Mrs. Hardison Ch. 01byFinalStand©
*You drive away the things you hate and the things you love*
I'm not some massive body-building, football star kind of guy. I wish I could afford a gym membership and my exercise normally consists of running to catch the bus or taking stairs two at a time. I do have a good metabolism and I like to think I'm in good shape for a twenty-two year old who works in an office building.
So why am I running full tilt into a guy who has six inches and sixty pounds on me? It is easy to blame it all on idiocy; I'm trying to save somebody and better yet, it is someone I actively dislike and who actively dislikes me. I'm trying to save my director, Gloria Hardison from this unknown guy in the parking garage of my office building. I haven't been in a fight since the eighth grade so I figure I'm going to die.
I hit the guy by surprise probably because I'm too scared to yell. I think I'm totally screwed when I trip over Mrs. Hardison and fall down. What I don't immediately see is that I slam his head into the garage wall and he drops like a sack of potatoes. I pick myself up and kick the SOB twice in the ribs to make sure he knows to stay down.
Going back to Mrs. Hardison I realize her blouse is ripped and her bra torn. She has a cut on her forehead and a split lip. I'm not sure she's conscious so I shake her gently.
"Mrs. Hardison, it is Eddie. I'm going to get the police now. Are you going to be okay?" She looks up at me with unfocussed eyes, virtually emotionless and dead.
"No police," she mutters.
"I think you are out of it. Stay here and I'll get help," I repeat. She grabs my arm so tightly her fingernails punch through my shirtsleeve and draw blood.
"No! Get me in the car. I'm going home," she insists in a shaky, panicked voice. I pull her to a standing position but she starts slumping back down.
"Please Mrs. Hardison," I say to the hard-ass bitch that is the reason I'm working so late on a Friday night, "you can barely stand. Let me get help."
"Mr. Duarte I am telling you to let me go home," she slurs as she keeps sliding down the car. I decide to grow a spine and probably lose my job.
"No. I'm getting the god damn cops," I insist. She uses a word on me I wasn't even sure she knew.
"Please," she whispers. The asshole would-be rapist groans and I know I'm doing the absolutely wrong thing.
"Fine, but I'm driving," I demand. "I doubt you could even get the car in gear." Mrs. Hardison mumbles something incoherent but which I chose to assume is agreement.
I buckle her into the passenger seat, run around to the other side, gather up her stuff and start the car headed out. At the exit it occurs to me that I don't know where I'm going. Mrs. Hardison is totally out of it so I rifle through her wallet to find her address. I plug it into the onboard navigation and head out to a part of the city I could never afford to live in.
I'm sure I'm not going to find a parking spot right up until I pull in front of her townhouse. In this city she has her own designated spot and everything. I can't even begin to speculate how much that costs. Getting Mrs. Hardison up the stairs and through the door proves to be an exercise in balance, strength and proper use of hands. I manage to get her security code just in time.
Once I get her in the door I navigate to the closest chair where I deposit her until I can get the layout of her house. For some strange reason I figure if I can put her in her bed I can walk my ass home and get out of this career nightmare. Mrs. Hardison isn't my boss, or my bosses boss, she's my fucking Director. I'm sure the only knows my name because I've personally fucked up in front of her.
I find what looks like the main bedroom race down two flights of stairs to get her and find her wobbling her way toward the first floor stairs.
"Let me take you to bed," I offer.
"I need a shower," she mutters.
"Lady, you can barely stand," I point out.
"I need a shower," she repeats. I sigh, shake my head and wonder what the want ads are like.
"Let me take you up," I insist. I wrap an arm around her waist and half pull, half prop her up to the master bath. I sit her on the toilet, contemplate what to do next -- hell no I'm not going to strip her down -- so I cut on the water in the walk-in shower and make sure she has some towels before making my exit.
I pace all over the damn place in a frantic state of mind; I can't figure out why I am not in taxi heading home. Half an hour passes without hearing anything so lose my mind for the second time tonight. I open the door to the bathroom and find her huddled in her shower. Inside she is sobbing and unresponsive so without thinking I lift her up and take her to the bedroom.
