Thistle watched the clock on the wall, willing the hands to slow down. As a talking cat he could only do so much--he still needed Tabitha to answer the door and hand over the credit card, and she was late. The air conditioner guy was supposed to show at six.
Tabitha walked through the door at ten till. “Finally,” Thistle remarked as she shut the door and dropped her purse. She kicked off Janine’s shoes and collapsed onto the couch. “I can’t deal with you today, Thistle,” she groaned. “I hate Mr. Daws. And Vanessa. I wish they would just die.”
“If I had thumbs I might be able to arrange something,” Thistle said, jumping up into her lap. Sometimes it was best to be a pet and he simply sat there and let Tabitha stroke his back. He began to purr, enjoying the attention while he had it, because soon she was going to be very mad indeed. “So I’ve been thinking,” he said eventually. “How much does central air cost?”
“I already told you--if you can’t pay for it we’re not getting it.”
“Well, what if I can?”
“You have many talents, Thistle,” she said. “But I’m pretty sure making money is not one of them.”
“Actually it’s one of my better talents.” Thistle felt Tabitha’s body stiffen beneath him.
“Thistle, what have you done?” Instead of answering her he got up and pawed the computer to life. He had left his bank account balance open on the screen and Tabitha followed him over, growing very silent when she saw the balance and her name at the top of the page. “Identity theft is illegal you know,” she said finally.
“I am above the law,” he told her. “The credit card for the account is under the sofa and the central air guy is coming this afternoon. We’re getting an end-of-the-season deal. I bring in between five hundred and a thousand a month, depending on the market. But it’s your money technically. Everything is in your name.”
He waited for her to start yelling, maybe even hit him, but she did neither. “You are a truly remarkable animal, Thistledown.”
“I know,” Thistle said, thinking she was a rather remarkable human. “We should go outside and tell Fritz that we can afford to feed him. He hasn’t touched his food dish all day you know.”
On her way to work the next morning Tabitha’s mind was still reeling with the not small pile of money that Thistle had amassed, and what it meant. She had never seen a five digit number in a bank account with her name on it that didn't include a decimal. Tabitha looked across the street at The Sandwich Shop. Surely what Thistle made would be enough to cover the difference between working at Daws, Daws, and Billings, or making sandwiches for a living.
Tabitha tried to make herself laugh for even considering it, but the letter of resignation was still in her desk. Instead of deleting the file like a sane person she had even printed it out and signed it, wistfully thinking about the freedom in her hands. “It wouldn’t be freedom, not really,” she said to herself as she walked into the building, turning her back onto her possible future. It was better to be financially stable than happy forty hours a week, wasn’t it?
She felt heavy as she sat down at her desk and booted up the computer. She checked the phone for messages but there were none, and once the computer was running she copied out all of Mr. Daws’ appointments for the day. He was meeting with one client in the morning and then had a big meeting with his son Adam (the other Daws in the company’s name), Vanessa, and Mr. Billings. They were in the middle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Lowbridge Chemicals that had all of the higher-ups on edge, and even though it was technically Adam Daws’ case everyone had a hand or foot in it.
Tabitha knocked and went into Mr. Daws’ office. He was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed—something she had never seen him do. “Are you alright sir?” she asked, passing his schedule across his desk to him.
“Of course I am,” he said, wincing as he leaned forward to reach for the paper. “Just send my first appointment straight in when they get here.” He looked older that morning, and she wondered if everything was okay.
At ten she showed his client in, checked both her and Mr. Daws’ emails, answered a half dozen phone calls. The client left, and Mr. Daws had been uncommonly quiet, but when she checked on him before going to lunch he was sitting up as straight as ever, working. “Tabitha,” he said. “I think I want soup for lunch today.”
“Soup?” He had never, in four years, deviated from his tuna salad regimen.
“Yes. Can that sandwich store make a decent cup of soup?”
“Of course,” she answered. Jerry could cook anything. “They always have chicken noodle or chili, and I think the Tuesday soup is minestrone or French onion.”
“If they don't have French onion, chicken is fine,” he said. She noticed his hand was shaking when he picked up his pen.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” She wondered if she should call his son in to check on him.
“I forgot my heart pills this morning, that’s all. I’ll be fine.”
She backed out of the room uncertainly and grabbed her purse before heading out. At The Sandwich Shop Leticia gave her an almost flirting smile when she got to the counter. “Change your mind yet?” she asked.
“Nearly,” Tabitha said. “But it’s no good. Maybe if I didn't have a mortgage, but I do. Mr. Daws would like French onion soup instead of his sandwich.”
Leticia raised her eyebrows. “I’m shocked,” she said, but turned to ladle the soup out of a big electric cauldron.
