Volume Three, Issue 4

What She Said

Carl Ernest

Tyrone pulls out the little looking glass from his bottom desk drawer and checks his face. Hair looks good. Clean shaven. He tightens the knot on his tie and moistens his lips. He’s ready. The star CPA logs off his laptop, takes a deep breath and rises from his seat. He’s only got one shot. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Jim, in the adjoining cubicle peeks over the partition with a concerned look on his face.

“Is it time?”

With his portfolio in hand, Tyrone exits his cube and begins the long journey down the carpeted hallway to the proverbial ivory tower. The office cubicles line both sides of the long hallway creating a vanishing point effect, broken only by an occasional jacket or sweater hanging off the corners. Heads bob up and down prairie-dogging to get a view of Tyrone’s death march. Susan gasps. Millie tears up. Sam looks away. Shanika does that “oh no he didn’t!” thing with her neck and David swoons. The new carpet feels soft and cushy under Tyrone’s feet – that’s how it’s supposed to feel, I guess. The kind of money they spent redoing the entire office could have better been spent on bonuses for the team. But what the fuck, he’s going to get his.

Jim watches Tyrone strutting down the hallway and silently sends good luck wishes to his buddy. Shamrock wishes don’t work, but the Irish in Jim will always “see” that pot of gold. They had argued over the sanity of Tyrone’s decision to quit if things didn’t go his way, but Tyrone already had his mind made up. That’s Tyrone. Headstrong and over confident in his abilities – traits he picked up early in life – it started with his very first teenage kiss: He almost freaked when Sonja stuck her tongue down his throat, but kissing her soft sensual lips had made his day. Sonja sat next to him in their third period Social Studies class. She was arguably the prettiest girl in the 7th grade and he had a major crush on the Panamanian beauty. He doesn’t remember how or where he got the nerve to ask her out – she was precocious, had dated before and she was way out of his league – but she said yes.

The hallway seems longer for some odd reason. Could be nerves. Tyrone quickens his pace. He leans to his left to avoid the creeping vines and large leafy plants protruding from Janice’s cubicle – that is one weird bitch. She creeps him out. At the Halloween party last year, she dressed like a witch and was casting spells on everyone – for real! Tyrone’s heart beats in sync with each footfall – he’s pumped. But his gait is interrupted when Tanya shuffles out of her cubicle and blocks his path. She tugs and pulls down on her too short and too tight mini skirt.

“Are you really going to resign?”
“If I don’t get it – yeah!”
“You can’t leave, Tyrone!”
“I gotta do what I gotta do”
“But . . . I don’t want to . . . to lose you”

That Tanya Perelli has a thing for the corporate megastar is well known throughout the accounting firm of Bradly & Schwartz. It raised some concerns among her girlfriends and she was often criticized for not staying in her lane.

Tanya is pretty, sexy – and controlling – a big turnoff for Tyrone. She would tell him about himself – why do you have so many women? Why do you wear those clothes? Why can’t you settle down? You should eat more greens. Why don’t you call me? Despite her Fatal Attraction syndrome, they remain good friends. Tyrone placates the accounting clerk:

“Hey, I got this, Tanya. I got this”

And the journey continues. It is more than just the promotion – which he deserves. It’s about ethics. It’s about fairness. It’s about equality. And it is about Praavi – a woman of incredible beauty. She is also a CPA, and another rising star in the company. Tyrone adores Praavi. He would do almost anything for the hand of the beautiful Punjabi princess. She likes him too – he can tell. Becoming a partner in the firm would definitely place him in the number one spot on Praavi’s list of eligible suitors.

After work one beautiful summer day, Tyrone had asked Praavi to join him for dinner. She said yes. He insisted they go to an Indian restaurant; it will be a drastic change from his usual Chinese takeout, but that’s ok; Ji Chang had started taking him for granted and would have his Lo Mein order ready even before he called it in. And besides, the lucky numbers in those fortune cookies never worked.

Praavi ordered Malai Kofta, a veggie dish for herself and suggested Tyrone try the spicy Chicken Tikka Masala. The runny nose, watery eyes, sweaty brow and burning tongue did not stop Tyrone from enjoying the dish. They had a great time and enjoyed each other’s company. Summer breezes and moonlit nights can play magic with the emotions. A leisurely stroll turned into hand holding and then a hug and that turned into a kiss, but Praavi passed on the invitation to go back to Tyrone’s place. Some other time she said. That was good enough for Tyrone – there’s cause for optimism. But dropping Praavi home later that night put a crimp in his plans. Her staunch, traditional Indian family disapproved of her going out or even being seen with Tyrone. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t Indian.

