Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(72)

By: Ingrid Reinke

“Uh, hey. Good morning,” he said uncomfortably, then passed by me without stopping, making a bee-line to the coffee pot.

I felt my whole body relax. Smiling and flushing awkwardly, I entered the kitchen, stepping around stinky-greasy-pony-tail man and emerged into the quiet early morning peace of the legal department.

As usual, there was not another soul around on this side of the building when I got to my desk. I sat down and stared at the log-in screen, realizing that I could not for the life of me remember my most recent password. I was already on hold with the help desk when I heard the door to the front entrance click open, a swift succession of footsteps and a little voice calling my name.

“Louisa! Louisa! There you are!” It was Priti.

“Oh, hi Priti,” I said, still listening to the hold music. “How have you been?”

“I’m good, but are you coming? Everyone is waiting for you.” She was flustered.

“Sorry, coming to what?”

“The all-company meeting. You didn’t see the invitation from Mr. Curtis?”

“No, definitely not.”

“Oh, it’s going on right now in the main conference room. Come on. Come with me!”

I didn’t see that I had much choice. I put down my headset and hung up the phone, and half a minute later I was in the elevator with Priti headed up to the conference room.

I didn’t even have time to ask her what was going on as we rushed out of the elevator and into the large conference room. As soon as we entered the room the first thing I saw was the projector, displaying a large company logo and my horrible employee ID photograph underneath the words: “Louisa Hallstrom: Special Recognition Award Recipient.”

Oh no. No, no, no.

The door clicked shut behind me, and hundreds of heads turned in my direction. I bet every single person employed by Merit was packed into that room. Faces that I’d never seen before were staring back at me, clapping and smiling.

Priti had been standing just in front of me, but now she scooted off to the side and disappeared into the crowd, as my fellow Merit employees stood up, still staring at me, and began clapping even louder. My immediate reaction was to flush a brighter pink than the flowers on my dress. I stood in the entrance to the room, not knowing where to go or what to say for a few long seconds until the clapping died down and I heard Mr. Curtis’ voice over the PA system.

“Come on up here, Louisa,” he said from the front of the room near the projector.

I slowly started walking down the center aisle of the conference room towards the front, approaching Mr. Curtis as he motioned with his hand for me to step forward. When I got to the front of the room, he grabbed my hand and shook it, firmly. My heart was pounding as I felt all of the eyes in the room boring into my back. All I wanted was for this meeting to be over so I could get the hell out of there. I shook his hand, then stood there staring at him like an idiot.

“Ah, hem,” he said into the microphone, looking at me.

Christ, does he expect me to give some kind of speech? My face turned even redder.

When he realized that I wasn’t quite getting it, Mr. Curtis put his free hand on my shoulder and gently turned me around until I was facing the crowd, then began speaking.

“On behalf of the leadership teams at both Merit and NorCom PR, in honor of going above and beyond the call of her duties and position for the benefit of our team and company, we present Louisa Hallstrom with this Special Recognition Award.”

I peered out over my scarlet cheeks at the crowd, and much to my abject horror, saw not only was just about every employee at Merit present, but also Carla Stanton and the entire management team from NorCom PR, as well as the “I am going to eat your baby” face of Detective Rachel Lopez, the “I just smelled a fart” face of Detective Wang, and next to them, the still pretty damn hot and smiling face of Rocky.

I was really trying to get it together, but accidentally looked up at Detective Lopez, making brief eye contact and gulped. She lowered her chin and glared back. I wanted to look at Rocky, but I was too pussy to look back over in his direction with that pit bull standing next to him. Mr. Curtis was still talking about my award, and now he was holding some kind of plaque and pushing it urgently towards my midsection. Oops, I’d been spacing out again. I took it from him amidst more applause. He then turned me slightly to the left, and I was blinded by a camera flash. A young photographer in black was aiming her flashbulb at my face, gesturing for me to smile.

I did, and I was still holding the award when the rest of the leadership team approached me. They stood patiently in line, and one by one they wrapped their arms around my waist and smiled, looking at the photographer while she snapped away. I was a one-woman picture buffet. After a few minutes of this, the entire team gathered together with me in the middle for a group shot and I thought, incorrectly, that I was done with my morning’s duties.