Danielle, my wife, often accuses me of being a chronic head scratcher in times of stress. Usually I laugh it off and make a joke about it but I’m starting to realise she’s right.
I pace up and down the hall outside of my office, cracking my knuckles and rubbing my hands through my hair. I’m usually a calm person but at times like these that goes out the window.
“Oh calm down, Jonathan,” Elaine tells me from behind the desk. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Laughing under my breath at her, I shake my head and look away from a window towards her.
She looks pretty good today with her light brown curls styled on top of her head. Wearing the red lipstick that I always find quite attractive on her, I can’t help but think it suits her outfit for today – a black button down with a black pencil skirt. Although I can’t see her feet, I’m sure she’s probably wearing some ridiculously high heels.
She purses her lips at me and shakes her head.
“If you keep it up your might have a heart attack.”
“I feel like it’s a possibility,” I say as I walk towards the water cooler in the corner. “This is big stuff.”
“So what?” she swings around in her chair. “This isn’t a rare occurrence for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask flirtatiously and smile somewhat when I see a flush of red on her cheeks.
“All I’m saying is you’re the best sales representative Telcorp has ever had.”
I take a sip of the cool water and non my head in thanks.
“I appreciate your kind words, Miss Robertson.”
“Call me Elaine,” she points her pencil at me and I laugh again.
Having calmed down a little, I pace around the hall, looking at the pictures on the wall. I look over my shoulder at Elaine when I hear the phone ring and in doing so, my eyes fall on the television in the upper right corner.
Downing the last dregs of my cup, I near the TV, grabbing the remote from Elaine’s desk and turning it up.
“In breaking news we witness the live events happening right outside Coolmound city as terrorists launch their second attack of the week.”
The picture of the reporter is soon replaced with footage of a burning fire creeping up the first barrier between us and the outside world. People run across the camera, some wailing and screaming.
My eyes search the screen, wondering if any faces can be seen, but the terrorists, the ones responsible all wear masks. Those that are caught by the fast swarming police service are dragged away, out of the cameras view.
“Horrible isn’t it,” Elaine walks up beside me and I nod my head in agreement, crossing my arms.
“They’re only making it worse for themselves,” I say, waving my hand towards the television. “I mean, if you’re trying to convince the world that you are decent enough for the city’s, blowing up people isn’t a good start.”
“Maybe they just want attention,” Elaine theories and chews the tip of her pencil. “Really, who knows what goes through their heads.”
“Nothing,” a voice says from behind us and we whip around to see a man in a black suit standing before us. He moves towards us, eyes on the screen. “These people are savages, people with no mind that’s smart enough to function in such a society as our own.”
His eyes turn from the screen to meet mine.
“I’m Riles Granger, owner of Telcorp.”
I immediately stick my hand out towards him, my fast breath returning.
“Jonathan Charles, at your service, sir.”
“No need to be so formal,” Riles shakes my hand. “You and I are going to be great friends.”
“I’d like that.”
“Let’s step into my temporary office,” Riles a tight smile, one that doesn’t quite meet the eyes.
Obediently, I walk a head of him towards the open door. I ball my hands into tight fists, nerves shooting up and down my spine. I can’t wait to go home and tell my wife that I met the manager of the business I grew up working for. More importantly, I’m excited to go home and tell her that I got a pay raise, a new job title and a new position in such a company as Telcorp, the biggest electronic supplier in the world. That is, if I get the job.
I pause at the door, looking back over my shoulder in time to see Elaine turn the power button off for the TV. It’s not a rare occurrence here for us to pay no mind to the terrorism attacks. The cities are the most heavily guarded places in the planet with the exception of the castle holding the royal family. What happens outside our barricades are no problem to us.
As Riles passes me though, it’s only then I realise that he paid no mind to Elaine and I didn’t either. I contemplate feeling bad, but I quickly shake the thought away.
In this society and this nation, we look out for ourselves. You never know when someone is ready to rip you down.
With a smile, I close the office door and turn towards Riles.
Riles Granger, I decide, is one of the more attractive men in the Telcorp business. Sitting across from him at the desk I can’t help but take in his physical features, mentally planning out how to improve my own in his wake.
It’s one of my tricks of the business. Always look a level higher in a company and one day you will get there.
With a black suit and tie that clings to his slim frame, Riles leaves much to the imagination, minus the glasses and bald head. It’s a new and fresh look to the one I’m used to: Bushy beard, gelled back hair and fancy clothes.
