Joanna Armstrong sat at her desk staring out of her spacious corner office window. The crisp white cuffs of her white blouse folded over the sleeves of her tailored, pin-striped designer suit and her long nyloned legs were adorned with a pair of red-soled black heels. She brushed a strand of light brown, shoulder-length, wavy hair away from her olive-skinned face as she picked up the phone.
“Ms. Armstrong, Mr. Dixon’s on his way in and he doesn’t look happy,” her assistant informed her in a concerned tone.
“Okay, thanks, Pam, it’s fine, just send him in,” Joanna replied, even though she was in no mood to deal with Miles.
Miles Dixon stormed through her office door, his face flushed and his dark green eyes glinting with anger. “Damn it, Joanna, Carrington’s gone too far this time, I will not be made a fool of by a second-year associate in my own company.”
“Calm down, Miles, sit down before you have a coronary. What the hell happened?”
Miles Dixon was not really a handsome man, yet he had a refined air about him that made you take a second look. He had inherited his partnership in the company when his sister had passed away four years earlier. Joanna Armstrong and Helen Klein wanted to buy him out but Miles had other ideas. He was an educated business man and insisted on becoming a working partner. His pompous air was irritating but the man could bring in business. The company had two successful offices: one in uptown Manhattan, which Helen Klein spearheaded, and the other in Los Angeles where an angry Miles Dixon now sat.
“I want her gone, Joanna; I don’t care how good she is,” Miles ranted as he unfolded the events of the last hour to a concerned Joanna.
“Pam, get me Riley Carrington, please,” Joanna asked her assistant in a cool tone over the intercom.
“Right away, Ms. Armstrong.”
Riley knew it was just a matter of time before she was summoned; she knew she had crossed the line with Miles and just hoped it wouldn’t cost her job. She loved working at the firm and hated to disappoint Joanna, but Miles could be such a jerk. Riley and another associate, Heather Blake, had been presenting Miles with the new ideas for a project for one of their regular clients and Miles was picking it apart. Riley and Heather thought it was a great concept, but Miles kept shooting it down, saying it had to be bigger and better. Riley finally snapped and made a comment that she thought was under her breath but apparently Miles and Heather heard it loud and clear. Heather tried to stifle her laugh but Miles was furious. “Get out, both of you!”
Everyone liked Riley. She had an innocence about her that was endearing and a boyish charm that you couldn’t help but love. However, it was her smart wit and mouth that often were the cause of her scrapes. Riley was not particularly tall at five foot six, but her slender frame and long legs made her look taller.
Riley nervously entered the reception area of Joanna Armstrong’s office. She glanced at Pam, who looked at her with a concerned expression. “Damn, Riley, what did you do this time? Miles is in there with Joanna and he’s pissed as hell!”
“I know, I screwed up,” Riley said with a grimace as she sat down on one of the waiting chairs in the reception area wringing her hands. She nervously ran one hand through her long brown wavy hair with a sadness in her usually glinting hazel eyes that Pam noticed from across the room.
She had really done it this time. What the hell was she thinking? Even though she hadn’t actually said the words, she had basically insinuated to Miles in her usual smart tone that he was compensating for the size of his penis by wanting everything bigger. A senior partner; God, she was so fired!
Riley could hear Miles shouting in Joanna’s office, then the beep of the intercom.
“Send her in, Pam.”
“Yes, Ms. Armstrong, right away. Okay, Riley, you’re up. Good luck, okay?” Pam said as she gave Riley the thumbs up sign.
“Thanks, Pam. Okay, be smart,” Riley said to herself softly as she knocked on Joanna Armstrong’s office door.
“Come,” she heard Joanna say in a sharp tone.
As Riley entered the office, Joanna looked at her coolly from behind her mahogany desk. Miles was seated in a chair on the other side, glaring at her with his arms crossed.
“Mr. Dixon, I want to sincerely apologize for my behavior earlier. I don’t know what I was saying and I truly would never intentionally say anything disrespectful to you. I respect your…”
Miles Dixon stood up and put up his hand to Riley. “Enough. Joanna, you need to discipline her,” he said, looking at his partner and pointing at Riley as he exited the office.
