It’s 9:37 am on a typical Tuesday, which means I’m at work just willing the daily email updates we send out to our clients to write themselves. This particular email is for one of our biggest clients, Bank of America, confirming the investment-grade bonds they have chosen for their pension plan are in compliance and balanced with the investment companies. I know, thrilling stuff, but I love it. Phrases like “Defined Benefit Plan” and “Third Party Administrators" are actually interesting to me, despite my current desire to be anywhere but here. It has been a very productive, yet taxing two weeks since the team commenced our annual audit of Bank of America here in Houston. I’ve worked for Ernst and Young for six years, and B of A has been our client for the past three, on a trial basis. The goal is to make them a permanent client, which means working long days in order to finish this audit.
It doesn’t help that I’m the lone Forensic Accountant on the Audit Team. What’s that saying? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life? I started working for E & Y right out of grad school, and honestly, I do love it. Numbers seem to come easy to me, and finding solutions to issues is more “exciting project” than “monotonous drudgery.” Still—it’s work. In college, my friends called me the “cool nerd,” which was a step up from high school, at least, where I was just a “nerd nerd.” My roommates Yi and Stacey always complained about my ability to work late night’s bartending, party, and still pull a consistent 3.2 GPA. College was easy. Books are easy. People take time for me to understand.
Consequently, and deliberately, is why I tend to keep my tribe of trusted people close to me on a small scale. Being a transplant from a small town in Tennessee, moving to the enormous bustling metropolis of Denver was intimidating at first, even for someone who longed for the big city adventure growing up. It took a while to get nestled in, and soon comfortably called Denver home. With the help of my close college friends, I found my quaint, comfortable, but largely entertaining niche, living in a vibrant area with millions of people.
Coupled with my “safe haven” of people, it would seem that the travel required for working for a big accounting firm has vastly taken a lot of time in my life, and with great notice lately as I am in cities like Houston, Chicago, and St. Louis more than I am at my cozy comfortable apartment. Not to mention, meeting new people and trying to engage in small talk contributes to my feeling of overwhelm when traveling.
So, when an opening for Assistant Manager for the Audit Team became available for the Denver office, I applied immediately. This opportunity will require less travel, thus no running around from branch to branch putting out fires and training new people. It would give me more time and effort to be able to dive deep into the forensics of accounting for our clients. The interview was three weeks ago, and with numerous applicants, the wait has been exhausting and anxiety ridden as I am finally sending this email at 9:40 am. I’m seriously missing the mountain air, the hikes, and the laidback way of life—none of that is here in Houston.
I sigh, shaking my head to get focused, and reach out my hand for my coffee out of habit. Just as I hit send, I take a sip, startled to find that it has turned cold. I have a tendency to focus on what I am doing so intently that I forget other things are going on. Desperate for the caffeine, I gulp more of the $5 now-cold beverage as I get up out of my chair. I’m just about to head over to the microwave in our sterile work kitchen to warm up the coffee when the phone rings. Glancing at the caller ID, I sigh. Coffee will have to wait. It’s Parker, the manager for our Audit Team.
“Hey, Lillian,” he says when I pick up, and he sounds hesitant, which means he is about to inconvenience me. I’ve worked with Parker long enough to decode his tones, and I know he hates throwing last minute requests to the team. I realize that I’m lucky to have a manager as kind, nice, and open as Parker, so I put a little extra pep in my greeting for his sake, coffee be damned.
“Hey, Parker! How are you doing?” I say, hoping to put him at ease as I’ve had previous managers make my life a complete hell by overworking the team, not putting deadlines on issues, not tasking the right people, or just being completely lazy about the project. But Parker’s not like that. He dives into the deep end of the pool with everyone else and makes sure everyone swims safely to the shallow end. For that, I like him.
“Doing well, Lil, doing well,” he says, sounding more relaxed. “So, the partners just arrived, and we’re going to have a staff meeting with the full Audit Team, support, and IT at 10 in conference room 14D. I know its short notice, but we need you there, sorry.”
