Code Red

Nerdy, New York based programming genius Dave Velasquez leads a quiet existence. He's well-liked at work but lacks a social life. He's loved by his family but lives on the other side of the country. He's brilliant at his job but has little to no ambition. At least not until a unanimous vote at work lands him the offer of head of the programming department in California. The promotion comes with a sweet apartment, a considerable raise, and driving distance to his home town and family. But it also means leaving behind the woman he is in love with and the friends he's finally starting to make in New York, and it turns out more challenges await him when he arrives on the West Coast.

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2. Chapter Two

April 1st, 2014

Four hours and two cups of coffee into my shift, I was getting to the end of my personal to-do list, provided by Carol, and preparing myself mentally for a couple of hours on my feet. It wasn’t the ideal day for it but I’d have felt bad asking Tom to cover for me because I knew the newbies – still the January group – were terrified of asking him for help. I understood their fear; Tom was reputed to be the strictest of the seniors on the floor and would dish out informal warnings to anyone whose coding had the tiniest hole or mistake. Trained to do quality checks, he had an eye for mistakes but not one for easy solutions, often getting the newbies in trouble because they didn’t know any better.

I pushed back from my desk and stood up, almost losing my balance and having to lean on the desktop for a moment to collect myself. Tom looked up from his monitors and raised an eyebrow, “You okay?” Because he sounded like he expected an affirmative answer, I gave a quick nod.

Carol had done much the same thing when she’d almost pushed me over as I exited the restrooms the day before. She’d been in a hurry to some kind of meeting and her shoulder had slammed hard against my upper arm. Normally, that wouldn’t have been a problem but at the moment it didn’t take much for me to lose my footing. It was because of the cold I’d had recently. It had left me feeling weak and out of sorts, and that affected my entire physique.

I picked up my stick and went to the tea kitchen, meaning to refill my coffee cup so I didn’t have to do it while the questions were coming from all over the floor. Afterwards, I’d have a quick leak.

The machine was humming cheerfully when I pressed the button labeled Black Coffee, and a moment later the thin, dark substance poured into my mug. Sarah turned to look at me from her spot and waved, and I waved back without saying anything because I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent. She smiled in return before resuming her work, head bobbing up and down to the sound her headphones were blasting into her skull.

Equipped with another fix of caffeine, I left the kitchen and meant to go back to my desk but paused briefly when I found Carol standing in front of it. One hand rested on the surface near the keyboard while her eyes rested on the drawing I’d taped to the bottom of one of my monitors.

On Valentine’s Day, the newbies had decided I needed some love in my life and had drawn a stick man with blood-shot eyes staring at an old-fashioned stationary PC screen. Underneath, somebody had added the text I work behind a computer all day so I can go home and sit behind a computer all night. xoxo, the n00bz. I’d laughed so hard when I’d found it stuck underneath my mouse mat and had decided to put it up for public display. It also sometimes reminded me why I liked my job.

Debating whether or not to slip out before my boss noticed me, I decided I probably shouldn’t be avoiding her. I just couldn’t deal with her pedagogical management crap today. Still, I went back to where I’d come from and she turned to greet me with a peculiar look on her inanimate face. She almost looked like she was happy to see me, something I’d never experienced before.

“Good morning,” she said and stepped back, leaning into her high stiletto heels.

“Morning,” I replied, trying to sound neutral.

When I moved to sit down, she raised a hand to stop me. “The board want to see you on the seventh floor,” she told me point blank.

I felt my brows drawing closer together, wondering what this could be about. I had nothing to do with the executives, and while they’d been doing evaluations of everyone in the department to prepare for the merger with Hammond & Sons, those had taken place in Carol’s office with her present.

“Okay,” I said after a while, feeling dumb for keeping quiet for way too long. “Do you know why?”

She shrugged, her body expressing more than her stony face. “It should be about the merger. You’re the only one missing from our entire department.”