With a little effort I get comforter and sheets down and tuck her in. I find myself standing around helplessly with not a clue as what to do next. The stress is starting to get to me and I find my energy crashing. I take the spare pillow, dig out a spare comforter, cut off the lights and lay out on the floor. I'm asleep before I can roll over.
"Mr. Duarte ... Mr. Duarte!" I hear someone calling. I roll over and see the head of Mrs. Hardison looking down on me from the bed. I sit up so fast my head spins.
"Yes ma'am!" I shout in fear. She studies me like I'm a fly caught in her web.
"Mr. Duarte, get me a bathrobe," she orders. I find myself scrambling to the closet where I find five robes. "The blue one," she directs me. I come out and hand it to her, but she keeps her sheets tightly to her chest. I drop the robe close to her.
"I'll be out in the hall," I tell her quickly.
"That would be a good idea," he says in a neutral tone. I'm so gone. A minute later I hear her call me.
"Mr. Duarte, come in," she orders.
"Yes Mrs. Hardison," I respectfully respond, keeping my eyes carefully forward and not making eye contact.
"About last night," she begins then hesitates.
"Mrs. Hardison, last night didn't happen. I was never here," I state.
"You realize this will have no effect on our working relationship what so ever," she commands.
"Ma'am, if anything I'm more afraid of you now than I was yesterday morning," I tell her. I could almost swear I see her smile out of the corner of my eye but I dare not verify it.
"Go downstairs and make me some coffee," she says, "make us some coffee," she then corrects.
I have the coffee made and am sitting around twiddling my thumbs for fifteen minutes before she makes an appearance in a sweat shirt, sweat pants and white socks. If I didn't know any better I would mistake her for a human being. She goes over prepares a cup and sits down in her breakfast nook.
"Fix you a cup," she allows. I do, but only a small one. I want to get the hell out of here.
"Thank you," she tells me.
"For what?" I ask.
"Stop it Mr. Duarte. You ... did me a favor last night and I'm thankful," she says. "Actually you did me at least four favors." I look confused.
"You didn't call the authorities, you drove me home, you helped me get into the shower and you put me to bed," she explained.
"Sorry about that whole shower thing. I didn't do anything and I barely looked," I swear. She studies me for a few seconds.
"I believe you," she admits. We sip for a minute in silence. I cast a few noticeable glances to my watch hoping she will take the hint and let me escape.
"Do people really fear me?" she inquires. There is no good answer to this question.
"I think most of us would rather test experimental vaccines for the Black Death than make you mad at us," I confess. That description makes her snort in amusement.
"You are very colorful Mr. Duarte, as well as impertinent, sloppy and inappropriate," she defines me. I gulp; these are not qualities that go on a positive job performance review. "What; no response?"
"I'd like to live and keep working at the company," I confess. That earns me a tiny slip of a smile.
"How did you manage show up right on time to save me?" she asks.
"I don't think I arrived on time. If I had we wouldn't be having this conversation," I tell her, "but I was down there to return your phone to you. I found it when I dropped the system certifications off at your desk as you requested."
"Working late on a Friday night? That is not very efficient of you," she complains even though my inefficiency saved her ass.
"You told me you were going to do horrible things to my sexual anatomy if I screwed up again, so I thought it prudent to do what you asked," I say. That earns me another tiny smile.
"I am glad you learned one thing. Now if you would only learn to avoid inter-office relationships," she stares at me. I hope I don't look as scared as I feel.
"It was only a few drinks," I lie.
"So if I confront them with this deviation from company policy that is what they will say?"
"Can we go up to the third floor?" I request. She looks at me warily and confused. "Since I'm about to throw myself out one of your windows I would prefer the fall to kill me," I explain. She snorts again.
"If you plan to kill yourself I can offer you a knife," she allows.
"I honestly didn't think you were feeling that generous," I respond. That definitely earns a smile.
"So you found the phone of a woman you fear and most likely despise and you came running down to give it to me; is this correct?" she continues.
"Your phone is your life," I state. "Like you or not, I'd have to be a total douche to either leave you without it, or make you have to come all the way back to work to retrieve it. It was a no-brainer."
"My phone is my life?" she questions.
"I've been under you for less than one year, but I've never seen you without it," I explain. She seems to thinks about it and nods.
