My thoughts were interrupted by the drilling noise coming from my phone made as it vibrated its way off the kitchen counter and onto the floor. Lauren’s office number flashed on the caller ID. What does she want? Maybe she wants me to come in today. I really want a break. If I ignore her, maybe she’ll give up and leave me alone. I waited patiently for the vibrating to stop. The phone continued to vibrate in my hand, I flipped it open. ‘Hello?’
‘Hello Neeve, its Lauren. I'm just calling to let you know that you'll be needed in the office today’
‘You said I could have the day off. Isn’t there someone else who could take my place? I’ve already made plans.’ I had plans; they included wearing pyjamas all day long, eating directly out of the tub of Ben & Jerry’s finest and watching back to back episodes of Friends.
‘No, only you can do this, you need to be in the office by 3pm.’
Lauren sounded colder on the phone than she was in person. ‘I'll be there, I just don't—’ There was a silence at the other end, she hung up.
When I got to my desk, there was a girl already in my seat, a girl I didn't recognise, weird.
‘Can I help you with something?’ She asked.
Before I had time to answer, Lauren poked her head around the corner.
‘You’re here, good. Come with me.’
I bit my tongue and followed her into the meeting room at the end of a brightly lit corridor we used for important meetings. Two men sat at the table, grim looks on their faces. Their meeting must be running late.
‘Good afternoon,’ I said. ‘Do you want me to serve coffee now or wait till your guests arrive?’ I asked.
The trolley that was usually filled with drinks and snacks was nowhere to be seen. I stood, rooted in place. What was I missing?
‘Actually, Miss Adams, it's you that we're waiting for.’ The first man said.
The second man cleared his throat and pointed to the chair in front of him ‘Please take a seat.’
I sat down, searching Lauren’s face for answers.
‘You can go now Miss Seymour.’
Lauren slipped out of the room without a sound. What’s going on?
‘Let’s get started, shall we? My name is Alec Greenberg, I'm head of personnel and this is Larry Crane, he's with us today to make sure this meeting runs smoothly, a mediator if you will.’
‘I don’t understand why I’m here’ I mumbled. I had an eerie feeling I was in trouble. I racked my brains for anything that I could’ve done wrong, but I came up with nothing.
‘I think you know why you're here, attempted theft Miss Adams. It has been brought to our attention that attempted to steal a sum of money from one of our accounts.’
‘What! Are you kidding!? I’ve never stolen anything in my entire life!’
‘We have here a document, the highlighted sections show the process actioned for money to be moved from one of our business accounts, on the next page you find a screen print from our payroll system showing the exact same amount to be added to your next pay check. The time stamps at the bottom of those pages show the two actions were made within minutes of each other.
The payroll department reported this to us to investigate, once they confirmed that no one in the department authorized the transaction.’
‘But…. I don’t know what to say…. I don’t have access to those programs, and even if I did I’d never do what you are accusing me of! Especially for $83, who would steal $83?’
‘We have a screen print of all of the users that were logged on to the payroll and banking systems.’
I couldn’t think of one single word to say, my mind was drawing a blank. What’s going on? How could I make them believe me?
Mr Greenberg spread out the paperwork in front of me revealing his proof. ‘If you look closely you’ll see the login details that were allocated to you were the ones used to make that particular transaction?’
‘I swear to god, I didn't do this and if I noticed my pay check was different, I would've questioned it but I haven't even seen it yet! And I more importantly, I haven't even got any login details; I’ve been making coffee and stuffing envelopes for three/four weeks!’ I screeched. Why was this happening to me? How was it happening?
Mr Crane scribbled furiously in his notebook every time I spoke, I desperately wanted to see what he was writing.
‘I thought you might say that Miss Adams. Even though this evidence is more than enough to prove you guilty, we also have a witness.’
‘A witness to what?! Me spending hours fetching lunch for people or carrying trays of coffee around the office?’
I was so mad I wanted to scream. I sat rigid in my chair clenching my fists into tight balls.
