Welcome to book Three of the William Carter series, this one is entitled Carter's Duty.
Holy hate mail and death threats batman LOL
Seriously, I know the first chapter of the last installment was hard on my faithful raiders... it was intended that way.
Now in the next installment I expand abit on that and explain it.
remember the characters are now in thier mid twenties and dealing with modern life issues. not all of lifes situations are good ones. It's about how we choose to deal with them, and its about the people we surround ourselves with.
I want you to email me feed back if you are not enjoying this.
Comments or questions direct to email@example.com. Feed back is welcome.
"Don't go!" Andrew repeated slipping his hands into his battered leather jacket and affixing those hurt eyes on Will's face.
Will stood stock still, one hand holding onto his tickets, the other his carry on bag. He stood there for an eternity, torn between what he knew was right, and what he felt was very wrong.
Andrew's puzzled expression eased slightly seeing the distress Will was in. What ever had driven him to this action... this utterly insane choice, he was suffering for it. And every instinct inside of Andrew made him want to sweep the man he loved up into his arms and protect him.
But protect him from what?
"H-how-?" Will managed as his eyes filled with tears, a man of twenty five reduced to tears by the weight of everything crashing down upon him at once.
Andrew took a step forward and pulled Will into an embrace drawing him against his chest, there was so much he wanted to say, so much he could say but nothing he could say would help right then...except...
"I love you." He stated firmly, "Even if you are an idiot some times."
"I-I know..." Will managed dropping the bag as his arms went around Andrew's waist, "I don't know what to do..."
"Excuse me, sir..." The stewardess was hesitant to interrupt, she gave Andrew a sympathetic look, "But if you are going then you have to get on the plane..."
"He's not going..." Andrew said resolutely.
"I have to." Will stated with a sniff as he stepped out of the embrace and picked up his bag, "I wasn't given a choice, I have to."
Andrew stared at him, and then up at the boarding ramp, "What's going on?" He asked again, desperately.
Will shook his head, the pain already seeping into his every action. He was being torn apart and he knew it, but he didn't have a choice he had to go. He bent down and picked up his bag, and closed his eyes to the pain as he turned to walk to the boarding ramp.
Andrew stood in quiet shock staring up at the doors as the stewardess moved to close them.
"Stop!" Brody yelled out, his long strides covering the distance to the lounge, grabbing Andrew by the arm as he ran, holding up a pair of tickets to the stewardess and flashing his passport so fast they didn't have a chance to looks at it properly.
"What?" Andrew asked in surprise as he found himself all but dragged onto a Boeing 747 destined to cross the Atlantic.
"Do you really think,' Brody panted, "I am going to let Carter get away with..." He held up a finger to catch his breath, "pulling a stunt like this?"
Everyone on the plane was staring back at the two of them as a Stewardess took their tickets and showed them to their seats. Will staring in utter shock as the two of them were seated on either side of him on the plane.
Brody smiled and winked at the stewardess as he buckled his seatbelt turning to Will beside him, he reached up to cuff his swiftly to the back of his head, "idiot do you realize how much you just cost me?"
Will ignored the blow as he slumped into his seat, "Why are you doing this?"
"I think I'm the one who should be asking that question." Andrew stated as he stared at his seatbelt in confusion and looked questioningly at Brody, who demonstrated to him with an exasperated sigh at hockey players.
Will deflated like a burst balloon, as he rested his head back on the seat and stared up at the baggage compartment above him, "I don't have a choice, work... reassigned me."
"They reassigned you?" Andrew asked, confused as to how that could possibly lead to Will getting on a plane without so much as a word to him.
"I fucked up." Will said, letting his head roll to the left so that he could see Andrew clearly, "I fucked up and they screwed me."
"Ok," Andrew said feeling the plane begin to taxi for a take off, and he had that momentary sensation of panic as he realized this was his first time on an airplane. "That still doesn't explain why you didn't try to talk to me."
"H-how did you find out?" Will asked hesitantly.
"You're assistant Alicia, she thinks the world of you and called me before she picked you up." Andrew folded his arms, "Strange as this may sound Carter, you do have friends that care about you. And even stranger, you have a boyfriend that loves you."
"I-I didn't want to hurt you." Will stated firmly, "I thought if I just left it would be easier..."
"You remember when you first tried that tactic on me?" Andrew said looking at him sternly, "It was when we first started dating and you thought you were protecting me by pushing me away... it didn't work then and it isn't going to work now."
Will sighed a ragged sigh, "It's just so screwed up."
"So," Andrew said resting a hand on Will's, "We have a seven hour flight, you have plenty of time to explain it to me."
Will found himself out on the balcony with Rafik and Jeff while little Peter and the girls discussed the bridal arrangements. Andrew and Jared had made a run to the beer store which left the three men who remained in an uncomfortable silence as they stared across the road at the retirement home that sat opposite Will's house. Both Will and Rafik realized what was to come. The age-old ritual that men performed just before one of them got married. It was considered the ultimate sacrifice of a friend, to be named best man.
Jeff was unusually shy as he hesitated to ask. Normally he would have just come right out and made the offer like he had the first time he had announced a date shortly after Lisa had accepted the engagement. Both of his friends had already agreed to act as witnesses, but that had been more from courtesy than from actual commitment. When Jeff asked again things were different; they would actually have to go through with it. They would have to stand witness to the union.
Though, Will grinned, least he wouldn't get stuck in a tangerine bridesmaids dress...
"I need you guys to stand for me..." he managed after a short pause. It was a simple request, short and direct. Like Jeff was himself, to the point.
