Emma waited for the sound of her boss’s boss’s footsteps to fade down the hall before she could exhale. Finally, she had a chance to say a full sentence, and it didn’t matter who she said it to. “Well, that was–“
Amanda reappeared. “I’m sorry,” she told the other person in the room, “I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Amanda Brotz, executive vice president, but you probably figured that out because Steve sent Emma to talk to me, and here I am. You did know that Emma was coming to talk to me, right?”
Now, with her overwhelming attention on him, Mike didn’t find Amanda so amusing. “Yes?”
“Who are you?” Futilely Amanda pushed her hair back and held out her hand.
“Mike,” he said. “Mike Stasinopoulos.”
“That’s quite a name,” she laughed. “I’m assuming you’re a temp here, because they wouldn’t put a regular employee in this room,” she said. “What do you do here, Mike?”
“Data entry and comparison.”
“Is this a regular daily or weekly or monthly task?”
“Quarterly,” he replied.
“So you’re the one going through all the 10Qs on the corporate accounts, and you’re doing an okay job, but I think I’d like to see the next round of reports on my desk by close of business October 15, but that’s only a metaphor, because everything is digitized, so you should just e-mail it to me, although I can tell you from experience that the work is easier if you print everything out and go through it with a highlighter. Do you have a green highlighter, by the way, or are you using it?”
Mike stammered, “But Steve said–“
“Steve told you the end of October,” she said, “because he doesn’t think it’s possible to finish before then, but he’s not accounting for the time you spend playing solitaire or whatever, which is what I am assuming you were you doing when I walked in–not just now, but earlier, with Emma–and you toggled your screen. Did I see that right?”
“I don’t want to have to take one of the short-termers and move them in here,” she continued, “because Steve would have to teach them how to read 10Qs, and that takes forever–although it would go a lot faster if I was doing it, but I don’t have the time–so I need to know if you can e-mail me your work by October 15, or if we need to start training your replacement right away.”
“Is it a hard deadline?” he asked.
“Yes or no, Mike.”
“Yes,” he replied. “Maybe.”
“Good to hear!” On her way out the door, she added, “And Mike? I have a meeting at eleven o’clock, although I think it might get pushed back a little because of circumstances, but either way, when I get back to my computer after, I’m hoping to see an e-mail detailing all of your progress so far, so I can get a better idea of what kinds of deadlines Steve and I can set. Thanks!”
A combination of confusion, terror, fascination, and shadenfreude flooded the engine of Emma’s brain, and to jumpstart it, she had to blink and shake her head.
“Fuck,” Mike muttered.
“Swear jar,” she told him as she gathered up all the folders and headed straight for a nearby room much larger than the one she’d just left, filled to capacity with copiers, fax machines, industrial shredders, and a folding table.
Her tasks were menial, the job was dead-end, and the work was exhausting. When she wasn’t on her feet, hauling around endless reams of paper, she navigated complex software and translated just enough legal, financial, and business jargon to understand what to copy, file, highlight, and type. She wished she could take this as seriously as Mike. This was expected of her, in fact, by those of her friends who had actually grown into careers that appealed to their skills and interests, or those who, like Mike, only put effort into filling out time sheets. She could never admit to anyone–even her boyfriend, Tyler–that she took pride in how well she did what she did.
With the clock dragging her closer and closer to eleven o’clock with every tick, she focused more intently than ever before. Most people who casually used copiers in libraries and office-supply stores had no clue just how versatile they could be. If you knew which buttons to press, you could staple, collate, double-side, and punch holes in anything you reproduce. With at least two machines and as much experience as she had, you could juggle them like a symphony.
Just as she was making up lost time, Steve Harmon crushed her rhythm by peeking his head in the door and asking, “How’s it going, Emma?”
“Find a place to work until Amanda sorts out the desk situation?”
“Not yet,” she replied, mentally calculating how much of her progress was being melted away by this exchange.
“You should get on that. Amanda needs those spreadsheets in…” He glanced at his gold-plated watch. “… fifty minutes. Let me know how it goes. Thanks!”
She got back to work immediately after he disappeared and was soon constructing piles of documents for all of the vice presidents to do whatever they did with them.
Amanda announced herself with a rap on the doorframe. “I hope you’re not doing something that requires a lot of concentration, and I hope I didn’t spoil that by knocking, but I wanted a quick word.”
Emma stacked the piles and hefted them into her arms. “I’m all yours.”
“Can I give you a hand with that, or do you have a system that I won’t get without hours of explanation?”
“System,” she grunted as she lumbered toward VP territory.
Amanda followed her, saying, “Since no one is on vacation or sick leave today–which is unusual–there are no computers available for you at all, so I’ve decided that you should take mine.”
“Enough of my job involves hard copies and running around that I can leave you alone for a while or so,” she explained. “So, as soon as you’re done here, grab your stuff and make yourself at home in my office.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility,” Emma said.
“Don’t ask me why,” Amanda told her, “but I have a feeling I can trust you.”