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We Meet Again

Part 2 of 5: Scrutinized

By J. L. GreenPublished about a month ago 11 min read
We Meet Again
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Three weeks after fate brought us back together, I am now aware that he is scrutinizing my every move. Not that I'm too worried about that; I'm a stellar, meticulous employee. It's knowing that he's waiting for a slip-up that gets me.

The office is quiet, minus the clacking of keyboards. Then, without a hint of warning, my computer crashes in the middle of adjusting a high profile account. My panic must have translated to my face because Jericho, my catty-corner neighbor and other office friend, was up and at my side within moments.

"You okay?" he asks.

"No! I was working on the Monitor account and..."

Jericho (Jerry to his friends) sees the blue screen of death and hisses out a, "Damn".

He nudges me aside softly. "Scoot over, let me have a look."

I stand up from my chair and let him take the reigns. He's an accountant by title and a computer wizard by trade. If anyone in the office can get my computer, and all it's work, back it would be him.

"Thanks, Jer."

I don't want to hover, but find myself posted at his shoulder anyway, my arms crossed tightly as I watch him work. If I lost all the work I'd just done...

"What are we gathered around for?" Derek asks casually as he saddles up beside us.

I jump half a mile and can't stop the scowl from curling my lips.

"Jesus," I mutter. Louder, I say, "My computer crashed. Jericho's just seeing if he can fix it."

Derek nods sagely before leveling me with a hard stare. "What were you doing when it crashed?"

"I was working on the Monitor account."

"Nothing else?" He pauses, waiting for me to say something. When I don't, he frowns. "No other websites at all?"

My brows dip and my eyes narrow. He doesn't sound overtly accusing, but I know full-well where this is going.

"Why?" I ask.

"Just curious. If IT goes back and checks your web history, they won't find any other sites?"

I shuffle a bit, aware that the clacking of keyboards has stopped as my colleagues listen in. If Derek's noticed, he pays no mind; his attention is stuck on me.

"...I had music playing in the background-"

"I see. I need to see you in my office."

My shoulders slump, but I don't want to give up. Not yet. Though I can't help looking like a kicked puppy as I follow him, all hunched over and mopey.

At the threshold of his office, I am struck with dread. I never wanted to step foot in here. It makes me want to curl in on myself more, but I can't give in to that fear. I force myself to straighten-out and walk in with my chin up.

The entire wall facing the main office is a window, but he shuts the blinds just enough to obscure us from view and shuts the door. The slam hits me like a guillotine.

He goes to sit behind his desk, a stupidly large and dark thing (like his desk in the tuberculosis ward had been), and he tries to hide how ecstatic he is at finally getting me in here.

After a moment he sighs and says, "I'm shocked, Everly."

"Don't," I bite out, cutting him off harshly. "Don't start with that. There is nothing in the employee handbook saying we can't listen to music during work hours. I'm not playing on other websites, I'm not browsing around; I am working. So forgive me if I take five minutes of my day to put on some calming music in the background."

He leans forward in his chair with his elbows on the table, long fingers steepled in front of him. "Our clients expect full privacy. When you go onto random websites, their privacy is compromised."

I roll my eyes behind closed eyelids.

"I didn't do anything wrong, Derek. You can comb my web history to your heart's content. You won't find anything." (I resist the urge to lean forward, resist giving him a challenge. That never works out for me.) "These computers are as old as this building is. So I suggest making sure the hardware is running up to speed before you try throwing baseless accusations at me."

His look morphs. The cocky confidence sparkling in his eyes darkens with anger. It's an ugly look that sends a shock of fear through me and I'm back to being the Princess, the witch, the patient; terrified and underhanded.

His voice is low, almost a growl, when he says, "IT is going to check your computer and if there is anything not work related in your history, I will be giving you a write-up."

"Fine."

