Author's note: If you didn't like my story, "The Racist" you won't like this one either.
I met her eyes across the room and she smiled a knowing smile and then turned her attention back to the woman she was talking to. That little knowing smile had said it all, loud and clear, "You want me and I know it." She was right. I did want her, but I also knew that I could never have her.
My relationship with Tasha had not gotten off on the right foot. I had not wanted her in my department and I'm afraid my feelings about that were well known. When the opening occurred I had submitted the name of the most qualified man in the department, a man who could do the job and who was worthy of and long overdue for promotion. Two days later I was called to the personnel department and Bill, our Human Resources guy, introduced me to Tasha and said, Tasha will be filling the vacancy in your department." The look I gave him said, "You have to be joking" and he read the look right and gave me a small shrug.
"She still has to go to the clinic for the drug test and then come back here and fill out the rest of her paper work so she won't start until tomorrow, but I thought it would be good to get you in here to meet her."
"Fine. Nice meeting you Miss Portly and I'll see you in the morning."
"That's Mrs. Portly," she said.
I smiled and nodded my head and left the office. Five minutes later I had Bill on the phone; "Can you talk?"
"Yes, she's on her way to the clinic."
"What are you doing to me? That job was supposed to go to Ben, not to someone from outside the company."
"Not my call. The word came down from on high to hire her for the opening."
"What idiot up there in the Ivory Palace made that decision? Does he have the slightest idea of the damage this will do?"
"Oh come on. What can hiring her possibly do to hurt your department?"
"You got a week to sit and listen? First she's a female and she's going into an entirely male environment. Secondly she has just stolen the promotion from the man best qualified for the job and a man who has earned that promotion twice over. The effect on morale alone is going to hurt our productivity. Third, she's black and two thirds of the men in my department are Southern and are not going to take kindly to taking orders from a black and a woman at that. That will be another hit on morale and productivity. Fourth, she has an attitude problem. Did you catch the way and the tone of voice she used when she told me it was Mrs. and not Miss? She has a chip on her shoulder and that isn't going to set well either."
"Tough my man. This came straight from the CEO. He was at a meeting of one of his civic groups and someone commented on the fact that he had no minorities in management at any level in his company. Now he can say he has."
"Well you can tell the asshole that I'm shooting him a memo on this and putting him on notice that I'm not going to be held responsible when my department goes to shit."
"All that will get you is "You are a manager, so manage. If you can't, we will get some one who will."
"I don't care Bill, I was looking for a job when I found this one. Oh hell, send me her resume so I can see what I have to work with."
"Can't do that."
"I don't have one. All I have is a phone call from Maxey's executive secretary telling me that Mrs. Portly was on her way over and to hire her."
"Well fuck me."
"I think they did pal, I think they did."
It is my policy to be up front with the people who work for me so the first thing I did when I got back to my department was call Ben in and give him the bad news. He took it well, but he was also very blunt.
"I'm not happy, but if she can do the job I'll work with her. On the other hand, if she can't do the job I won't carry her and if I get any shit because of it I'll quit."
Next I called the whole department together and told them what was coming down. There were a lot of "It's not fairs" and a lot of grumbling, but I cut it off when I said, "It's what we have to live with people. Lets not borrow any trouble until we see how it shakes out. So far Ben is okay with it and he is the one who got screwed so lets just see how it plays out."
The next morning when Tasha reported for work I took her into my office and laid it all out for her. I told her that she had taken Ben's promotion and that there was a lot of resentment on the floor because of it and that she was going to have a tough row to hoe. I'd told Bill that she had an attitude problem and it surfaced right away. "So which is it that pisses you off the most, the fact that I'm a woman or the fact that I'm black?"
"What upsets me most Tasha, is that..." and she cut me off.
"I prefer Mrs. Portly."
"I don't give a rats ass as to what you prefer. As I was saying, what upsets me most about this is that a long term and loyal employee got shafted on this deal. And I'll tell you right now that your attitude sucks. The lowest seniority on the floor is eight years and they got along without you up till now just fine. A lot of them are male chauvinist pigs and a good portion of them are from the South and have never worked for or with a woman, let alone a black one. If you take that attitude of yours out onto the floor they will break it off in your butt. If they do that and my production goes to pot I will have you out of here in a heartbeat and I don't care who your sugar daddy in the front office is. I don't give a shit about your sex or the color of your skin. All I care is that you get the job done. Are we clear on that?"
"You can't speak to me like that!"
"Oh yes I can lady. As long as this is my department and you work for me when I talk you will listen and when I am done you will say "Yes sir" or "Right away sir" and "I'll get right on it." Do we understand one another?" Her eyes blazed defiance, but she nodded a yes and I took her out on the floor and introduced her around.
She surprised everybody. It didn't happen right away and there were some severe bumps in the road, but Tasha could do the job and she did it well. Once Ben saw what she was capable of he warmed to her and when the other guys saw that they all came around. Inside of six months she was stopping after work now and then to have a drink with the crew. It wasn't until Tasha had her first year performance review that things started to get sticky. As she sat across from me and read what I'd written I watched her and I was struck by just how beautiful she looked when she was relaxed. Most of the time I saw her she was busy and concerned about things and the planes of her face sharpened and made her look severe. When she was done reading the review and handed it back to me I said, "Okay, now it is your turn. How do you rate the department and the department management?" I saw a look of alarm come over her face and I said, "Your review is done and signed Tasha. Nothing you say now can have any impact on it. That's why I do it this way. Nothing is perfect Tasha. Anything can be improved on. What, from your point of view can we do better? What can I do better that will help the department meet it's commitments? What can we do on the floor to improve? What about your fellow workers? Speak your mind Tasha, you won't get another chance until your review next year."
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing needs to be changed; everything is running smoothly."
"You have no concerns at all?"
"Well, only one."
"What is it?"
She hesitated and then, "I don't think that the guys on the floor respect me."
"What makes you say that?" "They are always hitting on me. They know that I'm married and that I love my husband, but they keep coming on to me."
I smiled when she said that and she said, "What's funny?"
"Have you looked in the mirror lately? That isn't lack of respect that you are getting, that's desire. That is the male animal being attracted to the female of the species."
"But I'm black and they are all white."
"And that is supposed to mean something? You are a great looking woman Tasha and that isn't going to change because of skin color."
"But what about the fact that I'm married?"
"Most of them are too and it doesn't mean a thing to them. All they care about is will you play or not."
"You really think that?"
"Of course I do."
"But you don't do it and you are a male animal."
"I don't do it Tasha because you work for me and sexual harassment is the new buzzword these days. The fastest way in the world to shoot myself through the grease would be to make a pass at you. Even if you didn't file charges someone else could and might if they perceived that you were getting ahead because there was something going on between us."
It was at that point that our relationship changed. What I can only call an 'evil grin' came over Tasha's face and she said, "You are telling me that if I offered you this tight, brown body you would turn it down just because I work for you?"
"I'm afraid that pretty much sums it up." I saw something change in her eyes, but at the time I had no idea what it was. I didn't know it, but I had just issued a challenge.