tagMatureMrs. Hardison Ch. 03

Mrs. Hardison Ch. 03

byFinalStand©

*Trust is like beauty; they both should be appreciated*



(Later Friday evening)

"What is wrong?" Gloria asks as she leans against me and I have an arm around her.

"Oh crap!" I blurt out. Now the other, less important news comes racing back to mind. "Ms. Cook made a pass at me this afternoon right before five, and I mean, 'made a pass'. There was no confusing it."

"Why?" Gloria sounds confused. I sigh.

"Is it so hard to believe she finds me irresistible?" I ask her.

"Yes," Gloria replies frankly.

"Fine, she wanted me to go out with her to dinner tonight and exacted a promise from me that we would have lunch sometime next week," I inform my friend. Gloria doesn't respond for a minute.

"Do you want to go out with her?" she inquires.

"Oh God, do I!" I exclaim. "Now that you are going to swell up like a whale I need to be looking for another woman in my life." Gloria turns and bites my arm painfully. "Ow!"

"That's for thinking about looking at another woman," she instructs me. "You tax my patience at times."

"Don't worry. I'll do lunch once or twice, she'll get bored with me, and things will get back to normal," I reassure Gloria.

"I can't say I like that plan," Gloria rumbles, "but I can't see anything I can do to stop her in the personal arena. I have to trust you."

"Maybe the mysterious attacker will bust me up and I can forgo the whole dating two women thing," I joke.

"That isn't funny," Gloria says seriously. "He hurt me and almost hurt you and we no longer know why except they were premeditated attacks."

"I apologize," I say contritely. It was a dumbass thing for me to say. Somehow Gloria senses my hurt.

"It is okay; I've come to expect a certain number of stupid things from you from time to time."

"Thank you, I think," I sigh.

"So, do you find her attractive?" Gloria inquires.

"Yes I do Gloria," I confess. "She's a bit of a blonde version of you but sensual where you are exciting. I would still much rather be with you; there is no contest."

"I have always admired your honesty Eddie, even if it is painful," Gloria responds.

"I don't want to cause you pain, but I want you to trust me. That kind of leaves me screwed," I groan.

"If I made things easy I wouldn't be me," she sighs playfully. I'm glad to see she's in good spirits despite some of my bad news. I don't know if anything can ruin her mood tonight.

We take the rest of the night in each other's arms and from time to time I can't help myself from rubbing her stomach which causes Gloria to sigh in loving exasperation.

"There is nothing for you to feel Eddie. There won't be anything for months."

"But your boobs will get bigger," I grin.

"Yes Eddie, my boobs will get bigger," Gloria rolls her eyes. She then appears to read my mind, "I suppose you can suckle a tiny bit when the baby gets here." I hug her in response.

"Have I told you how sexy your superior intelligence is?" I ask her.

"Yes, but I never get tired of hearing it," she murmurs.

(Monday)

I'm at my workstation getting an early start on the project when Facilities comes over and puts a new computer system, phone, and chair into my cramped area.

"Huh?" I ask Kelly, the head tech.

"I have a work order to put a new station up in your area," Kelly tells me. We share a shrug and I get back to work.

"Hello," a woman greets me from behind around starting time, "I'm looking for Edward Duarte." I turn to see an attractive woman of Indian descent. She had olive skin, long black hair braided in the front, and a short green dress with black leggings. She also has a brown leather satchel over her shoulder.

"That would be me and call me Eddie," I tell her.

"Hey Eddie, I'm Sadri Gupta. I've been assigned to your project," she smiles.

"By who?" I laugh.

"I'm supposed to report to you," she informs me. "That is all my supervisor said."

"Sadri, I'm at the bottom of the ladder so I'm not sure were that puts you. How about you set up and I'll make some calls," I grin.

Sure enough, Chu tells me I have someone working 'with' me, which translates as 'does my work but it is still my ass on the line'. Chu asks me if the new guy is hideous so I tell him Sadri is three hundred pounds and never bathes. Sadri giggles. I spend the rest of the morning bringing Sadri up to speed and attending meetings.

I ask Sadri about lunch. She tells me she's going out with some of her old friends but she'll be back at one. Then she does something strange; she tells me I smell nice like some sort of perfumed body soap or something which is dangerously correct. As I said, we are working in close quarters. I head out with my section's crowd and get back right before she does.

