Arctic By D.I. Jolly

“Bob, would you step into my office please.”

Bob looked up at his boss nervously.

“Sure thing Ms Jones.”

She was new to the company and took her job very seriously. She seemed to believe that work had to be done seriously to be good, and so didn’t approve of joking or comradery during work hours. She had also been hired over him getting promoted, so most people hated her a little on principle. Bob, who was certainly very angry about it all, tried not to hate anyone.

“Please take a seat, I need to discuss some things with you.”

He sat across from her and wondered if he should smile or not, then told himself a mental joke about her banning smiling and had to stop himself from laughing.

“I know what people say about me you know.”

“Oh? I don’t know what you mean.”

She frowned.

“You don’t have to play dumb with me. I had been warned coming in that the staff weren’t going to be happy about me getting your job. But I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am too, you know. It might not have been with this company but I worked my ass off to get here.”

Her tone was different from how she normally spoke, more human.

“I know I’m stern but that’s always worked for me, and this isn’t a playground it’s an office. I see no reason or need for name calling, this isn’t a high-school after all.”

A thought occurred to Bob and he suddenly had a vision of a very serious teenager who got annoyed when people didn’t do their homework, or who spoke during class, and wondered if he, and the rest of the office, hadn’t stumbled backwards into a very old wound she carried around.

“Is everything alright Ms Jones?”

“Don’t you mean Ice Queen? Cold Hearted Bitch? White Walker? Isn’t that how you and your friends refer to me when you think I’m not listening?”

Her voice had taken on a tone he recognised from his wife when she was yelling to him, but not at him. So, he did what he did and home and stayed very quiet, but while maintaining eye contact. The room was still for a moment but then the noise inside her head burst out again.

“Starting at a new company is hard! And you guys never gave me a chance. I’m not actually made of stone you know, I have feelings! And it’s not my fault I got the job over you, I saw a great opportunity and I applied for it, I didn’t know!”

She looked at him in a way that again reminded him of his wife and, staying on target, he said.

“Hey, yeah no I know, and I’m sorry, you’re right. We have been being unkind, and it’s not fair. I’ll speak to …”

He was aiming at saying more but she cut him off, the floodgate had clearly broken in her mind and it was not stopping.

“I moved here for this job, I don’t know anyone in town. I’ve been here four months and the only people I know either hate me, are my bosses, or,” Her face scrunched up in slight disgust. “Dave from accounting.”

“Oh yeah no, stay away from him, he, never doesn’t smell like that.”

“Well I know that now! No one was around to tell me that when he invited me for a drink.”

“Oh my god, he didn’t take you too the Ice Bar did he?”

Her face dropped and she looked at him pitifully.

“Oh my God I’m so sorry Ms Jones, so very sorry. I had no idea you were so new here, and I’m sorry that we’ve been the way we are, and that no one was there to advise you about the mystery of Dave, the Ice Bar, and how very misleading its name is.”

“Why do they serve Caribbean food their Bob?”

A smile touched his lips and he saw his opportunity to turn the conversation around.

“Well hell, you can be kind. I mean, I wouldn’t call that stuff food.”

She let out a little laugh and it changed her whole face. Suddenly he realised that she could actually be quiet pretty if she put a little effort into her hair and smiled more. But she was built for business.

“I can honestly say that we never realised or considered that it would affect you this much Ms Jones, but I’ve got to ask, why are you telling me all this? What prompted this conversation?”

For an instant her face locked back up and Bob thought she must have just come back to herself, and realised where she was and what she was doing, but it softened again after a second.

“Frank apparently doesn’t know how e-mails worked and cc-ed me into the last little e-mail blast.”

Bob’s cheeks erupted red and he opened his mouth to say words but at that moment he didn’t seem to know any.

“I read everything you guys said, and it struck me that even though you had the most cause to hate me, you were the only one who said semi-decent things, and cut people off when they went too far. Which they did, a lot. And… And it really hurt my feelings.”

The room was silent for a moment while he looked at her ashamed and she looked at her desk, feeling the weight of her life, her job, and her potential mistake.

“I know I’m serious, but this is a place of work and I do take my job and my position seriously. I am new here and I have a lot of learning to do, and reading what everyone was saying, I’ve realised that I was so focused on learning the company I’m losing the people.”

She looked up at him and although she was confessing something that was very personal to her, she held herself with dignity and he respected her immensely for it.

“Bob you know the company, and the people, and if it’s any consolation I would have hired you over me, but I’m here now and I want to get this right. But I need your help. I’m not asking you to spy on people for me, I’m not asking you to start sowing the seeds to my good will, I’m asking you to be my friend. After office hours obviously, during work I want you to work, but if you could give me a chance, please. I really am nice once you get to know me.”

Bob thought about it and frowned.

“I’m sorry Ms Jones but no, I can’t do that. I can’t be your employee and your friend. I don’t think that’ll work with the way you work. You strike me as the kind of person who needs that line between the two.” He paused for a moment and then smiled. “My wife, on the other hand, has lived in this town her whole life and knows everyone and what they’re doing before they do. I’m sure she would love to have a direct line to my boss. So why don’t you come over for dinner tonight and meet her? My children are old enough to not care, and I have plans for later in the evening so will only be around long enough to introduce you before I leave.”

A tear very nearly escaped her but didn’t, then her shoulders squared and her face returned to its normal mask.

“Very good, please tell her she can expect me at seven.”

“Of course. Is there anything else?”

“No, thank you, that is all.”

She turned her attention to her computer screen and as usual at the end of the meetings said.

“Please close the door on your way out.”

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