The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
Walking into Cooling Design felt like an icebox only the abominable could wade in. It was true Cooling scored high praise for their services, still, he knew he was wasting his time here. The walls were a dizzying insomniac white and the light pouring in through those large ungodly windows didn’t help. The employees looked glazed over, only interested in the task set before them. If Amanda hand’t been roaming around checking on the status of a few contracts, he nor Tolbert would have never been welcomed.
“Gentlemen, it’s lovely of you to make the trip to Cooling Designs.” If he never heard Cooling Designs again, it couldn’t come soon enough. He also didn’t like her Cheshire grin, it grated against his nerves.
“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance Ms. Cooling.” Tolbert added.
“Ms. Cooling? Oh no, call me Amanda, please.” she whined.
“If we could start the meeting…” He’d never had a problem with small talk but something about her stuck in his craw.
“You are a bit early, but you’re welcome to wait in the conference room. Just walk straight back and go right through the double doors. I promise to be with you momentarily. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She smiled at both men and her eyes settled on Connor’s a split second before she dismissed herself. Her sour smile hadn’t fooled him, nor did her eyes. She definitely sliced him through.
“Whatever happened to common courtesy?” Tolbert mumbled under his breath.
“Who’re you telling? Besides, this was your idea. You got us into this.”
“I guess we should walk ourselves back.”
“Let’s get this over with.”
Before they could take two steps, a mass of tied up midnight curls bounced around the corner, headed their direction. She had a folder pressed against her breasts before lifting her gaze to their visitors.
“Oh, hello. How may I help you gentlemen?” Both men exchanged quick, shocked glances at one another.
“We were just heading back to the conference room.” Tolbert explained.
“Would you like me to show you the way?”
“Follow me then.” Before they could start off, Connor chimed in.
“Taiwo Yona, thirty-seven years old, Building Designer, employee for the last three years at Cooling Design, that’s you, correct?” Tolbert raised an eyebrow in question as Taiwo stood stunned.
“Please tell me you’re not a stalker.” she joked.
“Of course not!” he chuckled. “That’s all the information I had time to memorize about you.”
“Ah, you were on the company’s website.”
“Correct. Last I checked, you weren’t there.”
“Information was added this morning at my request.”
“I see.” Amanda was watching Taiwo chat it up with her guests and it slightly irritated her. Planting herself at Tolbert’s side, she kindly led the way then abruptly came to a halt.
“Taiwo, fetch three cups of coffee, two for our guests, and of course one for me.” Taiwo bit back a retort remembering this was Amanda being Amanda, always attention seeking, always trying to assert her faux authority.
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“Nor do I.” Connor lamented. Amanda’s eyes sharpened into poisonous blades as she scrunched her lips tightly. “But if you happen to have Earl Grey tea stashed, I’d love some.” he addressed Taiwo.
“The company doesn’t have any in stock, however, I personally have some tucked away in my purse.”
“That would be great.”
“I think we should get started with this meeting.” Amanda interjected.
“I’d like my tea first.”
“I can bring it to you Mr. Fletcher.”
“Call me Connor.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite. As a matter of fact, I’ll join you in the tea making process. Shall we?” Taiwo looked up at Connor impressed and quite intrigued.
“Don’t be too long Connor.” Tolbert asserted, partially because he didn’t want to be left alone one more second than he had to with this woman. “I’m Tolbert Shaw by the way.”
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“Taiwo, my coffee, fifteen minutes.”
“Sure thing Ms. Cooling.” Turning on her heels, Taiwo headed to the tiny break room to start a pot of coffee. Amanda liked it black, like her soul. After stalking down a kettle, she filled it and set it on a hot plate that rested on the counter in the corner. She’d gotten so busy she had forgotten all about Connor.
He hadn’t for a moment forgotten about her, though. There was a grace in the way she moved, confident, cool and collected, like she knew where everything was at any given moment. Taiwo was strong, he could tell by the way her spine was set, her shoulders were back, chin held high. Her eyes held secrets, mysteries he wanted to uncover one layer at a time. Then there was her hair, her curls begged to be dove into. They looked as soft and plump as clouds yet light as a feather. He was sure by days end her curls made their escape from their tied cotton prison. She was wearing another scarf, this time, white. The corners of her mouth looked as if they were set for a laugh at any given moment. In that moment he realized he had never been so enchanted with a woman before. In his assessment, he hadn’t noticed Taiwo staring back at him with a puzzled expression etched into her face.
“Did you say something?”
“No, but your tea is finished steeping. How do you take your tea?”
“As dark and strong as possible.” he muttered without thinking. He could feel the color drain from his face and down his neck. By some stroke of luck, she hadn’t heard his gaffe.
“Two cubes of sugar please.”
“Coming right up.” Turning around, she reached for a jar with sugar lumps and plopped two in, stirring until they dissolved. Grabbing a silver tray, she adorned it with his steeped tea and a wide mouthed brown mug of coffee for her highness.
“I can take that.”
