I Like You
Fiction by A. S. Callaghan
After working at the same educational supply company for 13 years, climbing the corporate ladder at the L.A. super-regional branch, Agnes went to see her boss to quit her job. She had been offered a promotion to work at headquarters in San Francisco, a bigger job for a bigger paycheck.
Our of courtesy, she had told her boss — a tall man with a pot belly who wore his shirt untucked and liked to order sashimi for lunch which he ate with his fingers — that she was up for the job, recruited by corporate. She knew he was going to be disappointed to lose her, a member of his senior team.
Agnes was in charge of online orders, making sure everything from pencils to placemats to projectors was in stock and ready to ship. Her job was to anticipate the unexpected: Spikes in demand, constantly changing state instructional standards, container ships from China that were late to arrive at the Port of Los Angeles.
What Agnes was not prepared for was the naked anger that followed once she told her boss that she wanted to leave, anger that boiled over once she held the offer letter from corporate headquarters in hand, anger so vicious it resulted in him trying to stop the promotion and get her fired.
Her boss pursued an intimidation strategy that must have worked in the past. He proceeded to yell, first at the head of the division where she was hoping to work next, B-to-B sales, then at the CEO and founder. These explosions were so loud, her friend Maggie who worked in the cubicle next door heard the actual dialogue spoken through the wall and reported back to her, blow by blow.
“You’re making it impossible for me to succeed,” her boss yelled at his B-to-B rival, a man named Dale at the San Francisco branch who navigated corporate politics by making as few decisions as possible. Agnes and Maggie watched through glass walls as their boss held his cell phone close to his face and pushed the red button to hang up with a dramatic flourish, perhaps longing for the days when an actual phone would have gotten slammed on an actual receiver.
The yelling continued after the quarterly board meeting in Los Angeles, which was attended by the whole executive leadership team: Her boss, Dale, who had flown in from San Francisco that morning, as well as the CEO, Ron, who founded the company out of his college dorm room. An aging hippie, Ron cultivated a folksy demeanor, which included holding management retreats for the top brass at his house in Napa Valley where he flipped burgers in the backyard and his wife served home-baked oatmeal cookies.
Dale and Ron were ill-prepared for her boss’ brash aggression. The confrontation took place in one of the glass meeting rooms on the first floor, an exposed battleground. Shortly after the shouting match, a visibly shaken Dale stopped by Agnes’ desk and broke the news.
“The offer is rescinded.” He avoided her gaze and fished his phone out of the pocket of his fleece vest which he wore in hopes of resembling a venture capitalist en route to Davos. The Uber that would take him to the airport and then back to San Francisco was already on the way.
As he got up to leave, Agnes said, “You know I can’t just fly away,” words she immediately regretted because they revealed more about her state of mind to this man than he had the right to see.
Early the following morning, she received an email from her boss.
“Let me know if you want to talk,” it said.
Her boss’ office was familiar. There was the unopened See’s candy box collecting dust, deal memos spread across his desk, the picture of his family by the window, a young son from his second marriage with much older step sisters.
“You have a decision to make,” her boss intoned gravely from the other side of the desk. “You have to decide whether this is the right place for you, or you should consider leaving.”
Agnes carefully weighed her response. Last Wednesday had been her 13-year work anniversary. “You know they came to me,” she said.
“There should be a ‘no poaching’ rule,” her boss replied.
She had read the employee handbook and knew for a fact that such a rule did not exist.
He leaned back in his chair. “I like you. I like working with you. But as I said, you have a decision to make.”
Agnes felt a strong urge to lean over her boss’ messy desk and whisper ‘I already made my decision.’
On the way back to her desk, past the file cabinets and the snack station and the coffee machine the words ‘I like you’ reverberated in her mind, spoken as if they were meant to mean something to her. As if this sentiment alone was supposed to be enough to make her reverse course and forgo what she had worked for all these years.
At 5:01 PM, Agnes took the award given to her for selling a record-number of alphabet velcro boards, walked out of her office and took the elevator down to the parking garage. She sat in her car and thought. The acceptance of a written offer constituted a binding contract. Her boss was legally prohibited from interfering with said contract. Those were the facts. She turned the key in the ignition and realized that the choice to stay or go was hers, and hers alone.
A few weeks later, after she lodged a formal complained and all the facts had been reviewed and re-reviewed in personnel meetings, discussed in HR memos, poked and prodded, weighed and vetted, the company reversed course and Agnes received another offer letter. It was the same one she was given before, just with a new date. She signed it that same day and proved to her now former boss what she knew to be true all along: Whether he liked her or not was simply irrelevant.
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