“I just want you to know that I am flattered,” Tabitha continued. “You thinking of me for this job. But you know, I don't know anything about running a restaurant.”
“Didn’t you tell me once that you worked at Taco King in college?”
“For three years,” Tabitha admitted. “But I wasn’t in charge or anything, and it was a lot different than this place. For example, it killed my soul faster than working for Mr. Daws.”
Leticia didn't laugh at her joke. “It’s no fun doing grunt work if you’re not enjoying yourself,” she agreed. “I don’t care about your lack of experience. You’re a hard worker, you never call in sick, and you stick things out. I know you’re dependable, and I like you. I won’t be going on maternity leave until spring, and I’m sure you can learn the ropes faster than that, right?”
“Of course,” Tabitha said, knowing that Leticia listing her virtues was both flattering and convincing. “There are still people better than me. You should hire one of them.”
Mr. Daws wasn’t doing any better when she got back, but he didn't seem worse either. After getting her head bitten off again for asking how he was she decided that Mr. Daws Jr and Vanessa could deal with him at their meeting. It was less than an hour away in any case.
He had just gone into his meeting when a woman walked into the outer office. She was in her sixties and looked it, but she was dressed like someone who could afford plastic surgery, wearing a well-tailored navy blue suit and smart low heels. She completely ignored Tabitha when she entered the room, crossing to Mr. Daws’ office and throwing the door open. “Ma’am?” Tabitha said, getting up.
The woman reappeared. “Where is Adam Daws?” Tabitha wasn’t sure if she was referring to Junior or Senior, but since they were in the same place…
“At a meeting. Do you have an appointment?” But the woman was already out the door and marching down the hall. Not sure what to do, Tabitha followed. Her quarry seemed to know where she was going and slammed into the big conference room with the same single-minded determination that she had used on Tabitha’s office door. Tabitha followed her in, ready to apologize for the crazy woman crashing their meeting.
“You forgot your pills, dear,” the woman said and fished out a pillbox from her purse, and passed them along to Mr. Daws. “You secretary is pretty, but very rude.”
I am not, Tabitha wanted to say from behind her, but knew it would sound petty. And she was fairly sure her looks didn't matter when it came to being Mr. Daws’ personal slave. So this was Mrs. Daws. It was the first time Tabitha had ever seen her at the office, or ever for that matter. Though she was pretty enough, Tabitha could see why Mr. Daws had had an affair with Marta. Mrs. Daws was pushy and rude…Tabitha felt a little bit of sympathy go out to her boss, especially since he looked even sicker.
“My pills,” he said. “I’ll be fine now.” It took him two tries to get the box open, and he downed a handful of various tablets and capsules without water.
“Are you taking the vitamins I bought you?” Vanessa asked him. He nodded. “You don’t eat right,” she continued. “I worry you know.”
“I am fine,” Mr. Daws said, growing annoyed. “Thank you,” he told his wife. “I’ll be along late tonight. Don’t hold dinner for me.”
“Working like you do will kill you,” Mrs. Daws snapped back, but she gave Tabitha a dirty look before stalking out of the room. Tabitha looked at the round table of people. Vanessa looked disgusted at her, Lawrence pleased. Only Adam Daws jr. was paying any attention to his father, who had his head in his hands.
“Can I get anyone anything?” Tabitha said, her voice as bright as possible, wondering what on earth the look was for. Tabitha definitely was no Marta, and they must know that. Mr. Daws might think she was a good secretary, but as a person he had nothing but contempt for her. The idea of him having an affair with her was laughable.
“An iced mocha would be wonderful,” Vanessa said, her voice as icy as her order. “A real one—no fast-food garbage.” Mr. Daws jr, and Mr. Billings took this as a cue to make drink orders as well, and even Lawrence gave her an evil grin and ordered a cappuccino.
“Coming right up,” Tabitha muttered between her teeth. Somehow she knew that fetching coffee wouldn’t be nearly as degrading if she work working in a sandwich shop. She stopped at her desk and took the letter of resignation out of the drawer. It would be so simple to set it down on Mr. Daws’ desk, walk away and never come back. She set it down next to her keyboard instead and picked up her purse out of its drawer.
Across the street she watched Leticia make up the drink order, working the shiny cappuccino machine. “Hey,” Tabitha said. “Can you show me how that thing works?”
Leticia gave her a big smile. “Sure. Get your butt back here.”
Lets see...made up a better table of contents. easier to navigate.
There were a couple donations last week. Thank you. Really and seriously.
I'm an aunt again! My neice was born on saturday, so here's a picture of me with a baby (and her brother). You can tell my family is made up of geeks--his name is Logan Xavier, hers is River Serenity.