The light was flashing on the answering machine. Hoping it was my sister, I eagerly punched the button as I slid out of my coat. The deep, masculine voice startled me.
"Hey, Mick, its Nate. I got those tickets to the game. Had to do some sweet-talking, but they are so worth it, buddy! Second row, courtside ... we're in, man! Call me when you get back from London Thursday night. Damn, will that phone never stop? I have to go—this new secretary isn't cutting it..."
I had no idea who this "Nate" was, other than a sexy voice that had the wrong number. Too bad, since I wasn't involved with anyone, and he sounded so delicious! Erasing the message, I soon forgot all about it as I changed out of my suit and heels into comfortable jeans and a sweater. Before I knew it, the evening was over and it was time for bed.
Tuesday when I played my messages, mom cheerfully updated me on family news and then reminded me of the party Friday night. Lovely, another set-up for me ... she hated that I wasn't married yet. She was determined to find someone for me, so there was no use telling her I could find my own man. The second message was a hang-up. It was the third one that caught my attention though.
"I'm getting excited for the game, Mick! Want to bet on who wins? Loser covers the tab after the game. Let me know!"
It was that same sexy voice from yesterday! Now if I could find someone that was as hot as this one sounded, there would be no more set-up dinners. Just my luck this one was probably married or nothing like he sounded...
I was eager to check my messages Wednesday, wanting to hear that voice again. Even though I knew he wasn't calling me, it was fun to see what the news was for the day! Was I ever shocked at the message!
"This is Nate Foster. I think I've been leaving messages on your machine this week meant for my friend Mick. The new secretary I had--notice had--programmed my phone incorrectly. All week messages have gone to the wrong people. My number is 555-1212. Give me a call. I would like to apologize personally instead of just in a message. Hope to hear from you soon."
My machine was programmed for people to leave a message with the standard voice that came with it, not my own. Therefore, this Nate had no idea who heard about his tickets this week. A plan began to form in my mind, a way to get some information on this Nate. Excitement building, I took the paper with his number and dialed before I changed my mind.
The line was busy, making me waiver a bit in my plan. No, this might work, I kept thinking. So dialing again, I almost forgot to reply when I heard his voice!
"Nate Foster Architects, Inc. This is Nate."
"Hello, Nate, my name is Emily and you've been leaving messages on my machine this week by accident," I began.
"I'm sorry about that. My secretary messed everything up when she programmed the phones incorrectly. My former secretary that is," Nate emphasized.
"No problem. Sounds like you ended up with great seats for the game, though. I hear tickets have been sold out for weeks to that game."
"My cousin had these so I begged him for them. I won't even go into everything I had to promise him in exchange," he said with a laugh.
"I saw the last game they played where the referees made a call that few people agreed with."
I hoped to get him to chat longer, and that play had been very controversial. Several minutes passed as we discussed some recent games.
"Well, I'm sure if Mick can't make it, your wife would be happy to take his place," I added.
"No wife and no girlfriend. Do you know how tough it is to find a girl interested in sports?" Nate asked.
"Probably as hard as it is to find someone that apologizes," I said.
"That's true, I guess," he added.
"Nate, it's been great chatting, but I really can't take up your work time. Don't worry about the messages, and I do hope you have a great time at that game. I'll be looking for those seats when the cameras run through the crowds. They're second row, courtside, right?"
"You don't really have to go yet, do you? There are two other lines for the office, and I close in less than 30 minutes anyway. I'm enjoying myself. Say you can chat some more."
"If you're sure I'm not taking time from your work," I replied.
He was so easy to talk to, and it seemed we had several things in common. Time flew, and soon it was time to close down his office. Already I felt the disappointment, figuring he would head home.
"Emily, I know this is a bit weird, but ... do you want to go to dinner?"
"Well, I am enjoying our conversation," I hedged.
"We can go to that new place over on Crescent Street. If you meet me there, then you can leave anytime you choose to," Nate offered.
"That sounds like a good idea, Nate."
Nate gave me a brief description of himself so I would recognize him. We decided on a time and ended the call. I looked at the clock and realized I only had an hour to get ready.
I worried the entire drive to the restaurant. Maybe I should have worn the green slacks. The blue skirt looked more casual but the brown dress was sexier. The red was quite flashy even though I felt confident in it. However, if I went for the sexy look he might think I was coming on to him. Before I stopped second-guessing my outfit, I was there.
The middle of the week usually meant a lighter crowd but not this week. Their parking lot was packed, but I finally found a spot one block down. I ended up hurrying to get inside on time. I kept going back to how Nate described himself so I would recognize him. Nothing he said would set him apart from other men. I was suddenly nervous.
