One deep breath for courage while grabbing my stuff and I head in their direction. My boss, Carly, as she likes to be called (her real name sounds much closer to something like Carlita Maria Chiquita Banana or something like that), turns her double-wide frame towards me and gives the smile of a realtor and practically sings, “Hiii” from her two-toned, painted mouth. “So glad you could join us!” The tone was light-hearted and welcoming but was really just a camouflaged, stinging reproach. I want to sing-song back at her: I’m five minutes late, not an hour! But, I don’t. For the same reason you don’t wear bbq sauce to an alligator swamp. She’d eat me alive. And probably literally. Normally, my inner-monologue would chastise myself for saying something mean or hurtful but, where Carly was concerned, my inner-monologue just sits down with some popcorn.
“I know, Carly, I’m so sorry! I got held up.” I say. Thinking quickly, I turn to the district manager and offer a hand before Carly can open her mouth. “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Russell, I’m Johanna Parks, Carly’s assistant store manager.”
“Oh, great, Johanna, it’s nice to finally meet you in person.” Releasing my hand, he turns to Carly with a slight tilt of his head. “What do you ladies say we head on inside and get started.” Jim Russell was not asking. He made this obvious by turning toward the store front’s double, glass doors, and heading straight for them without so much as a look back to make sure we were following. He didn’t have the key so he stood politely to the side of the door and let Carly have access.
Once inside, Carly directs the way to her office and tells Jim to feel free and have a seat ‘wherever’. I’m not totally sure if she meant wherever literally but I had to hide a smirk as Jim settled in behind Carly’s desk. Okay, I thought, this man is serious. I kind of like him.
Pausing, briefly, with indecision, I see Carly sway slightly on her feet and then, as if the moment had passed, choosing the wider of the two seats in front of her desk. I took the one remaining, trying to keep my face from betraying my delight at her discomfort.
Things started off in the droll way that they generally do, Carly talking about how long she’d been at this store, where she was before, how awesome she thought she was, and where she thought the store’s location was headed in the next few years. I didn’t participate much in the conversation but I was able to tell Jim a little bit about each of the employees and what they did for us; this was my contribution to the meeting because Carly had never spent enough time actually at the store to even know who had keys.
I spent the next hour or so, sitting up straight and glancing between Carly and Jim, occasionally nodding my head to show I’m still alive, and then Jim pulls out a folder.
“Okay,” he says and then clears his throat a little, “Let’s go over this stuff. Now, I’m not gonna mess with you here, I’m just gonna lay it out there for ya, and you just help me understand what’s goin’ on here.” He looks from Carly to me as he’s talks and I can sense that something is very wrong but I have no idea what exactly it might be. He continues on with his slight, cowboy accent in his business suit, “You’ll be happy, I’ll be happy, and corporate’ll be happy if we come up with some answers today and we’re gonna take care of this right here and now.”
“Absolutely, Jim.” Carly replies as she acts as if she’s about to rise but, changing her mind, settles back down. Instead, she shuffles her feet a little and makes some room between her thighs so that her gut has a place to go as she leans forward to grab some files off the edge of the desk. I can’t help but be reminded of Homer Simpson, reaching for the remote but the gut won’t allow him to sit forward.
“Okay, Jo,” she says, turning to me, “Why don’t you go get the register bags out and ready and get the lights on and stuff for opening. Now, Mr. Russell, you just let me know what I can do for you and we’ll just clear this all right up.” She says, as she raises her eyebrows and points her peacock-fucking-a-clown colored eyeshadow in his direction. I let the door click shut, gently behind me.
I should have known about the bus. The bus was a sign. It was a sign that another bus would be coming. Only this bus wasn’t going to make me late. It was the Carly bus and, she not only threw me under it but then, got in the driver’s seat and ran me over a few times for good measure.
When Jim gave me the news that I was being ‘let go’, my mouth dropped open. Carly pretended to busy herself with putting papers together in a folder, eyebrows slightly raised as if she had been reviewing a promising, new scientific theory, rather than paper. But I caught her sneaking a furtive glance in my direction. When I asked why, all I got in reply was that “It’s just not working out but thanks for being on the team.” I could feel the prickly sensation in my cheeks and nose that meant tears were imminent if I were to open my mouth and I would NOT cry in front of that woman, no matter how insane the sense of injustice. I just shook my head in assent, vowing silently to write the longest letter the history of HR had ever seen, handed over my keys to the place, and turned to the door.
The walk out to my car seemed to have been planned to add further insult to injury as the sales team was just beginning to arrive (and I wouldn’t put that passed Carly). A few of them waved and said, “Hey, good morning!” I tried not to make too much eye contact but forced myself to smile as much as my heart would let me. I gave them a brief wave in return, before getting into my car for the short but bleary-eyed ride home with no music save the occasional, deep inhale of my breath as I tried to stifle my sobs.