If By Chance
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"Dennis, you'll fill yourself up before dinner," my mom scolded me as I set the empty Coors bottle on the table and waved the waiter over to our table.
"Judy, let him be," my dad said, rolling his eyes. "He's a big boy. I'm sure he knows when he's had enough."
"Well he doesn't need to be drinking and driving," my mom countered, shooting my dad a look of disapproval.
"I'm driving tonight Mrs. Mead," Gerald said politely, a sweet smile spreading over his face as he addressed her. "I'm not much of a drinker."
"I wonder how much longer the food's going to take?" my dad griped, looking around for our waiter. "It seems like it's been forever since we ordered."
"Well the place is packed, Dan," my mom said. "I'm sure they're busy in the kitchen."
I'll admit that dinner with my mom and dad doesn't exactly top my list of desired activities, especially with my boyfriend. But they wanted to meet Gerald, and to be honest, I was a little excited about showing him off.
Of course, that didn't quell my anxiety about what he was going to think of them. I warned him in advance that they'd probably make a scene at some point in the restaurant, but he just laughed it off.
"I can't wait to meet them," he said with a grin. "If they're anything like you, I know I'm going to love them."
"We'll see," I said knowingly. "They're loveable people, until you get caught up in one of their fiascos, that is."
"They can't be that bad," he said in a dismissive tone, and all I could do was roll my eyes in response.
Truth be told, I love spending time with my mom and dad. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not out to go on vacation with them, or spend a Friday night with them or anything like that, but I definitely love our visits. Some people grow older gracefully, but not my parents. They stay busy, and with the passage of time, they fail to understand how out of the loop they've fallen since they went into retirement.
They actually aren't that old. Well, they're both facing sixty in a few years, but you wouldn't know it by the way they act. My dad's daily runs keep in him excellent shape, and my mom always has some kind of charity event that she's volunteering to work with. But for some reason, they don't seem to understand how they can be perceived by those who don't know them very well.
When my parents finally got cell phones, they thought they were the most technologically advanced people in their neighborhood. It was frustrating when I'd be visiting with them and one of their cell phones would go off. They'd answer, and for some reason, had this impression that everyone in the room wanted to hear them carry on a conversation with the person on the other end of the line.
The only problem was, neither one of them had a cell phone until 2005.
I didn't have the heart to tell them that they were making spectacles of themselves, and silently prayed that they weren't being rude out in public with their newfound toys. Then they both got I-pod Nanos and it started all over again. They both walked around with those silly wires hanging out of their ears, trying to look hip as they danced to whatever Barbra Streisand or Barry Manilow song they'd downloaded from the I-tunes store online.
I do have to admit that sitting at a table inside of Joe's Crab Shack was a much better place to be than the alternative. Originally, my mom wanted to cook for us, but my dad immediately put the kibosh on that.
"Dear, he wants us to meet his boyfriend, not give him food poisoning," he said impatiently when she announced that she'd cook dinner for us.
"That's enough out of you," she warned him, but I knew she got the message. "We'll buy you guys' dinner, then. Where do you want to eat, honey?"
"Anywhere you want to go is fine with me," I told her, leaning forward and giving her a kiss on the lips to let her know that I appreciated her efforts, even if I did feel a little insulted by both her and my dad just a few moments before.
It's a funny thing about my parents. No matter what problem I'm facing, I know I can go to them for help. Whether it's for money, emotional support or just some good advice, I have a place to turn. And after Alana's visit to my home over the weekend, I knew I was in over my head and needed a helping hand.
I know I never have to call ahead before I visit my mom and dad, but I do anyway. Mainly, I do it because they're so active and I never know what they're up to and when they'll be home. As soon as I called my dad and said that I needed to talk to him, though, he told me to come right over, and that's what I did.
When I got there, I spilled my guts. My mom and dad sat by while I went on about Peter, what he tried to make me do, and what I wound up doing. I told them about my meeting with him at The Waffle House, and what he said. I heard my dad sigh when I admitted that I had second thoughts about the meeting but showed up anyway, and I knew what he was thinking. Still, he verbalized it anyway.
"Son, you should have called me when all of this started," he said. "I'll tell you something else, Dennis. You shouldn't have met him anywhere without a witness."
"Honey you need an attorney," my mom said. "You have to worry about protecting yourself first."
"Dennis, you're mother's right," my dad said. "If you don't do another thing, you need to tell a lawyer everything you just told us. If nothing else, you need to cover your ass."
"Are you sure there wasn't anything you might have noticed before this all happened?" my mom asked me in a cautious tone, and from the look she was giving me, I knew what she really meant.
"Mom, I'm positive," I said defensively, feeling a little attacked, even if it wasn't intentional on her part. "I'd never do something stupid like that."
"Okay sweetie," she said, resting her hand on my shoulder. "Your father and I don't think that at all. I just want you to think back as far as you can and be sure."
"There's nothing," I said confidently. "If there were, I'd have done this a long time ago."
"Then you have nothing to worry about, son," my dad said. "I have someone I want you to see. He's the best compliance attorney in the state. Let me call him and I'll make sure he takes care of you."
"Dad I can get a lawyer," I scoffed, but he raised his hand to silence me.
"Let your father make the call," my mom said in an encouraging tone as my dad got up to walk to the phone. "While he's calling, why don't you tell me about Gerald?"
And so it went. While my dad was on the phone, I told my mom all about the man in my life. I told her how I hired him, and how his house had burnt to the ground. I mentioned that he was staying with me, and that I really felt like I was falling in love. Then, in a short, subtly placed run on sentence, I mentioned his age.