Will had found himself nodding almost before he had known what he had been doing. It was an automatic response that committed him to help plan the event. He wanted to second-guess his decision immediately, but it was too late to back out of it now. He was committed, with all the responsibility that went along with it. So instead he simply grinned, happy to do it for a friend.
Jeff grinned happily as he clapped Will about the shoulder and he turned to Rafik.
Will immediately picked up on Rafik's unease, and he felt his heart sink for Jeff. Rafik was many things, but considerate wasn't one of them.
"I can't, man," he shook his head and extended his hands helplessly, "I've got a deadline this week. I'll be lucky to get Wednesday off at all. Look, I'm sorry."
It was a feeble excuse at best and it utterly crushed Jeff. A few simple words had robbed him of his earlier happiness. His plans for the perfect day that he had dreamt of for the past five years would have to be rethought because of his best friend's selfishness.
Jeff didn't say a word as he wandered back into the house, his shoulders sagged and his head bent.
Will watched him leave and rounded on Rafik. He knew Rafik well; they had known each other since school, and out of all of them, Will was the only one who knew Rafik well enough to understand him. Even then only Lisa seemed to know him better, but that was because of an abortive relationship that had gone horribly wrong. And their friendship, however strained, still allowed Will an edge when it came to figuring out Rafik's motives.
"You upset him." Will stated the obvious; it was the best way to start a conversation with Rafik.
"I can't help it," Rafik had gone back to leaning over the balcony as he took the time to light a cigarette. That was always a bad sign; Farah detested his smoking habit. She had imposed a rigid rule that he quit shortly after the wedding, and for him to risk taking a smoke with her in the house was a good sign of how upset he was.
Rafik always kept a pack of cigarettes at Will's. He and Jared used Andrew as an excuse to get together at the house to watch a hockey game and smoke. Not that Will minded, he tolerated the intrusion but refused to join their habit. He found it simply humorous that his home was a refuge, the last outpost of testosterone where his friends could find safe haven from the storm of estrogen in their lives. Ironic considering it was the home of two gay man.
Rafik seemed to believe that as long as he didn't own a packet of cigarettes and simply "borrowed" from Jared, he didn't smoke. The fact that he paid for the cigarettes and lit up more frequently than Jared did was beside the point. He flatly denied being a smoker.
"So work is more important than your best friend's wedding?" Will asked as he joined him at the rail.
Rafik seemed to grow more uncomfortable, as if he was choosing how much to say and finally he caved. "I'm invoking the roommate clause."
The roommate clause was an age-old bond of trust that went back to when they had shared an apartment with Jeff back when Will had first returned to Ottawa after graduating from Kings university. Those were the days in a cramped Sandy Hill apartment, of Kraft dinners, and of the mistakes that came with being out in the world for the first time. It was a mutual promise that whatever was discussed between roommates stayed between roommates and was usually reserved for those sacred conversations, the one that could land a roommate in serious trouble. Will had invoked it a few times over the years, usually when he confided a secret about Andrew.
"We're not roommates anymore," Will reminded as he leaned on the balcony, "but I can make an exception this once, what's on your mind, old man?"
"I'm serious, man," Rafik stressed as he took another drag on his cigarette; he was uncharacteristically anxious for some reason.
"Alright," Will said as he grew more serious. He watched as Jared and Andrew rounded the top of the street on their return trip; they carried a two-four between them and laughed at something or other. Will looked over at Rafik and waited.
"I don't think they're in love." He admitted slowly, "Not enough to get married, I don't want to be a part of it."
Will was incredulous; Rafik could be highly hypocritical at times and opinionated about it as well. When he chose to be stubborn on an issue he often refused to be moved even after the facts his opinion had been based upon had been disproved. He tried to cover it by choosing his stances carefully, but when he refused to take part in a marriage simply because he believed there was no love involved... He obviously didn't spend enough time in front of the mirror.
Will decided not to call him on that fact, it would be counterproductive, instead he decided to probe the conversation, "Alright, I suppose I now have to ask you why you think that?"
"She doesn't love him," Rafik said as he flicked the ash off of the balcony and onto the driveway below. Will ignored the fact that the ash fell on his Jeep. Rafik was distracted after all. Not that it mattered; Rafik often didn't care about the effects of his actions.
"Marriage is about love," he continued after a moment, "and from the way Lisa complains about him...She hates his temper," he explained, "she wants to date women, there is always something she wants to leave him over, and now they're getting married? It's hypocritical." He angrily flicked the butt of his cigarette out into the street and reached for another one.
Again Will bit back a sharp retort, he had to be diplomatic. "Well," he said after a moments thought, "I'm going to support them whatever they choose to do."
Rafik rolled his eyes in exasperation, "I'll be at the wedding," he lit his second cigarette in an awkward way, "I just can't witness for it. It would be wrong to do it when I don't believe they should be doing it in the first place."
"Fair, I suppose." Will said after a moment, he could see Rafik's point; the young Saudi took things too seriously sometimes. To stand before God and say he believed in a marriage when he obviously didn't would be too much for him.
Will however had no such compunction. He had his own agreement with the Almighty. It was an agreement to disagree on virtually everything, but it was a workable relationship. God agreed to throw obstacles into the road of life and Will chose to stick his finger up at religion in return. It was a mutual understanding that since Will was damned to hell anyway he could curse God as much as he wanted to along the way.