The lobby was quite empty so I quickly looked around for Nate. One man sitting alone could be him ... one standing against the wall that I hoped was NOT him. Then I heard that voice. His back was to me so I had a few seconds to study him. Standing straight and confident, he had his shirt sleeves rolled up exposing his muscles. After a couple more minutes with the host, Nate turned.
"Hello, Nate," I said.
"Emily. You're beautiful," he remarked.
"Thank you. Your description doesn't do you justice, Nate," I told him with a grin.
"Wait ... How did you even know it was me? I had my back to you."
"Your voice gave you away," I admitted.
There would be a wait of twenty minutes so we took seats in the lobby. We picked up the conversation from earlier as if there had been no break.
"How long was this secretary with you, Nate?"
"Forever, it feels like, but only four weeks. I spent hours looking for the contracting forms today," he said. "Nothing is where you would expect it to be."
We talked about his office until our table was ready. He told me how shocked she was when he let her go. Apparently, she thought she was doing a great job, and that she had made his office much more organized for him. I laughed at the way he rolled his eyes as he relayed the scene.
Our meal was fantastic and the service was excellent. We lingered over coffee as we discussed topic after topic. When we decided to leave, Nate held my chair and gently laid his hand on my back to guide me through the restaurant. It felt good there, as if he was telling everyone I was his.
Discovering that we had parked in the same general area, we made our way to the cars. Talk went to the game coming up soon. I envied his friend, being able to go along and enjoy all those hours with Nate. Trying to think of a way to spend more time with him myself, it suddenly dawned on me.
"Nate, you said your files were a disaster and that you have no idea where things are."
"You can't even imagine what those drawers look like when I open them now. I keep thinking it should be simple. If I want a file in the "T's" it should be next to the "S's", but of course, it isn't. All the time I'm wasting finding things is less time I can work on new business, and it's so frustrating. I'm a small company, and I can't call a client and say I don't know where their file is, so I need more time to submit my bid."
"Well, I may be able to help with that. Are you willing to put up with me in the evenings for a while? Say for the next couple weeks?"
"Oh, somehow I don't think that will be a chore at all, Emily," Nate grinned as he replied.
"Then let me see if I can figure them out. My system might not be the best in the world, but I guarantee it will be alphabetical. You can help me if I need it, or get some of your own work done. What do you say? Sound like a good idea?"
Nate said nothing, just looked at me. I worried that I had over-stepped or rushed things.
"You've got a deal, Emily. The best thing that woman did for me was to program my phone with the wrong number."
My first night at his office came a few days after our dinner. We had decided I would just go there straight from work. However, the sight that greeted me was nothing like I had imagined. Nate hadn't exaggerated. Piles of folders sat on the floor, on top of the filing cabinets, even under the conference table. I just stood there, staring.
How could anyone have made this much chaos in so short a time? Nate had only put up with her for a few weeks. I couldn't even comprehend trying to work in this. No wonder he had been so frustrated. It would take hours to find any file you needed from this mess.
Where did I even start? I wasn't sure I dared open the cabinets. By the looks of the room though, they should be empty. Nate came into the room and laughed at my expression. I was embarrassed he had caught me.
"Now picture working with the person responsible for this disaster. Is it any wonder my phone was programmed wrong?" Nate asked.
"How did you ever survive with her as long as you did? I think after the first couple piles I would have been fed up already," I replied.
It amazed me how patient he had been with her. When he discovered the phone incident, he had called each number himself and apologized for her error. Then again, if he hadn't, I wouldn't be here today either, so for that part I was thankful at least.
"I'm not sure where to start, Nate. The filing cabinets must be about empty," I said.
"Emily, anything you do will be a huge improvement over this. Do you need my help?"
"The best way to do this is just dig in. You go get some work done, and if I need you, I'll let you know," I replied.
"That sounds great. I'm so far behind on work right now," he admitted.
Nate returned to his work, and soon I found myself enjoying the challenge. With all the drawers empty, I checked that the files had the right labels on them, and put them in alphabetical stacks. Soon I was humming along to the music coming from Nate's office. Not surprisingly, I found several folders marked with the same company name. By scanning over the information inside, I was able to put the correspondence in order, consolidate the file, and eliminate the duplicates.
At times, I heard Nate's voice as he made calls to clients, or spoke aloud. I lost track of time as I sorted stack after stack. The room still looked like a disaster when Nate walked in carrying several bags. He found an empty space at the table and smiled.
"All your favorites: sweet and sour chicken, extra sauce, soup, egg rolls, noodles, no rice, and tea," he stated.
I was overwhelmed. We had talked about my weakness for Chinese food during the initial phone call. Now here he was with everything I had mentioned. How many men paid attention that closely, especially when they hadn't even met yet?