"Twenty-two?" my mom exclaimed. "Honey, no offense, but isn't that a tad young?"
"I'm not exactly an old man, ma," I reminded her, and she smiled and nodded her head in agreement.
"I understand that, Dennis," she said. "But do you really think it's fair for him to spend his early twenties in a relationship?"
"If that's what he wants, then yes," I countered.
"Does he know what he wants yet?" she asked me pointedly, and I suddenly found myself wanting our conversation to end.
"Dear, that's not up to anyone but Dennis and Gerald to decide," my dad cut in, walking back to the couch with a piece of paper in his left hand.
"I'm just saying," mom said, but my dad just rolled his eyes.
"Look, Dr. Ruth," he said sarcastically, giving me a knowing wink. "The boy's in his thirties now. I think he's a big enough boy to know what's good for him."
When we got out of the car, my mom and dad were waiting. I parked right beside them and when I got out, I gave them both hugs. Gerald sheepishly made his way around to my side of the car and looked like he was prepared to shake hands with my folks.
That was his first mistake.
When my mom and dad greet people, unless they're professional relations, they almost never do it with a handshake. No, my mom and dad are devout huggers, and no sooner had the thought crossed my mind when my I heard my mom tell him, "We don't shake hands in this family. We hug."
With that, she wrapped her arms around my boyfriend and hugged him lovingly, as if she'd known him his entire twenty-two years. When they broke their hug, my dad was waiting to wrap a friendly arm around his shoulders and give him a firm squeeze and a smile before releasing him. Gerald was bright red by the time he found the comfort of my arm around his waist, but he gave no outward appearance of being uncomfortable. As we walked up to the entrance of the restaurant, my mom grabbed my other arm and brought a smile to my face by whispering into my ear, "He's gorgeous. I think you should keep him."
"You look great babe," Gerald said, planting a kiss on my cheek as we stood side by side in the mirror. "Are you nervous?"
"Not really," I fibbed with a grin that emanated from the touch of his lips on my skin, even if it was only for a split second. "This is something I always dread doing, but it happens every year. I guess all I can do is get through the day and hurry home to you."
"I love you," he said, straightening his tie and examining his complexion closely in the mirror.
"I love you too sweetie," I said, grabbing his chin and turning his face my way for a goodbye kiss. "I'll see you at the office today."
With that, he walked me to the front door, where my briefcase was waiting. He smiled and handed it to me with one last kiss, sending me on my way to face the board of directors, who had descended on our area for a day of meetings and forecasting. It was nothing new for me, but being stuck in a boardroom with a group of stiffs who talked to Peter, Robin, Alana and I as if we were children always gave me a sour stomach.
It was definitely always as bad as I expected it to be, and somehow I knew that enduring a meeting with the board would be even harder this year because of what was going on. At least, it was still going on as far as I was concerned. Peter came back, just like he said he would, and after a long conversation with Alana, I knew that nothing had changed. As a matter of fact, if anything, my talk with her only confirmed what I thought, and I was at a difficult crossroad.
"If you'd like to tender your resignation, I'll accept it right now," she told me in a matter of fact tone when I relayed my concerns to her. It was almost as if I were talking to a someone I didn't know, someone I had never met before. I was sure she had her reasons, but I didn't even want to consider what they might have been.
In fact, if there was one thing I took away from my unplanned meeting with Alana in my den at home, it was that I needed to watch out for myself. Of course, in the back of my mind, I knew that I'd have to keep an eye on how they treated Gerald, too, even if he was completely removed from the situation. They knew about us, and as long as there was an us, his job was in as much danger as mine.
That just irked me. I mean, here's someone who works his butt off for the company, and he always volunteers to take work home with him. Of course, I'd never have it. He punches a clock, and until they make him an exempt, salaried employee with the handsome compensation package that every other salaried person in our office was given, he was not to work off the clock. As a matter of fact, no hourly employee under me would ever be asked to do something like that,
It wouldn't be ethical.
I guess, though, that ethics didn't mean a whole hell of a lot anymore. Not to Peter or Alana, or to any of the board members who I would have the displeasure of interacting with all day. Thinking about the very first thing I'd be subjected to, right from the onset, made what was going on in our company an even bigger joke.
"Peter, would you like to recite the mission statement this morning?" Alana said, more than asked. Pete stood up and cleared his throat before starting, and as he spoke, his words pieced my eardrums like a sharp knife. How could he bring himself to facilitate such a fraud? He couldn't have believed a word of what he was saying.
The lines he recited about ethics, and bringing value to our shareholders and honor to the communities we did business in was a crock, and I knew it. He knew it too, because he gave me a halfway guilty glance when he was finished, but he quickly rebounded and smiled smugly at the board members as we all took our seats.
The meeting adjourned at 4:30, just in time for me to go back to my office, check my voicemail and email, and shut my PC down so I could go home. I was sick to my stomach, especially when I considered the fact that all of my hard work, reconciling statements and appropriating funds, filing legal forms and sealed bids on government contracts were all a farce. There was nothing lawful; at least as far as I was concerned, about the corporation I loved.
"State Farm called," Gerald said in a quiet tone as the trees whizzed past us at 50 miles an hour. "They said I can find another place anytime I'm ready."
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and took a deep breath before I put my foot on the brake to apply a little bit of pressure as we approached an upcoming stoplight. I'd been waiting for this moment for weeks, wondering what would happen when the fateful call finally came from Gerald's insurance adjuster. I tried not to let it show, but I really didn't want him to go. I turned to smile at him, but I knew he could see the despair in my eyes.
I had to say something.
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