"Hey, buddy!" Jared called up to Will as he and Andrew turned into the driveway. The two were old friends; they had been teammates back on the high school hockey team. That friendship only seemed to grow stronger over time. They were both Sen's fans, and with their team set to go to the Stanley Cup finals that year, they were almost inseparable. Will supposed he could have been jealous that he didn't share that connection to Andrew, a common interest would have gone a long way to ease the relationship tension between them. But Will couldn't get his head around the great Canadian game.
Sure he had a healthy foreigner's interest in the sport. Which was to say he didn't understand it at all. Even after eight years of being in the country, he still couldn't tell one play from another, or even grasp the basic concepts of how it was played. He wondered at Andrew, he was a complication indeed. No one else had ever managed to make him sit down to experience a hockey game. Will couldn't get through a single period without boredom, but he still felt as though he should try.
He glanced back at Rafik; a truly unhappy individual lay beneath the man's exterior. A man who, despite all the material things he had in his life, couldn't find a shred of happiness. Not because he deserved it, but he ignored it completely when it came to him. He was a creature designed to work. In a loveless marriage set to have children he didn't particularly want. He hid behind material wealth with the urge to escape but steadfastly refusing to run.
And for once Will didn't envy the ideal job or the nice car. At least he was still able to enjoy life. That spark of life he kept inside him enabled him to put one foot in front of the other and face the day with hope. Rafik didn't have that; he was dead inside and miserable. Farah had seen to that.
"We should go back inside." Will commented.
"Sure," Rafik replied as he tossed his half finished cigarette aside and popped a super mint into his mouth. He followed Will back to the party.
June 8th 2003
Will had to escape; his peace and quiet on a suburban Ottawa Sunday morning had been shattered. Somehow, his responsibility as the best man had meant that his home was now Groom Central. Jeff and Lisa shared a small apartment down in centre town. Lisa had occupied that space with her own preparations, and it had fallen to Will to provide space for Jeff to do his.
Will's living room had become a mess of piled magazines as Jeff planned the wedding of his dreams. Ordinarily Will would have found it strange that Jeff had to plan the details, but Jeff seemed content to root through catalogs and glossy brochures for just the right style. But if Will heard one more question about a wedding from a gay man's point of view, he would scream.
It took a lot to drive Will out of his home on a Sunday morning. Many had tried to accomplish that feat and failed. From his religious Grandmother who had attempted to save his soul to overtly ambitious supervisors at the den of evil he called work who truly believed that just because they scheduled him to work on a Sunday he might actually turn up.
No; Sunday mornings were reserved for lounging on the couch to watch mindless television or to play video games with parental warnings on them. He also only usually bothered with the most simplistic preparations on a Sunday morning, throw on some clothes and stumble to the couch. That Sunday however, he had been turfed out of bed at nine sharp by Jeff who had called to get his advice. Now he stood there, fully showered, dressed and painfully awake. He even cradled a cup of Andrew's coffee in his hand. Today, he had decided, was already shaping up to be a rough day.
Much to the amusement of his friends, Will was grumpy, alternating between being annoyed at the fact that he was up and about before noon on a Sunday, or that he had been expected, simply due to the fact that he was gay, to have an opinion on style and good taste. Everyone took it with a grain of salt, they knew he was only grumbling for the sake of it.
He had been staring down from the kitchen at Little Peter half buried in fashion magazines, holding up fabric samples to get his opinion on them. Will stared blankly at the choices. Supposedly he was supposed to have an opinion, but he honestly not seeing a difference between swan white, Ivory white and Arctic white.
Will desperately sought to avoid such stereotypes. He was fashionably sensitive; he knew what looked good, what stores to shop at and what colour went with what. But as for being trendy, stylish and a slave to brand names, Will had no time for that. Andrew wasn't much help either; he had been brought up on a farm in middle of Nowhere, Ontario, a hockey player and a university grad student, a combination that yielded a lot of rugby tops, cargo pants and Doc Martins. It was only a matter of time until the fashion police broke down the door and demanded their wardrobe come quietly.
Even Peter, who for a young gay man had his own distinct style that would hardly be called fashionable. The mixture of brightly coloured Hawaiian shirts and Khaki shorts really was distinctly him but outside of that, no one Will knew would be caught dead in them.
It was when they started to talk floral arrangements that Will realized he desperately had to escape for a while. Go for a drive with the windows rolled down and the Bear blasting out of the radio. Jeff was so engrossed in his magazines that he probably wouldn't notice Will had slipped out. That was a vain hope at best, so Will ran through about a dozen possible excuses in his head before he settled on one.
"I'm going to go grab coffee from Timmy's." he said as he made a break for the stairs, but had only managed a step before he realized that both Jeff and Andrew had turned to stare at him. It took him a moment to realize that they didn't stare at him, more at the coffee mug still in his hand. He knew his excuse wouldn't hold water so he had to think quickly. "Doughnuts," he said in desperation, "I haven't eaten breakfast yet."
Andrew quirked an eyebrow, he knew Will hated to eat breakfast. Coffee, sure, but anything more than a piece of buttered toast Will usually avoided. It came from growing up with a father who had insisted that the only healthy breakfast was oatmeal, plain, with only the lightest touch of sugar. Oatmeal that was usually prepared the night before and left to congeal overnight until it was thick enough to stand on; served every day, it was enough to put anyone off breakfast for life.
"Can you get me a Boston Cream?" Andrew asked, and Will was thankful he hadn't blown his cover story.
"Jelly doughnut!!" Peter demanded with a grin as he fished through another magazine, holding up a magazine to show Jared, helpful as ever.
