A man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus…
At two o’clock on Tuesday, Summer was up to her plucked eyebrows in obituary editing. Apparently a fraternity at the University of Washington, Sigma Epsilon Chi, had had a terrible fire, resulting in two student deaths; some other luckier reporter covered the actual story, but Summer immediately received a call from Fred ordering her to write a combined obituary for both boys. The families would usually send in small blurbs, but Fred wanted a longer story to catch a reader’s eye. Nobody liked to hear about college students dying, even if, as appeared the case in this situation, both had drunk so much they passed out the night before and never even woke up. “Typical,” Summer told her spider plant, petting its long slender leaves. “But tricky. Good work.” She called the families, speaking sympathetically and listening with quiet understanding as they poured their stories out about the two boys.
“Juan, he was such good boy,” one mother told her. “Always looking out for little sisters, always went to church every Sunday.”
“I’m sure he did,” Summer agreed, wishing she had taken Spanish more seriously in school. She always agreed with people, even when the deceased could never have been as good as the bereaved described. Summer didn’t like sullying families’ memories, and who could it hurt to have people remembered in the best possible way? “What did he like to do for fun?”
A rush of description followed, from which Summer took the following notes:
Soccer—V H.S., UW schol., play professionally?
20 yrs, soph, CE major, Sigma Epsilon Chi brother both yrs
Artist, exhibit @ H.S.—graffiti art
Refurb. old cars, ’64 Mustang Convert. blue w/white top custom paint
GF Julia Gonzalez 425-445-5283
Survived by: M, F, 2S, 2B
Mem. @ St. John Vienney, donations to Youth Soccer League, no flowers pls
Summer had, after years in this position, honed her ability to writing obituaries to a fine art, one that required only a few crucial pieces of information depending on the person’s situation. Young people she asked about interests and focused on academic accomplishments, while middle-aged and older people’s families and jobs received more attention.
With all the excitement, Summer didn’t notice her day pass until she realized with a jolt her area had fallen eerily silent. It sounded this way on Fridays, when Megan and Shawna took off early. Where had they all gone? She stood up and walked around, looking at empty desks, seeing the blink of a screensaver on one monitor. As she passed, Megan’s monitor flicked to life, an Outlook reminder popping up: 2:00—Discuss Summer w/Doug Anderson—Conf. Rm. A.
“Oh no,” Summer groaned. She hadn’t even had any time to butter them up or even simply beg them to say good things about her. She felt quite confident they didn’t want to talk to Doug to sing her praises, although they might consider this move a chance to get rid of her. Somehow, though, Summer couldn’t imagine them willingly help her move on.
“Fred likes watching me suffer too much,” she muttered as she walked back to her Christmas light-lit cube. “I bet Chastity will know what to do.” She dialed Chastity’s work number.
“Northwest Electronics, Chastity Turner speaking. How may I direct your call?”
“Hey Chas, it’s Summer.”
“Hey girl, I haven’t heard from you in ages! Tell me about the weekend!” A gum-popping sound snapped across the phone line.
“Are you chewing gum?”
“Um, yes. Why?”
“You’re one of them! The gum-popping secretaries!”
“Watch it, missy, I’m an office assistant. Get it right. Secretaries aren’t politically correct these days.”
“Sure, and you don’t sleep with your boss, either.”
“No, ’cause he’s gay. Too bad though, cause he’s damn cute and I bet he’d be great in bed.”
“You should try to seduce him anyway. Think of the conquest.” Summer razzed Chastity about her many conquests, but Chastity routinely countered that Summer was just jealous.
“I doubt Troy would be interested at all. He’s dating this guy Vince right now—ohmygod, they’re so hot together. I’m so jealous. Two gorgeous guys taken by each other. Life is so totally not fair.”
“How do you know all this?” Summer genuinely didn’t want Chastity’s sex life, but she wouldn’t have minded having Chastity’s ability to ferret reliable information from any and every source. It would be a useful skill for a reporter, one that had never come easily to Summer. She usually spent all her time slogging through boring microfiche articles and interviewing independent sources to find out information Chastity would have gotten by observing the way a woman and her husband talked with a third party.