I wasn’t sure that was good news. The merger had been announced a couple of weeks ago, and the company had been preparing ever since. Mark Wilkins had publicly promised that no one would get laid off, and that the New York offices would continue operation despite the change of name and headquarters. Maybe something about my performance had somehow set me apart from my colleagues that made the top want to get rid of me before leaving the offices in Carol’s hands.

“Okay,” I repeated hesitantly and glanced at my monitors.

“You should get going,” Carol told me firmly, “they’re expecting you.”

Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to me that they wanted me there immediately, so I bent down to quickly lock my screens so nobody could mess with my coding while I was gone. “Alright. Which room am I going to?”

“Seven-o-eight. You’ll need to pick up an access pass at the reception on your way up.”

“Got it,” I assured her. “Thanks.”

She followed me out of the main room, instructing Tom to keep an eye on any hands in the air in my absence with an air of confidence that could only mean she was very pleased with herself. Something must’ve happened that I didn’t know about but I didn’t care enough to ask.

At the elevator, she gave me a quick pat on the back before heading into her office and slamming the door behind her. I was at a loss for words; never in my career for NewTech had I seen Carol behave like that.

It took the usual eternity for the elevator to arrive but when it finally did, at least it was empty so I had the ride to the first floor to myself. When the doors slid apart to reveal the lobby, I was met with stares from a large crowd of suited men and women waiting to catch a ride to their different departments. A few reluctantly moved aside to allow me to exit before rushing in to make sure they wouldn’t have to take the stairs. Behind me, I could hear the abandoned latecomers groaning in displeasure at the missed opportunity but none of them walked a few feet to the left to get the stairs. Exercise seemed beneath them.

The front desk was like a deserted island with only one person stranded on it in the middle of the large lobby. It was a dark-haired woman with exactly the kind of youthful and approachable face you’d expect to find greeting customers and investors in a Manhattan building. She smiled friendlily at me when I scrambled up to the counter, resting my free hand on it.

“Hello,” she chirped peacefully. “How can I help you, sir?”

Sir, I thought with an inward scoff. Nobody ever called me that at work, and I hadn’t expected her to, either, since I wasn’t one of her usual visitors. In my jeans and tee, I probably more resembled a lost tourist than the people that swung by the front desk on a daily basis.

She was pretty, though, so there was no reason for me to be rude to her for showing politeness. “I’m here to pick up an access pass,” I told her instead.

A quick noise of understanding escaped her as she glanced down at the computer behind the counter. “What’s your last name and department, sir?”

“Velasquez and Programming,” I told her.

She nodded. “Velasquez,” she mumbled to herself, then asked out loud, “David?”

Only my grandparents called me that but I was pretty sure a correction would only cause further delay. “Yup.”

She moved a few inches to the right and dug around in a few drawers, finally fishing out a badge on a line with the words Full Access scribbled across it. “Alrighty, here’s your pass. Swipe it over any of the sensors and the doors should open for you. Just remember to bring it back by the end of the day.”

I took the pass and stuck it in my pocket. “Thanks, I will.”

The extended access in my pocket had a funny weight to it as I staggered back towards the elevator. whose doors closed in front of me. Not terribly irritated to have avoided rubbing shoulders with a bunch of stiff paper pushers, I pushed the button again and waited patiently. From the cafeteria in the adjoining room came a group of men in suits and bundled up next to me with sufficient distance that nobody would think I was one of them disguised as a civilian.

A few seconds later, a man came hurrying through the doors from the street, digging into a bag on his left side with a laptop clutched to his right. Seeing the laptop almost slipping out under his arm, I cleared my throat, “Need a hand?”

He looked up at me and then at the elevators as if he expected me to explain my presence. When I didn’t volunteer any information, he nodded and smiled, “Yes, please. Thank you.” As he said it, he handed me his laptop and I held it lightly in my free hand.

“No problem.”

He didn’t respond but dug deeper into his bag and drew out a stack of papers held together by a strained clip. To my right, I heard the elevator arriving with a functional pling and extended the laptop to the guy who was closing his bag again. He took it, then gestured to the ride upstairs, “I’m running a little late. Do you mind if I take this one?”

