“Sorry, I can’t. Like I said, I’d like to be home for Jordan.” Heather picked her battles, and this was the one she’d picked. Her regular shift was breakfast and lunch, from 6:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. That would get her home so she could make dinner and they could have a meal together. It had never been a problem with her old boss Mike, and Heather had assumed that a female boss would be even more understanding. But nobody could knife a woman like another woman.
“I need you to stay.” Emily pursed her lips, shiny with pink lip gloss.
“I’m not asking Suzanne. I’m asking you.”
“Can’t you ask her? She doesn’t have kids.” Heather reflexively scanned the tables but nobody needed anything.
“Your kid is in high school.” Emily’s blue eyes glittered.
“So?” Heather didn’t explain that in one year, Jordan would be gone, off to college. Everything felt like the last time. “You said you’d accommodate—”
“I said I’d accommodate you if I can.”
“But you’re not trying to accommodate me. You didn’t ask Suzanne—”
“Heather, if you value your job, you will do what I ask, when I ask it.” Emily glanced around the dining room.
“What’s that mean? You fire me if I say no?”
“Yes.” Emily met her eyes directly. “When I took over, I was given carte blanche to do what needed to be done. You can take the job or leave it. Your choice.”
Heather felt the blood drain from her face. She had heard the rumors that new management had been hired to cut catering costs. If Emily was looking for reason to fire her, Heather couldn’t give her one. “Okay, I’ll stay until six,” she said quickly. Suddenly she noticed one of the women lifting an empty glass to signal a refill. “I’d better go.”
“Hurry,” Emily snapped. “You should’ve seen that earlier. Don’t you know who that is? That’s Mindy Kostis. She’s sponsoring the luncheon.”
“Okay, on it.” Heather recognized the name because Jordan was on the baseball team with Evan Kostis, Mindy’s son.
“Whatever. Go, go, go.”
Heather made a beeline for Mindy. The Kostis family was in the Winner’s Circle, the top tier of contributors to the Building Fund. Heather hadn’t met or served Mindy and felt suddenly relieved that her name tag didn’t have her last name. Even so, she doubted that Mindy would recognize the name, since Jordan had just made varsity.
Heather reached the table, extended a hand for the empty glass, and smiled pleasantly. “May I get you a refill, Ms. Kostis?” she asked, since it was club rules to address members by name.
“Yes, please. Tanqueray and tonic.” Mindy smiled back, pleasantly enough. She had curly blonde hair, round blue eyes, and a sweet smile. She was dressed in a pink-tweed suit with a patch that read Chanel, and Heather tried not to let her eyes bug out of her head. She had never seen a real Chanel jacket.
“My pleasure,” Heather answered, a scripted reply, also per club rules.
“Do I know you? You look so familiar.” Mindy squinted at Heather’s name tag.
Heather’s mouth went dry. She didn’t know how Mindy knew her. Heather didn’t go to the games because she worked. She was about to answer, My son is on the baseball team with your son, but she stopped herself. “No, I don’t believe so,” she answered, her tone polite.
“Oh, okay, sorry.” Mindy smiled, blinking.
“My pleasure,” Heather said again, like a CVCC fembot. The other women at the table kept chattering away, paying no attention to the conversation, which, to them, was Mindy talking to The Waitress. She turned to them. “Anyone else need a refill?”
“Uh, no,” said one, without looking up, and the others didn’t reply.
“Thank you.” Heather left, flustered. She didn’t know why she hadn’t told Mindy who she was. Mindy hadn’t demeaned Heather at all, so why had Heather demeaned herself? She didn’t consider herself less than Mindy, so why had she acted that way? Mindy was Winner’s Circle, but what was Heather? Loser’s Circle?
She practically fled the Lafayette Room, heading back toward the bar, and it struck her that the luncheon had just started, but Mindy was the only woman on her second cocktail.
It was pouring outside, and Susan Sematov stood at her office window, her cell phone to her ear, dismayed to hear her call go to voicemail. Her older son Ryan hadn’t come home last night, and she was worried. He was nineteen, an adult, but that didn’t mean she didn’t worry about him anymore, especially after last year. Her husband, Neil, had passed away after a brutal battle with pancreatic cancer, and Susan, Ryan, and their younger son, Raz, were still reeling. Neil had gone from diagnosis to death in only two months, and Ryan had dropped out of Boston University, where he’d just finished his freshman year.
Susan ended the call and pressed REDIAL to call Ryan again, keeping her face to the window, so it looked as if she was surveying ValleyCo One from her window. Susan was Marketing Manager of ValleyCo, the biggest developer of outlet malls in Central Valley. The ValleyCo One outlet mall also held their corporate headquarters, a three-story brick box designed to coordinate with the brick outlet stores that lay outside her window in a massive concrete square.
Susan’s call to Ryan rang and rang, and she sent up a prayer, asking God to please let him pick up. Her older son had taken his father’s death so hard and felt lost at home. His friends were still at BU and their other colleges, and he was spending all day sleeping on the couch, and at night, going out drinking with God-knows-who.
Susan’s call went to voicemail again, and she hung up, scanning the outlet mall. At the top of the square, its north side, were the Vanity Fair outlets—Maidenform, Olga, Warner’s, Best Form, and Lillyette—which everybody in the office nicknamed BoobTown. To her right on the east side was Lee, Wrangler, Reef, Nautica, and JanSport—naturally nicknamed BallTown. To her left was Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Lenox, and Corningware—or HousePorn. Behind her, out of her view, was Land of Shoes; Easy Spirit, Famous Footwear, Reebok, Bass Factory Outlet, and Gold Toe Factory. Susan had been hired straight out of Penn State as an administrative assistant in the Marketing Department and had worked her way up to running the department by the time ValleyCo Five was in blueprints.