it with you.

I set my phone down with a huge smile and go back to the document I was typing before I left to see Bryce.

“You can finish that tomorrow,” Garret says, peeking around his computer screen.

“What time are you leaving?” I ask, spinning my chair in a circle.

His response is delayed by a few key strokes. “Soon,” he says, “Very soon.”

“Well, I don’t have anywhere to be. I’ll just stay until Sam’s ready to go.”

“Did you get my email?” He asks, sliding his chair so he can see me better.

I smile brightly. “The one about the kitten name poll?”

“Yep. That’s the one.” He returns a grin.

“Yes, I got it. That was adorable by the way. And I voted this morning.”

“I voted too,” Sam chimes in unexpectedly, her boot in tow. “Wow, Garret. Your office is amazing.”

“Those are moon jellyfish,” he explains, as Sam admires the pink bouncing specimen.

“Love them,” she says, slowly turning to me. “Ally, I was gonna catch a ride with Bryce. Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” I answer, quickly, eager to make my best friend happy.

“Thanks.” She blushes. “See you both tomorrow.”

Not long after she leaves, Garret shares his bold opinion. “I love that she has my brother whipped.”

I tilt my head. “You think?”

“Oh yeah. No question.”

“I can tell he cares about her. But will he be loyal to her?” I ask, fearlessly.

Garret stares pensively and then swallows hard. “I don’t know.”

My heart drops. “Not the answer I was hoping for,” I admit.

“I know. I’m sorry. Bryce and I aren’t very close. And I don’t think it’s due to the fact that we’re only half brothers. It stems from something neither of us have any control over...My dad is still a part of my life, where his is purposely not.”

“So he’s jealous,” I say, matter of fact.

“Ironic, isn’t it? Here he is in his fancy suits and ties, running a successful company and here I am hiding in the back office, struggling to keep up.”

I glance away for a moment, saddened by Garret’s depiction.

“You need an assistant,” I say, earnestly. “And I don’t mean me. You need a highly trained and skillful assistant.”

He laughs. “That will never happen.”

“Why not?”

“Because that would generate more success than Bryce is willing to allow.”

“He wants you to struggle?” I ask, perturbed.

“Honestly, I don’t know...maybe.”

I peer to the jellyfish tank and reflect on Garret’s words, but I can’t think of anything helpful to say. So I turn around in my chair and start typing, focusing all my attention to this one task.

As I finish adding Mr. Hobart’s total budget, I notice a huge discrepancy. The numbers aren’t adding up correctly. I double check my work to see if I made any mistakes. I find no errors on my part.

“Hey Garret, can you come over here for a minute,” I ask, leaning back in my chair.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” he answers, hopping out of his seat. Seconds later he leans over my shoulder. “What’s up?”

“This is Mr. Hobart’s allotted budget,” I explain, pointing to the screen. “And this is how much the company has spent. But based on these numbers, there’s five thousand dollars unaccounted for...So whoever wrote this original copy either made a mistake or—“

“Hold on,” he interrupts. “I’m adding it all up.”

“Sorry.”

I wait anxiously, bouncing my foot against the leg of my chair. If I’m right, this could be very bad.

Garret grunts when he’s finished. “You’re right. There’s five thousand dollars missing.”

“I knew it. Who’s in charge of the budget? Who free handed this?”

“Bryce handles all the finances,” he says, flatly.

A knot in my stomach appears. “Oh,” I mumble.

We fall into silence. Then I stare at him and then back to the computer screen, trying to make sense of what I just discovered, but all I come up with is a disturbing suspicion. Something isn’t right and the look of distress on Garret’s face is a clear indication that he agrees.

“What do you think?” I finally ask.

Garret huffs a breath of air. “I need you to keep this between us until I figure this all out. Can you do that for me?”

I’ve never seen his face so serious—so alarmed.

“Yeah, of course. I won’t say anything.”

“Thank you,” he says, squeezing my shoulder.

I nod my head and smile, wishing I could do more for his sweet spirit. After all, I’m the one that brought this burden upon him. Maybe I should have stayed quiet. Maybe Garret wanted me to stay quiet...

It’s too late now.

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