“No problem,” I say, figuring I have just enough time to heat up my coffee before heading to the meeting. Conference room 14D is what we call the dungeon conference room—D for dungeon. Low lighting, no windows, short chairs, and the whiteboard still has figures on it from 2018. I’m about to update Parker on the B of A email when a familiar ping on my cell phone goes off, distracting me. “World’s Best Mom” pops up on the screen and I swipe open the message: How are you sweetie! Hope you are having a great day!
“Is that your mom?” Parker asks, laughing. He knows my mom texts every other morning like clockwork. “What does she say this time?”
“Yep, that was her,” I say, smiling as I shake my head. “Just the usual love notes. I’ll give her a call later and give you the full update.”
“Looking forward to it,” Parker jokes before hanging up.
As I head to the kitchen to warm up my cold coffee I smile inwardly, wondering what about my single, career fixated life my mom wants to discuss this time.
“Hey, Lil!” Chase calls out to me, distracting me from my thoughts. He’s at the scanner fretting over something. “I can never remember,” he says when I stop. “What drive do we use for the footnotes sections? I just can’t remember this morning.”
Chase turns to look at me, exhaustion clear on his face. He rubs his forehead in frustration as I know he hates that he has to ask. Chase and I started around the same time, and became sort of from-the-start work buddies. There was a brief period back in the beginning when I thought we may be something more than co-workers, but once I learned that he has numerous dating profiles, but has had zero relationships, I shut that down in my brain. No matter how cute he is—and he is—he clearly cannot commit to anything but a fun time. Instead, Chase has become more of a brother to me. And I know this look.
“Just scan them to the G Drive and I’ll ask Ann to go through and categorize each footnote,” I tell him. “Besides, that’ll give her something to do besides scroll Instagram all morning,” I add with a grin. Ann, our administrative assistant, is famous for paying more attention to social media than her job. Instead of his usual laugh, however, Chase just gives me a tired smile.
“Thanks, Lil,” he says. “I just can’t think today. We’ve been on this project for longer than I can count, and it doesn’t help that I can’t remember how many drinks I had last night.” He looks a little bashful as he says this, even though he knows I don’t judge. There have been plenty of nights where I’ve been right beside him, drinking my Moscow Mule’s while he has his Captain Morgan and Dr. Pepper. He has been working intensely lately, and honestly, we all have.
“Oh, come on,” I say, gearing up for a pep talk. “You weren’t that bad when I left you last night at the bar. And besides, you’ve had a long stretch, give yourself a break. We couldn’t have gotten through this audit without you!”
At this, Chase does chuckle a little. “I know...you’re right. Thanks, Lil, I do appreciate it. I don’t know what I would do without you.” I smile and nod my head as he continues. “Oh hey—about that girl I brought last night—what did you think? I kind of liked her.”
Chase has started running his dates by me for approval, which I have to say is at least kind of entertaining. “Victoria, right? She was fun—I liked her,” I say, actually meaning it. “Where did you guys meet at, or do I want to know?”
“Oh, just on some app,” he says. “She’s a travel agent, lives in Houston, and I don’t know, I just like talking to her. She seems really cool, and sophisticated, too. We left things pretty well this morning,” he says as he nudges my side with his elbow and winks.
“Chase,” I groan, “I really don’t need to hear about your conquests at 9:45 am, while I’m heading to get my coffee warmed up!” I laugh shaking my half-drunk, still cold Starbucks at him, trying not to think about my own nonexistent dating life.
“What about Bruce from IT?” Chase asks, raising an eyebrow. The guy somehow always knows what I’m thinking, apparently.
“No. Just no, Chase,” I sigh, rubbing my temples with my free hand. “Heading for fresh coffee, do you need any?” I’m suddenly desperate to escape this conversation.
“Love some, thanks,” he says, with a smarmy grin as he resumes scanning.
In the breakroom, I chuck my Starbucks with a grimace. As I pour out two cups of coffee, an impatient line forms behind me—everyone, seemingly, has the same idea. Coffees in hand, I head out of the break room and set Chase’s coffee down on his desk amongst the jumble of his laptop, hotel key fob, loose change, and his infamous overnight bag with his toothbrush and toothpaste hanging out of it. The picture-perfect bachelor life, but he seems happy with the game for now. And as much as he says he needs me, I need him, too. He’s grown into one of my closest friends, and don’t know how I would have come this far without his support. At first meeting, he comes across as an arrogant, ex-college football player—which, don’t get me wrong, he is—but he’s a good friend, too.
