Hard Hats and Doormats – Laura Chapman
Alexis Burke @theLexiBurke
Can a person refer to employees as Jackass 1 & 2 in an official report? Asking for a friend. #HRProblems #ThisIsMyLife
The universe keeps telling jokes and I’m the punch line. #IHaveProof
Okay, seriously. When did this become my life? Can I get a mulligan? #ObscureGolfAnalogyForLife
In kindergarten Sunday school, Lexi Burke imagined Hell as a fire-ridden, hate-filled pit below Earth’s surface. On a mighty throne of blackened steel and skulls, Satan preyed on the souls of the damned for eternity.
Twenty years later, she discovered a new version of Hell. It was a windowless conference room on an oil platform off the coast of God-only-knew-where Texas in the middle of May. The devil took form in two men, both middle-aged and madder than a hornets nest. Despite the sweat building on her neck, she shivered.
When did babysitting old guys become my job?
How mad do hornets get, and what does their nest have to do with it?
Where did I come up with that analogy?
Solving those mysteries had to wait. Casting a glance at the figures gathered around the badly chipped table, she considered the situation at hand. The two men, their union reps, and a team of local managers were going yet another round in their verbal sparring without a semblance of resolution. The representatives wanted the men to go back to work. The managers wanted to give them pink slips.
As the HR manager assigned – albeit at last-minute – to the investigation, she wanted to keep everyone from killing each other. Not an easy task, considering the two men under investigation already gave murder their best shot.
According to the initial report, the incident happened over the weekend. The men engaged in a particularly heated discussion about college football. The man to her right apparently took offense to the one on her left using derogatory names to describe his beloved team.
She grimaced at the list of profanities. Three or four of them merited HR intervention on their own. Then again, others struck her as downright creative. Note to self: Use “dag nab ass backwards pile of swamp waste” in a sentence later today.
The fight escalated when Mr. Right expressed his displeasure by raking his broken glass across Lefty’s face. A few days later, the wounds swelled red and blotchy. Her stomach churned when she examined their faces closely.
His opponent fared no better. Lefty managed a couple of solid jabs with a shard from a shattered plate. His cheek and eyebrow were held together with the help of twenty-two stitches.
How did these men still have jobs? Surely trying to kill your co-worker violated the Employee Code of Conduct. But because they had no previous violence on their records, the company’s agreement with the union guaranteed them the right to an investigation – this investigation.
“I told ‘em to back off and leave my Tigers alone,” Idiot Number One shouted. “But he started waving around his God-damned glass. I had to grab hold of something to protect myself. A man’s got a right to defend himself and his pride.”
“What the hell are you talking about, son?” Moron Number Two chimed in. “You were the one bent outta shape in the first place. He’s pissed because my Hogs’ll beat the hell out of this pussy lover’s team next year.”
Hogs? Tigers? Did these men seriously put their jobs and lives on the line over the Arkansas and LSU football teams? Did Lexi have to take team allegiances into consideration when she hired new employees to avoid catastrophe? Were SEC fans this torn up about football year-round?
Will we have full-on riots come September?
She struggled to recall the last two football seasons, but nothing came to mind. In her early days at Gulf America, she’d spent most of her life adjusting to the heavy travel schedule of a field HR representative. Current events, sports, and anything unrelated to HR dealings never entered her mind. She instead concentrated on getting through each day, never mind remembering what happened in the rest of the world.
What kind of fights should she expect when the Big 12 schools in Texas started beating up on each other in the fall?
God help us all.
Pulling her shoulder-length brown hair off her neck, she longed for a breeze. Not the kind from men yelling at each other, but a real, honest-to-God breeze.
She sighed and stared back at her notes. Even if the investigation proved the men deserved firing, she wouldn’t make the decision. Her worthless boss would be using whatever recommendations she gave him.
Dale seldom left his office during the work day. Unless he heard an ice cream truck. Then he raced out the door with a dollar in hand. Why bother leaving for something important–– like his job–– when he had minions like her to do his dirty work in the field? He reserved his energy to sweep in at the end when he took credit and – by all appearances – saved the day.
This time, he didn’t even have the courtesy to make his decision before dawn. In her eagerness to please – the department had a promotion up for grabs – she overlooked the faux pas that sent her straight to hell. Sure the Assistant Regional Director job would be more work, but it came with a healthy salary increase and less travel. And at twenty-four, she’d be the youngest director at headquarters.
The shouts escalated.
Is a promotion worth this?
A Questionable Friendship – Samantha March
I shut the door behind me and took a deep breath. Turning the faucet on, I gave my face gentle pats with the cold water, so I didn’t ruin my makeup but was still able to calm down. It was ridiculous that I was getting so upset. Brynne didn’t do anything wrong, she was just being Brynne. But her comment about scaling back and the fight I’d had with Trent on the way over made my stomach upset. I just needed a minute for myself, to breathe and be able to stop smiling through the pain.
I glanced at myself in the mirror, hoping no one else could see the bags under my eyes from the lack of sleep the night before. I had visited my hair stylist just yesterday so my blonde tresses were smooth and shiny, but that was about the only glowing quality I had at the time. I itched to be able to say something to my friend, but I sensed Brynne was going through something herself at the moment, and didn’t want to burden her with my (probably silly) problems. Knowing Brynne, she would drop everything and focus on me and only me until we worked through it. She might even have me take some time off from the store, and I really didn’t want that. EJs was my escape.
Realizing I had been in the bathroom long enough, I patted my face and hands dry on the lavender towel that was hanging next to the sink, to match the lavender hand soap and lavender diffuser Brynne had set up. That made me smile, to think about my friend who loved nothing more than her house being in order.
