“I completely understand,” I said. “I am sorry for my unprofessional actions on Friday afternoon. I can assure you that it will not happen again.”
“Thank you,” Robin said. “As I mentioned, there is no punishment right now, but this is your warning. If you continue to have a relationship, there will be jobs on the line. Do you both understand this?”
“Yes,” I said. Cayden hesitated, but finally answered.
“Yes,” he said. I could tell that he was upset. I was, too, but I wasn’t going to make a scene in front of Robin and Tim. I would have to talk to Cayden about it later. In private.
Robin and Tim excused us. I walked back into my office. I shut the door and sunk into my chair, feeling extremely embarrassed.
“What happened?” Nikki turned in her chair. I felt my cheeks burning from the embarrassment. I’d tried so hard to keep mine and Cayden’s relationship a secret, only to get caught. I did feel lucky that we weren’t going to get in trouble right now. I couldn’t imagine losing this job. I’d worked hard to get this far. I couldn’t let a relationship allow me to lose my job.
“Someone caught us kissing last week,” I confessed. Nikki’s eyes grew wide with surprise.
“Damn, girl,” she said. “Rule number one of office relationships, no hanky panky at the job!”
“I know,” I said. “I thought it was short and sweet, but apparently, we had someone watching us. Now I can either choose my job or choose Cayden.”
“Shit, what are you going to choose?” Nikki asked. Although it wasn’t an easy answer, I told her the truth.
“I am choosing my job,” I told her. “Cayden is a great guy, but this job is an amazing opportunity and stepping stone for my career.”
“I get it,” Nikki said sympathetically. “I would probably choose the same thing if it came down to this job or Maurice. It really sucks that you have to choose between the two. I’m sorry.”
“I should have expected it, I guess,” I said. “I just feel like an asshole now, and like the managers don’t think I take this job seriously.”
“I’m sure they don’t think that!” Nikki exclaimed. “You just need to focus on your work and keep your head down going forward.”
I agreed. I would need to show them that I was serious about my job and not let Cayden interfere with the progress that I’d already made here. I liked my job and my co-workers. I could not let anything jeopardize that. I would need to call things off with him. Maybe he was planning on doing the same thing. Neither of us wanted to lose our jobs.
I worked quietly for the rest of the morning, staying at my desk. I didn’t even get up to go to the bathroom. I was too nervous about running into anyone, especially Cayden. I wasn’t ready for a confrontation, especially at the office.
“I am going to go grab a smoothie for lunch,” I told Nikki around lunchtime. She looked up from her desk.
“Sounds good,” she said. “I brought my lunch today, so I don’t need anything.”
I left the office without running into anyone. Cayden was in his office on the phone when I left. I didn’t think he even saw me leave, but as I was walking down the street, I heard my name.
“Tiffany!” Cayden’s voice was behind me. I turned around and he began jogging toward me. He had found me. I cursed myself in my head. I should have just stayed in my office. He wasn’t brave enough to visit me there. He was waiting to get me outside of the office to talk.
“I am so sorry about earlier,” he apologized. “I should never have put you in that position. I feel just awful about it.”
I felt awkward stopping to talk to him, but I assumed since we weren’t in the office, we couldn’t get in trouble. Plus, I needed to talk to him and end things. Maybe I would talk to Robin this afternoon and tell her that things were officially over. I needed to smooth things over as much as possible.
“It’s fine,” I said. “I deserve to get in trouble as much as you did. I didn’t exactly stop the kiss.”
He grinned widely.
“I promise that will never happen again,” Cayden said. “I will keep my hands off you at work. To be fair, there was mistletoe. If they don’t want us kissing, don’t hang up mistletoe, right?”
I bit my bottom lip nervously.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “We didn’t get in trouble. We just need to lay low at work for a bit and it will blow over. It’s okay.”
I shook my head.
“It isn’t okay, Cayden,” I told him. “We are lucky we both didn’t lose our jobs. We need our jobs. We don’t necessarily need to be hooking up with each other.”
His face fell as I finished my sentence.
“We can still do both,” he said. “We can date but keep it on the down low. No messing around at work. No one has to know.”
I shook my head. Although I didn’t want to give up Cayden, I really did not want to give up my job. Prior to this, I hadn’t been able to find anything in the journalism field. If I lost this job, I would probably end up in retail again.
“Do you really think I am going to let work interfere with our relationship?” Cayden asked. I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t expect him to fight me on this, especially since he had such a high-level position. Cayden took his job very seriously, so he should have taken Robin’s threat as seriously as I did. Plus, he was also a single father. He needed income to provide for Austin.
“Did you not hear Robin say that if we continued our relationship that our jobs would be on the line? I’m sure you would be safe, but they would fire me in a heartbeat, and I can’t wager my job,” I told him. He grabbed for my hand, but I pulled it away.
“Tiffany, I know that you’re worried about your job, but trust me, you don’t have to be. Robin only said that stuff because she had to. If we keep it quiet, nothing will happen. Please, don’t let this get in your head. We have something really good.”
Why was he making this so difficult? Why didn’t he seem the least bit fazed by what Robin had said? I’d worried about it all morning, but he was acting as if it was no big deal.
“You need to respect my decision,” I said, suddenly gaining strength. “I need this job. You need your job. Miami is full of single people that we can date outside of the work place. It has nothing to do with you personally…”
“The hell it does!” Cayden interrupted me. It was the first time that I’d heard him upset. “You’re trying to end our relationship before it even has a chance to begin. I am not letting you go this easily.”
He pleaded with me through his brown eyes. I sighed. It was pointless fighting with him. He didn’t understand where I was coming from. I was the new girl, the bottom of the barrel at the workplace. I was easily replaceable. They could hire another fact checker within days. He was safer than I was. No one was going to fuck with him.
“It’s over, Cayden,” I said. “Please just accept that and leave me alone.”
I walked away before he could protest. Although I felt sad that I’d ended things with Cayden, I also felt strangely empowered. I’d never walked away from someone before. I never ended a relationship or even a friendship. I felt more confident and in charge than ever before. Who was this new Tiffany that I was quickly becoming?
I hadn’t talked to Tiffany since Monday afternoon on the street. I still could not believe that she was willing to give us up so quickly. I know that she respected Robin and Tim and wanted to keep her job, but it wasn’t as black and white as she thought. There were gray areas, too. Gray areas where we could still each other if it didn’t interfere with our work life.
I’d discussed it with Tim yesterday afternoon. He told me that he had to play the bad guy once Robin got him involved. But, he did say that if I kept it a secret and no one at work knew, he would be fine with it. I still didn’t fully trust him though, so I told him that Tiffany had already called it off.
“It’s probably better that way,” Tim said. “You both are great assets to our team. Don’t let a little fling get in the way of your journalism career.”