Will laughed at them as he shook his head, realizing he was having an entirely too masculine reaction to the whole wedding preparations. He tossed a wave to them and with that he was free. And once he was safely in his Jeep and able to speed away from the wedding insanity, he relaxed. Will loved to drive; it was one of the few pleasures he had left that allowed him to let off steam. He could weave the jeep through the Sunday drivers and curse little old ladies as he did so. Not to mention the soccer moms with their oversized SUV's that could probably transport an entire team and still have room for all their equipment as well.
He had never been trendy enough to buy one of them himself. Jared had tried to sell him an SUV back when he had worked at the dealership. Will had gotten as far as to test-drive a bright flashy model, but immediately compared it to a tank. And the first thing he had passed was the ESSO station on his way out of the lot -- the gas prices had convinced Will to invest in a smaller Jeep. At least with the Jeep he wouldn't have to mortgage the house every time he wanted to fill the tank. Jared had complained for months afterwards about the loss of an SUV commission, but in the end Will had bought him a two four to make it up to him.
He needed to find a bit of peace from the wedding madness, and he considered a brief stop at Rafik's. But that would have been almost as stressful as if he had remained at home. To enter Farah's domain of his own free will made him shudder. She was remarkably territorial, and even though she played nice when she was a guest of the Saturday night movie ritual, in her own home she would have no such compunction to even pretend. Rafik wouldn't bring up the wedding, but Will would be trading one set of stresses for another. No, nothing was worth Farah's wrath, so he would avoid there as well.
Jared and Kerry's wouldn't be a battleground. But Will often found there was only so much of Kerry he could take, her enthusiasm annoyed him and he had taken a full dose the night before. Besides the fact that she was decidedly pro-wedding she was also markedly over-enthusiastic. Too much time with children had inhibited her social skills to the point where every word she said sounded like she was addressing eight-year-olds. No he chose to avoid there as well.
There was probably only one place in the entire city where Will could safely avoid wedding euphoria completely.
Lisa opened the door and abruptly tried to shut it again on him until she caught sight of the Tim Horton's cup in his hand and the sly grin on his face. There was something about a British immigrant who stood on her doorstep grinning in a very self-satisfied manner and who bore a large coffee prepared just the way she liked it.
Will offered her the cup and stepped inside the apartment and continued to smile at her. It was the smile of a cat that had just discovered it had swallowed a canary. He had indeed guessed correctly Lisa's place met all of the criteria he had looked for. He ignored her look of aggravation at having been disturbed as he slumped on her couch.
"I figured I'd escape the madness for awhile before Jeff had me trying on wedding dresses." He looked at the television and smiled: Sunday morning cartoons, the staple of the kind of Sunday morning enthusiasts who, like himself, sought to avoid the numerous religious and golf programs that cluttered up the airways. It seemed that television executives still couldn't work out that most of the people at home on a Sunday couldn't care less about old men on grass or old men who wanted to trade salvation for a cut of a paycheque. They had a captive audience, bored out of their minds, and rather than seek to entertain them they bored them even further.
"Oh, that's ok." Lisa replied as she settled into a chair and happily opened her cup, "You brought coffee so I'll forgive you."
"I've been well trained," he responded with a long sigh as he sat for a moment and watched Bugs Bunny blow up Elmer Fudd.
Lisa took the bait, "You said you're escaping?" she asked as she curled her legs up into her dressing gown and looked at him. "He hasn't stopped talking about the wedding plans since we decided on a date. I got so sick of him that I told him I needed the apartment to myself to do some planning of my own. I didn't mean to set him on you."
She wasn't sorry, and Will didn't really mind. Jeff was happy and Lisa had her peace and quiet. He had actually gotten over the fact that it was still way before noon on a Sunday, and that his house had been turned upside down by the groom. It was a good-natured frustration, and he was happy just to relax and enjoy his coffee.
He decided to change the topic since neither of them seemed enthusiastic to talk about the wedding, "So how's work?"
Lisa laughed, "It's ok, my boss decided to move my office closer to his so I'm now sharing with his secretary and an intern." She didn't sound displeased. Lisa worked hard for Mr. Avery; out of all of them she had spent the longest time at school, only to complete it and realize that it wasn't what she wanted to do. She had stumbled into her current job after she had applied for positions across the city. It was a stroke of luck that Robert Avery had found her, taken her under his wing and shown her how to excel at her work. She had some high profile performers who sought her advice on public relations, among them Delia Anders who had just won a major record contract thanks to Lisa's efforts.
It sounded like she enjoyed the thrill of her work. Will wished he had been that lucky.
"I'm dreading tomorrow," he admitted, "The board of directors are going to be inspecting the call centre and I have been told to keep my employees on their best behaviour."
Will was officially a Human Resources manager in an outbound call centre. It was a thankless position in which he had to play manager, best friend and vice-principal to a hundred and fifty employees. Most days the zoo he called an office was bearable only after he consumed a couple of Advil, but tomorrow would stretch even his patience as he struggled to keep order under the watchful gaze of a dictatorial manager and a board of directors that decided once every few months to feign interest in the day-to-day operation of the business they ran. He dreaded it as usual.
"You should seriously find a new job," Lisa said sympathetically, "I could ask around for you. I know Mister Avery was looking for someone with your skill set."
Will shrugged, "Go nuts, I just know that things are going to get worse as we get out of the summer months."
"Sounds like you're busy," Lisa sounded almost hopeful as she picked at the lid of her coffee, "Are you sure you can get Wednesday off?"
Will knew better than to give her the excuse she hoped for, he shrugged, "I can authorize my own time off, the advantage of running HR."