“Promise not to tell?”
“Cross my heart hope to die.”
“You will if you tell. I’ll kill you myself.” Chastity, along with everything else, was a black belt. “I listen in on his phone conversations, obviously. He and Vinnie talk on the phone like ten times a day.”
“That could get you fired!” Summer had become extremely conscious of risks to her job since the security of Lance’s income had vanished from her horizon. How could Chastity endanger herself like that?
“I don’t care, I’ll just go somewhere else. Plus, school’s picking up and I’d rather work part-time now anyway.” Chastity had joined the workforce right out of high school, and now, at age 26, had decided she should earn a college degree. She picked away at it steadily but slowly.
“Yeah, I figured things had started up again. What’re you taking, anyway?”
“Oh, some bio class, calc, Cultural Variation and Nursing Practice, Interpersonal Relations.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“It’s actually a lot of work right now, but not so bad. Still got time for the important things, y’know? And the bio prof is cute, he’s like a little older than me. Total stud. I’m thinking of seducing him.” Summer knew what the “important things” were in Chastity’s book: Jumping, partying, guys. And, unexpectedly, reading long, complex philosophical discussions by long-dead thinkers.
“Are you sure seducing a prof is a good idea? I mean, wouldn’t that get him in trouble? Or you expelled or something?”
“Oh, come on. It’s not like we’d tell anybody.” She paused, and Summer sat speechless for a moment. Apparently Chastity considered the subject closed, because she said, “So what’s up?”
“The job.” Summer often called Chastity to get her opinion or just vent; it helped to have an alien perspective. “I applied for this sub-editor position on H&G;—”
“Home and Garden department. Under this guy Doug Anderson. He seemed really nice, way better than Fred—”
“Fred’s a pig.”
“—and today Doug’s talking to Fred and Megan and Shawna about me right now. I’m so sure they’re just telling him bad things about me to keep me stuck here. They’re going to prejudice him against me and I’ll be trapped in obits forever.”
“OK, cool out.” Chastity could have a very clear head sometimes, which Summer admired. “You still have the interview, right? It’s not like they can force him to dislike you or something, and if you come across as like really perfect for the job, and sound really good in the interview, it shouldn’t matter that muc
h what your asshole boss says.”
“Maybe…” Reluctant agreement on Summer’s part, knowing Fred’s strength of personality.
“Plus isn’t your boss a jerk? Who trusts jerks?”
“He actually sounded really nice when he was setting up the appointment with Doug. Maybe he just doesn’t like me.”
“Everybody knows he’s a jerk, Summer. You’ve said so.”
“But maybe that’s just—”
“Ooop, gotta go. Customer.” Chastity hung up quickly, leaving Summer to stare blankly at the cubicle wall in front of her. Somehow, her conversation with Chastity hadn’t really helped anything; she still felt just as insecure and worried about the outcome of this meeting as before.
* * *
Downstairs, Summer’s boss, co-workers, and Doug sat around a conference table in a small, gray-walled room. Hanging blinds had been drawn across tall, narrow windows for so long they had mounds of dust on the sills between the slats. Far overhead, fluorescent lights cast a sickly bluish glow, reducing the vivid life in Doug’s face to a sickly pallor and the bright reds of Megan and Shawna’s lipsticks to strange purples. Fred sat at the head of the table, his massive girth seeming to dwarf the room’s narrow proportions and forcing everybody to go around the foot to sit on the inner side of the long table.
Doug sat on Fred’s left, facing Megan, and Shawna sat next to Megan. Both women had brought notebooks, and flipped them open in a businesslike way when Doug cleared his throat.
“I just asked for this meeting to hear your thoughts on Summer as an employee,” Doug said, a little discomfited by their seriousness. “Nothing too formal, you understand.”