‘We have a witness statement placing you at a computer while the bank account was accessed’
‘What? How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t have login details! I don't understand. I never did that.’ Slowly pieces began to fall into place, one by one, until they formed a big clear picture. Lauren. ‘The only time I’ve been near a computer was when I was going to close down Lauren’s computer, on my first day....’ I spoke slowly. ‘There were accounts open on the screen. That was the only time I’ve been near a computer.’
‘If that was the date noted on the documents you have in front of you.’
‘But that's all I was going to do, but I didn’t even touch a single key before Lauren came into the room. I wouldn't ever do anything like what you’re suggesting, please believe me!’
Mr Greenberg said nothing.
‘Is Lauren your witness? Because she hates me! She’s not reliable; she’s probably not even honest about her dress size!’
‘Miss Adams, please calm down. We all need to remain professional if we’re going to wrap this up by the end of the day.’
‘What is that supposed to mean? Am I being fired?’
Both men looked at me sternly, ignoring my question.
‘I also understand that you are new to the company and are experiencing financial difficulties…’
‘Who told you that?! Did Lauren tell you that in her statement too? Because the only difficulty I have is working with her every day!’
‘That’s not important. Miss Adams, please, I understand your situation. I have a brother that was in a similar situation, however I cannot condone what you've done nor shall it go without punishment. We have discussed the matter at great lengths with Mr Crawford and Mr Chase and they have agreed not to press charges on this one occasion.’
Mr Greenwald stared at me as though waiting for a reaction. I had none.
‘How can I be charged with something that I didn’t do?’
He held up his hands to silence me.
‘This is purely because the legal fees are not worth paying for the amount you tried to steal, not to mention the bad publicity it would cause Crawford-Chase. Count yourself lucky.’
I finally understood the meaning of the word “speechless.”
‘What does that mean? You think I’ve committed a crime but you’re not going to call the police?’
‘You’re contract is terminated effective immediately, the Crawford-Chase will not supply you with a reference and if any of your future employers contact us, we will inform them of the reasons you were fired.’ If you just sign here…. and here all the paperwork is complete and you can leave.’
‘Leave, just like that?’
‘Someone from security will be along to escort you’re from the building.’
I took a pen with trembling hands and pulled the document closer. I scanned the words until I realised I was signing to say that I understood and agreed with the reason my contract was terminated. I didn’t agree. ‘Wait, I didn’t do this, I’m not signing this to say I did it, when I didn’t.’
Mr Crane put his briefcase on the table, clicked open the lid and pulled out a sheet of paper. ‘If you’re unwilling to sign that, then you’ll need to sign this document instead, to say that you’ve refused and someone will be in touch with you to discuss the appeals procedure. But let me tell you, you’re wasting your time. Even if anybody believed what you are saying, which they won’t, there’s hard evidence, and you have zero chance of being cleared.’
Both men gathered the papers and rose from their seats. ‘You are incredibly lucky. I hope you don’t take for granted your lack of disciplinary. If this was my firm I would be pressing charges, no matter what the publicity implications were.’
‘Goodbye Miss Adams.’
When I was alone in the room, I let go, I couldn't hold back my tears for a second longer. What was I going to do now? How could I pay my rent bills? How can I tell mom and dad that I was fired, for stealing? Oh my god, I don’t believe this is happening to me. Why would anyone do this to me? I didn’t do anything wrong. The best few weeks of my life were about to end with one of the worse days of my life.
I wiped my tears away and stepped out of the room, I raced through the building bypassing my former desk. I had no intention of collecting the few person items that remained in my desk; I wouldn’t give Lauren the satisfaction of seeing me this way. The journey down to the ground floor seemed longer than all the previous times I’d walked that exact route. I tried to think of other things at least until I was clear of the building just to hold myself together but every other step all I could think of was that this was the last time I would walk through Crawford-Chase and even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I felt this incredible swell of shame for being fired, for being disliked by everyone that I’d met here, for not being good enough to be taken seriously and for whatever it was about me that made Lauren think it was ok to do to me what she had.