“Sit,” Joanna said curtly as she motioned Riley to a chair. “Well, at least you apologized to Miles, but give me one good reason why I shouldn’t terminate you, Riley? What the hell were you trying to pull, and bringing Heather into it as well? I like you, Riley, and your work is exceptional, but you have to keep your emotions in check. What you did this afternoon was inexcusable and I can’t just ignore it. You’ve done a few things in your time with the company but I’m not sure we can tolerate this.”
Riley’s heart sank as she looked down at her hands in her lap. “I know, I’m so sorry, Ms. Armstrong. I was just upset, Mr. Dixon was shooting down our design; it won’t happen again. Please don’t fire me!”
“Riley, I’ve always gone to bat for you, but you put me a difficult position and I’m not sure you can control your temper. Come back at four-thirty and you’ll have our decision.”
“Yes, Ms. Armstrong.” Tears pricked at her eyes as Riley exited Joanna’s office.
Joanna picked up the phone and called her best friend. “Hi, Helen, I’m glad I caught you, I thought you might be gone. I have a little problem here.”
Helen Klein sat in her uptown Manhattan office as the daylight slowly faded over Central Park.
“Oh, hey, Jo. Yes, we got the contract for Bencom so I’m still wrapping up a few things here, what’s up?”
“Riley Carrington is what’s up,” Joanna replied with a sullen tone.
“Oh, dear, what’s our little protégé done this time?”
“Well, pissed off Miles for one thing. I don’t know what to do with her,” Joanna replied with an air of resignation.
Joanna began telling Helen about the events of the afternoon that had Miles reeling. Helen listened, holding her glasses in her left hand, the tip of one temple resting studiously on her lip and a wide grin on her face.
“Oh, I would have loved to have seen his face. Jo, I know Miles can be a prick, but you need to control her. It sounds to me like some good old-fashioned discipline is in order,” Helen said in an amused tone.
“Oh, believe me, that was the first thing that came to mind, but I rather think HR would frown on that, don’t you?” Joanna replied sarcastically.
“Well, you need to get her under control, Jo; she can’t just go around insulting a senior partner. So what are you thinking, suspension?”
“Yes, I hate to do it because I know her finances are tight with her student loans, but she’s left me no choice. Miles wants her gone. It was all I could do to convince him she should stay.”
“I’m thinking, though.” Helen pondered on the other end of the line. “Maybe some time in New York might do her good. Andrea will be heading back to LA in a couple of months when she’s done with her detail and the apartment will be available. I could sure use her help here with the new client and it sounds like she needs to fly under Miles’ radar for a while. What do you think?” Helen asked.
“God, Helen, you’re a genius. I know Riley’s been talking about wanting to get out of LA, but I’m not sure we should be rewarding her because she screwed up? On the other hand, she’ll have a few months to get her act in gear. Yes, I’m thinking that could work and Miles will have no objection whatsoever!” Joanna said almost gleefully.
“Well, let me know how it goes with Ms. Carrington. I am going home and opening a good bottle of Pinot. It was a good day on the East Coast!” Helen announced with a smile.
“Yes, that’s great, Helen! Hey, thanks, and say hi to Kate for me; now go home, bye!”
Joanna hung up and dialed her HR manager. “Hi, Ken, I have an ER issue I need to deal with. Can you come to my office?”
“Yes, Ms. Armstrong, I heard, I’ll be right in.”
Ken Forester sat across from the desk in Joanna’s office. He had been with the company since they opened their doors over a decade ago and Joanna relied upon him for all the company’s human resources issues. He was tall and handsome in his late forties, distinguished by his dark hair with hints of silver and his soft-spoken voice.
“It’s pretty egregious, Joanna. I would support removal but I know Riley is a hard worker. It’s really up to you. If you think she can make it, then send her a message. Give her a seven-day suspension; that should wake her up!” Ken advised his boss in a serious tone. “Five days without pay might make her think about her conduct.”