Up ahead on the left he is approaching Praavi’s cubicle. Tyrone cringes as he recalls the controversy it caused when she decorated her space with Indian artifacts and a very ornate picture of Lord Krishna. That really bothered some of her co-workers – the whole Hindu thing freaked them out. Last November, when she was celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, she wore the traditional Indian sari, had a dot on her forehead and everyone avoided her like she was some kind of terrorist or something. Tyrone stops by her cubicle and peeks in, hoping for a smile of encouragement, but sitting next to Praavi, all up in her face, is Brian Cumberbatch.

Tyrone hates Brian Cumberbatch. Well, hate might be a bit too strong – he dislikes the arrogant, “stick up his ass” Associate Partner of the firm. Brian Cumberbatch is potentially the only obstacle in Tyrone’s rise to a full equity partnership with the Bradly & Schwartz company. The two accountants bumped heads when Brian Cumberbatch was chosen to handle a major account that Tyrone coveted. Their relationship has been lukewarm ever since and now, to see Brian Cumberbatch pushing up on his girl irks the young CPA. He steps inside the cubicle and Praavi can sense the smoldering in her friend. She tries to ease the tension.

“Oh, hi Tyrone! Wow! You look sharp today. That a new tie?”
“No, same old tie. What’s up Brian?”
“Hi Tyrone”

An awkward silence. Tyrone hides his concerns behind a phony smile. Brian Cumberbatch has a smirk on his face. He knows his presence irritates Tyrone. Praavi draws a breath. She’s well aware of the strained relationship between the men and the competition for her affections. Praavi forces a smile.

“Soo . . . what’s going on, Tyrone?”
“Well, I was wondering if we can do lunch today”

Praavi giggles. Her eyes dart back and forth between the men.

“Huh, um . . . Brian already asked me . . .”
“Oh . . . ok . . .maybe Friday?”

Praavi lowers her gaze, nervously fumbles with the 10 to 15 bangles on her wrists and clears her throat. She looks up at her friend standing over her and sighs.

“Brian and I are . . . well . . . we’re seeing each other”

The shock wave that ran down Tyrone’s spine could kill a cow. His knees buckle but he plays it off as some sort of slick hip-hop move and congratulates the couple. The smiling picture of Lord Krishna seems to give its approval too. Tyrone is crushed. Praavi was not yet his girl, but he is so smitten by the princess and was so hopeful that it felt like a loss and it knocks the wind out of the star boy. He walks out of the cubicle and saunters down the hallway wondering what to do next. Jim, who has been watching Tyrone’s journey, senses the change in Tyrone’s demeanor and runs to his side. Tyrone unloads.

“That fuckin’ Brian! That back stabbing mudda fuckin’ Brian . . .”
“I guess you found out about Praavi and Brian”
“You knew? You should have told me, Jim”
“Look Tyrone, you’re not her type, dude”
“So, what you saying, Jim?”
“Ugh . . . bro, you KNOW what I mean”

Tyrone knew what Jim meant. There are glass ceilings and there are glass ceilings – social as well as professional and Tyrone has bumped his head on all of them. To get ahead at anything, he had to be twice as good as his competitors – that was the only avenue open to him. Losing was unacceptable. Losing to Brian Cumberbatch is a death sentence.

Tyrone went on to the interview, sat with the staff and senior management, but his mind was clearly outside the boardroom. He answered the questions put to him, showed them his good side, but made no extra effort to seal the deal. Getting the promotion didn’t feel as important anymore. Fuck it. If he doesn’t get it, he could start fresh at another company where he did not have to look at Brian Cumberbatch drooling all over Praavi.

A week goes by. Waiting on the outcome of the interview has the entire office on edge. The precedence Tyrone has set in motion will alter the culture of the firm – a welcome change for some, but controversial never the less. The call finally came on Friday of the second week. Tyrone enters the boardroom and takes the assigned seat all alone on one side of the humungous glass top table. Across from him are the managers. Their deadpan faces give no inkling about their decision. One by one they read exerts from the company mission statement, its bylaws and their code of conduct. They followed that with another round of readings depicting exactly what is expected from all officers, managers and employees of the firm. Tyrone moans silently. Who gives a fuck about all that shit anyway? Finally, they get down to business. There is some talk about diversity and inclusion and some stuff about the challenges the company faces trying to implement those changes. Bottom line, Tyrone got his promotion. They said yes.

The news spread quickly. Jim is happy to know his buddy will still be working with him and the rest of the gang. Praavi sent an email congratulating the new partner and wishing him all the best. Brian Cumberbatch stops by Tyrone’s cubicle, congratulates him on the promotion and hands him a gold invitation envelope. It is an invitation to a party. Tyrone cocks his head.

“A party?”
“Yeah, engagement party. She said yes”

Carl Ernest: "I currently live in Atlanta, Georgia, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York. My Computer Science degree allowed me to earn a living as an avid computer programmer, but my love for writing has never waned. My stories come from a combination of experience and an outrageous imagination."

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