“No.” she moved the tray away. “This is my job. I am Ms. Cooling’s personal assistant after all.”
“She should get her own damn coffee.” he mumbled.
“Nothing.” It wasn’t like him to get so agitated. Seems she’s the only one whose actually working around here. He has yet to see any employee actually move.
“Please follow me.” Falling in step with her, they silently walked down the hall until they mer the double doors. Turning the knob, he pushed open the door letting her pass, earning a silent nod. Pulling out a chair, he sat next to Tolbert and waited while his tea was set before him. Rounding the table, Taiwo placed the large mug in front of her boss and stepped aside.
“Taiwo be a doll and go to my office and bring back the documents we need for this meeting.”
Amanda’s smile was wicked so much so Taiwo envisioned doing her bodily harm. She’d like nothing more than to sew her lips shut. For now she’d smile and tolerate her childish behavior.
“I’ll be right back gentlemen. I’m so sorry for the wait.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Tolbert assured her. Taiwo noticed every time Amanda tried to undercut her, either man spoke up in her defense. It made her feel good that someone cared even if they were complete strangers. Exiting, she trotted a few steps until she reached Amanda’s office. There sat the proposals with a yellow post-it note attached. The message was a direct threat that struck zero fear in her heart.
If you even think about screwing up this contract, I’ll have your ass on a platter!
Crumpling the note, she pitched it in Amanda’s metal waste basket and headed back to their guests.
“I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long.” Connor kept his eyes trained on her as she sat copies of the proposal in front of each attendee. “Is there anything else I can get for you Ms. Cooling?”
“Not at all. You’re dismissed.” she waved her away with the flick of her wrist.
“I’d like for Ms. Yona to stay.”
“I’d like you to stay, please, take a seat.”
“Oh, I better not. I have a lot of work to do but I do hope you like what’s presented before you. Gentlemen.” Nodding, she made her exit. Exhaling, she flitted about taking care of everyone, as usual. She couldn’t believe the receptionist still couldn’t take notes shorthand after two years of working here. The filing system she had meticulously created was in chaos! Hw could employees not file documents by last name and importance? The files were tagged and color coded! Every little problem she had to solve, like a mother with her children. All this maintenance wore her down like it did every afternoon. Retreating to her office she plopped down in her seat to catch her breath and slow her pounding heart. She inhaled and exhaled deeply trying to relieve herself of the stress that’d been building all that day. Her meditation session was cut short as her office door abruptly flew open. In stormed Amanda with her eyes ablaze.
“You made me look like a fool!” she slammed the proposal on her desk.
“Excuse me?” she rose from her chair. She could already feel the blood rushing in her skull, throbbing at her temples.
“You set me up to fail! This proposal was picked apart by Connor Fletcher!”
“My proposals covered everything you needed to know. You must have done something wrong.”
“Me, done something wrong? Who do you think you are talking to right now!?”
“This contract didn’t go your way so now it’s my fault? I tried to warn you about Fletcher but you wouldn’t listen. It was your job to prepare yourself for this meeting.”
Amanda struck Taiwo across her cheek leaving both of them stunned. Employees gathered around to watch Taiwo’s reaction. She stood, spine stiff and held back tears that threatened to obscure her vision. Never let them know they hurt you! Never let them see you cry! Never! Witnessing the whole scene, Connor pushed his way through the growing crows and stepped between the two women.
“How dare you treat an employee like this!”
“She nothing more than an intern!” she cried after gaining her composure.
“It doesn’t give you the right to abuse Ms. Yona” he backed Amanda up against the wall and continued his assault. “The proposal was flawless, it was you. I don’t like you. I don’t like a thing about you, not one bit and this situation further cements what I first thought about you. Nothing good will happen for an evil, spiteful witch like you!”
“G-get out o-or I-I’ll call the p-police.” she sputtered. A hand clasped over Connor’s shoulder.
“Come on, let’s leave.” Tolbert begged.
“I’m not finished!” he turned his attention to a shaken Taiwo. “Don’t think for a moment that you have to endure abuse in order to keep your position here. There’s more than enough room for you at Tolbert and Shaw. Come to me when you’re ready.”
Stalking out the door he’d made it half way down the hall when he heard screams. Hurrying back, he found Taiwo clutching her chest. She was panting and sweat was beading up around her nose and mouth. He held her hand and found them cool and clammy. “Someone call for an ambulance!” No one moved. “What the bloody hell, didn’t you what I said?!”
“Forget them, we’ll take her to the hospital.” Tolbert motioned. Gently scooping her into his arms, he pushed through the crowd, grieved by the lack of compassion Taiwo was shown.
“No.” she faintly retorted.
“Just relax sweetheart.”
“I have…work…not finished.” she huffed in between gulps of air.
“Work should be the last thing on your mind. You’re not stepping one foot back in here as an employee, do you hear me?” he whispered in her ear. Those were the last words she heard before she blacked out.
*The next chapter can be found here, By Design (4)