Chapter 16: The Real World
Mark and Jeannie had stayed a couple all through high-school. Mark’s parents offered to send him to an Ivy League School, but he refused; he would only attend the same University that Jeanie had gotten a scholarship to instead.
Mark would not be away from Jeanie for even one day, that was inconceivable. And Jeanie would not live with her parents one day longer than graduation. That was equally inconceivable.
Eighteen years had been a lifetime.
Jeanie refused to keep any secrets from Mark so before they got married, she told Mark about his father and the advances he made on her.
Mark apologized to her for not knowing that something was wrong, he did mention how Jeanie had followed him out of the room every time his father was downstairs watching television with them.
His father didn’t want to pay to send Mark to the same school that Jeanie was attending, he didn’t feel like that college was good enough, and wanted to send Mark to an Ivy League school instead, but Mark wouldn’t hear of it.
After Jeanie’s confession, Mark wouldn’t accept any more money from his father. After they graduated college, Mark did not continue to Law School, like his father insisted, because that would have been on his father’s dime as well.
In fact, he wouldn’t even go home for Christmas, it wasn’t honorable to accept money from someone you hated, even if they were family.
Secretly Jeanie and Mark had married, in Vegas, it was cheesy, and dumpy, but it was legal. And it was done that way so that they could marry without either of their parents involved.
Neither one of them wanted their parents to attend. Jeanie could not have been happier or sadder on the same day. Mark was going to get a job and make his own way in this world and started looking for employment immediately after graduation. But entry level employment did not come as easy as he thought, even with a degree. Eventually, Mark found a job with a company that had international ties in finances and investments, and he was hired in an entry level management position.
The company seemed promising in the beginning but then it had been bought and sold twice, since Mark had been employed there, and each time the conditions became worse for the employees who worked for them.
Now one of their five major divisions were in the process of being eliminated, and the remaining four were going to have to pick up the slack for the existing workload.
Mark was a good manager, but he didn’t have any security because of his seniority. Even thou seniority did not have the same leverage for management, that it did for union members, seniority was still a system that most companies followed in one aspect or another, mainly for convenience, i.e. vacation scheduling, assigned parking, who got the corner offices, etc.
But not promotions.
It was rumored that there was going to be a senior management position up for grabs, but it had not been announced yet. If so, Mark already had that extra money spent.
But there seemed to be no written rules for promotion, it was not like a school grade to be completed. There was no satisfactory or unsatisfactory. You were either promoted when you were ready, or you were passed up, all promotions were made on an individual basis.
But of course, seniority wasn’t the only factor, and every company did things a little bit differently depending on their specific needs. In Mark’s company, all promotions were selected from a list made by the Board of Directors, and then finalized by current CEO, Gerald Ross who ruled the company with an iron-fist in a velvet glove.
And now with the new merger that velvet glove seemed to be wearing a little thin. As far as Gerald Ross was concerned he could promote, hire, fire acquire, or retire anyone he wanted, with or without the Board of Directors approval.
If fact not one the member on the board ever challenged one of his Gerald Ross’s selections. They simply rubber-stamped it, which was odd considering that the people Gerald picked had very few traits in common, if any.
If there was a pattern no one could figure it out. Or at least not one that anybody had discovered yet, and people were searching with a microscope, not a magnifying glass. The company was about to initiate a new system next year. Traditionally each department had leeway and flexibility, but now the four quarterly reviews became two six month divisions instead. It was never a problem before as long as the annual net was met, and any deficit from one quarter could be made up by the surplus of another.
Now even that had changed, and it was to become a three-strike system that if any department missed their monthly quota’s, for more than three months in one year, consecutively or otherwise, they were gone, regardless of their prior performance or years of service.
There was no more capitalism, only Corporationalism, and that meant everyone was disposable.
Those who were “lucky” enough to keep their jobs, like Mark, were reassigned to other positions, which meant more hours for the same pay. Management never worked a 40-hours.
Mark didn’t like to bring his work home with him, so he never complained about his job, so he tried to keep things hidden to keep Jeanie from worrying. Now the seemed impossible.
That meant budget restraints and down-sizing for both management and labor with both being permanently cut. He told her the same day that he himself found out. They could barely afford to save money as it was, now but with all the quarterly bonuses taken away, it was a struggle to even cover their bills.
