Matthew Harrison | Anything

Being CEO was a disaster. Jack had no idea whether the people he had to deal with were real or not, but they seemed real, and the pressure was unbelievable. As soon as Suzie had spoken, his phone started ringing, and holographic representations of people crowded into the room, all asking, demanding things from him. And he had no idea about any of it.

Fortunately, he didn’t know the people, and as he fumbled replies or tried to brush them off and their faces showed disappointment and frustration, it didn’t touch him personally. But he didn’t feel good about it either.

Jack did try to get in control. He called for his secretary, and when she entered looking glamorous and capable, he thought he might cope. But she immediately rattled off details of calls and meetings, asking for his confirmation. Not knowing what to do, he confirmed some and rejected others at random. When she queried his decision, he reversed it–and if that made her look puzzled he reaffirmed it again. In the end she said she would check her record, and left.

After all of this, Jack realized he was still in the meeting room, with Suzie still sitting there. And he had a pressing need to go to the toilet.

As Jack hurried to the door, Suzie looked at him questioningly. It was the one sympathetic expression that he had seen in the past hour. He would have liked to have talked longer, but his bladder was bursting and, through the glass wall of the meeting room, he could see more people lining up.

“Excuse me a minute,” Jack said. And as he opened the door, he added, “And please, get me out of this.”

***

Marvin, when Jack told him about it, was disappointed.

“Couldn’t you have stuck it out a bit longer?” he asked. “At least to give a raise to the analysts on the ninety-first floor?”

Jack shook his head glumly. “It was tougher than you think. I didn’t realize how much pressure…”

“And what did Suzie say?” Marvin asked. “After she’d made that effort for you?”

“Well, she wasn’t too disappointed,” Jack said.

This wasn’t quite true. In fact, Suzie had said bluntly that he hadn’t stuck with it as long as the others. Apparently, almost all the candidates asked to be CEO.

Marvin ordered a coffee, and sat back in his seat. “Where does that leave us?”

A waitress came up, curtseyed and set Marvin’s coffee on the table; then walked off. Marvin gazed after her behind before turning to his friend. “Hey, why don’t you try that?  Why don’t you ask to be the café manager? Not much pressure, and you get lots of chicks under your wing.”

“Or if you can’t take that,” he continued, warming to his theme, “you can be a waiter.  No pressure at all, and just as many chicks. And the customers,” he added, glancing round.  The majority of the café’s patrons were indeed women.

Why not? After his brief experience as CEO, Jack certainly didn’t want responsibility. And there was the camaraderie–he saw their waitress giggle with her colleague over some shared joke. Perhaps Marvin was right, perhaps he had been trying too hard.

***

When he asked for another appointment and told her what he wanted, Suzie looked doubtful.

“Don’t you want to try a business role? There’s accounts, sales, marketing. Wouldn’t you like a spell in marketing?”

“I’d rather be a waiter,” Jack said firmly.

Suzie folded her arms and leaned forward, her rings knocking the desk top. “I like you, Jack, and I’m going to share something with you.” Suzie paused. Jack waited, heart beating. “For those roles, I’m afraid we aren’t looking for people now.”

“Later, then,” Jack said stoutly.

Suzie frowned. “We’re not looking for people, Jack.”

Jack was shocked. That waitress had seemed so human. Even Marvin…

Then he became bold. “Suzie, can I ask a question?”

She nodded. Was that a coy glance? Jack wondered.

He pressed ahead. “Are you real? I mean, like a real human being sitting here?”

Suzie laughed. (Those flashing white teeth again.) “Don’t I look human?”

“You look gorgeous,” Jack said. He spoke urgently, for it was all or nothing now. “I mean, beautiful. I mean, I think about you all the time. I don’t care what you are. But I just would like to know.”

Even as he spoke the last words he thought he had failed, for Suzie’s smile had vanished, replaced by hard formality. He waited, cringing inwardly.

“That’s completely out of line,” Suzie said at last.

Jack waited, almost hoping for the relief of a scolding.

“…But it’s the first original thing you’ve done.” Almost unbelievably, Suzie smiled.  “I think I’d like to consider you for placement on our advanced program.”

Completely thrown, Jack could only stutter, “What–what is that?”

“Something like training for management,” Suzie replied. “Even to be manager of one of our cafés you need training.”

One of our cafés… How did she know? Jack wondered. Then he remembered the cameras. He didn’t know whether to be angry or pleased.

Then, for the second time, he remembered what he really wanted. “Will you answer my question?  Suzie, I really want to know.”

This time he was sure of it.  A coy smile, and then, “I’ll introduce you to my sister.”

 

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