Authors: Simon Wood
“No, I’m just looking.”
“Is she here?”
“No, she’s with my mom.”
“So you’re still at your parents?”
“You look good.”
“I wish I could say the same about you.
You look a mess.”
It hadn’t mattered when Bob mentioned his appearance, but he was embarrassed by it now.
Josh straightened the tee shirt and combed his hair with his hand.
He became aware of his smell, the odor of stale sweat.
“I suppose I need my two ladies to keep me straight,” he said and ventured a weak smile.
“Who, me and Bell?” Kate said coldly.
His smile collapsed under the pressure.
Josh winced, the backhand remark hurt.
His open-ended comment had left him open to ridicule.
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Neither did I.
I’m not here to fight.”
“What did Bob tell you?”
He just brought me here.”
“He’s been on my case since you came back from Pinnacle Investments, telling me I should talk to you.”
“I didn’t know.”
“That’s what he said.
He also said you didn’t know much about anything these days.”
Ashamed, Josh shifted nervously and studied his feet.
Had his behavior deteriorated so much that everyone could see him going downhill?
Only an idiot couldn’t have seen it.
He was an idiot.
He wished he’d tidied himself up before seeing Kate.
But it was probably part of Bob’s plan to make him look a wreck in front of her to stack the odds in his favor.
Tears welled up in her eyes.
“You’ve really let yourself go, Josh.”
I can do something about it.
An hour in the bath and change of clothes, that’s all it takes.”
He paused for a moment.
“And for you to take me back.”
The welled up tears, too large and too heavy to remain in place, broke out and rolled down Kate’s face.
She sniffed and wiped them away with the back of her hand.
“Give me one good reason why,” she said.
“Because I still love you and Abby.”
Kate’s brave front couldn’t stand up to the bombardment any longer.
Her façade cracked and broke into a thousand pieces.
Wracking sobs shook her body.
She buried her face in her hands.
Scared of rejection, Josh hesitated.
But seeing Kate’s distress, he went to her, pulled her to him and held her tight.
Kate took her hands away from her face and wrapped her arms around him.
She buried her face in his shoulder.
He felt the tears soak into his shirt.
He held her tighter.
Was this acceptance?
He hoped her returned embrace was a sign of forgiveness.
He wanted her to lower the drawbridge and allow him entry.
He spoke into her ear.
“Kate, I’m so sorry.
I can’t bear to be without you.
If we can’t be together then everything I’ve done was for nothing.”
Josh let it all go.
He had to let Kate know how he felt, this was his last chance or he might lose her forever.
He felt Kate pull away from him.
He let her go.
She took a step backwards.
She composed herself.
“Josh, you betrayed me.
You had an affair.
You put our family at risk.
We could have all been killed because of you.
How can I ever forgive you?”
“I was stupid and God knows I wish I could change that.
I don’t expect you to forgive me.
But give me a chance to make up for it.”
He reached out to touch Kate, but wasn’t sure how she would react, so he let his hands drop to his sides.
“Should I give you a second chance?” she asked.
“Abby needs a father.”
“Should I give you a second chance?” she demanded.
“What makes you think life will be different this time around?
You have no job.
We have got no home.
We don’t have anything.”
“I couldn’t ask for more.”
“We have a clean slate.
We’re free to make life anything we want it to be.
We have the chance to start again from the ground up.
Nothing to stop us.”
His enthusiasm spilled over.
“We’ll have to take things slow.
You have a lot to make up for.”
He was open-mouthed for a moment.
Did this mean what he thought it meant?
She was taking him back.
It was no time to think, just act.
Moving toward her, he said, “I know.
I have no expectations other than a second chance.”
Kate smiled for the first time.
She held out her hand to him and he took it.
He smiled back.
“We have a house to look at.”
Kate opened the door and led him inside.
The following is an excerpt of
by Simon Wood.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Gwen tasted Tarbell’s bitterness from across her desk.
She’d made a mistake.
She’d feared Tarbell’s performance review would turn adversarial, or to be more exact, that Tarbell would turn adversarial.
Now she’d incited him.
She knew it wouldn’t take much to set him off and she blamed herself for this downward turn of events.