"Oh," she sounded crestfallen.
He set his cup down on the arm of the couch and looked over at her, "Second thoughts?" he asked. He knew full well he was about to enter a minefield, but curiosity got the better of common sense.
"Some," she admitted after a pause.
"Should I be booking a flight to the Bahamas?" Will couldn't help himself.
Will was disappointed; he had always wanted to go to the Bahamas. He could work on his non-existent tan while he sat on a beach and sipped margaritas or what ever the local drink of choice was there. Maybe he would find a corner of real estate and find a job; his firm did have an office in the Bahamas where, rumour had it, they kept the calling lists so that they could avoid the North American telemarketing laws. Will suspected it had more to do with the board of directors who wanted an excuse to fly somewhere warm and sunny and expense it to the company. What made it worse was Will was too far down the corporate ladder to appreciate such luxuries.
"Shame," he said with a wry grin, "I look good in a bathing suit."
She laughed, "No one looks good in a bathing suit unless they spend all their lives in a gym."
Will shrugged, "I'll wear a Hawaiian shirt."
"You'd look like Peter." Lisa couldn't help but laugh at his expense, "you could go get Botox injections and nobody would tell the difference, you two are like brothers anyway..."
Will winced, "No. That's okay, I heard Botox makes you impotent." He shuddered.
She stopped her laughter and looked at him seriously, "No, I'm looking forward to Wednesday." She said, "It's going to be good."
Will watched her a moment; he liked Lisa, she was one of the few people he could say he respected. She could be stubborn when needed, but she was sharp enough to keep up with Will when she had to. It took a rare kind of person to keep pace with Will. He had often been accused of a one-track mind, but he was devious in his pursuit of it. Lisa possessed an ability to ground him when he went of on a tear. It was a vital skill sometimes, someone had to keep Will focused.
As if she had read his mind she brought up Andrew, "How's the boy?"
"Andrew's good." Will replied, "He's helping your fiancÚ pick out a wedding cake."
"Great," she rolled her eyes, "My wedding cake is going to be a giant hockey puck."
"Well, it'll make Jared and Rafik happy." Will returned his cup of coffee to his hand as he smirked, "We could even form an arch with hockey sticks and hold the ceremony at centre ice of the Corel Center."
"Don't tease." She warned, "You know we might just set all of that up for your wedding." She had that mad glint in her eye that cackled `you're next.'
He, in turn, had that `No way in hell' glint in his own.
"I'm not getting married!" he stated slightly and amusingly defensive as he glared into his cup. Trying not to let his doubts show.
"Well the laws are changing," she responded. She enjoyed the fact that she had him on the spot for a change, "And you know renting the Corel Center wouldn't be that difficult for me."
"Wasn't I teasing you?" he asked, not sure how this had been turned back on him.
"You shouldn't give what you can't take." She accused.
"I always give what I can take," Will replied in a suggestive tone that caused Lisa to screw up her face and burst into laughter.
"You're disgusting," she said flatly.
"One of us has to be." His response was laced with smugness.
"So how's it really going with Andrew?" She switched the topic back in the way she knew caught him off guard.
"He's Andrew." He offered lamely.
"And?" she pressed again, determined to get an answer out of him.
"He's Andrew," Will drained his cup and rolled up the rim of the cup to see if he had won anything. As usual he hadn't, he wasn't that lucky. In fact he didn't know anyone who had won anything that year. They had all bought more than their share of coffee, but the elusive free doughnut failed to appear. It was as if they had shipped all the winning cups to the wrong place that year. There was one Tim Horton's in Sault Saint Marie where every cup won and half the town drove around in brand new cars.
"This conversation is a bit circular." Lisa observed as she checked her own cup without any success of her own. "We've established that he's an Andrew, how's the relationship going?"
"It's going alright, he spends a lot of time studying which is ok because I'm usually at work." Will was growing frustrated with the conversation. He didn't know how it went with Andrew because he tried his best not to think about it. The relationship was stable; he was in love with Andrew. True, there was the coffee thing, but Will had discovered that there was a coffee shop close to his office. But Will found something was missing, a future to it, a direction to move and grow in. It was like they had both become stuck in the last five years... For all his protests was he looking for the next step?
"He is coming to the wedding right?" She had that aggravating look all of his female friends developed at one point or another, that natural instinct of all women to see their friends happy.
"Of course." Will stood, feeling that now was probably the best time to go back to the house. He was never comfortable having people poke and prod at his relationships, they were flimsy enough as they were. "Look I should jet, I was supposed to be home a half-hour ago, I have a match this afternoon."
Lisa crinkled her nose, "Cricket? I never got that game..."
He shrugged, "You're not supposed to." He said as he crossed to the door, "It's the one thing I have that you Canadians don't understand."
When he pulled up to the house he had a nagging feeling that he had forgotten something, but it wasn't until Peter, who was still half-buried in Cosmo magazines pointed out that he had forgotten the doughnuts that Will uttered a curse. He turned on his heel and headed back out the door, Andrew hopping up to follow him, offering to go with him in case he forgot again. Peter, seeing this as a good excuse to tag along bounded after them.
And as the Jeep pulled out into the street, its occupants were unaware of the mistake they had just made. Alone, Jeff picked up a glossy brochure of tuxedos and began leafing through it; he found one he liked and picked up the phone and placed an order.
