Fiction

Seeking A Promotion

By: Edith Gallagher Boyd

            After my friends left, I peeked into Sophie’s room while she lay sleeping. Megan had baked chocolate cupcakes for her and I noticed a streak of chocolate on Sophie’s cheek.

My heart clenched with fierce maternal love.

            Our new home, I said softly to myself.

            If I get the promotion, I added.

            Our realtor, Stella, assured me that this “darling little townhouse” was within my budget, and when I saw Sophie’s reaction to it, telling her teddy this will be our new home, I began signing my name over and over again.

            Many of my co-workers assured me the job was mine.

            “Kim, your placement rating is near the top. The owners seem to like you. And having you for a boss would be pretty cool,” Sandra, the senior salesperson among us said to me one day. I was surprised and pleased with Sandra’s accolade.

            When I made the decision to keep Sophie, I understood her support would be up to me as her presence was originated during a quick summer fling. I chose not to tell Jared as his sights were on the Ivy League and his parents’ sights didn’t include a teenage pregnancy.

            My parents were retired when Sophie arrived, and I knew their financial situation wasn’t great. My decision to have and keep Sophie made little sense to anybody but me. And every inch of her precious self is dear to me.  Occasionally, I envied my friends’ posts of beach parties and travel, but my little girl has drawn out of me feelings I didn’t know I had. 

            When I saw an ad for Pinnacle Employment Agency, I researched as much as I could about it and the family who created it. While perusing the Hall family photos, I saw Jared with a chef’s apron on and nearly gasped, forgetting employment and being sucked into his good looks. He clearly belonged to this crowd. And Sophie and I did not. After some brainstorming with my friends and a few social media searches, I found that Jared was the nephew of Roger Hall, owner of Pinnacle. I needed and wanted this position and I couldn’t let Jared’s connections to them dissuade me from seeking it.

            During my third interview at Pinnacle, I felt my pulse quicken when the owners joined the hiring manager to meet me and ask me a few questions. They were seated on either side of the interviewer.

            “Kim, this is Mr. Hall and his daughter, Emily. Pinnacle has been in their family from the beginning.”

            “I’m Roger and this is my daughter, Emily,”  Mr. Hall said.

            “Kim, may I call you Kim?”

            “Yes sir,” I said.

            “I understand you have a daughter of your own.”

            “Sophie,” I said, smiling at the thought of her. Then I felt my fists tighten that her relationship to them would be realized and frowned upon.

            “So, if you join our sales team, you won’t go running off to Bali or some such place to find yourself, with a little one to provide for, I take it….”

            Breathing in my relief that Sophie’s origins appeared protected, I said,

            “No, Mr. Hall. My daughter keeps me grounded, sir.”

            Mr. Hall adjusted his tie and fired off quick questions with machine gun like rapidity.

Fortunately, I’d spent endless hours researching Pinnacle and the field of job placement and felt I did a good job.

            I tried to ignore  that Emily looked familiar and was probably at the party where I met Jared. I focused on my goal – a steady paycheck and providing for Sophie.

            The deal was sealed with handshakes all around. 

            During my second year working there, Emily Hall took over the hiring manager’s position when he re-located due to a family emergency. I didn’t interact with her very often as the hiring department was not adjacent to the sales area.

            But Emily did saunter by my work cubicle from time to time. Whenever I spotted her, I made a big show of calling an employer with my most enthusiastic sales pitch, perhaps screeching a bit, trying to gain her favor.

            One afternoon, when I approached Emily’s office, I heard Mr. Hall say,

            “Emily, how long have you known about this?”

            I crept backwards not wanting to leave a shadow but eager to eavesdrop nonetheless.

            “Dad, I’m not sure of anything but I do know Jared hooked up with her and I know she has a kid.”

            “I do, too, Emily. One of the reasons I hired her.

            What makes you think the child is Jared’s?”

            “ I met little Sophie briefly at the company softball party and when I spoke to her she squinted and lifted her shoulders to her ears and I had a flashback of Jared when we were kids,”

            “Emily, I know just the look you are talking about. If true, Henry is not going to be happy about this, “ Mr. Hall said quietly.

            “Uncle Henry may surprise you, Dad. He gave me a few pep talks when I was being bullied in middle school. Got wind of it from Mom and he took it seriously.”

            “Do you think she interviewed with us to because of the Jared connection?”

            “Dad, I don’t even know if the child is Jared’s, but her being here does seem like a strange coincidence.”

