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  • Amanda Aksel

Delia Suits Up | Chapter One

Updated: Jul 19



Stay positive. That's everyone's advice, as if enduring optimism is some kind of elixir. Lately, positive doesn't cut it.

The antique clock's ticking pulse fills the room. It's been thirty-two seconds since he's said a word. I watch his reflection on the sleek mahogany desk scan my resume up and down. Up and down. What's he looking for? Waldo? We've already established I'm well qualified for this position. I cross my fingers, keeping them hidden beneath my padfolio.

This guy's view of the city stretches all the way to the East River. The window alone is half the square footage of the apartment I share with two roommates. He shifts again in his plush leather chair, grazing his bristly mustache with his fingertips. Twelve seconds later, he peers over the rim of his glasses and draws in a slow breath while I hold mine. Monty Fuhrmann is one of the top investment banking firms in the world. Landing a position here would mean being a part of larger-than-life deals with a paycheck to match. It's more than a job. It's a dream come true.

Okay, Delia. Stay positive.

"Mrs. Reese," he says, sliding the stiff paper forward.

"It's Miss, or you can call me Delia. It's very important that you know I'm a Miss. I'm not married. No children. I don't even have a boyfriend. Who needs the distraction? Am I right?" I say as if handing him a good-ole-boys brandy.

I clear my throat, resenting the fact that as a woman in this industry it's better for me to admit that I have no life. And no prospect of having one either. He's probably wanted to ask me ever since my resume came across his desk. But legally . . . he can't.

He says nothing.

Maybe if I tell him that I've spent the last three nights in bed with a pint of Häagen-Dazs, he'll hire me on the spot.

"What I mean to say is that work is my life, and I will make this job and this firm my life if you hire me." My fist falls softly on my padfolio. I wish I had the balls to bang it on his shiny desk.

He raises his brow. "Right . . ."

Right.

Of course that's all I get.

It's typical in this industry for men to dismiss women. To them, we're temporary fixtures around the office, bound to meet and marry Prince Charming, experience the miracle of childbirth after a miserable nine months of sobriety, then ultimately crumble under the pressure of balancing mommyhood with an intense career. We're gone as quickly as we arrived; off to spend our mornings watching cartoons with small people, cleaning messy faces, and running bake sales with the other career abandoners. But that's not me. I have as much potential as the applicants without ovaries. And I'm dedicated. The most dedicated, in fact, and yet, I have to sit here beaming pleasantly and plead my case.

Mr. Mustache returns a smile. "Your resume's very impressive. Any firm would be happy to have you on."

That sounds promising.

"It was nice to meet you, Miss Reese. We'll let you know."

Right. Translation-we're not interested. I catch myself frowning and immediately force a smile. Staying positive is like a full-time job in itself. I was optimistic after I was laid off, hopeful when I went on my first five interviews. But I'm not sure how much longer my bank account will stay positive.

He rises and extends a hand. I jump to my feet so I can meet his eye line, or meet it as best as I can. These heels give me an extra three inches.

I muster my solid I'm as good as any man handshake like it makes a difference. "I'll look forward to your call."

Walking back through the polished waiting area, I see nothing but suits and ties. The only other woman is the receptionist behind the front desk. I swipe my lips with a fresh coat of Fierce Crimson on the elevator ride down to the thirty-second floor. That's where I'll find Eric. He's my friend and colleague from the Howard Brothers Group. We were laid off along with a bunch of others after the merger. That was four months ago. Eric's been employed here for three. Rows of desks set up with bright LED monitors and ergonomic keyboards fill the floor. Young underwriters talk into their headsets while typing away into sophisticated software programs. I catch tiny fragments of their conversations-capital, prospectus, issue price, shareholder, syndicate-dialogue that always energizes me. That's how this industry is. Never a dull day. For a moment, I forget I'm not one of them anymore and hold my head high. This is my playground.

When I was little, Giggles candies were my favorite-especially the watermelon flavor. Every paper wrapper had a silly saying written on the inside, almost like a funny fortune cookie. My favorite one said, "a bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don't need it." Out of all my fourth-grade friends, I was the only one who got the joke, which made me feel special. Granted, my dad is a financier with his own firm.

He took me to the Giggles candy factory once for a private tour. I sampled so many sweets that day that I couldn't stomach dinner. Dad explained that it was his company that helped Giggles grow so big that lots of kids like me could enjoy those funny treats. His eyes radiated pride as we walked the factory lines that day. That's when I decided that I wanted to help companies grow too. And I wanted to be the best at it because if I were the best, maybe he'd look at me with the same pride. That's why I came to Wall Street, to play with the big boys, which now that I think about it doesn't leave much room for big girls like me. And my current circumstances are proof of that.

Eric peeks around his own monitor, catching me with his alluring eyes. My breath gets stuck in my throat. I don't usually go for the whole blue-eyed-blond thing, but he makes my temperature rise like a bull market.

