tagRomanceValentine's Day Storm

Valentine's Day Storm

bydarkoverlord6©

It was another day at Rothstein and Son with the sounds of office workers shuffling to and fro filling the floor along with the constant clacking of a hundred different keyboards. David Martin, one of the younger members of the consulting firm, sat in his tiny cubicle studying his computer screen. He was possessed of some enviably handsome features that had drawn comparisons to a young Harrison Ford right down to a similar small scar on his chin incurred during a violent collision with the handlebars of his bicycle when he was twelve.

David was a popular member of the Rothstein team, and not just with the ladies. His self-deprecating sense of humor and outgoing nature drew people to him. Since his arrival, he had become something of a default leader to many of the younger employees who looked up to him, and often came to him for advice even though he wasn't much older. This was how he found Sandy Breuner, a round-faced, earnest fellow from his department suddenly dropping into his guest chair.

"Hi, David! Um...Do you have a second?"

"For you, Sandy, I have two," replied David with a smile.

David swung around and leaned back in his chair stretching out his toned, athletic legs that had been stuck for far too long under his small desk.

"What's on your mind?"

"See, the thing is...You know that Valentine's Day is coming up this weekend, right?

"I think I remember seeing that on my calendar."

"Yeah...Well, my wife and I, this is our first one together since we got married, and we were planning on a little getaway. You know, something kind of romantic, like up in the mountains."

"Sounds like a dream date. I bet the two of you will have a great time," remarked David.

He hadn't made any plans as of yet. There was no shortage of ladies he could call on certainly, but he didn't have anyone particularly special in his life. This reminded him that he needed to call his mom who had left a message for him earlier that morning. The thought made him wince a bit. He loved his parents, but his mother often took every conversation as an opportunity to point out that she was still without grand-children, and since he was her only child, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, David was her only hope.

"It would be a dream except for one little thing...The Dragon Lady..." said Sandy ending his statement by whispering the last three words.

David frowned, "What's Laura Spencer have to do with your Valentine's date?"

At the mention of that name, Sandy seemed to shrink smaller in the chair as if David had invoked the calling of some ancient evil.

"I got a call from her this morning," whispered Sandy glancing around nervously, "she wants me to accompany her to Richfield."

"What's in Richfield?"

"A potential new client for the firm. Gordon's Textiles is headquartered there, and they just fired their current I.T. consultant. I think she sees this as an opportunity to swoop in and nab them before one of the other firms gets wind of the change."

"I see. Well, there are plenty of folks in the office who could take your place. Why don't you just explain the situation and see if she wouldn't mind switching you out for someone else?"

"Are you serious? Do you honestly think Laura Spencer would understand putting my marriage before business?"

Sandy had a point.

Laura Spencer had arrived six-months earlier taking over their department from the recently retired, and highly respected previous manager, Max Farmer. She had transferred from the finance department, and her appointment to the position had come as something of a surprise given her lack of experience in the technical area. From day one, Laura had set a very serious tone. She had ordered desks be cleared of personal items that she felt detracted from an image of focus and efficiency then followed that up by putting a moratorium on office celebrations considering them a waste of time.

"You want to have birthday cake do it on your on time. I'm not paying you to eat dessert!" she had said when asked about the new policy.

This had been just the tip of the iceberg, and over the ensuing months, she had cut a swath through the team transferring or firing people who didn't measure up to her exacting standards. If the group had been a source of problems for the firm, this might have made sense, but in actuality, the Tech Department had been one of the more highly rated ones in Rothstein and Son making her attitude all the more puzzling. David secretly thought she was acting out of fear worried that people weren't going to take her seriously due to her lack of technical expertise. This coupled with the fact that she was just a few years older than most of her employees made things even more awkward.

As time had passed, Laura had earned a number of unflattering nicknames including, The Dragon Lady, Demon-Spawn, and everyone's favorite, The Wicked Bitch of the West. David had coined the last one and been rather proud of it.

"I hear you," said David.

"I don't know what to do. My wife will be so disappointed if we don't go not to mention I already booked a non-refundable hotel room for that weekend."

