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By Lee Love
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Lee Love
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou have to promise me that you won't tell anyone. Please. This is just between us, right? I was told this in the strictest confidence myself, and I'm telling you in the same manner. But stories like this, they just demand to be told. They take on their own lives, don't they? Some things you just can't keep bottled up.
It started with a name ringing out and echoing around the cube farm of Lexhouse Advertising's corporate office: "Le-teeeee-shuh!"
Leticia looked up, first in surprise, and then in resignation. She sighed. She hadn't been working at Lexhouse, or for Melba, for long, but it had been long enough.
Melba Grossott stalked out of the Monday morning staff meeting fuming. She was red faced, her eyes narrowed into slits. In her two-and-a-half-inch spiked heel pumps, Melba looked like a scrawny pencil with blond curly hair. Her lips were pressed into such a thin line they looked penciled onto her face. The ugly sneer added decades to her face.
Steam was practically coming out of her ears as she stormed right into her assistant's mouse-sized cubicle. "Leticia." Melba said it so sharply, the three-syllable name seemed to collapse into a single, staccato sound.
"Melba," Leticia responded cautiously. She peered up at her boss. Melba was high strung, self-involved, and quick to anger on the best of days, but the raw anger distorting Melba's features was new to Leticia.
"You stole my money."
Leticia's eyes widened, as large and saucer-like as Melba's lips were compressed. Too shocked to speak, she just shook her head in denial.
"You stole my money!" Melba repeated. Melba rarely used her indoor voice anyway, but by the end of this statement, there was surely not a person in the office who hadn't heard. Indeed, the background office noises had fallen utterly still. Leticia felt her face and neck burn as she flushed under her dark skin. Still, she couldn't quite articulate a response.
"Admit it, you ... you ... immigrant!"
Leticia's mouth, which had been soundlessly trying to form words to deny Melba's outrageous accusation, snapped shut. She returned Melba's glare. "I did no such thing," she said with as much dignity as she could muster. She spoke with a pronounced Jamaican accent, but she always spoke clear, proper English.
"You were the only one who could. You were in the office alone with my purse, and when I checked later, the money was gone, so you did it! Process of elimination! You're a filthy, lying, treacherous little thief! I knew it was a mistake to hire you; I knew it the first minute I laid eyes on you—"
"Melba." The firm voice was perhaps the only one in the office with the impact to stop her in the middle of her rant. Melba's head swung around. Mr. Foles stood a few feet away, gazing steadily at her.
She leapt on her chance. She thrust a long, bony finger in Leticia's face, so close the Jamaican flinched back. "She's a thief, she—"
"I heard you the first time. The whole office heard you, Melba. My office. Now. You too, Leticia." Without waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and walked away. He spoke evenly, not a single syllable betraying any emotion, but only a fool would mistake his irritation at Melba's public disruption.
That fool was Melba, apparently.
"Ha!" she said to Leticia. "Now you'll get what you deserve." And then she, too, marched off in a head-held-high victory parade of one. Leticia stood more slowly, her face hot with humiliation. As she rose, she saw heads all across the office poking above their cube walls, watching the drama unfold in front of them. Leticia's eyes burned with unshed tears of indignation.
She followed Melba and Mr. Foles into his office. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead, blinking rapidly to hold back any tears, too proud—and innocent of the accusation—to look down, but still too embarrassed to meet anyone's gaze.
Leticia walked past Mr. Foles's assistant, Frances, who watched her with a bemused expression. She stepped past Mr. Foles at the entrance to his office. He shut the door behind them and moved to his desk. Leticia sat delicately in the vacant chair.
Melba, already seated, launched immediately into her explanation. She spoke so fast it was hard to understand: "This is what happened: Leticia came into my office this morning so I could give her the receipts to finish my expense report; while she was gathering those, I stepped out to use the ladies' room, leaving my purse in there when I got back—"
"In the ladies' room?" Mr. Foles interrupted.
"Did you leave your purse in the ladies' room?"
"No, in my office. I left my purse in my office with Leticia, and when I got back, I went immediately to our staff meeting; while in the meeting, I went through my purse—you remember that, I'm sure—and that's when I realized it was missing." She finally paused to take a breath.
"What was missing?" Mr. Foles asked.
"The money. The money I got from the bank this morning." She turned a dark look on Leticia. "A lot of money. I'm sure it seemed like an irresistible amount to someone like her."
"No, it's not true!" Leticia finally exclaimed.
"Leticia. You'll get your turn. Let Melba finish, please."
"All the cash was gone." Melba turned to Leticia. "You need to get on your banana boat and go back to your island and pick coconuts. You don't belong here." She swiveled to face Mr. Foles again. "She'll be fired, of course."
Mr. Foles's eyes flicked over to the young assistant. "Leticia?"
"It's not true, Mr. Foles! I swear! After Melba left her office, I didn't even realize she'd left her purse behind; I didn't even see it. I love working here; I would never jeopardize—"
"Well, of course she would deny it."