Mark never wanted Jeanie to work. He wanted that to be her choice. When she finished her teaching degree, she could not find steady employment, she could only find work as a substitute teacher, and even then, it was in the worst areas of the city. Areas like Detroit, Flint, and even Lansing, which had the biggest prison in the State, and offered Hazard Pay because they were considered War Zones, and the money was still awful.
They had budgeted their mortgage based on his wages when he started, but now that the rug was pulled up from underneath them it had caught them short.
And when that wasn’t enough Marks cashed in his 401k and used that to cover the deficit in their mortgage. All of this bought them some time, but when that was exhausted, costing them in penalties and taxes, they were right back to where they had started.
The only other option would be to ask his parents for a huge loan to make the balance current, and Mark wasn’t going to do that, he would let the bank take the house first.
For a young couple that had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to lose their first house after they had planned so carefully, would be heart-breaking.
Mark was somewhat tolerant to the effects that Jeannie’s looks had on other men, but even after they were married, the attention she got still bothered him to some extent. He wasn’t jealous so much as he was annoyed.
They never went to the bars, but even in restaurants, men sometimes stared and even the male waiters would flirt on occasion.
The worst were his companies work functions, this year his company sponsored their annual Christmas party with an open bar and everybody would get drunk on the company’s dime. Before Mark would avoid them, as they were not mandatory, but this year Mark told Jeanie that they needed to attend because it would make him look like more of a team player if he attended.
The new CEO Gerald Ross would surely be there, and Mark wanted Gerald to see him there. If Gerald Ross saw every manager there except Mark, then he would stand out in a bad way.
And if a promotion became available between him and another manager, something as trivial as missing the Christmas party could be the deciding factor.
Management always trashed each other anyway, so if they could do it to an absentee manager and bring it to the attention of the CEO, so much the better. Swimming with Sharks; and they ate their own.
Mark planned on getting their early, having dinner and leaving before his esteemed colleges got too drunk and started acted “excusably” inappropriate.
The night of the party, Mark arrived, and they checked their coats in the hat room. The young girl gave them their ticket. Inside the banquet hall, Mark reintroduced Jeanie to his co-workers, staff, and management as it had been several years.
During the party, Mark and Jeanie stayed with the married couples, and many asked how many children they had, and when they told them none, and they asked when they were planning on having them?
One year after marriage seemed to be the rule.
Mark and Jeanie simply told the other couples that they wanted to concentrate on their career’s right now. Jeanie sadly would be content with never having children, and Mark would go along with what-ever Jeanie wanted.
Besides they were both young so that if they changed their minds children could always be an option in the future. Suddenly one of the other higher supervisors invited Mark to his group and asked if he would like to say Hi to the new CEO Gerald Ross, whom Jeanie had met only once before. She was busy looking at pictures of another couple, and Mark looked at Jeanie as if for approval.
Jeanie nodded, go on you fool, before he gets away.
Jeanie started chatting amongst the wives, some she had met before and those were gracious, but others eyed her up and down with daggers in their eyes.
The wives were gossiping about a lot of things but one thing that kept coming up was the fact that they didn’t know why the company was down-sizing in the first place, when they had the most successful fiscal year to date. It seemed liked the more successful the company became the louder they cried poverty. Next year there were talks of cutting out perks, bonuses, pay incentives, and even vacation pay.
Yet they decided to have an open bar at the Christmas party that served alcohol, maybe this would be the last year for that as well. Jeanie sipped her drink, it was strong, but she had not been out in a while and earlier she and Mark had even been arguing. She didn’t want to get drunk because she might have to drive home.
Mark had always kept alcohol at the home for guests, and she loved a good red wine as well as the next gal, but Mark’s drinking was starting to worry her.
Jeanie herself, did not want to get drunk, just drink enough to get numb, so that she herself, could forget the financial and marital pains, if only for a little while.
The golden champagne was delicious, and the bubbles ticked her nose and even made her hiccup, and she was embarrassed about that.
Before she knew it one drink led to another and then when she stood up to go to the lady’s room, the banquet hall started spinning and that’s when Jeanie suddenly realized just how drunk she was.
