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Working It

By:Christine d’Abo





Nolan hated mirrors. They were an unfortunate necessity for his morning routine—shaving, tying his tie, doing what he needed to fix his hair—but it was still strange to see himself, even after nearly two years of adjusting to the changes.

His sister, Tina, said nothing was different about him, he was the same old Nolan. She was sweet to say so, but he knew the truth.

Come on, get your act together.

He gave himself a moment and went through his anxiety checklist, ensuring he’d be able to keep himself in one piece. He hated having to do that, almost as much as he hated mirrors. Still, his therapist had been right about so many other things, he’d come to accept she knew what she was doing. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on his emotions. Yeah, he was nervous, worried about what people would think of him. It was a job interview, and he was underqualified for the position; that would raise questions he didn’t want to answer. Only an idiot wouldn’t be worried. He was also angry his life had taken such a horrible turn that he was forced to be in this position in the first place.

Nothing new, then.

Opening his eyes, he looked directly at himself as he turned on the water and let it flow over his hands, grounding him in the here and now. He took a deep breath, held it for a three count before letting it go.

“The water is warm from when I shaved a few moments ago. The running water sounds relax me and make me think of a river. The mirror needs cleaning. I need to remind Tina that I want to get a small water feature for the living room. It will help settle my mind in the morning . . .” He shook his head and gently directed his thoughts back to the present, to what his five senses told him. “I can smell the shaving cream, and maybe the fabric softener on this shirt. I can taste the mint from my toothpaste.”

He held his hands there until his fingers started to prune. He took extra time to dry his hands, enjoying the feel and smell of the fresh towel. It hadn’t been hard to convince Tina to switch fabric softeners, especially since he was paying for it. There was something to be said for the finer things.

Okay, the tie looked good, mostly straight. He adjusted it again and debated changing it one more time. No, damn it, he’d already wasted the better part of ten minutes picking this one out. It was fine.

Hair? He’d been growing it out in front since the accident, but still wasn’t entirely used to it. A necessary evil. Knowing exactly what he would find, he lifted up the long fringe that covered the left side of his forehead. The scar had faded to a light pink, a jagged road running just below his hairline. It was the least horrific of his injuries, and yet he couldn’t help but hate it the most. Nolan had never considered himself a particularly vain man, but he despised how the scar on his face opened him up to questions and comments, as if everyone felt entitled to information about his body now that it was so visibly flawed.

Oh my God, what happened?

Did it hurt?

You’re lucky you didn’t lose an eye.

Do you have other scars?

Not the sort of conversation he wanted to have with his family and friends, let alone complete strangers who didn’t know the first thing about him.

The hair fell back into place, and he took another moment to ensure nothing looked off. If the people at Compass Technologies noticed, he’d have a polite response ready to go; he’d memorized quite a few. It helped with the stress and prevented his anxiety from overwhelming him.

In theory at least.

He hated interviews. Even before the accident, he’d sucked at them on a good day, and he had a feeling that today would be anything but good. Nerves and doubts were more his enemy than the other applicants. At least he assumed he was the only neurotic, panic-prone candidate they were meeting with this afternoon. His résumé spoke for itself, as did his references; none of that would matter, though, if he broke out into a full-blown anxiety attack the moment he walked into the office.

No, he wasn’t going to let that happen today. Not this time.

Yes, his life had been challenging over the past two years, but that didn’t mean he had to let what had happened control his future. He’d fought through physiotherapy, got his broken body working again, and that alone proved how strong he was. Didn’t it?

Damn straight it did.

Shaking his head, Nolan let out a breath and marched out of the tiny powder room. Ready or not, here I go.

“Let me see.”

So not ready . . .

Groaning, he turned and faced his big sister. “I do know how to dress myself. I’ve been doing it on my own for years now.”

Tina snorted before proceeding to loosen his tie. He ducked her attempts to run her fingers through his hair.

“Come here. You look like an uptight asshole.”

“I am an uptight asshole. Will you fuck off?” He stepped past her and did his best to avoid her grabbing hands. “I’m going to be late.”

