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I skim the e-mail from Casper & Company's director of operations and my boss, Veronica Karpinski.
In order to streamline our work flow... blah, blah, yadda, yadda. I scroll down farther.
Reordering of departments...
Hmm, she never mentioned that to me. As manager of customer service, I'm usually privy to such upheavals.
Starting Monday, Mike Perkins will assume manager of customer service responsibilities...
What! Mike Perkins? I reread. Starting Monday... Each word zaps me like an electric shock. In a panic, I snatch up the phone and autodial Lucy O'Brien. My hands shake. My stomach curdles.
My friend's phone rings a hundred times, or so it seems to me. "Come on, Lucy, pick up!"
I can't hold my tears back any longer. But I must. Crying women, crying managers of customer service, are not highly regarded.
"Unprofessional displays of emotion," is the actual phrase our CEO, Kyle Casper, used in a staff meeting after Marcia Carter lost it when she didn't get promoted to senior administrator, again.
These are the worst kind of tears -- tears of frustration, tears of anger. Tears that take forever to stop once they start.
"I can't believe this place," I mutter, gazing again at the e-mail, enduring another ring on Lucy's end without an answer.
What is it -- ten-thirty? The day has barely begun and already it's one of the crummiest of my life.
My call to Lucy bounces to voice mail. "You've reached the desk of Lucy O'Brien. I am unable -- "
I bypass the message by pressing the number one. "Lucy..." My voice quivers, so I halt for a steadying breath. "It's Macy. Call me, please."
I slapthe receiver onto the cradle and pace the length of my corner window office. What is going on? What is Roni up to now?
Outside my office window, dark blue storm clouds swell and move across the Florida sky and I catch my reflection in the glass. Leaning in for a closer look, I give myself the once-over. Ann Taylor suit, Gucci boots, face dusted to perfection with Bare Escentuals, my shiny brunette hair grazing my shoulders. I am the picture of a twenty-first-century businesswoman.
I'm exactly where I thought I'd be at this stage in my thirty-three-year-old life -- until that obnoxious morning e-mail.
I stride back to my desk, kick the chair out and sit down, hard, trying to balance the juxtaposition of emotions. Confusion mingled with anger, tears of weakness mingled with stubborn resolve. I thought I'd outgrown these moments.
It's going to be a long day. "Macy?" My department's admin, Jillian, lurks outside my door.
Snapping out of my sulk, I pretend to be busy by reaching for my computer mouse. "What can I do for you, Jill?" I jiggle the mouse to wake up the sleeping laptop screen.
I force -- I mean force -- a smile. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
Am I yelling? "Cause it sounds to me as if I'm yelling. I clear my throat and lower my voice. "Anything else?" I jiggle the mouse again. The screen wakes up.
The horrifying e-mail screams at me. Loser!
Jillian lowers herself into the cushioned chair across from my desk. "I saw you come in this morning. New boots?"
"Gucci. Bought them on my trip to Manhattan."
"How much?" Jillian doesn't mess around.
"Your week's wages." I don't mess around either. "Did you really come in here to talk about my boots?"
"Y-yeah, sure." Her cheeks turn a deep shade of pink.
"You know you blush when you lie?"
"Attila sent out the new organization chart," she blurts out, tossing a copy of the new org chart on my desk.
Attila is our code name for Veronica Karpinski. Short for Attila the Hun. I inadvertently labeled her with the moniker several years ago when she was an up-and-comer, bustling around the office commanding and conquering. To my chagrin, the name stuck. To my good fortune, no one remembers where or when it originated.
"So I see." I duck behind my laptop.
Jillian stretches toward me, whispering. "You're reporting to Mike Perkins now."
Truly, I want to scream. I can read e-mail. The tears surface again and I'm sure if I blink, even once, they'll spill over.
I click on an old e-mail from Lucy to get the horrid, I've-been-demoted e-mail off the screen.
"Anything else I can do for you, Jillian?" I ask, ready for this exchange to be over. The pressure beneath is about to cause an explosion and I can't be responsible for Jillian's safety.
"What is Attila thinking? I mean, everyone loves you. Mike is so -- "
"She knows what she's doing." As angry as I am at Roni right now, I cannot be drawn into idle talk with Jillian Holmes, resident Gossip At Large. Anything I say can and will be circulated around the office.
"Well, if there's anything -- "
I stand, cutting her off. "I'm good. Thanks."
My phone rings as Jillian exits. Caller ID tells me it's Lucy -- thank goodness.
I stretch around my desk with one booted leg and tip the door shut. The dam holding back the tears breaks.
"Macy, what's wrong?" Lucy asks about ten times before I can suck it up enough to answer her.
"I am so angry, so, so angry," I manage between sobs. I drop my head and braid back my hair with my fingers. Tears drip onto the faux oak desktop. I wipe them away with the edge of the org chart Jillian left behind.
"Attila the Hun reorganized the entire operations department."
"Over the weekend, I guess."
"I am no longer manager of customer service."
"What? Can she do that?"