I followed his gaze to the automatic doors revealing a very crowded space full of people working on the upper floors. If I let him go before me, this would be the second one I missed and I was annoyed that he’d taken my help and intended to repay me by stealing my ride.

Before I could say anything, a man roughly my own age came dashing from the front desk, exclaiming, “Aw heeell naw” in possibly the most African American way I’d ever heard. He looked halfway between incredulous and furious as he stuck an arm into the elevator, keeping the doors open by blocking the sensors. “Can’t y’all read?”

Much like the rest of my coworkers nearby, I stared confusedly at the lunatic who dared disturb the cool and formal tone of our workplace lobby, but unlike them I didn’t seem to be the source of irritation.

The guy flailed wildly with his long, slender arms, one of which held a briefcase in shiny black leather. “The sign,” he exclaimed loudly, “clearly states that the law demands that the elevator be reserved for individuals who are pregnant, elderly, or have a disability. Unless y’all are blind or retarded, I see no reason why none of you have stepped off to offer this fella a spot.”

From the moment he pointed to the blue sign with white letters next to the elevator, my cheeks started burning. I didn’t like being the center of attention, and I didn’t appreciate someone breezing in and noisily fighting my fights for me. If I’d wanted to make a big deal out of this, I’d have done it myself: I could speak perfectly fine.

A murmur of equal parts discomfort, annoyance and embarrassment erupted inside the elevator, most claiming either that they hadn’t noticed or that they were really in a rush and holding the elevator didn’t benefit anyone. Regardless of their reaction, no one stepped off and I rolled my eyes because this was America at its finest. Any man for himself – except the occasional, ridiculous-sounding good Samaritan.

“No?” the man uttered and scratched his coarse, tight cut black hair. “Let’s do this another way, then: as a lawyer for this company, I’ll take all your names and make damn sure that when somebody inevitably files a lawsuit for this or something similar, y’all will be held responsible since you didn’t follow the law even though someone reminded you.”

He looked over his shoulder at me then as if to challenge me to protest against this behavior, but I was quite enjoying the shocked and horrified looks on the people’s faces and had no intentions of putting them at ease even though I didn’t like being defended by a stranger. A man in a blue suit shot me the kind of gaze that if looks could kill would’ve made me drop straight to my grave, and I repaid him with a shrug. There was another moment of hesitation in which the energetic guy lowered his pointing hand and waited. He didn’t look or sound like a lawyer but even if he wasn’t at least he was entertaining.

Eventually, a handful of people left, only the stubborn ones in the back remaining with their arms crossed defensively over their chests and their eyes daring both me and the complete stranger to talk to them.

The guy turned to me and grinned, his white teeth stunning against his dark complexion. “Come on.”

Realizing I was still just looking, I straightened up a little and moved across the threshold into the little cart. “Thanks,” I said, hating that I had to do this, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Actually, I did,” he corrected me matter-of-factly in a less crazy tone than before. “It’s my job to prevent or win lawsuits and cases are usually more difficult to win if the accusations are true.” So he was a lawyer after all, though not the kind I’d have expected to see around here and his accent wasn’t eastern.

I pressed the button to the seventh floor and watched the doors close on the lobby and a new gathering crowd. “I wouldn’t have had the money to file a lawsuit even if I didn’t want to keep my job here,” I told him quite frankly.

“Oh, I know,” he told me, “but someday, someone might not have those same issues. Or competition might be looking for ways to damage the company and offer a hella tempting bribe to anyone who has dirt on us.”

I raised an eyebrow for two reasons: firstly, I’d never heard of this sort of damage prevention or control being done within NewTech; secondly, that single word revealed which region of the States he was from and it wasn’t New York. “You’re with Hammond & Sons, aren’t you?”

He wiggled his shoulders with a semi-cocky smile, extending his right hand to me. “Ray Wells.”

I shook his hand. “Dave… Velasquez.” It felt unnatural to introduce myself with my last name because usually nobody cared.