"I wouldn't say it is my life," she counters. I'm polite enough to not counteract the Mistress of my Destiny. She seems slightly annoyed. "By all means, tell me about myself." I back to the 'I want to cry' stage.
"You are the youngest director on the board -- ever. You are divorced with no kids. You always work at least eighty hours a week and you make the effort to know everyone in your department, mainly so you can keep our heads to the grindstone and make sure you smash the proper peon who fucks things up. Everything about you is work, work, and work so it is safe for me to say that your phone is your life," I recite to her as I look to the floor. I may have to move to another city to find a job now. No one says anything for a minute.
"I thought you were afraid of me ... and that you wanted to keep working at the company?" she finally questions.
"Right now I would describe myself as terrified, but that is no reason to not be honest with you," I reply. "Should I save Human Resources the trouble and go back to work now and clean out my desk?"
"I'll need to think that over," she says. Out of the blue she slaps me with, "Do you find me attractive?"
"Well I think we already know the answer to that," I groan, "but yes, I did call you 'smoking hot' in the break room."
"Do you think women like being referred to in such a sexist manner?" she inquires with some heat.
"No, I suppose not. I apologize for offending you," I reply sheepishly.
"I didn't get where I am because I'm 'smoking hot' Mr. Duarte," she snaps. "I worked my ass off and I put in those long hours and neglected everything else to get where I am today."
I have nothing left to lose.
"Are you happy? Sure you should be President inside ten years ..."
"Five," she corrects.
"... five years and then what? You will be the best in your profession at forty-six."
"I well exercise my stock options and retire to the south of France," she answers. I can't stop that first bit of laughter.
"You can't be serious," I gasp. Mrs. Hardison is not amused.
"I think it is safe to say that you need to seek new employment Monday," she informs me. I shrug but remain seated.
"What are you doing?" she inquires.
"You didn't ask me to leave so I'm drinking a cup of coffee," I tell her. "Besides, now that I'm not longer terrified of you I think it would be a good idea for you to have a friend come over before I leave so they can spend some time with you after ... last night."
"Get out," she says evenly. I finish my coffee in one gulp and get ready to leave. I've walked outside and am halfway down the street when a few things occur to me. I climb back up the stairs and knock on the door. She opens the door and it is clear to me that she's been crying.
"I've left my keys, wallet, phone, and shoes in your bedroom," I sigh.
She steps aside and points me to the stairs. She manages to hold it together while I head up but she's sitting on the floor back to the wall and sobbing when I get back down. I am angry with this woman, I am now unemployed and I haven't eaten in twenty hours. I sit beside her in the hallway and hold her to me. She makes a few feeble attempts to push me away but I hold on.
I don't know how long I sit there with her. By the time my stomach starts grumbling she's all but in my lap in a near fetal ball. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know what is going on. This isn't the first time this has happened to her and if I'm dumb enough to race to her car to give her a damn phone I'm sure as hell not going to leave her now.
"You are hungry," she mumbles.
"I'm comfortable where I am," I respond softly. She takes a few deep breaths.
"I think I'm okay for now," she assures me. I push myself up along the wall pulling her along with me.
As we walk to the kitchen I keep an arm around her and she doesn't mind. "I'll get us something to eat." I sit down, keeping an eye on Mrs. Hardison. She soon puts down a veggie-pita for me and her and sits down to eat. We pass the meal in silence but when we finish,
"I appear to be thanking you again," he softly murmurs.
"Mrs. Hardison ..."
"Call me Gloria," she interrupts, which seems to be something she's good at.
"Gloria, please call me Eddie, and I will stay here for as long as you think you need me," I respond.
"Didn't I fire you a few hours ago?" she asks.
"One has nothing to do with the other," I reply. She's studying me again.
"I don't need your pity," she accuses me.
"Do I look like I'm pitying you?" I say. She has certainly not become bored looking at me. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
"No," she whispers.
"Have you ever told anyone?" I inquire.
"Can I help at all?" I say.
"No ... I don't know. I never told anyone. I put it behind me and got on with my life," she replies. "I don't even know why I'm talking with you."
"To put it bluntly you need to talk to someone and I'm all you got," I suggest. "I'll never hurt you, and I can't harm your career. We've already established that." That makes her start crying again.