            Feeling voyeuristic lingering, I returned to my work area with a slight tremor in my left hand. So determined had I been to be independent, I broke all interest and attachment to Jared upon accepting the news I was pregnant with Sophie. Any thought of her warmed me. I sent a quick text to her babysitter to see how she was.

            Rita was busy with four other children besides Sophie, so when she didn’t return my text I reminded myself that she was a busy woman. However, my instincts were slightly harassed that Sophie was injured in some way. I trusted Rita, but her mobility was impaired with arthritis and Sophie moved suddenly and quickly.

            After two full hours of texts and unanswered calls, my phone buzzed on my desk. It was Rita, Sophie’s caretaker.

            “Kim. Sophie fell and we are at Cedar Crest Hospital.”

            “No!” I  screamed at full volume, not caring who heard me.

            “Kim, she may have broken bones and we need you here to sign for treatment.

            They are not accepting the form you gave me,” she said breathlessly.

            I’m so sorry. It happened so fast,”  and she started to cry.

            Emily Hall happened to walk in just as I clicked off from Rita, too sickened with fear and anger to speak.

            “Emily, I have to get to the hospital. My child is hurt.”

            “Kim, you are in no shape to drive. I’ll take you.” And just like that, the Hall family entered Sophie’s life. 

            Sophie let out a piercing scream when she saw me. She was lying on a gurney and a clerk insisted I sign a few forms before going to Sophie. Dr. Taylor, his name in  cursive on his white coat, spoke quickly,

            “You are the child’s mother?”

            “Yes,” I said, squeezing Sophie’s good hand. It killed me to see her in pain, her curly hair matted onto the sheet.

            “There appear to be multiple fractures requiring immediate attention,” Dr. Taylor said.

            “Permission to proceed?”

            The clerk who took my signature had a few insurance questions for me, and Emily said,

            “Send all the bills to us. I’m Emily Hall, owner of Pinnacle on Randolph Street.”

            Something other than gratitude tingled within my chest area as Emily leaned down near Sophie and introduced herself.

            “Hi, Momma’s boss,” Sophie said bravely. Not quite five, she surprised me with her insights and  compassion. And I could see her trying to keep her lips from quivering.

            The doctor warned that the breaks, especially in her forearm may require surgery and I signed a special form for that contingency.

            Emily didn’t ask me a ton of questions while Sophie was in surgery, and I had to admit it was good to have somebody with me other than Rita.

            I could feel myself fuming at Rita for letting Sophie climb that big tree in the yard and not preventing this whole painful mess in Sophie’s life. And mine, I thought practically. Here I was sitting with Sophie’s cousin Emily who owned the company I worked for which was paying for that darling little townhouse. My expensive mortgage was starting to feel like a noose around my neck.

            Emily did ask me the question I’d been avoiding during my stay at Pinnacle. I was too distraught to deflect it with a quip.

            “Sophie is Jared’s daughter, isn’t she?”

            “Yes,” I said, and with a catch in my throat.

            “I thank him every day for the gift that Sophie is”…..and I couldn’t continue.

            Emily said, “We’d like to get to know her,” and instead of rejoicing I felt my heart clench with raw fear.

            Shortly after Sophie was home with full leg and arm casts, I asked Emily if I could use my vacation time to care for Sophie.

            “We’ll add another week, “ she said magnanimously, and I expelled a huge sigh of relief that I’d have time to find a caretaker for Sophie.

            Finding an individual to come into my home and care for Sophie became more and more challenging as my vacation days ticked away.

            A neighbor of mine helped me out while I attended a meeting at Pinnacle to ask for more time off to care for Sophie.

            I made the arrangements with Emily Hall and when I entered the conference room I was shocked to see a group of people seated at the forbidding rectangular table. And right in the middle of them was Jared, looking every bit the gorgeous creature I remembered.

            “Hello, Kim,” he said warmly.

            “Hello, Jared,” I said, and then greeted the Halls whom I knew and those whom I didn’t.

            Henry and Ellen Hall were stunningly fit and aristocratic looking. I knew their names from internet searches.  Ellen, Jared’s mother exuded self-confidence as if she were the queen of a principality and I stifled a giggle that perhaps I should curtsy.

            No time for giggling. Something was up.

            Roger Hall said, “Kim, we’d like to promote you to sales manager, but we understand you need child care for little Sophie, and we’re here to offer you a solution.”

            Ellen Hall tapped her husband’s forearm and said,

            “We’d like to care for Sophie and get to know her.”

