Nannette answered the door with a smile Kathie wanted to slap off her face. She probably had good news, but not for Kathie; it never was. Rather, Nannette would tell her that she’d gotten a raise, that she’d planned another vacation at a posh resort in the Bahamas or Hawaii, that she’d managed to snag one of the now-sold-out new iPhones, or any of the other infinite number of perks of her unearned station. Kathie would have to sit there as she gushed, simmering with a heat all too familiar, and that became more caustic each time it struck.
Nannette backed up, allowing her into the foyer, a two-story cavern offering high ceilings, white marble floors, and a crystal chandelier that twinkled in the light spilling through the French windows, all framing a polished ebony staircase. Kathie remembered how she’d beamed the first time she’d brought her here—as if she hadn’t had this, like everything else, handed to her on a silver platter. Kathie had forced herself to proclaim it a “lovely” home and congratulate her, reminding herself that she didn’t deserve censure, that anyone in her position, including Kathie, would have taken and devoured what lay on that platter. Her head knew this, yet heat continued to crackle in her chest. She didn’t know how much longer she could take it. She hated herself for it—she didn’t want to think herself so immature as to reject someone who’d treated her well just because she had it better than she—but each meeting with Nannette chipped a little bit more off her soul.
Nannette ushered her into the living room, where she took a seat on one of the sharp suede couches positioned in an “L” around a polished oak table holding only a snickerdoodle-scented candle and the remote controls to the sixty-inch flat screen on the wall opposite.
“I’d offer you something to eat,” Nannette said, “but we’re about to have lunch.”
“Yup,” she said, smile intensifying the heat as she dropped onto the other couch. “First, though, how’re you doing?”
She knew that telling her the truth would prove useless—she couldn’t possibly understand. And, yet, she found herself babbling about the interview she’d had that morning. They’d sent in three HR managers to grill her—three—as if their boss thought interrogating and intimidating candidates too difficult for one slime ball to handle. They’d fired off questions, some job-related, some not. Their eyes had dulled as she detailed her previous gigs—a server at McDonald’s, a “sandwich artist” at Subway, a babysitter, a camp counselor, a waitress—and dulled still more when she informed them that, no, she didn’t have sales experience, but she was willing and eager to learn. She didn’t know why she’d bothered adding that. They didn’t care. Experience, experience, experience—an aphrodisiac to headhunters, without which they wouldn’t give a candidate a second glance. Never mind the fact that this excluded an entire generation of otherwise-ideal hires. How could one get experience if no one would hire them without their already having it?
And the stupid questions. Where had she grown up? What did she do in her spare time? What did “teamwork” mean to her? What did she consider her worst quality? Questions supposedly meant to “feel her out,” to determine whether she “fit in” with the company culture. However, of course, no one with an IQ higher than their birth weight answered such inquiries honestly, and these players knew it. They just enjoyed seeing the fear in their interviewees’ eyes when one of these questions sent their unprepared mind scrambling for the best response, as a hunter would in those of his prey.
Nannette nodded, expression sympathetic but distant. As expected—She’d had her path cleared for her since she’d dropped, screaming, into this world. No need to burden oneself with the squalor given to peons when Daddy set you on goose feather pillows. She pushed back the heat trying to claw its way into her gullet.
Nannette smiled, leaning forward. “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Kathie braced herself.
“My dad’s company’s got an opening in sales. I invited him to have lunch with us so you could talk to him about the position, if you’re interested.”
“Yeah. Yeah, of course I’m interested,” Kathie blurted, eyes widening. She hadn’t dared hope for an offer from Fontaine Sprinkler Systems, but, if given, it would be an answer to her prayers.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. She still had to impress the boss—a man she’d never met, and about whom Nannette had said oddly little. If she couldn’t ace the interviews she’d already endured, what made her think that she could convince Nannette’s father to give her a chance?
The doorbell rang. Nannette sprang to her feet, strode to the door, and opened it. Though clad in relatively casual attire—khakis and a chartreuse polo shirt with the name of his company, tastefully small, stitched on the right breast—the sixty-something man on the porch carried the air of a king. Nannette greeted him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and ushered him inside. Kathie had, by this time, joined them, so Nannette introduced them—“Daddy, Kathie”; “Kathie, my father, Anderson.” He offered Kathie a firm handshake, his fingers’ short, clear-polished nails winking in the light of the chandelier.
Then, he turned to his daughter, expression dropping. “Your sales are down this month, Nannette. Any reason why?”
Nannette shifted. “There’s a drought, Daddy.”
“Doesn’t matter. There’s always a reason people don’t wanna spend their money. Your job is to get past it. Capeesh?”
“Did you see the memo?”
“Yeah. No more dirty dishes in the break room. Got it.”