“There she is! Portland, I put some cheesecake salad on a plate for you. I hope you like it.” Brynne handed me a small plate that was filled with the delicious smelling dessert, and I smiled at her gratefully.
“And I helped make it!” Emmy Jo squealed, before digging back into her own piece.
I sat in my regular seat next to Brynne, across from my husband. “You did an excellent job, missy. And, mmm, it’s so delicious!” I said that last bit around a bite, and wasn’t lying. Brynne was a natural in the kitchen.
“It’s about time for you to start thinking about bed, don’t you think?” Brynne directed her question at Emmy Jo.
“No! I get to stay up with the grown-ups tonight.” Emmy Jo pouted and folded her arms. One little finger poked out and grabbed a strawberry, quickly stuffing it in her mouth before folding her arms again like nothing had happened. I took a sip of wine to hide my smile.
“Grown-ups also have to go to school in the morning, and you don’t want to fall asleep next to Guy, do you?” Brynne continued, looking in mock horror at her daughter.
EJ’s eyes grew wide as she considered this. “He might put glue in my hair, or color marker on my face, momma. I don’t want to fall asleep next to him!”
“Well, then, let’s get you to bed on time so you don’t have to worry about that.”
Emmy Jo took one more large bite of her dessert and raced out of the room. Brynne sat for a moment watching her retreating form, then laughed. “I didn’t think that would work that well. She’s been complaining about this Guy for a few weeks since the seating arrangements changed at daycare, but I really think she might have a crush on him. I’ll be back.”
“Glue in hair and markers on the face? I thought that only happened at parties where you were the first to pass out,” I said.
Aaron stood from the table. “I’m going to go say good-night. Let’s hope those wild parties stay away from Emmy Jo for a long, long time.” He winked at me before leaving. I shook my head. Aaron was one of the most over-protective fathers I had ever met, but it was cute. He was a great dad and a great husband, and I knew how lucky both Brynne and Emmy Jo were.
“Well, it’s just you and me, babe. How about a quickie on the porch?” Trent leered at me, and I glared back.
“You know as well as I do that it takes Emmy Jo about five minutes to get settled. They’ll be back in no time.”
“I said quickie. I can wrap it up in two minutes tops.”
“Wow, that is so romantic and really turns me on, Trent. Please, keep talking.”
“I was just trying to liven things up around here. Sue me for finding my wife attractive.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, don’t be such a baby. We had sex two days ago before you left, so don’t act like you’re all deprived either.”
“What is wrong with you tonight? You’ve been acting weird all day.”
The hair on my arms rose. Trent had been able to see through me too? Brynne was an obvious one, she was my best friend, but Trent didn’t usually notice – or care – if my moods were off. Shit.
“I’m just not feeling the best today. I hope I’m not coming down with a cold or anything. The weather shifts are starting to get to me I think.”
Trent peered into my face for a moment, making me want to shake under his stare. “You do look a little pale. Did you sleep well last night?”
I shook my head. “Not really. That’s probably a part of it too.”
“Do you want to leave soon so you can try to tuck in early? I can probably round up a sleeping pill or two for you to take.”
And he’s flipped to the caring, compassionate husband. I just never knew who I was going to get from one moment to the next anymore. “No, that’s okay. I need to talk with Brynne about the store some more. I’m sure I’ll be okay.”
Breaking the Rules – Cat Lavoie
I’ve never been good at keeping secrets from Oliver Frost. It might be because I’m a terrible liar but, most likely, it’s because he’s known me all my life and can read my face like an open book. Every eyebrow twitch, every blink, every fake smile. And, right now, I feel like I’m strapped to a lie detector. At any second the needles might go haywire like they do in the movies when the devious main character is lying through her teeth.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
“I really don’t like the sound of that,” Ollie says, sitting on the edge of my bed, shaking his head. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go to the drugstore and get you some cough syrup or something? Or I could make you soup. Or tea with honey.”
Under normal circumstances, I’d appreciate all this attention. But I’ve been trying to get Ollie out of the apartment for the last twenty minutes so the last thing I need is him hovering over me. Maybe relying on my lackluster acting skills wasn’t the best idea. Faking an illness was all I could come up with to convince Ollie that I need to stay home without making him suspicious. My original plan was to accidentally ‘twist’ my ankle while walking up the stairs but, in the end, I decided to keep it simple and go for the common cold. There’s less limping involved.
I don’t think Ollie has any idea that I’ve been planning a surprise farewell party for him—which is a miracle since I’ve been sneaking around every night this week and coming home from the grocery store with enough food to feed a small army. The party is tonight and I have a million things to do. And I can’t do them with him here.
I touch my supposedly feverish forehead and erupt into another coughing fit. “You should go,” I say in a raspy voice, grabbing a handful of tissues. “I wouldn’t want you to catch my germs and get sick before leaving for London.”
“Right,” Ollie says, turning away from me. “I can’t believe I’m leaving tomorrow.”
I can’t believe it either. I want to say something but I’m afraid we’ll start talking and get really sentimental and I can’t deal with that right now. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy so I don’t have to deal with it at all. But I know that sooner or later I’m going to have to face the fact that my best friend and roommate is flying halfway across the world to help supervise the construction of a new earth-friendly building in London. I choose later.
“You should really go or you’ll be late. I’ll call you if there’s anything I need, okay?”
He nods and plants a quick kiss on my forehead. I close my eyes and hope he can’t hear my heart beating out of my chest. I’m so close to pulling this off.
“Promise me you’ll rest and take it easy today?” Ollie says, picking up his messenger bag off the floor. “And if Greta calls, please don’t answer. Better yet, hang up on her.” He slings the bag over his shoulder and looks back at me. I wave and watch as he walks out of my room. A few seconds later I hear the front door close with a bang and start breathing again.