When the weather was nice, Leslie liked to bring a lunch to work and take it to the park near her building. She rarely saw anyone from her office there. Today, though, she noticed two people sitting side-by-side on the top of one of the picnic tables, their feet on the bench. As she drew closer, she recognized her boss, Phillip, and their secretary, Belinda. They were holding hands in a manner which seemed way too friendly for a work relationship.
Leslie veered away towards the softball field, to avoid them, but Phillip and Belinda had already seen her. They smiled and waved as if nothing was wrong, so she gave a little half-wave and kept walking. When she was well past them, she turned and stared. Belinda had dropped her head on Phillip’s shoulder.
Damn, this was bad. Leslie turned back to the path and walked as fast as she could, her lunch bag banging into her side, until she was deep in the trees, then stopped to catch her breath. Usually, she ate at the table occupied by Phillip and Belinda, then strolled around the paths which wound in and out of flower beds, past tennis courts, and into an undeveloped section full of graceful old maples, oaks and pines. The walk helped clear her head after a morning of writing code and she cherished the time alone, away from the other computer nerds, most of whom were men who told rude jokes and infuriatingly broke off their conversations whenever she came near.
Obviously, she couldn’t take her sandwich to her usual spot. In any case, her stomach threatened to erupt if she put anything in it. Phillip and Belinda were both married, just not to each other. She’d met their spouses at the department Christmas Party. They seemed like nice people who didn’t deserve this. Perhaps she should call them and say something, but if she caused a confrontation Phillip would surely fire her. And she liked her job, despite the obnoxious men she worked with.
She continued through the trees and out the other side of the park into the city, forgetting about her lunch bag, noticing little, trying to figure out what to do. It didn’t seem right to keep her mouth shut, and pretend she hadn’t seen the couple, but saying anything could create a real mess.
Maybe, she tried to tell herself, there was nothing going on. But, now that she’d seen them holding hands, she recalled catching Phillip’s expression one time when she’d been talking to Belinda. An undeniable thread of attraction had jumped between boss and secretary. Leslie’d ignored it at the time, assuming it was harmless. After all, every guy in the office seemed to have a crush on pretty Belinda with her big breasts, curvy shape, and liquid brown eyes.
Leslie kicked a can off the sidewalk into the street and turned back towards the office. How could she say anything to Phillip? If he fired her for insubordination, she would have a difficult or impossible time finding another job as good as this one. She didn’t feel right just ignoring what she’d seen, but she didn’t dare do otherwise.
It was after three when she arrived back at her desk, still unsure how to handle the situation, and turned on her monitor.
“Where have you been all afternoon?” a stern voice asked.
She turned around to find her boss standing behind her. “Thinking.”
He smiled, flirtatiously. “Any good ideas you want to share with me?”
Her skin prickled and her face grew warm. Panicked, she said, “Not yet. I need to flesh them out.”
He didn’t let her go, though. “I’ll help you. Two heads are better than one. Come to my office.”
That was clearly an order. She watched him walk away. She could confront him, be fired, and flip burgers for the rest of her life. Or she could talk about work. In the six months she’d been here, she’d come up with several ways the firm could improve their software. She followed him past the others, unsure which route she’d take. Sweating despite the air conditioning, she entered his large private office, overlooking the city.
He gestured to a chair at a round table on one side of the room and leaned back against his desk on the other side. “Sit. Tell me about yourself. I haven’t had an opportunity to talk with you privately since you hired on.”
Now was the moment to say something, to ask him about Belinda. It was obvious he’d asked her here because of what she’d seen. Instead, she meekly told him a little bit about growing up on a farm in the midwest, then launched into her best idea. He listened, leaning back against his desk, his feet and arms crossed.
“I like it. What if we just tweaked it a little. Can you take some notes?”
He handed her a yellow pad and a pen. She wrote his suggestion down, then had another idea.
“What about—” She spoke rather guiltily, relieved to avoid the topic of infidelity.
They brainstormed for half an hour before agreeing on a plan. When they stopped talking, he cleared his throat. “Belinda had to put her cat down yesterday, poor woman. I tried to calm her down, but she was so upset that I sent her home early. Normally, I’d give the notes to her but I don’t know if she’ll be in tomorrow. Do you think you could type them up and email them to me?”
She didn’t believe that’s why he’d been holding his secretary’s hand, but she nodded, accepting the lie, and left, hating herself for being so timid. Why couldn’t she simply ask a question, something innocuous, like “how old was her cat?” or “what did the cat die of?” What was wrong with her?
Her head hung low as she went to her desk and began obediently typing. She’d just learned that she wasn’t brave enough to take a risk and confront authority and she didn’t like it one bit. She wished more than anything she could change that about herself. Like the lion in The Wizard of Oz, she wanted someone to hand her courage, but, like the lion, she would have to develop that for herself. She wondered if that was even possible.