It was Monday morning, and like any other morning of the week Will wanted to shoot himself a dozen times before he brushed his teeth. There was a morning ritual that Will went through each day and it usually started with a bleary-eyed stumble down two flights of stairs to the coffee pot in the vain hope to beat Andrew to it so that he could prepare a real pot. More often than not Andrew was up first, his well-developed habit of being up at the crack of dawn had to come from being raised on a farm. Will just couldn't do it; he came from a household that had existed on coffee, stress and late night TV. If he had his way it would be rare he saw the crack of nine, let alone dawn.
Andrew had liberated the paper, much to Will's annoyance. He wasn't in the best of tempers before his first mug of coffee and his morning paper; it allowed him to gather the strength he needed to face the day. He shuffled to the table, sat down and accepted the mug Andrew pushed over to him with a grunt of thanks. He couldn't manage articulation at that moment, his head throbbed painfully and he needed the kick-start caffeine gave him.
Andrew was used to Will's reluctant acceptance of mornings, especially Mondays. He returned to the Citizen's sports section and his bagel. He generally preferred to wait until the first cup of coffee had been ingested before he even attempted conversation with Will. While he was engrossed in an article that sang the praises of the Sen's potential to bring home the Cup, he missed Will's look of distaste as he sampled the coffee, and the glare of accusation that blamed Andrew's rural upbringing for all the woes in the world.
The front door banged, as Peter charged his way into the house, already making a bee-line right for the X-box and the couch. Summer holiday's were in full swing for him and since he was practically part of the family, this meant he had a right to stake a claim to summer fun his way.
"Don't you have a home to go to?" Will commented with a shake of his head as he tried desperately to keep the coffee down.
"Yeah, but Mom nag's me to go out," Peter said booting up the latest video game he had bought, "Says its too nice to stay in."
Will blinked and looked over at Andrew who was laughing, "Did I miss something?"
It was only after he had showered that Will began to feel more human. He actually developed what passed for a good mood on a weekday morning. That mood soured however almost as soon as the Jeep hit the Queensway. It was hot, Andrew was being particularly aggravating as he flipped through the radio stations, and the car had moved exactly three feet in the last half hour.
Highway 417 or the "Queensway" had been built to allow easy access to the downtown core, but engineering oversights when it had been built, a decided lack of vision on the part of city planners and the near unending cycle of construction and servicing had turned it into Ottawa's largest parking lot. If Will had any sense he would put the car in park and walk the rest of the way to work. At the rate they were going it would take him all day just to get there.
In frustration, he turned the car into the emergency lane on the side of the highway; he tried to get to the St. Nicholas street exit ramp before a police cruiser saw him. Andrew stared at him curiously; it was rare Will lost his temper, let alone drove recklessly, and Andrew tried not to laugh.
Will ignored him, angry that he had to take this route to work. He took malicious joy in cutting off a Mercedes with red diplomatic plates as he accelerated up to the intersection, glad to finally make some progress that morning.
When they pulled up at the School, Andrew couldn't hide the humour at Will's sour mood. "Woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning then?" He asked cheerfully leaning over to kiss Will good-bye, "Can you pick me up after you're done work?"
Will's face softened a little as he looked at Andrew, that was always the case when he looked into those eyes, Andrew just had a way of defusing anger with a look. Grumpy or not, Will couldn't help but smile at the man he loved, "All right, I'll try to be early."
When he finally arrived at work he noted he was still on time as he slung the car into visitors parking. It was a quick sprint through the security doors and along the endless aisles of telephone stations to his office. He tried not to think about the environment. There was something generic about call centres the world over, a total lack of aesthetics that seemed to draw the life out of anyone who spent too much time in one.
The Ottawa call centre had been put together seven years ago and hadn't been maintained since. The yellowed ceiling tiles sagged as they threatened to spill the hidden miles of cables lurking in the small crawl spaces above their heads. The paint on the walls was more yellow now than white and marked in places by the scuffmarks from an agent's sneakers left there years before as their idea of a legacy.
The trenches, as Will liked to think of them, because the cubicles were the exact height of the trenches in Northern France, were manned by so many young faces. They leaned on the battered partition walls scarred by so much graffiti that it was nearly impossible to tell what they had looked like in their prime so many years before. Their faces lacked any expression of emotion and they watched him walk past with half-hearted nods. Shell shocked and fatigued.
He couldn't help but wonder what it had been like for his great grandfather in the real trenches. War weary troops under his command that waited for the dreaded order of up and over just for a few precious feet of land. But there had been a purpose to that conflict, a noble cause. Here, in these trenches there was no such redemption. There was only the knowledge that when you lost, a piece of your soul was lost as well.
He realized he was tired as well, bone tired. The kind of tired that came with the knowledge that what you did day in and day out would yield nothing. No one would write a poem about the telemarketer, no one would remember the souls that died in those trenches day after day. They traded their lives for a bi-weekly paycheque that barely covered expenses. And he put them there.
He cursed when he saw his boss, Scott Anderson standing by the door eying his watch. It wasn't that Will was late, he always allotted two hours of commute time to reach the office, usually that was sufficient for him to arrive half an hour early each day, and if the traffic was bad he would arrive on time. Scott Anderson didn't understand that, he expected Will to be half an hour early every day, he did not particularly care that he didn't pay Will for that time.
Will navigated his way around Scott to enter his office, and he set his briefcase on a chair. He picked up a clipboard of figures that his assistant Alicia had left in his inbox and tried his best to ignore Scott's impatient looks as Will walked to the wall charts he meticulously maintained and began entering each number. It was the same each morning; Scott would have to wait impatiently until Will entered each number. Will took his time with it, as he made Scott wait. He laboured over the number charts a moment before looking at the operations manager.
