Compliance Risk

Jayne Renault
8 mins read
Published almost 4 years ago
Chapter 2

Projected Figures

I replayed the scenes from our night in the back alley on loop for weeks.

And I was actually in the middle of some particularly heavy daydreams at my desk one day when my vibrating phone shook me back to reality. I looked at the name on the screen and smiled.


As many benefits as there are to the freelancer lifestyle, sometimes you need a reason to put clothes on and leave the house to maintain the quality of your output. To combat the stagnancy I was starting to feel after too much time in my home office, I decided to start making use of a new co-working space that had opened up in my neighborhood. And it turned out my new digs were in the same building as Dan and his most recent start-up venture. Not long after I'd moved in, I ran into him in the elevator.

I’ve known Dan for a while. In fact, he was one of the first people I met in town when I first moved here. Because he is my roommate’s older brother and the two of them are quite close, I’ve had ample opportunity to get to know him. And right from our first meeting, I’ve appreciated having the opportunity to chat with him. He is a wealth of knowledge on all kinds of adulting stuff that I don’t really understand (but probably should learn) – business, real estate, investments, getting rid of a body, etc.

You know. The important stuff.

But it’s often a struggle to get to Dan when there are so many other people around because, well, everyone wants a piece of the Dan pie just as much as I do.

Lucky for me though, this new context of being neighbors gave me the chance for me to pick his business-savvy brain now and then without as much distraction.

All that is to say that when he invited me to join him and his boys for some end-of-the-day beers, I happily accepted the offer.

Apparently, it was beer day again and he wanted to know if I’d be joining.

I guess they hadn't minded my company last time after all. 

Without hesitation, I packed up my gear and left the empty office for the day. I’m usually the last one of the last to clock out of the space because I inherited my father’s workaholism, plus I don’t have dogs, children, or boyfriends waiting for me to check in.

I headed up a few floors to another high-ceilinged hallway identical to the one I just left. Slowing my pace as I approached the nondescript door that I was looking for, I let myself in. I found their tech guy — whose name I seriously can never remember — chilling at the table in the adjacent boardroom.

“Hey, buddy!” Dan is a big bear of a man with the fiery beard of a young Santa and the warm, booming voice to match. “Welcome, welcome. Come on in.”

He handed me a brown bottle from a box on the table. He noticed me notice that the box was nearly empty.

“Don’t worry,” he said with a wink. “More brews are on their way.”

Almost on cue, I heard two more sets of footsteps and the clinking of a full case of beer enter the room behind me.

“How’s it goin', boys?”

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle to attention. I didn't need to see the face to recognize his voice. I legitimately took a couple of calming breaths before turning slowly to face them. 

If James had recognized me from behind, he didn't give anything away. "Jayne," he said simply when our eyes met. He gave me a nod, politely tipping his imaginary hat at me, and he and his colleague Jeremy moved to place their offering on the table.

Without breaking eye contact with me, Dan gave each of them an appreciative pat on the back as they walked by.

“So?” Dan said, directing his full attention back to me. “How are things?”

“Oh, you know. Things are good.” I paused a moment to enjoy that satisfying fizzle of a fresh-cracked beer, smiled, and raised my bottle to him. “Things are a bit better now.” 

We clinked our bottlenecks together and took hearty swigs while the others settled in.

I don't know why I wanted to be more involved in the boys’ shoptalk. But I really did. I felt like I'd made my way into some secret club and wanted to consolidate my membership. 

However, if we’re being honest, I’m generally intimidated by how out-of-my-element those conversations make me feel. I supposed that’s part of why I put myself into these situations – forcing myself outside my comfort zone for the sake of some kind of growth. The one problem is that when I feel like I have nothing to add or they step out for a cigarette together, what would end up happening is that I’d get stuck chatting nonsense outside my scope of understanding with the socially awkward tech guy.

So that's obviously exactly what happened that day too.

I tried not to let my boredom show, and Tech Guy might not have noticed, but James was definitely on to me.

