Val scanned her reflection in the full-length mirror. If she could say so herself, she actually looked beautiful. Her new short bob hair style suited the shape of her face perfectly and it managed to make her look professional, but stylish. She was wearing fitting black slacks that made her larger than life derriere look a little less like it belonged to a Kardashian, and more like one of a normal human being. Even though the weather in Houston was as hot as ever, she chose a long sleeve shirt in a soft lavender tone; hopefully, she would spend the day sitting inside an office with air conditioning. What if they sent her to run some errands? She would have to risk it, there weren’t many fresh professional looking shirts hanging in her closet.
To finish everything up, she slipped her feet in a pair of three-inch black pumps, which were surprisingly comfortable in spite of their height.
The makeover did not end there. Strangely enough, she was also wearing makeup, not enough to make a fuss about though. She was gracefuly pulling off the natural look; brown shadow and black mascara that made her pretty green eyes pop, and soft pink lip-gloss on her slightly plump lips. It might have not seem much, but still a major improvement from the good ol’ chapstick.
For this special occasion, Val had made a quick trip to the mall the day before to purchase a new wardrobe. Her old one was not going to suffice. Those days of plain T-shirts, jeans and sneakers were over, at least from Monday to Friday, because it was her first day working at Sutton & Pardini, a Houston based service company for the oil and gas industry.
Needless to say, she was a nerve wreck. Academically, she had excelled effortlessly, there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to learn and deliver technically in her new job. Her social skills, however, were still a work in progress, to this day, Val still struggled with self confidence. She only hoped that she could make a great impression and perhaps stay for a formal job later on.
Val arrived thirty minutes early for her appointment with Mr. Medina at the tall all glass building where Sutton & Pardini’s offices were located.
Val and Mr. Medina had emailed back and forth for a few months, covering the possibility of an internship at Sutton & Pardini. He eventually welcomed her to come work with them for six months while she finished school.
She took a deep breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach and knocked on Mr. Medina’s office door, then straightened her shirt and swiped away the lint on her black pants.
“Come in,” she heard her future boss say.
“Hello, uh… Good morning Mr. Medina?” Val mumbled.
Speak up Valentina!
She was met with a man in his late thirties, with dark skin and soft gaze that brought out a sort of approachable appearance. “Hi, call me Francisco or Fran please. You must be Valentina,” he said, standing up from his desk and walking towards the door with his hand outstretched.
“Yes!” She answered, now appearing more confident after her inner scolding. “Pleasure to meet you in person.” She shook his hand and, giving the circumstances, flashed him the most genuine smile she could; despite the kindness in his eyes, she felt like turning around and running for her life.
“Sit down please.” He gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk and walked back to sit down in his.
Val sat down on the comfortable chair with her back straight and sucking in her nonexistent belly, something she would do when she was feeling self-conscious.
“First of all, welcome,” Fran smiled.
“Thank you. I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for this opportunity,” said Val, with hands shaking and her heart jumping inside her chest.
Calm down and shut it, Val. No one likes a suck up.
“Well Valentina, let me tell you about what you’ll be working on. As you know, Sutton is a growing company that develops, sells and rents specialized software for companies dedicated to oil and gas exploitation. Fortunately, we’ve been expanding lately with more demanding clients.”
She nodded in comprehension.
“They’ve been asking for new features and improvements on the existing ones in most of our applications. So we have a large development team working on that,” Fran continued.
As soon as she heard “development team” she was reminded of Tom. What could he be doing now? Surely, he would be working as a developer, that’s what he loved to do. Sadly, she had no idea; after their short affair, Tom left College Station for an internship. Soon after that, he graduated, and she never heard a word from him again. Even though she made many attempts to reach out to him after her big screw up, he had given her the cold shoulder treatment for so long, that she eventually gave up. She couldn’t deny that she vaguely resented him, but she couldn’t blame him either, considering that the atrocious ending to their relationship had been entirely her fault.
Fran’s voice snapped her out of her trip to memory lane. “You’ll be doing some testing on the new developments,” Fran continued. She frowned, not really grasping what the “testing” encompassed.
