A week passed before Nikki found the right time to tell her father that she knew all about Brooke’s little lie. After an early lunch meeting, the two stayed on for a couple extra drinks.
Nikki decided to be out with it. “Brooke told me. I know about her deception. It doesn’t change the way I feel about her,” she said, her courage and defiance growing with every word.
James had a puzzled look. “You have to be kidding me, Nicole,” he said.
Nikki scrunched her face. “Come on, I don’t think lying about your education and references is some big felony…”
James, still trying to understand, was caught silent.
Nikki continued to gush. “I think it showed initiative. A determination which, even if it isn’t quite fit to be imitated, is still rather impressive,” she finished.
James was starting to catch up. “So, she lied on her CV?”
“Yeah, I don’t have a problem with it,” she said, draining the last of her drink. She barely noticed her father’s semi-confused frown.
“Oh, and if you fire her for this…I will walk too,” she said, turning her back and walking out.
James ran a hand through his thinning hair. This was not what he had been expecting.
Nikki arrived back at the office after lunch. She strolled over to Brooke’s office, and stood in the doorway watching her eat for a moment. Then she interrupted with a knock.
“Oh, hey, how did it go?” Brooke asked, with a mouthful.
Nikki smiled and pointed to the side of Brooke’s face. Brooke blushed and wiped off the leftovers.
Nikki sat down next to Brooke. “Good. Really good. They liked it and will probably go with it.”
“They liked my designs did they?” Brooke asked keenly.
“Yes, they were very impressed,” Nikki answered, happy to see her girlfriend beaming with pride.
“And, what did your father say?”
Nikki shook her head and noticed Brooke’s disappointment.
“Guess he has really got it in for me now,” Brooke choked out.
Nikki softened her tone. “Brooke, you did a fantastic job.” She could see her praise wasn’t enough. “Brooke, another thing…I confronted him on what you said the other day.”
“Oh, Nikki, did you have to? Really, it’s only going to make things worse,” she groaned.
“I just wanted to let him know that I knew and that it was okay,” Nikki defended.
“How did he take it?” she whined.
Nikki paused. “Well, to tell the truth he was rather surprised. I don’t think he knew what I was talking about at first. In fact, he was speechless…” she laughed.
Brooke remained silent, and Nikki took that as fear.
“Your job is safe, so don’t worry,” Nikki said, trying to be as reassuring as possible.
“How can you say that, Nikki? You may run the company, but he is the controlling body. He still decides who stays and who goes,” she growled. “You can’t make that call.”
Nikki was taken aback by her tone. “Well, I made it quite clear that if he fires you I will walk from the company.”
“Nikki, what if he calls your bluff?” Brooke whined.
Nikki got out of her seat. “What makes you think it was a bluff?” she asked, and returned to her office.
Brooke waited for Nikki to enter her office before picking up her phone and dialing a long-distance number.
Late that afternoon, Brooke brought in some more designs and documents to be signed. She started to fidget around Nikki’s office, annoying Nikki.
“What’s wrong? You’re making me edgy. Take a seat,” Nikki insisted.
Brooke collapsed into the chair. “I need to take some leave,” she started.
Nikki nodded. “Umm, okay. When?”
“Err, right away. Tomorrow in-fact.”
“What? Brooke, I need you here. Right now it’s just not possible,” Nikki said, finishing off matter-of-factly. Nikki, however, immediately noticed Brooke’s distressed look and moved from behind her desk to lean up against it near Brooke.
“Has James upset you again?”
“No…no…it’s…umm…” Brooke stuttered, “It’s my father. He’s taken sick. Mom needs me to help,” she choked out.
“Oh, Brooke, I had no idea,” Nikki said. “Is it serious?” she asked, taking both of Brooke’s hands.
Brooke shrugged. “I’m not sure. I just know I should be there.”
Nikki pulled Brooke into her arms and comforted her. “Okay…how long will you need?” she asked, gingerly.
Nikki groaned at first, then had an idea. “Okay, well why don’t I come with you?”
Brooke cut her off, over-enthusiastically. “NO…I mean, no. Nikki, I haven’t told my parents about you…or about me. I don’t want to turn up and try to explain it while Dad is sick,” she blurted. She could see the hurt in Nikki’s eyes. It softened her instantly. “Look, next time I promise. I just need to go alone, please…” she pleaded, softly looking Nikki in the eyes for reassurance.
Nikki nodded but was still a little saddened by Brooke’s quick rejection.
That night Brooke was in Nikki’s apartment, just about to leave for a long trip home.
“Now, Sarah is going to handle my stuff while I am gone, so everything should be okay. I really appreciate you handling Maggie for me while I am gone,” she said, handing over the cat. Nikki held the cat out in front and frowned at it, then put it on the ground.
“Now remember, she needs to be fed everyday. Otherwise, she gets into naughty things,” Brooke ordered with a soft laugh.
Nikki rolled her eyes. “I know, I know…stop worrying. I do have a fish you know,” she retorted.
Brooke’s eyebrows rose. “Yeah, a fish which you only feed when you remember,” she said, giggling.
“It’s a fish! You don’t feed them everyday,” Nikki said, as though it was a universal law.
“Well Maggie should be, so please take care of her,” pleaded Brooke. She then slipped her arms around Nikki’s waist and pulled her in for a long kiss. Nikki moaned and refused to let the kiss end. Brooke broke it off. “Hey, come on, it’s only a week. I will call every day…”
Nikki just frowned. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come? I could just be a friend for a bit? They don’t have to know anything else is going on,” she ventured, in hope of Brooke changing her mind.