"Are we set for today?" Will asked as he set the clipboard aside and smiled politely.
Scott seemed agitated, but Will reflected that the man was always agitated. Scott seemed to live with paranoia for his own job; he always seemed to be looking over his shoulder. It was as if he knew that all the incompetent decisions he made lurked behind him and just waited to pounce on him when his attention lapsed. It wasn't that Scott was a bad manager; he just lacked the people skills needed to do his job. Despite all his intentions, it just seemed that his actions always had the opposite and ultimately detrimental effect. That day was no different; he was under the microscope as the top brass were expected to put in an appearance to maintain the illusion that they actually gave a damn about the service centre, Scott needed them to see that he was in control, even though he never was.
"Yes, I've loaded a fresh calling list so we should have a busy day." He sat down in one of the chairs without invitation, a habit that bothered Will immensely. "I need you out on the floor today coaching people."
Will rolled his eyes as he picked up his appointment book, "I'll do what I can," he replied as he looked down at the full schedule, "I'm doing interviews today though." Will vainly hoped Scott would remember that he hired him on as a Human Resource Manager, but as usual that fact seemed to elude him.
"I need you out on the floor today," it was as if Scott believed that by repeating his request he would persuade Will to do it.
It didn't, and Will was reminded of a child's that demanded candy, repeat it enough and you will convince them.
Will had no intention to repeat the argument they had daily on the duties and focus of a Human Resource Manager. He looked up and gave a resigned incline of his head, "I'll join Ken and take the red side."
The trenches were divided into two sections, Blue handled the residential sales, and the red the business sales. While Blue was a mixture of agents Red was reserved for the veteran salesmen, and Will had come to know that it required less attention to coach.
"See that you work with as many people as you can." Scott said as he turned and marched away, leaving Will to slump into his office chair and stare out of the large bay window at the street beyond.
"What did his majesty want?" Ken asked as he leaned on the doorframe, the monitor headset askew like the rest of his appearance.
Ken was in his late forties and had been a part of the Ottawa call centre almost as long as there had been a call centre there. The man was an excellent sales coach and the new hires truly loved him. Unfortunately he lacked the one key skill that allowed people to rise to management in a sales environment: ambition. Will had been promoted over Ken to run Human Resources, but he still relied heavily on Ken's experience to ensure that things ran smoothly. There was a bond between the two men, a shared camaraderie that came with fighting a loosing battle together.
"The usual," Will replied as he turned his chair and put a foot on the brace of the broad desk, unorthodox, but it made him feel marginally better. "He wants me out on the floor today rallying the troops."
"As if you don't have enough to do." Ken was sympathetic, he knew better than anyone how much work Will battled through in the course of a day, "I booked four more interviews for you for this afternoon." He walked to a shelf and pulled out a yellow binder that contained the training schedule and he showed the four names he had added.
Will glanced at them and nodded, "More meat for the grinder," as he humourlessly made a correction in the book.
The turn over rate of the call centre was almost as high as a world war one attrition report. One of his wall charts tracked the people hired against the people terminated. So long as the blue equalled the red they would be all right, there were a couple of weeks around Christmas of the last year where the red numbers doubled the blue.
Scott Anderson had decided to substitute pink slips for bonuses that year. A demented Christmas elf that merrily chortled Happy Christmas you're fired as he handed out his stocking stuffers. Everyone in the call centre had wished for the same thing that year, and unfortunately that was one Christmas wish that hadn't come true.
But for the most part, the numbers balanced, which Will took to mean he was doing his job, and Scott Anderson took as an excuse to criticize the hiring process and cut the advertising budget again.
"Stations!" Brad, the agent supervisor's voice boomed over the top of the call centre. It was that dreaded moment when the day would start that sent agents scurrying to their seats. For a brief moment it was pandemonium, as everyone seemed to move at once, the cafeteria emptying of as a rush of people reluctantly made their way to their stations.
Will looked reluctantly at Ken, who adjusted his head set on his head, and the pair made their way to the stand beside the supervisor's console. Will reached down and recovered a second agent monitor headset that he slipped on as the agents quieted down to listen to the kick off speech.
It was the same each day; Will had memorized the completely useless speech that was supposed to motivate the hundred or so agents that had bothered to turn up, and galvanize them into sales people. Most of them just looked bored.
"I have exciting news," Brad said loudly, "we hit our sales target yesterday, give yourselves a hand." One lone person clapped, but Brad pretended he didn't notice the lack of enthusiasm and carried on with his speech, "Today we have brand new leads on the circus campaigns and I want to see some good sales out of each of you."
Will rested on a cubical partition and allowed his eyes to wander around the room at the employees. They were a cross section of the strangest people. Most looked like the belonged in an inner city high school or a jail, Will couldn't tell the difference any more with all the bars, barbed wire and security guards. Some looked like out patients from a mental ward, complete with unwashed clothes two sizes too small and nervous twitches. And others looked like they would rather be anywhere else but where they were. Motivated was the last word Will would use to describe them.
Brad continued with some sales tips that he must have read somewhere and felt would help the agents close deals. Will could see that Brad tried to emulate the boiler room speech, pump up their excitement and prepare them for their day. As usual the effort was wasted on his audience. When Scott decided to interrupt and take over the speech Brad fell silent and Will caught the look of annoyance he exchanged with Jamie the other supervisor.