“Looks like you might need a refill,” he said from across the table when he came back in from outside.

I looked to my right. Tech Guy was checking his phone for something he felt particularly adamant about showing me. I glanced down at the bottle in my hands. There were still a few good mouthfuls left, but I pounded it back in one big gulp. “Looks like you might be right,” I said and circled around to James’s side of the table.

James cracked my next beer for me. I made a point of asking incredibly vague questions about his business to give him a reason to keep him talking at length. He went on to tell me about a very successful presentation they had given that afternoon to some heavy-hitting clients. Apparently, it had gone really well.

I was enthralled, but also a little confused by the nuanced concepts of his business that he was trying to describe to me. James could tell. “Here, why don’t I just show you.”

He directed my attention to the screen on the wall. While he fiddled with his laptop, which was still connected to the projector from the afternoon’s presentation, I shamelessly examined the contours of his face.

Between the five of us, the beers went down pretty quick.

Dan was on the phone, as he often is. He punctuated his conversation by draining his bottle and declaring to us that he had something that he had to deal with.

“Shouldn’t take too long,” he added.

Dan is always hustling, seeing men about dogs and stuff.

“I’ll meet you guys at the pub down the street in, what, half an hour or so?”

I still had half a beer. I noticed that James did too. But Jeremy and Tech Guy were ready to make the move to the pub and didn’t have the patience to wait for us to finish. 

“I don’t want to lose this buzz,” Jeremy announced. “We’re going to the pub right now. See you guys there.”

And with that, they were all gone, leaving James and me alone together for the first time since that night in the alley.

The room was quiet, except for the droning whirr of the projector overhead. 

“So, how’ve you been?” he asked. His delivery was always so flat, but never rude.

I was about to scoff all the same, but managed to catch myself. 

I feel like you could come up with a better ice-breaker better than that, sir. You've been inside me so...

“Good, I guess?” 

James grabbed the last two bottles from the case, looked me up and down, and stopped when he found my eyes again. “You look fantastic,” he said cracking open the first bottle and handing it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, struggling not to break eye contact. The intensity of his gaze tied my intestines in knots.

James took a sip of his own beer. “I don’t think I’ve seen you since…”

“Since our last cigarette,” I said with a grin, alluding to that moment we should never have shared.

“Yeah.” He mirrored my smirk. “That.”

Prolonged silence. Staring. Sipping. Looking away. Staring again.

“Speaking of cigarettes.” James pulled the carton from his pocket and put one in his mouth. He draped his coat over his shoulder and he strode across the hall with the cool elegance of a catwalk model adorned in business attire.

As he slid his arms into the sleeves and opened the door to the fire escape, he turned back to see if I was following. “You coming?” 

It was cold that night. Winter was definitely on its way.

Shielding it from the chilled breeze with a cupped hand, James held his lighter to my lips and ignited my cigarette. I took a long, sultry drag, and tipped my head back to welcome the venomous smoke into my lungs.

We stood so close that our bodies pressed lightly against each other. I tried to hide my sheepish smile while he pretended not to notice.

Come on, James. I know you feel me. 

We silently exhaled our mild anxiousness into the night. But it was short-lived because of course, I slipped on the wet metal under foot and fell fully into him. I wish I could say I did it on purpose, but I only have my inherent awkwardness to blame.

“You okay?” James said, laughing softly at my clumsiness.

“Just fine.” I blushed. The heat radiating subtly through his coat both was both reassuring and intimidating and I held him a little longer than I had to under the guise of steadying myself.

I figured he'd be wanting to move on soon to meet up with our friends. But when we went back inside, he took off his jacket and placed it on the back of one of those big leather chairs again. 

I didn’t remember us turning the lights off, but the boardroom was lit solely by the projector that was still humming patiently overhead then.

James leaned against a side table near the wall with his arms crossed, beer in hand, as he watched me finally remove my jacket and toss it over his.

I grabbed my own beer, and leaned across from him on the lip of the massive boardroom table. 

