Monday, December 5, 2016

A Special Story (Part 1)

This is the first part of my tailor-made LOL Day story for your enjoyment. Your word suggestions are highlighted in bold. The story became really long (5,000 words), so I am going to publish it in four parts. Since it contains a story within a story, you don't have to wait until part four for the juicy bits, though. :-) Here it goes, I hope you enjoy reading:

For I moment I stand there silently. I look at the white wall in front of me and focus my mind. Words start forming before my inner eye. After a few seconds I take a deep breath and reply: “Yes, I believe I remember it quite well. Here is how I think it goes:”

She walked through the open planning office, her gaze firmly straight ahead. She felt her colleagues' eyes on her, but maybe that was just an illusion. Or maybe they really all already knew what she had done. After all, words spread fast in a small company like that. However, she didn't dare look anyone in the eyes. Instead, she straightened her back and stiffly continued her way to the brown door at the end of the room.

“Mr Johnson, CEO” read a little sign on it. Over the past four years she had knocked on that door so many times, sometimes in a rush because so much work needed her attention, but usually in a  good mood. Today, though, her stomach churned as she came to a halt right in front of the door. She looked to her left at the white clock hanging there on the wall. It showed one minute to three. Mr Johnson didn't like tardiness. So it didn't make any sense to delay what would happen anyway. She took a deep breath and forced herself to knock.

“Come in, please.” Mr Johnson's deep voice had the warm undertone she had come to love in her time as his assistant. She opened the door, suddenly feeling very shy. She entered the room tentatively and quietly shut the door behind her. Mr Johnson was sitting behind his huge desk made of oak. He was in his late fifties, a tall handsome man with grey hair and glasses. Through them he now looked at her with his friendly eyes, expectantly. She struggled to meet his gaze. Seconds felt like years.

Finally, Mr Johnson spoke up: “You know why I asked you to come and see me, right Ms Smithers?” She didn't manage to answer, so she silently nodded instead. Sadness and incredulity were in Mr Johnson's voice as he continued: “I still can't believe what Mr Singer has reported to me. Please tell me what has happened – I want to hear the story from your perspective.”

For a moment, she didn't know what to say. She looked down on her shoes, trying to find the right words. There were no good words to explain what she had done, though. 'Sorry, I didn't mean it. It was all just a huge mistake.' She would have loved to say something like that, and she really did regret what she had done. But words wouldn't be able to undo her failure, and she was sure that it was much too late to be sorry.

So she finally replied: “I really don't know what to say. I am sure what Mr Singer told you is correct. I tried to steal money from the cash reserve, and Mr Singer caught me red-handed.” It seemed to her that Mr Johnson slumped in his chair as he heard those words. It felt like a stab into her heart.

He was such a lovely man, a company owner of a rare type. A man with a big heart who used to give those a chance who had already missed a few. Like her. He had been the only person to believe in her four years ago. He had given her a job at a time when nobody else would have. And then he even made her his personal assistant, a position that involved a lot of responsibility and autonomy. So far, she had never failed his expectations, never betrayed his trust in her. Until now.

Desperately, she tried to find more words. All that came out was: “I'm sorry, but I didn't have a choice!” Mr Johnson raised his head and looked her straight in the eyes. “You didn't have a choice? You didn't have a choice but to steal from me and my company?” His voice was a bit louder now than usual and his words filled the room. She blushed and looked away. “I... It's too complicated... And it doesn't make any difference now, anyway... I tried to steal from you and there's nothing I can do unmake it.”

Mr Johnson's voice was already calm again, as he said: “You need money to pay for the college for your little sister Ann. It's her chance to get the education you never had, and you want to make it possible for her. As I heard, she got a scholarship because of her high merits, but it doesn't cover the initial admission fee.”