Noticing her confusion, Fran quickly assured her, “Don’t worry, it’s pretty straight forward. We’ll give you a workflow; a set of steps to follow while working with the software. When you finish the workflow, you’ll have to make an assessment and give us some feedback. Once you’re more acquainted with the software you’ll be able to work on your own projects with more liberty and give us feedback as well. It’s some sort of trial we do before releasing the new versions to the clients to make sure that everything is working as it’s supposed to.”
“It all sound exciting, Mr. Fran!” Val nodded smiling widely with genuine enthusiasm.
Fran smiled in amusement, probably due to her extreme excitement, or the fact that she could not stop calling him mister.
“Let me show you to your desk.” Fran stood up and walked out of his office and down the hallway, Val following close behind.
They arrived at a large room that had several cubicles lining the walls and a large table in the middle with a projector set in the ceiling right above it.
There were two people already working there, each in a cubicle with a couple of large computer screens and laptops.
“Hi guys, this is Valentina, she’ll be part of the testing team. She’ll be working with reservoir and production software,” greeted Fran.
“Hey Fran.” The dark young man that was sitting in one of the cubicles rose from his seat to shake Fran’s hand and then Valentina’s. He was extremely tall, which made Val feel mildly intimidated.
“These are Otto and Maria. They are interns as well. Otto is testing drilling software and Maria geology and geophysics,” said Fran.
“Nice to meet you,” said Val, her voice a little shaky.
Maria, a raven-haired petite girl, also stood up and shook Valentina’s hand. “Welcome Valentina, don’t be intimidated by this one, he looks all tough but he’s a softy,” she said with what appeared to be a Russian accent, glancing at Otto apparently noticing how Valentina felt at the moment.
Valentina relaxed and chuckled, “It’s just that you’re so tall, you could be a…”
“Basketball player?” interrupted Otto laughing. “Everyone tells me that, but I actually don’t like sports, so I’d rather be an engineer.”
“Fair enough,” said Val shrugging and smiling.
“Good, you guys seem like you’ll get along fine,” said Fran. “Valentina, you can use this laptop here,” he said, getting right back into business and pointing at a laptop sitting on the desk beside Maria’s. “I’ll call the IT guys so they can install the software and setup your email. We’ll have a meeting to introduce you to the people you’ll be working with, later today or tomorrow morning, depending on when I can get everyone together in the same room. Now I have to get back to work. Anything you need, you know where to find me. Okay?”
“Okay, thank you Fran,” Val said brightly before he left the room.
The rest of the day passed without any relevant events. She fell into an easy conversation with Maria and Otto and got to know a bit more about them. Maria was from Kazakhstan and had studied Geology in Colorado. Otto was from Houston, and had gone to school in the University of Texas. The IT technician came to set up her laptop just as Fran had promised. She was introduced to a few people that came to talk to Otto and Maria, and she spent the rest of the day reading and searching the manuals of the software she was going to work with.
When her colleagues started picking up their stuff to leave little after six, she did the same, assuming the work day was over.
The next day she arrived sharp at eight. She greeted her new friends cheerily and opened her laptop to check her email. She was excited to see that there was an email from Fran informing her that the meeting would take place at eleven that day.
She arrived at the meeting room a little before eleven, after asking Maria to show her where it was. The room was empty so she stepped inside and sat down in one of the several rolling chairs around the table. Within her arrival and eleven, a few of her coworkers began to make their way into the meeting room. Most were kind enough to introduce themselves, seeming to know who she was.
Val heard a woman’s laughter coming from the hallway, followed by a very familiar deep voice saying something she couldn’t quite understand. Heart pounding faster, she flipped her head towards the door, and there was Tom, walking into the meeting room next to a beautiful blond woman, both laughing.
Valentina was perplexed.
Of all places, I find him here?