She didn’t mean to drink that much, she just kept waiting for that buzz to come after that second glass, but it never did, nor did it on her fourth.
One of the older woman named Mrs. Burns saw her vulnerable, and struggling to keep her balance, offered to escort her. When they returned Mrs. Burns and her husband who was the same management level as Mark, but easily twenty years older, were ready to leave, but she did not want to leave Jeanie by herself, and she asked Jeanie her husband’s name, and she answered with a hiccup, Mark Winters.”
“I’ll go and ask for him dear, Mrs. Burns said,” as then she was gone.”
Jeanie felt guilty about taking advantage of the open bar, but Mark should have come back to check on her. Maybe then she would have stopped. She thought of getting coffee the next time she was at the bar, just in case Mark was drunker than she was.
Jeanie scanned the room, but she could not find him right away, she did see a very intense and distinguished gentleman, the new CEO, Gerald Ross, that she had met only once before, he was speaking at a luncheon he threw for the employees to introduce himself, and when he saw her he nodded, and Jeanie waved and smiled back.
Well if Mark wasn’t bugging her she might as well have another drink; she was already drunk. She would switch to coffee later if she needed too, or they could even get a room here at the hotel.
Jeanie thought back to earlier in the year, she and Mark had been arguing on and off, now it felt like a cold-war.
Jeanie out of desperation sought help.
Jeanie thought back to a visit she had with an elder, Mother Hazel, who was the coven’s head-mistress, and Jeanie’s personal teacher.
This was a woman she had begun a relationship with since high-school, but they had grown very close since that short amount of time.
“Mother Hazel, thank you for seeing me, Jeanie said.”
“Don’t be silly, do you honestly think that I would refuse a visit from a woman whom I regard as one of my own daughters, Mother Hazel asked?”
“I am in need your counsel, I fear I am in danger of losing everything that is most precious to me, even my husband, Jeanie started crying, and he is dearer to me than my own life, Jeanie said.”
“Do you have enough time for me to brew a kettle of tea, Mother Hazel asked?” “Of course, would you like me to help you make it, Jeanie asked?”
“No child, I need you to sit there and collect your wits, or what’s left of them,
Mother Hazel replied.”
Jeanie sat down and took some tissue from her purse.
“Will chamomile suffice, Mother Hazel asked?”
“Yes, it’s one of my favorites, Jeanie said.”
“Are you in sync, Mother Hazel asked.”
“I am, Jeanie answered.”
“This will help you with your cramps as well then, Mother Hazel said.”
“Thank You, Jeanie said absently.”
Mother Hazel, true to tradition, and superstition, had a black cat named “Cabot,” to keep her company. Cabot walked over to Jeanie so that she could pet him and then jumped up on two paws placing them on her legs, then meowed as if greeting her.
“Mother, Cabot is still alive, Jeanie asked surprised?
“Regrettably so, that mangy thing is too mean to die; despite his age, Mother Hazel replied.”
Mother looked back and started yelling at him immediately, “Get down off a her your black bastard, before I get my broom out.”
Cabot jumped down and cozied up around Jeanie’s legs instead.
When Jeanie reached down and started petting him, he purred so loud that it sounded like a cat’s version of sexual ecstasy.
“He so big, Jeanie marveled.”
“Last visit to the vet, confirmed him at over 30 pounds, Mother Hazel said.”
“That’s as big as some dog’s, Jeanie replied.”
“That son of a bitch vet, tells me that I should feed that fat bastard a special “cat food” because of his age, Mother Hazel laughed, Ha, the supply of cat food that he gobbles down in a week is more expensive than my own food bill for the month.”
Cabot meowed in protest as if he understood every word.
“Supposed to lose weight, he is, Mother said disgusted, and look at the monster, weighing more now than he did when I took him to the vet six months ago, and proud of it too, we have mice raiding the cupboards and they eat everything except his food. And him catching none of them. Lazy good for nothing, reminds me of all four of me ex-husbands.”
Jeanie put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing, Mother Hazel had a knack for being unintentionally funny.
When she came back to the table she set the tea down carefully, poured the two cups, and booted Cabot with her cane,
“Go on now, out with you, you undesirable, before I turn you into a frog,
Mother Hazel warned.”