Scott enjoyed stealing the show from Brad; it gave him the perverse pleasure to remind Brad who ran the call centre. It might have worked had Scott been able to motivate anyone, or even say something new. Instead he spoke verbatim the same speech he used every day. In five minutes he turned a lack of motivation into a state of catatonia.
"I think he just loves the sound of his own voice." Ken murmured equally unimpressed.
"A king holding court," Will agreed as he checked his watch, and noted that a half an hour had elapsed he desperately needed to get started on with his work.
"...And remember to show excitement, smile as you dial, let's get logged in and make lots of sales!" Scott rounded, in his own opinion utterly triumphant.
Will didn't meet his gaze as Scott walked out into the trenches; instead he beat a steady retreat back to his office to get organized for a full day.
As he sat down he looked straight through the office door to the main entrance, an advantageous position for an interviewer who had to keep an eye out for potential employees that looked lost when they realized there was no reception. But instead of a lost soul he saw his personal assistant slip through the doors unobserved and try to scurry to her desk before the operations manager saw her and commented on her tardiness. She had no idea that he circled the floor and her present course would bring her directly into his path.
Will had to act quickly, he stood up and punched a station code into the monitoring head set; an agent was trying to convince a little old to donate money to send some needy child to a baseball game that summer. That or buy the shareholders upstairs more of their favourite coffee, but she didn't need to know that.
"Stand up!" he ordered, as he thumbed the talk button, knowing that only the agent could hear him.
Duncan, Will's teammate from Sunday cricket and consequently the sales rep, didn't miss a beat in his presentation as he rose to continue his pitch. Scott Anderson stopped his patrol to clap Duncan on the back, his attention diverted he didn't see Alicia make it to her desk and stuff her jacket out of sight. She had seen the manoeuvre and mouthed the words "Thanks" as she collected her files and walked into his office.
"Alicia says thank you, Duncan." Will relayed, looking to where Duncan threw cheery thumbs up in his direction as Scott continued his prowl of the phone country.
Will clicked off the monitor and sat down, as Alicia perched herself on the edge of his desk, "I mistimed the Buses." She offered.
"I don't care," he replied honestly, "It's not me you have to worry about."
Alicia was a Goth, punk, skater girl who was an unusual choice for a Personal Assistant. Will hadn't hired her, his last PA Joanne had trained her and assured him she was reliable. She had yet to live up to that glowing recommendation, consistently late and her work was often hurried, Will would have commented on it had he cared about her work. Alicia was a friend and one of the few people that ignored his stuffy British "I'm the boss you're the employee" attitude. He enjoyed her company as well; she was one of the few intelligent people he worked with.
"Did he ask where I was?" she asked, a note of fear crept into her voice as she looked towards Scott who was trying to offer advice on how to sell to someone that didn't want or need the advice.
Will shook his head, "He is too busy pretending to be important. The board are making an appearance today."
"They're not on the golf course?" She asked incredulously.
"Not today, it's their bi-annual "I think I'll go to work" day." He said as he flipped open the email program on the computer "Did you tally yesterday's absentees?"
"Forty-four." She replied, "Out of one hundred and fifty scheduled. Only five actually bothered to call in with an excuse."
Will rubbed his forehead exasperatedly, apathy was the worst cause of call centre attrition and when he lost nearly a third of the staff to it on a daily basis, it was a source of much of his own frustration. He reached across his desk to the pad of termination slips, he hated this part of the day, it was the part where he tallied the daily staff losses. He knew they simply didn't want to come back to work, and he knew the reason for it. Scott Anderson was still circling the call centre.
"I don't suppose I could get you to fetch me a cup of coffee could I?" he asked hopefully. Alicia had never, as long as she had worked for him, actually brought him a cup, but he lived in hope.
"You drink too much coffee," she replied as she began to update the figures on the clipboard, "how's Andrew?"
Will began to really hate that question; too many people were using it as a way to change the topic of conversation on him. "He's Andrew." He replied testily, "He is the same today as he was yesterday and the day before!"
"I'll go get you a cup of coffee," holding up her hands as if to ward off his anger, "sorry Mister Carter!!!"
He was astounded; he had never raised his voice to her before and was shocked to actually see it make her run to get work done. He would have to try that more often, it was effective.
He returned to his computer, opened his mail and responded to the important pieces. He ignored the endless stream of spam that promised him everything from a mortgage to an extra three inches. He wasn't sure how they had found his work email, but they had and now his PC was under daily siege from the one form of advertising more insidious than telemarketing. It was retribution he supposed for the fact that he trained and hired droves of telemarketers to disturb the dinners of millions.
He personally hated telemarketers, they usually chose to wake him up at nine o'clock every Saturday morning to offer him a subscription to a paper he already had or for him to donate money to causes great and small where sixteen cents on the dollar actually went to the charity and the rest went to putting gas into the managing directors Bentley or to pay people like him. After working in a call centre he never again fell into that trap. Charity was nothing but big business in sheep's clothing.
The company he worked for prided itself on the fact that it sent children to shows. They charged thirty dollars per child and raised about thirty grand in revenue a day. Will had seen the send out list; three hundred children had been selected to actually attend the event. When he considered the campaign had lasted a month, the maths didn't add up, where did all the excess money go? The answer left a bitter taste in his mouth, but it was his job, it paid the bills and that was the only important thing.
He rested his head on his hand and stared at the computer screen a moment before he got up, his first interview was due and there was still no sign of Alicia with his coffee. But even if it had arrived, he wouldn't have had a chance to drink that coffee. The large doors that separated phone-country from the managers had just opened to admit the board of directors. Will uttered a curse, put on his best smile and walked forward to great them.