On a hot and muggy Wednesday a little over four years ago, I sat down at a table in a small conference room of a Big 4 public accounting firm. It was my first day. There were dozens of newly minted auditors milling around, trying to form connections and bonds and not screw up our first day. We received laptops and email addresses, played dumb ice breaker games, and tried to remember all of the useful bits of information we were bombarded with. Wednesday through Friday we had a local orientation, where we were introduced to how our office worked. The next week, we were all headed down to Houston for national training.
On Friday, about midway through the morning, I received an email. It was a short email, something along the lines of “this is useful – share it with your class.” The sender had attached a spreadsheet filled with Excel shortcuts and commands. (I sent it to a couple of people I had tentatively made friends with, but was too shy to send it to the entire group.) I quickly found out that the sender was a Staff II on my first scheduled engagement (I had about four weeks of unscheduled time after training). I couldn’t pronounce his name, and showed it to my table mate because I was already freaked out that he had contacted me. She knew him, through college, and said he was a cool guy.
Over the next few weeks, I had a crash course in adulthood. I traveled by myself for training, which was fun but stressful and also required that I make dinner plans with these tentative friends (is it apparent by now that I really don’t make friends all that quickly???). I learned that working meant that I’d sometimes have to do things I didn’t want to do. (I vividly remember my first day after training, I was picked up by one of my future engagements to do some work at the office. They wanted me to scan in permanent files so they’d have electronic copies. I had hundreds of files checked out and when it came time to head home for the evening, my senior didn’t have anywhere for me to store them. He asked me to ask the mail room clerk if I could store the files there. This paralyzed me and for a solid 10 minutes I tried to think of a way I could get around imposing on a stranger like this before finally coming to the realization that I’d just have to do it. The clerk turned out to be a very nice and helpful man, and didn’t mind in the least.) I put down some roots by finding local exercise classes to teach and worked them into my already busy schedule (I taught at 5:30am!).
By mid-September, I was all set to head out to a new engagement. (I should pause and explain that as an auditor I rotated through teams and engagements as needed. Sometimes I worked with the same team for a few weeks, others I only worked with for a few days. During unscheduled time, I might get picked up by a random team that just needed an extra person for a week or so. For my regular clients, I had a recurring schedule.) It was a small team, just myself, the staff II who’d emailed me, and a senior. We were doing SOX work for a few days. The senior was nice, although a tad bit self-absorbed, and the other staff was very helpful. He patiently walked me through all of the work I was assigned and never seemed annoyed by my questions. I still wasn’t confident on the pronunciation of his name, so I avoided saying it. What struck me most about him, that first week, was how smart he was. He was easily the smartest person I had ever met. He basically made the senior obsolete (a fact which she thoroughly took advantage of as she left the bulk of the work to him) and was able to keep up discussion with the engagement partner on complex accounting matters. Not only was he brilliant, but he was also fast. He could flip through spreadsheets and assignments so quickly, even the senior had trouble keeping up.
I remember lamenting to my mom, how was I ever going to follow this guy? He was so smart and I was … not that smart. Don’t get me wrong! I am smart. Very smart. I have the GPA and the degrees and the license to prove it. But this guy, he was brilliant. How could I ever step into his role the next year when he moved on and I moved up? My team would be so disappointed in me, I told my mom.
When our team came together again in late October, personal matters were interfering with my work. My trusty truck broke down not once, but twice! Over the course of three days, I was towed twice and in the repair shop three times. My truck first broke down as I was on my way to my 5:30am class. The second time was after work, at the client site, a good 45 minute drive from my apartment. I sat in their private drive for two hours, waiting for a tow truck. When I got to work the next morning, the team admonished me, saying I should have called one of them. The other staff, in particular, told me that he would have come back for me, if nothing else but to keep me company as I waited. (And to possibly defend me from the tow truck guy who merrily informed me that he had just been released from prison earlier that year! Lovely information, isn’t it, when you realize that it’s after dark and you’re alone with this man and he’s driving you through an area that you are completely unfamiliar with.) “You can always call me,” he said.