"You're telling me all this...Why exactly?"

"I was kind of hoping that you might talk to her for me..." said Sandy his voice trailing off.

David shook his head. This wasn't the first time someone in the department had come to him to intercede on their behalf with Laura. He appreciated that everyone respected him, but that didn't make it any easier to get thrown into the lion's den time and again. He started to tell Sandy where he could take his request, but the sad expression on his face made David change his mind. Sandy was such a big kid it was like kicking a puppy to deny him anything.

"Look, Sandy, I can't make you any promises, but I will at least try to get her to change her mind."

"Thanks! David, you're the best!" said Sandy grinning as he reached out to grab David's arm.

"Yeah, I'm a fucking saint..." said David quietly under his breath as Sandy left his cubicle.

David decided to wait until the afternoon staff meeting to broach the subject hoping that after Laura had her lunch, one he presumed included the eating of small children, she would be sated and easier to approach.

The small conference room was packed with his fellow consultants when David arrived, but they had made sure to leave him a chair at the opposite end of the table from where Laura traditionally sat. This had been a habit that they had started months ago when it became clear that David was the only one with the courage to face Laura directly. He wished they hadn't chosen to honor him in this way since it made it appear like it was him against her and this was the last impression he wanted to make.

The chair had scarcely stopped squealing on its poorly oiled wheels when Laura strode into the room like the Queen of England come to take her throne.

Laura Spencer was an imposing woman both in attitude and in stature. She stood nearly six-foot tall with thick, wavy brunette hair surrounding a long, fair-skinned face. In many ways, she looked like nothing less than an Amazonian warrior sprouted to life from the pages of history. Her face bore an expression somewhere between haughty contempt, and bored indifference clouding what would otherwise have been quite attractive features. The large stack of folders she was carrying made a dull thud as she dropped them onto the table while her eyes roved around the room finally settling on David.

David squirmed in his chair. Laura was looking at him the same way he imagined the lions must have sized up the Christians back in the old Roman Coliseum days. The funny thing was if he squinted and pictured her with a smile instead of the ever-present frown she always seemed to wear he could almost see a cold sort of beauty there. She did possess nearly flawless skin except for a small beauty mark to the left of her jaw. Her lips were full and soft looking the kind that seemed almost made for kissing on a cold night. The eyes that bore into him were predatory, but also a deep shade of green like a forest, and not at all unattractive.

"We have a lot to cover today so let's get started," she said pulling on a pair of black-framed glasses.

Laura stepped to the wipe board picking up a marker in one long-fingered hand. Her broad shoulders hid most of the space on the board as she wrote out some notes copied from the single sheet of paper she held in her opposite hand. When she turned back to face the room David couldn't help but take notice of how large her chest was the massive looking mounds stretching the top of her conservative blouse.

"Can anyone tell me what these figures say about our client projections for the next quarter?"

The room was silent while multiple sets of eyes tried to look in any direction that wasn't at Laura.

"I see. Well, I will tell you what they mean. They mean we are in big trouble people! Our billable hours are dropping very quickly, and the satisfaction rate on our client surveys show a marked decline."

David scratched at his arm wanting desperately to answer the hidden implication in her voice. He knew she was going to lay the blame for the department slipping at the feet of her employees when the real culprit, at least in his view, was the declining morale in the group since her arrival. She had sucked all the joy out of working at Rothstein and Son making it very difficult for her workers to bring their best effort. People here would have walked through fire for Max Farmer. The same couldn't be said of Laura Spencer.

"I have done everything to bring about an environment that encourages focus and maximum effort, but this group is falling far below the projections I set when I came here. I can promise you one thing people if things don't start to improve around here I will start bringing in workers who can do a better job!"

A mutual shudder seemed to pass through the room shared by all the consultants in it. David swallowed hard but again refrained from confronting Laura in front of everyone else. He had been down this road before and knew it would just make things worse. It was more effective, in the long run, to work behind the scenes.