At one thirty we get summoned to see Mrs. Hardison and I beg Sadri to follow my lead, say nothing and genuflect upon entering and leaving The Bitch's presence. Sadri thinks I'm hilarious but she's sure all the rumors she's heard are meant to scare the newbies. Leslie gives me a quizzical look when the two of us approach. She sends us in a few minutes later.

"Mr. Duarte, Ms. Gupta I am reducing your deadline by four days and adding a security subroutine to your beta model. Leslie will give you the security protocols to use," Mrs. Hardison tells us. That means we have to have things ready but ten o'clock Tuesday-week. I might as well pitch a tent in the break area.

"There is no way we can do this," declares Sadri. I grab her arm but it is too late. Mrs. Hardison looks up and bores holes straight through Sadri with her eyes.

"What would constrain you from completing this project on time?" Hardison asks in a wintery tone.

"We won't have the time," Sadri blurts out.

"Take as much overtime as you need," Mrs. Hardison states dispassionately.

"I have a life," Sadri continues. Now I grab her arm and start dragging her out.

"Ms. Gupta, if you cannot competently complete this project in the time allotted, let me know right now and a proper replacement will be acquired," Mrs. Hardison states.

Sadri is about to say something but my grip on her arm has gotten so strong it is painful. She looks at me in anguish and confusion.

"We will get it done Mrs. Hardison," I promise.

"See that you do Mr. Duarte," Mrs. Hardison says as we exit and she resumes her work. Leslie gives me a sympathetic look as we go back to our own area.

"Ow," growls Sadri. "What was that all about?"

"I didn't want you to lose your cool back there," I answer.

"This project is unreasonable. I'm going back to my own section," she announces.

"You can't; you'll be fired," I point out.

"I won't do the work," she shoots back.

"Then we will both get fired," I grin sadly.

"This can't be happening," she mumbles.

"Welcome to my life," I say as I wrap an arm around her shoulder.

"Oh, this reminds me of something; I have to go. I'll be back in two hours," I shrug and once I've deposited her back in our area, I head off so I can do my penance.

(Monday evening)

"So I'm basically going to be working late with a guy who has not one, but two sexual harassment complaints against him," Sadri gobbles as she slurps down some noodles from one of the better Thai take out places.

"Pretty much, yeah," I confess.

"My boyfriend is going to love this," she sighs. "How about we not tell him?"

"That suggestion gets my vote," I agree.

"How are we going to get this project done on time?" she gripes.

"We'll get it done. Mrs. Hardison doesn't give impossible tasks, just incredibly difficult ones," I instruct Sadri.

"When do you normally get home?" she wonders.

"I average about nine or nine-thirty," I inform her which elicits a groan.

"Well, let's get to it," she says and we dive right in.

(Tuesday Noon)

"You received a call from a Katherine Wilson saying you need to meet a car in ten minutes at the East building entrance," Sadri informs me with curiosity. I must look as enthusiastic as I feel. "Bad new?"

"Pretty bad," I admit, "and no way am I getting out of it."

"I thought we had to work all day and all night?" Sadri teases. "How come you get out of all the real assignments?"

"Sadri, trust me this is one meeting you don't want to be going to," I assure her. I almost miss Sadri stealing a glance over my shoulder as she spies on who I'm talking to – Leslie to tell her I'm off to lunch with Ms. Cook.

(Lunch)

I give Sadri a wave before heading out and from what I can tell of her logs later when I get in, she's been a busy little camper and not in a good, productive way. I am alone in the limo as it takes me to Roma NeroSpina. I am a freak product of the lower classes in my nicest set of office attire and it is not nearly enough here. Joyce comes in right after I'm truly and thoroughly embarrassed. If the lesson was to intimidate me it has failed.

"Greetings Eddie," she smiles politely enough. "Did you have a nice weekend?"

"Ms. Cook, it was a normal affair where two normal people did normal things all weekend long," I say with some deep-seeded anger.

Joyce looks at least a bit annoyed.

"What is the source of this unpleasantness?" is her icy request.

"Your choice of restaurant blows, you treat me like a glorified towel boy with time schedules you give me, and you are acting clearly beneath your potential, so either I bore you, or you are slipping; neither of these I find appealing."

"Does anything else bother you today?" She asks plainly.

"Yes, I want an explanation. There are a hundred men (or women) who would commit homicide to be here at your side, you are that desirable. Pick on someone else. I already have a person I love and treasure. Find someone else," I plead.