Jeannie laughed, as Mother poured the steaming tea carefully,
“Well, it’s good to hear you laugh child, and I bet it’s been a long time for that as well,
“It doesn’t take the tea long to brew, and mother pointed to her cast iron stove, but you best let it cool before taking a sip.”
Mother herself could sip the tea right off the stove without burning her lips or tongue.
“So why don’t you start by telling Mother Hazel your ills, she asked.”
Jennie grabbed more Kleenex from her purse, before she began,
“It’s Mark, he’s working himself to death, and he’s stressed out all the time, he’s lost weight, and when I make him dinner half the time he won’t even touch it.
I try talking to him, but he just sits on the couch watched TV and broods. I try putting him to bed but no matter what I do he can’t perform, and then he tosses and turns all night, the next day the sheets are stained with sweat.
“How long has this been going on, Mother asked?”
Jeanie shook her head, she didn’t even know herself for certain.
“For a while, but I didn’t notice right-away, because he had been hiding so much from me, but now he has been getting progressively worse, recently, his company closed an entire division, which means less people are doing the same work. But there’s not enough people to compensate for the current workload.”
Mother nodded sympathetically.
Jeanie continued, they lost too many people, but the company won’t admit that they can’t handle the amount of business they have.
If they did rehire new people maybe that would make it look like they made a mistake.”
Jeanie sipped her tea, then continued.
“Regarding the management, everyone who stayed was forced to work overtime, but Mark does not make extra money, because he’s salary.
Plus, they eliminated the quarterly incentives that we were counting on, so the amount of money Mark’s making now is not enough to cover our current bills, we are in the process of losing everything, even our house, as we speak.
The bank is going to foreclose on us, and if they do we lose everything, Jeanie started weeping again, “I stared looking for work and I signed on with a temp agency, but even that work is going to end soon.
I don’t blame Mark, for being upset with our money problems, I finished college, so I can substitute teach but that is only in the inner-city. The money is bad, the area dangerous and it’s a long drive, plus winter is coming.
I have just taken any work I could get, but with the recession, jobs, even part-time times for people who are educated are hard to come by.
I feel so helpless, just watching Mark suffer. When I’m home I feel like I have to walk on eggshells.
I love the man more than life itself, and yet I cannot go on like this, I feel so numb, cold, and alone. It seems like my husband has become a stranger, and sometimes I am even afraid to try and speak to him, because Mark will snap at me.
He seems to be changing more and more and not for the better, and sometimes he has this silly look on his face that I don’t recognize.
I am so confused and beside myself, now I feel like I’m the one whose going crazy Mother, and then Jeanie broke down and started crying.”
Mother waited until she quieted down and then she said, “Eggshells, and that is exactly how fragile a woman’s heart be, and him the whole time stepping on top of it, and not even a-knowing, Mother stated.”
“Mother, Mark is my Soulmate, Jeanie said, and we are destined to be together, I know it to be so, he has fulfilled the prophecy, so why do I feel like he would be better off without me, all I have ever done is hurt the people I love the most.
Am I cursed to destroy the lives of everyone I love, Jeanie asked…”
“I love you, Mark whispered into her ear, and kissed her on the neck.”
Jeanie recent memory of her visit with Mother Hazel vanished when Mark kissed her. He also said that he loved her, and that he was sorry for being so miserable. And he was sincere even though he smelled of alcohol and slurred his words.
Then he told her that they would leave as soon as she was ready to go. Jeanie kissed him on the cheek, and whispered back, “I’m ready now,” she answered.”
Jeanie wouldn’t have minded staying longer, but apparently, Mark had been gone so long that she was sure that Mark had made a good impression on Gerald Ross, before they left.
“But I have to use the bathroom first, Mark winked at her, and she asked him if he had the tickets for their coats?”
He checked both pockets and wobbled slightly, and he pulled them out.
“Maybe you better let me get our coats, she offered, and he laughed in agreement. Jeanie started walking down the short hall to the coat room then gave the clerk the ticket for both their coats, left a tip in the jar, and sat down on one of the nearby sofa’s just across from the wide hall.
