There’s only so much you can do in twenty-four hours. That’s what Jacky has been telling me for the past five minutes. We’re tucked away in the corner of the ninth floor’s kitchen, trying to get the coffee machine to work.
“Honestly, how do they expect us to be here for nine hours a day without providing caffeine?” He’s pressing buttons randomly now.
“I know.” I hold my empty cup to my chest, somehow hoping the remaining heat will seep through my thin blouse. “I don’t know how they expect us to work with the AC on full blast.”
Jacky rolls his eyes at that. And then he’s blabbering about the AC and the weather and climate change. And I just listen.
Most of our conversations go along that way. He complains, I agree, I mention something, and he complains. It’s a full circle which I’ve grown used to. I almost look forward to it. Jacky is many things, and reliable is one of them. If I have a bad day, which is most days, I can always count on him to take my mind off things.
“Did you know that they’re taking away the vending machine?” he asks. “Of course you do[LK1] .” He pushes his glasses further up on his nose.
Jacky is the equivalent of Robert De Niro in The Intern[LK2] , with the personality of Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada. He wears suits and ties to work every day[LK3] , shaves every morning and wears glasses that are vintage—though others might call old-fashioned. Yet, he’s rude to everyone and everything. He’s a tough cookie to crack, but I feel like I’ve been getting there.
Coffee break after coffee break.
“Are they even planning on replacing it?” he asks.
“The vending machine? Of course.” I like how he still says they. As if I’m not part of them. The people of the ninth floor.
“What with?” He gives up on the coffee machine and heads for the hallway. I follow.
“With another vending machine.”
“What’s the point then?” He throws his hands up in the air.
I used to hate it when he did that. I wanted to shout at him to shut up and let me do my job, which is complicated enough as it is. But now I understand that the one thing Jacky hates most of all is change. Change frightens him.
“It’s better for the environment. The food, the packaging solutions, all of it.”
He rolls his eyes as he exits the little kitchen, and I follow him down the corridor. He reaches the lift and presses the call button.
“We can’t very much preach about sustainability and eco-responsibility when we eat processed foods and throw away tons of plastic packages a day,” I try to reason with him.
The doors of the lift open and save him from answering.
“You’re not coming?” he asks when I don’t step in after him.
“No can do.” I lift my phone in my hand, holding the doors with my mug. “Duty calls,” I singsong.
“Fine, but I’m not putting in all your milk and sugar crap.” He takes my mug from me and presses the button for the seventh floor. Marketing, the only department where Nespresso coffee machines are a must. And will never be replaced.
“Thank you!” I call out once I’ve turned back and started heading towards my office.
I wish I could join Jacky for longer, but a couple of minutes a day is all I can afford. Already, my phone is lit up with messages and missed calls and emails that need to be answered.
Sometimes, I think I spend more time deleting notifications than doing actual work. It’s part of the game though, I suppose. Even though it’s a tiring one.
The first thing I do when I’m back in my office is pull on a warm jumper. I keep one for emergencies, and today is definitely one. After almost seven years in the US, I still haven’t got used to AC. I’m used to the cold though, having grown up on the outskirts of London. But the chill of the AC is something quite particular and, right now, I feel like it’s imprinting itself on my bones. Simply looking out the large panel windows behind my desk makes goosebumps erupt all over my skin.
I sit down at my desk, appreciating my little space tucked far away from all the agitation of a Monday morning at GreatGreen and get back into tunnel mode.
I get through emails as fast as I can without making any mistakes. People asking for meetings, presentations being sent, approvals to be decreed, reports to read through. My to-do list only grows and grows.
Yet today could be considered a slow day. No interruptions whatsoever, apart from Jacky kindly bringing me a coffee.
Every day that the boss isn’t here is a slow day, and I’ll take those over any others.
He’s very good at what he does, and one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met, but he’s also demanding—and capricious. He’s used to having what he wants when he wants it, and because he works fast, he expects everyone else to do so as well. Which makes him a massive jerk.
Maybe I would have turned out like him if I’d founded my company at twenty-six. Maybe I would have been just like him if, five years down, said company had become a unicorn.
I guess I’ll never know, and I’m not sure I’d want to find out. I’m a year shy of being the same age he was when he founded GreatGreen, and I am very much far from getting my own corporate off the ground.
I’m about to switch from getting through my mails to reading a report about our accounts in Europe when my phone rings.
I pause when I see the caller ID.
The pause takes me a second too long, because after the second ring, the call ends. My hands hover above my keyboard, my eyes still on the dark screen of my phone. When it rings again, I’m ready.
“I just called.” Lucas Hemling’s deep voice filters through the speaker.
“What were you doing?”
“What can I do for you?” I hate that my heart still beats out of my chest when he calls me unexpectedly like this. I hate that my first thought is that he’s calling to fire me. I hate that my stomach twists into knots that’ll take half a day to untangle.
