Justin fiddled with his collar, which was refusing to lie straight, then dropped his hand when he realized what he was doing. There was no one else in the elevator, but still he clenched his hands and grimaced. Stop fidgeting. You look like a first-time shoplifter, his roommate’s voice echoed in his head.
It’s just a job fair, he told himself. You’re not trying to impress people—well, you are trying to impress people, but not like that. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure as an engineer, or anything.
You’re an adult now. Act like it.
The bell dinged and the elevator doors slid open. Justin stepped out, fought the urge to tug his shirt down one last time, and turned towards the mass of sound on his left.
The job fair was set up in one large conference room on the tenth floor of the CityTree hotel. The entire back of the room was floor-to-ceiling windows, providing plenty of illumination from the clear—for once—San Francisco sky. At the entrance, a cheerful middle-aged man sat at a table with a pile of pamphlets. He gave Justin a nod, and the young man walked over.
“Name badge?” the older man said. He gestured to a label printer sitting in front of him, hooked up to a tiny keyboard.
“Thanks,” said Justin. He deliberately met the man’s eyes and smiled—never know who might have a potential opportunity—then pecked out his name on the keyboard. With a low hum, the printer extruded a single sticky nametag marked “Justin Hill”. At the corner was a golden curlicue—the logo for a company Justin didn’t recognize.
He nodded to the man and stepped away, peeling the name off the plastic backing and sticking it carefully to his chest. Briefly he looked around for a trash can—is this kind of wax paper recycleable?—before giving up and stuffing it into his pocket.
“Hey, you came!” Justin looked up to see a familiar face striding over to meet him.
“Dave!” he replied, smiling. “Good to see you.” It felt much better to have someone he knew there. Justin hadn’t been sure where to start.
Dave had left Justin’s group at Intel several months ago to join his college buddies in a startup. The whole thing was very hush-hush—no one had really heard from Dave since then. Justin still had no idea what they did.
In retrospect, Dave’s departure had been rather prescient given the ultimate fate of the project. Some of the more senior engineers in Justin’s group had been reassigned to other teams, but the rest of them had been “recommended to find other employment.”
Dave—touchy-feely guy that he was—had grabbed Justin’s arm. “Listen, I think I’ve got a possibility for you,” he said, leading Justin down the aisles of tables and booths. “Junior engineering position, right up your alley—and they’ve already got funding.”
“All right,” Justin responded. “Hey, thanks.”
Dave stopped suddenly and let his face turn serious. “Hey, Justin. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” He stared at Justin for a few seconds, then turned and continued leading him along at the same brisk pace. Justin grinned.
“Here we are,” said Dave. “Hey, Chris.”
They had stopped in front of a plain booth staffed by two women, one of whom was currently attempting to reattach the company’s banner to the front of the table. The other woman stood up from her chair behind the table, adjusting her glasses. “Hi, Dave. Nice to see you again.”
“Chris, I may have a candidate for you,” said Dave. “No, scratch that, I do have a candidate for you.”
Justin gave a shy grin and a weak wave—you’re an adult, act like it—then held out his hand. “Justin Hill.”
He heard a rustle from the kneeling woman as she stood up—that seemed rather sudden—and turned even as the woman across from him was shaking his hand. “Chris Roberts, and this is—”
“Lianna Kim,” he said, surprised.
There was a moment of silence, then Dave coughed. “You, ah, know each other?”
“Yeah, we both went to GSU,” Lianna said smoothly. She brushed her short black hair to the side.
“It’s been, what, five years?” added Justin, trying to put a smile on his face.
There was another pause, and then Chris stepped out from behind the table. “Hey, Dave, why don’t we let them catch up for a bit?”
“Good idea,” said Dave. “Hey, Justin, be back in a bit, okay?” Before Justin could react the two of them were heading off towards the line of coffee machines.
Lianna knelt down again and picked up the banner. Justin squatted down next to her. “Here, let me help with that.”
“I got it,” Lianna replied, intent on the ribbons she was tying around the table leg.
“It’s no problem–”
“I got it,” she repeated, more strongly. Justin sat back on his heels, then stood up in silence while Lianna finished tying the banner to the table. When she was done she stood up as well, folding her arms across her black blazer and looking up at him.
Justin looked away, down at the table. “So, uh, when did you switch to software? I thought you were doing Chem.”
“I found out I didn’t actually like labwork.” Justin looked back and saw a bit of a smile on her lips. “I ended up going through a few programming courses online, made a portfolio…managed to get some contract work, here.” She briefly waved a hand in the direction of the table. “And now I’m full-time.”
“Congratulations,” said Justin, not knowing what else to say.
Lianna paused, then grudgingly added, “Thanks for not assuming I was in Sales, or Design.”
“Oh, uh.” Why did I say software? We…pretty much had that one class, and that was it.
“How about you?”
Justin jerked his gaze back to her. “What?” Automatically he kept going. “Thanks for not assuming I’m in Sales or Design?”
A scowl and a smile warred on Lianna’s face, resulting in a kind of smirk. She tilted her head away from him for a second. Justin felt a mix of glee and embarrassment.
After regaining her composure, she faced him again. “I guess things aren’t going too well, since you’re at a job fair.”
Justin sighed deliberately. “Project got cancelled, team got dissolved…most of us got laid off.”
“Ah, that sucks.” For the first time in the conversation, Lianna simply looked sympathetic, with no added mockery or reserve. He thought he saw a hint of the old smile in her eyes.
“So you’re doing well?” he said finally.
Lianna let out her breath. “Yes, I’m doing well,” she answered. “I like my work. My apartment’s pretty good. I’m doing well.”
“Good,” said Justin. He tried to smile.
“You doing well?” Lianna followed.
“I will be once I have a job again,” Justin said dryly, the words coming automatically once again. Lianna snorted and he grinned for real.
There was a pause, and Justin’s hand went up to his collar again. Before he could register it, though, Lianna reached out and pulled it down. “Hey,” she said sharply, just like in their first year of college.
Justin stared at her for a moment. Lianna stared back. Then he snorted, and they both started laughing quietly.
“Ohhhh, man,” Lianna said finally. “Take care, Justin.”
“Take care, Lianna,” Justin replied. He glanced at the table. “And, uh, I probably won’t be applying for your startup.”
“Psh, whatever,” Lianna said, grinning. “We don’t want you anyway.”
“Seriously, though, it would be weird.”
“Yeah, it would.”
“See you later.”
Lianna Kim and Justin Hill are from a short story I wrote quite a while ago called “The Glade”. They go—or went—to a fictional college called “Golden State University” that’s “almost but not quite like Berkeley”. (Write what you know, right?)
“The Glade” was from Lianna’s perspective, and Justin ended up being…well, a version of me, but
more outgoing more of a jerk. I decided to reverse the perspective in this one to see if the characters would develop more, but they ended up having less to say to each other than I thought they would.
Lianna’s name is pronounced “Lee-AH-nuh”. Justin’s name is pronounced “JUSS-tin”.