I’m already looking for an escape, and more than half wondering why she’s pursuing small talk with me.  Unlike the other ladies who work for me, Malia exists in her own little microcosm.  She’s the buffer between me and the every day staff issues, but to tell you the truth, she’s a little less effective than I’d hoped when I interviewed her for the Office Manager position.  Her resume and interview are prime examples of presenting a façade and shoveling bullshit—as was the glowing recommendation from the schmuck in Sales who no doubt only wanted her out of his hair.  She makes no effort to integrate with the rest of the section, and seems to be the source of friction rather than its neutralizer.

“Just counting the hours until I can make a graceful exit,” she says.  “I don’t care much for these functions.”

“Me either.”

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I thought I heard you say you were going to transfer out of the Training Section.”  She’s idly playing with her straw, bouncing it up and down in the crushed ice in the bottom of the glass, and the sound is annoying the hell out of me.

“Nothing’s set in stone,” I say, squirming in discomfort.  “Look, no one really knows about it yet, so I’d appreciate it if you kept it to yourself.”

When Malia smirks, I’m a bit shocked.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smirk.  Usually she’s wearing either an irritated frown or a bored, indifferent expression.  The smirk makes her seem more human for a brief instant.

“I’m sure she’s worth it.  Is that all you’re having?”  She nods toward my drink.

“I already had three martinis.  Club soda for the rest of the night.”

“Just plain club soda?  That’s no good.”  She eyes her slice of lime with distaste and is out of her chair on her way to the bar in a dim corner across the room before I can protest.

I glance around for Gus so I can signal him to run intereference, but he’s engrossed in conversation with some chick (yeah, I said chick) from Budget and doesn’t notice.  I can tell by their postures that their chat isn’t work related: they’re both leaning against the wall, facing each other.  His hands are in his pockets and her ankles are crossed, and when she laughs, she leans toward him.  I have the distinct feeling that Gus won’t be spending the night alone.

“There.”

I spin in my chair just in time to see Malia squeezing a fresh wedge of lime into my drink.  She drops it in, and as my club soda fizzes and spits, she smiles brightly.

“Enjoy the rest of your evening, Sam.”

“Um…thanks.”

She sways out of the room, and for a moment there’s something about her that reminds me vividly of Frannie.  But I can’t pinpoint what it is before she rounds a corner and disappears from view.

I down my drink and drag Gus away from his extracurricular activity for a game or two of Blackjack.  We’re several rounds in when I start to get really sleepy.

“Hey, Guzz, I think’m gonna go lie dowwwn.”

Gus looks amused.  “How much more have you had to drink, buddy?”

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