I want to ask for his clothing brands, but decide against it. In a job interview, you don’t want to be the one asking the questions.
“Are you aware of the responsibilities of such a position, Charles?” he asks and I nod immediately.
“Yes sir I am. I would do anything to meet the requirements of such a position.”
This time when he smiles, it meets his dark green eyes.
“Tell me, are you religious?”
I scoff before quickly regaining my composure.
“No not at all. A big man with a stick in the sky would hardly go unnoticed by scientists.”
Riles laughs a short laugh and folds his hands in front of him, leaning more onto the desk.
“I like the way you think. Science and facts are what keep the world running. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
“I agree,” I nod along with his words. “Science is the basis of this company. All words passed from us to customers are facts and no one can argue with facts.”
“We need more than facts,” Riles pushes himself out of his chair, walking over to the window and looking down at the world fifty floors below. “When it comes to a position on our sales executive team, you need to put your heart and soul into it. People don’t want facts, they want relatability, do you understand?”
Part of me wants to argue but I decide against it, instead opting to nod.
“The world is a strange place,” Riles continues. “If we all wanted facts and not fantasies it’d be much easier to operate, but sadly that’s not the case and that’s why we’re living a divided lie.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Come here,” Riles orders and I quickly stand to my feet, hurrying to the window wear he stands. It’s only now with the sun filtering in the window that I notice the wrinkles around his face. For some reason in repulses me and I quickly turn my eyes down to the city below.
“Here in the city,” he explains, “we live a calm and collected life. We go to work every day to earn money to pay our bills and feed our families.
But what about over there?” He asks and points out into the distance. “What about the people who can’t take the facts as facts and live a life out in the wild, surrounded by others who refuse the same? What was a battle of opinions soon became a battle of survival.”
I still fail to understand, my own logical mind not keeping up. Coughing nervously I ask,
“May I ask what this has to do with Telcorp?”
“Of course,” Riles pats my arm and gestures back towards the chair.
As I take my seat, Riles explains.
“Even here in the city people still want more then soul. The difference between a sale and a non-sale is the soul that you put into it, not the facts. You can tell them for example that a specific vacuum cleaner has the highest rating in all the planet but they’ll still choose the one that you give a personality.”
“How do I give a personality to a vacuum cleaner?”
“Invent something,” Riles waves his hand in the air in front of my eyes. “Tell them your grandma owned one for the duration of her life and it served the family well. Tell them you bought it as a wedding gift to your wife and she loved it.”
I laugh at the idea.
“I’m not sure what your wife is like, Mister Granger, but my wife would bite my head off if I bought such a thing.”
“Exactly!” He snaps his fingers with eyes as bright as sparklers. “People love a funny joke. They love anything that makes anything personal. Facts aren’t personal, they’re just inclusive. Personality is reclusive.”
“I like that,” I say thoughtfully.
“And I like you,” Riles points his index finger at me. “That’s why I want to give you this position in our company.”
I bite my tongue to hold in a shout of joy and instead reach out to shake his hand again, nodding quickly and laughing with a short breath.
“Thank you, Sir. You have no idea what such a position means to me.”
“Oh, but I do and that’s why I’m giving it to you. Looking back at your records you have been one of the best access to this branch. We don’t let the victors go unprized.”
We stand to our feet and I hold my hands behind my back, clenching them in excitement.
“I believe you have the potential to bring this branch many sales and if you do just that,” he pauses and stares me dead in the eyes. “If you do just that we might find a place for you in our office.”
All I can think in that moment is going home and kissing Danielle and telling her the good news of my promotion and the possible future promotions in my future.
“I would do anything for this company,” I repeat in the most serious tone of voice I can muster in such a situation. “Anything at all.”
“We know,” Riles nods. “Hard work pays well.”
I exit the office with a spring in my step and make my way towards the water cooler again, grinning broadly.
“It went well I take it,” Elaine smirks from behind her desk, standing up as I walk past.
“Very well,” I tell her with a short laugh, pointing a finger at her. “You told me it would.”
“It always does for you,” she walks around the desk to stand beside me.
As I take a drink I feel her press her lips into my cheek and I freeze.
“Congratulations, Mister Charles,” she whispers into my ear and with that she turns around, walking back to the desk.
I smile as I watch her go.
Today is the day of change.
“Honey?” I sing out as I open the front door. In one hand I hold a bunch of fresh roses I picked up from the supermarket and in the other I hold my jacket. Summer in this country is sweltering. “I’m home!”