            “That’s very kind,”  I said, mustering all my courage to speak, “but that won’t be necessary,” I said while my heart was pounding. These stuffy strangers were not going to take my Sophie, I thought, and asked for a short rest room break.

            Roger and Henry Hall nodded simultaneously, and I walked erectly out of the room and to the ladies room across the hall. Relieved that nobody followed me, I let out a huge sigh and threw water on my face. I grabbed the granite sink and steeled myself for what I was facing.

            Before I re-entered the room I heard Ellen Hall saying,

            “She didn’t even go to college….”

            “Mom, stop!” Jared’s voice.

            “She loves her child,” Emily said.

            “She had no right to keep her from us,” Ellen said archly.

            I faked a coughing spell before I re-entered the room.

            Roger Hall, smiling widely, said, “Pinnacle is a family company and we look out for family.”

            Henry Hall said, “We’ll take care of Jared’s daughter and you can concentrate on your promotion worry-free,” as if he were offering me a prize.

            “Jared’s daughter, how dare you? Sophie is mine from her first cry, her first tooth and her first steps. You can take this job and shove it!” I said, as I grabbed my handbag and walked out of Pinnacle down the staircase and into my car.

            I needed to get home and clear my head and talk to my friend Megan.

            After my neighbor left I hugged Sophie, fighting back tears.

            “Mommy, don’t be sad,” she said.

            It had always been like that with us. From clutching her newborn body to placing bows in her hair, we were a team who read the other’s moods and feelings.

            No fancy family was going to swoop in here and take that from us. I put on her favorite video and told her I needed to go to my room and call work.

            “OK Mommy,” she said.

            When I plopped down on my bed I sent a text to Megan that I needed to talk to her.

Thankfully, she was off work and called me right away. I told her the nightmare I’d just been through at work and the first thing she said was,

            “How did Jared look?”

            “Megan, who cares? This is my kid I’m talking about….He looked great.”

            “Kim, I hate to say this but you need this job and they are Sophie’s relatives, and it solves a few problems.”

            “And I could never afford this townhouse with an entry level job and Sophie is so happy here.”

            “I’ll be right over,” Megan said, and I went into the living room and snuggled next to Sophie while Princess Peach was prancing through her castle.

            Sophie was explaining what Mario and Luigi were doing and I noticed Megan was not her prompt self. I sent her a brief text as she was as reliable as the setting sun, my friend since childhood.

            “Running late,’ was all Megan said, and I was so anxious I started pacing around, then noticed Sophie’s wide stare and sat back down beside her.

            Ten minutes before her arrival, Megan sent another text

            Emily Hall is with me.

            How dare she, I thought enflamed at the indignity of it all. I’d had Megan’s back since we were Sophie’s age. I scooted around straightening and dusting my place, and told Sophie we were having company.

            When Megan gave her familiar tap on the door, I squeezed Sophie’s good hand, and greeted Megan and Emily.

            “Momma’s boss,” Sophie said, like a little diplomat.

            Not so sure, I thought as I asked my guests if they’d like Iced tea.

            The story of my life as a mother was and continues to be textured, multi-layered, riddled with worry, but enveloped in feelings of joy and love.

            That day in my home with Momma’s boss, which I consider the turning point in Sophie’s small family, I was still smarting from Ellen Hall’s comment about my lack of a college degree. But I chose to restrain myself from uttering anything about it.

            In her zeal to please Emily, Sophie joined in the conversation and said she’d like to see her new day care house, and as I could deny her nothing, we went over Jared’s parents’ home the next day.

            That first awkward day, it struck me how much Sophie resembled Jared and his parents, and how Sophie seemed to sense the Halls were family.

            Cousin Emily, as I think of her now was always more open to me than the other Halls.

            Was it difficult to let Sophie go to day care with her other grandparents?

            Incredibly.

            Did Sophie blossom and thrive getting to know Jared and his family?

            Undoubtedly.

            Have I come to like the woman Jared married?

            No.

            But I appreciate her kindness to Sophie and how she insists her kids with Jared include Sophie in events and gatherings.

            Standing here at Sophie’s high school graduation, my parents already deceased, I am grateful to the Halls for reaching out to me, that should anything happen to me, the Halls would be there for her, and knowing that is the biggest promotion I could ever receive.

###

Edith Gallagher Boyd is a graduate of Temple University and a former French teacher. She and her family live in Jupiter, Florida.

Categories: Fiction

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