Romain sat at his desk trying to process what he’d just heard. He’d made a quick trip to the office fountain to refill the desk water bottle and emerging from the corridor entered the staff room. He’d overheard Julie talking to a small knot of office workers gathered around her. It was their scheduled office break. Wherever Julie went she was accompanied by her retinue of admirers. She was strikingly beautiful, witty and clever. Always ready to help but Romain had noted people paid a price for any help she gave. There was always a payback expected and this was disproportionate to the help she’d given.
He was discerning and avoided Julie whenever he could but each of the office staff had to cooperate to get work done and that meant there were times it was unavoidable. Julie made sure that was the case. She’d tried her charms on Romain many times as he was the only stand out to her total control over them all. There were ugly rumours she and their boss were on more than friendly terms. Somehow that didn’t detract from her popularity and was even more incentive for the staff to treat her with deference.
Romain felt he had to walk a tight rope not only in the office but in the community too. He was of migrant stock and on his guard. It was not that he’d been treated differently to others as he grew but it had been hard adjusting to a new culture and way of looking at things. The kids at school had been free with insults to each other and it was treated as a joke and part of the comradery of youth and he’d participated handing it out and receiving in seeming good grace. But deep inside his reaction was different to the rest. From their point of view, he was one of the group not superior and not inferior to any of them. But because he’d not been born in the country he took those insults personally and it affected his feeling of self-worth. He determined never to let anyone know of these deep private feelings.
That is until he’d met Cynthia in college. She was in one of the groups he met with after school to work on case studies together. Over time a relationship developed, and he found he was accepted by her family and eventually plucked up courage to ask for her hand in marriage after they’d finished their college work. Cynthia was quiet but insightful. She read him like a book and what she gleaned from long association through college developed into a deep love for this man. She understood his struggle with self-worth, and it puzzled her as he was brilliant in studies and she noticed well respected by peers. So, at every opportunity she worked on this issue with him and their marriage was a happy one with mutual respect and love.
What he’d heard as he suddenly appeared in the staff room to replenish his water supply was troubling. His first reaction had been to treat this as one of Julie’s manipulative tricks. But why would she say that to the group not knowing in advance he’d be there to hear what she said? Those with Julie had looked uncomfortable when he’d entered the room and quickly excused themselves returning to their desks, Julie with them. He could hear them laughing in the corridor as they made their exit. His mind was in a turmoil as he filled the bottle and returned to his desk.
Logic told him Cynthia would not be unfaithful to him. Every day since they married had been a happy one and deep inside he knew she loved him and that was a life commitment. Cynthia was direct. If there were a problem she’d deal with it honestly and refused to let any differences they may have from time to time remain unsettled. He knew this was the best way as his feelings of self-worth needed to be dealt with out in the open and it was comforting to know despite those differences her love for him was unconditional. But another voice in his head was more cautious. Suppose he’d not been the best husband and she’d decided it was just too much to continue with him. These voices played with each other in his head and he struggled to maintain the mental discipline to deal with his complicated work assignments. By the time the day’s work was finished he slunk out of the office imagining all eyes were pointed in his direction.
Julie watched him go with satisfaction. She’d introduced doubts in his mind. He was a tough fish to reel in, but it was a challenge and she’d have him yet. Her clever mind began planning an active campaign to discredit his wife and make him vulnerable to her advances.
That evening Romain sat quietly observing Cynthia while she prepared the meal. The voices continued their debate in his mind. He needed to have this settled but shrank back from asking her about what he’d heard. But woman have this sixth sense that picks up even the faintest of signals. She placed the food on the supper table and they both sat.
“OK, out with-it Romain. Something happened to upset you today and this food will sour in your stomach if you don’t get it out.”
She took his hand and her honest eyes searched his for an answer. She felt the tremor in his hand and spoke again.
“Come on, get it out. I’m hungry and you need to eat!”
Tears formed in his eyes and the tale of woe came out involuntarily.
Cynthia laughed. “I’d be upset if anyone said that about you too. It’s nonsense, now can we eat?”
She looked at him and sobered. “You did believe it!” She got up from the table. “How could you believe such a thing! I’d never believe it if someone told me a story like that about you!” She began to cry.
Romain rushed to comfort her. “No of course I didn’t believe it, I was just sad this was said before the office staff.” He tried to make it convincing.
This affirmation stopped her crying. “Never ever think I’d do such a thing Romain this is very distressing. She hugged him. “Thank you for trusting me, now can we eat?”
That night Cynthia spent half awake thinking and planning and the next day she took time off from work and make an appointment with a private investigator. Several days later the investigator arrived at her office with a comprehensive report and photos. She paid the remainder of his fee and studied the report and photos carefully.
Then she reached for the phone and dialled Romain’s office asking to speak with Julie.
A bright confident voice answered the phone. “Julie speaking, how can I help you?”
“Julie I have something very interesting here which I’m about to publish unless we can come to some understanding. Do not disconnect or the report will be sent, and you won’t like the outcome at all. If you disconnect you will only have yourself to blame for the results.”
Julie laughed,” OK which of you guys here is playing a trick on me?”
Cynthia began to read the report over the phone and Julie turned white. “Who are you, and what do you want?”
“Let’s just say I’m a friend of Sue your boss Ron’s wife. Just thought of doing her a little favour as she obviously doesn’t know what’s going on between you two. I’m sure Ron would be interested in what I have to share too, specially seeing his wife’s father owns the business.”
Julie’s voice lost her usual bravado. “If your looking for money I don’t have much. Why do you want to destroy us? I’d have to talk with Ron about money.”
Cynthia felt pangs of conscience. “Like I said this is not about money this is about looking after a friend.”
Suddenly things began to clarify in Julie’s mind and some of the bravado returned. “So, you’re Cynthia! Well now, we deny this story your trying to bribe us with and when Ron finishes with Romain you’ll be the one to be sorry. I’m hanging up on you now.”
Cynthia smiled. “I don’t know anyone by the name of Cynthia or Roman whatever his name is, so you go ahead and hang up and I’ll pass this information on to Sue. Maybe her father would be a better bet. Bye Julie!”
“Wait!” Alarm bells rang in Julie’s head. Her bluff had not worked.
“OK, what do you want me to do to avoid all this embarrassment?”
Cynthia nodded her head. “Good, now you’re thinking clearly. Today you’ll hand in your resignation, no more silly stuff with Ron. You are both being watched and if you are seen together that will be added to this report and sent off to Sue and her Dad.”
Julie sniffed and tears came to her eyes. “You’re cruel, I don’t know who you are but someday this unkindness will return to haunt you.”
Cynthia was unmoved. “Type your resignation letter and go see Ron now. I’ll be watching your every future move.” The phone disconnected.
And that’s what happened. Julie presented her letter to Ron telling him about the phone call and evidence to back it up. Next day Julie took a bus back to her hometown back west hoping to start life over. She’d learned a valuable lesson.
That night at the supper table Romain shared news that had electrified the office that afternoon. Popular Julie the office darling had quit abruptly, and everyone was speculating as to what had caused her to quit. There’d been a phone call and one of her close friends reported she was returning to her roots back west.
Cynthia shrugged and tucked into her food. “Well, isn’t that a surprise! I wonder why she did that?”
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