He squeezed my hand tightly before letting go and regarding me with a comical expression. “Velasquez? You don’t look Hispanic?”

I considered that for a moment, knowing he was right but not wanting to talk about my family in an elevator full of strangers. The obvious answer would be that since I had a Spanish last name, obviously I must be, but I knew my dark ash blonde hair and pale ass skin would need a bit of an explanation if I did. “It’s a long story,” I finally decided.

 

My guts were beginning to twist when I walked down the hallway that lay past the little scanner that my access pass allowed me to go beyond. Seven-o-eight was almost right in the middle, and when I reached the door, I found rather a large group of men gathered inside, all dressed way more formally than I was.

This was it. In a few minutes I’d no longer have to speculate why I was here but I was still terrified that that might not be such a good thing. On the ride up, Ray Wells had been so chatty and energetic that I hadn’t had time to worry, but I was worried now. If I lost my job now, I suspected I’d have a hard time finding anything similar that paid decently in the area and I might have to move even further away from the city to be able to afford rent. And then there were the medical bills.

I shook my head. That was too much to think about all at once. I needed to rank my priorities.

Just as I decided to start making my list immediately, a man inside the room that I didn’t know turned around and looked at me, then waved with a broad smile on his face. He was tall and broad-shouldered with neatly cut graying hair and dressed in what looked to be a perfectly tailored striped suit. “Ah, you must be Mr. Velasquez. Come on in,” he said in a jovial and inviting tone, gesturing to one specific chair among many around a large, round table at the center of the room.

I swallowed my nervousness because I didn’t have much use of it and went inside, painfully aware of my terrible posture and irregular gait. The nearest man held out a hand and introduced himself and I shook it, saying, “Dave.” That was repeated throughout the room, but the only names I really remembered were those of the last two, Mark Wilkins and Ben Hammond. What could I possibly have done to deserve being looked at by the owners of NewTech and Hammond & Sons?

“Nice to meet you,” Wilkins said but his face didn’t give any emotions away. “Grab a seat.”

And so I did, selecting the exact chair Hammond had pointed out for me when he spotted me in the hallway. I set my stick aside, knowing I’d be fiddling with it if I didn’t, and put on my best poker face in an attempt to conceal how terrified I was. Numbers were swimming around my head again now that nobody was saying anything.

Only a few seconds later, though, Wilkins called the room to order from his own seat immediately across from me and folded his hands neatly on the tabletop. “So… was it Dave you said you preferred?”

“Yeah,” I breathed, unsure whether any sound actually came out.

He smiled. “So Dave, you’re probably wondering why you’re here?”

I nodded. “Can’t deny that.”

Hammond tried to conceal the grin that spread on his face then by laying his chin in his hand. Wilkins just kept that neutral expression with upturned mouth corners as his eyes pierced me. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the merger between NewTech and Hammond & Sons?”

“Of course.” Even if I hadn’t been working for one of the merging parties, it had still been all over the news since the first signs popped up or were leaked to the media.

“Excellent. We’re trying to figure out how we should divide our staff and departments so we’re here to ask you a few questions just like everybody else in your department have been asked them.”

I took a deep breath of relief and tried not to let it show while I nodded.

To my left, one of the suited men drew out a folder and shuffled some papers around loudly in the artificial silence. Nobody else moved, not even the two CEOs across from me. My leg was tingling, so I shifted slightly in my seat to try and give the muscles something to do – without much luck.

“Shall we start with the basics?” the man with the folder asked, then went on without waiting for a reply, “Could you tell us where you went to school starting with the high school you went to?”

I told them that I went to Cabrillo High, then did my undergraduate at Cal Poly and got my graduate degree at MIT, and the room was quiet once more in the wake of my list. The man took notes on a clean sheet of paper, writing with his left hand while his right held the question list down.

“And what was your major at MIT?”

“Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.”

Wilkins raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me, but how did you end up on the regular team in Programming if you’ve got a degree like that?” he asked, and the rich CEO at his side chuckled again.