“No, you’re not. You’re going to be a half hour early because you’re always early.”

“I won’t be if you don’t stop picking.”

“I’m just making sure you look your best. I want you out of here.”

As much as she bitched about him crashing at her apartment, he knew she didn’t mind. Well, maybe she did a little. Okay, probably more than a little. “I told you I can get my own place anytime. I have savings and am more than capable.”

“Not until you know if you have a job. I promised you could stay here until then, and I keep my promises.” She stepped in front of him as he finished slipping his dress shoes on. “Let me see.”

This would go far faster if he gave in to her prodding. Nolan straightened up and held his arms out slightly. “Fine. Have at me.”

The grin Tina gave him was positively satanic. Her fingers raked through his fringe and she brushed some lint from the back of his blazer. “You look good. Really good. Maybe you’ll find a hot guy to go with your new job.”

“Thank you. I don’t have the job yet, and I doubt they offer hot men as a signing bonus.”

Tina laughed. “That would be an interesting contract negotiation.”

His nerves gave way to a chuckle of his own. “Can you imagine? Now that would bring on a panic attack. Thankfully, that won’t happen. Can I go now?”

“Yes.” She pulled him into a hug, giving him an extra squeeze when he finally reciprocated. “Are you doing okay?”

He should have expected the question; his own poor attempt at a joke had given her the opening she was looking for. This was his first interview since his accident . . . and since the subsequent mental meltdown at work when he’d tried to go back to his previous job. He knew the possibility of an attack was weighing as heavily on her mind as it was with him. “I’m good. Took my pills, had a good sleep, and my leg doesn’t hurt at all. Only mildly freaked out right now.”

“On a scale of one to ten?”

“Four.”

She pulled back and gave him The Look.

“Okay, a six. But I don’t think it’ll get any worse. Believe it or not, I’m looking forward to trying this.”

It was weird how his emotions could be a chaotic mix of excitement and nerves while his body kept urging him to pee. Stupid body.

Tina stepped back, giving his hand one final squeeze before she let go. “You have my number. If there’s a problem, call me, and I’ll come get you.”

“I’m twenty-six, not a child.”

“Nolan, don’t be like that.”

He knew she was only trying to help. Tina and he were the closest in age, far younger than their three older brothers. Over the years they’d learned to look out for one another. Despite working full-time and with a busy volunteer schedule, Tina had spent a part of every day with him after the accident, helping him get back on his feet. Literally at first, then figuratively. Without her, Nolan knew his recovery would have taken a lot longer. She might be a pain in the ass, but she loved him. And he loved her more than anyone or anything in the world.

He lowered his chin and sighed. “Sorry. I guess I’m more nervous than I realized. I’ll call you if I have any problems.”

“Thank you. Or text me, and I’ll send you goofy gifs or something. Now, go knock ’em dead.”

“I think they frown upon that at job interviews.” He gave her a quick kiss to the cheek before making his escape. If he didn’t get on the road now, he would miss his ride, and then he really would be late.

His Uber driver was pleasant, on time, and more importantly a nontalker, making the drive to Toronto’s downtown core uneventful. It gave Nolan a few moments to mentally prepare. It had been a while since he’d interviewed for a position, let alone something that wasn’t in his field of expertise. His career history would inevitably lead to questions about why he wanted to change paths. That was something he would avoid going into detail about if at all possible.

Looking down, he caught himself rubbing at his thigh, and lifted his hand.

“Hey, we’re here.” His driver double-parked, not giving Nolan much time to get his things together before people started honking. Fortunately, his leg was cooperative today—painful, but not cramping.

“Thanks.” Nolan stepped out of the car, shut the door, and made his way to the busy sidewalk before he happened to glance up at the building he hoped would soon be his place of employment. He stopped cold. The familiar tightening in his chest began as his thigh throbbed. Shit, no, this couldn’t happen now. He could fall apart after the interview. Hell, he could puke in the washroom the moment it was done, but not a second sooner.

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