In Love and War by Kyra Parsi

1

The memory of the first time we met had been on a constant loop inside my head for the last three days, fueling my nerves. Because my brain’s favorite pastime was to torture me. I was convinced of it.

It was almost exactly seven years ago. He’d worn a charcoal-grey suit with a black shirt and tie, complemented by silver cufflinks and dark brown leather shoes. No watch, which had been surprising. The majority of the suited men that hung around my father’s office, including my father, wore the cost of my tuition around their wrists.

He was also younger than the people I was used to seeing around here, in his early to midtwenties for sure. Black hair neatly swept away from his face and to the side, light brown skin, almond-shaped eyes, and a jawline I imagined men would show their plastic surgeons as the ideal end result.

He was walking perfection. I’m talking Brazilian model on the cover of GQ portraying a Greek god level of perfection. I wish I was exaggerating. It would make things a lot easier if I was.

I, on the other hand, was an awkward high school student who had just come from begging her orthodontist to take her braces off before she was set to head off to college (the answer had been no. Apparently I hadn’t been as diligent with my elastics as I’d been instructed. And arguing with her did not work—I’d tried).

I was young, went to an all-girls school, and didn’t have a lot of experience being around cute boys. So please keep all that in mind and go easy on me during this next part… and also maybe the next few parts after that, because he was a hot older guy, and I was seventeen.

“Milly, meet Zac,” I’d managed to hear my father say through the deafening sound of my heart pounding in my ears as Zac turned his attention toward me. “He’s the associate you’ll be reporting to during your summer internship. I have to warn you though, he’s a tough one. Reminds me a bit of myself when I was his age!” my father laughed, patting his employee on the back.

I barely registered what he’d said. Zac’s eyes were such a deep, dark ocean blue that they almost didn’t look real. Almost.

“Hello, Amelia.” A hand reached toward me, waiting. I grabbed it, exceedingly aware of how sweaty and clammy my palms must be. “Pleased to meet you. Mr. Bloom speaks very highly of you.”

It felt like the sun crashed into the moon and exploded into stars inside my chest when he smiled at me. Straight white teeth accompanied by a single dimple on his left cheek.

And as the last ounce of sanity left my seventeen-year-old body, my lungs malfunctioned.

Like, I physically could not speak or exhale.

Afraid I might cough, choke, and embarrass myself, I just nodded and pulled my hand out of his warm grasp.

“Everything alright, darling?” My father asked, his thick eyebrows furrowed.

Okay, maybe I had yanked it back. In my defense, nothing was functioning properly. Any etiquette training drilled into my head over the years was not applicable in that moment.

My lack of response to his question did not go unnoticed. “Milly? You look a little flushed. Are you okay?” He looked legitimately worried as he placed his palm on my forehead to check my temperature. I wanted to die.

“Yes, sorry. I’m fine,” I managed, lightly swatting his hand away. I was looking at the floor, hoping they couldn’t see how much more red my cheeks had become.

“Jasmine, bring some water to my office for Milly, would you?”

“Right away, Mr. Bloom.” I heard my father’s assistant’s pleasant voice on the speaker and let out the breath I’d been holding, still staring at the floor.

Jasmine had a very centered and calming presence. I could not relate.

While the three of us waited, my father began to talk about Zac’s growing list of accomplishments at the company in the two short years he’d been working there. How, as the youngest member of the team at only twenty-four years old, he’d already secured their largest account and had all his clients absolutely raving about his creativity and work ethic.

Jasmine walked in with the water a few minutes later and handed it over to me with a wink before leaving. She’d thoughtfully put a lemon slice in there, knowing I’d want one.

Looking back, there were too many distractions. That’s one of the reasons why my idiot, young brain failed to pick up on what was really going on. It failed to fully register the joy and pride in my father’s voice as he talked about his new favorite employee. It was the same tone he used whenever he introduced me as the “future CEO of Bloom & Co. Advertising” to his coworkers and clients.

Maybe if I’d actually paid attention instead of concentrating on sipping my water without revealing that my hands were shaking, attempting to keep my heart rate at a nonlethal level, and actively trying to steal glances of Zac without him noticing, I would have picked up on the fact that one day this whole thing might blow up spectacularly in my face. I would have understood and then maybe come up with a plan to do something about it.

But I’d barely listened.

Once I’d left the office and the initial nerves from the interaction died down, the excitement started to settle in. This internship was something I’d been looking forward to since I was a kid. It was my dream to work with my dad. And the whole thing had just gotten a million times better.

Zac was so hot. And he was going to be my boss! I just had to figure out how to get my brain and mouth to work properly around him. Preferably both at the same time.

Also, I needed some new clothes. Grown-up, professional office attire.

So, I called my best friend and excitedly told him about the meeting, gushed over Zac, and we planned a trip to the mall.

That’s what I did. Instead of preparing.

FML.