To celebrate my impending prompt fulfillment, I give you an extended excerpt from this story. Part of it you may have read before, most of it will be new. Enjoy!
Making It Work
by Cari Z
As soon as I got to the office on Wednesday morning, I knew something was wrong.
For starters, my boss’ door was closed. The only time he ever closed his door was when he was with a client. The rest of the time he left it open, because the man had something against his intercom and refused to use it to let me know when he needed something. There were personal assistants in this building who could go for days without ever speaking to their lawyer in person, just handling errands and delivering files and taking care of business via their computer and the intercom. Not my boss. Not Beau Montgomery.
The second “wrongness” tipoff was the fact that my coffee was stone-cold when I picked it up off my desk. The three of us had a habit of ordering coffee for each other from the shop down the block depending on who got in first. That meant Beau usually made the order, but the coffee was almost always still hot by the time I got in. I looked across the hall at Lorna, who grimaced and shrugged at me. “It’s been this way since I got in,” she said.
“And your coffee?”
“Lukewarm,” she said ominously. “And I got here at seven.” Lorna’s start times revolved around how much sleep her almost-two year old had gotten the night before, which meant she might be in as late as nine or as early as six thirty. Once Lorna was awake, she was awake, a trait her daughter Caroline had apparently inherited.
“How is the birthday girl?”
“Happy that her grandma is there to look after her today. Mark is too, it gave him a chance to sleep in.” Lorna pointed a finger at the door. “Back to that, though. You don’t know what’s up?”
“No.” I sat on the front edge of my desk and tapped on the lid of my cup as I considered it. “I left around seven last night. Beau was still here, but he was getting ready to leave too.”
“The earliest the Starbucks delivers is six-fifteen,” Lorna said. “He must have made the order as soon as he came in, for it to be blah by the time I got here. So something happened last night, either here or at home, to make him…” She considered it, then decided on, “Chilly today.”
Uh-oh, chilly. Not a good descriptor for the man we both at one time or another called boss. Beau wasn’t really an effusive guy, but he had a warmth about him, a gentility and friendliness that made him popular with his clients and the other senior partners at Bowman & Sons as well as his staff. I’d come to work for him with the expectation that I’d be sent back down into the secretarial pool on the first floor after a week, which was what he did with the three candidates for this job just before me. I had expected someone demanding, unreasonable and possibly misogynistic if the comments from one of the girls who preceded me were true.
Instead I met Beau, who asked me to call him that instead of Mr. Montgomery because, “please, don’t make me sound like my father.” He was courteous and professional, and warmed up enough to lift me out of the shark pool and make me his personal assistant after the trial week. In the two years since then, I could count on one hand the number of times he’d left his office door closed in the morning, and one had been because he’d been stuck in traffic during one of Seattle’s freak snowstorms. Another had been right after the death of a client, so never without a very good reason.
“Check his messages, its’ possible something went wrong with the Davis case,” Lorna advised. “Or look at his schedule. Maybe he has to get an emergency root canal or something.”
“The Davis case is a slam-dunk, we’re just waiting for opposing counsel to come back with the signed contracts at this point,” I argued, but I walked around to my chair and booted up the computer. I could have checked Beau’s schedule on my phone, I had access to his work email and files, but I didn’t feel like squinting at a tiny screen after a late night out. I stared at my reflection in the dark screen while waiting for it to turn on. I looked…pretty good. No bags under my eyes, my hair very deliberately messy, my shirt crisp and pressed. Not like I’d been clubbing until two am before heading home to get as much sleep as I could cram in before coming in to work. I loved my job, but I wasn’t going to let my social life suffer because of it, unlike some people I could mention. Not that I ever would.
“You left Saturday free, right?” Lorna reminded me as I opened Beau’s schedule. “Year one was bad enough, there’s no way I’m having a birthday party for Carrie with a dozen other toddlers at it without plenty of backup.”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, skimming the appointment list for the rest of the week.
“And you put it into Beau’s calendar? Because he’s brilliant with corporate mergers but not so good with remembering dates.”
“Yes, I’ve got it.” There it was, Carrie’s second birthday party in pretty pink text. If I could have made it sparkle, I would have. Lorna had been Beau’s longtime personal assistant before taking a year off when her daughter was born, and they were more like family than work acquaintances at this point. Beau was great with Carrie. I had watched, with my own stunned eyes, as she squished a grape all over his gorgeous silk tie while babbling at him during a visit two weeks ago. He had just smiled, cleaned off her hands and gone tie-less for the rest of the day, which I strongly feel he should do more often. I doubt I could get away with Carrie’s method, though.