"She just did. Flip-flop a few names on a chart and -- " My head pounds from the sudden surge of emotions. Casper is a medium-size but wildly successful software company. Kyle Casper's latest brainchild, W-Book, is destined to take the World Wide Web by storm. Everyone from little Johnny to Great-Granny can create and maintain a Web site. It's as easy as W-Book.
But I digress. "You know how these things go, Luce. They do what they want. Changing departments and department heads at the drop of a hat is nothing new. I just never imagined it would happen to me."
Lucy consoles me. "Macy, you're so good at what you do. You earned that job."
"You don't think I know that? But as of this morning's e-mail, I report to Mike Perkins, the new manager of customer service. He reports to Roni."
"She could have at least changed his title," Lucy notes in a soft tone.
"One would think." I'm back to fuming. There is no reason, absolutely no reason, for her to replace me. My performance evaluations do not indicate unsatisfactory work or poor leadership.
I give 110 percent to Casper & Company. I arrive early, stay late. Last Thanksgiving I volunteered to work over the holiday weekend to help secure a half-million-dollar deal. And in December I donated the last two days of my Colorado vacation to accompany the VP of sales on a client visit.
"Macy, there has to be a reason," Lucy concludes.
"Attila the Hun's lunatic incompetence?"
"Talk to Kyle," she suggests.
"He's a coward. He'll tell me to talk to Roni and then back whatever she says."
"Then talk to Roni." Lucy's full of advice I don't like.
"No. She did this -- let her come to me."
"Fine." Lucy sighs. "Then live with it, no complaints."
I laugh. "Do you know me at all?"
"Since the tenth grade. I love you like a sister, but I won't spend the next year hearing you whine about what Veronica Karpinski did to you."
Lucy knows me, all right. But nothing about her honesty changes the fact that I will complain. If this were mine to own, I'd darken Roni's office door and deal. But this is her game.
I am, er, was, a department manager. Man-a-ger. Trainers, tech support, sales support and documentation reported to me. I watched out over them, my people.
Mike Perkins... Who's she kidding? The staff can't stand him. He's egotistical, all the while being incredibly goofy. Every week he comes into the staff meeting, clears his throat about a hundred times and asks, "Do any of you need the latest episode of Xena, Warrior Princess? I've got it on TiVo."
Every week. He frightens me.
I hear a light knock and look up to see Roni peering in, pushing my office door open.
"Luce, call ya back."
So, the coward came calling. With my back to her, I give one last swipe of my eyes with the soggy org chart, then whip around with a faint smile and invite my former boss to have a seat.
"What do you think?" She picks up the hard copy of the org chart with her manicured hand as she pulls up a chair. She makes a face. "It's wet."
"Oh." She drops the paper back to the desk. "Well?" She crosses her legs and swings her foot up and down.
"I don't understand it." My headache intensifies. I lean against the side of my desk for support. I suppose I could sit, but somehow standing gives me sense of control, real or imagined.
"Change, Macy. We're taking the customer service department to the next level."
The dark clouds outside my window produce a rumble of thunder. I look out just as a bolt of lightning flickers to the ground like a snake's tongue. Suddenly rain rat-a-tats against the window.
"What next level?" I ask, facing Roni. "What are you talking about?"
"Mike Perkins developed a plan to weave training, tech support with product development. He's added a few new tiers to our structure. Kyle likes it. I like it."
A few new tiers? Corporate mumbo jumbo. "I don't know what to say."
"Say you're on board." Roni smiles. Her foot is still swinging back and forth.
With bravado I ask, "Why didn't you tell me you wanted to make a change? I was a manager, Roni."
"Just business, Macy. Don't get offended." She shrugs as if it's no big deal.
Just business? That's all the respect I get from her? "I earned the job, Roni. I know this industry, our products and customers. I deserved better." I sell myself to her all over again, hoping I sound more confident than desperate.
"If you don't want to come aboard -- " Her words trail off, but she looks me square in the eye.
I absorb her subtle threat. The blood drains from my brain straight to my feet and I fear I might grovel involuntarily. I have to be humble here. My newly purchased BMW Z4 convertible emptied my savings account, and my credit card is loaded with Christmas cheer.
I walk around to my desk chair. I'm not in control here at all. Might as well sit. "If Mike is manager, what do I do?"
"What you love," Roni says, expectant and puffed up, looking as if she just announced a resolution to world hunger. "Hands-on work with the customers, training and traveling. Our team needs your experience."
I rocket to my feet, crashing my desk chair into the credenza. "Go on the road?"
"No, Roni, no. I've been there, done that. I own all the T-shirts. I won't have my life controlled by the schedule. I have a life, a boyfriend."
Yes, Chris, my boyfriend. A thought flutters through my mind. Was I supposed to call him about lunch?
"Think of the frequent flyer miles." She stands, smoothing her light wool skirt. "That's the job we are offering you, Macy."
Frequent flyer miles. There aren't enough miles in the entire airline industry to entice me back into being a road warrior. No way.
I need air. I jerk my Hermès Birkin bag from the bottom desk drawer and snatch my London Fog trench coat (both part of the Christmas cheer on my credit card) from the brass hook on the wall.
"Where are you going?" Roni follows me down the hall. Through a tightly clenched jaw I let her know. "Anywhere but here."