Chapter 7 – Winner Takes All

Chapter 7 – Regrouping

Thoughts of abandoning ship — of giving in to her baser, more retaliatory instincts — had propelled Tina to her office. With plans of ignoring Nikki’s advice, she looked through her war chest file, and marked off the best bets, even in this tight market. But then an email came to her personal account: an automatic payment notice for the nursing home. She sighed and decided to log into her bank account and look at the statement. Thoughts of telling Javier and Ben off were banished. She had to keep this job.

When she’d lived with her mother, up until she was eight, she’d gone to sleep hungry many nights. Her mother was too busy out in the streets to care for Tina, and even if she were home, there wasn’t any damned food in the cabinets. Tina couldn’t have that happen to her again. Living like that had been… no. She shook her head. She wasn’t going to go there. She wouldn’t think about that life, that old life. That was way in the past. Though, she couldn’t help think about it in times of crisis. One false move was all it took for a life to fall apart, to end up with no money, no food. Her life after age eight was everything she could have wanted. Her grandmother hadn’t been rich, but she’d been able to support Tina and herself, and point Tina on the right path. College, career, a good life.

Tina closed her eyes and smiled as an image of her grandmother, close-cropped white hair, a beautiful, toothy smile, and wrinkles that made her look majestic, popped into her head. She missed her so much. She didn’t regret agreeing to pay for the nursing care for her grandmother, to get her into that place, but the effect those payments were having on her life now, were … frustrating.

Tina was earning just enough to pay the debt and her living expenses. If she quit this job with nothing else lined up, she would end up in the same position as her mother. A grown woman with nothing of her own and no way to support herself. Tina realized she’d been a fool to go out to eat last night. Treat yourself, she’d thought. You’ve been eating beans and rice and noshing on the buffet at all the work-related events. You deserve a good meal. Go to the restaurant. Have a nice meal. Take an uber home, instead of grabbing the subway. You’re going to get that promotion tomorrow and the VP salary that comes with it. At least double her current salary. You can pay these bills and be secure yourself. You can build that financial safety you’ve been striving so hard for.

But no. Javier Santiago came and ripped it all away. She shook her head at the screen and cursed softly. She was in no mood to even work. Blind fury clouded everything she did. But she couldn’t just leave and go home. Vacation time was the equivalent of money and she wouldn’t waste it on a bad mood. If Taylor & Thompson decided to fire people, they’d have to pay out her unused vacation.

She tapped her red nails on her desk. She wasn’t sure why she was thinking this way. Her mind always went to worst case scenario when she got stressed. The company was in pretty good shape. Yes, they’d lost a couple of big accounts when the former VP Rick had left, but they still had a lot of clients. They wouldn’t need to get rid of people.

Tina stretched her neck, first to the left, then to the right. She breathed out and tried to focus. She had to figure out how to get ahead of Javier. She wasn’t going to let him come in and ruin her. Tina Jackson didn’t play that.

* * *

Tina was deep in thought about the best way to market one of the new accounts she’d  received from Mark. He’d told her again he was in her corner and that he wanted her to succeed. And this account, from the old VP, Rick, was a pretty big one. If Mark trusted her with it, then she at least had an ally. And that meant she just needed to take a deep breath and focus. Nikki had been right, as usual. They were just covering their basis. She just needed to keep her nose to the grindstone for six months and she’d be a shoo-in. Mark was on her side.

Just then, there was knock on the door.

“Come in,” she said to the door, not looking up from her computer screen

“Hey,” she heard. The voice was quiet, but just as silky smooth as last night.

Tina pursed her lips and looked up.

 “Got a minute?” Javier asked, flashing his dimples.

She wanted to smack him upside his head. Instead, she smiled and said, “Come on in and have a seat. Just be sure to close the door.”

Javier shut the door and then sauntered over. Yes, a real saunter! A lean, a swagger about him that said he was all that and a bag of chips. She watched wordlessly as he placed himself in the cushy chair on the opposite side of her desk. She’d picked the chairs to make clients comfortable. Only, she wished now the seats were hard and unpleasant.

He grinned, leaned in, and raised a brow. “It’s crazy that you work here,” he said. “I had no idea last night.”

A lie, she thought. He’s leading with a lie to keep me off balance. “I know I didn’t have any idea you were going to work here. I can’t imagine what your father sees objectionable about working for Taylor and Thompson.”

He sat up a little straighter, seeming stung by her tone. “He’s just old fashioned.”

“In that he doesn’t like marketing? Prefers people discover businesses on their own?”

Javier shook his head, his smile turning into a pensive, thin line. “No, he’s just about hard work. Working your way up from the bottom. He thinks anyone that doesn’t start as a dishwasher or in the mail room, isn’t right for the post.”

She stared at him pointedly. “You didn’t start as a dishwasher?”

Javier chuckled, a genuine one, his head tipping backward. “In fact, when I worked for my father, I did.” He sighed. “But, here, I didn’t start at the bottom. I have experience, of course. Like Ben said at the meeting, I’ve spent five years in New York at Duluth & Parker. The fact that we’re related has nothing to do with anything.”

Tina raised an eyebrow. Related? “I’m sorry, who are you related to?”

Javier stared at her a minute and then, in an epiphany, he said. “You were late. Ben is my mother’s brother.”

She took a moment to work that out in her head. “You mean he’s your uncle?”

Javier nodded.

“Uncle Ben,” she said and couldn’t help but chuckle. “Like the rice.” She imagined Ben in a straw hat, hunched over rice paddies in a field, like the image on the old boxes of rice. That was something she would love to see.

Javier didn’t speak at first. Then he forced a smile and said, “I wanted to talk to you a bit about the layout here,” he said. “I’ve been talking to some of the other people, and everyone says you’re the nicest, most helpful person to talk to about stuff. And that you’re on top of everything, really connected.”

Tina nodded, and tried to keep the wisp of a smile planted on her face.

“I was wondering if maybe we could grab lunch, discuss how things work, any pitfalls I need to know.”

Tina stood. “Javier,” she said, her voice saccharine. “You know why I was excited last night, why I had to get to bed early?”

He shook his head.

“Because I was supposed to be promoted to VP this morning. Only, when I got here, I’m told by Mark Thompson that you have been hired and the VP search is on hold. I’m guessing, since Uncle Ben brought you in, he wants you to have that VP slot. Well, guess what? You can’t have it,” she said thrusting a finger at him. “If you want help, you better go chitchat with Uncle Ben over a rice bowl. You won’t find it here. Now please leave my office. If you want help with anything, and anyone suggests me, then you need to find an alternative. Goodbye.”

Javier stood, wide-eyed and fish-mouthed. He didn’t move, so Tina walked around the desk and headed straight to the door. She opened it, turned to Javier, smiled and waved him out. “Thanks for stopping by.”