I go around to her chair, pull her up and wrap my arms around her and she erupts in tears. Someone really did a number on Gloria. After five minutes she mutters something.
"I want to lie down for a while." I follow her upstairs and we lie down on the bed together. At first she is fearful and distant so I scoot over to the far side. With nothing to do I drift off again.
When I wake up she's cuddled up to me and I think she's asleep.
"This is the first time I've been in bed with a man in fifteen years. I had almost forgotten what it was like," she tells me. She props herself up on an elbow so she can look me in the eyes. "Isn't this the part when you kiss me, stroke my large breasts and grab my fat ass?"
"You don't pay me enough for that," I quip. Her eyes get wide and then she breaks out in barely suppressed laughter.
"That will teach me to fire you," she chuckles.
"Besides, I've already established that you are 'smoking hot'. Your breasts are a pleasant handful and your ass is perfectly firm," I joke back. She punches me in the chest.
"How would you know?" she asks.
"I think we are back to me being 'impertinent' and 'inappropriate'," I respond, "as well as being a sexist with 20/20 vision."
"Does your magical tongue actually work with other women?" she snickers.
"Verbally, no, which is why I have to buy them drinks; physically I haven't had any complaints," I boast and she blushes. "Can we do something?" I say which makes her nervous. "I would really like a shower and a change of clothes. I'm beginning to offend myself; I can't imagine what I'm putting you through."
Gloria lets out a slight sigh of relief.
"You can borrow my car," she offers.
"Gloria, in the part of the city where I live if I left your car out -- assuming I could even find a place to park -- it would be gone by the time when I got out."
"What do we do about this?" she asks.
"Do you have a washer-dryer?"
"No, I have a service," she informs me.
"Well crap," I sigh in disgust.
"Why don't I drive you home?" she suggests.
"I don't want to leave you alone," I counter. She gives me this strange look.
"Fine, I'll drop you off, go by the office to get some work and pick you up in an hour?" she tells me. Now I have to trust her to keep her word with no real reason I can see for her to dump me. I don't even work for her anymore.
Me and my back pack are hangin out in front of my apartment building going over the finer points of working days versus nights in world of drug dealing with a one of the guys. When I tell him how much I make a year he offers to lift me out of poverty and give me a job. Considering I'm actually jobless I take his cell number because while prison must suck, not eating can't be much better.
Mrs. Hardison -- Gloria -- is twenty minutes late. When I get into the car the locals give me my props for such a cool ride. I don't bother telling Gloria she's late. It isn't like my time really matters.
"I've never been down to this part of town before now and here I am twice in one night," she tells me.
"I hope you never have to come here again, but if you do, for the love of God, don't stop and ask for directions. In the real world they call it car-jacking; here it is called the redistribution of wealth," I warn her.
"I thought we paid our new employees better than this," she says with suspicion.
"It is called credit card debt. I wasn't the smartest guy with money in college and I did some things I shouldn't have and now I'm making good on it," I answer.
"What are you going to do now?" she asks.
"Do what everyone else does; look for a job. I'll find something. I did well in college and now I have a year's experience under my belt," I point out.
"You don't have any money in the bank, do you?"
"A little over three hundred bucks plus the forty in my wallet," I tell her.
"You have no plan what so ever," she growls at me. "How can you be so irresponsible?"
"Gloria, I hadn't planned on being fired," I reply.
"You should have been," she snaps. "You are a very sloppy worker. You have no drive, no ambition."
"My supervisor likes ... liked me. I was doing okay. I got my work done," I counter.
"Oh yes, Mr. Chu said you were a good team player and that you were a very popular member of his staff, but you chronically worked late and didn't meet deadlines."
I should be more stunned that she knows that much about me but Hardison is such a busybody that she certainly has the same detailed information on everyone beneath her, but since she was no longer my boss, I felt I could unload on her.
"Do you know why I was always behind? I made sure our team projects always made it on schedule and I helped out others in my unit when they needed it. So what if my report made it in at noon instead of ten occasionally; sometimes people need help so I give it," I respond.
"You will never get ahead in life like that," she councils me.
"What do you mean? I get more drinks than I pay for, I slept with two co-workers, and been invited to one wedding already. Not bad for my first year," I reply.