After looking for another job all day Sunday, Violet went to work on Monday morning. She put earphones into her ears and got to work. A new batch of greeting cards had been sent to her from the photography department, which wasn't usual. She was certain, though, that Jake had had a hand in this, because she was now being asked to write humorous prose. She'd been promoted and hadn't wanted that to happen. But it didn't matter. She'd be gone in two weeks. Since everyone had Thursday and Friday off, in eight working days, she'd be history from the Oakwood Greeting Card Company. She just wished she could find a job as much as she liked this one.
As she thought of some prose, she looked up a bit. She couldn't see well over the cubicle walls, but felt like she was being watched. She stood up, and there, across the room, stood Jake, just staring at her cubicle. His hands were on his hips and he appeared to be frustrated.
She crossed her arms, shook her head slowly, and sat back down. The next eight days were going to be brutal. But she'd do her work and move on.
Just as she began to work again, someone stepped into her cubicle. "Miss Black, I'd like to speak with you."
She knew that voice. Jake. "Yes, sir." She turned, seeing his sad face.
"In the conference room."
She grabbed some paper and a pen, considering taking her coat and purse with her. As she looked up at Jake, she opened her desk, lifted her purse, and took her coat off the back of her chair.
He moved to block her exit. "You're not leaving yet, so you won't need that."
She put the purse back into the desk and locked it. After dropping her coat on her chair, she realized he still hadn't moved. "What now?"
"You don't need a pen and paper, either. We'll work on a laptop."
Chet stood up and stared. "Oooohhh…someone's in trouble."
Violet bit her lips, because she wanted to say that Chet was in trouble, but knew better. As soon as she put down the paper and pen, Jake ushered her into the hallway. They continued walking, heading for that forbidden conference room.
"Care to tell me what this is about?" she asked.
"Nope. Not yet."
"Are you trying to get on my good side?"
"No. You're not receptive to that." He seemed so cold and indifferent, she wondered what she ever saw in the guy. "Do you have another job in mind yet?"
"I saw a few." But she was lying. The job market for English majors was nonexistent in the area. However, she could always work for Dave as a secretary. It'd be brutal but it was a job.
They stopped at the conference room and he opened the door. Betty and a few of the upper echelons of the company sat inside. Violet felt more confident that ever, considering she only had eight days left, and the day was part of the way over.
"Have a seat," Jake said, and sat at the head of the table.
She did as requested, and sat on the far side, near the other empty end of the table and beside Betty.
Jake made eye contact with the entire group. "I called this meeting because we have a problem. I can't prove anything Chet's done, except for surfing porn. Because he claims it was to find a dancer for an ad, our legal department said it'd be too weak a reason to fire him. So we need to find more." He sighed. "Dad had a heart attack this morning, so I'm in charge, more than I want to be. I talked to him on the phone and they said he needs a triple bypass, but he's okay for now. He has formally retired and the company is now mine to run."
Violet felt so badly for Jake. His dad wasn't well, and he had a lot on his shoulders.
"I'm flying to San Antonio tomorrow for the operation, so in the meantime, I'm putting Lanny in charge." Jake nodded toward the smiling bald man on his right. "I'm going to close the San Antonio office, so we can downsize a bit. The employees there will have the option of moving up here, telecommuting, or given a severance package. When the sale of that office is complete, we'll take the money and expand here, since we have a lot of land to the west. In the meantime, I want each of you to get rid of any dead wood. If any employee isn't exceptional, I want them gone. They'll be laid off, but not fired, so they can find another job." He looked directly at Violet. "I have a job for you in the time remaining with our company."
"You've been fired?" Betty asked, staring at Violet.
"No," Jake said to Betty. "I want her to stay, but a…personal problem happened and she's resigned. I convinced her to stay two weeks, but I'd like her to stay longer. However, I made a mistake and I think it's unfixable." He sighed and everyone kept quiet. "I wish I could turn back the clock, but it's not going to happen." He looked at Violet. "I want you to finish up the cards you're working on, because you're exceptional at writing card messages."
"Oakies," Lanny whispered.
"Not any more. That's a stupid thing to call them, and my dad was wrong. We've had to educate each of our clients to something that makes no sense." He turned back toward Violet. "Finish just those few. I think you have two left."
She nodded. He must've checked her boss' emails, because she'd sent the rest in that morning.