Joanna had taken a chance on Riley when they hired her nearly two years ago. She hadn’t gone to the best school or maintained a great GPA. Her employment record was sporadic at best, but Joanna saw something in Riley that made her want to take a chance. She had a feistiness that Joanna liked and her concepts were different and innovative. Some of their biggest clients had begun to ask for her in person on new projects, but Riley Carrington had a free spirit.
With her elbows perched on her desk, Joanna looked down, closed her eyes, and rubbed her temples. “God, Ken, I know you’re right but I hate to do that to her; she has student loans. How about if we suspend her for five days? Then it would only be three days without pay and she would be back Monday?”
“Very well, Ms. Armstrong, I can have a letter ready for you in an hour. Do you want me to deliver it with you?”
“Yes, I think that would be best, Ken. Miles is still angry about this, but Riley’s not coming back here until four-thirty, so no hurry.”
“I’ll have it ready,” Ken said as he stood up, then he paused. “You know, Joanna, I’m glad you decided not to fire her. Things would be a lot less interesting around here without Riley Carrington!” he said with a grin as he exited the office.
“Yes, I think they would,” Joanna said slowly to no one, as a big smile found its way on her face.
Riley was a wreck by the time four-thirty rolled around. Her stomach was in knots as she sat nervously in the reception area of Joanna Armstrong’s office.
“Hey. Calm down; it will be okay,” Pam said, trying to comfort her.
Riley and Pam both jumped as the intercom beeped. “Send her in, Pam.”
“Yes, Ms. Armstrong,” Pam replied in a hushed voice.
Pam nodded her head to Riley with a wide-eyed attempt at encouragement. Riley stood up, walked to Joanna’s office door, and knocked quietly.
Ken opened the door. “Hey, come on in, Riley, and take a seat,” he said softly as he ushered her to a chair and sat down next to her.
She didn’t want to even make eye contact with Joanna across the desk and the silence for the next few seconds seemed deafening.
“Riley.” Joanna waited until Riley lifted her head to look at her. “I should terminate you for what you did today, but I’m going to give you one more chance.”
Riley exhaled in relief, hearing her own breath leaving her chest as she began to breathe again.
“I am, however, going to suspend you without pay for five days. I hope that will impress upon you the severity of your recent conduct and prevent it from happening again.”
“It won’t happen again, Ms. Armstrong, I promise, I’m sorry,” Riley said, trying to contain her emotions.
Ken handed her the suspension letter. “Riley, you need to read and sign this and you know we have a grievance process if you feel this is unjust, but I think…”
Riley cut Ken off. “No, Mr. Forester. It’s more than fair, considering my actions,” Riley said sadly as she read the letter.
She could feel tears threatening, so she signed the letter and handed it back to Ken, hoping to get the ordeal over with as quickly as she could.
“Do you have any questions, Riley?” Joanna asked softly.
“No, Ms. Armstrong,” Riley replied with as much of a stoic tone as she could muster.
“Very well, your suspension begins now and we will see you back here next Monday.”
“Yes, Ms. Armstrong.”
Riley quickly left the office and made eye contact with no one. She headed for her cubicle and picked up her bag and car keys from her desk. She could feel eyes on her and Heather made an attempt to talk to her, but Riley brushed her off and began an almost jog to the parking lot.
Riley didn’t know how to feel. She went through a gamut of emotions as she drove her Honda Civic back to her small apartment. She was relieved she still had her job, but embarrassed and angry wondering how she would make her payments this month.
She parked her car and headed into her apartment. It was a small one-bedroom on the outskirts of Redondo Beach. It was not much to speak of, but Riley had made it cozy and it was in a great neighborhood, which she could afford only because she did some property management work for the landlord. She contemplated whether to go for a run or go for a drink.
The latter appealed to Riley and she soon was sitting at the bar finishing her fourth beer. She stared at the paper in her hand as she took another long swig of her beer. Armstrong, Klein, Dixon and Associates was on the letterhead and she began to read its contents over again despite the fact she probably had it saved to memory by now, she’d read it so many times.