I shrugged. It was a question I’d asked myself countless times but never found a good answer to. “Honestly? I was fresh out of college and needed a job that was just partly within my field of study and this was the first place to respond to my application.”

“And you never thought you were a bit … overqualified for the kind of work you’re doing?” Wilkins continued.

I didn’t want to seem cocky but couldn’t help smiling. “At the beginning, yes. But then I was allowed to do the base coding and assisting new hires and I really enjoy that.”

“You reports show that you made quick progress. How long did it take you to gain access to the base coding?” the man with the folder picked up.

I thought for a second. To me, it had seemed like forever that I was just typing mindless strings of code way too simple compared to what I’d learned in school. “A couple of months. Maybe four.”

Another man stirred opposite the one with the folder. “You mean to tell us that it took you four months to get permission to edit the entire structure of all our programs?” he asked incredulously.

When he put it like that, I could see the problem, but at the time I’d been relieved to be doing something just a tiny bit more complicated. “I guess so.”

Wilkins leaned forward. “Have you been working under Carol Meyer’s supervision the entire time?”

“Yeah.”

“And how’s that been?” the folder guy followed up.

I felt strangely put on the spot because it could very well be a trap. If I said something bad about my boss, they might pass on that information to her and she’d know how to blame. There was always a risk involved with voicing one’s opinion to one’s superiors and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take it. I was dependent on my income, and if Carol found out anyone had spoken negatively of her, she’d definitely make sure they received a pink slip with one excuse or another.

“This is a safe space,” Wilkins said as if he could sense my discomfort. “We need to know how our managers are perceived among their team members.”

I sighed. “Carol’s good at making schedules and keeping everyone on time and working, but she doesn’t know anything about coding or about the people she’s in charge of.”

“She mentioned you as if you knew each other,” the man who’d commented on my first four months at the company interjected.

I killed the ironic grin that was forming on my lips before it could take control. “Well, yeah. I’m a senior and pretty easily recognizable so I think most people there know who I am.”

“Would you say you’re in touch with the rest of your department?” Wilkins asked. “And by that I mean, would you say you know your colleagues better than Carol does? Be as frank as you possibly can.”

My leg twitched and I was grateful that it didn’t touch the table. Otherwise, I knew I’d have received a few odd looks and that was the last thing I needed right now. “Um… yeah, I guess I would say that.” There, I’d said it and I felt awful about it.

There was some more note-taking and a glass decanter with water was passed around the table to fill the glasses that had been put in front of each seat. I passed on the water and kept my gaze on the tabletop, not wanting to accidentally lock eyes with anyone. This felt like it was going nowhere and no longer had much to do with me unless they were testing my loyalty to my boss – in which case I’d failed miserably.

What did it matter to them whether I knew my colleagues better than my boss did? She wasn’t supposed to be emotionally invested in anyone; she was supposed to make sure all operations ran smoothly, and they did. Although my dad certainly wouldn’t agree with her leadership style, she was by no means bad at her job for prioritizing planning over interaction. My dad had always held the firm belief that a good leader was someone who knew their staff as well as their family and had tried the work hands-on before asking anyone else to do it, and that had always worked perfectly fine for the kind of business he was doing but would never work with large companies like NewTech and Hammond & Sons.

“Dave,” Wilkins said suddenly, the room falling silent and the water coming to a stop before the circle was complete, “Would it surprise you if I told you Carol seemed quite concerned with your ability to do your job in light of your disability?” He was the first person I’d ever met who didn’t pause briefly before uttering the word disability as if it was a taboo.

The most truthful answer would obviously have been an immediate yes because I’d never expected that to come up at all. Not once in the years I’d been working for her had I given her any reason to think that I couldn’t do my job because of that. Not even when she’d asked me to start assisting new hires had I complained despite having to be on my feet a lot. She had been the one to suggest that I stay at my desk and let the newbies come to me if they needed me.