The rest of the meeting didn't go much better with Laura singling out several people in the room for further ridicule before she dismissed everyone. David hung back hovering by the door wondering just how it was that a person was supposed to gird their loins.

"Could I have a word with you, Laura?"

"Here's a big surprise. The rest of the team goes to hide and leaves their mouthpiece to speak for them," said Laura sarcastically.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You think I don't see what is happening around here, David? I know the others have no respect for me and you take advantage of that by trying to be the defacto leader behind my back."

"What!? I never...I think you're interpreting things here all wrong, Laura. It is true that some folks around here find you a little...Um..."

"A little what?" she said raising one eyebrow.

"Intimidating? Look, I'm just trying to help. I want this department to be successful the same as you do. So, yeah, sometimes I speak on behalf of the ones that have a hard time making themselves heard."

"I have an open door policy just like all the other managers here," said Laura stiffly.

"I'm sure that Nazi concentration camp leaders said the same thing," thought David.

"I'm sure you do. I just want to facilitate communication I swear I'm not trying to undermine you."

"Just whose communication are you trying to facilitate now?"

"Sandy Breuner," admitted David.

"What about Mr. Breuner?"

"He tells me that you ordered him to accompany you to Richfield over the Valentine's Day Holiday?"

"Yes, we have a chance to nail down a new client if we are quick enough. I want to fly out and strike while the iron is hot."

"I understand the need to get new clients, but given that this is Sandy's and his wife's first Valentine's Day together maybe you could pick someone else to go?"

"What does Valentine's have to do with anything?"

"Seriously? Valentine's? The most romantic holiday of the year?"

"I know what Valentine's means, David. I'm not stupid. I don't see what that has to do with the importance of our business. There will be other Valentine's days for Mr. Breuner and his wife to celebrate. We need to keep our eye on the ball."

"Didn't you ever have a sweetheart at Valentine's? You know someone that meant everything to you that you wanted to celebrate that special day with?"

David thought he saw a seconds hesitation in Laura's demeanor. A look fleetingly crossed her face that gave the impression of sadness or disappointment, but it happened so fast he wasn't even sure it was ever there at all.

"So...Are you volunteering to take his place?"

"Oh...Well, I..." David was caught up short. He had not expected to be asked to fill in and the last place he wanted to spend his Valentine's Day was bottled up in an airplane with the Dragon Lady.

"I mean since if this is so important to you. Surely, you would want your friend to have this special occasion with his spouse?"

David felt trapped and merely nodded not sure what else to do.

"Fine. You can tell Mr. Breuner he is off the hook. I will expect to see you at the airport on Sunday bright and early. Please check with my secretary to get a ticket and itinerary."

Laura exited the conference room with a shrug clearly believing she had come out ahead in the exchange.

"Shit..." mumbled David, "this is what I get for being a nice guy."

The only bright side that David could see to his predicament so far was that the weather had cut down severely on the number of holiday travelers at the airport. He waited for Laura near the gate where their flight was to board his carry on bag resting next to his leg while he read a spy novel on his Kindle. The snowfall outside the window was light at the moment, but predictions were for things to get quite a bit worse before they got better.

"I see I can at least count on you to be on time," said Laura towering over him.

David did his best to paste a smile on his face looking up, "I was a Boy Scout. I learned punctuality from an early age."

He had hoped to win at least a small smile from his traveling companion, but her face remained as stony as ever.

"You know this weather could be a problem. We have to land at the Richfield airport and the weather there is already way worse than here."

Laura looked out the window and frowned. David had the impression that she didn't like anything she couldn't control and the weather certainly qualified.

"I'm sure it will be fine," she said finally failing to put any real confidence into her tone.

The loudspeaker called their flight number, and David stood grasping the handle of his bag. Laura led the way to the gate, and they boarded the aircraft with a minimum of fuss.

"Need some help?" asked David as Laura went to heft her bag into an overhead compartment.

"I can manage."

David shrugged and took the seat near the window wondering why he had even bothered to ask.

He tried to lose himself in his novel again while the sounds of the aircraft engines powering up gave off a headache-inducing whine. Laura fidgeted next to him trying to look nonchalant, but obviously unhappy.