To: Riley Carrington, Advertising Associate
From: Joanna Armstrong, Senior Partner
Re: Notice of Five-Day Suspension
You are hereby notified that I am suspending you without pay for five calendar days for misconduct. Specifically…
Fuck, Riley said to herself as she slammed the paper down on the bar. How could she have been so stupid? She had landed herself a job at one of the most prestigious advertising firms and nearly got herself fired because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
“Rae, how ‘bout another beer?” Riley demanded impatiently.
“You can’t just sit here and drown your sorrows for five days, you know,” the bartender said with a sympathetic smile as she handed Riley another bottle.
“Well, fuck, Rae, read this shit!” Riley announced angrily as she read an excerpt from the letter. “‘Conduct unbecoming an Armstrong, Klein, Dixon employee.’ Well, fuck Miles Dixon and fuck Joanna Armstrong!” she ranted, chugging her beer.
“Hey, watch your mouth, miss! It seems to me, if you work at that hoity-toity company, you need to toe the line and learn to control that smart mouth of yours! And slow down; I don’t want to have to carry you out of here tonight! Oh, and FYI, your boss has been in here quite a bit lately with that girlfriend of hers, just so you know.”
Great, Riley thought, now my boss is hanging out in my bar!
The Other Left was one of the better women’s bars in town; it served great food on small plates and its clientele was mostly business women, which made for a friendly and familiar atmosphere. It was tastefully furnished and an eclectic collection of art hung on the walls. Rae and her partner Tracy had owned the bar even before Riley had started going there in grad school. Rae had kicked Riley out and cut her off on more than one occasion throughout the six years she had known her. Rae had taken to Riley instantly. She was smart and funny and usually in some kind of a pickle. Riley had a wild streak in her. She worked hard but played harder and she frequently found herself on the receiving end of a lecture from Rae.
At five foot nine with an athletic stature, Rae was an imposing woman. She had an infectious smile and steely green eyes and her short brown hair was always stylish and perfect. So much so that on her fiftieth birthday last year, Riley had thought it would be quite funny to give her a gift of many assorted hair products from gel to mousse to styling pastes. She had even managed to find a big spray can of Aqua Net. This had made Tracy howl with laughter, which had instantly earned her a sharp smack to her backside from Rae.
“Ow, grouchy, get a sense of humor,” Tracy had protested as she rubbed her stinging behind.
“Hmm, lucky you’re not mine or your behind would be stinging too, miss!” Rae had directed at Riley with a grin.
“Oh, lighten up. Happy birthday, old lady!” Riley had said with her trademark smirk, which had made Rae melt.
Tracy was Riley’s best friend and a free spirit just like Riley. She had red hair that could match her temper on occasion and she adored Rae. Tracy was fifteen years Rae’s junior, and there was no question who was the boss. In the relationship and the business, Rae was definitely in control.
“So what’s the new girlfriend like anyway?” Riley tried to ask casually.
Rae regarded Riley carefully. “She is drop dead gorgeous, legs forever, blond hair and blue eyes.”
“Figures,” Riley pouted.
“Why, you jealous?” Rae goaded.
“Yeah, right, she’s my boss and the bitch who just suspended me, remember?” Riley replied in an irritated tone.
Rae just smiled as she moved to tend to another customer. She knew Riley had a crush on Joanna Armstrong and understandably so, who didn’t; she was gorgeous, powerful, refined, and elegant.
“Okay, keys, miss. You’re not getting on that damn bike tonight,” Rae demanded as she saw Riley drain her fifth beer.
“Whatever,” Riley replied in a resigned tone.
“Uh oh, boss lady at two o’clock, Riley,” Rae said as she shifted to attend to her new customers.
“Fuck!” Riley said as she stole a glance behind her to see Joanna Armstrong and a gorgeous blonde enter the bar.
“I’m out,” Riley said to herself out loud as she stood up and made a break for the side door of the bar.
“Hi, Joanna, Cheryl, how are you doing, what can I get you?” Rae greeted her new patrons.
“Rae, was that Riley who just left?” Joanna asked Rae in a worried tone.
“Left, no, she’s… shit!” Rae swore as she turned to see an empty barstool where Riley had been sitting and a wad of bills on the bar in front of it.
“I guess you know what went on this afternoon. How many has she had, Rae?”
