Second installment in the Enchanting Emil series!
Worry came in waves, sudden and sharp, pulsating my head. Other days, the waves were calm like the ocean; life just flowed with ease. For me, life was a balancing act of worry and peace. I struggled to stay balanced. I had hoped the anxiety, which was often times self-induced, would stop visiting.
I had so much to be thankful for, I reminded myself. I have an extraordinary family. My father is a man of tradition. My mother is a lady of grace. My siblings and I were educated at the best schools and our childhood was filled with glorious memories of summers spent overseas. My mother constantly reminded me that our privilege was a gift from God and He can take it away in an instant. The down-to-earth quality of my mother influenced me to break away from societal and familial expectation of pursuing a law career and, instead, pursue my own passion independently. As long as I was in a position of power and prestige, my father was happy.
There was no better stress reliever than a long, hard run. I didn’t mind the cool and unusual autumn morning. The crisp air was refreshing. Autumn is my favorite season. The colors of the leaves made my trail a beautiful backdrop. I couldn’t hear the crunch of the leaves against my footsteps as my thoughts drowned out all other noise. As a kid, I had dreamt I was a ballerina and if it weren’t for my father dismissing the art of dance, I would have pursued it diligently. To stay physically active, after cutting out my grueling soccer lessons, I took up running during college. I felt drawn to the feeling of freedom when I ran. As soon as my feet touched the pavement, my daily life and the busy streets of the city were behind me.
“New assistant! She flew her to London for an assistant interview. Doesn’t sound like Bianca,” I thought to myself.
But, then again, this was the same woman who reused plastic silverware. Bianca is a multimillionaire and she did not believe in actually using her own set of dishware. Her dinner parties were lavish with exquisite catering. She served her guests on plasticware as her Hermès china set remained on display. She liked her money on display, not to be used.
I checked the time on my phone and it read 5:45am. “Shit, I’m late!” I muttered to myself. I abruptly turned around and was met, full force with, what felt like a brick wall.
“OW!” As I fell to the ground, a hand caught my forearm, easing me down onto the pavement.
“Miss! Are you all right?”
Dazzled and annoyed, I glared up into the blue eyes of Emil.
“Ugh, you again? What is it with you always bumping into me? Don’t you ever look as you walk?” I snatched my arm away from his grip and helped myself up.
Emil drew his eyebrows together, slightly puzzled. “I am sorry. You came out of nowhere. Here, easy,” he said and bent down to help me up. I lost my balance and fell into his arms. He effortlessly scooped me up and placed me onto the pavement.
“I’m not handicapped,” I snapped. I brushed the leaves off myself and straightened my shirt out. Blinking back tears, I lowered my head to avoid Emil noticing I was on the brink of crying. Emil cupped my chin and tilted it up, so our eyes met.
“Hey, are you ok? Did I hurt you?” Compassion glossed his eyes and worry was heard in his tone.
“No. I have a lot on my mind and I can’t spare another minute, standing here, when I need to get to work.” As I started straightening out my shirt, Emil snapped his fingers, “Ah! Ms. Jehan, from the bar the other night.”
“Let me get you a ride home,” Emil turned around and whistled. “You shouldn’t run back home and since you’re in a rush, I’ll have my driver take you home.”
“That’s not necessary. I am capable of walking myself. Wait, you have a driver? Your driver drove you to the park to run?” I asked.
“Does it pain you to be polite?” Emil asked. “George won’t mind.” As the car reached the curb, Emil, with his hand resting on the small of my back, led me to the car.
“Really? Who has a driver take him to go running?”
“The son of an overprotective Ambassador does, ok?” Emil opened the back seat door to let me in. “George, please take Ms. Jehan to her residence.”
I tried to push back against Emil, “No no!”
Emil nudged me into the car, causing me to thump onto the seat. “Stay. George, I’ll see you back at the house. Have a good rest of your day, Jehan.” Before I could object, Emil closed the door and turned around to finish his jog.