Mr. Foles stared at Leticia for a long moment, and then turned back to the older woman. "Melba, you're making a serious accusation against Leticia. Are you sure the money is gone? Perhaps it just wasn't where you remembered putting it."
"I think I'd remember where I put two hundred dollars in cash."
"Still, perhaps you could check your purse once again."
Melba didn't move at first, and Leticia wondered if Melba was going to refuse. But then the fake blonde just shook her head and pulled her Coach bag up into her lap. She started rummaging through its contents, pulling out personal items one by one and banging them onto Mr. Foles's desk. "Really, it's not going to be in here." Her fingers sifted through papers and small packages. "And of course I searched thoroughly in the meeting; surely you noticed."
Her fingers snagged her pocketbook, and she pulled it out. She unsnapped the latch and rifled through its contents. "I'm telling you, I'd hardly let a wad of cash go astray; I'm much too responsible for th—oh." She fell silent.
After a moment, Mr. Foles said, "Melba?"
Without looking up, Melba pulled a bank envelope that had been clipped into a recessed fold in the pocketbook. She opened the envelope, revealing a small stack of crisp twenty-dollar bills.
"Is that the money?" Mr. Foles asked.
"Ah. Yes. Yes, that would be it." She looked up at Mr. Foles with a smile that she probably thought was flirty. Melba laughed in a fake girlish way. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Foles, for wasting your time like that. It's just one of those Mondays, I guess. False alarm."
Mr. Foles gazed at her, frowning slightly. Leticia found it very difficult to read Mr. Foles's expressions, so she couldn't tell what he was thinking. Leticia herself was fuming.
Melba stood and turned, as if to go, when Mr. Foles's voice caught her again. "Melba."
She looked over her shoulder expectantly.
"I'm not the only one to whom you owe an apology." He nodded at Leticia.
"Oh, yes, of course." She shot a glance in Leticia's general direction. "Sorry, 'Ticia. My mistake." She looked again at Mr. Foles, who nodded almost imperceptibly. Melba left the office without a backward glance. Leticia rose to follow.
"Melba, please step back inside and close the door," said Mr. Foles sharply. "Leticia, please sit down again," he continued. "Melba, please listen closely to what I am about to say. This organization will not tolerate anyone, anyone, demeaning anyone's ethnicity. Appropriate action will be taken if that happens. Do you understand me, Melba?"
"Yes," replied the humiliated Melba meekly. Mr. Foles watched as Melba left wordlessly.
Back at her cube, Leticia swiveled some more in her chair and tried to pretend she could see out the window.
From the eighth floor of the Universe Building, smack in the middle of the New York City central business district, the New York branch of Lexhouse Advertising overlooked vast and busy streets below. But none of the eight account representatives took advantage of the view from their office windows. Always on the phone with clients or chattering with each other, slyly trying to worm their way up the corporate ladder, they hardly noticed the wonderful vantage.
Leticia sighed. Naturally, the people who would appreciate the view had no access to it. But then, she probably wouldn't get any work done. Even after months in the city, she still stared in wonder at the thick New York snowfalls that blanketed the city in velvety white. The winterscape never ceased to fascinate her, so alien from the tropical climate of her native Jamaica. Even the burst of foggy breaths on frigid days entranced her. She would stand at the bus stop and stare until she caught herself. Exhalations of smoke, one after the other, and no cigarettes involved. For some reason, it made her think of her favorite Charles Dickens novels.
Leticia's parents had always taught her to do whatever was necessary to succeed. Sometimes, you have to scratch and claw your way to the top, and that's just what it took. She remembered one of her mother's favorite expressions: "Duppy know who fi frighten." Ghosts know who to frighten; bullies know who to pick on. If Melba had targeted her, did that mean Leticia wasn't doing everything she could to succeed?
But her father specifically had advised her to "lie low" and just "soak that New York way up." So that's what Leticia had been doing; is that what had made Melba think Leticia was toothless, defenseless?
Leticia got back to work, wondering what Mr. Foles was thinking about the whole sorry situation. When Melba was around him, she always pretended to be a team player and act like a grateful employee, but hopefully, Mr. Foles saw through her act.
And it sure was an act! That Melba was nothing but one giant hypocrite.
Sighing, Leticia swiveled back toward her desk to get back to work. Later that afternoon, on her way back from the ladies' room, someone grabbed Leticia by the arm. The girl swung her head around but relaxed when she saw it was Evanne, the only coworker Leticia had befriended. "Girl, that was some drama. I've been dying to hear about it, except that Henry wouldn't let me leave. 'Got to finish these.'" Evanne rolled her eyes, and then focused on Leticia. "So spill, girl, before I die of not knowing."
"Melba accused me of stealing money."
"Well, duh. Everyone heard that bit. What happened in Mr. Foles's office?"
"He made her search her purse again, and she found the money."
