White LiesBy: Linda Howard
In ranking the worst days of her life, this one probably wasn't number one, but it was definitely in the top three.
Jay Granger had held her temper all day, rigidly controlling herself until her head was throbbing and her stomach burning. Not even during the jolting ride in a succession of crowded buses had she allowed her control to crack. All day long she had forced herself to stay calm despite the pent-up frustration and rage that filled her, and now she felt as if she couldn't relax her own mental restraints. She just wanted to be alone.
So she silently endured having her toes stepped on, her ribs relocated by careless elbows, and her nostrils assailed by close-packed humanity. It began to rain just before she got off the last bus, a slow, cold rain that had chilled her to the bone by the time she walked the two blocks to her apartment building. Naturally she didn't have an umbrella with her; it was supposed to have been a sunny day. The clouds hadn't cleared all day long.
But at last she reached her apartment, where she was safe from curious eyes, either sympathetic or jeering. She was alone, blessedly alone. A sigh of relief broke from her lips as she started to close the door; then her control cracked and she slammed the door with every ounce of strength in her arm. It crashed against the frame with a resounding thud, but the small act of violence didn't release her tension. Trashing her entire office building might help, or choking Farrell Wordlaw, but both those actions were denied her. When she thought of the way she had worked for the past five years, the fourteen-and sixteen-hour days, the work she had brought home on the weekends, she wanted to scream. She wanted to throw something. Yes; she definitely wanted to choke Farrell Wordlaw. But that wasn't appropriate behavior for a professional woman, a chic and sophisticated executive in a prestigious investment-banking firm. On the other hand, it was entirely appropriate for someone who had just joined the ranks of the unemployed.
For five years she had dedicated herself to her job, ruthlessly stifling those parts of her personality that didn't fit the image. At first it had been mostly because she needed the job and the money, but Jay was too intense to do anything by half measures. Soon she had become caught up in the teeming rat race—the constant striving for success, for new triumphs, bigger and better deals—and that world had been her life for five years. Today she had been kicked out of it. It wasn't that she hadn't been successful; she had. Maybe too successful. Some people hadn't liked dealing with her because she was a woman. Realizing that, Jay had tried to be as straightforward and aggressive as any man, to reassure her clients that she would take care of them as well as a man could. To that end she had changed her habits of speech, her wardrobe, never let even a hint of a tear sparkle in her eyes, never giggled, and learned how to drink Scotch, though she had never learned to enjoy it. She had paid for such rigid control with headaches and a constant burning in her stomach, but nevertheless she had thrown herself into the role because, for all its stresses, she had enjoyed the challenge. It was an exciting job, with the lure of a fast trip up the corporate ladder, and for the time being, she had been willing to pay the price.
Well, it was over, by decree of Farrell Wordlaw. He was very sorry, but her style just wasn't "compatible" with the image Wordlaw, Wilson & Trusler wanted to project. He deeply appreciated her efforts, et cetera, et cetera, and would certainly give her a glowing reference, as well as two weeks' notice to get her affairs in order. None of that changed the truth, and she knew it as well as he. She was being pushed out to make room for Duncan Wordlaw, Farrell's son, who had joined the firm the year before and whose performance always ranked second, behind Jay's. She was showing up the senior partner's son, so she had to go. Instead of the promotion she'd been expecting, she'd been handed a pink slip. She was furious, with no way to express it. It would give her the greatest satisfaction to walk out now and leave Wordlaw scrambling to handle her pending work, but the cold, hard fact was that she needed her salary for those two weeks. If she didn't find another well-paying job immediately, she would lose her apartment.
She had lived within her means, but as her salary had gone up so had her standard of living, and she had very little in savings. She certainly hadn't expected to lose her job because Duncan Wordlaw was an underachiever!
Whenever Steve had lost a job, he'd just shrugged and laughed, telling her not to sweat it, he'd find another. And he always had, too. Jobs hadn't been that important to Steve; neither had security. Jay gave a tight Tittle laugh as she opened a bottle of antacid tablets and shook two of them into her hand. Steve! She hadn't thought about him in years. One thing was certain, she would never be as uncaring about unemployment as he had been. She liked knowing where her next meal was coming from; Steve liked excitement. He'd needed the hot flow of adrenaline more than he'd needed her, and finally that had ended their marriage. But at least Steve would never be this strung out on nerves, she thought as she chewed the chalky tablets and waited for them to ease the burning in her stomach. Steve would have snapped his fingers at Farrell Word-law and told him what he could do with his two weeks' notice, then walked out whistling. Maybe Steve's attitude was irresponsible, but he would never let a mere job get the best of him.