I scanned the rest of the schedule for anything out of place. There was the teleconference with Trident International, there was his meeting with the other senior partners tomorrow, there was Jackson Hughes’ appointment tomorrow…oh, that would be fun. Jackson was a beautiful man and an incorrigible flirt, and he always came bearing flowers for Lorna and a compliment for me. He was one of Beau’s oldest clients, and they got along like the proverbial house on fire. If Beau was ever going to consider dating someone, it would probably be someone like Jackson: handsome, successful, and outgoing.
The rest of his schedule for the week was pretty open, except for—oh, there. A new appointment with his parents. They came up from Charlotte every few months, more often in the summer when the weather was better, and they always got together with Beau for a meal while they were here.
I had never met Beau’s parents, but I didn’t have a sterling opinion of them. Back when I first started working with Beau and was eager to learn more about him, I’d not-so-delicately broached the upcoming Mother’s Day celebration by asking, “So what would you like me to order for your mom? Or is that something you prefer to take care of yourself?”
Beau had stopped in his tracks on the way into his office and looked at me. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday,” I’d said with a smile. “What would you like to do for your mom? I always get my mother a pair of baseball tickets, she loves the Rockies. We used to go to the games together before I moved out here. What would you like to do?”
I stared at him, aghast. “Nothing?” I squeaked.
“No, Eric. Nothing.”
“But she’s your mother.” And I knew she wasn’t dead or anything, I’d already scheduled several lunches for them at _____ on other visits. “Don’t you want to do something special for her?”
“No. That’s a fight I’m not about to have again.” Then he’d walked into his office and closed the door, leaving me confused and feeling like I’d done something wrong.
That was the first time Beau took me out to lunch. On busy days he ordered in for both of us, but on days he thought he’d been rude, we went out together. It was a level of consideration I’d never had from a boss before, and just made me more confused with regards to his mom. Beau was clearly a thoughtful guy, so why wouldn’t he want to do something special for her? He’d done his best to explain as we fought for a table in one of my favorite cafes.
“I’m not close to either of my parents, I never have been,” Beau said as he waited for his chowder to cool enough to eat. “They didn’t take my coming out well, or my decision to go into law and not banking.”
And bam, in one fell swoop he’d answered a question I hadn’t quite been nervy enough to ask. The way he’d gotten rid of his previous, sometimes very hungry personal assistants had suggested that he wasn’t interested in being pursued by the ladies, but that wasn’t enough to make assumptions on. Then I caught up on the rest of his statement.
“Wait, your parents are unhappy you’re a lawyer? Isn’t being a successful lawyer the sort of thing most parents pray for when it comes to their kids?”
“I don’t know about most parents, but mine didn’t care for it, no,” Beau had said with a little smile. He was so pretty when he smiled. “My father managed a hedge fund that I was expected to take over. I preferred a job that was more honest.”
“And so you became…a lawyer.”
“Trust me, by comparison? This is much easier on my conscience.”
I had no idea what was involved in being a hedge fund manager, but I’d at least heard of Bernie Madoff. If Beau didn’t want anything to do with that kind of crap, who was I to say no? “Well, my mother would freaking love you,” I said to him. “In fact, she already does because you have, according to her, given my life purpose.” I loved my mother, but she was such a hippie sometimes. “She sends me your weekly horoscope.” And cue my enormous blush. I hadn’t meant to let that slip.
Beau’s smile got wider. “How does she know my birthday?”
“I…may have mentioned you were a Capricorn at one point. It’s the kind of thing she asks, it’s like knowing that your eyes are blue as far as she’s concerned!” I said defensively. “I’m not sharing anything really personal with her, or anything pertaining to any of your cases, I swear…”
“Eric.” His voice cut through my imminent babble. “It’s fine. Relax. Eat.”
When Beau told me to do something, I did it. Not just because he was my boss, either. There was something about his delivery that just got me, bam, right in the chest. It made me feel happy to do what he said, which was maybe kind of fucked up but clearly worked for me. We ate lunch, and he ended up upgrading my mom’s seats from the nosebleeds to practically right behind home plate, which made her wax rhapsodic about Beau’s karma for five straight minutes when I next called her.
More crumbs of information dropped about Beau’s family as time went on, and none of them left me with a great impression. The little that Lorna shared with me when she came back to work didn’t make Beau’s past any less murky, and I decided not to pry. Beau was friendly, but he was also my boss, and his past was none of my business. His parents were nothing more than names on a screen to me, and all I had to do with them was book a table for three at—
Wait. A table for four? No, that had to be wrong. Four people implied that Beau was bringing a date to their dinner, and as far as I knew Beau didn’t date. He hadn’t in the two years I’d known him. He didn’t take days off, he didn’t schedule weekend getaways, he didn’t even eat out unless it was for a business meeting or his folks. So what was this, then?