I check my phone for the time and realize I need to get to Dungeon 14D. I enter in a rush, mouthing an apology to Parker, pull out my pen, legal pad, and try to bring myself back into the present just as Vicki starts speaking, thanking us for all of the effort put into this particular audit. Our Audit Director, Vicki Swanson, has kept this team going for the past three years with her purposeful leadership style, and hands-off approach.
There’s applause from everyone, and especially from the Senior Partners who have a lot more at stake in keeping B of A as a permanent client than us underlings.
“Seriously,” Vicki continues, “we have done tremendous work, and with the collaboration from the Denver office, we’re set to complete this project ahead of schedule. There are a few minor tasks left, but we are about wrapped up!”
I find myself joining in with the tremendous applause this time, relief washing over me. No more living out of a suitcase, or trying to make small talk with new people. I’m officially heading back home to Denver and all that is familiar on Friday.
Edgar, one of the senior partners, rises and goes to stand by Vicki. “Thank you, Vicki, and thank you to each and every one of you!” he says. “We are impressed with the precision and accuracy of this audit. This one really did take a team!” Another round of obligatory cheering, and I look around to see if I can catch Chase’s eye. He winks and takes the empty seat next to me as Edgar starts up again. “Now that the work is finishing up, it’s time to celebrate!”
At that, Ann, the executive assistant, enters holding a box of lanyards as Edgar’s smile widens even further.
“We’re treating you and a few folks from B of A to the luxury suites at the Aztecs game tonight! Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served at 5:30, and the game starts at 7:00. Ann, please hand everyone their suite passes.”
As Ann scurries around handing out the passes, Chase leans in and whispers, “You up for this?”
I shrug. “It’s at least different than heading back to the hotel like we usually do. So, yeah, I’m totally up for something new!”
He nods in agreement and turns back into his chair just as Camilla Gleeson dashes over, giving us a cheesy thumbs up. I give her a wary smile and weak thumbs up in response. Camilla has been with E & Y longer than I have and is experienced and knowledgeable. But her father is one of the Senior Partners, and so she’s also very entitled and opinionated. She applied for the Assistant Manager position, too, and has told the office (multiple times) that she has “a good feeling” about it. I try to stay out of her way—and her opinions—as much as I can.
Leaving the meeting with Parker and Chase, I realize something. “So, you‘re going to think that this is dumb, but I don’t have any Aztecs gear,” I say, feeling silly. “Do you guys mind if we head to the stadium early so I have time to grab some merch to wear?”
“You are such a dork, Lil!” Chase says, breaking into a big grin. “Yeah, that’s fine!”
Dressing up for the game might be corny, but I am all in for corny (cool nerd, remember?). All I know about the Aztecs is that their colors are red and white, and that it seems like everyone I meet in Houston is obsessed with them.
Back at my desk, I call my mom, who answers on the first ring and sounds excited that I am venturing out tonight.
“I guess I better let you go and grab your lunch, and I need to get back to work!” I say, realizing my stomach is growling as well. My door creeps open and I look up to see Chase, a concerned look on his face. I flash a smile and wave him in as he sits down in the chair opposite my desk as I hang up with mom.
“You good?” I ask, turning to Chase who seems uncharacteristically on edge.
“Yeah, it’s just,” he falters, “I’m an idiot. I just kept going on and on about Victoria this morning at the copier, and I didn’t even—” Chase stops short, uncertainty in his big brown eyes. Immediately, I know where this conversation is going and I try to mentally get ready for it. “I just realized that it’s been almost a year and a half since the whole Drew thing. You’re so different now that it’s hard to remember.”
“Chase, I get it, and you are definitely not an idiot,” I say, giving him a half smile. I’m really not in the mood for this conversation. He flashes a quick smile back, and suddenly I have an urgent need to get out of the office, and fast. “You could make it up to me by taking me to lunch. Deal?”
“Deal,” he says, audibly breathing out. “I’ll go file these real quick, and meet you in the lobby in three minutes.”
I force a smile and grab my purse. Why did he need to bring up Drew?