“What about our new sales quota? I’ve projected we can nearly double our growth if we—“
“Yes, I saw that, too.”
He nodded. “Good. Now, have you decided on who you wanna work with on Friday?”
“Well, you’d better get on it, or else you’re gonna get last pick.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How’re we doing with the new model? Do people like it better than the old one?”
Kathie could see a well-earned sigh building in Nannette’s chest, but Nannette tamped it down. “Yeah, I think they like the improvements.” Before he could speak again, she nodded toward the dining room and said, “Come on. Let’s have lunch.” She led them to her dark cherry table and, as they took seats, brought out the meal she’d prepared: salad and green bean casserole. She set the food down, the fine china on which she’d served it clinking.
She took a seat, and they served themselves. Kathie skewered a piece of lettuce on her salad fork, turning it around and around as if trying to commit its spindly veins to memory. She told herself to say something pleasant, something witty, anything that would give Anderson a positive impression, but her mind responded only with white noise.
Anderson took a bite of the casserole, chewed, swallowed, and scowled. “Could’ve gone a little easier on the salt, Nan.”
Nannette’s expression froze; she barely opened her mouth to say, “Got it.”
“And this cheese,” Anderson continued. “What brand did you use?”
Anderson shook his head as one would at a child who’d pressed a button whose sound effects had scared her moments before. “You know that’s garbage, Nannette. You see this color?” He scooped up a bite and held it, as if Nannette wouldn’t have done so otherwise. “Nothing that’s not pumped with dyes and artificial flavors looks like this.”
Nannette swallowed, pinkness blotting her cheeks. “I said, I got it.”
“I don’t think you do. You never pay attention to the quality of your ingredients.”
A corner of Nannette’s lips twitched. “Sometimes, you just need to get in and out of the store.”
“At the price of what you’re putting in your body? That’s poor priorities, Nannette.”
“You don’t do your own shopping,” Nannette pointed out. “You don’t understand—“
“I got where I am because I go the extra mile—because I always make sure what I’m getting and what I’m putting out is the best product possible.”
Goody two-shoes for you, Kathie thought. She gripped her fork so tightly that her knuckles blanched and, to staunch the words coming up, shoveled a huge bite of casserole into her mouth.
Even through the blunting of emotion, it tasted delicious.
Anderson moved on to the salad, eyes rising in thought like those of a professional food critic as he chewed. “Is this organic?”
“Organic’s expensive, Daddy.”
“You get what you pay for.”
Nannette’s face had grown as red as a shallot, veins swollen and pulsing in her temples. “Why don’t we just eat at your place, then, next time?”
“You’ve gotta learn to do this yourself.”
“Well, you’re not exactly encouraging me.”
“My job isn’t to encourage. It’s to teach.”
Nannette’s face flushed so deeply that Kathie feared it would burst into flames. “You know what? Fine.” She jumped to her feet. Reached across the table. Snatched his plates. Shards of lettuce, cheese, and tomato rained onto the table. “You can starve.”
Anderson’s face reddened. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that.”
Nannette lashed him with a glare that could have cut down Hercules—but, apparently, not Anderson Fontaine. “I’ll talk to you however I want.”
His eyes narrowed, his fists clenching so tightly that his palms wrinkled like raisins. “All right, then. I didn’t wanna do this, especially not in front of your friend here, but you’ve given me no choice. You’re fired.”
Kathie’s jaw nearly hit her chest. She looked from Nannette to Anderson and back at Nannette, aftershocks wracking her. She wanted to deny what she’d seen and heard, for even the heat that had preceded it beat this.
Anderson jumped to his feet. “I’m sorry you had to see that, Katherine,” he said in a tone that would’ve convinced her, had she no common sense.
Retorts tingled on her tongue, but her lips refused to part to allow them out. Instead, they festered, just like those that had built up during her job interviews, just like those that had built up for Nannette before she’d known the truth. Nannette, too, had frozen, face now as white as coconut, eyes bulging. Kathie wanted to run to her, but her legs, like her mouth, wouldn’t budge.
Anderson snorted. Turned. Marched out of the dining room, to the foyer, to and out the door, and slammed it. The bang rattled Kathie to her core.
Hands trembling like kicked doorstops, Nannette set the plates on the table and grabbed the back of the nearest chair; Kathie didn’t have to look at her knees to know that they would otherwise collapse. The sight pressed her heart in a place Nannette had never pressed before, and she found herself springing forward and flinging her arms around her.
“I’m sorry, Kathie,” she said, clutching her as if to prevent gale-force gusts from blowing her away. “I really wanted to help you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll find something else.” The last thing she wanted to do was make her feel bad about not getting her the job.
She no longer wanted it.