I try to look brave as I leave the office, but my hands visibly shake as I grab the doorknob.

~~~~

True to his word, IT saw that I was logged-on to my Spotify account, and since there's a clause in the employee handbook about using personal accounts on work computers, I got a write-up.

A week's passed since then. There's a lingering twinge of sadness, but I still love my job. He tried to knock me down, but he failed. Plus he's been satiated for the moment. (I'm sure it won't last.)

I'm reviewing a flagged account when I get a phone call from the manager of one of our largest profitable companies. The only issue is that this man is notoriously sexist, particular, and difficult to work with. He also calls at least once every two months with some issue or another.

Which sucks that I am in charge of the account, because I get to take his calls.

"Oh shit," I sigh, already pulling up his company's account.

Natalie perks up, immediately intrigued, and asks, "What's up?"

"It's Kenneth Cole."

Her face scrunches up in disgust. "Ugh. I wonder how long it'll be until he calls you 'sweetheart'."

I snicker. "I'll let you know." I take a calming breath, adopt my most professional voice, and answer with a cheerful, "Good morning, White Hills Incorporated, this is Everly speaking, how may I-"

"Let me stop you right there, sweetheart."

I level Natalie with a meaningful stare.

"Already?" she mouths. I nod.

Mr. Cole continues, as relentless as an avalanche. "I sat on the phone for twenty-three seconds waiting for someone to pick up."

"I apologize, sir, I was-"

"I wasn't done," he barks. I have to take another calming breath while he rants in the most annoyingly condescending tone ever. "My company spends hundreds-of-thousands of dollars a year to make sure we are provided with exceptional care. Does a twenty-three second wait sound 'exceptional' to you?"

There's just no winning with him.

"I apologize, sir, I got to you as quickly as I could."

Natalie's listening intently, her eyes half-lidded in disbelief. "Is he complaining about the wait time again?" she mouths. I nod aggitately as Jericho returns from his break, giving us both a confused stare. Natalie whispers, "It's Kenneth Cole."

Jericho snorts. "Imma say a prayer for you."

"I need it," I mouth.

The other problem with Mr. Cole is that he isn't deterred by something like civility or manners...or commond sense/decency.

"It's every time, sweetheart. Is it so hard to answer a phone on the first ring? I don't have any trouble doing it."

It takes every ounce of restraint to keep from saying, "We're all proud of you, sir." Those words want to come out so badly that I'm sure my face is turning purple from the effort of keeping them in.

Instead, what comes out is a pleasant, "Was there a problem with your account that I can help you with, sir?"

"Ya know, sweetheart. I don't think there is." My head tilts in confusion. It's like him to get annoyed and hang up, then call back in ten minutes to get to the real issue. It's also like him to..."If you can't do something as simple as answering the phone, I don't think you can handle my account."

Oh no. Dear God, no.

"Sir-"

"I want to speak to your manager."

No!!!!

Those evil, repulsive words. Misused as a weapon by entitled assholes who aren't happy with people doing their jobs, or their best. Every little thing is a slight against them, every error done in maliciousness.

In this case, it's a misogynistic douchebag with ridiculous expectations trying to get an 'incompetent' young lady in trouble. Which is exactly what will happen if I transfer the call to Derek.

"Sir, if you'd please let me know-"

"I want. To speak. To your manager." Now he's rubbing salt in the wound, speaking slowly and deliberately. Like I'm a child. "Don't make me say it a third time, sweetheart."

Tears form in my eyes.

My old manager knew how this man was, and knew to take everything he said with a grain of salt. He'd hear what the problem was then let me know so I could fix it and apologize to me for Kenneth being such a...Kenneth.

Derek would not be like that. Without even knowing exactly how it would go, I know this will end in some form of discipline.

"Of course, sir." I have to pause and clear my throat to wash away the sound of tears. "Give me just a moment."

Derek is in his office with the blinds open, his focus on his computer. My heart thunders in my chest, an almost painful hammering that makes my hands tremble. (I almost misdial the number.)

Natalie looks concerned; the corners of her mouth tilt into a frown and her brows crease in the middle.

"Hello?" Derek says.

I have to take another breath (I almost can't squeeze any air through how tight my throat's suddenly become).

"Hello Derek, this is Everly. I have Kenneth Cole on the line, he's with-"

"-Our fourth largest account. I'm aware."

He can't be aware of all of the account rankings. So he has either memorized the top few or, more likely, he has been watching mine.

"He would like to talk to you. He is upset because-"

"Patch him through."

Jesus, what is it with people not letting me get a word out?

"Derek, I'd like to explain why he's upset."

I resists the urge to turn and look at him through the office, but I'm confident I can hear his glee.

"Not necessary. Patch him through to me, I'll take care of it."

Hitting the buttons to transfer the call felt like a series of swings from the executioner's axe, bringing me one step closer to my doom.