"Everything o.k.?"

"Sure. I'm fine," she said curtly pulling a magazine from the pocket in the seat in front of hers. When the plane bumped back from the gate, she drew in a sharp breath.

"You sure you're o.k.?"

"I...Don't like to fly...O.K.!" she whispered harshly.

David tried hard not to laugh. It was amusing seeing his usually stoic boss so agitated.

"Don't worry about it. My Mom used to tell me to close my eyes during the takeoff and think of something else."

"Like what?"

"Something pleasant like dining at your favorite restaurant, or something fun you like to do. What do you do for fun?"

The aircraft taxied toward the runway as Laura struggled to answer the question. Her fingers gripped at the armrest so hard her knuckles turned white.

"I...I don't do a lot outside of work. My job is my fun..." she said tightly.

The engines cycled up shaking the aircraft while Laura screwed her eyes tight shut.

"Really? Nothing? You don't have any hobbies?"

"I don't...have time...for hobbies..."

"Wow! How about movies or T.V.? You don't watch anything?"

"My Dad said T.V. was a distraction from worthwhile...pursuits...I wasn't allowed to watch it except for two hours on Saturday morning."

"Now we're getting somewhere! What was your favorite cartoon? Did you like the superhero stuff, or were you more the 'My Little Pony' type?"

"I don't know... what you're...talking...about...I watched the History Channel or...CSPAN..."

"You're kidding? You were a kid, and you watched documentaries?"

The plane shot down the runway gaining speed and Laura breathed hard through her nose as the ground fell away and they began to climb. David glanced out the window but quickly lost sight of the field in the haze of all the storm clouds. They reached cruising altitude, and Laura slowly relaxed.

"See, that wasn't so bad. Now, about these T.V. watching habits of yours..."

"Why don't you read your book?" said Laura returning to her magazine.

David smiled turning back to his Kindle.

"Saturday morning History Channel? She must have been a barrel of laughs as a kid," he thought.

The flight attendant came around a short while later offering them a complimentary drink in honor of Valentine's. She held a miniature bottle of wine out for them to see.

"Don't even think about having a drink on company time," said Laura.

"Come on, Laura. It's complimentary see...'Hey, Laura, you look so nice today!'" replied David snatching the bottle from the stewardess and holding it in front of his face while imitating a high pitched voice.

The flight attendant laughed, but Laura remained stone-faced.

"Are you finished?" she said.

David handed the bottle back grudgingly. This was going to be a long flight.

The time passed slowly while David read and Laura sat next to him flipping idly through her magazine. At the two hour mark, the Captain came over the intercom system with some bad news. The weather ahead had gotten so rough they had shut down the Richfield Airport. Their flight was going to have to divert to Rocklin about four hours from Richfield by car.

"This is just great!" snapped Laura slapping her armrest in frustration.

"I told you the weather didn't look good," said David and regretted it when Laura shot him a look that could have melted the bulkhead.

He remained silent the rest of the way into Rocklin not offering to help when Laura turned somewhat pale during the landing. The plane had barely come to a halt when Laura was out of her seat and pulling her bag out of the overhead. David struggled to keep up as she moved at a brisk pace across the crowded concourse.

"Where are you going exactly?" he called at her back.

She finally came to a stop at a long line of booths advertising cars for rent.

"You want to drive to Richfield?"

"It's only four hours from here," she said reasonably.

"Yeah, four hours, but on the other side of those mountains," said David waving at the far window.

"I grew up around this area," he continued, "you don't want to be trying to drive through those mountains in a snowstorm!"

The manager of the car agency felt the same way, "Listen to your friend, lady. I heard the highway patrol was talking about closing the road if they haven't all ready."

"Then you should stop talking and write faster!" she said pointing at the rental agreement.

The clerk doing the writing shot a look at his manager who just nodded unhappily. Laura scribbled a signature on the document and grabbed the keys from the counter as David fell in alongside her.

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bydarkoverlord6© 15 comments/ 31017 views/ 77 favorites

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