Jeanie was fumbling thru her purse; looking for her cell-phone, when a strange voice she didn’t recognize said from behind her,
“You are absolutely beautiful Jeanie.”
She looked up, surprised by the strange voice, she expected her husband, but it was Gerald Ross. He was standing to the side of the sofa and bending slightly forward at the waist.”
Jeanie didn’t even notice him tailing her from behind.
I thought you had already left Jerry, Jeanie thought to herself!!!
“I was expecting my husband, Mr. Ross, you startled me, Jeanie said surprised.”
“Oh Please, Mr. Ross is my father, call me Gerald, he said.”
Your father is still alive, Jeanie thought to herself, as she smiled at the older man?
“Okay Gerald, Jeanie said, she was going to stand up, but suddenly she felt a little queasy again, maybe she was still drunker than she thought.”
“Jeanie, please let me come right to the point, Gerald started, I know that you and Mark are having financial problems, and I want to help, Gerald said directly.”
Those words sobered up Jeanie immediately, her face even tuned red from embarrassment.
“Why do you say that Jerry, she asked, mispronouncing his name by accident?”
“I also know Mark is waiting for the next promotion, but even when it comes he won’t get it, Gerald confirmed.”
Jeanie stared at him, and she was troubled.
“Why won’t he, Jeanie asked sharply?”
“Because the Board of Directors has already given me their recommendation for another man, one with more experience, and one that they have more confidence in, Gerald said lightly.”
Jeanie could feel the tears well up in her eyes, but she was unable to stop them.
This promotion could be the difference between saving her marriage or destroying it, and the latter terrified her.
“What a joke, Mark’s been with the company longer than you have, Jeanie replied.”
Gerald smiled, and nodded in agreement, “That was good, he replied.”
“Nobody works harder or is more dedicated than Mark, you even kept him on when others with more seniority were cut, Jeanie defended.”
“It’s only because of you, that he didn’t get cut with rest Gerald replied, and his eyes had a strange intensity suddenly.”
“Me, why me, I don’t have anything to do with his work, Jeanie asked confused?”
“Mark kept his job because of you, only neither of you knew it, and neither did he, now do you want to hear how Mark can get that promotion, Gerald asked seriously?”
How, she asked innocently?
Gerald tried to be as tactful as he could.
Are you familiar with politics, Gerald asked?
Jeanie had heard that Marks father was running for Senator, but she didn’t know any of the details.
“Not really, she said honestly.”
“Politics is all about favors, one hand washing the other, and that is how things get done in this world. By people doing favors for each other.
Ross was staring at her very large breasts and in her drunk state, she was even sexier than usual; vulnerable and alone.
“I hope this is a joke Mr. Ross, because I’m starting to become very offended, Jeanie said.”
“Mark is good, but there are other men equally as good, why should I choose him, a younger executive, with less experience over an equally good man, whose been here longer?”
Jeanie, put on the spot could not think of anything.
“Think of this as just a personal business transaction, just between me and you, Gerald said, I have something he wants, and he has something I want.”
“What she asked?”
“You, of course, Gerald said.”
Jeanie hiccupped immediately after he said it, and even put her hand over her mouth to try and cover it, like she was about to say a dirty work, but made the gesture to stop herself.”
She was adorable, she looked up at him with her big emerald green eyes, and Gerald was captivated.
“I can’t believe how inappropriate your being, proportioning another man’s wife, and during the “Christmas Party, Jeanie said shaking her head.”
Jeanie wasn’t even Catholic, and she was offended!!!
“I only want to help you, because I know you’re in trouble please hear me out, Gerald replied calmly.”
“No, I think you’ve said enough, and then Jeanie stood up and slung her purse angrily over her shoulder; she had a little trouble maintaining her balance, but she was still drunk enough to tell this rich bastard to go to hell.”
“All I’m asking you to do is think about it, Gerald said, Mark has my personal number, if you change your mind give me a call. I’m sure that we can work something out, but you better not wait, because this offer will expire soon, and when it does, not even I will be able to help you after that.”
“Goodnight Jerry, and this is exactly the reason why my husband hates to attend these company functions, because of your shanana-
She tried to pronounce the word shenanigans, three times before Gerald said it for her.
“Thank you, she replied to him for helping her.”