Blips of unnecessary chatter passed between us until the words ran dry. Then we just glared at each other, waiting for the other to break.

“Just come over here already,” he said, uncrossing his arms and extending one hand towards me.

My foot fell carefully, soundlessly on the carpet as I moved towards him. On one hand, I was hesitant, nervous, worried about the potential consequences of taking that final step.

But the other hand was already recklessly throwing caution out into the winter wind.

Once I was close enough to accept his invitation, James pulled me by the hand in towards him, and leaned into me like he was about to lead me through a dance for the first time.

But I already know this dance. And I'm not so sure I want to follow this lead.

Is there any way this can end well for us?

I felt the warmth of his palms on the ledge of my hips, and our foreheads touched as we breathed together. It was passionate, sensual, and bizarrely comfortable.

My hands moved up to his face, around his neck and to the back of his head. Eyes closed, our lips hovered around each other without ever fully touching.

Gradually, our mouths moved cautiously towards each other until a single, extended kiss passed between us, and he held me a little closer. I felt like I might fall through the floor if he let me go.

“Fuck, Jay. You still turn me on,” he said, trailing his words on his lips. “So much.”

His confession made me tingle from my feet all the way to the bridge of my nose. I felt like I might sneeze, but I giggled instead. With one hand running through my hair, the other on the small of my back, he guided me backwards to the table ledge and paused to stare at me again.

“One day, I’ll be able to look at you.” He nuzzled into me and buried the words into my neck. “All of you.” He kissed my collarbone. “Without having to rush any of this.”

“One day,” I said, forlornly. “But until then…”

I leaned back on to the table, inviting him to follow me, and shimmied back far enough for him to crawl on top of me. On all fours, he lowered his face towards mine and kissed me with more intent than before. He moved his mouth down my neck, and my hands were free to untuck his shirt, exploring up the length of his back. I wrapped my legs up and around him as we writhed on the table, blurred forms glowing in the silver-blue wash of the projector lights.

His hand was on my thigh, my hip, my ass. Squeeze. He nibbled on my shoulder, up my neck, behind my ear. Swoon.

James raked his fingers lightly up along my inner thigh. “Is this what you want?” he said. 

I felt myself dilate, and release again. My clit was tingling hot at the prospect of his touch. I felt my entire vulva expand, demanding that he keep going. 

It is. I do. I want this. I want you. Desperately. But.

But my heart started beating much faster than it should have, and I choked.

“I don’t know what I want,” I admitted. “I can’t deny how I feel about you.” I broke eye contact with him, recoiling into the eclipse of his face. “How I’ve always felt about you. But-”

“I know,” he said. He encouraged me to look at him, guiding me by the jaw back into the steady stream of pale blue glow. “I feel the same way.”

My pulse was still racing and I felt a lump swell in my throat. I stared into the lens of the projector to validate my tears.

“We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” he said stroking my hair reassuringly.

“'Want' is a fickle thing,” I sneered at him, followed by a tiny sniffle. “I think we’ve pushed this as far as we can tonight,” I added. “Jeremy will already be too drunk to notice how long it’s been, but Dan will probably be getting to the pub soon.”

James helped me sit up on the table. I lingered there for a moment, staring at the oversized screen to my left. The paused video had been swapped out for murky prisms swirling in and around a sea of ink-black.

He thumbed my jawline again and wrapped his protective arms around me. I hesitated at first, but soon succumbed to the familiar comfort of his embrace.

We walked out the front door of the building and into the cold. Before returning to the real world, I desperately wanted to pull him back to me, to hold him close for one more moment, to kiss him one more time.

Or just erase the last half hour. I would take that too. 

Not because I regret it, but because I'm just not ready to deal with... whatever this is. 

Or whatever it isn't.

My heated internal argument sputtered, and my lack of a decision became one in and of itself. Somewhat dejected by my own reticence, I followed a few paces behind him down the steps to the sidewalk. 

The chilly rain stinging my face masked the hot tears swelling in my eyes, and washed away whatever was left of my fire that night.