I sat back in my chair and tried to collect myself, feeling strangely discriminated against despite the scenario technically being hypothetical. All eyes were on me and how I handled this probably had some significance for the conclusion of the meeting. Eventually, I admitted, “I’d have hoped that if she had a problem with how I’m doing my job, she’d have come to me first.”

Hammond nodded as if wanting to agree with me, and Wilkins’s shoulders dropped. “Have you got anything to say on that topic? I mean, in terms of your ability to work?” the owner of this building asked me. Somehow, he only barely managed not to sound like a psychologist interviewing a troubled individual, and if he had, I didn’t know what I would’ve done. It might’ve set me off.

Instead, I took a moment and thought this through. No matter how uncomfortable it was for me that this kept coming up in my family life, my social life, and now in my work life, I knew it wasn’t something I could avoid addressing in any of the three.

“Yeah,” I told the board hesitantly and shifted in my seat at another twitch, “I’d say that since I’m working with my brain and my hands, my legs are unlikely to be an issue.”

Wilkins smirked, but the reaction around the table wasn’t as approving. The note-taker was frowning visibly at his papers while his hand scribbled, and a few others were leaning in to say something to each other with grim faces. Hammond crossed his arms over his chest in a movement that made his broad shoulders look like they were going to burst the stitching of his suit but he didn’t look displeased per se.

“One last question, then,” Wilkins announced when the table had fallen back into silence and I felt my stomach plunging into my intestines. “In your opinion, what makes a good supervisor? One who’s got planning and organization down to an art or one who knows their way around their team?”

I was inclined to say the latter but could easily imagine someone who had lots of people skills trying to run a department like Programming and failing miserably at it. There were so many organizational factors to take into account that the job of supervisor took someone with a similar overview to Carol’s.

“Ideally, they’d have both,” I decided.

“Ideally,” Wilkins agreed and pushed his chair back, apparently satisfied with my answer. He looked me over as he stood up and I knew instinctively that it was my turn to do the same, so I braced myself and got to my feet. “Would you wait outside for a few minutes, please, while we evaluate? There might be something we’ve forgotten to ask and it’d be a shame for you to have to come all the way up here again later today.”

I resisted the urge to make a face. “Sure.”

 

Whatever evaluating the conversation meant, it didn’t take them long. I barely had time to pace back and forth between the two adjoining rooms twice before Wilkins reopened the door to room number eight and called me back inside. This was without a question the weirdest thing I’d ever participated in. It had felt more like an exam in knowledge about leadership than an assessment of my own skills or value for the company, yet I was nervous when I was faced with the board once again. My eyes drifted to a woman – the only of her gender – who hadn’t said anything and found a pleasant, neutral expression on her face.

Wilkins and Hammond were both standing and I was fairly sure we’d been approximately the same height when we’d exchanged handshakes earlier, but now, even with the large table between us, I felt like I was an ant being watched by a pair of eagles. What the hell was going on? Was this where I got the kick? Got laid off with just enough notice that I wouldn’t despair right at the center of this room?

“Do you like your job, Dave?” Wilkins asked friendlily, his hands resting neatly and calmly on the back of his chair.

I moved my right hand over to rest on top of my left, which was clutching the handle of my stick, hoping nobody would notice but also aware that they probably all had. “Yes,” I said, meaning it. If I hadn’t liked most aspects of it, I wouldn’t still be around.

Wilkins nodded and shot Hammond a look, making the other CEO straighten up and take a few steps away from where he’d been standing before, walking around the periphery of the round table. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been interviewing the entire team at Programming and we’ve asked each of your colleagues who they’d like to have as a manager if they could choose anyone,” he told me, pausing before the results.

My blood was running cold. Was this to tell me that I was wrong about Carol? That everybody else loved her and I was the only one who thought she wasn’t necessarily engaged enough in her team? And what did that mean for my position here? Were they going to suggest that I switch departments? That I find another place to work?

“The vote was almost unanimous,” Hammond went on, “for you.”