I finally got the courage to say his name when we worked together again after Thanksgiving. Our senior had another engagement scheduled and couldn’t make it out, so it was just the two of us. He again showed the patience of a saint when it came to teaching me and answering my questions. His humor also started to show through as he joked around with the company’s internal auditor who shared a conference room with us. He let me go an hour early on Friday, but I stayed around for a while, chatting.
In January, we ramped up for busy season. We worked twelve hour days during the week and met in our firm’s downtown office for another six hours on Saturday. I got permission to be a tad bit late to work on Saturdays, since I taught an 8:15am class on those days. I had to report by 10am at the latest, which meant that I was often flying in with damp hair, flushed from the rush and the recent exercise. Saturdays were more relaxed and I was startled, the first Saturday, when I arrived to find him in athletic shorts and a t-shirt. I hadn’t realized he was in such good shape.
I forgot my charger that first day and had to share his. I remember feeling oddly excited about this. Like a teenager, asking to borrow a pen from a crush, I had that giddy rush of nerves. I mean, it’s his laptop charger! It plugs into his laptop! I’m sure my bizarre reaction was one-sided. We kept up the share-a-charger thing throughout busy season.
That was also the day that I told him about Michael. It was after lunch, our senior had gone somewhere for a while, and that left just the two of us. I honestly didn’t mean to and I definitely hadn’t planned spilling the whole story to him that day (or, you know, ever). He was just such a good listener, I found myself spilling those dark stories, something I’d only told one other person. I don’t even really remember how we got on the subject that would segue to my abusive past and to be honest, I don’t really remember his reaction all that much because I was so horrified with myself. (There are boundaries Belle! You’ve just crossed about a million of them…) He must have taken it in stride because he didn’t seem to treat me any differently afterwards, like I had feared.
A turning point came in the last of our three back-to-back weeks on this particular client. Our senior had a breakfast meeting and the intern had car trouble, so we found ourselves alone again. I remember making myself tea as I waited for my computer to start up (auditor’s computers are notorious for taking a good 20 minutes to boot up because of all the encryption software). We idly chatted as we waited. And then, it wasn’t just chatter to fill the time. We were ignoring our computers, though they were ready to go. We had turned to face each other, fully engaged in our conversation. We talked about music and cars and college and life. We were so deep into conversation, that our senior completely surprised us when she came in. I was irrationally annoyed that she had intruded, until I realized that it was nearly 10am and we had been talking almost an hour and a half. Later that day, he sent me an IM, inviting me to a happy hour with his friends the following Monday.
All weekend, I looked forward to it. I called my best friend Liz to get her opinion on whether this was a date or not. I texted the boy, trying to figure out if he was flirting or just friendly and hilariously sarcastic. I agonized over what to wear, particularly since I wasn’t sure I’d have time to change after work. True to form, I put together a detailed outfit plan, complete with built-in contingencies. Monday went by quickly and I was actually able to leave early enough to change into jeans and got to the bar on time. I was nervous when I walked in, afraid that I wouldn’t recognize him (I see someone out of typical context and it’s like, I have no idea who you are). I spotted him at the bar (or was it him?!) and said hello. We moved to a table in the back where we had room for his friends (who yes, eventually did come). I had a wonderful time with him and his friends, laughing and talking. I decided it was a date when he paid for my drinks and I had already decided that I really, really liked him when he asked to see me again the coming Saturday. He told me he’d cook for me and I gave him a few bonus points. He walked me to my car and I let him kiss me goodnight. Then I decided he hadn’t kissed me enough and used his lapels to drag him down for another kiss or two. I drove home with the widest smile imaginable.
That brilliant, kind, and funny staff II was, of course, Luffy. We’ve been together ever since that happy hour date (I tease him that it was actually a trial date, as he brought along his best friend to judge me – he claims he only did this to make me feel more comfortable). By October of that same year, we were engaged, and by the next October, married. It’s been two years since we stood in front of our family and friends and pledged our life and love to one another. I’m thankful every day that he’s in my life, that we found each other and chose to spend our lives together.
Luffy, I’ll love you till the sky falls down.