Evanne frowned. "Well, that doesn't make any sense then."
"You haven't heard? Oh, I just assumed ... because of what happened ... that you knew."
But Leticia was frowning in confusion. Evanne grabbed her arm again. "Come on."
Evanne dragged Leticia into the break room. As they moved, Leticia marveled at her friend's wig of the day bouncing in front of her. Each day it was something different: black, brown, auburn, reddish brown, blonde, short, long, curly, even an Afro now and then. Today, the hair was so red it was nearly magenta, and it hung straight down to Evanne's shoulders. Evanne's gaze swept through the break room to make sure they were alone. She pulled Leticia over to the corner by the refrigerator, whose low hum helped masked some of the office noises.
"What is it?" Leticia asked.
Evanne leaned in close. "Melba went to human resources about you!"
Leticia's mouth fell open into a little O. But she was proven innocent! Evanne nodded, eyes wide and serious. "Oh my Lord," Leticia gasped.
Evanne pulled at her lips, staring off into the break room. "What's she up to, you think?"
Chapter Two"Me?" Leticia responded in shock and amazement.
Evanne continued, "The woman went to HR and asked for you to be her private secretary. Can you believe it? As if she hasn't already made you her personal servant." Evanne nearly spat. "She's upset because the company won't give her her own personal assistant."
"She wants me be her secretary? She just accused me of stealing from her! She said I didn't belong here!"
Evanne leveled a look at Leticia. "This is Mega-Maniac Melba we're talking about." Sometimes, Evanne called Melba a megalomaniac, and sometimes just a maniac.
"If she can't defeat you ..."
Leticia took several deep breaths, thinking that over. It didn't bode well. Then: "Well, what did HR say?"
"They said no, but according to my source"—Evanne's eyes twinkled, but Leticia guessed it was Evanne's boss, Tim, an easygoing and affable account exec—"she still intends to use you like her own private secretary. As if she doesn't already." She grabbed an apple from a bowl of fruit on the counter. She rubbed it on her shirt, and then took a big, juicy bite.
"Why would she want me as a secretary? I can't do secretarial work!" Another way to get Leticia fired?
Evanne shrugged and took another bite, and then she said with a mouth full of apple, "Melba's trying to make you into her own personal whatever."
Leticia thought furiously for a moment. "Is there anything I can do?" she asked. "I was hired only as a file clerk. My computer skills got me the job, but that's all I know how to do: make sure all the accounts in the computer have the proper documents, and if not, then research, find the problem, and fix it."
"A file clerk?" Evanne asked. She frowned. "I thought you were a document control specialist, like me."
"Well, they have me working as a file clerk. Apparently, that's where the 'company need' is."
"Huh. Well, Melba's been with the company for over ten years, and all she got on her ten-year anniversary was a watch. You know James is going to be out all next week?"
Leticia nodded. She missed Mr. Foles already.
"Well, you pay attention to Melba closely. Note the way she acts, and especially her attitude when James isn't around. She's going to try to take advantage of you, and you can't let her! Keep in mind I'm telling you that HR said no! You were hired as a file clerk, you're being paid as a file clerk, and that is that.
"However, you know she's going to have you do things that a secretary would, but for no extra pay. Don't you do them! Don't you let her exploit you like that!"
But Leticia could only hear part of Evanne's comments around the mouthfuls of apple.
* * *
The next morning, Leticia had barely settled into her desk when she heard a breathless "Leticia!" from behind her.
She turned around and found Melba standing behind her like a proud peacock dressed in her dark business suit, white shirt, and pearl button earrings: the perfect uniform of a complete corporate soldier.
"They don't like me," Melba hissed. "They treat me, oh God! Leticia, they treat me as if I am a cleaning lady. I am a college graduate with over ten years of direct advertising experience." Leticia nodded noncommittally, but Melba paid her no mind. "And all these men that James Foles keeps advancing and giving accounts, tell me why? Those guys can't do any better than me. They can barely manage the accounts they already have."
Leticia was surprised Melba didn't start again how her rival account rep Paul had three assistants, how Paul got all the plum accounts, and on and on.
Truth be told, Leticia sympathized with both Mr. Foles, who always had a warm smile and a kind hello for all his charges, and Paul, who was so friendly. And so handsome! Leticia was by no means alone in that assessment. Broad-shouldered and tall, with deep blue eyes and silky blond hair, Paul turned more than a few female—and even male—heads.
With a start, Leticia realized that Melba had stopped speaking and was staring at her as if she were a circus clown out in public in full makeup. Leticia blushed. This was her first job, after all, and she desperately wanted to master the ways of the office. She hadn't forgotten her humiliation at Melba's hands the previous day, but what was the alternative? She didn't want to return to Jamaica because she couldn't last in New York. Her parents would welcome her back with open arms, and they would also be terribly disappointed in her.
Excerpted from TWITCH TWITCH by Lee Love Copyright © 2011 by Lee Love. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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