I walk down the hallway with the roses behind my back, peeking into every room as I pass by.
I find Danielle in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and as I sneak up behind her, I smile when I see her earphones in. Usually it might bother me a little not to have her greet me at the door as she used to do when we first got married fifteen years ago, but as I throw my jacket on the table, I know it’s the perfect opportunity.
I prance forward the last few steps and in a matter of seconds I pull the earphones from her ear and press my lips against her cheek.
Danielle startles and turns around, fright turning into surprise when she sees me holding out the flowers.
“For you, my love.”
As she takes the flowers into hands I experience a flashback to our wedding. She looked so beautiful on that day and she still does now with chocolate brown ringlets that fall pass her shoulders in waves and her sweet and delicate figure. When she looks up to me, joy in her eyes, I fall even deeper in love with the deep blue that first captured my attention years ago.
“Thank you,” she hugs me tight and pulls away to give me a soft kiss. “You really are an amazing husband, did you know that?”
“Now I do,” I say cheekily as I wrap my arms around her waist, pulling her against me.
“So what’s the occasion?” She asks with just as much cheek as she straightens my tie.
“There has to be an occasion for me to bring flowers to my beautiful wife?”
She looks at me pointedly and I confess with a laugh.
“Okay, yes something major just happened today.”
“Oh?” she asks curiously and I pull her by the hand towards the table in the middle of the kitchen.
I sit her down and kneel in front of her, hands on either side of her face.
“A few weeks ago I was told they were looking for a new sales executive after the other got killed in that horrific accident a few months back. I applied for the position, of course.”
I can see the light start to fade from her eyes, but I push forward, my words getting more forceful.
“They called me into the office today just before the end of my shift and Riles Granger, the owner of Telcorp, Danielle! He was there and he gave me the job!”
Danielle offers a weak smile, but I ignore it, continuing with the news that I know would make any other women laugh in excitement and joy.
“He told me if I was successful I might be offered a place in the office, The Office, Danielle.”
“That’s nice,” she says quietly, letting her eyes fall to her lap. “That is fantastic news.”
Giving up, I let my hands fall to my side and grit my teeth.
“You’re supposed to be happy about this,” I say quietly, taking deep breaths to curb my anger. “Most people would.”
“I am happy for you,” she rests her hands on my shoulders. “I really am. You are an incredibly hard worker and you deserve a position like this.”
“But?” I look her hard in the eyes. “There’s a but, isn’t there? There always is with you.”
Hurt flickers across her eyes and I almost feel bad but it soon fades away.
Danielle stands from the chair and walks past me into the kitchen to resume stirring the pot.
“But,” she continues. “I am worried about how this will affect our family.”
“Nothing but good will come from a position like this,” I argue, running my fingers through my hair.
“You mean more money?” she looks over her shoulder and her blue eyes pierce mine. “Money isn’t everything, especially not in a family.”
I curl by hands into fists and sit on the chair, resting my chin on my hands as I try to calm down.
“What more do you want from me, Danielle?” I ask her quietly and she sets the spoon down, leaning against the kitchen bench with a sigh.
“I miss having you home before dinner where you would help Rose with her homework, which, by the way, she’s struggling with. I miss seeing you for more than a few hours each day. We don’t go out and have fun anymore, not like we used to.”
I stand from the chair and make my way towards her, wrapping my arms around her delicate frame and resting my head on her shoulder.
“You know what this job means to me.”
“That’s exactly the point,” she fidgets with her hands. “It means more to you then your own family.”
I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face and quickly pull back, opening my mouth to argue.
Just then the front door slams and I hear our daughter sing out.
“Mum, dad, I’m home!”
Danielle moves around me, throwing a glance at the clock above the sink which fingers point to past seven.
“Rose,” she says sternly. “Your curfew is no later than seven, especially on a school night.”
When I feel I’ve calmed down from Danielle’s comment I take a seat next to her while we wait for Rose to appear.
Rose walks into the room, feet dragging underneath her.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I barely hear her mumble and she looks up.
Rose is a spitting image of her mother, only with my dark hair. She must have gone out after school because instead of the usual blue outfit that she wears for school, she’s instead wearing red tights with a black skirt and a black top. When her dark blue eyes meet mine, she crosses her arms and leans against the door frame, eyes hard on mine.
Just like Danielle, she’s stubborn as all hell.
“You’re late,” I tell her and she snorts.
“I know. I just said that I’m sorry.”
“You’ve said that every day this week,” Danielle rubs her forehead tiredly. “I need you home earlier.”