She thought if she catalogued his positive traits before his shortcomings, it wouldn’t sound so bad.
A spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down and all that.
Now, she saw the glaring error of her approach.
It looked to him as if she’d built him up only to slap him down.
She should have given it to him straight.
No doubt the direct approach would have still drawn his ire, but it also would have gotten the issue out in the open earlier.
“Steve, it’s not like that.”
Only my friends call me Steve.”
Gwen trod carefully.
She couldn’t be seen kowtowing to Tarbell on this point.
If she began calling him Stephen and it got around the water cooler that he had insisted on it, it would make her look weak.
She’d never had Tarbell’s respect, but she couldn’t afford to lose the respect of her other subordinates.
At the same time, she had to respect his wishes.
For now, she wouldn’t call him anything.
“This isn’t personal.”
He leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms and legs and twisted his mouth into a sneer.
“No, it’s not.
I have to follow strict criteria for performance evaluations.
I couldn’t make it personal even if I wanted to.”
The expletive split the air like a gunshot.
Gwen glanced outside her office.
The outburst hadn’t caught anyone’s ear.
“Steve, that’s enough.”
“Stephen,” he corrected.
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him to grow up, but she bit the remark back.
She’d only be perpetuating his juvenile behavior.
This review was on the verge of getting away from her.
If she followed Tarbell down this road, it would speak more to her poor management skills than to his shortcomings.
She paused to give them both a moment to cool off.
Tarbell uncurled his long-limbed body, leaned forward and pressed a fist down on the edge of the desk.
Gwen fought the urge to back away.
“Why don’t we cut the crap and be honest for a second.
We both know why you’re doing this.
You want me out because you know I should have gotten the promotion instead of you.
I have more experience and seniority.
What do you have?
Nothing, but they still gave you the job.
Call it affirmative action or sexual equality or equal opportunity employment, but you only got the job because you’re a woman.
I should be sitting in that seat, not you.
I should be telling you you’ve failed to meet the standards expected of this company.
What a joke.”
There it was.
One of them had finally said it.
Tarbell’s attitude had never been great, but Gwen could pretty much track his performance deterioration from the day she’d gotten the promotion to Manager of Quality Assurance six months ago.
They’d both gone for the position along with four outside candidates.
Despite Tarbell’s experience and years with the company, they’d chosen Gwen.
It wasn’t just because of Tarbell’s reputation.
Gwen had made an instant impact at Pace Pharmaceuticals since her arrival eighteen months earlier.
She’d grasped the firm’s concepts quickly and patched holes in the systems that management knew existed, but had been unable to fix.
Tarbell relished interdepartmental battles, whereas she was a team player.
These elements won her the promotion.
“What’s it like to be sitting where you are based solely on possessing a vagina?”
Christ, this guy was a first class asshole.
She deserved her promotion.
She squashed the knee-jerk need to defend herself and bottled her disgust.
“I think this evaluation is at an end.”
Tarbell leaned back in his chair with a smug expression plastered across his face.
The son of a bitch felt he’d won a round in some prize fight that didn’t exist.
Gwen saw no value in pointing this out to him.
It would have no effect.
As much as it would be a big managerial feather in her cap if she turned Tarbell around, succeeding where others had failed, it wasn’t worth it.
The guy would keep acting out until he gave Pace cause enough to fire him.
Gwen slid a copy of Tarbell’s evaluation across the desk.
“You’ve received a failure to meet expectations, resulting in a number of items which you must complete to remove the substandard rating.
You’re welcome to challenge the rating, but you have to file your complaint with Human Resources by next Wednesday.”
Tarbell made no effort to take the evaluation.
He seemed content to bask in his own glory.
“Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
Tarbell shrugged and grabbed the evaluation.
“You’re a class act, Gwen,” he said on his way out.
Gwen remained stoic until he passed out of view of her office window, then released a breath.
Damn that man
, she thought.
She shouldn’t have let him get to her, but he was so damn infuriating.
At least it was over.
It was his problem to solve, not hers, and she let the stress of the encounter bleed out of her.
She was breathing hard and felt sweat cooling against her skin under her arms and down her back.
She needed to freshen up.
She still had two more evaluations this afternoon.