Rae held up a hand and extended all her digits. “Five!” as she tried to make a beeline for the exit after Riley.
Joanna caught her immediately. “Rae, let me deal with her; you have your bar to take care of.”
Rae was hesitant, but Tracy was inundated with food orders and she couldn’t just leave the bar.
“Okay, but make sure she doesn’t get on that bike!”
Joanna just gave her a thumbs up as she hurried out of the bar to the parking lot after Riley. Bike, what bike? she thought to herself.
Her question was answered when she saw Riley in the parking lot putting on a helmet next to a sparkling black and chrome motorcycle. Riley was in blue jeans, black boots, and a black leather jacket and for a moment Joanna just took in the sight until she saw Riley attempting to leave.
“Young lady, I swear to you if you get on that motorcycle, it will be the last thing you will want to sit on for the next few days!” Joanna exclaimed in an angry voice.
Joanna’s outburst initially made Riley jump, but all the alcohol she had consumed was like liquid courage.
“We’re not at work, you’re not the boss of me right now. Oh, and I’m suspended, remember?” Riley said boldly as she resumed trying to buckle the strap of her helmet.
Joanna stormed over to Riley and glared at her. “Get that helmet off now; you are not going anywhere on that bike in the shape you’re in!”
There was a long pause as the two regarded each other.
“Ms. Carrington, you have exactly two seconds to take off that helmet and hand me those keys!”
Riley had a moment of clarity and realized she was in no shape to drive her motorcycle. She didn’t want to damage it if she crashed. The new bike was her baby; she had only had it a few months.
“Fine,” Riley said as she took off her helmet and walked away.
“Riley, you are trying my patience. Now come with me and I will take you home!”
“And who the fuck said I’m ready to go home?” Riley slurred defiantly at Joanna.
Joanna took a deep breath. “You’re right, Riley, it is your decision. Let’s hope you make the right one!” Joanna declared as she turned around and strolled toward her Mercedes.
Riley immediately regretted what she said. “Shit!” she said to herself out loud. “Can this day get any worse?”
Riley leaned against the wall and slid down to the ground by her bike, putting her head in her hands. “Fuck, why am I always such an idiot?” she said as she slammed her fist behind her into the cement wall, which resulted in a sharp pain immediately searing through her hand, followed by red crimson liquid that ballooned on her knuckles.
Springing from her car after seeing what Riley had done, Joanna bent down and put her hands on Riley’s shoulders. Hey,” she said gently, “it’s been a long day. Let me take you home, okay?”
Riley didn’t respond; she just let Joanna guide her to stand and walk her to her car.
“Let me see your hand,” Joanna said in a concerned, gentle voice as Riley slid into the passenger seat holding her wounded extremity.
“It’s fine, really. I promise I won’t bleed over your Mercedes,” she said curtly.
Joanna ignored Riley, realizing it was futile trying to talk to her right now. She was angry and drunk and that did not make for a good mix. Instead she handed Riley a couple of tissues from her purse and started the car.
“A few more blocks, then make a right at Cliff,” Riley said in a pouty tone as she dabbed at her injured knuckles with the Kleenex.
Riley calmed down during the ride home; the hum of the Mercedes and the effects of the alcohol lulled her into a sedate state. Joanna pulled up outside Riley’s apartment.
“Thanks,” Riley said in an almost whisper as she tried to release her seatbelt.
“Wait,” Joanna said, turning off the car and gently reaching to hold Riley’s arm to prevent her exit. “We have a few things we need to discuss, Riley. I want you to come to my home office tomorrow and we can talk, okay?”
Riley was too exhausted to argue. “Okay.”
“Eight o’clock, here’s my address,” Joanna said, handing her a card. “It’s only about five minutes from here and don’t be late!”
“Ten four, boss lady!” Riley replied smartly as she closed the car door and walked with a slight sway to the door of her apartment.
Joanna just rolled her eyes and shook her head as she watched Riley make her way to the door of her apartment, and started the car back up. She heard the chirp of her phone in her purse and looked at the screen before she pulled out. “Cheryl! Shit, I left her at the bar!”