That sound effect they use in movies where a record player is derailed and makes a scratchy noise? That’s how it sounded inside my head when he said those last two words. For a long time, I just stood there and stared, then wondered if it was wishful thinking and he’d actually said something else that I didn’t want to hear.

I had zero organizational skills. I wasn’t even particularly nice to my colleagues. Especially not in the morning if I hadn’t had enough –

“Maybe you should sit down,” Hammond suggested with a grin that almost looked mischievous.

I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. “I’m sorry, what?”

Wilkins snickered. “Sit down. There’s more.”

By sheer force of will, I managed to drag myself back to the chair I’d sat in earlier and slumped into it. I felt like I was asleep. Not necessarily dreaming, just that heavy, surreal feeling of not really being in touch with my nervous system.

Hammond circled back to his spot as well, and the two CEOs sat down in front of me. Wilkins was the first to speak, “We haven’t announced it yet, but we’ll be moving part of our Programming department to California over the summer as part of the merger. The California department will have a more mentor based leadership style, and we’re hoping you’ll consider taking one of the management positions there.”

Needless to say, this was not what I’d expected going into this meeting earlier, and it took some time before the true meaning of the words hit home. They were offering me a promotion on the west coast. They weren’t going to let me go; they wanted me to stay.

I’d have started celebrating there and then, but what I felt immediately wasn’t happiness. A cold, practical numbness was spreading throughout my nervous system, calming it down so much that even my leg stopped twitching. “I know nothing about management. I don’t know how to do the kind of work that Carol does.”

“Naturally, you’d receive a bit of training at the beginning, but most of the scheduling comes from a different place there anyways, so your primary task would be to keep in touch with your team, help them if needed, and make sure you stay on top of what they’re working on,” Wilkins explained without hesitation. Clearly, he’d expected this.

Because I’d have been a complete moron not to, I considered the offer for a moment, trying to imagine myself as the supervisor of a team the size of the current programming department. I imagined having to dish out warnings and send disappointed e-mails just like Tom and Carol, and the thought made me fear for my own mental health. But at the same time, I was confident that I knew the code better than most, and time and experience had shown me that I was perfectly capable of teaching it to others with a much gentler hand than Tom or the trainers.

The biggest struggle, I thought, would be having to relocate my life again. Readjusting to a new place and actually finding something I could afford that suited my needs had been a real challenge anywhere near New York City, and I didn’t imagine the Bay Area would be much better. In fact, I’d just read in a free newspaper on the PATH that morning that the cost of living and rent in San Francisco had exceeded that of New York.

Perhaps he sensed my hesitation, because Wilkins cleared his throat lightly, “You don’t have to decide now. I can send you an e-mail with the official offer, which will hold a few more benefits than just the new title and location, and you can let me know if there’s anything you’d like to negotiate, or if it’s a no in the end.”

I felt dumb not saying anything, but I honestly had no idea what to say. On a daily basis, the most recognition I got was from the newbies, who alternated between teasing me and coming creeping to my desk for help. This was recognition on a much larger scale, and I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with it.

“Yes, please,” I heard myself saying lamely. Then, to my relief, I found a little bit of a practical note to cling to, “But let’s say I do turn it down. What happens then?”

Wilkins shrugged as if the answer was obvious. “You get to keep your job here. We’re not going to strong-arm you into accepting a promotion that you’re not ready for or enthusiastic about.”

With that settled, I could relax. If I chose to remain here, I wouldn’t have to go job hunting and risk having to move anyway if I couldn’t find anything. So I thanked them all for the offer and promised I’d get back to them within a week with my decision, which the two powerful businessmen across from me seemed satisfied with.

When I stood up, my legs felt more than usually shaky, so I didn’t move out of the spot right away. I could feel the gazes that came to rest on me from all angles, some more penetrating and speculative than others. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hammond and Wilkins getting up and walking around the table together. That’s when I pulled myself together, picked up my crutch and straightened to my full height.

We shook hands as if we were equals, and then I was allowed to leave.  

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