"I'm impressed, Nate, that you remembered my preferences," I told him.
Digging in, we talked about how our day went, and how he felt better about getting some work caught up.
"The two contracts I'm working on are coming along great. Not having to deal with that woman and her daily disasters is fantastic," Nate stated.
"It's amazing you were able to work at all with her here."
"As I said before, I'm a small company, and I need to meet deadlines to keep the contracts I do have. Just knowing you were going to help with this mess has made me feel more optimistic," Nate told me.
"I've always been able to organize and arrange things. Keeping order in an office is simple if you start out using a simple system," I grinned.
"She didn't have anything simple here. Of course, without her, I need to hire someone new again. Interviewing isn't something I excel at," he admitted sheepishly.
"Just remember that the traits you looked for the last time didn't work out. If you ask more in-depth questions, you should be able to uncover their skills, habits and experience. Watch how they respond to you," I explained.
"I won't remember all that," he remarked.
"You can check into their training and of course past employment. Even watching how they enter the room can help," I went on.
"It sounds to me like you should do the interviews then. It's obvious I don't know how."
The groans coming from Nate when he admitted this made me feel sorry for him. Going through the interview process wasn't easy. Not everyone was able to read body language or see through the verbal answers given. Human Resources personnel often received training so they hired the best possible candidate for their company.
"Oh, sure, Nate, I can interview them all and pick one out. The first day on the job and you can't stand the sight of the new person. How would that be?" I teased, trying to get him to relax again.
"Then do the interviews with me. You can ask the questions and I'll sit back, adding a few things here and there. Please? It would be perfect. You know what to look for and I can tell you if I would be able to work with that person or not. I can set up the interviews for later in the day, when you can be here," he implored.
His plea, his solution, even the look in his eyes had me caving in. I went over the next weeks' workload in my head and realized I could fit this in by just shuffling a few things around. It wasn't the challenge of finding good help for him. No, it was the idea that I would be able to spend more time with him, an ulterior motive for sure.
"That might work. You have to be sure to participate in the interviews though. I don't want you stuck with another secretary like the last one," I hedged.
"It's a deal. I'll hire you to help me instead of some company that doesn't know me at all," he agreed.
"You won't hire me because I'm doing it to help out. I think you'll learn a bit about the hiring process as well."
Soon talk was back on Nate and I was able to notice more about him. Like that little scar near his lip, the scattering of freckles across his cheeks, even the way his eyes crinkled as he laughed. Yes, I was very glad she programmed his telephone wrong.
We each went back to work for a couple more hours until Nate came in declaring it time to stop for the night. He was shocked at how much progress there was in the room. I looked around and grinned. It felt good to have Nate impressed with the job I did.
I worked on organizing his filing cabinets for a couple more nights. Both nights went similar to the first one, with Nate busy at his own work, taking a break to get dinner for us. He was amazed at how quickly I had put things back in order.
As we talked, I learned more about him, including a bit about an ex-girlfriend. It gave me insight into him, though, as I tried to learn more about him. We never ran out of things to talk about. Sports came up often, since we were both big fans, even though we cheered for opposite teams.
Finally, I had everything back in order, and there was no reason to be at his office each night. The days flew by though as several times Nate called me after work just to talk. Already his work was back on schedule even though he had to answer the phones himself.
The first interviews were set up for the following Wednesday. It gave me time to work with Nate on some criteria to look for in the candidates with whom we would be meeting. We went over the resume's he received and I tried to point out my choices. We decided to start with five and see where that got us.
Leaving my office a bit early that first afternoon, I found I was excited. I had taken extra care in dressing, not only to look professional for the candidates with whom we would meet, but for Nate as well.
"Boy, I'm glad to see you! I was so worried you would get tied up at the office, leaving me here alone," Nate said.
I had to chuckle at the dismayed look on his face.
"Nate, you know I would never do that to you. My calendar was cleared for this last week already."
Standing next to his desk, I laid my briefcase down, intending to pull out the notes I had made before the interviews.
"You have no idea how grateful I am that you're helping me, Emily. My judgment wasn't so good last time and now I'm afraid to choose on my own. You know all that already. However, it's more than that. Just having you here, near me, makes my day brighter. When this is all over, I want to see more of you, outside of the office."
The feel of Nate's thumb on my bottom lip as he spoke sent chills down my spine. I struggled to keep track of what he was telling me.
"I'd like that too, Nate, very much so," I whispered.
We might have said more, but the sound of the outer door opening brought our attention back to the office. Shaking myself to get my thoughts to the proper subject, I turned along with Nate to greet the first potential new employee for his office.