The bus ride home was long too, and I was marginally relieved to get back to Weatheroaks and close myself behind my apartment door. I collapsed to the foot of the door, tears already streaming down my face
When I pushed my way through the doors the evening rush was beginning, Dominic was rushed off his feet.
I wish the only thing I had to worry about was how long I had to wait for a table.
‘Sorry, that took longer than I thought. What can I do for you?’ Asked Dominic
I wiped away a stray tear and explained what happened.
His concerned expression turned to worry, ‘Wow. This is serious, you don’t deserve this to happen to you.’
‘That’s what I was thinking for the four and half hours I sat in my apartment crying my eyes out.’
‘Neeve, I’m sorry, you should’ve called me, I would’ve come over and sat with you. But you look… better I guess now,’
‘I am, I’m still freaked out about what’s going to happen to me and angry and upset and scared but I’m trying to get control of myself. I cried so much I was sick and then I got really angry and then scared and then I cried some more and I literally think I just ran out of tears’
Dominic rubbed circles on my back as he listened. ‘Then what happened?’ he asked
‘I guess I just got tired of being upset. I got up and changed my shirt, it was soaked with my crying, I made myself a drink and went and stood by the window. I stared and stared into space, nothing really thinking about anything at all, but I was too warm so I opened the window and I could hear the birds in the trees, it was peaceful, it helped calm me down. Then I drank my drink and a dozen little kids playing in the square with water guns, they had this massive smiles on their faces, they were laughing and running from one tree to another, having the time of their lives and then there was this shy old guys standing outside the book store trying to ask out a sweet old lady on a date. While I was convinced my life was over or ruined, life was continuing just as ever just outside my window, and even if things went badly wrong like they have, I could still be apart of that. I’m young and I can’t just give up and lie in a heap on the floor and cry, I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I could be happy like those people outside my window and all I could think of was that it would be ok, it would all be ok, it had to be, you know?’
Dominic nodded. ‘I think I know what you mean.’
‘It was like I just had this feeling that everything would be ok, I would be ok but I had to do something and help myself. I had to find a way to keep my apartment and stay in Weatheroaks, with you and the band… I love playing in that band, even if it is only temporary and scares me to death every time I step out on that stage. I don’t think I’d ever be able to forgive myself if I gave in and had to leave this town and maybe never have the chance to come back again.’
‘You are really brave, and I’ll do anything I can to help. But also, I hate to say it since you’re trying to be so positive but with Crawford- Chase firing you, it’s going to be messy finding another job with that hanging over your head. And I don’t think there’s anything you can do about that aspect of it.’
‘That’s what I was afraid of. ‘I admitted.
‘Other than making an appeal but, if they have proof...’
‘They don’t, it’s not proof because I didn’t do it! Honestly. I know, you haven’t known me very long but I’d never do anything dishonest or illegal!’
‘You could go to the press… if that’s what they’re trying to avoid but it might get you a result. But you’d be risking the whole thing back firing and making it worse.’
‘But no company will hire me after this, so what does it matter if I go to the press?’
‘Right now only me and you and Crawford-Chase know what happened, and only potential employers that contact them for a reference but let’s face it, most companies don’t have the time to be bother with all the background checks and stuff but if you go to the press, a whole lot more people will find out, innocence won’t matter, people believe what they read.’
‘I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.’
‘Maybe you could just not mention you ever worked there? Pretend it never happened. Give previous employer details.’
‘But I can’t lie.’
‘Not everywhere asks you to list your last employer, just a previous one so it wouldn’t be lying. ‘
‘What about the book store, could you work there?’
‘What? Are you kidding, they look overstaffed as it is.’
‘Huh? I thought there was only two staff plus Julia working at the store,’
‘There is… have you been in there lately?’
Dominic shook his head.
‘And neither has the rest of town by the looks of things. Whenever I walk by the window, the place is seems totally empty.’
‘Then I have no idea, sorry. Weatheroaks isn’t exactly known for its booming employment opportunities but I’ll ask around.’
‘Thanks,’ I said letting out a long sigh. ‘I should go; I’m practicing with the band tonight,’
‘Have a good time,’