Val’s eyes followed his every move. She just couldn’t take her eyes off him. She hadn’t seen Tom for almost four years! It was surreal that they were in the same room. And even though he looked very different from when they were friends years ago, it was definitely him. A very improved version of him, she had to concede. The messy mohawk he used to call his hair was completely gone. Instead, his hair was now short and neatly styled, not a hair out of place. His face was clean-shaven, something that would not happen often back in the day. He was wearing a white long sleeve button-up shirt with thin red stripes that was fitted enough for her to see that he wasn’t the skinny guy she used to know; without doubt, he had been working out lately. Glancing at his feet, she noticed that he was wearing all black high-top sneakers. Although they were very clean and stylish, unlike the sneakers he used to wear in college, they did not blend in at all with the rest of his professional outfit. Still, they gave him a resemblance to the Tom from the past, as did the white cane he was holding with his right hand.
Without even a glancing at Val, Tom walked inside the meeting room offering a “Good morning,” holding and swiping his cane close to his body, in that particular way he always did when he was in a crowded room.
She didn’t answer his greeting, scared that it would draw his attention to her and he would finally notice that she was there.
His blond companion took his hand, and for a moment, Val felt a pang of jealousy. Was this his girlfriend? Then the woman placed his hand on the back of one the free chairs, he pulled it out, and sat down right next to his pretty friend.
Valentina released the breath she had been holding in, as she realized that the woman was only showing him to a free chair. That hand holding didn’t mean anything. But it suggested though, that they were close enough to for him to allow her to do that, and for her to do it without him even asking. Another unsettling thought was that he couldn’t tell if there was a free chair right in front of him. It made Valentina wonder how much his vision had deteriorated.
“So you’re the new intern?” Tom’s friend asked with a friendly smile, turning to look at Val.
Startled, Valentina peeled her eyes off Tom and turned to look at his friend, politely acknowledging her question. She felt her heart start pounding even faster than it had been a minute ago, and heat rising in her entire body. She didn’t know what to say. Address the woman or say hi to Tom?
“I… Uh… Yes, I’m Valentina O’Reilly. Nice to meet you,” Val said, darting her eyes from the woman to Tom in anticipation to his reaction when he realized who she was.
“Valentina?” Tom turned his head in her direction with a confused expression.
“Hi Tom.” Oh god! “I didn’t know you worked here.” Was the first thing she could squeak out.
“Me neither… I-I mean, I didn’t know you were the new intern,” he stuttered, still looking confused.
“Yeah, I started yesterday.”
“So you two know each other?” Tom’s friend stated, rather than asked.
“Yes, from college,” Tom said, now with a faint smile. Now that the shock had passed, he seemed to be glad to see Valentina again.
At that moment, Fran came walking in, talking fast and addressing the whole room, “Hello everyone, I called you here to introduce our new intern, Valentina. She’ll be testing reservoir and production software.” Turning to Valentina he added, “Valentina, here we have Alexandra and Astrid” he pointed to Tom’s blonde friend and a cute Asian girl. “They are specialists in production and reservoir engineering. You can go to them with any inquiries about how to work with the software.” Pointing at two young men, one that seemed of Indian heritage, the other a very pale blond man with a face full of freckles, he continued, “These guys over here, are the developers. They will give you the program you will have to follow and you will report the results back to Tom and Nick, over there,” he pointed at Tom and Nick, a scrawny man that looked a little older than Tom, “They are the production-reservoir development and technical leaders. There are more people on the teams but the people in this room are the veterans, so feel free to pester them whenever you have any questions or need guidance.”
Valentina greeted them all trying to hide the fact that she was nervous, and now even more, knowing that she would have to report to Tom.
The meeting did not take longer than twenty minutes, after which, Fran left the meeting room in a hurry. It seemed to Valentina that he was always in a hurry.
Astrid, the reservoir specialist, approached Valentina, letting her know that she was available for any help she might need, and Valentina took the opportunity to ask for training tutorials that could help her get acquainted with the software.
While she was talking to Astrid, Valentina would glance at Tom, who was deep in conversation with Nick. She didn’t want to take her eyes off of him; she wanted to cherish every little detail of his appearance and demeanor.
When Tom and Nick’s conversation ended, Tom turned to leave the room and halted for a moment facing Valentina, “Bye Valentina, and welcome. It’s nice to have you here!”
“Thanks Tom. Nice seeing you again,” she answered, and continued talking to Astrid without taking her eyes off him while he walked out of the room swiping his cane and trailing the wall with the back of his hand.