“The advisory board has been pushed forward to the end of the week. Don’t you check your emails?”
I bite my teeth to keep quiet, and I’m about to tell him I haven’t got the email when it pings into my inbox.
“Just got it.”
“Sara will find us a time to go over the slides,” he says—no, not says. He tells me.
“I’ll check in with her.”
There’s a pause where I can almost hear his breathing.
“Anything else?” I hope not.
“I’m on my way back from the airport,” he lets me know.
“Are you coming straight into the office?” He wasn’t supposed to be back just yet.
“Yes.” He sighs. Pauses. I wait. “Well, I’ll see you.”
I don’t bother saying goodbye because he’s already hung up.
I carefully put my phone down and stare at it as if it’ll give me a secret recipe to understanding why my boss is the way he is. It doesn’t.
I can tell the minute he arrives. I can hear the sound of his PA Sara’s chair on the carpeted floor when she rises to greet him. The clap of her heels when she follows into his office, the sound of his door closing.
Instantly, I’m on high alert. As of an hour ago, this day was going well. I was getting through my work, unbothered, focused. Now, I know he’ll barge into my office and won’t leave me alone until past nine this evening.
I didn’t know he was coming back from wherever he was. Sometimes, once or twice a month, he’ll leave Friday early afternoon and come back Tuesday morning. I don’t think even Sara knows where he is during those days. He’s always on his phone, so it might seem as if he’s not really gone. But those weekends are the only ones I actually get to enjoy.
This weekend was one of them. I got to stay in bed until then, I went for a walk and even had time to watch a movie.
It was glorious.
I can now hear rushed footsteps across the hallway that separates my office from his. I don’t even bother trying to wrap up what I was doing—I just stand and open the door ahead of him.
I’m barely back in my seat when he breezes in, his figure already filling the room.
“Good morning,” I offer.
He closes the door behind him and heads straight for the small sofa by the wall. “Anything I missed while I was gone?” he asks, completely ignoring what I just said.
That’s also something I could have predicted. He always asks me this same question. At first, when I tried to get on his good side, back when I first started, I used to answer with a joke.
What didn’t you miss? I would say. Or Apart from the fact that everyone resigned over the weekend? Not much.
I stopped doing it when Covid-19 came and went, and people actually started resigning. Which is how I ended up where I am.
I joined GreatGreen as an intern during the final year of my studies and was asked to stay on after. I did, which was great. At first. Then Covid-19 happened, and it was all hands on deck. When people started resigning and wanting a new different life, far away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, I easily climbed the ladder.
Easy to climb a ladder when it only has a few steps is what my sister had once said. And she was right.
“Nothing much. We do have the quarterly budget to go over. I noticed some discrepancies that I can’t quite make sense of.”
“Show me.” He waves me over, leaving little space for me on the sofa.
I grab the printed document from my desk and join him. I wish, just for once, that he would be nice and say please and thank you.
He frowns at the papers. “Who did this?”
“Jacky.” I don’t understand why he needs to ask. Jacky has been our financial controller since GreatGreen was founded.
He sighs and it sounds like he’s exhausted.
I shift on the sofa.
“Of course there would be discrepancies—Jacky forgot a whole line.” He points to where a whole set of digits are missing.
I frown at the table and instantly wonder how I missed this.
“I didn’t see,” I reply, stating the obvious. “I’m sorry.”
He doesn’t say anything.
I also wish that I could read his mind. A mistake like that shouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t have missed it, and yet I did.
“I’ll let Jacky know.” I stand. “He’ll send me an edited version.”
Lucas looks up at me. “I’ll let Jacky know.” He stands.
“I can do it.” I force a smile. “No problem.” I turn my back to him and walk to my desk.
“Miss Wilson,” he calls out. I pause. “Jacky and I are due [LK4] a chat. I will let him know.”
I face him and open my mouth to say something—anything. I know this has been coming. Jacky is on the verge of retirement, and he’s good at what he does. He really is. Has been forever. But he’s growing tired. His eyes bother him. More than once, I’ve found him squinting at his computer. He refuses to get checked out though and refuses help. So I’ve let it drop.
My thoughts must be written on my face because Lucas frowns and shakes his head at me. “Don’t let your affections get in the way of your job. It won’t reflect well on you—or the company.”
There’s an edge to his words. One I don’t understand.
It takes a minute for them to sink in. I don’t know how to react; I don’t know if I should feel angry or not. But embarrassment makes its way down my body.
“That’s not what I’m doing,” I lie.
He looks at me for a beat longer, lingering.
“Is there anything else, Mr. Hemling?” I hold my stand. I tried calling him by his name one day, wanting to forgo formalities. The face he made—pure shock and surprise—has been haunting me and my insomnia ever since. I reverted to calling him Mr. Hemling right away.
His face stays unmoving. Emotions nonexistent.
“Make sure you clear out your schedule Thursday morning,” is all he says before he’s out the door.