"I'm trying to be your friend, but you keep turning my assistance aside. We are having lunch, not an interrogation and I asked a simple question that you have chosen to shove in my face. The reason you are here is because I don't want someone to give me everything they have in hopes I will give them something bigger. As we established earlier, you don't want anything from me and that makes you a pretty unique creature."

Now I feel like a shit-heel.

"Fine, I apologize for my anger, but this restaurant is made for people who make ten times a year what I make – minimum. I don't know what made you believe I would be comfortable here," I point out.

"I would have thought Gloria would consider buying you some attire more in line to the styles she needs when she does her required social functions five times a year. I was unaware she had not done that yet," Joyce observes.

"We have a financially equal relationship," I say with a straight face. Joyce tries to not laugh but fails.

"Seriously; that is not very kind. How you going to handle going out to the places she's expected to be seen," Joyce pursues.

"Our relationship isn't based on money. Mostly it is based on affection and work," I tell her.

"At any time she could take all that away and then what would you have?" Joyce reminds me.

"Memories, a job, a little less structure in my life and a little more fun," I respond. "I've never looked at this relationship for something to make me rich or promote me in the company. I work for Mrs. Hardison after all. At work, the woman has no heart, and that applies to everybody. I have never ever expected Mrs. Hardison to save me from anything. It isn't in her," I explain.

"Why are you with her then?" Joyce leans across the table and asks.

"That is not something I can talk about, sorry. I do know I am her only friend," I shrug.

"I wouldn't treat you like that," Joyce promises.

"Thank you, but it is not all that bad. She has her good qualities," I explain.

"What are they?"

"She's intelligent, honest, and hard working," I grin.

"How do I compare to that?" she murmurs.

"Mrs. Hardison is a well-oiled machine while you are more of an equestrian," I tell Joyce.

"Equestrian; that is a funny term to use," she notes.

"You like a firm hand, you like the finer things in life, and you have experience in hands-on leadership," I respond. She weighs my statement for several seconds before tipping her water in acceptance.

"You would prefer steel over flesh?" she questions.

"It isn't a matter of preference, just that you two are different," I explain. "I can't imagine any man who spends any time with you feels bored, or ignored."

"Thank you, but my charms seem to be wasted on you," she points out.

"Hardly," I choke, "it is only that I am devoted to Mrs. Hardison. Also ..."

"Also?" she asks.

"Also you shouldn't be interested in me and I can't figure out why you are," I finish.

"You sell yourself short Mr. Duarte," Joyce smiles. "You are turning out to be quite interesting to me."

"Even though nothing is going to happen between us?" I tell her.

"Now you are selling me short," she counters seductively.

"Being a man around a beautiful woman doesn't make me a total idiot," I realize. "What do you have against Gloria?" Joyce looked totally confused.

"What makes you think this has to do with Gloria anymore?" she asks.

"I know it may be hard to believe, but I'm smarter than I look," I sigh.

"Do you know how many men I meet exhibit such loyalty to their superior?" Joyce says.

"Now you are treating me like an idiot," I tell her. Joyce examines me for the longest time.

"Let's eat," she responds finally. The rest of lunch passes quietly and the ride we share back to work is subdued. "Let's do this again Thursday," she tells me. Technically she is asking but in reality I have no choice.

"Take care, Ms. Cook ... Joyce."

"You too, Mr. Duarte," she nodded in a decidedly friendly manner.

Back in my area I join up with Sidra and launch myself into the project. I get us going before heading off for my two hours of trying to be a better male. When I get back I learn that Sidra has scheduled me for a meeting before end of business. It seems she thinks I'm the face of this operation too.

After the rest of the working populace has cleared out Sidra and I delve into the project at our leisure. Before we break up for the night Sidra looks to me and smiles.

"I apologize; I think we can do this by Tuesday," she admits.

"Difficult but not impossible; that is our fearless leader for you," I grin back.

(Thursday)

"You look tired," Joyce notices.

"I've forgotten what my bed looks like," I smile weakly. "Thank you for your concern."

"You are starting to grow on me," Joyce smiles in return.

"I'll have this project finished soon enough then I think I'm going to ask for some time off," I sigh.

"Do you think she'll let you?" Joyce asks.

"Yes. Otherwise I'm going to fall over at my station," I joke.

"We could spend some time together then," Joyce suggests. "I know Gloria won't take any time off." I sigh in exasperation.