~~~~

I am unapologetically sobbing in one of the first-floor bathroom stalls when Natalie walks in, sounding out of breath from her apparent rush to find me.

"Ev! What happened?" she asks.

It takes several minutes of heavy, messy sobbing before I'm able to compose myself enough to choke out an answer.

"D-Derek...I got a-another write-up." I suck in a greedy breath, huff a few times, and shake my head. I need to calm down. This reaction is exactly what Derek lives for.

Natalie gasps. "What for?"

There is bitter anger in her voice that is more soothing than anything else. Natalie is my friend, but she's also an ethical and dedicated worker. If she is mad at that, then she probably thinks it's bullshit.

And it is.

"A-Apparently I have a 'history'-" here I use finger-quotes with a disdainful sneer- "of being unprofessional with Mr. Cole. So Derek wrote me up. And..." This is the part that hurts, more than the disciplinary action. "He took that account from me."

Stark piercing silence fills the room before Natalie hisses, "He what?"

"I know!" Yes, her anger is helping me calm down. "He said my 'inability' to work with the direct manager of the account is creating an avoidable conflict. So he took it." Unbidden tears return in a tidal wave. "I worked hard to get that account! I've endured Kenneth's abuse and I've been handling every issue that has ever come up, but it looks like Terry is the one who did because he's the one who handled the calls."

Natalie sighs. She sounds truly hurt when she says, "I'm sorry, Ev...This is crap."

I nod and grab a handful of toilet paper. It's rough and thin, but it'll do to blow my nose. I get a fresh few to wipe under my eyes.

Great, now my head is throbbing and my stomach is tangled in knots.

"Hah. Two write-ups within three months. That's got to be a record," I say. It's a poor attempt at making the situation light, but when my voice breaks halfway through, it just sounds...sad.

"Yeah." Natalie is silent aside from the clicking of her heels as she paces in front of the stall. "I don't know, dude. It kind of seems like...he's targeting you?"

I snort, hiding it as I blow my nose again, and mutter, "You have no idea."

"I mean, it's stupid right? If he's going to write you up for using your Spotify account, he should look into everyone and write everyone up for the same thing. Then for him to write you up for unprofessionalism when several of us can attest to the fact that you were calm, patient, and professional with that asshole. Then he has the gall to come in and take your account without ever actually talking to you about it?"

"He won't," I sigh. "He...I'm sure he's just getting started."

Natalie's riled up now; it's evident in how high her pitch has become.

"There are way worse workers on our floor! You have been a one of our branches top earners for years and you could have gotten the manager job, but you didn't want it." (Another one of fate's funny tricks: I had thought of applying for the manager position, but my gut told me to stay where I'm happy.) "Why is he gunning for you?"

I wish I could explain it. But how can I without sounding insane?

This is a hatred that's been burning for seven-hundred years, and he is only satisfied when he has wholly and completely ruined my life. (If he gets to watch me die in the process, then that's just a bonus.)

This is just my fate; to be perpetually hunted and made miserable.

Instead I wipe my eyes and leave the safety of the bathroom stall. Natalie doesn't hesitate for more than a moment before pulling me into a fierce, loving hug.

"Keep your chin up, Ev. You are an amazing worker and you have single-handedly kept half of your accounts from switching companies. He'll see."

He won't.

"And if he doesn't, he won't get away with acting this way to you."

He will. He always, always has.

But I hug back and relish in the warmth of reassurance pooling in my stomach, calming the twisting of anger and anxiety. Even if he wins in this life, he can't take away how happy and loved my friends make me feel.

Series

About the Creator

J. L. Green

I've been writing for fun since I was a preteen and haven’t stopped since. I tend to favor the darker/angsty/thriller type of themes. Here’s to hoping readers enjoy my work, and those that don't find something they do.

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    J. L. GreenWritten by J. L. Green

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