“Of course, we’re all friends here.” Fred’s outdoor-sized voice seemed to strain against the walls. Doug suppressed a shudder and whished he’d sat at the foot of the table. “Maybe you could tell us more specifically what you’re looking for.”
“Right.” Doug gathered his thoughts. “You’ve been her boss how long?”
“Four years. Four long years.” Shawna tittered and Megan twisted her thick lips into a tight, purse-lipped grimace Doug assumed was meant to look like a smile.
“And how has she been as an employee in that time?” Doug opened his slender notebook and put his pen to the page. This should be telling.
“How to start…” Fred seemed to gather his thoughts, and Doug caught a malicious glint in the otherwise friendly black eyes. “She works hard, when she works. I’ll give her that. But she just isn’t part of the team; she never helps the other ladies out when there’s a lot of work—” here Megan nodded vigorously and Shawna looked angry. “—and she’s extremely disrespectful.”
“To you?” This didn’t sound good.
“To me as well as her coworkers. She routinely refuses to do what I ask, constantly talks back, and is completely antisocial.” Doug thought Fred’s use of “talk back” sounded a little odd.
“Talk back? What do you mean?”
“I ask her to do something, say tell her to keep an article to 250 words and I’ll squeeze it in where I can. She argues, constantly tries to get her pieces up closer to the front page. Just the other day, she went over my head to get her write-up of… Who was it?” He turned his big, balding head to focus small, dark eyes on Megan.
“James P. Quinlan, of Cup of Seattle.”
“That’s right. James P. Quinlan’s memorial service closer to the front page. Also, she just goes off to do things and doesn’t keep us informed at all. We can’t reach her when we need to; she’ll leave at lunch and come back three hours later, then refuse to tell us what she’s been doing.”
This didn’t sound good to Doug, although he could believe it, based on what he’d seen of Summer the previous day. “She doesn’t sound particularly responsible,” he said.
“Oh, she gets her work done.” Fred made it sound like this wasn’t much of an achievement. “But like I said, she’s just not much of a team player.”
Doug turned to the two women across from him. “Do you two find her this way too?”
“Oh yes,” Shawna immediately assented. “I’ve invited her to lunch, oh, dozens of times and she always says no. She’s just not interested in getting to know us,” she motioned to Megan and herself. “She isn’t friendly, and she thinks she knows everything. Just ’cause she’s from California, it’s like she knows everything about journalism.”
“I think she’s a fine journalist.” Megan tried to sound impartial, but she achieved approximately the same tone Fred had taken earlier. “I just don’t know about her ability to work with other people. Right now she’s in a good position that lets her work by herself, but if she was an editor, she’d have to work with people more, and…” she trailed off, letting the sentence finish itself.
“Hmm,” Doug said, trying to sound judicial. He shouldn’t make a decision now, he told himself; let Summer do the interview and see how she came across then. “Well, is there anything else you feel I should know about her before we finish up?”
“She’s getting divorced.” Shawna again, jumping right in at the end of his question. “It doesn’t bode well for her work future, all that emotional stuff going on right now.” From another woman, that might have sounded sympathetic; from Shawna, with her platinum-blonde hair big enough to make an ’80s fashion model blush, her tight shirt and too-short leather skirt and spike heels, Doug had to wonder. Shawna looked like she’d seen the rear end of several bad marriages.
“OK, I’ll remember that,” he said, but thought it shouldn’t matter. If Summer had any professionalism, she would leave that business at home. “Anything else?”
They all looked at each other, back and forth, until finally Fred said, “I think that’s about it.”
“Great,” Doug immediately said. He stood up. “Thanks for your time.”
As they filed out of the conference room, Doug’s mind whirled. He felt he had a grasp of Summer’s personality now—a hard worker, intelligent, but not socially conscious or interested in social niceties, perhaps overbearing, and certainly abrasive to her coworkers. This coincided with Doug’s impression of her Monday morning, with her professional attire and “go get ’em” attitude. Though the interview remained, and she might redeem herself, Doug had a good idea that Summer Robertson would probably not fit well in his department. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.