Tareth was running late again. She couldn't believe her bad luck. After she had tried so hard to be on time, sidewalk construction and a funeral procession had held her up from reaching the subway station. Now that she finally stood on the platform, a loudspeaker announcement informed her that a breakdown had delayed her train.
The last thing she wanted to do was call her boss to say she would be late again. For most of the three years she'd worked at the marketing firm, she'd been not only punctual but early. Then she'd moved out of the apartment she'd rented with her former college roommate to make space for the roommate's boyfriend.
Now, living on her own in an inherited condo that she could barely afford in a part of Boston where she'd never lived before, Tareth wouldn't have been able to arrive at work on time if her life had depended on it.
My life doesn't. My job does.
She leaned against the wall and hoped that a train would show up soon. Meanwhile, she didn't see much choice other than to call her boss. Surely Mariah wouldn't blame her for the train running behind.
"I hate waiting for trains," a warm, mellow voice said.
Before she even turned to see who'd spoken, Tareth smiled. She'd only heard that voice a handful of times, mostly saying things like "hello" and "how are you", but she'd memorized the sound. Even though she didn't know the guy's name, his light brown, shoulder-length braid and dark brown eyes had burned themselves into her mind. She'd seen him nearly every morning since she'd moved.
She'd hoped that some day she would have the nerve to say more to him than hello. It looked like today was the day.
She turned her smile to him, and he smiled back. "Yeah, it definitely sucks," she said. "I'm going to be late for work again. With my luck, I'll end up losing my job because the T can't function on time."
"I'd offer you a ride if it wouldn't take a week's pay to park in the city," he said. "Then again, I wouldn't drive to work even if my boss offered to pay the parking. The train hassles are worth avoiding the Boston traffic hassles."
"I wouldn't know. I don't own a car." She held out her hand. "I'm Tareth."
"Justin Ruel." He shook her hand and studied her so intensely she fidgeted and looked away. "I've seen you every morning for the past month or so. New to the area?"
"New housing. I grew up in the area." She sighed. "Roommate threw me out in favor of her boyfriend, so I had to find somewhere else to go. My aunt had a condo here in Southie, which she'd signed over to my mother, and here I am." Yeah, here I am kicking myself for talking too much
"South Boston's not a bad place to score a free condo."
"It isn't exactly free. I have to pay utilities." She grinned. "What can I say? I'm a spoiled only child."
"Must be nice." Justin leaned against the wall beside her. "I have a tiny apartment that I share with another guy. Am I complaining too much?"
"Not at all." She tried to think of something else to say and came up with absolutely nothing. It figured. She finally managed to speak to the guy she'd been fantasizing about for a month, and now she had nothing to say.
Then she remembered she hadn't called her boss yet. She took out her cell phone and discovered she didn't have any service in the subway station. "Damn!"
"Here." Justin held out a top-of-the-line smartphone. Apparently his carrier cooperated with underground subway stations. "Who are you calling?"
"My boss." She fiddled with the phone until she figured out how to dial the number. Everyone else she knew had a smartphone, but she'd been making do with an old flip phone she'd had since college. Somehow the thing kept working, and she hadn't been able to justify to herself buying an insanely expensive phone.
The phone rang, and Mariah answered on the third ring. "If this is Tareth calling to tell me you're going to be late--"
"It's the train," Tareth said. "There's a breakdown on the red line. You can look it up." The MBTA, which controlled the subway and bus systems around Boston, kept their website updated with information about breakdowns and late trains and busses. It was too bad they didn't keep their trains and busses running as well as their website.
"I know about the breakdown," Mariah said. "Somehow, the other people who take the red line have made it here already. You haven't. Yet again. Don't bother coming in, Tareth. You're fired. We'll mail your final check."
"Please, Mariah." If she lost her job, free rent or not, she wouldn't be able to afford to stay in the condo. "I know I've been late a lot. I moved, and I'm still getting used to the new commute. Today isn't my fault, though."
"Nice sob story. We'll mail your last check." Mariah paused. "And you might want to grow up before you look for another job. If you can't handle living in an apartment by yourself, maybe you ought to go home to Mommy and Daddy." She hung up.
"That bitch!" Tareth started to throw the phone but remembered in time that it wasn't hers. She handed it back to Justin and blinked back furious tears. "Great. I guess it doesn't matter if the train comes. I just got fired."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Justin put the phone back in his pocket. "Want me to call her back and threaten her if she doesn't rehire you?"
Tareth chuckled bitterly. "I wish that would work." He was certainly intimidating enough. His voice had an authority she didn't hear from many people, and he was a good seven or eight inches taller than her own five foot six. He was built like a football player, and Tareth was sure not too many people disagreed with him often.
Of course, over the phone Mariah wouldn't see him. And the bitch wouldn't give her back the job anyway. She'd been looking for a reason to fire Tareth since Tareth had been hired. She'd handed the bitch a reason on a silver platter.
"Look, let me buy you a coffee or something," Justin said. "If it wasn't so early in the morning, I'd even suggest spiking it. You deserve something after a blow like that."
"What about you?"
"Attention passengers," the loudspeaker blared. "The next red line train to Alewife is now approaching."
That answered Tareth's question. "You have to go to work now," she said to Justin. "I appreciate the offer of coffee, though."
"I kind of keep my own schedule," he replied. "Hang on." He took out his phone again and quickly typed a text message. "Okay. Just told my boss I'm coming in later. He won't have a problem with it."
"Must be nice to have a flexible boss," Tareth muttered. "In that case, I will take you up on the coffee."
Justin smiled. "I hoped you'd say that."