“Please, don’t be upset, Gerald said, again, I’m just trying to help you, No, save you, would be a more accurate word, you say Mark’s a team player, how about you?”
“I’m Mark’s wife, not your whore, Jeanie said angrily.”
“Your beautiful, and beautiful women can never be monopolized by one man, married or otherwise, and if your husband’s too stupid to realize that, then he’s an even bigger fool than I thought he was, Gerald snapped right back.”
He wasn’t smiling, or charming anymore.
“You might own this company Jerry, but you do not own me, Jeanie told him.”
“I own your husband, and let me let you in on a little secret, Gerald said, with just a hint of malice, “There’s going to be another downsizing, maybe not today or tomorrow, but that day will come, and it would be a shame if we had to get rid of Marks job, or maybe even his entire division altogether, Gerald said, with a sweep of his hand.”
He wasn’t bluffing.
“You wouldn’t do that just because I wouldn’t
The downsizing was going to happen anyway, that was just standard corporate procedure after a merger, it had nothing to do with Jeanie or her husband, but if Gerald could also use her husband’s position as leverage against her, then maybe he could get her into bed as well, thereby killing two birds with one stone.
“You think not, Gerald interrupted coolly, how about this then, Mark works himself to death for a promotion that he’s promised but never going to receive, someone else always getting credit for his work, someone else always getting promoted, even becoming his boss, just to add insult to injury.”
Jeanie could feel tears well up in my eyes again, this man would destroy Mark if he didn’t get his way, maybe it wasn’t personal, but he would make it personal, just to get his own way.
No, she said…
“All I’m asking you to do is think it over. Think of this as an opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity, there are many other women, right in this very building tonight, who would kill for this opportunity, but I chose you Jeanie, because you’re the most beautiful woman I have seen in a very long time, and I’ve been all over the world, he complimented her.”
“Your horrible, Jeanie said, she wondered how many other, married, desperate women he had done this too.”
“Horrible??? I am given you this opportunity to save your job, your house, and your marriage. You should be flattered -not angry.”
“Opportunity, Jeanie scoffed!”
“Well, all I can do is make the offer, and then he put his thumb on her chin and forefinger lifting it and holding it up. But no matter what you decide; you remember to keep this pretty little mouth of yours shut, and then he took a handkerchief from his suit pocket and gently wiped her tears.
“This is to be our little secret, and Mark is to hear no part of it, otherwise there will be more tears, Gerald promised.”
And then he walked away as quickly as he appeared. Jeanie tried not to sob, as she pulled out a makeup case that also had a mirror, and she tried to make herself presentable before Mark came back, otherwise he would be suspicious.
She had to sit down, she was feeling light-leaded, again and Jeanie thought this time, that she might faint.
Did that really just happen, Jeanie thought to herself?
Did Mark’s boss just threaten to fire him, unless Jeanie slept with him? She couldn’t tell Mark, he would flip. And even if she did seriously consider sleeping with his boss, would Jerry be true to his word and promote him like he promised?”
Could a man that despicable be trusted?
Then in her hazy, confused, and semi-drunken thoughts, Mark suddenly appeared from the fog.
“Sorry I took so long, one of the VP’s from another department followed me into the bathroom and told me it’s confirmed. There will be another senior position created and it will be announced after the first of the New Year. They want somebody to be Vice President of the Sales and Marketing Dept. Finance is what Mark majored in college.
Jeanie smiled trying to hide what had just happened.
“That’s great, she said.”
“You okay, Mark asked her concerned?”
“Yes, I just had too much champagne, I’m a little queasy, can we go, it’s so stuffy in here, I really need some fresh air.”
“Okay let me help you with your coat, and find the ticket for the valet, and we’ll get the hell out of here.
On the car ride, home, Jeanie was mostly silent, “Okay, it’s just me and you now, what happened, Mark asked?”
“Oh, some drunk made a pass at me, that’s all, Jeanie said trying to make as little of it as possible.”
“Who was it, Mark asked?”
“Some older guy in a suit, they all look the same, Jeanie said.”
“What did he say, Mark asked?”
“Apparently, he liked my dress, Jeanie said looking out the window.”
“You made quite the impression, I think you may be the reason I get that promotion after all, Mark joked.”29