“Nikki, its bad enough I have to go, lord knows how you will survive without me, but if you went as well the company would grind to a halt. No, not this time. But, I promised next time. I always keep my promises,” she said with a weak smile.
Nikki, in a small voice and without looking at Brooke, said, “You better go before it gets too late.”
Nikki was sitting on the couch, flicking through TV channels when Maggie jumped on her. Nikki picked her up and put her back on the ground.
“Oh no you don’t. Go play somewhere else, fleabag.”
It was only the second day without Brooke, and Nikki already felt lost at home and at the office she simply moped around. Night time was worse. She had never felt as lonely as she felt now, and Brooke’s phone calls only made it worse.
Nikki rushed home to wait for Brooke’s call, but when she checked her messages she was disappointed to see that she had missed it. She sat dejected on the couch and drained her scotch. The cat bugged her, but she kept pushing it away and decided to check her stocks on the computer. It was just after 10 p.m. when Maggie jumped on the keyboard, causing the machine to go crazy and then freeze.
“You annoying little thing! What’s your problem?” She turned off the computer and started towards her bed when she realized, “Oh, I haven’t fed you yet…”
Nikki poured out the contents of the can, but the cat just looked at it.
“Oh come on, you usually gorge yourself! Eat!”
Nikki left the kitchen and headed for the bedroom; she looked over to the window and stopped dead. She rushed over to her goldfish bowl, and looked in, then in a panic looked at the floor. Her fish was gone… She looked over her shoulder to see the white cat grooming herself. “You little…” She picked it up by the scruff, it meowed. Nikki opened her door and was about to hurl it out, but didn’t.
Nikki collapsed on the couch and picked up her phone and waited for the other end to pick up. It wasn’t answered right away. When it was, she was greeted by a voice, unfamiliar and deep.
“Err…no, who is this?” came the male’s voice.
Nikki apologized at having the wrong number and hung up. She took better care to dial the number correctly and waited again. Again, a male voice answered the phone, this time more alert.
“Who is this please?” he growled.
“I would like to speak to Brooke Davies, it’s Nicole Wilson,” came Nikki’s professional tone. She then heard whispering, then silence.
“Nikki,” Brooke’s quiet voice came on.
“Brooke, who was that?” she asked nervously.
Brooke didn’t answer right away. “It’s…my brother. Why are you calling so late?”
Nikki felt like she had intruded from Brooke’s off tone. “I’m sorry to disturb you, I will let you go.”
“No, no, Nikki…it’s good to hear your voice. I have missed you.”
Nikki didn’t respond.
Nikki wiped her face. “Yeah, I just rang…” but stopped. “Your damn cat ate my fish,” she whined.
Nikki heard a muffled snigger at the other end.
“I can’t believe you are laughing…did you not hear? She ate my fish!” Then Nikki too started laughing.
Brooke was in hysterics. “Oh, I am so sorry. I will get you another, I promise.”
“I miss you,” Nikki blurted, then felt insecure about her rush of feelings.
Brooke stopped laughing and lowered her tone. “I miss you too honey. So much. It’s only a few more days.” There was another voice and Brooke’s tone changed instantly.
“I’ll get back to you, Ms. Wilson tomorrow. Good night,” she said, then the line went dead, and that was the end of the conversation.
This was the day Nikki was dreading more than anything. She picked up her pile of files and coffee and headed to the board room. Already seated was James and from the other office the other executive manager, Cole Winters. Nikki found it hard to express in words how much she detested Cole.
“Well, glad you could eventually join us, Nicole. Just running the company, nothing important enough to shorten your coffee break,” he spat.
Nikki ignored the remark and sank into a chair, putting down her folders in front of James.
“I know it’s not a nice task when we have to let staff go, but our shareholders need to feel that their investments in us are safe and that we look profitable. Okay, Cole, how many personal files have you nominated?”
The meeting lasted over three hours and resulted in twenty redundancies from across the company. James eagerly signed them off and handed them to Nikki.
“This is a confidential matter, so Nicole, if you wouldn’t mind taking care of the letters by the end of the day…” James intoned, in a matter-of-fact way.
Nikki groaned at the task. James looked at his daughter and shook his head, and then Cole spoke up.
“I’ll take care of it James, if you want,” he asked, smiling at Nikki.
James just nodded when Nikki spoke “No it’s fine I’ll take care of this”
James agreed and asked Cole to leave.
“Nicole, whether you like it or not, redundancies are an unfortunate fact of business. If you are going to run this company you have to be prepared to do this from time to time. Trimming the fat is good for business.”
“I know Dad, but I have worked with some of these people since I started here. How can I face them?” she whined.
“Just address it in a stock standard letter and get them delivered before the end of the day.”
“I can’t just hand them a letter…it’s not right. They will want an explanation.”
He sighed. “Nicole, do whatever makes it easier for you.” Washing his hands of the matter, he left the boardroom.
Nikki slowly returned to her office only to find Cole sitting in her seat.
“You don’t look so good, Nikki,” he said cheerily.
“Get out of my seat, Cole,” she growled.
He got up. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take care of the marching orders?” he joked. He had resented Nikki ever since she had been made executive manager. He believed she had won the position through nepotism, while he himself had to climb the corporate ladder to reach the post.
Nikki flashed him a glare. “You would really enjoy it. You prick; I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.”
“Whoa, hey Nikki. Just trying to help Daddy’s girl cope. But then again, watching you struggling is satisfaction enough,” he gloated.