"Joyce, this isn't going to happen. Gloria means the world to me. I would never hurt her," I respond.

"Eddie, what if I was to tell you that Gloria isn't so hard-working and dedicated as she would have you believe? There was a time when she did whatever she needed to get ahead," she states.

"I would find that very hard to believe," I confess.

"There was a time when Gloria Hardison did whatever was necessary to get ahead up to and including taking someone that I cared for," Joyce relates to me. I didn't like the way this was going, not at all.

"I didn't know," I say softly.

"I had a lover, a mentor in the company and Gloria stole him away from me," she continues. "I spent three good years of my life with him and one day I found him in Gloria's office. She had accepted a promotion under him and rewarded him with her body."

"Vance," I whisper.

"Oh, she has told you about Conrad Vance? I'm surprised, or maybe I'm not. It must have been one of her proudest accomplishments," Joyce growls. Now I know I'm on the Crazy Train because if she ever saw Vance and Gloria together she had to know what was going on. Vance raped Gloria.

"It wasn't like that," I try to explain.

"Eddie, I was there," Joyce insists. "She isn't afraid to use her body and position to get what she wants. All she is doing is satisfying some need for power over you." Too bad I can't explain things to Joyce; I don't feel I have the right to explain Gloria's rape to anyone, especially an enemy.

"Joyce, what did Mr. Vance do when he abandoned Gloria?" I reason.

"It wasn't like he could come back to me, is it?" she responds.

"Did you want him to?" I ask. Her look tells it all; Crazy Train.

"Will having me betray Gloria make you feel any better?" I try to point out.

"Yes, but I can stop you from making that mistake Vance did too. I couldn't stop him from falling for her, but maybe I can keep you from her ..." she tells me.

"Why now? Why wait all this time before doing anything about this? Certainly in the past seventeen years you could have found another way to resolve things," which is my way of saying 'why me?'

"Quite frankly, until you came along there was no one she valued," she confesses. "When you intervened in her life something changed and she latched onto you. I resolved she couldn't have you but along the way I began to see what she saw in you, but instead of wanting to exploit you, I wanted to help you."

I am digesting that right until I hear the word 'intervene'. Had I been smarter I would know to keep my mouth shut about the attack that only three people should know happened.

"You had her attacked in the parking garage," I whisper. Joyce takes another bite out of her salad. I reach across the table and take hold of Joyce's other hand.

"Why?"

"She has to be stopped," Joyce whispers.

"Joyce, you don't need to do this," I try and reassure her.

"Yes I do," she insists.

"You do realize you sent someone to mess me up too," I explain. Now she looks back up and seems pained.

"Yet again you surprised me Mr. Duarte," her smile warms up.

"What do we do now?" I wonder. She squeezes my hand.

"I could do a lot for you," Joyce tells me intently. I shake my head.

"I wouldn't use you like that Joyce," I respond. "You certainly deserve better." The looks he gives me is one of intense scrutiny.

"Where were you fifteen years ago?" she asks me. Where have I heard that before?

"Second grade," I smile which causes her to chuckle.

"I could just eat you up," she hints. It is not lost on me that this is the woman making me take sensitivity training.

"I'm still seeing Gloria," I remind her.

"For now," she promises. At least we manage to eat the rest of lunch with less sexually suggestive comments. We part with her leaning in for a kiss and I give her one – Crazy Train remember? When I get back to my area Sadri gives me a look that says she knows what I've been doing. God I hope she's wrong.

(Friday evening)

I am pacing all over the place when Gloria walks in. Her look goes from pleasure to concern.

"Sit down," I insist. For a moment Gloria looks like she is going to resist but something about me must tip her off that this isn't some sort of power play.

"Okay," she nods and takes a seat on the sofa.

"Two things; what is going on with you and Joyce Cook right now?" I start off.

"Joyce, Melvin Colza and I are all up for Vice President of Operations. It is all very informal but we are the three contenders. VP of Operations is the stepping stone for President," she answers. "Is this what the struggle between me and Joyce is all about?"

"Yes and no; your competition for the top spot is what has brought this to a head, but her problem with you goes way back," I tell her then take a deep breath. "Joyce was having an affair with Mr. Vance before he dumped her and began having an 'affair' with you. Joyce didn't take it well and I'm thinking she sort of snapped. She even saw you two together."

Gloria sits there with a distant look in her eyes for the longest time. Joyce had witnessed her rape.

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