"Hey, Delia!" There's something thrilling about the way he says my name. I could listen to him say Delia all day long and never get sick of it. "Did you kill it? You're starting Monday, right?"

Kill it?

Sure. A little piece of me dies every time I have to fake it twice as much as any guy interviewing for the same position.

"It was all right," I say, attempting a casual lean on his desk, but my sweaty palm slips off the edge. I recover quickly, wiping it on my tailored Kate Spade skirt. Between interviewing for the job of my dreams and being close to my crush, it's not just my palms that are damp. "Is it warm in here?" I fan my face.

"Um, feels fine to me." He rolls a chair over from the neighboring desk. An empty desk that would be mine if only things were different.

"Why don't you sit down for a minute? Take off your blazer." He scoots his chair so close to mine that we're practically in the same breathing space. I slip off my jacket, revealing bare shoulders, but his eyes don't fall below my chin.

Why do I torture myself with him? I've been doing it since the moment we met more than two years ago. I don't think he wants me. These days it doesn't seem like anyone wants me.

"Tell me about the interview," he says.

I sigh. "I'm pretty sure they're not gonna hire me."

"Why not? You're perfect for this place! You're smart, driven, dedicated." See! Eric gets it. He gets me. "Every time we've encountered a problem with this IPO we're working on, I always think, Delia would know how to fix it." He leans in on his elbows and my heart beats faster. If he gets any closer, I might take off more than my blazer.

I push the floor with my black pumps and roll back a couple feet, tucking my arms in just to be safe. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but you know how this industry is."

He arches an eyebrow, and I find myself biting my lower lip. "You mean the good-ole-boys club."

"Exactly." The term makes me cringe. When has there ever been a good-ole-girls club? I shrug and glance down at his freshly polished shoes. "Maybe I'd get the job if I were applying to be an analyst or, I don't know, a receptionist."

"Hey, look at me. You should stay positive. I have a good feeling about this." There's that word again. He smiles, a gleam sparkling in his eyes. Wish I were feeling as bright. "Besides, if it's not this firm, another one will scoop you up."

Scoop me up? Why can't he scoop me up, like ice cream, and lick me all over until I completely melt away? That would be very positive.

"Maybe, but I can't keep going like this much longer," I say.

"What does that mean?" His eyes try to connect with mine, but I don't look into them. I know he'll see what I've been hiding from him all this time.

I pick at my unpainted fingernails. "I'm running low on reserves. This city isn't cheap, you know?"

"So, what, you might leave New York?" He lifts my chin and I breathe deep, subtly taking in all I can. Calvin Klein has never smelled better on anyone. He drops his hand after only a second. My body tingles in the wake of his touch. Everywhere.

"Yeah." I shiver, looking over his shoulder past the gray cubicles to the wide window that frames the city skyline like a panoramic postcard-If you can make it here . . .

The thought of moving back home with my tail between my legs makes me want to vomit the PB and J I ate for lunch. Especially after working so hard to get into an Ivy League university and making my way to this metropolitan mecca. I can't count how many high school parties and nights on the beach I missed with my friends so I could study at home and make more of myself than just another one of my father's employees.

"You're not thinking of going back to Boca Raton, are you?" he asks. I wince and smooth my hair at the thought of South Florida humidity. That place is my living hell. So much worse than living unemployed in the Big Apple.

"I might not have a choice. I have to make money, and there's a position waiting for me at my dad's investment firm." My desperation increases every day I'm out of a real job. Otherwise, I wouldn't even consider retreating.

"It's none of my business, but couldn't your dad just lend you the money until you get another job?"

Man, he'd love that. I can hear him now. "Delia, I don't know why you have to make things harder on yourself. I told you that you should've stayed here and worked for me and your brothers. After all, we're family." That's the problem. In the family, I'm the youngest. And female. They treat me like a little girl at home, and they'll treat me like a little girl in business. I'm not a little girl. I'm a fucking woman.

"I don't think so. It's complicated," I say.

His eyes narrow and his tongue peeks between his lips. I love his thinking face. If only he were thinking about putting his tongue between my . . . um, lips.

Geez. I don't know what I need more, to get a job or to get laid. Both would be fantastic.

"Well, if I ever get the chance to put in a good word for you, I will."

"Thanks, Sinatra. I appreciate you trying to help." I dubbed him with the nickname after being bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by the sparkle of his ol' blue eyes one night while we were enjoying a few after-work cocktails. He laughed, saying despite those eyes, no one had ever called him that, but he liked it. I've been using it ever since, mostly for the more sentimental moments. Sentimental to me, at least.

He puts his hand on my naked shoulder, and this time I can't look away. "The truth is, I'd miss you if you left the city." His words set off what feels like a swarm of butterflies fluttering around my insides.