Jake continued. "Then I want you to listen to Chet. I want to know exactly what he's doing every moment of every day. We have a tap on his phone, but we can't have it on all the time, according to our lawyers. We also can't use it in a court of law, because he wasn't notified. I want to stay on private messaging with me all day, because if we know what he's doing, we can catch him in the act."
"Wait, John…I mean, whatever your name is today."
Everyone's eyebrows lifted as they stared at her.
"That's another thing," Jake said. "My real name's Jake. I took the name John so no one would know who I am." He looked over at Violet. "I'm so sorry, but I couldn't let Chet find out my real name. Will you help me in the last seven or so days you're here?"
Betty leaned closer, since she was beside Violet. "Give the guy a break. His dad's not in good shape."
There was no way she'd say anything, and definitely not in a business setting. Instead, she sighed and pursed her lips.
"All right," Jake said. "Everyone knows what to do. Clean out the dead wood, close the San Antonio office, and get rid of Chet. Any other questions?"
Lanny leaned closer to Jake. "Are you two dating?"
"No, but that policy will change. As long as the employee isn't a direct report, I don't care who's dating whom. I put that in the works this morning at the board meeting. It was passed unanimously, along with a few other policies. They'll all be distributed this afternoon. Anything else?"
"I think you should date her, Lanny whispered. "We really need her. Those cards—"
"Later." Jake stood up. "Meeting dismissed."
Violet stood up, but just as she approached the door, Jake touched her shoulder. "I'd like to speak with you in private, so we can get a strategy."
He sighed, but everyone else left the room. As soon as they were gone, he shut the door and motioned to the table.
She sat down, her arms crossing. She hated the thought that she had to bow down to him.
"I know you're really angry with me right now, and I honestly can't blame you. I had no idea your uncle was Gene Ranger. He and my dad are really good friends. He wouldn't let me go after you on Saturday, but said he'd explain it to you."
"I haven't talked to Uncle Gene for years. He's too uppity for my family, since my dad was an elementary school principal and my mom was a nurse."
Jake half-smiled. "Well, he feels badly for letting the cat out of the bag, but I'm glad he did. I didn't see any way to tell you, or explain why I couldn't kiss you. If anyone on the board found out, I'd be in trouble and you'd be fired. Neither of us needed that. But you did amazing work and I'd like to be a reference for you. I'll give you glowing marks, too."
"Thanks, but it's not necessary. I'll use the references that I used to get this job."
He shook his head. "They're outdated. I just wish you'd stay here, but I know I messed up." He sighed and continued. "Now, as for Chet, just stay on Instant Messaging and we'll act like we're working. I want you to bring up one of the puppy pictures on your screen for a cover."
"I hope to get rid of him before I have to leave tonight. I'm taking a late flight so I can be there for Dad tomorrow."
"I truly hope he's okay. I'm really sorry this all happened at once."
He watched her for a moment. "Thank you. The nice thing is I know you're saying that from your heart, and not because I'm the boss."
"Even if you were the boss, it'd be from my heart. I'm not that cold and I don't play games to get ahead."
He took her hand. "I admire that about you, too."
She pulled her hand away. "I hope you didn't promote me, either. I was given upper level cards to work on today."
"No. It wasn't me. I don't know what happened, but I do know they were impressed with your work."
"John…I mean Jake, I didn't do all that work. You helped me."
"Barely," he said. "You know you did almost all of it. I think I suggested one word change. The point is, you're a great employee and we really don't want you to leave. If I left, would you stay?"
"Who would run the place?"
He sighed. "Oh yeah. My brother doesn't want it, and my sister is a stay-at-home mom. It's all up to me." He shook his head. "I don't want to go home tomorrow. I really want to stay here and talk to you. You keep it all in perspective. If we get the goods on Chet today, would you come with me tomorrow?"
"I can't. I'm looking for a job and don't have time to play. My team needs me to work."
He leaned back on the chair. "I don't know what else to do, but the offer stands. Stay here and date me. I've never fallen for a woman like I fell for you. But now, it's all being pulled out from under me right when my dad's undergoing the knife." He closed his eyes for a second. "I'm scared for him."
She hated this whole situation, but how could she ever trust him? "Let's get Chet and see what happens then."
"Fine." He stood up. "Stay on Instant Messaging and let me know what he does every second."
She stood up, too. "Yes, sir."
"Don't call me sir. I'm Jake. I never should've changed my name, but five years ago, it seemed like a good idea." He headed for the door and opened it for her. She walked through, wondering how she could make this right. But she saw no way out.