Now, she was dumbfounded. “How do you know?” He leaned back in his chair. “I know because Mr Brown came to me and asked for on advance of salary. When I asked him what he needed it for, he told me that he wanted to help you with the payment.” She felt her eyes becoming wet. Andrew was such a lovely guy. He didn't have much and had to take care of his wife and his two little kids. And yet, he was caring enough to try and help her with her financial problems. And, in contrast to her, he was smart enough to look for a way to raise the money that didn't make him a thief!

“Why didn't you tell me? I told you that caring not only for yourself but for your little sister as well is a big burden, especially at your age! And I said to you that you could always come to me when you needed help, didn't I? Have I done anything wrong? Why didn't you trust me?” Mr Johnson's voice was full of hurt and sorrow as he asked those questions.

That was the moment she broke down and cried. Then she blurted out: “You haven't done anything wrong at all! I... I... I just didn't know what to do. Two weeks ago, Ann told me about the scholarship. It was all quite unexpected! I so wanted to help my little sister. But the fee is so large, and I haven't got enough savings, yet. I have to pay for the rent and our daily expenses. And then I thought stealing the money was the only way to be able to afford the fee. I hoped that no-one would notice and wanted to put the money back bit by bit. I know that doesn't change a thing, but please believe me that I really wanted to pay it back! I've betrayed you, and I am so incredibly sorry. You are like the father to me whom I never had. And now I've betrayed you because in my panic it didn't occur to me that I could have simply asked you for help...”

With that, she became silent, frantically looking at Mr Johnson. He put his elbows on the top of his desk and rested his chin on his hands. There was the usual warmth in his voice as he said: “I know you didn't mean to cause any harm. But still, what you did was a severe breach of trust, and I can't ignore that. In fact, your offence is so serious that a reprimand won't do.” She nodded, looking to the floor again. “I'll go and clean out my desk,” she said in a low voice.

“So, you want to leave the company?” Mr Johnson asked. “Want to?” Now she was confused. “No, I would do anything in order not to having to leave. But as you said, you can't keep me as your employee after what I have done.” - “Well, your dismissal is one option. The other is to solve this issue according to paragraph 11 of your work contract. It's up to you.”

For a moment she stared at him blankly. Then her memory set in. There was indeed a very special paragraph in her employment agreement. Paragraph eleven – known as the red butt paragraph among the employees – basically stated that under certain circumstances a misdemeanor that would inevitably lead to dismissal in any other company could instead be solved by corporal punishment, more precisely a caning. Mr Johnson's family seemed to have quite a tradition with good old fashioned CP as the family crest on the wall behind Mr Johnson's desk proved. Among other ornaments it showed a cane swaying in the wind.

So far, the whole red butt paragraph thing had only been a lunch time joke for her. There were rumors that the paragraph became indeed relevant rather regularly, but nobody had ever admitted to having been caned. Now the whole thing suddenly became painfully real. She didn't have to think long, though. “Okay, I...”

“Wait,” said Mr Johnson. He stood up from his chair and began to walk up and down behind his desk. “Before you make a decision, I want you to understand what the two options really mean. Dismissal means that you will leave the company today. You will still get your payment for this month, but that will be your last payment cheque. Paragraph 11 means that you will receive a severe – and I mean severe – caning from me, right here and now. With that, the issue will be closed. Since it is important for me that you really have a choice in the matter, I want you to know this in advance: Should you decide to leave the company, I will try to help you find another job. And in both cases I will help you out with the money for Ann's college. Take your time for your decision.”


Svetlana said...

This boss is just too good to be true, but his offer to help her both with finding another job and funding her sister's college admission makes her choice a lot harder ... and the story more interesting. What touched me most about this part is how strong that moment of disappointment (him) and of having disappointed (her) feels. Anyway, with your story-in-the-story hint, there is a sense of flashbacks coming up that will give us more insight into these characters.

Kaelah said...

@ Svetlana:
Happy that you enjoyed part one! I hope part two gave enough insight into the two characters even without any flashbacks. Parts three and four will tell you more about the "I" narrator who appears just very shortly in the first two parts.