Chapter 15: Sharks Don’t Swim Backwards
The next several months were uneventful given my waning work commitment. Transaction flow dropped as it generally did at the beginning of summer. Not that I stopped doing my job, I just realized the pointlessness of maniacally checking every number. Deals didn’t get done because of how well I formatted charts. So I started leaving the office the moment after Victor went home or someplace I’d rather not know about.
More free time didn’t help much either. I pretty much just stayed in my apartment drinking, smoking and watching The Sopranos. I had a routine: stroll into work after ten, take an elongated coffee break and go out for a sit-down lunch. After no more than two hours of actual work, I headed down to the gym and if anyone asked about my whereabouts I claimed to be busy doing something for Victor. And this was all before I’d even found out about Karolina getting engaged.
“I can’t wait to marry my best friend!” the caption read.
She held up the ring, kissing some guy who looked like the heir to a real estate empire. Their photos were professionally taken on a tarmac. He apparently popped the question and chartered a jet to Paris.
So I messaged her.
“Hey Karolina. I know we haven’t spoken in a while, but I wanted to say congratulations. Hope all is well.”
I almost talked myself out of sending it, but it’s not like I had anything to lose. I revisited some presentation Victor asked me to prepare convincing Jimbo to sell his business. I didn’t know if he ran out of ideas to pitch, but then again, all I wanted was a distraction.
Karolina responded exactly one hour and twenty minutes later.
“Thanks,” she said.
Thanks? She could have at least asked how I was or responded: hope all is well, even if she didn’t mean it. I deleted her number and tucked my phone away.
“SCOTTY!!!!” Victor hollered like he had a million times before.
I made him say it twice before standing.
“You rang?” I sprawled out in the chair opposite him.
“I called your name four times,” he snapped. “What were you even doing?”
“Oh. I didn’t hear you.”
“Well, shut the door, will ya?” Victor nodded. “We need to talk.”
“No way,” I thought about that scene in The Sun Also Rises. “At first you go bankrupt slowly, and then all at once.”
“I understand your decision,” I said. “I should’ve checked in with you sooner about those materials.”
“Decision?” he looked confused. “What materials? Are you drunk?”
“I was this morning, but not anymore.”
Victor rolled his eyes.
“Will you stop thinking about work for one second?”
“Alright…” I said. “Is everything okay?”
“I don’t know, Scotty. You tell me.”
I shrugged, not caring what happened at that point. My pocket vibrated and I recognized the 727-area code. I rolled onto my feet and headed towards the door.
“Where you going?” Victor said excitedly. “I was talking to you.”
“It’s Bill,” I lied. “He owes me projections.”
“Call him back,” he scoffed. “It can wait.”
I shook my head.
“It can’t,” I said. “I have to take this.”
I turned my back on him and ducked into a conference room. I knew you had your weekly four o’clock meeting with the other group heads, but I didn’t care. It’s not like I had much time left here anyway.
“This is Scotty,” I answered
“Hi Scotty,” Karolina replied. “This is Karolina.”
“Oh hi …” I pretended like I didn’t know already. “The number came up blocked.”
I paced around the marble table and pressed my forehead against the window.
“So what’s up?” Karolina broke the silence.
“Nothing really,” I replied. “Just at work.”
“Oh…” she said. “Well I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”
I stared at the people below, crowding around each other like ants.
“Lina, I know we haven’t been in each other’s lives for a long time, but I just wanted to congratulate you on your engagement,” I said plainly. “It’s exciting and I wish you the best.”
“Scotty… is everything okay?” she said. “You’re starting to worry me.”
I shifted in place.
“Yeah,” I lied. “Everything’s fine. I just wanted to say congrats.”
“Thank you,” Lina said. “I guess I’m just surprised is all.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just knowing you, I would’ve thought congrats was code for something else.”
I cringed because she’d always know that part of me.
“I just think you just set a really high bar,” I said truthfully. “Not that you asked, but I haven’t dated anybody since we broke up. What was that – six years ago? I know you’ve moved on, but I’m still stuck in between. It’s kind of like having Bordeaux the first time you try wine. You can’t really drink much else after that.”
“…Yeah” she whispered.
Lina sighed and I felt her tearing up.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I meant that as a compliment. You should be celebrating right now.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Well I’m glad to see you’re still every bit as dramatic as when we dated.”
I laughed uncomfortably.
“It’s true,” I said. “Not one of my better qualities.”
“That’s okay,” Lina responded. “You sound good, though.”
“So how is everything?”
I found a bottle cap in my pocket and squeezed the edges.
Victor promptly barged in the conference room.
“Where’d you go?” he exclaimed.
I stared into his beady eyes.
“Lina,” I said. “I’ll have to call you back.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. Everything’s fine.”
I hung up.
Victor’s forehead creased.
“Yes?” I said.
“Who was that?”
“Do you really want to know?” I replied wearily.
“No.” Victor pulled out a chair. “Will you just sit down? I need to talk to you, for chrissake.”
I took your seat at the head.
“Is everything alright?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I frowned. “Why?
“What do you mean why?” he replied. “You’ve been a ghost lately.”
Imagine if I told him how I felt.
“I’m good,” I reassured him. “Just had a rough night.”
He shifted forward and I braced myself for the worst; if Victor did fire me I’d call my old sports editor Matt, who might be able to help me get some freelancing work to help pay rent.
“You’ve done a good job over the past few years,” Victor started.
I waited for the but.
“But you know you’re good, so I’ll get straight to the point.”
I guess I was wrong.
“We want you here long term,” he said.
“Long-term?” I acted surprised.
“I don’t follow.”
Victor slapped his hand on the marble.
“You. Scotty. Here. Long term,” he said. “We’re promoting you to associate.”
“Wow,” I nodded. “I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s easy. Say yes.”
“Okay. Well then, yes.”
“Great,” he knocked against the table. “We’ll have to celebrate.”
He rose to leave and I stared back out the window.
“I get a vacation, right?” I said.
Victor held the door open with his loafer.
“Yes, Scotty,” he said condescendingly. “You get a vacation.”
“How long?” I asked.
“How should I know?” Victor flailed his arms. “A week?”
“How about two?”
“Two weeks?” he kicked forcefully. “I don’t know. Whatever you want. But whatever you do, don’t make a habit of it.”
He exited and I watched a plane take off, following it between buildings until it disappeared from view.
I might’ve called Karolina back had you not entered the room.
“Are you using this room?” you said politely.
“No,” I replied. “I was just leaving.”
I tried to sidestep you, but you touched my arm.
“Congratulations, Scotty,” you smiled. You deserved it.”
“Thanks, Gwyn,” I replied. “I appreciate that.”
“You must be excited.”
“Very much so,” I said. “Very much so.”
We shook hands as your meeting arrived.
“Good,” you nodded. “Because you’re the only one we promoted.”