“It’s not my fault,” she tries to argue but I point to the chair at the end of the table.
“Sit down, Rose.”
Huffing, Rose drops her handbag and falls heavily into the chair, pretending to inspect her fingernails.
“If you’re going to ground me, just go ahead.”
“Oh we will,” Danielle tells her. “You’re grounded until I think you can keep your promises again.”
“Okay,” she goes to stand up but I point at her.
“No, sit. You’re not excused just yet.”
“What else did I do wrong?” she stares at me in confusion and I shake my head.
“Your mother tells me you’ve been struggling with school.”
“What else is news?” She leans back, glaring at me.
“I know you feel like I’ve contributed to this, but I’m not always going to be around to help you with your school work,” I tell her and she gives me a tight smile.
“Oh I know. You’re already gone so I make do.”
I sigh deeply and lean back in my chair. Danielle stands up again to check on dinner and I decide now’s a good time to tell Rose.
“I got a promotion today.”
She doesn’t look surprised, in fact she looks quite bored.
“Wow, shocker,” she says sarcastically and, having had enough, I slam my palm into the table.
“I would appreciate some more gratitude,” I yell and she flinches a little bit. “I work hard to provide for this family and you know it.”
“I don’t want money, dad,” she bites her lip and sniffs a little. “I don’t think neither mum nor I do.”
I look over at Danielle to see her looking at me, only to quickly turn away.
“We need the money,” I say more gently.
“No we don’t,” she says and stands to her feet, arms crossed tighter only it seems more for comfort than anything else. My heart hurts from the sight and I stand up too.
“Come here, Rose,” I beckon her towards me and after a pause, she obeys.
I beckon to Danielle as well and when they’re both in front of me I pull them into a tight hug. My two girls nestled in my arms.
“I know I haven’t been a good father,” I kiss Rose’s forehead and then I kiss Danielle’s. “And I know I haven’t been a good husband as of late either. I want to do better for the both of you, but I need your support and help.”
“As much as I don’t like this decision,” Danielle whispers, her lips pressed into my chest and her arms around Rose, “I will always support you.”
“Me too, daddy,” Rose whispers.
We stand in that hug for a little while. Rose is the first to pull away, leaving the room quickly without a word. Danielle stays in my arms a bit longer before pulling away to plate up dinner.
“I appreciate your hard work, honey,” she tells me as she does. “But this new idea will take a while for me to get used to.”
“Thank you,” I tell her and scoop my jacket off of the table. “I have some work to do in the office. I’ll be done for dinner shortly.”
Mixed emotions effulge me as I make my way out the room and up the stairs towards my office. Love towards my family, disappointment at their response, understanding of their response, anger that they took it so badly, worry for Rose and then, guilt for the way I’ve been treating them.
As I walk past Rose’s closed door I try to ignore the growing guilt that has grown in my chest since the first time I really started to notice Elaine Robertson.
“It’s not cheating,” I whisper to myself as I flick the light on in my office. “It’s harmless flirting.”
“But flirting just the same,” my mind reasons and I sit down in my office chair, squeezing the top of my nose between two fingers.
“I’ll change my attitude,” I whisper again. “My family needs me and I’m not fully dedicated towards my family if I’m letting another woman into my mind. My girls are all that I need.”
There’s still a part of me though that holds resentment over my family. They know how hard I’ve been working towards a position such as this and while they held nothing but disappointment about it, Elaine cheered me on.
I lean back in my chair and stare up at the ceiling, letting my thoughts take me under for just a second.
The next morning I rise early at six o’clock and go about my morning routine in deep thought. A usual, Danielle, wakes up with me and sits on the edge of the bed, watching me sleeping.
“Can you remember when we first met?” she asks and I chuckle a little, pulling myself out of my thoughts for a moment.
“Yes I do,” I say with thought. “We were at that art function that your old employer had created.”
My wife is quite the talented artist. Not many people can make it to the level she’s at now, where they own their own gallery and make a living off of their beautiful paintings. Many of them are scattered around the walls of our house, adding colour and a feeling of light to each room. Even though art was never one of my interests, I find her paintings beautiful and special.
I look up at her art piece that we hung above the bed when we first bought this place together. It’s a portrait of the two of us on our wedding day fifteen years ago. We are facing away, my arm around her waist and her veiled head on my shoulder, staring off into the beautiful pink sunset that marked our wedding day.
My eyes flick down to hers to find them fixed on me, a small smile on her lips.
“I still remember that lame joke -"
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