"You would?" Is this it? Is this the moment I should tell him? What do I have to lose besides my longtime friend and what's left of my dignity?

My gaze trails to his hand still resting on my shoulder, and he gives me a playful shove. "Of course! You're one of my best friends."

All the winged creatures flapping in my stomach drop dead. I'm not sure which is worse: being rejected for a job because I'm a woman or being rejected by a man because I'm a friend. I slouch back into the chair, lowering my eyes to the floor again.

"You okay, Delia?"

I look up at his concerned face. "I'm fine. Why?"

"You just don't quite seem like yourself lately." Maybe that's because I don't feel like myself when I'm not doing what I love. "You seem . . . deflated."

"Deflated?" And here I was thinking I've been doing a pretty good job of staying positive.

"It's understandable. I know it's been a rough few months. But . . ." He casually slides his chair back and retrieves a small white box from his desk drawer. "I got you something that might cheer you up."

I spot the bakery logo on the side. "Is that a Brooklyn blackout cupcake?" My cheeks flush at the thought of him buying me a gift.

Donning a sweet smile, Eric sets the treat down and reveals a tiny white candle. "Your favorite. It's for your birthday tomorrow."

I smooth my flyaways back behind my ear and grin like I've just been hired at Monty Fuhrmann. "I can't believe you remembered my birthday."

"That's what best friends are for." A small flame sparks from a lighter in his fist as he mimics a vocal warm-up. "Me-me, me-me, meee."

"Wait!" I wave my hand over the unlit candle. "What are you doing?"

He lets out a small laugh. "Warming up my pipes to sing 'Happy Birthday.' What does it look like I'm doing?"

My eyes shift right then left, catching a couple of glances from Eric's coworkers whose attention we've seemed to capture. "Maybe later."

"All right." He places the dark cupcake and candle back in the box. "Can I at least buy you an early birthday latte?"

“Now?”


“Yeah, I’ve been here since seven. I could use a break.”


The digits on my cell phone remind me there’s no wiggle room in my schedule. Of course he’s being all cute and available now. I let out a sigh and tuck the phone back into my prized Gucci briefcase, a gift to myself after I got my first big bonus last year. I’ve been trying to reconcile the fact that I may need to trade it for rent money. “Wish I could, but I have another interview.” Lie.


His eyes widen. “Oh, yeah? What firm?”


“S.G. Croft.” Liar, liar, pink panties on fire.


“Two major interviews in one day. Impressive. I’ll walk you out.”


“Thanks.” I smile and slip back into my blazer, grateful for the extra time with him. With my Gucci and cupcake in tow, I follow him toward the elevator.


“For fuck’s sake!” a man barks.


BANG! The raging executive’s office door slams shut as we walk by.


“What’s his problem?” I ask out of the side of my mouth.


“Who knows? That’s Curtis Becker for ya. Shortest fuse on the planet.” Eric hits the button to go down.


That’s Curtis Becker? The managing director?” I glance back at the hothead’s closed door, wondering how guys like him end up with executive positions like that. Eric nods with a look that mirrors my confusion and we ride the elevator to the first floor.


“So what are you working on now?” I ask once we make it outside of the bustling lobby.


“We’ve got the Ezeus pitch on Friday.”


“Seriously?”


Eric’s been talking about this deal ever since he began working here. His smirk exudes confidence. I don’t even remember the last time I looked as confident.


“Damn, I would love to get in on that.”


The Ezeus IPO is the kind of deal that bankers fantasize about. It’s rumored to be huge. Ezeus is the only operating system that rivals the top two. One of those nerd‑to‑billionaire business fairy tales.


Monty Fuhrmann helped them get off the ground and they’ve been loyal clients ever since. No doubt they’ll land a spot in the syndicate.


“So what’s the plan?” I miss talking business.


He snickers. “Exactly what you think it is. This is Monty Fuhrmann. We’ll take the lead, run the whole show, and make a shitload of money.”


“You sure Fairbanks is gonna go for that after the last big IPO this firm took charge of?”


He shrugs. “Curtis Becker certainly thinks so.”


What I would give to be in Becker’s position. “Call me Friday and tell me all about it. I’m dying to know what happens.”


“I will,” he says, flashing his pearly teeth. “And don’t worry. I have a feeling your luck’s about to change.”


From anyone else, the notion would’ve sounded trite, but from him, it sings of possibility. I want it to be true. Whether he’s right or dead wrong, something has to change. Soon.


I hold up the little gift box. “Thanks for the cupcake.”


“You’re welcome. If I don’t talk to you tomorrow, have a happy birthday, okay?” He pats my shoulder like I’m his buddy. “Now, go dazzle the executives at S.G. Croft.”


The edges of my mouth pull back in a tight- lipped smile. I hate that I’ve lied to him. But it’s better than explaining where I’m really going.




Wanna find out where Delia's really going? Get your copy of Delia Suits up!




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