I was late again.
A solid hour this time and I knew it was going to be the last time I strolled into this building. I’d seen it on my boss’s face when he stepped out of his office to observe my approach. I wanted to tell him it wasn’t my fault but we both knew better. While I hadn’t overslept or purposely disregarded my duties, I did have personal reasons for my tardiness. Personal reasons that had begun to affect my ability to do my job. And to live my life, in fact.
Today’s interruption to my routine: Ransom was late in picking me up to drive me to work, something he’d started insisting on doing for the past year. This morning he’d been acting fishy, claiming he had been taking care of something while at the same time, continuously peering in the rearview mirror like we were being followed. When he wouldn’t be straight with me, I told him next time I was going to call an Uber. He hadn’t been happy about that.
So here I was, doing what little I could while sitting in my nothing-fancy cubicle, watching the clock, counting down the seconds until it was all over. I was surprised my boss hadn’t–
Although I’d been expecting it, the ringing of my desk phone had me flinching, my hand trembling only slightly as I reached to pick up the receiver.
There was no reason for pleasantries because I could see who it was. The extension on the screen belonged to my boss and this wasn’t the sort of call where he was checking in to see how I was doing or wondering if I’d be able to get out of here early like everyone else gearing up for New Year’s.
Nope. I couldn’t get that lucky.
“Braelyn. I need to see you in my office, please.”
“Of course, sir,” I said politely although I recognized his tone. The conversation that would follow wasn’t going to be the least bit polite.
Glancing at my computer screen one final time, I noted that my inbox was empty. The out of office notification was already written, directing anyone messaging me to go to one of the appropriate department heads for assistance. The only thing I had to do was click the box to turn it on. Question was, did I do it now? Or should I wait until this meeting was over?
Now, I decided, tapping the mouse button, the little check mark assuring me the out of office was active. I closed everything else down, took a deep breath and pushed to my feet. Unwilling to show fear, I schooled my expression, smoothed the front of my cashmere sweater, then my skirt and exhaled.
I got the feeling this was what it felt like to walk the plank. You know, that moment when you’ve been sentenced to some untimely fate whether it was by your own doing or not. Despite the fact I knew there were murky, dark waters awaiting me on the other end, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, making my way through the open room, ignoring the disparaging eyes of my coworkers as they peeked out of their cubicles to watch me. I wasn’t the only one who’d been expecting this.
Swallowing hard, I knocked lightly on the closed door before opening it and stepping inside.
“Please have a seat,” Jackson Marigold, known casually to his employees as Jack, said, his tone cool as ever despite the tight line of his mouth.
I didn’t want to sit, but what else was I going to do?
When I got situated, I lifted my gaze to meet Jack’s, grateful he’d opted to forego the festive New Year’s outfit he was known to sport. I couldn’t imagine doing this with him wearing those silly glasses or having his hair painted blue like last year. Was that because of me? Was he not enjoying his favorite holiday of the year—as he often told people—just because he had to fire me?
Just another thing I would feel guilty about, I was sure.
My first instinct was to apologize, but I’d already done so numerous times, ever since Ransom put me on high alert with his warnings of impending doom. It wasn’t going to help me now and I knew it so I figured why bother.
“I’m sure I don’t need to fill you in on my reasons for asking you in here,” Jack said calmly, his voice at odds with the way his hands were clenched on the top of his desk.
“No, sir.” I definitely knew.
Come on, Jack. Just rip the Band-aid off. Best way to do it.
Jack exhaled heavily—he did have a flair for the dramatic—leaned back in his chair. “Braelyn, I hate to have to do this, but”—another crestfallen sigh—“we’re terminating your employment.”
I nodded. “I understand.”
His brown eyes narrowed. “No arguments?”
“Of course not. You warned me the last time.” And the time before that. And the one before that. So on and so forth. This man had been kind to me. He’d given me a job, fresh out of college with absolutely no experience, and he’d overlooked a good portion of my personal issues. I didn’t hold it against him.
Jack sat up, tapped a key on his computer—probably telling HR the deed was done—then turned his attention back to me. “Look, Braelyn. You know if it was up to me—”
Before he could finish that sentence, my cell phone rang. I couldn’t stop the flush to my cheeks, warmed from my embarrassment. The last thing I’d expected was to get a phone call while my boss was kicking me to the curb.
However, because of the things currently going on in my life, it wasn’t like I could ignore it.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, turning my phone over in my hand and glancing at the screen.
I didn’t recognize the number, but that didn’t mean much these days.
Without bothering to apologize again, I hit the button to take the call.
“My name’s Tiegan Shaw. I’m calling on behalf of Owned, Incorporated.”
I didn’t recognize the woman or the company, but I waited anyway.