I skipped my morning coffee. With the episode I endured that morning, my adrenaline was still quite high. As I entered my workplace, I noticed Bianca’s office door open. Bianca never arrived at the office before me. I sat my briefcase down on the desk and switched on my computer before heading to see her.
Bianca sat with her back to the window, the morning sunrise peeking through, outlining Bianca’s body. The orange and purple hues from the sunlight glistened against her silver pleated suite. As if Bianca has radar, not looking up from her computer, she greets me, “Morning, Jehan. Running behind, are we?”
“It is 7am, Bianca,” I stated and sat myself down on the plush armchair.
“As you know, the economy has affected us terribly.”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t say terribly. We’ve remained in the green, for months. Our sales have increased and we are seeing vast improvements in our digital platform,” I said confidently.
“No, I am not happy with the lack of new e-book acquisitions.”
“I understand. The campaigns that we have launched simply take time to pick up a return on investment. Once you see what I have planned for the upcoming season, you’ll be extremely pleased. I assure you.”
Bianca huffed and replied, “Jehan, don’t make this any harder on me. I’m letting you go. The board pressured me to replace you with new, young talent.”
I’m 28, I thought to myself.
I stared at Bianca. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak, Bianca spoke, “You will have your belongings packed within the hour. I’ve already had your passwords changed for security reasons. Your ID has been deactivated. I had your assistant place boxes in your office for you.”
My voice was barely above a whisper, “Pack my stuff within the hour? Bianca,” I swallowed hard, “is this about money? I’ll take a pay cut.”
“Oh, don’t be dramatic, Jehan. You will find something soon. If you leave gracefully, I’ll be sure to write you a recommendation. Your severance package is outlined here.” Bianca shoved a gray envelope towards me while avoiding eye contact.
“I’m having a difficult time processing this sudden news. I thought we had a great working relationship.”
“Yes, darling. This is because of the board,” Bianca repeated.
I raised my voice, “Bullshit! You never listened to them! When they wanted you to start using up old photo stock to avoid paying for photojournalists, you refused by hiring camera crew from the entertainment industry! So don’t give me this board crap. Give me the respect I deserve to tell me what is really going on,” clenching my fists at my side as I spoke.
In the years I had worked for Bianca, I had never cursed at her nor raised my voice.
Bianca pursed her lips together, tilted her head to the side and cleared her throat. “I am giving you the respect to walk away with dignity before the situation gets worse. There comes a time in life when you realize life isn’t all rainbows. People break promises,” Bianca said.
Bianca raised her head up and looked down on me, “I do wish you the best, Jehan. I am afraid the clock is ticking and your time to pack your belongings is limited.”
I stood up and felt my knees wobble. I straightened my back as if a string, running upwards through my spine, pulled me up. With one final look at Bianca, I left her office.
As I walked towards my corner office at the end of the hallway, I held my head high, higher than usual. The editorial staff I managed stood at their cubicles and stared at me as I walked by. They aligned my path, with jaws dropped open. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my copywriter, Carla, choking back tears. Carla was a shy girl who lacked the confidence to speak an audible sentence during her interview with Bianca and I. I saw myself in that young Carla and gave her a chance, against Bianca’s persistent opposition. Within three months, Carla blossomed into a sharp worker and found her voice. Although Bianca never admits when she is wrong, her nod of approval came when she chose Carla to manage the Fall season launch.
Upon reaching my office, the left corner lined with boxes, I grabbed my bag, the framed picture of me with Professor Asad Abu-Khalil, and left. I did not need any of the files in my desk, nor the multiple framed awards, I commissioned, that decorated my walls.
With the first step I took out of the building, I grabbed my phone and texted Sophia and Nadia, “Meet at SLS Hotel in 20. I just got fired.”
I hailed a cab and for the first time in years, I did not open my email for the entire journey.