This story is by Jan Fugman and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A streak of lightning brilliant enough to burn corneas was followed by a baritone of thunder reverberating against the night. Olivia groaned. “Great. Looks like I can’t outrun this one.” Pushing down on the gas pedal, her car shot forward, and through an intersection as the light turned red. Another massive boom and rain drenched her windshield before she could turn on the wipers. Forced to stop at the next light, she glanced out her side window and saw Franklin. Waiting for a bus. Again. Without shelter, he was pathetic and sodden. She shook her head as the light turned green. Man, if you can’t afford a car, at least get an umbrella.
Guilt grazed her, and she rolled her shoulders to shrug it off. “Hey, I earned my company car. Franklin just wasn’t at the top of his game, or he’d be the one driving. If I offer him a ride tonight, he’ll expect it on a regular basis. Not going there. He’s a big boy. Let him figure it out.”
Olivia focused on getting home, grabbing a much-needed glass of wine, and sinking into the oblivion of her soaker tub. With this promotion, she could afford the luxurious bath products she now only dreamed about.
Walking into her new townhouse, she stopped to drink it in. Subtle smokey gray walls embraced her great room and the cream leather of her curved sectional. Gleaming Acacia wood floors peaked around the edges of an almost celery-colored area rug. Pillows of rainbow pastels were strewn with abandon down the length of the sectional, spilling over with careless abandon onto the matching double wide lounge chair. Glass tables supported elegant sculpture and subtle lighting. “This,” she said, as she dropped her keys into a crystal dish on the entry table.
She could have stayed dry if she’d come in through the garage, but she needed to come through the front door, to drink in the luxurious beauty of what was now hers. Yeah, she could afford it on her salary now, but with the substantial raise coming with her promotion, she’d had breathing room. More than. Removing her wet things, she carried them to the laundry room and left them to drip atop the washing machine.
Her state-of-the-art kitchen, which she hadn’t yet christened, sported every convenience, including a wine cooler. Keying in the code to unlock it, she selected a chilled bottle of white. “Perfect,” she said, almost purring as she pulled a wine glass from the rack and started for the stairs.
Entering her master bedroom, she sighed and moved toward the doorway to the walk-in closet, and through it into the bath. She loved the design of this space. She had already spent a fortune on clothes appropriate for her new position. Silk blouses, suits, skirts, and slacks hung in color-coordinated harmony. She had chosen acrylic boxes for her shoes and stacked them in pristine order along one wall. “Jumped the gun a bit on this, Olivia, but you are so worth it.” With a satisfied smile, she sequestered herself into the aromatic steam of her bath.
The call came as she wrapped herself in thick terry. “Of course, Ms. Wainwright. I appreciate the call and I’ll see you at nine.” Pressing the off button on her phone, she raised both arms in victory. “This is it, and about time.” She spent the balance of the evening choosing her wardrobe and accessories for the meeting. Everything had to be classy and perfect.
Olivia drove in early, allowing extra time for an espresso and a leisurely stroll through the office. She paused at Sandra’s neighboring workstation, knowing she’d be good for ogling her outfit and wanting the latest scoop on her pending promotion. She wasn’t disappointed.
“Whooee girl, don’t you look fine. Somebody must have got a call last night?”
Olivia’s slow smile of appreciation began to stretch into a grin as she leaned over, set the extra coffee on her friend’s desk, and whispered, “Meeting with Ms. W at nine.”
Lifting her coffee, Sandra raised the cup in salute and her soft rumble of laughter rolled over them. “Ms. W won’t know what hit her, and we both know this promotion is long overdue.”
“Amen, sister.” Raising her cup in an answering salute, she turned and almost bumped into a co-worker. “Whoa Franklin, you’re looking pretty spiffy this morning, but you were almost wearing my coffee.”
“Good reflexes, Olivia. Looks like we both took some extra effort this morning. Some storm last night, though. Got caught in the worst of it waiting for the bus. Man, I was drenched by the time I made it home.”
Olivia cringed and could feel heat stealing up her neck. Turning toward her desk, she replied, “Yeah, it was a mess alright. Could hardly see a thing it was raining so hard.” Franklin moved on, but not before she caught his smirk. Ouch, Olivia. You’re going to have to do better than that.
It was half after nine before her phone buzzed. Olivia, already antsy, started and picked up the handset. “Please join us in the executive conference room, Olivia.”
“Of course, Ms. Wainwright. I’ll be right in.” Us? Who is us? Olivia stood, caught Sandra’s eye, and they gave each other a thumbs up. Straightening her jacket, she moved toward the appropriate door, sorry they weren’t meeting in Ms. Wainwright’s office. She loved the executive’s offices. Carpet deep enough to sink into, top-end furnishings, and each one with a view to die for. Oh well, soon enough one would be hers.
She tapped on the door to the conference room and entered. Franklin sat at Ms. Wainwrights’ left, and Paul Donovan from field operations sat on her right. Olivia felt her heart stutter. “Please help yourself to something to drink and take the seat next to Paul, Olivia.”
A smile that didn’t reach Olivia’s eyes accompanied her murmured, “Of course.”
Barely waiting for her to be seated, Ms. Wainwright began. “Everyone knows we have been working nonstop on our restructuring. Unprecedented growth has dictated that we move quickly to get new parameters in place and operational. That expediency is why we had you sign your new two-year contracts prior to this meeting.” Olivia nodded, then saw Franklin nod. The knot in her stomach grew.
Olivia glanced at Franklin as Ms. W. droned on. What is he doing in here? What contract did he sign? And how did he weasel himself right next to her?
“And the changes in field operations are where you will come in Olivia.” Olivia’s attention snapped back to Ms. Wainwright as she continued. “We wanted to utilize your attention to detail and your aesthetic propensity. Those are valuable assets for you personally, and certainly for our organization.” Olivia smiled and shot a satisfied glance in Franklin’s direction. She couldn’t help but feel that finally, someone was paying attention.
“With that in mind, we have created a new position which we believe is a perfect fit. It’s more of a lateral move, but with great growth potential. As our new Field Operations Liaison, you will have your finger on the pulse of every phase of operations in our satellite locations. You will work directly with Paul in the field office, and report to Franklin here at headquarters. He will analyze the information you submit and disperse it to the appropriate departments. Essentially, he will be your go-to person.”
Olivia took a deep breath, trying to slow her heart rate. Is she nuts? Work in the field? A lateral move? No increase in compensation? And report to Franklin? Franklin! Ms. Wainwright continued, oblivious to the chain of reactions vibrating through Olivia. “One of the beauties of our field office is its location on the Max transit line. It stops right at their door so you’ll no longer need the company car. Please turn the keys over to Franklin by end of day. I’m sure he’ll be happy to give you a lift home.”
Ms. Wainwright stood and began walking toward the door. She paused as she reached it and turned. “Our new process starts tomorrow morning. Olivia, you’ll report to Paul at 8 a.m. sharp, and you’ll want to dress appropriately in jeans and work boots, with a warm hoodie or jacket. You’ll be in and out a great deal, and this weather doesn’t look too promising. You can pick up a Max transit schedule from Jenny in HR. I believe that covers everything.”
Franklin and Paul followed Ms. Wainwright from the room. Olivia sat without moving, the silence echoing. Surely, there’s been some mistake?